The Potsdam Agreement and the Tripartite Naval Commission

(inc the Allocation of U-Boats to the USA, the UK and the USSR)

by Derek Waller


The Potsdam Agreement and the decisions of the associated Tripartite Naval Commission (TNC) are critical elements in the story of the disposal and destruction of the Kriegsmarine after the end of the war in Europe, as they formed the basis of the actions that led to the ultimate fate of all the U-Boats that survived the war and surrendered at the end of it.

Detailed planning concerning the arrangements for the disarmament of the German Navy began in the final months of WW2. The UK Government and the RN wished to see the destruction of all surviving U-Boats, as did the US Government and the US Navy. However, the USSR wished to obtain as many ex-German naval vessels as possible, including U-Boats.

Thus, after the German surrender in May 1945, discussions continued between the Allies concerning the final disposal of all the surviving German naval vessels. Initially the USSR wanted to be allocated one third of all the warships, including U-Boats, but the latter demand was reduced to 30 U-boats each in July, eventually reducing to 10 to each of the Allies.

This decision was made on 1 August when Molotov, the Soviet Foreign Minister, agreed to the retention of just 30 U-Boats in total, to be divided equally between the UK, the USA and the USSR for technical and experimental purposes. At one stage in the discussions it had been suggested that France should be allocated a share of the surrendered German warships, as well as a number of uncompleted U-Boat hulls but, though the UK was sympathetic to the proposal, it was vetoed by the USSR.

The Potsdam Agreement

The result of these high-level political discussions was the publication of the Proceedings (Minutes) of the Potsdam Heads of State Conference which took place in Berlin between 17 July and 2 August 1945. In respect of the remaining U-Boats, the Proceedings said that the UK, the USA and the USSR had concluded that:

The larger part of the German submarine fleet shall be sunk. Not more than thirty submarines shall be preserved and divided equally between the USSR, UK and USA for experimental and technical purposes.

It also stated that:

The Three Governments agree to constitute a Tripartite Naval Commission to submit agreed recommendations to the Three Governments for the allocation of specific German warships and that The Three Governments agreed that transfers shall be completed as soon as possible, but not later than 15 February 1946.

The Tripartite Naval Commission

The TNC began its work in Berlin on 15 August 1945 by appointing a Technical Sub-Committee which had responsibility for making the appropriate recommendations and preparing the allocation lists. This Sub-Committee, in turn, appointed Inspection Parties (also called Tripartite Naval Boards) to undertake the detailed work involved in deciding which ships and submarines would be retained, their allocation between the three Allies, and the disposal arrangements for the remainder.

As far as the Kriegsmarine’s submarine fleet was concerned, the task of the TNC was to select, from the 156 U-Boats that had surrendered, the 30 U-Boats that were to be retained and transferred to the Allies for experimental and technical purposes, ie. the allocation lists. The Tripartite Naval Boards were therefore required to review the 135 U-Boats moored in Loch Ryan in south west Scotland and at Lisahally in Lough Foyle in N Ireland, as well as the 11 U-Boats in the western Atlantic area, including the five that had surrendered in America, the two that had surrendered in Canada, the two that had surrendered in Argentina, and two that had already been moved from Lisahally to the USA. Also included in the review were the two Type XVIIB hydrogen peroxide-powered U-Boats (U-1406 and U-1407) which had been scuttled on 7 May at Cuxhaven after they had surrendered on 5 May, but which had then been raised in early June and moved to Kiel.

The Tripartite Naval Boards visited the UK, the USA, Canada, Trinidad (to inspect the two U-Boats that had surrendered in Argentina), Germany and Norway, as well as Poland and the USSR, in August, September and October 1945 and, after inspecting the surrendered U-Boats, decided which should be recommended to the Technical Sub-Committee and then the TNC for allocation, and therefore transfer, to each of the three Allies.

It was however accepted that there should be a degree of flexibility, and that bi-lateral exchanges of individual U-Boats could be made as desired. Thus, there are a number of differences between the original lists of the 10 U-Boats allocated to each of the three Allies and those that were finally implemented.

