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Naval Warfare

Type 212 (class)

Diesel-Electric Attack Submarine [ 2005 ]

The Type 212A-class design is shared by both the German and Italian navies, in the latter recognized as the Todaro-class.

Authored By: JR Potts, AUS 173d AB | Last Edited: 11/17/2021 | Content ©www.MilitaryFactory.com | The following text is exclusive to this site.

Germany today is ranked ninth in the world in terms of defense spending though with a much more moderate budget as compared with her 1930's era war funding - additionally, she is not engaged currently in a running arms race with other European powers. The USS Nautilus, the first nuclear submarine built in 1954, started a new type of weapons race, primarily geared towards the Soviet Union, though pushing other allied nations to start building nuclear-powered/conventionally-powered submarines. Today, with all world powers reeling from defense budget constraints, the trend in shipbuilding has gravitated to producing smaller, multi-mission-minded warships such as the German Navy's Type 212A U-boat. The Type 212A was born from a 1990s joint-development effort between Germany and Italy which initially produced the Type 212 designation, updated to the Type 212A mark. The Type 214 is the export designation.

Type 212A boats replaced the Type 206 series which were introduced in 1971 and built in 18 examples (all since retired). The Type 212 is based on the Type 209 diesel-electric attack class of which 61 were completed after they were introduces in 1971. The Type 212 entered service in 2002 and was formally commissioned in 2005 with eight vessels being completed (U-31, U-32, U-33, U-34, U-35, U-36). The Type 212A is also in service with the Italian Navy as the Salvatore Todaro, the Scire and two planned, though unnamed at this time, vessels (S528, S529).

The Type 212A is a conventional diesel-powered boat though one of the more advanced submarines in operation today. U-32 (S182) sports a running length of 183 feet, 7.3 inches (56 meters) with a beam measuring 22 feet, 9.7 inches (7 meters) and a draught of 19 feet, 6.9 inches (6 meters). She is manned by a surprisingly small crew of just 5 officers and 22 sailors. Power is through a single MTU 16V 396 diesel engine which allows for cruising at 20 knots (37 km/h) along the surface and 12 knots submerged. Along with the diesel engine is a supplementary Air-Independent Propulsion (AIP) system using the Siemens Proton Exchange Membrane (PEM) hydrogen fuel cells. The AIP system allows the submarine to switch from flank speed using the diesel engine to a silent and slow cruising speed. The hydrogen fuel cells can power the U-boat for up to 21 days without surfacing, making her essentially invisible when combined with her prismatic hull. A smooth joining of the sail to the hull helps her overall stealthy characteristics. The steel hull is made of anti-magnetic material as are all of the metal objects with the boat itself - even the dishwasher.

The use of hydrogen fuel cells is groundbreaking for, at the end of World War 2, the United States Navy and the British Royal Navy both took, as war prizes, two German Type XVIIB submarines that used an experimental hydrogen-peroxide propulsion system. The US Navy dropped the experiment due to the lethal nature of hydrogen-peroxide when confined in small spaces with crew members. Its modern form, however, as the Air-Independent Propulsion (AIP) system, has been redesigned using small amounts of hydrogen in a protected crew-safe environment. The interest is high to build or purchase small submarines that can operate in brown water as well as blue without the cost (and dangers) of nuclear-driven power. Having said that, nuclear power can offer options that a diesel-powered combined with AIP cannot - an increased weapons suite or an unlimited operational range with submersion time that conventionally-powered vessels lack. The final decision is always the cost of the complete weapons system with crew size, nuclear as compared to conventional fuel and now AIP. A nation's overall military mission doctrine coupled with the cost of developing nuclear energy steers many away from nuclear propulsion.©MilitaryFactory.com
The German Navy's claim for the U-32 (S182) is the "quietest submarine on earth". Conventional submarines use diesel generators to charge banks of batteries but running on the batteries alone depletes power in a few days. To recharge the submarine, the vessel must rise near the surface and raise its snorkel to where the generators heat signature and noise can be detected by ships and other submarines. On this particular vessel, engineers have suspended the onboard machinery with plastic mounts to reduce vibration to the ship's hull. This does not completely reduce noise or reduce the heat signature of the vessel in the water but certainly helps to retard its effects. The hydrogen fuel cells make no noise and produce water as a byproduct. Nine fuel cells combine hydrogen and oxygen into tanks on the outside of the inner hull producing enough electricity to run the ship's electrical motor for weeks or recharge the boats many batteries.

