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White Star Line Ships and U-boat's

  The War Years




 (Above Left) A young German U-boat officer views his prey through a periscopeImage Credit: (authors collection)  Image (Above Right) webmasters personal collection


In 1915, Germany made the decision to begin attacking British shipping in what is referred to as the first major offensive of World War One. (Involving the first U-boats) They began publishing warnings stating that all waters around the British Isles were considered a war zone and that any and all ships would be attacked without warning.

Three major incidents resulted from this offensive. The first, occurring in May of 1915, was U-120's attack on the Cunard liner Lusitania, which resulted in the deaths of 1,201 passengers including 128 Americans, prompting US involvement in the war. The second attack on a liner occurred when U-24 attacked the White Star Liner Arabic (see below) killing 44 of 234 on board. The third U-boat attack was on the liner Hesperian killing 76.

(Above left) A U-boat comes along side an unarmed merchant cruiser. Note the U-boat's forward deck gun swung over at the merchant cruiser.

 (Above right) The British vessel SS Maplewood takes a direct hit, breaking her bow and sinking from the deck gun of U-35 in April, 1917. * Note - This is the same U-boat that sank the SS Californian, a cargo ship best known for its inaction during the Titanic's sinking, despite being less than 10 miles away and observing her firing distress rockets.

U-boat attacks on allied shipping in WWI became so frequent that the numbers averaged close to 400 a month.




Image credit: Peter Fleming Collection

 World War I


White Star Liner Germanic - Attacked mistakenly by British submarine E-14 (WWI)


WSL's Germanic (top) accidentally torpedoed by the British Submarine HM E-14  (above) on 5/13/15; no fatalities. Germanic survived attack.

White Star Liner Laurentic I - Attacked and sunk by U(B)-80 (WWI)


Laurentic (I) was delivering cargo to Nova Scotia for Canadian and American governments as payment for munitions. 45 minutes after leaving port she was struck by two mines laid by the German U-boat, U-80 and sunk taking the lives of the crew and a large amount of good bullion. (See White Star Line Treasure Ships?) According to a viewer that submitted this photo, the 2nd U-boat to the left in the picture is U-80, his grandfather's command, tied up Wilhelmshaven.



White Star Liner Arabic - Attacked and sunk by U-24 (WWI)

WSL's Arabic (2nd) (top) was torpedoed and sunk by U-24 (above) close to the coast of Ireland on 8/20/15. 44 killed, 390 rescued

White Star Liner Cymric - Attacked and sunk by U-20 (WWI)


WSL's Cymric (top) was torpedoed 3 times and sunk by U-20 on 5/7/16 killing 5.

* NOTE This was the same U-boat that attacked and sank Lusitania exactly one year to the day earlier (5/7/1915) killing 1,198 passengers and crew 

White Star Liner Delphic - Attacked and sunk by UC-72.  (WWI)



During the Boer War Delphic carried troops and horses from England to South Africa. On August 1917, she was torpedoed 135 miles off Bishop Rock by UC-72

and went down with the loss of five lives. UC-72 was a coastal minelayer sub but also carried torpedoes. The UC type German submarines destroyed more shipping than any other type of submarine in history.

White Star Liner Afric - Attacked and sunk by UC-66.  (WWI)

                                    SS Afric                                                                                                                               UC-66

In May 1917, Afric was torpedoed near the English Channel by the German coastal minelayer sub, UC-66; killing 22 crew members. The U-boat allowed the remainder of the crew to abandon the Afric before firing a second torpedo into her and sinking her. One month later UC-66 was depth charged and destroyed by the British trawler Sea King, setting off her own mines and killing all 23 crew members.

White Star Liner Justica - Attacked and sunk by U-46 and U-124 in the same battle.  (WWI)


While being escorted by 3 British Destroyers, Justica (working as a troop transport) was torpedoed six times until she sank on July 19-20, 1918. Torpedoed twice initially by UB46 (coastal U-boat) she remained afloat. Later in the same day, she was torpedoed two more times by UB46 and again managed to stay afloat. The next morning while in tow by HMS Sonia, Justica was torpedoed two more times by UB124 when she finally keeled over and sank. UB124 was destroyed in this battle by the escorting destroyers and UB46 was damaged but managed to escape. (Later depth charged and destroyed in another attack)

16 crew members were killed in the first torpedo attack.

Note: U-boat pictured (above right) is actually UB88. Similar to UB46 and UB124

White Star Liner Persic - Attacked by U-87 (WWI)


WSL's Persic (top left) was attacked and torpedoed by U-87 (top right) off of the Scilly Islands 9/18 but was able to limp off and out run the sub. Persic was eventually towed in and repaired resuming her service.

