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U-boat | ˈyo͞o ˌbōt |, noun

German U-boot, abbreviation of Unterseeboot (“undersea boat”), a German submarine. The destruction of enemy shipping by German U-boats was a spectacular feature of both World Wars I and II.


Erwin Rostin

Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross


The commander of U-boat 158 distinguished himself on his very first war patrol, when he sank five ships. The fourth ship that he sank — and the first U.S. vessel — was the Caribsea. His second patrol, in the Gulf of Mexico, was one of the most successful of WWII in terms of tonnage, with 12 ships totalling 62,536 tons sunk. In all, on just two patrols in less than four months, Kapitänleutnant Erwin Rostin’s U-boat sank 17 merchant ships and damaged two others.

Born in the northern German town of Güstrow on October 8, 1907, Erwin Rostin died in the North Atlantic, west of Bermuda, on June 30, 1942, aged 34. He was awarded the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross, the greatest achievable honor for a German submariner, two days before he died.

"On the first command with a new boat, the escort attack, as well as the operation in shallow water off the American coast, shows the commander's courage and attacking spirit."


Laid down on November 1, 1940, at the shipyard of AG Weser in Bremen, Germany, U-158 slipped into the North Sea on June 21, 1941, under the command of Kapitänleutnant Erwin Rostin. In her two war patrols, U-158 sank 17 ships, for a total tonnage of 101,321, and damaged two others.

On June 29, 1942, in waters SSW of Bermuda, U-158 sank the Latvian steamer Everalda and captured several confidential documents, information from which Rostin reported to the BdU via lengthy wireless signals. (The Befehlshaber der Unterseeboote or BdU [Eng: “Commander of the U-boats”] was the supreme commander of the German Navy’s U-boat Arm [Ubootwaffe] during the First and Second World Wars). Picking up these signals, Allied stations were able to pinpoint the position of the U-boat.

In the afternoon of June 30, a PBM-3C Mariner flying boat (pilot Lt. Richard E. Schreder) on anti-submarine patrol from Bermuda surprised the U-boat on the surface by diving out of the sun and dropping two depth charges that detonated directly underneath the stern. U-158 sank immediately, and with her all 54 crew plus the captain of the Everalda and another prisoner were lost. The Americans reported they’d seen 15 men sunbathing on the upper deck.

u-boats in the harbor

U-Boat Attack in NY Harbor

After three weeks at sea, German submarine U-123 sails by the coast of New York and immediately finds a potential target: the large British oil tanker, Coimbra. The ease of the attack raises questions about why the U.S. wasn’t more prepared.

Video (2:24) (Credit: Smithsonian Channel)

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Rocket U-Boats: V-1 Missile Attack New York 1945

The secret German plan to bombard New York City with V-1 missiles launched from U-Boats. How close did they get?

Video (15:47) (Credit: Mark Felton Productions)

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