"The Hunters - gaming the u-boat war in World War II"

The after action reports of Fritz "X", German U-boat commander

A summary of playing "The Hunters" by Con Sim Press

Consim Press published a solitaire board game "The Hunters" which is a great insight into how a u-boat patrol was conducted and what challenges the boats faced during ther "Happy Times" in the first half of the World War Two. The game places you as commander of a u-boat. You are assigned a mission, take the boat on patrol and resolve the events dictated by the dice and the various tables.

September '39

Dear Willy,

Back on the British Isles patrol again. This patrol was not fruitful. While we sank a handful of small ships, the escorts and air patrols are becoming more effective. My squadron leader was not impressed with these excuses. Sadly, the set backs have tarnished my reputation and I did not receive promotion this year. Father will be disappointed. However, I still have my boat and the crew's performance has improved. I'm hopeful that the upcoming year will be happy hunting.

- Fritz

July '40

Dear Willy,
Summer is bringing many changes. With the victory in France, we've pushed our bases to the edge of the Atlantic. I'm now based on the west coast of France on the Bay of Biscay. Though our origin has changed, our mission remains the same - patrol the British Isles. We had a moderately successful patrol sinking four merchant vessels totalling 14,100 tons. It's a nice change after that business in February and May. I was starting to worry that the squadron commander would start looking for another commander for the boat.

- Fritz

November '40

Dear Willy,
I hope tht fall finds you in good spirits. Mother writes that you are doing well in school. Study hard! Success requires skill, knowledge and ability. Our work continues, but the routine of patrol the British Isles was broken by our first Atlantic patrol. The ocean is vast. So vast that I began to think we'd not find any ships to sink. But on the homeward leg, we encountered a convoy during the day. We trailed them until nightfall and then moved to attack. We sank three of the four ships we sighted before the escorts forced us to break off. A good patrol, but I suspect that the squadron leader still expects more from me.

- Fritz

January '41
Dear Willy,
I'm writing this from the comfort of a chateau on the French coast with a warm fire and cold beer. I always wanted to be a sailor, but winter in the North Atlantic is not for the weak. Leaving on patrol we were pounced on by a patrol aircraft, but this time we were able to dive and evade the cursed plane.

Most of the Atlantic patrol was taken up with patrolling. I won't say it was boring. Keeping the boat running while navigating the heavy waves and cold air of the ocean in winter was quite a challenge. The boat rolled so much on the surface it was tough to keep down our food. I'm afraid I'm a bit thinner than I was at Christmas. Towards the end of the patrol we made contact with a convoy and finished off three of four ships, including our first tanker! We took minor damage during the battle with the batteries being knocked out toward the end of the action. The crew was rightfully happy with their performance. I can only hope that the squadron leader is pleased with our work.

- Fritz

April '41
Dear Willy,
our spring time patrol has ended. Again we sailed into the Atlantic and again we emerged victorious. We used up all our torpedoes on four ships. They were tough targets and I had to finish off the last ship with the deck gun, something we've not done since last summer.  The crew's performance has been exemplary - they are the equal of any other crew in the fleet.  Summer is almost upon us - the longer days help our enemies, but we still own the night!

- Fritz

June '41

Dear Willy,
So far summer has been dull. Another routine patrol of the British Isles. Hunting was sparse - we only encountered one ship  - a large freighter (the SS Protesilus, 9600t). We stumbled onto her in the afternoon and conducted a classic submerged attack. A salvo of three G7a torpedoes ripped open her hull and sent the ship to the bottom. The rest of the patrol was routine - just the standard hardships all sailors face upon the sea.

