U-105 off Freetown, Sierra Leone, September 1941
One of my favourite U-boat books is Robert C Stern's Battle Beneath the Waves (Cassell, 2002) which tells the stories of selected boats in both World Wars. He recounts that shortly before she was lost off West Africa after an unusual surface slugging match with USS Buckley in May 1944, Type IX boat U-66, harassed from the air, signalled to Befehlshaber der U-boote 'Central Atlantic Worse than Biscay'. The latter bay being traditionally where air power made life most difficult for U-boats by about 1942.
Well, that's how I felt, not long after my role-played Flotille Chef at the online Doenitz Elite Flotilla assigned us to return to the seas off Freetown for all of two weeks, for our second full patrol.
The full story of the first patrol, written in the form of illustrated extracts from U-105's Kreigstagebuch or war diary, you can find here: http://www.donitzeliteflotilla.com/forum/index.php?topic=3368.0 (this was recorded as two patrols as it involved a refuelling stop at a covert supply ship in the Canary Islands - all very hush-hush, or sehr Gekados if you like).
Second patrol, things started happily enough at Lorient. Crew on deck, we slipped out of our berth, to the accompaniment of the quayside band playing and the nurses throwing flowers.
Clear of port and with the open seas ahead, we bade farewell to our minesweeper escort.
There was nothing much to tell for the next ten days or so, as we ploughed our way southwards at economical cruising speed, increasing revolutions to transit the Bay of Biscay and the seas west of the big enemy naval and air base at Gibraltar. Sometimes the weather was good; other times, not so good.
Other times again, it was a bit of a mixture.
Our first encounter came en route and in darkness, when our alert bridge watch spotted a steamer showing no lights and sailing independently. She was unarmed, so we sank her with our 10.5cm deck gun.
A few days later, also in darkness, the tables were turned. We were surprised on the surface by two escorts, obviously radar-equipped, who drove us down and depth-charged us mercilessly. But fortunately without serious effect.
All we could do was track them on the hydrophones, while creeping away.
We escaped eventually, and ran into a second freighter a few days later. It didn't go well for her...
...and she slipped below the waves soon after desperately firing off some futile distress flares.
About the time we arrived in our patrol area SSW of Freetown, the weather finally improved again.
So, why 'worse than Biscay', then? Well, that'll come next!
...to be continued!
A new standalone mega-mod that brings all that's best to Silent Hunter 3
SH3 got justifiably rave reviews when first released in 2005. Arguably (and I'd be one of those arguing it) it's still far the best U-boat simulation. And can be much improved by the huge number of user-made mods available for it (many of which you can find in the Doentiz Elite Flotilla mediafire SH3 archive http://www.donitzeliteflotilla.com/forum/index.php?topic=1.0 ) .
Notably, as every SH3 aficionado will know, there's a number of mega-mods available which provide a single major overhaul, often with optional submods included. One such, and possibly the most popular, is the Grey Wolves Expansion 3 (aka GWX) whose Gold edition is what I've been playing until very recently.
Now available is a comprehensive further development of GWX - the OneAlex Edition. You can see the mod's intro video here - the download link is in its description: Silent Hunter 3 - GWX Onealex Edition - YouTube
This comes as a compressed file of just over three meg and unzips to under nine. While nominally a mod, it's self-contained and fully functional when unzipped - it doesn't need enabled or installed onto an existing installation. You may need to use a utility called Multi SH3 to create the dedicated subfolder it needs in 'My Documents' for career files but that can also be easily created manually eg 'My documents/SH3' if you unzip the mod to its default folder. Could hardly be simpler.
GWX OneAlex Edition comes with:
- the features of the GWX mod, including harbour traffic;
- the German U-Boat Compilation mod (GUC) which greatly improves the boats themselves, including enabling off-duty crew to be assembled on deck in harbour, the battle flag flown or taken down, and victory pennants to be flown from your periscope on return;
- many other improvements, including better crew and uniform textures;
- an already-inbuilt widescreen mod so it's 1920x1080 compatible out of the box;
- Jonesoft Generic Mod Enabler (JSGME), plus a set of submods including a range of skins for Type VII and IX U-boats;
- Silent Hunter 3 Commander (SH3C), optional but regarded by many as a must-have utility for the sim.
As an indication, this is a typical stock boat, a Type VII in this case -
Nice, but the skin is relatively low-resolution and some details are simplified, like the insulators and tensioners on the jumping wire
This is one of the OneAlex, GUC-based Type VIIs...
...and this shows the conning tower detail, albeit it's a larger Type IX...
Skins are higher resolution and detail is much better.
The next pics show the 'crew on deck' feature and harbour traffic, either moored like the destroyer...
...or moving like our minesweeper escort...
...which we will follow until we get into open water.
Another nice feature, shared with some other recent mods, is the addition of animated water streams from the holes in the boats' free-flooding casings.