To increase safety on the 212A, there is only a small amount of hydrogen onboard and the tanks of hydrogen are fixed outside the inner hull which are designed to jettison out and away from the crew areas of the boat if needed. Even though the chance of fire is minimal, a team of firefighters are trained and reside onboard to combat a hydrogen- or diesel-related battery fire. The fuel cells have no moving parts and do not produce heat so cooling tanks that are required of nuclear submarines to reduce heat signatures are not needed on the Type 212A/U-32. The AIP also makes the submarine more difficult to detect. Submerged, the vessel is able to operate an extended silent patrol that keeps batteries fully charged and thus capable of speed bursts for a significant period of time. If the captain is careful, the boat can repeat this cycle several times over weeks allowing extended submergence. Vibration and noise reduction is aided through use of a seven-bladed propeller designed to cut thru the water while not creating bubbles or turbulents and the 3-megawatt magnet motor that drives the propeller is the quietest motor available.

In turn, the 212A class carries a number of different types of sonar that can identify ships and submarines by their acoustic signatures. The TAS-3 passive low frequency towed sonar array is housed in the sail so it is clear of the propeller when deployed. The FAS-3 passive low-and-medium frequency sonar is mounted on the hull and the MOA 3070 mine detection sonar is dual-mounted on different locations about the hull as well. The ship's radars are top-of-the-line with a WASS listening hydrophone device and, to navigate the depths, a Kelvin Hughes Type 1007 I band radar was added. An autopilot suite is installed as is the Avio GAUDI and hydraulic system as well as a weapons combat system for torpedoes and missiles (the Kongsberg MSI-91 system).

The Type 212A was completed with two decks for the 27 member unisex crew. Additional sleeping and living space means the end of "warm bunking" where two or three crewmen were assigned to the same bunk. The commander, of course, has his own cabin though cordoned off with a door and not the old curtain method. The boat's torpedo area is spacious enough that is no longer necessary to divide the interior to reload the weapons.

The primary weapons onboard are the torpedoes - there are six torpedo tubes in two rows of three, four pointing slightly left and two tubes to the right. The U-32 is equipped with a water ram expulsion system to launch its torpedoes and missiles (when equipped). The submarine is equipped with the DM2A4 heavyweight torpedo weapon system from Atlas Elektronik. The common torpedo carried by the U-32 is the new wire-guided DM 2A4 heavyweight SEEHECHT - thirteen torpedoes being carried, each with a 260kg PBX warhead. Also A184 Mod 3 Black Shark torpedoes may be carried along with 24 naval mines that are mounted externally and are optional based on the mission. By 2014, the new IDAS missile is scheduled to be deployed on the class, the missile being a short-ranged development able to engage incoming aerial, surface and land-based coastal threats as needed. The missiles will be loaded four to a magazine which can then be loaded into a torpedo tube as normal. Additionally, German special forces naval units can be launched thru the torpedo tubes when wearing air rebreathing gear. This ability to move special forces close to shore makes the 212A-class and her kind desirable for modern navies seeking blue and brown water-capable submarines.©MilitaryFactory.com
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Howaldtswerke-Deutsche Werft GmbH - Germany / Fincantieri SpA - Italy
Germany; Italy
Operators National flag of modern Germany National flag of Italy
National Origin
Commissioned, Active
Project Status
Type 212-class / Todaro-class (Italy)
Hull Class
U-31 (S181); U-32 (S182); U-33 (S183); U-34 (S184); U-35 (S185); U-36 (S186); Salvatore Todaro (S526); Scire (S527); Pietro Venuti (S528); Romeo Romei (S529)

Submerged Attack
Traveling under the surface to search, track, and / or engage or reconnoiter areas.
Offshore Operation
Activities conducted near shorelines in support of allied activities.
Maritime Patrol
Active patroling of vital waterways and maritime areas; can also serve as local deterrence against airborne and seaborne threats.
Fleet Support
Serving in support (either firepower or material) of the main surface fleet in Blue Water environments.

184.0 feet
(56.08 meters)
23.0 feet
(7.01 meters)
19.7 feet
(6.00 meters)
Displacement (Submerged)

1 x MTU 16V 396 diesel engine; 9 x HDW/Siemens PEM fuel cells (U-31); 2 x HDW/Siemens PEM fuel cells (U-32, U-33 and U-34); 1 x Siemens Permasyn electric motor; 1 x shaft.
12.0 knots
(13.8 mph)
Surface Speed
20.0 knots
(23.0 mph)
Submerged Speed
7,995 nm
(9,200 miles | 14,806 km)
1 knot = 1.15 mph; 1 nm = 1.15 mile; 1 nm = 1.85 km

6 x 533mm torpedo tubes (bow-facing)
24 x Naval mines (optional)


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