The effectiveness of the German U-Boat fleet waxed and waned during the course of the war. In 1939 the effectiveness of the submarine flotillas was hampered by lack of numbers. Even the boats that Germany could deploy were limited because many of them were small coastal boats. All sorties had to leave from German bases and transit the North Sea through a limited number of choke points. With the fall of Norway and France in 1940 and the increased number of boats produced by German shipyards, the U-Boat came into its own and the Battle of the Atlantic began. The German boats could now operate from French ports and no longer had to run the gauntlet of North Sea exit points.
Throughout the last half of 1940 and through 1941 U-Boats inflicted hideous losses to the British merchant fleet. To crack a convoy German boats operated in wolf packs and attacked en masse. They attacked at night on the surface and used their speed to attack at the points where the convoy was weakest. During this long period the U-Boat was at its strongest. They used their 88mm deck guns equally with their torpedoes to dispatch their merchant victims. Even into 1942 the U-Boats experienced great success, primarily while operating off the coast of America. The USN and American Merchant Marine were initially not prepared for for underwater warfare. Merchant ships continued to steam alone as the navy was slow to adopt the convoy system and at night ships were backlit by the coastal cities, which had no blackout at the start.
During the first years of the war, aircraft had been a danger but one that could be minimized by planning and procedure. In the mid-Atlantic there was a wide area that was outside of the range of British or Canadian aircraft of Coastal Command. The U-Boats were impervious to aerial attack at night because the British aircraft were initially ill equipped to detect and engage surface targets at night. As 1942 approached the Atlantic Gap had narrowed in width as more Sunderlands and B-17s were fielded by Coastal Command. However, it was in 1942 that the aerial danger greatly increased. With 1942 the aerial threat greatly increased. More and more American aircraft were employed in hunting U-Boats of which the B-24 had the best range. The use of bases in Iceland provided aerial coverage of mid-Atlantic area that previously had been outside the range of attack. Aircraft mounted radar and floodlights equipped the aerial subhunters to detect and attack U-Boats on the surface at night. By mid-1942 the old tactics of attacking convoys at night on the surface could no longer be used because of this advance of allied aerial equipment. The U-Boats had lost their mobility by being forced to operate and attack while submerged. The German submarine flotillas needed a counter-measure.
The first Type VIIA U-Boat, the U-33, was commissioned on July 25, 1936 and quickly became the favorite of Admiral Donitz. This first design set the deck armament of the Type VIIA, VIIB and early VIIC boats at a 88mm gun for use against shipping and a single 20mm AA gun. The VIIC/41 design was the first design to up the anti-aircraft defense by increasing the number of 20mm guns to four and by adding a 37mm gun for medium range defense. The design was started in October 1941 with the intent to incorporate wartime lessons into construction of subsequent Type VII boats. Seventy U-Boats were built to this design, which started entering service in August 1943. The German submarine command recognized that the 20mm was too short of range and had ineffective stopping power. The medium range AA gun chosen was the 37mm/83 C/30 carried on a specially designed C/39 submarine mounting. The Germans prepared a series of modified conning tower designs in order to incorporate the additional AA weapons. To compensate for the additional weight, the 88mm deck gun was landed, as the U-Boats no longer attacked on the surface. The first three modified designs incorporated only 20mm and machineguns. However, Modification IV carried four 20mm in twin mountings and a single 37mm gun at the aft end of the "Winter-Garden". As an interim solution it was planned to equip six submarines as Flak Boats to escort the standard boats The U-441 received a greatly enhanced AA fit and became U Flak 1. This design also featured a single 37mm gun on the aft Winter Garden. On her first mission the U Flak 1 showed that the concept was flawed as there was no way a U-Boat could carry sufficient AA guns to provide for an adequate defense against aerial attack.
The Revell 1:72 scale Type VIIC U-Boat has become the basis for an increasing number of add on accessories. Well you knew this had to happen. White Ensign Models has already produced a brass photo-etched set but it was only a matter of time before they would turn to other accessories for the extremely popular Revell kit. With this add-on WEM provides medium AA guns for the Type VIIC.
White Ensign Models is known for almost flawless resin casting and superb brass photo-etch sets. However there is another medium for the production of parts for WEM kits, white metal, White Ensign Metal. You can imagine Peter Hall working in his laboratory on his latest creation. It is easy to visualize that some classical music would be playing in the background, perhaps Carmen Burana, perhaps Ride of the Valkeries. However with WEM PE-7213, Mad Pete has gone to Heavy Metal. The mass of the 1:72 scale 37mm SKC30 on submarine C/39 mount is comprised of three large white metal parts. These parts are very well done. There is some very minor flash to be removed from the metal castings but they reflect great detail and are of excellent quality. Because of their size, they certainly have heft.
The three parts consist of the open half-cupola of the C/39 mount, right side mount arm and barrel. Inside of the mount it appears that Mad Pete has included three ammunition magazines as part of the spun metal casting. The 37mm gun barrel is especially fine, as you would expect the business end of the ordnance to be. With clearly defined gun mechanisms, recoil cylinders and breech-block, the piece has great character. The total ensemble is very striking. You can see the photographs of the white metal parts dry-fitted to get an idea of the visual impact of this WEM ordnance. The right arm should be vertical but in the photos it swiveled about 40 degrees clockwise because it was not permanently attached for the photo.
Of course with any product from White Ensign Models, you are guaranteed an excellent brass photo-etched fret. The brass for this 37mm gun is packed with relief-etching. The parts on the fret add all of the smaller parts to the gun. It has 11 brass parts in eight designs. Included are elevation mechanism, sight elevating bar, barrel stowage restraint, torsion bars, gun layer’s seat, training mechanism plate, shoulder braces and gun layers hand rails.
Is there any negative to say about these parts? To the parts themselves….no negatives, other than minor flash on the white metal parts. However, there is no modified U-Boat conning tower on which to mount the ordnance. The Revell kit has the early conning tower with 20mm mounting, not the enlarged and more intricate towers with their Winter Gardens. Of course, this leads my suspicious mind to think that the second size 16 Mad Pete boot hasn’t dropped yet. I know that alternate conning towers for this kit are being developed by one producer but with the production by WEM of this 37mm gun, Mad Pete may be throwing his boot into the ring. Time will tell.