The seas are often much less calm in SH3 and OneAlex Edition does a particularly good job of bringing them to life.
Bridge detail is excellent. A nice touch is that unlike in stock SH3, the UZO binocular sight is not permanently fixed to its mount (lower right in the pic below), and when you do fit it, the UZO is animated, and rotates.
Internal detail is also up to a high standard. In this control room view, you can just about see the open circular hatch (closed in stock SH3) into the commander's compartment...
...opposite which is the radio room.
I'm not sure but I think OneAlex deliberately left out the extended interiors made for the Type VII boats, which in the base GUC mod include engine rooms, crew accommodation and bow/stern torpedo rooms.
Torpedo impacts are also very well done, with debris flying and splashing into the sea.
Amongst the many included optional skins is this one for a late Type IX, which has the two-tier flak platform (but kept its deck gun as many Type IXs did) and GEMA 'rigid radar' on the upper front of the conning tower. Apparently it is likely that U-boats, unlike surface ships, always had dark grey, not red, anti-fouling paint below the waterline. But red certainly looks good!
GWX Onealex Edition also includes a fully-updated sound mod, which fans of the great movie 'Das Boot' will recognise!
What's not to like? So far my biggest gripe is that in the 'follow your boat' external ('Ship') camera (key <), mousewheel or tab zoom doesn't work, and can't be made to, it seems. You can move the camera closer but your perspective becomes exaggerated and less attractive the closer you get, unlike 'true' zoom'.
in action, the mod looks and feels great!
The author is still releasing updated versions (I'm at 1.46 at time of typing) in the light of experience and is obviously very committed. There are other good mega-mods out there, but this new effort really has a lot going for it already! Highly recommended, but somebody, please fix the Ship Camera mousewheel zoom!
U-33 goes to war in the epic U-boat sim - that's still being improved!
Back in the day, I remember buying a bargain bin, jewel-cased CD release of the original Silent Hunter WW2 submarine simulation. Even then, its graphics were somewhat dated and it had no external view, however good it might otherwise have been. Besides, it was set in the Pacific, which is well and good but my main interest in subs is in what Churchill famously said was 'the only thing that ever really frightened me during the war' - what he called 'the U-boat peril'. Hence the next in the series, Silent Hunter II, was the one I jumped at - external view AND the ability to fight the Battle of the Atlantic in one of a range of different types of U-boats.
A few years latter - in 2005 - along came Silent Hunter III, with a similar setting and an excellent, open-ended campaign system, lacking mainly AI subs and therefore the simulation of wolf-pack tactics, where several boats would on radio orders from Befehlshaber der U-Boote (BdU), form, abandon and reform patrol lines across suspected convoy routes, ganging up on any they came across. Despite being on your own, SH3 must surely rank as one of the most ambitious, most comprehensive and most immersive sims ever made, in any genre.
I had a few years away from simming about that time so it was only earlier this year that I dusted off my original SH3 DVD - and then bought the on-sale Steam version instead, rather than having to fiddle to get my early, Starforce-DRM protected version running on a post-Vista O/S. Like later DVD editions, Steam SH3 comes pre-patched to the latest official version (1.4b) and doesn't have Starforce.
So there was I, happily really playing SH3 as if for the first time, and thinking how great a sim it still is, as I sailed out of port in my chosen boat, here an early-war Type VIIB.
Heck, I even managed to sink some ships in convoy...
...and even escape the inevitable retaliation, here directed at my larger Type IXC from an aircraft which caught me on the surface, leading to a rapid crash-dive.
At first, I stayed away from mods, partly as I was delighted with the vanilla game, partly because I didn't want to break anything - having seen dark warnings of Steam SH3 needing a fix of some sort applied for some mods, to avoid subsequent issues. A widescreen mod was essential; though, and here I settled on ARB's one for 1080x1020. This needs a patch applied to enable the in-game map to display properly, but it all worked and worked well. My appetite for mods thus whetted, to my rescue came Fiedler's guide to installing SH3 on Windows 10 (I'm actually playing ATM on Win 7): How to run STEAM-SH3-V1.6b-GWX-WIDESCREEN on Win10 (donitzeliteflotilla.com) [link updated 6 May]
Followed carefully, this led me to other indispensable tools like SH3 Commander...
... and the Doenitz Elite Flotilla's (DEF) SH3 front end, the former adding various goodies and the latter enabling me both to make a hassle-free second install of SH3 (to which I could apply my first choice of 'mega-mod' while not risking my near-vanilla one) and to apply at the click of a mouse the 'Steam fix' without which problems can ensue.
Links to the stuff mentioned I'll post at the end of this thread.
I was a bit wary of going for one of the several SH3 mega mods as I preferred to have a bit of choice in my set-up. But in the end, I went for what's possibly the most popular, the Grey Wolves Expansion 3 Gold edition, commonly known as GWX3. this comes as an easy-to-use multi-part installer and while you don't then enable it via the ubiquitous JSGME, this does create several optional sub-mods which you can enable at choice - such as a 'lite' version of GWX's excellent harbour traffic.