The Allocation of U-Boats to the Allies

The initial allocations, which were agreed at the 13th Meeting of the TNC on 10 October 1945, were as follows:

UKU-712, U-953, U-975, U-1108, U-1171, U-1407, U-2326, U-2348, U-2518 and U-3017
USAU-234, U-873, U-889, U-1105, U-1023, U-1406, U-2351, U-2356, U-3041 and U-3515
USSRU-1057, U-1058, U-1064, U-1231, U-1305, U-2502, U-2353, U-2529, U-3035 and U-3514

However, by the time the TNC signed-off its Final Report on 6 December 1945, the allocations - particularly those for the USA - had been subjected to a number of changes, and then comprised the following:

UK:U-712, U-953, U-975, U-1108, U-1171, U-1407, U-2326, U-2348, U-2518 and U-3017
USA:U-234, U-530, U-858, U-873, U-889, U-977, U-1105, U-1406, U-2513 and U-3008
USSR:U-1057, U-1058, U-1064, U-1231, U-1305, U-2353, U-2529, U-3035, U-3041 and U-3515

But even then there was a further change to come, with U-190 (which was located in Canada) being allocated to the UK, and with U-975 (which had been allocated to the UK) then being added to the list of the unallocated U-Boats which were to be sunk. This was only agreed in a very last-minute amendment to the list in late January 1946. Thus, the final allocations of the 10 U-Boats which were to be retained by each of the UK, the USA and the USSR were:

UK:U-190, U-712, U-953, U-1108, U-1171, U-1407, U-2326, U-2348, U-2518 and U-3017
USA:U-234, U-530, U-858, U-873, U-889, U-977, U-1105, U-1406, U-2513 and U-3008
USSR:U-1057, U-1058, U-1064, U-1231, U-1305, U-2353, U-2529, U-3035, U-3041 and U-3515

As a result of these allocations by the TNC, of the 135 U-Boats in the UK, eight were allocated to the UK, one to the USA and 10 to the USSR. This therefore left 116 U-Boats in Loch Ryan and at Lisahally awaiting final disposal by the Royal Navy.

Similarly, of the 11 U-Boats in the Western Atlantic, eight were allocated to the USA, including the two which had surrendered in Argentina and one of the two which had surrendered in Canada. The other one which had surrendered in Canada was allocated to the UK. The remaining two were then scheduled to be sunk by the US Navy.

Of the two Type XVIIB U-Boats that had surrendered, then been scuttled, and then been raised in Cuxhaven, U-1406 was allocated to the USA and U-1407 was allocated to the UK.

The Disposal of the "Afloat, but Unallocated" U-Boats

The TNC also made a number of important decisions relating to the U-Boats that had surrendered. These included the statements that All unallocated submarines should be destroyed and that All unallocated submarines which are afloat shall be sunk in the open sea in a depth of not less that one hundred metres by 15 February 1946. Thus, when taken together with the decision of the Potsdam Conference that The Three Governments agreed that transfers shall be completed as soon as possible, but not later than 15 February 1946, it was clear that urgent action was required in order to implement such decisions, especially in view of the onset of winter and the prospects of stormy seas in the North Atlantic.

This action was facilitated by the fact that the TNC made decisions at its various Progress Meetings, rather than waiting for the Final Report which was not agreed and signed until 6 December 1945. For instance, at the 13th Meeting of the Commission on 10 October the initial submarine allocations were agreed, but a decision about the fate of the unallocated submarines was deferred. This was however taken at the 18th Meeting of the Commission on 29 October, when 15 February 1946 was designated as the date by which all unallocated submarines were to be sunk.

A number of prompt executive actions were therefore necessary to implement these decisions, including the transfer of the 10 U-Boats in the UK to the USSR (in Operation Cabal), the sinking of 116 unallocated U-Boats located in the UK (in Operation Deadlight), the gifting of U-190 from the UK's allocation to Canada (where it had surrendered), the sinking of the 2 unallocated U-Boats located in the USA, and the transfer of one additional U-Boat (U-1105) from the UK to the USA.

Perhaps the most important of these decisions was that relating to the sinking of the 116 unallocated U-Boats and so, after the 18th Meeting of the TNC on 29 October 1945, the Admiralty ordered the RN Commander-in-Chief Rosyth on 31 October to initiate the necessary executive disposal instructions. As a result, an initial planning meeting was held at Pitraevie in Fife on 5 November, and the Deadlight Operation Order was issued on 14 November; the consequence of which was that many of the disposals had actually taken place before the TNC's Final Report was signed-off on 6 December 1946, as had the transfer of the 10 U-Boats to the USSR.

The result of all this activity was that, out of the 156 U-Boats that had surrendered at the end of the war in Europe, 30 U-Boats were allocated to the Allies, and 118 U-Boats were sunk at sea (all but two in Operation Deadlight), and all such actions were completed by 15 February 1946.

