(Former German Submarine: dp. 1,930 (surf.), 2,483 (subm.); 1. 311'; b. 29%'; dr. 17%'; s. 15.8 k. (surf.), 7.6 k. (subm.); cpl. 62; a. 2 5.9", 2 3.4", 6 20" tt.; cl. U-139)
U-140—a large, heavily armed submarine cruiser— was laid down early in 1917 at Kiel, Germany, by Germaniawerft; launched on 4 November 1917; and commissioned in the Imperial German Navy on 28 March 1918, Korvettenkapitdn Waldemar Kophamel in command.
Though one of the very few German submarines to receive a name, Kapitdnleutnant Weddigen—after the commander of U-9 who had startled the world at the outbreak of the war by sinking in quick succession the British cruisers Aboukir, Cressy, and Hague—the U-boat was known more generally as U-140. She completed her shakedown cruise early in June and was posted on the 5th to the U-Kreuzer Verband (Submarine Cruiser Unit) to conduct long-range cruiser warfare off the coast of the United States.
On 2 July, she stood out of Warnemunde on Germany's Baltic coast, passed around Denmark through the Skaggerak into the North Sea, thence moved north around the Shetlands, and set a course for North America. On 11 July, she sighted an eight-ship convoy and attempted a submerged attack. However, heavy seas made depth control impossible, and the attempt failed. Four days later, she spied four large, fast passenger liners similar in construction to SS Mauritania and SS Lusitania. However, their speed, course, and distance precluded an attack; and U-140 continued her voyage.
On the 19th, she encountered and stopped a Danish ship, SS Olaf Maersk. After inspecting the ship's cargo and satisfying herself as to the propriety of the Dane's papers, which indicated that she was carrying petroleum and gasoline for the Swiss government, U-140 allowed the neutral merchantman to proceed on toward her destination.
The submarine reached the coastal waters off North America, just south of Newfoundland, on 26 July and opened her campaign with a running gun battle with the 13,967-ton British steamer SS Melitia. The merchantman was too fast for the submarine and gradually made good her escape. That evening, U-140 engaged another British ship, the 4,147-ton SS British Major in another surface gun battle. The U-boat's slight superiority in speed allowed her to close range with her quarry only very gradually, and gathering darkness forced her to break off the action before she was able to get the enemy's range. The next day, however, the submarine scored her first victory. Just south of Halifax, Nova Scotia, she stopped the Portuguese sailing ship Porto, carrying a cargo of lumber. In order to save ammunition and torpedoes for more valuable and dangerous game, U-140's boarding party placed explosive charges at strategic points in the ship and exploded them to sink her. The next day, bad luck struck once more when difficulties controlling depth spoiled an attempted submerged attack on SS Ker-manshah, a 4,948-ton American cargo ship. The heavy seas which contributed to her inability to follow through on the attack also precluded any attempt at pursuit.
The first week in August, however, brought the heretofore all but hapless commerce raider a series of victories. On the 1st, she made a submerged attack on the 7,029-ton Japanese ship SS Tokuyama Maru and scored a torpedo hit. When the explosion proved to be less than fatal, U-140 surfaced to deliver the coup de grace with her deck guns.
Three days later, the U-boat attempted a submerged torpedo shot at a steamer armed with a 4.7-inch gun. That try was unsuccessful, and the submarine had to surface to bring her 5.9-inch guns to bear. The American tanker SS O. B. Jennings fought back gamely for 22 minutes, but a 5.9-inch shell hit her magazine and put her gun out of action. At that point, O. B. Jennings' crew abandoned ship; and the submarine closed range and sank her. After finishing off the ship, U-140 turned her attention to the crew adrift in boats. Her commanding officer interrogated the crew members, took O. B. Jennings' second officer prisoner, and then cleared the area.
On 5 August, she stopped the American sailing ship Stanley M. Seaman, bound from Newport News to Santo Domingo with a cargo of coal, and sank her with explosive charges. The next day, she stopped a 3,024-ton American merchantman—also carrying coal—and sank her with explosives.
During the latter encounter, the submarine had been in full view of the Diamond Shoals Lightship which began sending wireless reports on U-140. The submarine responded by taking the lightship under fire; and, as soon as her crew abandoned the lightship, the U-boat sank it with gunfire.
Four days passed before the U-boat encountered another target. On 10 August, she tried to stop a 6,062-ton Brazilian steamer, SS Aberaba, but an American destroyer happened upon the scene and foiled the attempt. U-140 made an emergency dive while the destroyer dropped a barrage of 16 depth charges. The submarine suffered a number of leaks in her pressure hull as a result of the attack and began leaking fuel as well. That damage limited her operations along the United States coast to another week. During those seven days, she encountered only one ship, the 7,781-ton American ship SS Pastores with which she traded a few shots before the steamer escaped. Finally, on the 17th, the loss of about 9,000 gallons of fuel forced U-140 to begin the long voyage home.
The cruise back to Germany did not, however, end her combat activities. On 22 August, she engaged the 7,523-ton armed British merchantman SS Diomed in a gun battle and scored her last victory of the war when Diomed succumbed to the submarine's 5.9-inch gunfire and slid beneath the sea. The next afternoon, U-140 traded salvoes with an armed American ship; but gathering darkness covered SS Pleiades' escape. U-140 had to break off the action and resume her homeward voyage. On 12 and 13 September, she stopped near the Faroe Islands to transfer about 5,000 gallons of fuel to U-117. A week later, U-140 re-entered Kiel to end an 81-day cruise during which she claimed to have sunk over 30,000 tons of Allied shipping.
The submarine apparently spent the remaining weeks of World War I in port at Kiel. The terms of the armistice which ended hostilities on 11 November 1918 required Germany to dismantle or to surrender her submarines. Accordingly, U-140 was turned over to the British on 23 February 1919 and interned at Harwich, England.
In the meantime, the United States Navy had expressed a desire to acquire several former German U-boats for use in a Victory Bond campaign during the summer of 1919. U-14.0 was set aside for those purposes, and her American crew took control during the latter half of March. The submarine was placed in special -commission soon thereafter, Lt. Comdr. G. A. Hulings in command.
Accounts vary as to how U-140 actually made the voyage to the United States. One source indicates that she made the voyage under her own power with Bushnell (Submarine Tender No. 2) and four of the other five U-boats of the Ex-German Submarine Expeditionary Force. On the other hand, in his account, Vice Admiral Charles A. Lockwood, Jr.—who served in and later commanded UC-97—stated that U-140 preceded Bushnell and the four U-boats which sailed with her by several days. He also maintained that she was towed to New York by a collier, but he failed to identify the ship. Be that as it may, U-140 arrived in New York sometime during May 1919.
The submarine was opened for a time to public viewing at New York. No records have been found delineating U-140's subsequent service. At the end of the summer, she was laid up at the Philadelphia Navy Yard and remained there, partially dismantled, until the summer of 1921. At that time, she was taken out to sea to serve as a target in aerial bombardment tests. Following those tests on 22 July 1921, Dickerson (DD-157) sank U-140's battered hulk with gunfire.