U-boat is the anglicized version of the German word U-Boot , itself an abbreviation of Unterseeboot (undersea boat), and refers to military submarines operated by Germany, particularly in World War I and World War II. Although in theory, U-boats could have been useful fleet weapons against enemy naval warships, in practice they were most effectively used in an economic-warfare role (Commerce raiding), enforcing a naval blockade against enemy shipping. The primary targets of the U-boat campaigns in both wars were the merchant convoys bringing supplies from the British Empire and the United States to the islands of Great Britain. Austrian submarines of World War I were also known as U-boats.
The distinction between U-boat and submarine is common in English-language usage (where U-boat refers exclusively to the German vessels of the World Wars) but is unknown in German, in which the term U-Boot refers to any submarine.