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Ulrich Gräf and U-69

In 1935 at the age of 19, Ulrich Gräf joined the new German Navy as a Seekadett. By August 15, 1942, sailing out of occupied France, Oberleutnant zur See Ulrich Gräf, 26, was beginning his second combat patrol in command of U-69.

German Navy officer in working uniform

U-69 Commander Ulrich Gräf

Launched in September 1940, U-69 was Germany’s first Type VIIC U-boat. Having completed eight patrols, the U-boat was more experienced than its commander.

With every nook bursting with munitions and four tons of food, the crew was expected to ‘hot bunk’ (occupy a bunk another man had just vacated). This patrol could last three months, with each man allowed one set of extra underwear and socks—and no fresh-water baths.

Labelled drawing of German submarine

Layout of a German Type VIIC submarine (click to enlarge)

A month later, having planted twelve magnetic mines in the mouth of Chesapeake Bay, U-69 was sent north. There they sighted a convoy headed to Sydney, Nova Scotia. But Canadian military technology overheard Gräf’s radio signals and determined his position. U-69 had to crash dive four times to avoid air attacks. Better luck arrived October 9, when, just off Gaspé, Gräf torpedoed S.S. Carolus. Returning to the Cabot Strait, he crossed paths with U-109, which had sunk S.S. Waterton a day after Gräf’s success.

Two submarines with crewmen on their decks

U-69 and her crew at a French U-boat base in 1942

On October 13, 1942, three ships that U-69 was ordered to attack turned out to be from neutral Sweden. Disappointed, Gräf turned away. He ordered his crew to continue hunting Allied ships in the Cabot Strait.

German map of Gulf of St. Lawrence

German U-boat map of the Gulf of St. Lawrence