Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

Related Content
  • Boats-Ships--U-Boat
  • DANFS (Dictionary of American Fighting Ships)
Document Type
  • Ship History
Wars & Conflicts
  • World War I 1917-1918
File Formats
  • Image (gif, jpg, tiff)
Location of Archival Materials

UB-88 (World War I Prize Submarine)


The Navy retained the alphanumeric name carried by this former Imperial German Navy vessel at the time of her acquisition.

 (World War I Prize Submarine: displacement 510 (surfaced), 640 (submerged); length 182'; beam 19'; draft 12'; speed 13.6 knots (surfaced), 8 knots (submerged); complement 34; armament 5 20-inch torpedo tubes, 1 4.1-inch; class UB-88)

UB-88 was laid down in February 1917 at Hamburg, Germany, by the Aktiengesellschaft Vulcan; launched on 11 December 1917; and placed in commission in the Imperial German Navy on 26 January 1918, Oberleutnant zur See Johannes Ries, 26, in command.

After shakedown in the North and Baltic Seas, early in which period Kapitänleutnant Reinhard von Rabenau, 29, relieved Oberleutnant Ries in command (16 February 1918) Ries going to UC-77. Von Rabenau had been a successful commander of UC-77, sinking 21 ships and damaging four. Ries would go on to sink six and damage three during his tour in UC-77 before putting to sea on what would be his, and his crew’s, last patrol. UC-77 fouled a mine and sank with the loss of 30 souls, Ries, less than a week before his 27th birthday, included.

UB-88, assigned to the I U-Flotille Flandern (First Submarine Flotilla, Flanders) at Zeebrugge on the Belgian coast, cleared Kiel, Germany, on 4 June 1918 and set course to proceed around Denmark and through the Skaggerak, then south to Zeebrugge. During the passage to her first duty station, UB-88 passed down the east coast of England, and on 10 June 1918 encountered a convoy of five freighters and six trawlers shepherded by two destroyers and a pair of aircraft. She torpedoed and sank the 1,566-ton British steamer Princess Maud (that had been previously in service as an Admiralty messenger vessel) with the loss of three men and her cargo that she took to the bottom. In a submerged attack, UB-88 fired a single torpedo which struck and sank the 1,555-ton Swedish steamer Dora (K.G. Elffors, Master), steaming in ballast, with the loss of nine men. The convoy’s escorts conducted a brief depth charge attack, but UB-88 emerged from the encounter with negligible damage. Two days later, she reached Zeebrugge.

UB-88 stood out to sea on 20 June 1918 on her first patrol. On 22 June, she encountered a southbound convoy between Flamborough Head and Sunderland, and Kapitänleutnant von Rabenau made a submerged torpedo attack and succeeded in sinking the 1,624-ton Swedish steamer Avance (J. D. Hansson, Master), which plunged to the bottom with her cargo of wood pulp, lumber, and “general cargo.” One sailor went down with the ship.

The following day [23 June 1918], UB-88 encountered another south-bound convoy, numbering about 30 vessels, one of which rammed her main periscope. Von Rabenau, however, managed a successful submerged attack using the boat’s secondary periscope and sank the 1,706-ton British ship London, bound (ironically) for London with a load of coal and general cargo. The convoy’s escorts responded with nine depth charges, but the submarine managed to evade their attacks. During the pre-dawn hours of 25 June, she encountered and sank the 4,482-ton British steamer African Transport, which went down with the loss of three men and the vessel’s cargo of coal. Before the day was out, that evening, she ran onto a 20-ship convoy heading south. The U-boat sank the 3,602-ton steamer Moorlands (which went down with nine dead and the cargo of iron ore) and then survived a 16-charge depth-bombing by the escort vessels.

Four days later, on 29 June 1918, von Rabenau made a surface torpedo attack and sank the small (214-ton) British steamer Sixty-Six (built 1871) which suffered six casualties and went down with her cargo of cement.  That same day, UB-88 conducted another surface torpedo attack that sank the 1,157-ton British steamer Herdis, which suffered no casualties but took her cargo of coal to the bottom. Two days later, the U-boat concluded her war patrol at Zeebrugge.