White Star Liner Celtic - Attacked by U-88 and UB77 (WWI)

Abandoned Type UBIII boats (1921)


October 1917, Celtic ran up on a mine laid by the U-88 near Cobh, Ireland, resulting in 17 deaths. She was repaired and put back into military service. In June 1918, the following year, again in the Irish Sea, she was torpedoed by the UB-77 killing 7. Celtic was able to escape the sub and limp in to port under her own steam. She was repaired and once again put back into service serving through the remainder of the war without incident.


White Star Liner Georgic (1st) - Attacked and sunk by German Raider SMS Möwe









In 1916, while enroute to Brest, France, having left Philadelphia, PA, she was approached by the German Raider SMS Möwe (launched in 1914 as Pungo). Georgic was transporting 1200 horses, barrels of oil, and wheat. When signaled to stop by the Möwe, the Georgic ignored the hail and kept going. Möwe fired a shell from one of her guns striking Georgic on the aft deck and killing one crewmember. The crew was captured and put on board Möwe as POW's. Georgic's crew did their best to try to talk their captors into taking the Georgic into occupied France as a prize to save the cargo of 1200 horses, but viciously the Möwe decided instead to shell and sink the Georgic on the spot.

* Note - On April 7, 1945, While sheltering off the coast of Norway, Möwe was attacked by several British fighter planes (Bristol Type 156 Beaufighters) that had been patrolling on anti-shipping missions and specifically looking for the Möwe. She was repeatedly shelled and strafed by cannon fire and ultimately burned and sank.


World War II

After the Laconia Incident (1942) and the "Laconia Order" was issued by Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz, (see at bottom of page) unrestricted warfare began on both passenger and cargo vessels by the German Kriegsmarine.


White Star Line Tender, Traffic - Torpedoed and sunk by the Royal Navy (WWII)


During WWII, as the Germans were invading France, SS Traffic, now named Ingénieur Riebell was scuttled by the French Navy off Cherbourg, France on June 17, 1940, in a desperate attempt to block the port. German forces ended up penetrating the port, raised and salvaged Ingénieur Riebell (former SS Traffic) and converted her into an armed coastal vessel. She was torpedoed and sunk by the Royal Navy while serving in this capacity, on January 17, 1941. The location of her wreck is currently unknown.


White Star Liner Medic - Attacked and sunk by U-608 (WWII)


WSL's Medic (top) was torpedoed (WWII) on 9/18/42 in the North Atlantic by U-608, 12 killed. (above U-608) returning home after a successful patrol.

White Star Liner Athenic - Attacked and sunk by U-69, later raised (WWII)



Athenic was torpedoed twice and sunk by U-69, a Type VIIC U-boat. She was raised and returned to her owners after the war (in 1945) and resumed service until 1962. 4 killed.

White Star Liner Ceramic - Attacked and sunk by U-515 (WWII) Click here for detailed account


(above right) U-515 sinking by the bow after being attacked and destroyed by the USS Guadalcanal (1944)

WSL's Ceramic Wartime History

- May 1916 - Ceramic is attacked by unidentified  U-boat in the Mediterranean, narrowly missed by 2 torpedoes - out ran U-boat.


- June 1917 - Ceramic is attacked by unidentified U-boat in the English channel narrowly missed by 1 torpedo - out distanced attacking U-boat


- July  1917 - Ceramic is chased for 40 minutes by unidentified surfaced U-boat firing its deck guns - Ceramic out-ran the U-boat.


- Dec. 1942 - Ceramic Is attacked by WWII German sub U-515 (above right) and torpedoed 3 times. 656 fatalities, 1 survivor captured by U-boat for interrogation.

White Star Line Vessel Zealandic - Sunk by U-106 (WWII)



WSL's Zealandic (top left) was attacked and sunk by U-106 (top right) off of the coast of Spain on July 17, 1942. All 73 of Zealandic's passengers and crew were killed. U-106 was destroyed by British aircraft 4 months later.

