The Type IX U-boat was constructed by the German Navy from 1935 until 1936 during the pre-World War 2 period and fulfilled the critical role of long-ranged "Blue Water" / deep water service for the branch. The boats, numbering 194 in all (of the 290 or so that were planned), remained in active commission until the end of World War 2 in 1945. For a short time in the war, these boats were encountered by American and Canadian forces operating along the eastern North American coastline, the United States and its deep supply chain supporting the Allied cause in Europe by way of the Atlantic.
One of the number of the class was U-550, this submarine born into the dimensionally larger Type IXC/40 sub-class. Type IXC boats were of an improved form and saw a slight increase to surfaced speeds and operational range and 87 of this sub-group were completed in all. U-550 was ordered on June 5th, 1941 and had her keel laid down by Deutsche Werft (Hamburg) on October 2nd, 1942. She was launched on May 12th, 1943 and formally commissioned into service on July 28th of that year.
Type IXC boats displaced 1,145 tons when surfaced and 1,240 tons when submerged. Overall length was 251.9 feet with a beam of 22.5 feet and a draught of 31.5 feet. Range was 13,850 nautical miles when steaming along the surface at 10 knots. This dropped to 63 nautical miles when submerged, steaming at just 4 knots. The hull was tested down to depths of 750 feet.
Power to U-550 was supplied through the typical diesel-electric propulsion scheme common to wartime submarines. This involved diesel units driving the submarine when surfaced and battery-fed electric motors when submerged travel was necessary. U-550 carried two of each engine type and these were used to drive power to a twin-shaft/propeller arrangement with the diesel set outputting 4,400 horsepower and the electric set generating 1,000 horsepower. To recharge the battery packs, the submarine was forced to surface - its most vulnerable time as it lay open to attack.
Armament included 6 x 21" (533mm) torpedo tubes with four set at the bow and two at the stern. 22 x Torpedo reloads were carried. For surface work, the boat could call upon 1 x 105mm SK C/32 deck gun as well as 1 x 37mm SK C/30 Anti-Aircraft (AA) gun and 1 x 20mm FlaK 30 AA guns in a twin-gunned mounting.
Aboard was a crew of 4 officers and 44 enlisted personnel.
From July 28th, 1943 until January 31st, 1944, U-550 served as part of the 4th U-Boat Flotilla to cover her training period. From February 1st, 1944 until April 16th, 1944, she was assigned to 10th U-boat Flotilla operating out of Lorient, France. In all, the submarine undertook just one patrol in her service life - journeying out from Kiel towards Iceland en route to Newfoundland in early-February 1944. A Canadian air attack on February 22nd, 1944 failed to sink her.
On April 16, 1944, U-550 sighted and successfully torpedoed the large tanker SS Pan-Pennsylvania operating as part of an American convoy headed to Europe. This occurred just south of Nantucket Island. Accompanying Allied forces included USS Joyce, USS Peterson, and USS Gandy and these ships went to work depth-charging the area which eventually forced a heavily-damaged U-550 to surface - where depth-charging, and now shelling, continued. USS Gandy then moved in and rammed the boat to good effect, the combined actions eventually forcing the submarine to surrender. Forty of the German crew abandoned their sinking submarine, braved freezing waters, and swam in the direction of USS Peterson but perished. USS Joyce was able to collect thirteen of the surviving Germans - who ended their time in the war in Ireland as prisoners of war.
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January 2013 - The wreck of U-550 was discovered by divers about 70 miles south of Nantucket (Massachusetts), largely intact despite her damage during the war.
4 x 21" torpedo tubes at the bow.
2 x 21" torpedo tubes at the stern.
22 x Torpedo reloads.
1 x 105mm SK C/32 deck gun.
1 x 37mm SK C/30 Anti-Aircraft (AA) gun.
1 x 20mm FlaK 30 AA gun in twin-gunned mounting.
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Image from the Public Domain; U-550 shown shelled and sinking.
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