German submarine U-156 (1941)

For other ships with the same name, see German submarine U-156.
Conning tower emblem of U-156
Nazi Germany
Name: U-156
Ordered: 25 September 1939
Builder: DeSchiMAG AG Weser, Bremen
Yard number: 998
Laid down: 11 October 1940
Launched: 21 May 1941
Commissioned: 4 September 1941
Fate: Sunk on 8 March 1943
General characteristics
Class and type: Type IXC submarine
  • 1,120 t (1,100 long tons) surfaced
  • 1,232 t (1,213 long tons) submerged
  • 76.76 m (251 ft 10 in) o/a
  • 58.75 m (192 ft 9 in) pressure hull
  • 6.76 m (22 ft 2 in) o/a
  • 4.40 m (14 ft 5 in) pressure hull
Height: 9.60 m (31 ft 6 in)
Draught: 4.70 m (15 ft 5 in)
Installed power:
  • 4,400 PS (3,200 kW; 4,300 bhp) (diesels)
  • 1,000 PS (740 kW; 990 shp) (electric)
  • 13,450 nmi (24,910 km; 15,480 mi) at 10 knots (19 km/h; 12 mph) surfaced
  • 64 nmi (119 km; 74 mi) at 4 knots (7.4 km/h; 4.6 mph) submerged
Test depth: 230 m (750 ft)
Complement: 48 to 56
Service record
Part of:
Commanders: Werner Hartenstein
Operations: Five patrols
  • 20 ships sunk for a total of 97,504 GRT
  • Three ships damaged for a total of 18,811 GRT
  • One warship damaged for a total of 1,190 tons

The German submarine U-156 was a Type IXC U-boat of Nazi Germany's Kriegsmarine built for service during World War II. The keel for this boat was laid on 11 October 1940 at the DeSchiMAG AG Weser yard in Bremen, Germany, as yard number 998. She was commissioned on 4 September 1941 under the command of Kapitänleutnant Werner Hartenstein (Knight's Cross). The city of Plauen, Hartenstein's home city, adopted the submarine within the then popular sponsorship programme (Patenschaftsprogramm), organising gifts and holidays for the crew.

The U-boat took part in five patrols, which included attacks on shipping in which she sank twenty merchantmen, damaged another three merchantmen, and damaged the American destroyer USS Blakeley. An attack on the oil refinery on the island of Aruba was also attempted, but abandoned when her naval gun exploded.

U-156 was the main participant in the Laconia Incident in September 1942, during which she torpedoed and sank the troopship Laconia west of Africa. Whilst rescuing the survivors and flying the Red Cross flag, the U-boat was attacked by an American aircraft and forced to dive, resulting in the shipwrecked survivors being cast back into the sea. The incident led to the Laconia Order, banning U-boats from attempting rescues, and later caused major embarrassment to the US during the Nuremburg trials.

U-156 was attacked with depth charges by an American aircraft east of the island of Barbados on 8 March 1943. She sank with the loss of all hands.


German Type IXC submarines were slightly larger than the original Type IXBs. U-156 had a displacement of 1,120 tonnes (1,100 long tons) when at the surface and 1,232 tonnes (1,213 long tons) while submerged.[1] The U-boat had a total length of 76.76 m (251 ft 10 in), a pressure hull length of 58.75 m (192 ft 9 in), a beam of 6.76 m (22 ft 2 in), a height of 9.60 m (31 ft 6 in), and a draught of 4.70 m (15 ft 5 in). The submarine was powered by two MAN M 9 V 40/46 supercharged four-stroke, nine-cylinder diesel engines producing a total of 4,400 metric horsepower (3,240 kW; 4,340 shp) for use while surfaced, two Siemens-Schuckert 2 GU 345/34 double-acting electric motors producing a total of 1,000 metric horsepower (740 kW; 990 shp) for use while submerged. She had two shafts and two 1.92 m (6 ft) propellers. The boat was capable of operating at depths of up to 230 metres (750 ft).[1]