White Star Line Vessel Runic (2nd) - Attacked and sunk by U-138 (WWII)

                                                                            Type IID boat pictured above same as U-138. Photo property of Mr. Hermut Herglotz

Runic was attacked and torpedoed by U-138 and sunk off of the Irish coast in 1940 killing 2. U-138 was later depth charged and destroyed (same year) by British destroyers  HMS Faulknor, HMS Fearless, HMS Forester, HMS Foresight and HMS Foxhound

White Star Liner Laurentic (2nd) - Attacked and sunk by U-99 (WWII)



November, 1940, one of the most dramatic battles of the U-boat war begins. U-99 (above right) attacked the auxiliary cruiser HMS Laurentic (above left) with a torpedo at 10:50 PM. A half hour later, U-99 fires a second torpedo, but both miss. At 11:40 PM Laurentic fires back with her guns. After four hours of battle, U-99 repositions herself, fires 2 more torpedoes and the HMS Laurentic is finally sent to the bottom taking with her the lives of 49. U-99 sank more ships than any other U-boat in Germany's WWI & WWII history. (39 ships sunk, 5 damaged) In March of 1941, U-99 was depth charged and sunk by the British destroyer HMS Walker southeast of Iceland.

Other war-related sinking's (not by U-boat's) of or by White Star Line Vessel's

White Star Line Baggage Tender Traffic (I) - Attacked and sunk by Luftwaffe, later raised (WWII)



Baggage Tender Traffic I (above left) sunk while docked in Liverpool by a German Messerschmitt Bf 109 E (above right) during the London Blitz in 1941


White Star Vessel Bardic (2nd) - Attacked and sunk by Scharnhorst (WWII)

9/3/41 WSL Bardic (then named Marathon) sunk by the German battleship Scharnhorst (right) off of the Cape Verde Islands while in convoy.


German U-boat, U-103 - Sunk by White Star Liner Olympic (WWI)


                                                                                                                               Olympic "dazzle painted" to confuse submarines with speed and direction

May 12,1918, while on its twenty-second voyage as a troop carrier, Olympic, was attacked by U-103 in the English Channel. Two torpedoes were fired at the ship's port-side bow. Unarmed but much quicker, the Olympic was able to escape the torpedoes. The liner steamed out of harm's way, turned around, rammed U103 and quickly sank her.  Several of U-103's crew were able to escape and were later picked up by an American destroyer. Olympic was the only merchant ship that sink an enemy vessel during World War I.


White Star Liner/Hospital Ship HMHS Britannic sunk by a mine laid by a coastal U-boat

                                          HMHS Britannic                                                                                                       U-73, believed to have laid the mine that sank Britannic

Working as a hospital ship, Britannic departed Southampton on November 12, 1916. The next day she arrived at Naples for coaling and was to depart the next day but a storm delayed the departure. On November 15 she was steaming through the Kea Channel in the Aegean near Greece. Shortly after eight in the morning, Britannic struck a floating mine believed to have been laid just the day before by the a German mine-laying submarine (coastal-boat) U-73.

She began sinking at the bow, (as Titanic did) but with a sharp list to port. Her captain, William Bartlett tried unsuccessfully to beach her on Kea Island, but that resulted in water coming in much quicker. In fifty five minutes the vessel sank. The explosion apparently occurred at the watertight bulkhead between holds 2 and 3, and the bulkhead separating holds 2 and 1 were also damaged. At the same time, boiler rooms 5 and 6 began taking water. 30 aboard were killed, and most of them because two lifeboats were pulled into the props that were still turning.


White Star Line Vessel Georgic (I) - Attacked and sunk by German Raider Moewe. (WWI)

1916, while enroute to Brest, France, from Philadelphia, PA, Georgic was approached by the German Raider Moewe. Georgic was transporting 1200 horses, barrels of oil, and wheat. When signaled to stop by the Moewe, the Georgic ignored the hail and kept going. Moewe fired a shell from one of her guns striking Georgic on the aft deck and killing one crewmember.

The crew was captured and put on board Moewe as POW's. Georgic's crew did their best to try to talk their captors into taking the Georgic into occupied France as a prize to save the horses, but the Moewe decided instead to shell and sink the Georgic on the spot. It's been speculated that Moewe most likely didn't want to sail Georgic out of  fear of running into a British warship on the way back, or she may have wanted to continue on her patrol to sink other vessels.

Curious spectators view the previously surrendered SM U-118 beached at Hastings, France in April, 1919 after a towing cable snapped and the U-boat washed ashore. She had been under tow for scrapping. In the weeks prior to her eventual dismantling in place on the beach, the town of Hastings charged tourists a small fee to climb aboard and go inside the U-boat. This quickly stopped when 2 people died from chlorine gas leaking from the submarine's damaged batteries.


(Above left) U-118 washing ashore. (Above right) This photo gives a perspective as to how long U-118 was. (267 feet) She was a coastal mine layer.

