The Milk Cow

The Milk Cow

During the Battle of the Atlantic in World War II, German U-boats wreaked havoc on Allied shipping. The Treaty of Versailles had greatly limited Germany’s surface naval fleet. To maintain a strong naval presence, Germany responded by building hundreds of U-boats (by end of the war over 1,200 U-boats were commissioned). Supporting these boats was a fleet of logistic vessels, supplying fuel, food, and torpedoes. As operations shifted further into the Atlantic, the Germans designed a U-boat that was devoted to providing supplies to the Wolfpacks.

0d153753a8a2e9af4793220aa47087d2The Type XIV U-boat was a shorter, non-combat version of the Type IX. Known popularly as the Milchkuh (Milk Cow), the U-boat had the capability of carrying 603 tons of fuel, 13 tons of motor oil, and four torpedoes. The boats also had large refrigeration units that could carry food, as well as a bakery that could provide fresh bread to the crews being resupplied. The boats lacked an offensive capability (no torpedo tubes or deck gun) but were armed with three anti-aircraft guns. During the war, Germany commissioned 10 milk cows, although there were plans for 24 to be constructed.

0d159df4a58f96aac97c8ac15df1cd7dAs the war progressed, the milk cows became a priority target for Allied naval forces in the Atlantic. The loss of a single milk cow could curtail operations for the U-boats, resulting in those vessels having to return to port to resupply and hampering offensive action against convoys. Aided by ULTRA intercepts, as well as improved radar and aerial coverage in the Atlantic, all 10 milk cows were sunk or scuttled by 1944.

0d15a03c3d0793b8bf3105dd99dee759The milk cow program had successfully resupplied 427 U-boats during its tenure. The duty was extremely hazardous for the sailors that participated in it. Of the 576 sailors that participated in the milk cow program, 289 were killed.

Look for more information regarding German U-boat resupply operations in the upcoming Strategy & Tactics issue #300 article “U-boat Resupply Operations in Spain, 1939-1944” and join the conversation on Facebook!

About The Author

Kyle is a Military Historian and Senior Editor at Strategy & Tactics Press. A fourth-generation combat Veteran, Kyle retired from the United States Army in 2010. He specializes in military operations from 1945-Present and has written extensively regarding the future of asymmetrical warfare.

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