On 29 July 1918, UB-88 stood out to hunt Allied merchant shipping in the English Channel. One day out (30 July) while operating between Le Havre and the Isle of Wight, she encountered two steamers escorted by a French destroyer and fired two torpedoes. One hit the 6,045-ton British steamer Bayronto, steaming in ballast, while the other missed completely. Though damaged, Bayronto made it into port because the French destroyer prevented UB-88 from finishing off her victim by barraging her with 45 depth charges.

Two days later, off Brest, UB-88 met a large U.S. convoy bound for France. Von Rabenau attempted to maneuver into position for a submerged torpedo attack, but the convoy changed course and foiled his efforts. Shortly before the convoy entered port at Brest, the four escorting cruisers parted company with it and made for the open sea. In so doing, they presented a target that Kapitänleutnant von Rabenau could not pass up, firing a torpedo at one of the warships, but it missed its mark. For her boldness, UB-88 suffered a staggering depth charge barrage of 15 to 20 minutes’ duration, sustaining severe concussion damage to her electrical system. Prompt and efficient damage control, however, enabled her to remain at sea and continue the patrol.

Operating to the south of Brest on 3 August 1918, UB-88 came upon a south-bound convoy escorted by armed trawlers and deployed observation balloons. The U-boat torpedoed the 1,998-ton U.S. freighter Lake Portage, steaming en route from Montreal, Canada, to Nantes, France, which sank soon thereafter, her casualties amounting to three dead and six injured. Later, UB-88 singled out Berwind, another American vessel, from a north-bound convoy and sank her with a single torpedo; six men died in the attack. The following day [4 August], another north-bound convoy crossed her path. In a submerged attack in the waters two miles off Lorient, UB-88 torpedoed and sank the 1,901-ton Norwegian steamer Hundvaagø steaming in ballast. She rounded out that cruise with one last attack on 9 August during the return passage to Zeebrugge, scoring a torpedo hit on the 4,090-ton British ship Anselma de Larringa, bound for London with a cargo of asphalt, near the mouth of the Seine River. Although damaged, her victim limped in to a friendly port. UB-88 continued her homeward voyage and stood in to Zeebrugge on 11 August.

After almost a month of preparations, the U-boat returned to sea on 7 September 1918 for her final cruise as a unit of I U-Flotille Flandern. Following a long voyage through the North Sea, around the Orkney Islands, and down the west coast of Ireland, she reached her operations area off the northern part of France’s west coast on 14 September. Two days later, she claimed her first victim of the patrol when she fired a torpedo which sank Philomel, a 3,050-ton British steamer travelling south in convoy with about 19 other ships. On 19 September, she fired two torpedoes at a 30-ship convoy; both apparently both hit the same ship, Fanny [J. E. Waldh, Master), a 1,484-ton Swedish steamer bound from England to Bordeaux with a cargo of coal. The following day, the submarine began her long return voyage to Zeebrugge via the same route, around the British Isles and through the North Sea. En route home, shortly after midnight on 22 September, she encountered the 4,221-ton British steamer Polesley. In a surface attack, UB-88 scored a torpedo hit which sent the vessel to the bottom with her cargo of coal, just off the coast of Cornwall. Forty-three men lost their lives.

The submarine then resumed her course and entered Zeebrugge on 29 September. She remained there only overnight. The next day, she got underway to return to Germany. On 3 October, she arrived in Heligoland and joined her new unit II U-Flotille, Hochseeftotte (Second Submarine Flotilla, High Seas Fleet). She remained inactive, first at Heligoland and, then, at Wilhelmshaven, through the end of the Great War.