August '41

Dear Willy,

I'm sure you've heard the news from mother and father, but I thought you'd want your own letter with the details straight from me. Our last patrol was anything but routine. I persuaded the squadron commander to send my boat to the Atlantic again. I didn't realize it at the time, but he was rounding up several boats to form a wolfpack so my request crossed his desk at a fortuitous time. We sailed for the Atlantic from our base at Brest. While in the Bay of Biscay we were again attacked by a British patrol plane - these attacks are getting entirely too regular. While we were able to dive and avoid attack, I wished the Luftwaffe could do more to help, but the news reports make it clear that they are busy with the Russian campaign and fighting the British in North Africa.

We encountered a convoy at the mid-point of our patrol. I was disappointed that our targets were relatively small freighters - I was really hoping to score big and impressive the CO as I'm was up for promotion upon my return. A good haul would help my chances! We expended all five fish in the initial attack and scored four hits. Unfortunately, the torpedoes only did enough damage to sink a medium sized ship (the SS Umona of 3800 ton). We did damage the SS Shirac enough that she dropped out of the convoy. Waiting a few hours, we closed in and put three more torpedoes into her, sending the ship to the bottom.

I was feeling reasonably satisfied with myself and optimistic that the 'pack would yield another opportunity to add to my tonnage count.  But when our lookouts sighted what we thought was another convoy, I became giddy with anticipation as we identified one of the ships as HMS Barham - one of the Queen Elizabeth class battleships remaining from the Great War. To think - she fought against Admiral Scheer at Jutland and now I found myself readying to attack this floating castle.

Bringing the crew to action stations we moved in for a close range night surface attack. I'd likely only have one chance at Barham, so I wanted to do the most damage. I elected to fire both the bow and stern tubes in the same attack. Make no mistake - it increased the risk of being detected, but the reward for success would be great, even if we perished in the attempt.

I commanded the attack from the conning tower. A cool ocean breeze blew in our face carrying the diesel exhaust astern. Visibility was excellent, while the quarter moon gave just enough light for us to track the battleship.

We successfully avoided the escorts and brought the boat to attack position. Really it was just like what you see at the cinema.  We do the math, check the numbers, watch the clock and then I shout out, "Torpedoes...LOS!"  The hiss of the compressed air bubbles to the surface in white foamy froth as the bow tubes empty. I order the boat about and line up the stern tube. "LOS!" and the hiss of air filters up from the conning tower hatch as we spit the fifth fish away.

Now we watch the clock while the torpedo men reload the tubes with our last torpedoes. The seconds tick by.....

...Our 2WO count downs the time to impact ten...five....zero.....

BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! BA-BOOM! A thunderous explosion lights up the night - DIRECT HITS! My patience had paid off - all five of the torpedoes struck the Barham a staggering amount of damage was inflicted and the ship rolled over and sank in very short order. The British newsreels capture her last moments....

Unfortunately, the price for such effective work was being detected by Barham's escorts. We took fire from the destroyers guns before we could dive. The 2cm mount was damaged and the hydrophone array was hit. But the boat was intact and could still dive.

This was the most dangerous part of our battle. All we could do was take the pounding of the depth charges and try and escape. We dove deep...the hull is good Krupp steel, but we took the boat deeper than recommended, exceeding her test depth. I ordered a quick course change back toward the sinking Barham. We steeled ourselves for the inevitable depth charge attack, but our elite crew's speed and skill helped us to ghost away from the escorts without suffering additional damage.


The rest of the patrol was uneventful - we even crossed the Bay of Biscay without suffering the indignity of British air attack. I proudly brought the boat into port with the broom tied to the mast. There was quite the crowd at the dock to greet us. The band was playing an upbeat march. The squadron CO was there of course, but even Admiral Donitz, the Befehlshaber der Unterseeboote was awaiting us. The Admiral was there to award me the Knight's Cross. It's quite an honor and makes me one of the elite boat captains in the fleet.  The CO made it clear that the promotion board was a mere formality and within two weeks, here I am wearing the stripes of a Korvetten-Kaptain on my sleeves. 