GWX massively improved the already remarkable experience SH3 was giving me. The aforementioned harbour traffic (not the lite version) is probably my favourite addition; we'll see that in action soon.
Other icing on my U-boat cake was provided by the Compulsory Head-dress mod (which makes the sloppy default crewmen wear a suitable cap) and the excellent TKSS18 German U-boat Compilation (GUC), which greatly improves the already-improved GWX boat models. On top of this there is a further GUC add-on which even further improves the early Type VIIs (but needs backed out if you survive till after about 1942, as it doesn't yet include the later conning towers for these boats).
Finally, having happily used DEF's tools, I signed up with the online flotilla itself, which caters for single-player as well as multi-player action. This gave me dedicated storage on Mediafire to store my patrol screenshots, and the ability to role-play (before/during/after each patrol) interaction with a real human commander based on the real-life historical person, including making realistic simulated radio reports. This added a whole extra layer of immersion for me; I felt much more invested in my boat, my crew, and my mission.
You can read and see the results here: http://www.donitzeliteflotilla.com/forum/index.php?topic=3368.0
As that career is still under way, with my second patrol in U-105 due to start very soon, I decided to run a second fully offline one in parallel. The main reason for doing this was to test the stability of the GUC mod, before relying on it in my next DEF patrol. I didn't want to take any chances - for one thing you can render career files un-loadable if you apply mods during a patrol. So I wanted to try out GUC before starting out again in U-105, using the GUC's Type IXB in place of the GWX version.
Good - stock SH3 Type IXB:
Better - GWX3 Type IXB:
Better still - GUC Type IXB:
My U-105 patrol started in mid-1941 and took my big-long-ranged boat down into the Central Atlantic off Freetown, where I ran into lots of aggressive and apparently radar-equipped escorts and aircraft. For this try-out career, I decided to go for the more common and smaller Type VII, choosing U-33 in March 1940, before the fall of France opened up the bases on the French Atlantic coast. U-33 was actually a Type VIIA (U-27 to U-36 inclusive) with a prominent external stern torpedo tube and the VIIB is the nearest available substitute in SH3.
I'm based at Wilhelmshaven on the Baltic coast east of Denmark, so I won't have to sail through the Kiel Canal to get into my assigned patrol area. This is in Marine Quadrat AN21, which means I'll be operating just east of Scotland's Shetland Islands. Sadly I didn't get a screenie of the map so we'll start with the view aft from the bridge, looking towards the band which is playing us out of our berth, accompanied by well wishers who include the famous SH3 nurses chucking bouquets. SH3 fans will know all of this dockside activity is quite nicely animated.
'Kleine fahrt voraus!' I get the boat moving, so as to keep up with the minesweeper up ahead, which is evidently our escort out of port. The GWX map has many pull-down features, which include mini-maps showing 'friendly' nets and minefields protecting our ports. I don't know if these are really simulated obstacles, but I don't plan on finding out the hard way.
The detail on the GUC bridge is vastly better than stock SH3. For one thing, the UZO surface sight (Uberwasser Ziel Optik) isn't permanently fitted to its pedestal (the blackened peg left of centre), only when you order it brought up to the bridge. To the right is the slot for the direction finding loop antenna, which is also raised on command.
Apart from the tensioners and insulators on the jump wires (which were used as radio aerials) being much better rendered, another nice feature is that you have a beautifully-animated Kriegsmarine war flag, which a key command enables you to take down after leaving port. In Silent Hunter 5, your bridge watch is scanning with binoculars even before you've left U-boat pen or quayside, but in SH3, they are relaxed until several hundred meters out - much better.
The first excitement of the patrol comes unexpectedly early. My watch officer turns around and warns of approaching aircraft! Are we to be bombed before we're even clear of the port?
I hastily grab my own binos. Relief - that's a Heinkel III, unless I'm very much mistaken.
The five or six Heinkels roar across the port. Happily, the flak people have also identified them correctly. And the fly-boys manage to miss the barrage balloons.
After that, it's more uneventful. There's plenty to see, though, including the new battleship Tirpitz, which is laid up awaiting fitting of her armament...
...and a Hipper class heavy cruiser, led by a destroyer, which passes U-33 and our own, smaller escort to starboard, as we near open waters.
There's also smaller traffic like fishing boats and a solitary coal barge.
Clear of the defensive nets and minefields and anxious to be on our way across the North Sea, I plot a course to the north-west and we leave our escort behind.
Down in the depths of the boat, courtesy I believe of the GUC's added detail, the cook stands by his tiny stove...
...the off-duty ratings - the 'Pairs' - relax as best they can in their accommodation in the bow torpedo room...
...while other crew members attend to the engines...
...and to our five torpedo tubes.
What will the Tommies have in store for us? We'll find out, soon enough!
...to be continued!