Soon after the 11 November 1918 armistice ended hostilities, UB-88 surrendered along with the other warships of the High Seas Fleet. They were interned a little over a fortnight later, on 26 November. When the U.S. Navy expressed an interest in acquiring several German submarines to be used in conjunction with the current Victory Bond drive and to enable American crews to learn their supposed secrets, UB-88 and five other boats were allocated to the United States with the agreement that they would be destroyed upon the conclusion of the bond campaign. Naval personnel were dispatched from the United States early in 1919, and they took over the submarine on 23 March 1919. Soon thereafter, UB-88 was placed in special commission for the voyage across the Atlantic, Lt. Cmdr. Joseph L. Nielson in command.

After a brief period allotted to the crew to make repairs and familiarize themselves with the foreign submarine’s machinery, UB-88 stood out of Harwich on 3 April 1919 in company with Bushnell (Submarine Tender No. 2) and three other former German U-boats: U-117, UC-97, and UB-U8. That task unit, dubbed the Ex-German Submarine Expeditionary Force, steamed via the Azores and Bermuda to New York, where it arrived on 27 April.

UB-88 in New York harbor
Caption: UB-88 in New York harbor amidst tugs, barges, and ferries, with the Statue of Liberty visible in the background, 29 April 1919, her crew at quarters and the Maltese [Iron] Cross visible on the chariot-style bridge. Note what appears to be a makeshift submarine warning flag flying from her periscope. (Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph NH 42484)

Not long after reaching New York, UB-88 and the other four boats became the center-stage attraction for a horde of tourists, reporters, and photographers, as well as for technicians from the Navy Department, submarine builders, and equipment suppliers. During her stay in New York, UB-88 received additional refurbishment in preparation for her participation in the bond drive.

Finally, orders arrived dispersing five of the six U-boats to different sections of the American coasts and waterways for visits to various ports along the way. UB-88 drew the longest itinerary of the five U-boats. She was assigned to the ports on the east coast south of Savannah, Ga.; ports on the Gulf coast; the Mississippi River as far north as Memphis, Tenn.; and the west coast. She departed New York on 5 May 1919 in company with her tender, the Coast Guard cutter Tuscarora. On the first part of the cruise, she visited Savannah, Jacksonville, Miami, and Key West. At the time she departed Key West, the submarine had to bid farewell to Tuscarora, because boiler trouble forced the cutter to remain there for repairs. Bittern (Minesweeper No. 36) became her tender and escorted the U-boat through the remainder of her voyage.

From Key West, UB-88 headed for Tampa, thence to Pensacola; and on to Mobile and New Orleans. At the latter port, she entered the Mississippi River. For the next month, she made calls at ports large and small along the great river. Though her schedule originally called for her to travel as far north as St. Louis, Mo., she made it only as far as Memphis before the rapidly-falling water level forced her to cut short her voyage on the Mississippi and head downriver. UB-88 returned to New Orleans on 1 July 1919 and entered dry dock for repairs to her port tail shaft. The submarine completed repairs on 22 July and departed New Orleans to begin a cruise to ports along the Texas coast and thence to the Canal Zone. A breakdown between Houston, Tex., and Colón, Canal Zone, meant that Bittern had to tow the submarine the final 200 miles. After receiving repairs, provisions, and visitors, UB-88 transited the Panama Canal on 12 August. Following a two-day visit to Balboa, she headed north along the Mexican coast to San Diego and, after stops at Acapulco and Manzanillo in Mexico, reached her destination on 29 August.

The last leg of her voyage took UB-88 north to San Pedro, Santa Barbara, Monterey, and San Francisco in California; Astoria and Portland in Oregon; and Seattle, Tacoma, and Bremerton in Washington. On the return voyage, she stopped at San Francisco only, departing that port on 6 November 1919 for the submarine base at San Pedro, where she arrived the next day.

After being laid up at San Pedro for four months, UB-88 began the dismantling process on 1 April 1920. That operation was completed by 31 August, and UB-88 was placed out of commission on 1 November 1920. The following spring, the U-boat returned to sea for the last time, and, on 1 March 1921, she took her final plunge when Wickes (DD-75) sank her with gunfire.

Raymond A. Mann

Updated, Robert J. Cressman

19 February 2021

Published: Thu Feb 25 08:03:02 EST 2021