German submarine U-161 (1941)

For other ships with the same name, see German submarine U-161.
U-505, a typical Type IXC boat
Nazi Germany
Name: U-161
Ordered: 23 December 1939
Builder: Deutsche Schiff und maschinenbau AG, Bremen
Yard number: 700
Laid down: 23 March 1940
Launched: 1 March 1941
Commissioned: 8 July 1941
Fate: Sunk on 27 September 1943[1]
General characteristics
Class and type: Type IXC submarine
  • 1,120 t (1,100 long tons) surfaced
  • 1,232 t (1,213 long tons) submerged
  • 76.76 m (251 ft 10 in) o/a
  • 58.75 m (192 ft 9 in) pressure hull
  • 6.76 m (22 ft 2 in) o/a
  • 4.40 m (14 ft 5 in) pressure hull
Height: 9.60 m (31 ft 6 in)
Draught: 4.70 m (15 ft 5 in)
Installed power:
  • 4,400 PS (3,200 kW; 4,300 bhp) (diesels)
  • 1,000 PS (740 kW; 990 shp) (electric)
  • 13,450 nmi (24,910 km; 15,480 mi) at 10 knots (19 km/h; 12 mph) surfaced
  • 64 nmi (119 km; 74 mi) at 4 knots (7.4 km/h; 4.6 mph) submerged
Test depth: 230 m (750 ft)
Complement: 4 officers, 44 enlisted
Service record
Part of:
Operations: Six patrols
  • 12 ships sunk for a total of 60,107 GRT
  • one warship sunk, (1,130 tons)
  • five ships damaged, (35,672 tons)
  • one warship damaged, (5,450)
  • one ship a total loss, (3,305 tons)

German submarine U-161 was a Type IXC U-boat of Nazi Germany's Kriegsmarine built for service during World War II. The keel for this boat was laid down on 23 March 1940 at the Deutsche Schiff und maschinenbau AG, Bremen yard as yard number 700. She was launched on 1 March 1941 and commissioned on 8 July under the command of Kapitänleutnant Hans-Ludwig Witt (Knight's Cross).

The U-boat's service began with training as part of the 4th U-boat Flotilla. She then moved to the 10th flotilla on 1 January 1942 for operations. She sank 12 ships, totalling 60,107 gross register tons (GRT); one warship of 1,130 tons and damaged five others, for 35,672 tons. She also damaged one warship (5,450 tons) and caused one merchant vessel to be declared a total loss (3,305 tons).

She was sunk by an American aircraft in September 1943.


German Type IXC submarines were slightly larger than the original Type IXBs. U-161 had a displacement of 1,120 tonnes (1,100 long tons) when at the surface and 1,232 tonnes (1,213 long tons) while submerged.[2] The U-boat had a total length of 76.76 m (251 ft 10 in), a pressure hull length of 58.75 m (192 ft 9 in), a beam of 6.76 m (22 ft 2 in), a height of 9.60 m (31 ft 6 in), and a draught of 4.70 m (15 ft 5 in). The submarine was powered by two MAN M 9 V 40/46 supercharged four-stroke, nine-cylinder diesel engines producing a total of 4,400 metric horsepower (3,240 kW; 4,340 shp) for use while surfaced, two Siemens-Schuckert 2 GU 345/34 double-acting electric motors producing a total of 1,000 metric horsepower (740 kW; 990 shp) for use while submerged. She had two shafts and two 1.92 m (6 ft) propellers. The boat was capable of operating at depths of up to 230 metres (750 ft).[2]

The submarine had a maximum surface speed of 18.3 knots (33.9 km/h; 21.1 mph) and a maximum submerged speed of 7.3 knots (13.5 km/h; 8.4 mph).[2] When submerged, the boat could operate for 63 nautical miles (117 km; 72 mi) at 4 knots (7.4 km/h; 4.6 mph); when surfaced, she could travel 13,450 nautical miles (24,910 km; 15,480 mi) at 10 knots (19 km/h; 12 mph). U-161 was fitted with six 53.3 cm (21 in) torpedo tubes (four fitted at the bow and two at the stern), 22 torpedoes, one 10.5 cm (4.13 in) SK C/32 naval gun, 180 rounds, and a 3.7 cm (1.5 in) as well as a 2 cm (0.79 in) anti-aircraft gun. The boat had a complement of forty-eight.[2]

Service history

1st and 2nd patrols

The submarine's first patrol took her from Kiel on 3 January 1942, across the North Sea and into the Atlantic Ocean through the gap between the Faroe and Shetland Islands. She arrived at Lorient, in occupied France, on 3 May. She would be based at this Atlantic port for the rest of her career.

U-161's second sortie proved to be successful, damaging British Consul and Mokihana on 19 February 1942 while the ship rode at anchor in the Gulf of Paria off Port of Spain, Trinidad.[3] She went on to sink ships such as Circe Shell, Lihue the petrol tanker Uniwaleco off St Vincent and daringly she made her way at night through the narrow passage into Castries Harbour, St Lucia where she damaged the Lady Nelson and Umtata. One ship sunk by U-161, Sarniadoc, sank in 30 seconds after her boiler exploded. There were no survivors. On 15 March 1942, while en route alone from Curaçao, Netherlands West Indies to Antigua, British West Indies, the Speedwell-class USCGC Acacia, the former U.S. Army mine planter General John P. Story of 1919 transferred to the United States Lighthouse Service at no cost in 1922,[4] was sunk by gunfire from the German submarine U-161 approximately 150 miles south of Port-au-Prince, Haiti. The entire crew of Acacia abandoned ship before she sank and all were rescued unscathed. She was the only U.S. tender sunk by enemy action during the war.

