Type XXI submarines were a class of German diesel–electric Elektroboot submarines designed during the Second World War. One hundred and eighteen were completed, with four being combat-ready. During the war only two were put into active service and went on patrols, but these were not used in combat.
They were the first submarines designed to operate primarily submerged, rather than spending most of their time as surface ships that could submerge for brief periods as a means of escaping detection. They incorporated many batteries to increase the time they could spend submerged, to as much as several days, and they only needed to surface to periscope depth for recharging via a snorkel. The design included many general improvements as well: much greater underwater speed by an improved hull design, greatly improved diving times, power-assisted torpedo reloading and greatly improved crew accommodations. However, the design was also flawed in many ways, with the submarines being mechanically unreliable and vulnerable to combat damage. The Type XXI submarines were also rushed into production before design work was complete, and the inexperienced facilities which constructed the boats were unable to meet necessary quality standards.
After the war, several navies obtained Type XXIs and operated them for decades in various roles, while large navies introduced new submarine designs based on them. These include the Soviet Whiskey, American Tang, British Porpoise, and Swedish Hajen III classes, all based on the Type XXI design to some extent.
Second World War, Survivors & Wrecks
U-2511 and U-3008 were the only Type XXIs used for war patrols, and neither sank any ships. The commander of U-2511 claimed the U-boat had a British cruiser in her sights on 4 May when news of the German cease-fire was received. He further claimed she made a practice attack before leaving the scene undetected.
During 1957, U-2540, which had been scuttled at the end of the war, was raised and refitted as research vessel Wilhelm Bauer of the Bundesmarine. It was operated by both military and civilian crews for research purposes until 1982. During 1984, it was made available for display to the public by the Deutsches Schiffahrtsmuseum (German Maritime Museum) in Bremerhaven, Germany.
The wrecks of several Type XXI boats are known to exist. During 1985, it was discovered that the partially scrapped remains of U-2505, U-3004, and U-3506 were still in the partially demolished "Elbe II" U-boat bunker in Hamburg. The bunker has since been filled in with gravel, although even that did not initially deter many souvenir hunters who measured the position of open hatches and dug down to them to allow the removal of artifacts. The wrecks now lie beneath a car park (parking lot), making them inaccessible.
U-2513 lies in 213 feet (65 m) of water 70 nautical miles (130 km) west of Key West, Florida. The boat has been visited by divers, but the depth makes this very difficult and the site is considered suitable for only advanced divers. Four other boats lie off the coast of Northern Ireland, where they were sunk during 1946 as part of Operation Deadlight. Both U-2511 and U-2506 were found by nautical archaeologist Innes McCartney during his Operation Deadlight expeditions between 2001 and 2003. Both were found to be in remarkably good condition. In April 2018 the wreck of U-3523 was found north of Skagen in Denmark.