A second U-118 from WWII leaking oil and under attack by US TBM avengers from the USS Bogue. (CVE-9) The U-boat was sunk shortly after this photo was taken June 12, 1943. Photo credit:

The Laconia Incident


The Laconia incident refers to the controversial events surrounding the sinking and aborted rescue attempt of a British troopship in the Atlantic Ocean during World War II. On September 12, 1942, the RMS Laconia, under the command of Capt. Rudolph Sharp and carrying 2,732 crew, passengers, soldiers and POWs, was torpedoed and sunk by German U-boat U-156 off the coast of West Africa. Operating partly under the dictates of the old prize rules, the U-boat commander, Korvettenkapitän Werner Hartenstein, immediately commenced rescue operations.

Hartenstein broadcasted his humanitarian intent on open radio channels to all Allied forces in the area, and was joined by the crews of other U-boats in the vicinity. Heading on the surface to a rendezvous with French ships under Red Cross banners with their deck loaded down with survivors, U-156 and U-506 were deliberately attacked by a US Army Air Force B-24 Liberator bomber. The Liberator, which had confirmed and reported the U-boat's intentions and the presence of survivors, was explicitly ordered to attack both U-boat's anyway. The B-24 ended up killing dozens of the Laconia's survivors with bombs and repeated strafing attacks, forcing U-156 and U-506 to crash dive with their remaining Laconia survivors on deck to avoid being destroyed. The pilots of the B-24 falsely reported that they had sunk both U-boats, and were awarded medals for bravery.

This event changed the attitude of Germany's naval personnel towards rescuing stranded allied seamen, and the commanders of the Kriegsmarine were shortly issued the "Laconia Order" by Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz. The new order halted any rescue attempts of allied survivors and became the start of unrestricted submarine warfare against all allied shipping. (No warning prior to attacking) Neither the US pilots nor their commanders were ever punished or even investigated, and the matter was quietly forgotten by the US military until the Nuremburg Trials. While trying to prosecute Dönitz for war crimes with his order of unrestricted warfare, the "Laconia Incident" came to light. This caused complete embarrassment to the US when the true story of the incident emerged. An international bestseller and numerous articles on the subject have been published. A 2-part television movie was released about the incident in 2011.

Source: Wikipedia


(Above left) The Cunard liner RMS Laconia. It was requisitioned by the British Admiralty and converted to a troop transport in WWII. (Above right) U-156, attacked and sank the Laconia.

     Image result for b-24 liberator

(Above left) U-156 and U-506 picking up Laconia survivors from the water minutes before being attacked by a US B-24 Liberator bomber. (Above right) A B-24 Liberator

After the Incident

U-156 was eventually attacked and destroyed 5 months after the Laconia incident on March 8,1943, with all 53 hands on board east of the island of Barbados by depth charges dropped from a US Navy PBY Catalina.

U-506 was destroyed 7 months after that off the coast of Spain after being depth charged, ironically by another B-24 Liberator. The pilot of the Liberator circled around and dropped a life raft and six U-506 survivors were rescued from the sea 3 days later by a British destroyer.


Command of the Kriegsmarine

Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz was charged at the Nuremburg Trials (International Military Tribunal) with the war crimes of waging unrestricted submarine warfare against neutral shipping and participating in war crimes against peace and humanity. He was found not guilty of the charge of "Crimes against Peace and Humanity," after it was proven that he convinced Hitler to continue honoring the rules of the Geneva Convention which Hitler was thinking of discontinuing. Although he was not a supporter of "The Final Solution" and didn't plan or participate in it, he was loyal to Hitler and (in accordance with Hitler's will) replaced him after his suicide with the new title of President of Germany. On May 7, 1945, Dönitz ordered General Alfred Jodl, Chief of Operations of the German High Command, (Oberkommando der Wehrmacht) to advise General Eisenhower's headquarters in Rheims of Germany's official surrender. All hostilities ceased as of 2300 hrs on May 8, 1945.

Dönitz received 10 years at Spandau Prison in West Berlin despite letters of sentencing protest from 4 US Navy Admirals and testimony of support at Nuremburg from Admiral Chester Nimitz. He was released in 1956, received a small government pension and in retirement, wrote two books. The first, Ten Years and Twenty Days were his memoirs recounting his days as a U-boat commander; which became a best seller. The second book, My Life as a Soldier, didn't do as well. He appeared on the the British television show The World at War in 1973.

Dönitz died in 1980 at the age of 89. The West German government ordered that Dönitz was to be buried without military honors and no soldiers attending his funeral were to wear uniforms. He was buried at Waldfriedhof Cemetery in Aumühle, Germany. Out of the 2,500 that attended the funeral, over 300 were members of both the German and Royal Navy and attended in full military dress.  


U-Boats of World War II

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