The U-Boats Remaining in France and Norway

This then left just eight surrendered and unallocated U-Boats still afloat. These were the ones which were too unseaworthy for transfer to the UK in Operation Pledge, and which therefore remained in the European ports where they had surrendered. One was in France, and seven were in Norway. However, the TNC had no direct jurisdiction over the ultimate fate of these U-Boats, and its Final Report simply says that the three Governments (UK, USA and USSR) requested that any U-Boats remaining in other countries should be scrapped or sunk by 15 February 1946.

As far as France was concerned, there was just the one afloat and unallocated U-Boat (U-510) in St Nazaire in 1945, and it, despite the recommendation of the TNC, was taken back into use by the French Navy. The TNC’s Final Report also listed four other decommissioned/sunk (war loss) U-boats in French harbours (U-178, U-188, U-466 and U-967), and these were all destroyed by France as recommended by the TNC. There were, however, 10 other such U-Boats which were not mentioned in the TNC’s Final Report, and three of these (U-123, U-471 and U-766) were raised and/or refitted and taken over by the French Navy. Additionally, two others (U-2326 and U-2518), which were part of the UK’s Tripartite allocation, were transferred on loan to the French Navy from the Royal Navy in February 1946.

In the case of Norway, in late 1945 there were seven afloat and unallocated (but unseaworthy) U-Boats which had formally surrendered in Norwegian harbours (U-310, U-315, U-324, U-926, U-995, U-1202 and U-4706). There were also seven other decommissioned/damaged (war loss) U-boats in Norwegian harbours (U-92, U-228, U-256, U-437, U-622, U-985 and U-993), and the TNC’s Final Report specified that all 14 of these U-Boats should be scrapped or sunk by 15 February 1946. However, whilst the latter seven were scrapped as requested, as were three of those that had surrendered (U-310, U-315 and U-324), Norway chose to ignore the TNC in the case of the other four. Thus U-926, U-995, U-1202 and U-4706 were repaired and taken into use by the Norwegian Navy.

These actions by the French and Norwegian Navies have given rise to the belief that the U-Boats concerned were formally allocated to France and Norway by the TNC. This was not so, and their retention was contrary to both the spirit of the original Allied intentions and to the formal agreements made between the 3 Governments despite the fact that they had no jurisdiction over France and Norway. Thus, by definition, although the French Navy used six U-Boats post-1945, and although the Norwegian Navy used four U-Boats post-1945, no U-Boats were allocated to either France or Norway after the end of the war.

The Allied agreements had however also been breached by the USSR which, contrary to its own commitments, failed to destroy a number of uncompleted U-Boats which had been found in the shipyards in Danzig and then quietly and quickly moved to Libau in Latvia. There was therefore no incentive for the UK and the USA to put pressure on France and Norway to scrap the remaining surrendered, but unallocated, U-Boats located in those two countries.

The U-Boat Hulls Captured by the USSR

When the war in Europe ended in May 1945, no U-Boats surrendered in the Baltic ports controlled by the USSR; all serviceable U-Boats having been transferred to the western end of the Baltic in the face of the Red Army’s advance. However, during the course of the Tripartite Naval Board’s visit to Danzig on 28 August, it became clear that 11 uncompleted U-Boat hulls had been captured in the local shipyards by the Red Army when their troops entered Danzig on 30 March 1945. These 11 U-Boats were then all towed to Libau, with the USSR maintaining that they were simply submarine hulks, that they were not equipped with any machinery, that there were no plans for completing their construction, that there was no spare machinery available, and that they were therefore going to be scrapped for the metal. Also, the USSR argued that, like U-505 which had been captured by the US Navy during the war, these uncompleted U-Boats had also been captured during the war and that they were therefore outwith the jurisdiction of the TNC.

Despite these assurances, the TNC decided that there was a need to inspect these uncompleted U-Boats. Whilst none of them was found to be fully serviceable, they were on average 75% complete, there was no question that they were not equipped with any machinery, and it was estimated that they could all be completed within two to six months if they were moved to a first class shipyard. The inspection of nine of the U-Boats (Hull Nos: 146, 148, 149, 1680, 1681, 1682, 1683, 1685 and 1687) took place at Libau on 9 October 1945, but the remaining two (Hull Nos: 1684 and 1686) could not be inspected as they had already been towed to Tallinn in Estonia for dry-docking.