The submarine had a maximum surface speed of 18.3 knots (33.9 km/h; 21.1 mph) and a maximum submerged speed of 7.3 knots (13.5 km/h; 8.4 mph).[1] When submerged, the boat could operate for 63 nautical miles (117 km; 72 mi) at 4 knots (7.4 km/h; 4.6 mph); when surfaced, she could travel 13,450 nautical miles (24,910 km; 15,480 mi) at 10 knots (19 km/h; 12 mph). U-156 was fitted with six 53.3 cm (21 in) torpedo tubes (four fitted at the bow and two at the stern), 22 torpedoes, one 10.5 cm (4.13 in) SK C/32 naval gun, 180 rounds, and a 3.7 cm (1.5 in) as well as a 2 cm (0.79 in) anti-aircraft gun. The boat had a complement of forty-eight.[1]

Service history

Built and commissioned in Bremen, the boat was assigned on September 1941 to the 4th U-boat Flotilla for training. She conducted her first patrol from that same month, during which her crew trained, and at the end of which she arrived at her operations base in Lorient, France, in December 1941. From that moment, she was assigned to the 2. Unterseebootsflottille based at that port; from where all her operational patrols departed.

During the three patrols completed in 1942, U-156 sank 20 ships for a total of 97,504 gross register tons (GRT); in addition, three ships were damaged for a total of 18,811 GRT and one warship was damaged for a total of 1,190 tons.

Aruba attack

During its second patrol, U-156 participated in Operation Neuland, which intended to disrupt traffic in the Caribbean; and included an attack on the oil refinery at Aruba island, ordered by captain Hartenstein.

At the beginning of the attack on the Lago Oil and Transport Company San Nicolaas refinery, the deck gun exploded because the cap or tampion in the muzzle of the gun, which prevented water from entering the barrel, was not removed before firing. This accident saved what was at the time the world’s largest refinery.

As a result of the accident, Matrosengefreiter (equivalent to Able Seaman or Leading Seaman) Heinrich Bussinger was killed, and Gunnery Officer Dietrich von dem Borne lost his right leg in the explosion. He was taken below and the boat submerged and left the waters off the coast of Aruba. Von dem Borne was put ashore on the island of Martinique for medical treatment and survived the war. That stop at a Vichy France owned territory in the Caribbean accelerated the decay of the full diplomatic recognition between that power and the U.S.A.

Laconia incident

Main article: Laconia incident

On 12 September 1942, U-156 hit the British troopship Laconia on the starboard side with a torpedo. The troopship, carrying 463 officers and crew, 80 civilians, 286 British Army soldiers, 1,793 Italian prisoners of war, and 103 Polish soldiers (guards) off the coast of West Africa, was hit by a second torpedo on Number Two hold and sank. After realising that the passengers were primarily POWs and civilians[2] the U-boat started rescue operations while flying the Red Cross flag. A U.S. Army Air Corps bomber flying out of a secret South Atlantic airbase on Ascension Island attacked the U-boat. The U-boat abandoned the rescue effort and left the survivors to drift to Africa. Over half the survivors died. This incident led to German Admiral Karl Dönitz issuing the Triton Null signal on 17 September 1942, which came to be known as the "Laconia Order"; the signal forbade submarine commanders from rescuing survivors from torpedoed ships.


During her fifth patrol, in which she sank no shipping and made no attacks, U-156 was attacked twice. As a result of the second attack, on 8 March 1943, she was sunk east of the island of Barbados, in position 12°38′N 54°39′W / 12.633°N 54.650°W / 12.633; -54.650Coordinates: 12°38′N 54°39′W / 12.633°N 54.650°W / 12.633; -54.650, by a US PBY Catalina from VP-53 captained by Lieutenant E. Dryden. The aircraft dropped four Mark 44 Torpex-filled depth charges at 13:15 from an altitude of 75 feet (23 m) to 100 feet (30 m) which straddled the submarine. Two were observed to hit the water 10 feet (3.0 m) to 15 feet (4.6 m) starboard and just aft of U-156, lifting it and breaking it in two, followed by an explosion. At least eleven survivors were seen swimming in the water. Two rubber rafts and rations were dropped, and five men were seen to reach one of the rafts. USS Barney was dispatched from Trinidad to rescue the survivors; the search was abandoned on 12 March 1943.


