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German submarine U-556

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Title: German submarine U-556  
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Subject: List of shipwrecks in May 1941, Convoy OB 318, Convoy HX 126, Patenschafts.png, HMS Malcolm (D19)
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German submarine U-556

Career (Nazi Germany)
Name: U-556
Ordered: 25 September 1939
Builder: Blohm & Voss, Hamburg
Yard number: 532
Laid down: 2 January 1940
Launched: 7 December 1940
Commissioned: 6 February 1941
Fate: Sunk, 27 June 1941[1]
General characteristics
Type: Type VIIC submarine
Displacement: 769 tonnes (757 long tons) surfaced
871 t (857 long tons) submerged
Length: 67.1 m (220 ft 2 in) o/a
50.5 m (165 ft 8 in) pressure hull
Beam: 6.2 m (20 ft 4 in) o/a
4.7 m (15 ft 5 in) pressure hull
Draft: 4.74 m (15 ft 7 in)
Propulsion: 2 × supercharged Germaniawerft 6-cylinder 4-stroke F46 diesel engines, totalling 2,800–3,200 bhp (2,100–2,400 kW). Max rpm: 470-490
2 × electric motors, totalling 750 shp (560 kW) and max rpm: 296.
Speed: 17.7 knots (32.8 km/h; 20.4 mph) surfaced
7.6 knots (14.1 km/h; 8.7 mph) submerged
Range: 8,500 nmi (15,700 km; 9,800 mi) at 10 kn (19 km/h; 12 mph) surfaced
80 nmi (150 km; 92 mi) at 4 kn (7.4 km/h; 4.6 mph) submerged
Test depth: 230 m (750 ft)
Crush depth: 250–295 m (820–968 ft)
Complement: 44–52 officers and ratings
Service record[2][3]
Part of: 1st U-boat Flotilla
(6 February–27 June 1941)
Commanders: Kptlt. Herbert Wohlfarth
(6 February–27 June 1941)
Operations: 1st patrol: 1–30 May 1941
2nd patrol: 19–27 June 1941
Victories: Six commercial ships sunk (29,552 GRT)
one commercial ship damaged (4,986 GRT)

German submarine U-556 was a Type VIIC U-boat of Nazi Germany's Kriegsmarine during World War II. She was laid down on 2 January 1940 at the Blohm & Voss yard in Hamburg as yard number 532, launched on 7 December 1940, and commissioned on 6 February 1941 under the command of Kapitänleutnant Herbert Wohlfarth, who commanded her for her entire career. U-556 conducted only two patrols, sinking six ships totalling 29,552 tons and damaging one other of 4,986 tons, before she was sunk on 27 June 1941.


  • Service history 1
    • 1st patrol 1.1
      • The sinking of the Bismarck 1.1.1
    • 2nd patrol 1.2
    • Wolf packs 1.3
  • Summary of Raiding Career 2
  • References 3

Service history

1st patrol

U-556 sailed from Kiel for her first patrol on 1 May 1941. She headed out into the waters of the northern Atlantic, south of Greenland.[4] She made her first kill on 6 May, sinking the 166 ton Faroese fishing trawler Emanuel with her deck gun west of the Faroe Islands.[5]

On 10 May she joined the wolfpack West[6] attacking Convoy OB-318 south-east of Cape Farewell. Her first victim was the 4,986 ton British merchant ship Aelybryn, hit by one of the torpedoes fired by the U-boat at 04:42. Badly damaged, but suffering only a single casualty, the ship was towed to Reykjavík by HMS Hollyhock.[7]

The convoy scattered, but at 07:52 U-556 torpedoed and sank the 4,861 ton British merchant ship Empire Caribou. Nine crew members and two gunners were later picked up by HMS Malcolm, but the master, 31 crewmen, and two gunners were lost.[8]

The U-boat has her third success of the day at 20:37, sinking the 5,086 ton Belgian merchant ship Gand. One crew member was lost and another wounded. The master, 38 crewmen and four gunners were rescued.[9]

Ten days later, on 10 May, the wolfpack attacked Convoy HX-126. Between 14:48 and 15:16 U-556 fired torpedoes at the convoy and sank two British merchant ships, the 4,974 ton Darlington Court[10] and the 5,995 ton Cockaponset,[11] and the 8,470 ton tanker British Security. Loaded with 11,200 tons of benzine and kerosene, the tanker caught fire and burned for three days before sinking. There were no survivors from her crew of 53.[12]

The sinking of the Bismarck

On 26 May, while returning from patrol, low on fuel and having fired all her torpedoes, U-556 was ordered to reconnoitre the most recently reported position of the battleship Bismarck.

U-556 and Bismarck had been neighbours in the ways at Blohm & Voss and they completed construction at about the same time. (Bismarck was commissioned on 24 August 1940.) In January 1941, as U-556 '​s commissioning ceremony approached, Wohlfarth wanted a band for the celebration, but could not afford to hire one. Kapitän Ernst Lindemann, commanding officer of Bismarck, loaned him his ship's band.[2][13]

Wohlfarth's Patenschaftsurkunde

As thanks, Wohlfarth drew up a humorous Patenschaftsurkunde ("Certificate of Sponsorship") promising that U-556 would protect Bismarck. A drawing shows Wohlfarth as the knight Parzival [Percival] (his nickname) on the deck of U-556 simultaneously bringing down planes with a sword and reaching underwater to stop a torpedo with his thumb. A second drawing then shows the submarine towing the battleship to safety.[13]

The text accompanying the drawing reads:[13]

