Notes on Playing Silent Hunter III

How I learned to enjoy this challenging and sometimes frustrating (but otherwise excellent) sub sim game.
Created: 2020-10-25 Updated: 2022-04-29
box cover

It may sound like faint praise to say that if you try hard enough, you can have a lot of fun with Silent Hunter III.

But like anything challenging, there is a great amount of pleasure in mastering this U-boat simulation to even a small degree. While Silent Hunter III requires effort and patience, the initial difficulty of sinking even a single ship means that when you do sink one, it’s exciting and satisfying.

The game is very atmospheric and I think it looks very good even 15 years later as I’m writing this in 2020. The weather effects, physics of watercraft (especially the huge variety of behavior exhibited by damaged ships), and the modeling of the ocean itself are all extremely impressive. With just a little imagination, it feels real.

I got so into this game, that it inspired me to turn to models and books.

These notes are things I wish I’d known when I started. All of this information is available elsewhere on the Web, but scattered across forum posts, FAQs, and the game manual.

Controls and interface

The interface has some clunky bits.

Loading and saving careers is weird and makes you feel like you’re doing something wrong and about to delete everything. Just read the interfaces carefully and you should be fine.

While playing the game, the most important keyboard shortcut to know is F1, which displays the rest of the keyboard shortcuts.

I use a lot of the on-screen controls, but some of the shortcut keys are faster (and easier to remember) than the on-screen methods. Off the top of my head:

  • F1 as mentioned above, this is a wonderful quick-reference for the rest of the shortcuts. Press it again to exit the quick reference.

  • Q opens a torpedo tube - I’m not even sure how you do this without the keyboard shortcut.

  • Backspace to pause the game - especially important in the beginning so you can pause and think about what you want to do.

  • Tab switches zoom level in periscope views. On the bridge, it toggles binoculars.

  • P takes the submarine to periscope depth (from the surface or from a deeper depth).

  • S surfaces the submarine.

  • K opens the Captain’s Log - you can see the amount of tonnage you’ve sunk from here.

  • I opens the torpedo and ammo loading screen.

Sadly, the time compression shortcuts need a numpad, and I use "tenkeyless" keyboards.

The on-screen submarine interface is pretty discoverable.

A very important, but non-obvious thing is that when you click your mouse in a view (first-person camera, periscopes, binoculars, or the "free camera"), the view will follow your mouse movements. To exit the mouse follow, you click again. Now you can use your mouse as a normal cursor to select controls in the interface.

The award, however, for the least obvious interface element in the whole game has got to go to upgrading your U-boat! When you’ve earned enough renown to do so, you upgrade by: double-clicking on the upgrade name in the left column (which is a menu of all available upgrades for the tabbed category).

Rumor has it double-clicking also has special actions for some things when you’re playing the game as well.

Windows 10: New error! (2022)

Can not initialize 3D engine error dialog

For some reason, my Steam copy of SH3 now pops up an "Error: Can not initialize 3D engine" message when I try to run it. The solution was to bump down the resolution to 1024x768. (Feel free to experiment with other resolutions, but I remember the time when 1024x768 was the resolution and it seemed like the obvious choice and it worked.)

I assume Windows is to blame. I blame Microsoft for everything. I did not have this problem running the game on Linux (see the bottom of this page for more about that).

Naval Academy

Play the Academy missions first. Go slow and take your time with the navigation, deck gun, and anti-aircraft gunnery missions. There’s no shame in restarting them as many times as you need to - it’s training! Once you’ve got 'em nailed, take your exams.

The torpedo missions, however, gave me no end of trouble. Continue down to my torpedo notes below for advice on hitting targets.

Time compression

I would argue that the time compression feature is the only thing that actually makes this simulation a "game" at all.

U-boats travel slowly and oceans are very big.

Finding, stalking, and lying in wait for enemy craft can take anywhere from hours to days. You can either sit through everything in real time (which you should definitely try just to soak in all of the atmosphere), or you can speed up the action and compress those hours into minutes.

The time compression controls are the little +, - and P buttons in the lower right corner of the sub interface.

Important things I’ve figured out through trial and error:

  • If the compression factor is orange, you’re currently at the maximum compression for the given situation or interface. I recommend heading to one of the map interfaces for 64x and beyond.