As a result, the US representative on the TNC suggested to his Soviet counterpart that there was no need for any additional U-Boats to be transferred to the USSR as part of the TNC allocation. Predictably, this was not well received, the Operation Cabal transfer took place, and the TNC (by default) accepted the Russian assurance that these U-Boat hulls would be scrapped. Indeed, the 11 uncompleted U-Boats were actually listed in the TNC’s Final Report, being defined as unallocated submarines afloat and therefore scheduled to be sunk not later than 15 February 1946.

This may have been the case with the three type VIICs (Hull Nos: 146, 148 and 149), but there is evidence that the remaining eight, which were all type XXIs, were not sunk or otherwise destroyed until 1947. Also, unlike the UK and the USA, the USSR failed to notify the other TNC members and the other national Governments that it had complied with the TNC’s decisions.

The U-Boats that Surrendered in the Far East

Seven ex-U-boats flying the Japanese flag surrendered to the Allies in the Far East in August 1945. These were U-181, U-195, U-219, U-511, U-862, U-IT-24 and U-IT-25 and, whilst the participants in the Potsdam Conference (UK, USA and USSR) were primarily concerned with arrangements appropriate to the war in Europe, as was the TNC, the latter assumed responsibility for directing the disposal of these seven ex-U-Boats that had surrendered in Japan (3), Singapore (2) and Java (2).

This was because on 26 July 1945, the USA, the UK and China had made their own Potsdam Declaration announcing the proposed terms for Japan's surrender, which included the statement that: The Japanese military forces shall be completely disarmed and, as a result, it was decided that all IJN submarines which surrendered were to be demolished, scuttled or otherwise destroyed.

Thus, the seven ex-U-Boats which had surrendered as IJN submarines, and which had previously served in the Kriegsmarine, were listed in the TNC’s Final Report, which required that all unallocated U-boats - wherever they were located in the world - to be sunk no later than 15 February 1946. All seven were described as unallocated submarines and thus, by definition, were required to be sunk in the open sea not later than the due date. This was achieved at the very last minute in respect of the four ex-U-Boats which had surrendered in Singapore and Java and were therefore under British jurisdiction. But this did not happen in respect of the three that had been captured by US forces in Japan (U-511, U-IT-24 and U-IT-25). These were not sunk until April 1946, because the US Navy did not accept that the TNC had jurisdiction over these 3 ex-U-Boats which had become ex-IJN submarines.


In conclusion, and in strict accordance with the Potsdam Agreement, the Tripartite Naval Commission allocated 10 of the U-Boats that had surrendered to each of the UK, the USA and the USSR, and recommended that all the remaining afloat, but unallocated, U-Boats should be sunk no later that 15 February 1946.

The TNC’s Final Report also listed a number of other damaged and unserviceable (war loss) U-Boats located in harbours in France, Poland, and in the British, American and Soviet Zones of Germany, which were to be destroyed by the same date and, other than in the Soviet-controlled areas, this recommendation was largely obeyed, not only in respect of the U-Boats specifically listed in the TNC’s Final Report, but also in respect of several other damaged and decommissioned U-Boats which were omitted from the TNC's lists.

Thus, generally speaking, all the decisions of the TNC, as set out in its Final Report on 6 December 1945, were implemented on time and, by 16 February 1946, almost all of the necessary transfer and disposal actions were complete. There were one or two residual loose ends, but these were eventually ignored as memories faded and as East-West tensions escalated.

Finally, the Minutes of the Meetings of the TNC, as well as the correspondence between the three national naval representatives of the UK, the USA and the USSR, show a remarkable degree of friendly co-operation about the arrangements for the sharing and final disposal of the German Navy's U-Boats. There was the occasional disagreement with the Russians about access and the provision of information, but nothing sufficiently serious as to cause any political difficulties.


  1. Further information concerning this topic can be found in Dr Chris Madsen’s excellent book “The Royal Navy and German Naval Disarmament 1942-1947”(1998), specifically in Chapter 5.
  2. Relevant PRO Kew files include ADM 228/17, ADM 228/35, ADM 116/5564 and ADM 116/5566 (which includes the TNC’s Final Report of 6 Dec 45).
  3. US sources are equally helpful, and there are several boxes (comprising 4 linear feet) of papers, referenced RG333, Entry 15, 190/31/10/10-02, to be found in the US National Archive File Record Group 333.4: “The Records of the US Navy Element of the Tripartite Naval Commission (TNC) 1944-1948".

This article was published on 29 Nov 2010.

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