The celebrations and parties have been fun, but I'm starting to feel like one of the famed Lipizzaner horses brought out to perform for the parade of visiting dignitaries. My duties are keeping me busy - I've been assigned a new boat - one of the brand new Type VIIC class boats. I'm fortunate that I get to bring my crew along - this was their victory as much as mine - and they'll get to share the benefits of the new boat. 

But first we'll need to get comfortable in our new home and there's little time left to do it. We're to sail in October and get I'd like to get our licks in before winter returns to the North Atlantic. 

I must end this letter here and get back to work.Give my love to mother and father,


October '41

Dear Willy,

I hope this letter finds you well. I'm sorry for not writing sooner, but my duty has left me little free time.

I thought I knew what fighting in U-boats was about. I've commanded my own boat for the past two years. I've sunk ten's of thousands of tons of shipping and been attacked by ships and aircraft on numerous occasions.

I realize now that I knew nothing of war. Real war is pain and fear and terror and death. Real war is the stink of chlorine from leaking batteries and the coppery stench of blood in the bilges. Real war is the icy water of the North Atlantic leaching the warmth of life from your heart.

Our last patrol was hard.

I had wheedled the CO into assigning us to another Atlantic patrol. Much of the patrol was uneventful, we crossed the Bay of Biscay and reached our patrol station without encountering the British Navy. I'll admit that all the attention and praise from the previous patrol had me thirsting for more. So much so that when we finally encountered a convoy on the way home I charged to the attack, determined not to let any of the ships escape.

Unfortunately, the escort destroyers spotted us before we reached the firing point.  Depth charges came down and did some minor hull damage and damaged one of the electric motors.  But we gave them the slip and circled around for another shot at the convoy. This time we came in at night made it to the attack position. We bagged a medium sized tanker with two torpedoes and damaged a freighter with our initial salvo.

Then the devil turned his gaze on us and laughed. We were again spotted by the destroyer escorts. The ASDIC scanner fixed our position and the depth charging was ferocious. The boat suffered heavy damage and serious flooding. Then came the crew casualties. Hartz suffered a minor wound. So did the doctor. Schmidt, my 2WO suffered a severe wound and old Jurgen the boat's engineer was killed when a rivet was blown loose and hit him in the head. We'd fought together for the past two years and now he was gone...and when we needed him the most.

Still the destroyers held us in their grip. The boat suffered more hull damage and even more flooding. The boat was badly damaged. For the first time in this war I contemplated my own death. It seemed that it would never end.  When we finally did limp away we barely stopped the flooding before the boat sank. We were knee deep in water in the after compartments. Assessing the damage I found the hull badly damaged and our deck gun knocked out. The motor could be fixed and the doctor stabilized the injuries to the 2WO. It was time to go home.

Type VIIC badly damaged from depth charge attacks.

BdU still counted the patrol as a success. We'd managed to sink a tanker and those were the best targets in the admiral's view - starve the British of the fuel they needed to fight the war. The boat will be in the years through the end of the year.  Ulrich (my 2WO) was badly wounded. The doctor indicates he will not be fit for duty until the Spring or Summer. I'll be getting a replacement from the fleet. I hear the new man is just as competent, but with losing Ulrich and Jurgen, the boat won't be the same.

Happy holidays and stay safe.

- Fritz

January '42

Dear Willy,

Greetings from Western France! I've returned from the latest patrol and the story I have to tell you won't believe. My last voyage took my boat and crew to places I never expected to see and in the end saw things I hoped never to see.

Of course, you've heard the news that following the Japanese attack on the Americans that the Fuehrer honored Germany's treaty obligations and also declared war on the Americans. Given that we've been fighting American destroyers in the Atlantic for almost a year, you'd think it would not change much.

I'd heard that the Squadron Commander wanted a boat for a special mission. After the last mission into the Atlantic I thought of my last special mission and thought why not try again - it has to be easier than hunting convoys in the middle of winter. I was both right and wrong. Willy, on this last patrol I did the unthinkable - I 'invaded' the United States.

