Remembering the scene where the U-Boat meets the destroyer during the hunt in "Das Boot": Destroyers have a low gauge (2.5-5m) and are very top-heavy (all those guns and waterbombs over the waterline with high wind resistance and only a small, lean body below to achieve speed).

How were they able to operate under storm conditions ?

Normally I would expect that the destroyer tumbles and wobbles like a drunkard on ice, barely managing to ride out the storm. That they were still able to spot and hunt boats seems like a small miracle. Did they had stabilizers or how did they manage it ? Were there losses when destroyers encountered bad weather and finally capsized or even turtled (hope that is the right word) ?

BACKGROUND: I have now read the described scene in the book again (the author Lothar-Günter Buchheim was really on the boat U-96 as observer). In the book the destroyer was met when the wind was Beaufort 5 (fresh breeze) and sea state was 4 (moderate wave height), it was raining with an overcast sky, so no stormy conditions. Still the captain decided to attack the destroyer; the author mentioned that he thought the captain is crazy because destroyers are very hard to hit (low gauge, high maneuverability, changes course too often) and they have already been spotted. The destroyer was 1000 m (1100 yd) away, coming from the left when the destroyer captain charged with flank speed.

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    In really bad weather destroyers fought for survival. (They were seaworthy ships, after all). Of course a submarine also could not effectively attack in bad weather. – Alex Dec 28 '15 at 20:12
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    Winter North Atlantic. Tin cans. No stabilizers yet. Hell on Earth. Also search the 'net for Halsey's typhoon. – Deer Hunter Dec 29 '15 at 10:56
  • @DeerHunter Iek. That must have been like a washing maschine, throwing the crew left, right and center 8-/. The Cowpens aircraft carrier photo in the Wikipedia article looks like a bad photoshop fake. – Thorsten S. Dec 29 '15 at 16:05
  • @ThorstenS. it was hell. I've read stories, seen pictures. Those ships would have been running on vomit. – jwenting Jan 7 '16 at 7:24
  • Early 20th century submarines were essentially covered destroyers thus enabled to operate while about 5 feet lower in the water, and to dive deeper to escape detection from surface vessels. Anytime the weather prevented destroyers from operating, submarines were similarly inhibited. – Pieter Geerkens Jan 7 '16 at 20:10
  1. You are really talking not about seaworthiness, but about stability. "Together with the Hague Visby Rules, the common law provides that the concept of "seaworthiness" covers: the ship, its equipment and supplies, the crew, the vessel's suitability for the particular cargo and its suitability for the particular voyage or for particular ports".

  2. If the physics worked as you think, the most seaworthy ship would be the Monitor - with almost empty deck. But she was one of the worst. For being stable, the ship needn't have small masts or no guns or no towers. Saying simply, she needs to have its center of gravity below its center of buoyancy. The larger difference means the greater stability.

  3. Forget the stability problems. On the contrary, the gun warships mostly were made even TOO stable - because they need stability for better gun aiming. (Yes, sometimes even the large gunships had problems with stability, but these always were the cases of some mistake in construction or arms placement or/and the ship was already damaged.)

  4. How can something be too stable? Easily - being stable, the ship can't react to the wave softly, by evading, as normal ships do, but she stands hard against the wave strokes. So yes, the gun ships HAD a problem in bad weather, but absolutely different one - even their hard boards covered by armor couldn't stand strokes of serious waves forever and periodically had to be repaired. (The armor desks fasting started to wobble.)

  5. When convoys had bad weather, they were really really happy, for that meant they have to think about the sea alone. U-boats and planes were at once too far away or far below and therefore not dangerous. Merely ships changed their order for freer one and went farther from the shore - to diminish the danger of collision - the only real one in that situation.


During World War II, there were normally no U-boat operations during storms. WW2 vintage submarines required surface visibility to attack and had to be at periscope depth or above to attack. During a storm this was more or less impossible, so it created a temporary truce in which neither side could attack.

Large naval ships tend to be very sea worthy. As far as I know only one destroyer, the Truxtun, was lost at sea in the North Atlantic due to a storm and this is only because the crew mistakenly grounded her in low visibility conditions.


According to my calculation from this official list,


US navy lost 5 or 6 destroyers due to bad weather conditions, with total loss of about 1,300 people.

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    Name 5 destroyers lost while "protecting Convoys from U-boats" due to weather. – Tyler Durden Dec 29 '15 at 12:14
  • @TylerDurden: For the USN there appears to be only one in WW2 that meets that criteria - lost at sea from weather while on convoy duty: USS Truxton (DD-299). en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USS_Truxtun_(DD-229) – Pieter Geerkens Dec 29 '15 at 13:17
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    @PieterGeerkens And notice, her wreckage was the result of grounding, not lose of stability. – Gangnus Dec 29 '15 at 14:26

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