As the title states, I am curious what was the second in command of a German U-boat during World War 2. This would be the rank that would take over as Captain if something were to happen to the actual Captain.

Please state source found, I haven't found a hierarchy of leadership aboard a U-boat.


3 Answers 3


Timothy P. Mulligan's Neither Sharks Nor Wolves is an academic study of U-Boat crews of WWII, published by Naval Institute Press in 1999. He describes the rank structure of the officers as:

  • Commander: ranked as Kapitänleutnant, or Oberleutnant zur See.
  • 1st Watch Officer: Oberleutnant zur See or Leutnant zur See.
  • 2nd Watch Officer: Leutnant zur See.
  • Chief Engineer: Oberleutnant [Ing.]

The 1st Watch Officer was the second-in-command. Where Mulligan gives two possible ranks, the higher rank would be for more experienced officers, with a slight bias towards them commanding larger boats.

In addition, there could be a commanding officer in training, presumably an officer who hadn't served in submarines before who was converting to the work, or a medical officer. There would also be one or two apprentice officers, Fähnrich zur See, but Mulligan groups them with the seaman senior NCOs.


Following the link that NSNoob provided was the ranks of Captains. I did find the answer on another page of Uboat.net (a wonderful site).

The answer is Wachoffizier (1WO), or Watch Officer.


  • 2
    That's a position, not a rank. Aug 15, 2017 at 15:37

1st watch officer. But He might be the cook. On a U boat at that time. You started with 1 skill on the boat. By the time you returned you had 2 more skills from on the job training. A first watch officer could probably fill in on any job on a U.boat. As each trip out he learned more. It could be senour sea man. I command. Of the boat. With first watch officer doing the navigation or math & reports.

  • 1
    Sources would improve this answer.
    – MCW
    Aug 15, 2017 at 22:19

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