I'm not pulling your leg. Our mission was to deliver an Abwehr secret agent to American soil. He had some special mission stir up trouble in North America - I didn't need to know the details and didn't ask.

The outbound mission was routine. We encountered no enemy planes or ships as we crossed the Atlantic. This was fine by me - the Atlantic in winter is enough of an enemy with tossing in the British and Americans shooting at us.

By Mid-January we'd arrived off the eastern coast of the United States. We planned to put our man ashore the first night we'd arrived and then back to the proper mission of sinking ships. Now Willy, I'm a rational man that believes in science, not superstition but when we surfaced to send the spy ashore we were pounced on by an American patrol plane. The plane strafed and bombed our boat causing a bit of damage - it knocked out our deck gun and damaged the diving planes. In all the excitement Doctor Zeller was injured. He said it was just a flesh wound but I worried as he was the responsible for keeping the rest of the crew healthy on this long trip.

Fortunately we were able to surface later and effect repairs to both the diving planes and the deck gun. Waiting another day we again surfaced the boat just off the shore. Things looked promising. Not wanting to ask the men to do something I wasn't willing to do myself, I left Storch in charge of the boat while I accompanied the landing party ashore. It was hard work, but we endured the exertion reached the beach.

Willy, it's a strange feeling to stand on the enemy's home soil and know that you and a handful of men face millions opposed to you. Wishing the Abwehr man luck we returned to the raft and paddled our way back to the u-boat.

With our mission a formal success, I went back to what we'd been trained for - hunting merchants. My briefing stated that freighters were pletiful off North America, but our patrol yielded only one contact-two freighters that were accompanied by an escort. We spotted the smoke on the horizon during the day and closed in for the attack. We were at the end of our patrol time and though it was risky to attack during the day, I feared losing the ships before nightfall.

I targeted both ships, but only confirmed the small ship sank. At least one torpedo hit the larger freighter,but she did not sink. Then things fell apart.

The escorts found us. We endured a punishing bombardment and the depth charges boomed for hours. I tried every trick I knew to break contact but they Americans were tenacious. The boat suffered signifigant damage - the periscope was hit and one of the electric motors knocked out and the deck gun damaged again. These things were within the realm of the expected, but in one close explosion the doctor was thrown into the bulkhead and hit is head. The blow snapped his neck, killing him instantly. I can't help but wonder if his early wound contributed to his death. As night fell we were finally able to break contact and disengage. Surfacing hours later, the engineer fixed all the systems except for the deck gun.

We took the opportunity to conduct a burial at sea for the doctor. It was a solemn moment. It's the first time the crew has seen death within our family. The cruise back to France was quiet and uneventful. I could see from the men's faces that the doctor's death weighed on their minds. Hopefully, our month to recover while the boat is in refit will allow them time to grieve and focus on our next mission...

 - Fritz

August 15, 1942

To: BdU West Region command

From: HQ 9th U-Boat Flotilla, Brest, France

Subject: U-77 status

As of the date U-77 is officially two weeks past expected return to port date. There has been no radio communications with U-77 since early July '42 when she reported engaging a convoy with multiple tankers and large freighters. 

Other returning boats are reporting that Allied convoy escorts are becoming increasingly more effective. Boats are unable to reach close range attacks without engaging with escorts.  Assumption is that U-77 has been lost in combat. In the absence of further evidence, crew is listed as "missing - presumed lost at sea".

Request assignment of new u-boat and crew to replace losses suffered. 

Message ends

U Boat commander "Fritz" performance

15 patrols
33 ships sunk
3 ships damaged
204,300 tons of shipping sunk

Lost in battle with escorts of convoy GD-27. Royal Canadian Navy logs indicate that the Flower class corvette HMCS Regina engaged and sank a U-boat with depth charges on July 8th, 1942. Current thinking is that this boat was U-77.


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