Commander Departure Arrival Duration Victories
1 Kptlt. Werner Hartenstein 24 December 1941 Kiel 10 January 1942 Lorient 18 days
2 Kptlt. Werner Hartenstein 19 January 1942 Lorient 17 March 1942 Lorient 58 days 33,492 GRT
3 Kptlt. Werner Hartenstein 22 April 1942 Lorient 7 July 1942 Lorient 77 days 53,617 GRT
4 K.Kapt. Werner Hartenstein 20 August 1942 Lorient 16 November 1942 Lorient 89 days 30,381 GRT
5 K.Kapt. Werner Hartenstein 16 January 1943 Lorient 8 March 1943 sunk 52 days
Total 294 days 117,490 GRT

Note : Kptlt.=Kapitänleutnant - K.Kapt.=Korvettenkapitän


U-156 took part in one wolfpack, namely.

Summary of raiding history

U-156 is credited with the sinking of 20 ships (including the motor boat Letitia Porter on board Koenjit), for a total of 97,504 GRT, further damaging three ships of 18,811 GRT and damaging one warship, USS Blakeley, of 1,190 tons.[3]

Date Time Name of Ship Nationality Tonnage[Note 1] Fate and location
16 February 1942 08.01 Pedernales  United Kingdom 4,317 Damaged at 12°25′N 69°55′W / 12.417°N 69.917°W / 12.417; -69.917 (Pedernales (ship))
16 February 1942 08.03 Oranjestad  United Kingdom 2,396 Sunk at 12°25′N 69°55′W / 12.417°N 69.917°W / 12.417; -69.917 (Oranjestad (ship))
16 February 1942 09.43 Arkansas  United States 6,452 Damaged at 12°30′N 70°00′W / 12.500°N 70.000°W / 12.500; -70.000 (Arkansas (ship))
20 February 1942 11.31 Delplata  United States 5,127 Sunk at 14°55′N 62°10′W / 14.917°N 62.167°W / 14.917; -62.167 (Delplata (ship))
25 February 1942 02.19 La Carrière  United Kingdom 5,685 Sunk at 16°53′N 67°05′W / 16.883°N 67.083°W / 16.883; -67.083 (La Carriere (ship))
27 February 1942 10.35 Macgregor  United Kingdom 2,498 Sunk at 19°50′N 69°40′W / 19.833°N 69.667°W / 19.833; -69.667 (Macgregor (ship))
28 February 1942 11.17 Oregon  United States 7,017 Sunk at 20°44′N 67°52′W / 20.733°N 67.867°W / 20.733; -67.867 (Oregon (ship))
13 May 1942 03.58 Koenjit  Netherlands 4,551 Sunk at 15°30′N 52°40′W / 15.500°N 52.667°W / 15.500; -52.667 (Koenjit (ship))
13 May 1942 03.58 Letitia Porter  Netherlands 15 Sunk at 15°30′N 52°40′W / 15.500°N 52.667°W / 15.500; -52.667 (Letitia Porter (ship))
13 May 1942 22.05 City of Melbourne  United Kingdom 6,630 Sunk at 15°00′N 54°40′W / 15.000°N 54.667°W / 15.000; -54.667 (City of Melbourne (ship))
15 May 1942 02.54 Siljestad  Norway 4,301 Sunk at 15°20′N 52°40′W / 15.333°N 52.667°W / 15.333; -52.667 (Siljestad (ship))
15 May 1942 20.59 Kupa  Yugoslavia 4,382 Sunk at 14°50′N 52°20′W / 14.833°N 52.333°W / 14.833; -52.333 (Kupa (ship))
17 May 1942 21.04 Barrdale  United Kingdom 5,072 Sunk at 15°15′N 52°27′W / 15.250°N 52.450°W / 15.250; -52.450 (Barrdale (ship))
18 May 1942 10.18 Quaker City  United States 4,961 Sunk at 15°47′N 53°12′W / 15.783°N 53.200°W / 15.783; -53.200 (Quaker City (ship))
18 May 1942 18.52 San Eliseo  United Kingdom 8,042 Damaged at 15°30′N 54°16′W / 15.500°N 54.267°W / 15.500; -54.267 (San Eliseo (ship))
21 May 1942 18.29 Presidente Trujillo  Dominican Republic 1,668 Sunk at 14°38′N 61°11′W / 14.633°N 61.183°W / 14.633; -61.183 (Presidente Trulillo (ship))
25 May 1942 15.52 USS Blakeley  United States Navy 1,190 Damaged at 14°36′N 61°11′W / 14.600°N 61.183°W / 14.600; -61.183 (USS Blakeley (ship))
29 May 1942 01.03 Norman Prince  United Kingdom 1,913 Sunk at 14°40′N 62°15′W / 14.667°N 62.250°W / 14.667; -62.250 (Norman Prince (ship))
1 June 1942 23.51 Alegrete  Brazil 5,970 Sunk at 13°40′N 61°30′W / 13.667°N 61.500°W / 13.667; -61.500 (Alegrete (ship))
3 June 1942 09.26 Lillian  United Kingdom 80 Sunk at 12°25′N 59°30′W / 12.417°N 59.500°W / 12.417; -59.500 (Lillian (ship))
24 June 1942 08.10 Willimantic  United Kingdom 4,857 Sunk at 25°55′N 51°58′W / 25.917°N 51.967°W / 25.917; -51.967 (Willimantic (ship))
27 August 1942 01.00 Clan Macwhirter  United Kingdom 5,941 Sunk at 35°45′N 18°45′W / 35.750°N 18.750°W / 35.750; -18.750 (Clan Macwhirter (ship))
12 September 1942 22.07 RMS Laconia  United Kingdom 19,695 Sunk at 05°05′S 11°38′W / 5.083°S 11.633°W / -5.083; -11.633 (Laconia (ship))
19 September 1942 15.46 Quebec City  United Kingdom 4,745 Sunk at 02°12′S 17°36′W / 2.200°S 17.600°W / -2.200; -17.600 (Quebec City (ship))



