The U-Boats that Surrendered - The French Connection
by Derek Waller
In the course of the debates which led to the Potsdam Agreement, the UK had suggested that a share of the German fleet should be allocated to France, but this was vetoed in July 1945 by the USSR when it was made clear that a four-way division to include France was unacceptable.
During the same debates, the French Navy had indicated informally that it was anxious to obtain the 16 partially completed U-Boats found in the Deschimag AG -Weser shipyard in Bremen, a survey of which indicated that the majority could be launched within two months, and that they could all be completed within six months. However, this suggestion also failed to gain Allied support. Thus the French Navy gained no advantage from the Tripartite division of the German surface fleet, and were allocated no U-Boats by the Tripartite Naval Commission.
The only U-boat that surrendered afloat in France on 9 May 1945 (U-510) was unseaworthy, and therefore remained in St Nazaire rather than being moved to the UK and sunk in Operation Deadlight.
Whilst U-510 was specifically earmarked to be sunk by 15 February 1946 in the Tripartite Naval Commission’s Final Report of 6 December 1945, the TNC had no direct jurisdiction over France, which decided not to follow the recommendation. Instead, U-510 was repaired and commissioned as Bouan on 24 June 1947. It then served with the French Navy until it was taken out of service on 1 May 1959.
However, the UK decided that it did not need all of the 10 U-Boats that it had been allocated by the TNC, and so the Royal Navy agreed that one of its type XXIII U-Boats (U-2326) and one of its type XXI U-Boats (U-2518) would be transferred on a 2-year loan to the French Navy. The transfer of the two U-Boats from the Royal Navy to the French Navy, which was code-named “Operation Thankful” involved their move from Lisahally on 5 February 1946, and ended with their handover in Cherbourg on 13 February 1946.
Of these two, U-2326 was used by the French Navy for schnorkel trials, but was lost with all hands on 6 December 1946 when it failed to surface after a deep diving test off Toulon.
The other boat, U-2518, remained in France after the 2-year loan period expired, and was commissioned into the French Navy as Roland Morillet on 9 April 1951. It was used operationally until 15 April 1967, when it was placed in reserve. It was decommissioned on 12 October 1967, and was sold to ship breakers in La Spezia, Italy for scrapping on 21 May 1969.
France was also responsible for raising three other U-boats and putting them into service with her Navy. They were U-123 which had been decommissioned in Lorient on 17 June 1944, U-471 which had been sunk in a USAAF air raid on Toulon on 6 August 1944, and U-766 which had been decommissioned at La Pallice on 21 August 1944. However, whereas four other badly damaged and out-of-commission U-Boats (U-178, U-188, U-466 and U-967) had been specifically listed by the TNC with a recommendation that they should be scrapped (with which the French agreed), U-123, U-471 and U-766 did not appear in the lists attached to the TNC’s Final Report. The French therefore decided that, rather than being scrapped, the three U-Boats should be repaired and brought back into use with the French Navy. The three U-boats were given the French names Blaison, Mille and Laubie respectively.
Blaison (U-123) was refitted and commissioned into the French Navy on 29 April 1948. It was placed in reserve in August 1957 before being paid-off on 18 August 1959.
Mille (U-471) was raised in 1945 and commissioned into the French Navy in late 1946. It was paid-off on 9 July 1963.
Laubie (U-766) was commissioned into the French Navy in 1947 and, after being seriously damaged in the third collision of its career, it was decommissioned in 1961. It was paid-off on 11 March 1963.
During the war, two incomplete French submarines, Africaine and Astree, had been taken over by the Germans in June 1940 but, although they were given the designations UF-l and UF-3 respectively on 5 May 1941, they were never completed and commissioned into the Kriegsmarine. After the war, the French resumed the construction of these two submarines, and they were commissioned into the French Navy. Africaine was launched on 7 December 1946, was withdrawn from service on 1 July 1961, and was scrapped on 28 February 1963. Astree was commissioned in October 1949, was withdrawn from service in 1962, and was scrapped on 27 November 1965.
In summary, there was one afloat and unallocated U-Boat which had surrendered in France in May 1945 that was taken back into use by the French Navy despite the recommendation by the TNC that it should be sunk no later that 15 February 1946. There were also seven other scrapped (war loss) U-boats in French harbours. Of these, four were destroyed as recommended by the TNC, but the other three, which were not mentioned in the TNC’s Final Report, were raised, refitted and commissioned into the French Navy. Two others were originally part of the UK’s Tripartite allocation, and were only on loan from the Royal Navy.
Thus whilst the French Navy acquired and operated six U-Boats for its own post-war use, with the last one (U-2518) only being withdrawn from service in 1967 (22 years after it had surrendered on 9 May 1945), none of them had been formally allocated to France by the Tripartite Naval Commission under the terms of the Potsdam Agreement.
This article was published on 18 Nov 2010.