About the Emblems
Hundreds of U-boats displayed emblems in the war, much like many other services from all sides of the war. They varied from typical war emblems (swords, axes etc.) to humorous (Mickey Mouse on U-26) and then coincidental (the horseshoes on U-99). One of the more interesting is the Olympic rings seen on many boats. More on that later.
Many U-boats were "adopted" by cities and towns in Germany before and during the war. Many of those boats displayed the crests of those same towns on their tower. This was usually along with the main emblem of the same boat.
It was common for the same emblem to be seen on many boats, often this was the flotilla or a class emblem.
Sometimes it originated from a successful boat that former officers brought to their new boat. U-124 had the famous Edelweiss but when Mohr took command he added his personal emblem, a frog (see left). Successful commanders often brought their old emblem to a newer boat if they got one.
The larger ocean-going U-boats of types IX, XIV (Milk Cows) and XB types were less agile than the smaller type VII boats and thus often had animals of similar quality as their emblems. Elephants, turtles, snails and the like were common on those boats.
Superstition played a large part, like for so many sailors of all nations of all times.
When the new Elektro boats, designed to operate submerged the whole time, appeared in late 1944 the practice of painting an emblem on the boats still continued with 81 of those boats displaying an emblem of some sort.
Did many boats display the Swastika?
This is something I wondered myself and I did check this out only to find 14 boats (out of hundreds) that displayed it. One of them, U-181, only did so as recognition signal in the Far East. Most of these instances were probably not political, the emblem was after all on almost everything during the Reich. The scarcity of it is yet another proof that the Kriegsmarine was not very much Nazi infested.