  1. Merchant ship tonnages are in gross register tons. Military vessels are listed by tons displacement.


  1. 1 2 3 4 Gröner 1991, p. 68.
  2. Doenitz, Grand Admiral Karl Memoirs, Ten Years and Twenty Days: Frontline Books, 1990, p. 255.
  3. Röll 2011, pp. 153–154


  • Busch, Rainer; Röll, Hans-Joachim (1999). German U-boat commanders of World War II : a biographical dictionary. Translated by Brooks, Geoffrey. London, Annapolis, Md: Greenhill Books, Naval Institute Press. ISBN 1-55750-186-6. 
  • Busch, Rainer; Röll, Hans-Joachim (1999). Deutsche U-Boot-Verluste von September 1939 bis Mai 1945 [German U-boat losses from September 1939 to May 1945]. Der U-Boot-Krieg (in German). IV. Hamburg, Berlin, Bonn: Mittler. ISBN 3-8132-0514-2. 
  • Gröner, Erich; Jung, Dieter; Maass, Martin (1991). U-boats and Mine Warfare Vessels. German Warships 1815–1945. 2. Translated by Thomas, Keith; Magowan, Rachel. London: Conway Maritime Press. ISBN 0-85177-593-4. 
  • Röll, Hans-Joachim (2011). Korvettenkapitän Werner Hartenstein: Mit U 156 auf Feindfahrt und der Fall "Laconia" (in German). Würzburg, Germany: Flechsig. ISBN 978-3-8035-0012-0.
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