3rd patrol

The boat's third patrol took her past the Azores and Cape Verde Islands, to the Brazilian coast north of Fortaleza. She then followed that coastline north until she reached the Caribbean. On 16 June 1942 she stopped the sailing ship Neuva Altagracia with gunfire and sank the vessel with scuttling charges. She also attacked San Pablo while the ship was being unloaded in Puerto Limón, Costa Rica on 3 July. Although the ship sank, she was raised with the intention of repair; but she was declared a total loss and sunk as a target on 25 September.

She crossed the Atlantic in an easterly direction, but turned about and returned to the Caribbean. Having commenced the return leg to France, she encountered Fairport 500 nmi (930 km; 580 mi) north of St. Thomas, Virgin Islands on 16 July and sank her. The boat returned to Lorient on 7 August.

4th patrol

Her fourth foray was to west Africa. This patrol was her longest-113 days. She damaged the light cruiser HMS Phoebe six miles and 282° from Pointe Noire, French Equatorial Africa on 23 October 1942 and sank theWest Humhaw 60 nmi (110 km; 69 mi) southwest of Takoradi in Ghana on 8 November.

5th patrol

The boat's fifth patrol involved another Atlantic crossing and sinking a second sailing ship, Angelus, north of Bermuda, again with gunfire. Ten survivors abandoned the vessel; only two were still alive when their lifeboat was discovered.

6th patrol and loss

Aerial attack on U-161 by a PBM-Mariner of VP-74 on 27 September 1943.

The U-boat departed Lorient for the last time on 8 August 1943. Returning to the Brazilian coast, she sank St. Usk on 20 September and Itapagé on the 26th. She was sunk with all hands (53 men), on 27 September 1943 by an American PBM Mariner aircraft of VP-74 in the South Atlantic.

Summary of raiding history

Date Name Nationality Tonnage[Note 1] Fate[5]
19 February 1942 British Consul  United Kingdom 6,940 Damaged
19 February 1942 Mokihana  United States 7,460 Damaged
21 February 1942 Circe Shell  United Kingdom 8,207 Sunk
23 February 1942 Lihue  United States 7,001 Sunk
7 March 1942 Uniwaleco  South Africa 9,755 Sunk
10 March 1942 RMS Lady Nelson  Canada 7,970 Damaged
10 March 1942 Umtata  United Kingdom 8,141 Damaged
14 March 1942 Sarniadoc  Canada 1,940 Sunk
15 March 1942 USCGC Acacia  United States Coast Guard 1,130 Sunk
16 June 1942 Nueva Altagracia  Dominican Republic 30 Sunk
22 June 1942 E.J. Sadler  United States 9,639 Sunk
3 July 1942 San Pablo  Panama 3,305 Total loss
16 July 1942 Fairport  United States 6,165 Sunk
23 October 1942 HMS Phoebe  Royal Navy 5,450 Damaged
8 November 1942 Benalder  United Kingdom 5,161 Damaged
8 November 1942 West Humhaw  United States 5,527 Sunk
29 November 1942 Tjileboet  Netherlands 5,760 Sunk
12 December 1942 Ripley  United Kingdom 4,997 Sunk
19 May 1943 Angelus  Canada 255 Sunk
20 September 1943 St. Usk  United Kingdom 5,472 Sunk
26 September 1943 Itapagé  Brazil 4,998 Sunk



  1. Merchant ship tonnages are in gross register tons. Military vessels are listed by tons displacement.


  1. Kemp 1999, p. 147.
  2. 1 2 3 4 Gröner 1991, p. 68.
  3. Kelshall, Gaylord: The U Boat War in the Caribbean. pub by The Naval Institute Press
  4. Grover 1987, p. 122.
  5. Helgason, Guðmundur. "Ships hit by U-161". German U-boats of WWII - Retrieved 3 October 2014.


  • Busch, Rainer; Röll, Hans-Joachim (1999). German U-boat commanders of World War II : a biographical dictionary. Translated by Brooks, Geoffrey. London, Annapolis, Md: Greenhill Books, Naval Institute Press. ISBN 1-55750-186-6. 
  • Busch, Rainer; Röll, Hans-Joachim (1999). Deutsche U-Boot-Verluste von September 1939 bis Mai 1945 [German U-boat losses from September 1939 to May 1945]. Der U-Boot-Krieg (in German). IV. Hamburg, Berlin, Bonn: Mittler. ISBN 3-8132-0514-2. 
  • Gröner, Erich; Jung, Dieter; Maass, Martin (1991). U-boats and Mine Warfare Vessels. German Warships 1815–1945. 2. Translated by Thomas, Keith; Magowan, Rachel. London: Conway Maritime Press. ISBN 0-85177-593-4. 
  • Grover, David (1987). U.S. Army Ships and Watercraft of World War II. Naval Institute Press. ISBN 0-87021-766-6. LCCN 87015514. 
  • Kemp, Paul (1999). U-Boats Destroyed - German Submarine Losses in the World Wars. London: Arms & Armour. ISBN 1-85409-515-3. 

Coordinates: 12°30′S 35°35′W / 12.500°S 35.583°W / -12.500; -35.583

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