Around 19:50, Wohlfahrt saw the battlecruiser HMS Renown and the aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal coming out of the mist at high speed. He recorded in his log, "Enemy bows on, 10 degrees to starboard, without destroyers, without zigzagging," but without any torpedoes, could only submerge and avoid them. Wohlfahrt saw activity on Ark Royal's flight deck, which transpired to be the launching of the second, fatal attack on Bismarck. At 20:39, Wohlfahrt surfaced and transmitted, "Enemy in view, a battleship, an aircraft carrier, course 115, enemy is proceeding at high speed. Position 48° 20′ N, 16° 20′ W." Renown '​s and Ark Royal '​s course toward Bismarck coincided almost exactly with his own; he proceeded on the surface at full speed behind them.[13]

Wohlfahrt's War Diary contains these entries for 27 May 1941:[13]

00:00, (wind) north-west 5, seaway 5, rain squalls, moderate visibility, very dark night. Surfaced. What can I do for Bismarck? I can see star shells being fired and flashes from Bismarck's guns. It is a terrible feeling to be near and not to be able to do anything. All I can do is reconnoitre and lead in boats that have torpedoes. I am keeping contact at the limit of visibility, reporting the position, and sending directional signals to call up the other boats.
03:52: I am moving around on the east side to the south, in order to be in the direction of the activity. I soon reach the limit of what I can do in view of my fuel supply. Otherwise I won't get home.
04:00: The seas are rising ever higher. Bismarck still fighting. Reported weather for the Luftwaffe.

Around 06:30 Wohlfahrt sighted U-74 and transferred the mission of maintaining contact with Bismarck to Kapitänleutnant Eitel-Friedrich Kentrat. He gave Kentrat Bismarck '​s position based on his observations of the star shells fired during the night, adding: "I have not seen her directly. You assume contact. I have no more fuel." Wohlfahrt then submerged and did not surface again until noon, a time at which radio signals were routinely repeated. That was when he heard for the first time the order radioed to him between 07:00 and 08:00 to pick up Bismarck '​s War Diary. He replied to the Befehlshaber der U-Boote ("Commander-in-Chief for Submarines") Karl Dönitz, asking that this mission be transferred to Kentrat, who received the radio order, "U-boat Kentrat pick up Bismarck War Diary," but was unable to locate Bismarck. The battleship had been sunk before Wohlfahrt had received the first message at noon.[13]

U-556 arrived at Lorient, in occupied France on 30 May 1941 after 30 days at sea,[3] where Wohlfahrt received the Knight's Cross (Ritterkreuz) from Dönitz personally.[14]

2nd patrol

U-556 departed from Lorient on 19 June 1941, and once more headed out into the Atlantic.[15] However, on 27 June, she was sunk south-west of Iceland, in position , by depth charges from the British Flower-class corvettes HMS Nasturtium, Celandine and Gladiolus. Five of the crew were killed and 41 survived.[2]

Wolf packs

U-556 took part in 1 wolfpack, namely.

  • West (10 May 1941 - 20 May 1941)

Summary of Raiding Career

Date Ship Name Nationality Tonnage Fate[16]
6 May 1941 Emanuel  Faeroes 166 Sunk
10 May 1941 Aelbryn  United Kingdom 4,986 Damaged
10 May 1941 Empire Caribou  United Kingdom 4,861 Sunk
10 May 1941 Gand  Belgium 5,086 Sunk
20 May 1941 British Security  United Kingdom 8,740 Sunk
20 May 1941 Cockaponset  United Kingdom 5,995 Sunk
20 May 1941 Darlington Court  United Kingdom 4,974 Sunk


  1. ^ Kemp, Paul: U-Boats Destroyed - German Submarine Losses in the World Wars, 1997, Arms & Armour, ISBN 1-85409-515-3, p. 71.
  2. ^ a b c "The Type VIIC boat U-556 - German U-boats of WWII -". Retrieved 15 February 2010. 
  3. ^ a b "War Patrols by German U-boat U-556 - Boats -". Retrieved 15 February 2010. 
  4. ^ "Patrol of U-boat U-556 from 1 May 1941 to 30 May 1941 - U-boat patrols -". Retrieved 15 February 2010. 
  5. ^ "Emanuel (Steam trawler) - Ships hit by U-boats -". Retrieved 15 February 2010. 
  6. ^ "Wolfpack West - Wolfpacks - German U-boat Operations -". Retrieved 15 February 2010. 
  7. ^ "Aelybryn (Steam merchant) - Ships hit by U-boats -". Retrieved 15 February 2010. 
  8. ^ "Empire Caribou (Steam merchant) - Ships hit by U-boats -". Retrieved 15 February 2010. 
  9. ^ "Gand (Steam merchant) - Ships hit by U-boats -". Retrieved 15 February 2010. 
  10. ^ "Darlington Court (Motor merchant) - Ships hit by U-boats -". Retrieved 15 February 2010. 
  11. ^ "Cockaponset (Steam merchant) - Ships hit by U-boats -". Retrieved 15 February 2010. 
  12. ^ "British Security (Motor tanker) - Ships hit by U-boats -". Retrieved 15 February 2010. 
  13. ^ a b c d e f "Bismarck - The Special Bond between the Bismarck and the U-556". Retrieved 15 February 2010. 
  14. ^ "U-Boat Operations". Retrieved 15 February 2010. 
  15. ^ "Patrol of U-boat U-556 from 19 Jun 1941 to 27 Jun 1941 - U-boat patrols -". Retrieved 15 February 2010. 
  16. ^ "U556 successes". Retrieved 2 February 2014. 
  • at uboat.netU-556
  • at ubootwaffe.netU-556
  • U-556 and the BismarckThe Special Bond between the
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