Military Wiki
SM U-39
Career (German Empire)
Name: U-39
Ordered: 12 June 1912
Builder: Germaniawerft, Kiel
Laid down: 27 March 1913
Launched: 26 September 1914
Commissioned: 13 January 1915
Fate: Surrendered 22 March 1919.
General characteristics
Class & type: German Type U 31 submarine
Displacement: 685 tons (surfaced)
878 tons (submerged)
971 tons (total)
Length: 64.70 m (overall)
52.36 m (pressure hull)
Beam: 6.32 m (overall)
4.05 m (pressure hull)
Height: 7.68 m
Draught: 3.56 m
Propulsion: Diesel (2 x 950 PS)
Electric (2 x 600 PS)
1850 hp (surfaced)
1200 hp (submerged)
Speed: 16.4 knots (surfaced)
9.7 knots (submerged)
Range: 8790 miles @ 8 kn (surfaced) 80 miles @ 5 kn(submerged)[1]
Test depth: 50 m
Complement: 4 officers
31 crewmen
Service record
Part of: II Flottille, Imperial German Navy
Commanders: Hans Kratzsch
Walther Forstmann
Heinrich Metzger
Operations: 19
Victories: 157 ships sunk for a total of 413,486 tons.
6 ships damaged for a total of 25,158 tons.
1 warship sunk for a total of 1,290 tons.

SM U-39 was a German Type U 31 U-boat which operated in the Mediterranean Sea during World War I. It ended up being the second most successful U-boat participating in the war, sinking 157 ships for a total of 404,478 tons.

Its longest-serving captain was Walther Forstmann, who was awarded the Pour le Mérite during command on U-39.

From January to mid-1917, Martin Niemöller served as U-39's coxswain. He is known as the author of the poem "First they came" which is inscribed at the New England Holocaust Museum. As an enemy of the Reich he was imprisoned from 1938-1945 in Sachenhausen and Dachau. In 1917 and 1918 Karl Dönitz served as watch officer on this boat. He later became Grand Admiral and Commander in Chief of the German Navy, and, for three weeks, the 4th President of Germany.


On 27 April 1918, U-39 sailed from Pola under command of Kapitänleutnant Heinrich Metzger, for operations in the Western Mediterranean. On 17 May, together with SM UB-50, U-39 operated against a convoy North of Oran, from which it sank the British steamer SCULPTOR (4,874 tons) in a submerged attack. At 13:50 hrs on 18 May, when in a position 36°36′N 00°02′W / 36.6°N 0.033°W / 36.6; -0.033, U-39 was attacked by two French seaplanes. It crash-dived, but when reaching a depth of 12 meters two bombs exploded very close; the after torpedo room flooded, the diving planes were destroyed, and the boat began sinking by the stern. Kptlt. Metzger ordered the tanks blown and U-39 surfaced, but the heavy damage suffered prevented diving again. Metzger was forced to lay a course for the nearest Spanish harbour, Cartagena. At about 17:00 U-39 was attacked again by two seaplanes; it fought back with gun and machine-guns, and the enemy bombs caused no damage, but during the action two crewmen (sailor Schulz and stoker Hausottl) fell overboard and were lost. In the evening U-39 reached Cartagena and was interned for the remainder of the war.

It was surrendered to France on 22 March 1919 and was broken up at Toulon in 1923.


  1. type U31
  2. Fitzsimons, Bernard, ed. "U-Boats (1905-18)", in The Illustrated Encyclopedia of 20th Century Weapons and Warfare, "(Phoebus Publishing, 1978), Volume 23, p.2534.
  3. Fitzsimons, p.2575; he mistakenly identifies it as 86mm p.2534.

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