During World War II, German submarines, or U-boats, wreaked havoc on Allied shipping. Using tactics and stealth and aided by intelligence reports on the merchant vessels, U-boats targeted these ships, disrupting shipping across the Atlantic Ocean. While the Allies worked on improving their strategy to overcome this obstacle, thousands of lives were lost due to these attacks.
To identify the ships that German U-boats sank during WWII that resulted in the greatest loss of life, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed 25 ships with the greatest loss of life during WWII (lost to U-boats), a list compiled by Uboat.net, an online database of ships sunk during the world wars. The 25 ships are ordered by how many lives were lost from the sinking. Supplemental information on the type of each ship, their size (in terms of tonnage), nationality, and when they were sunk also came from Uboat.net.
The British troop transport Laconia fell victim to the German U-156 on Sept. 12, 1942. The ship was carrying a large number of civilians, military personnel, and prisoners of war when it was torpedoed. An estimated 1,658 lives were lost, most of them Italian POWs, out of the ship’s complement of about 2,74. The U-boat commander’s subsequent efforts to rescue the survivors led to an attempt to sink the sub, despite the survivors clearly visible in lifeboats. This angered the Germans and led to the Laconia Order, which forbade U-boats from attempting to rescue the crews of the sunk vessels.
The Arandora Star met its end near the coast of Ireland in early July 1940, when it was torpedoed by the German U-47. At the time, it was carrying about 1,200 Italian and German civilian internees. Over 800 lives were lost in the sinking. (Also see, all 8 submarine classes used by the U.S. in WWII.)
This list spans a variety of vessel types, military and civilian. They were all sunk in the European Theater or the Mediterranean/African Theater. The dates of the sinkings range from as early as 1939 to the end of 1944. (These are the most pivotal naval battles of all time.)
These tragic incidents reflect the sheer devastation wrought by the German U-boat fleet during WWII. The loss of life was immense and, in some cases, indiscriminate, and affecting both military personnel and civilians on board.
Here is a look at the largest losses of life brought upon by U-boats.
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