  • Crew do not fatigue (or recover from fatigue) in any compression factor greater than 32!

  • Going to the bridge (when surfaced) or periscope view is a handy way to set the compression immediately back to 1x (real time).

  • Sighting another craft drops you to 1x and limits you to a low compression until out of sight (and I think the limit varies by type of encounter?).

Don’t be afraid to go all the way to 1024x as much as you want and rely on the game to drop you into realtime as needed. In some circumstances, you’ll be dropped into 4x instead (I think this happens when you’ve already spotted the craft in question?), so prepare to mash that Backspace key to pause the game completely until you get a feel for when this might happen.


At first, I found it difficult to get my U-boat where I wanted it and turned in the direction I wanted it. But with some practice and the Naval Academy missions, I eventually got the hang of it.

  • To get somewhere, plot a course and let your navigator take you there. On the main map, use the triangular course plotting tool to draw waypoints.

  • With the plot tool selected, press Delete to remove the last waypoint (you may have to press it twice if you don’t have a waypoint already selected).

  • A normal left-click adds a waypoint. Right-click to end the plotting and the navigator will immediately begin navigating.

  • I highly recommend using one or more waypoints to get the ship lined up exactly how you want it rather than using the rudder directly.

The friction of moving through the water will eventually slow you down, but don’t forget that your U-boat will continue to travel for a while even after ordering a full stop from the engines. I nearly rammed into stalled cargo vessels a couple times before I learned to stop just ahead of my desired destination (or reduce speed before reaching the destination). If you overshoot your destination, don’t forget that the boat can go in reverse! An emergency "reverse full!" once prevented an aforementioned ramming within a handful of meters. It was very exciting.

Sinking stuff with torpedoes

Initially frustrating, I now find this to be one of the best aspects of the game. Torpedoes are very powerful and can take out huge targets, but you have to set up the conditions correctly.

(Note: these instructions are for automatic targeting, but I reckon the same advice applies for manual targeting as well.)

1. Hit the target’s side directly

You want to hit the target 90 degrees "angle on the bow". This simply means that your torpedo should strike the side of the target as close as possible to "straight on".

illustration shows perpendicular lineup at 400 meters

If you hit the target at a bad angle, the torpedo is very likely to harmlessly bounce off of the target’s hull without exploding. This is frustrating.

2. Short range

Fire from a distance of 400-900 meters for best results. You can hit a target at a further distance but the chances increase that you will miss.

It’s important to realize that torpedoes are not lasers. They’re basically mini-subs that explode. They’re fast (something like 30kts), but it still takes time to hit a target! If the target moves unpredictably or if the seas are too choppy, your torpedo will lose accuracy over various distances.

At 400 meters, you’re very likely to hit most targets.

Below a certain distance, the torpedo won’t arm and will not explode. This is a safety precaution to prevent torpedoes from exploding too close to the U-boat itself!

3. Low gyroangle

Torpedos can be programmed to turn a certain amount by setting the gyroangle, but you lose accuracy if that amount is too high. This simply means that your U-boat is pointed more-or-less in the direction of your target. A low gyroangle is more likely to hit.

4. Open the tubes

Apparently the automatic targeting doesn’t account for the time it takes to open the torpedo tube doors. Therefore, opening the doors before firing increases your accuracy (the alternative being to lead the target by a certain amount to account for the extra few seconds it takes to open the doors).

Select each tube you’ll be using and press the Q key. The doors just take a few seconds to open. I’m not aware of an interface which allows you to view whether the doors are open or not (though you can visually inspect them with the free camera, I suppose).

5. Release the fish!

Use the on-screen controls to select a torpedo tube and fire it. You may want to release more than one torpedo. Sometimes the first will strike poorly and not trigger or otherwise fail to sink the vessel. A second torpedo will still have a chance, but only if it’s launched soon after the first. Once the ship is alerted to danger, it’ll take off for safety.

6. Avoid being spotted!

Unless the enemy is very close, very large, and very slow, they’ll be nearly impossible to hit once they spot you. It is crucial to use stealth to avoid being seen until your torpedoes actually strike the target.

One of the things I love about Silent Hunter III is how it realistically takes into account these factors to realistically increase the likelihood of being spotted:

  • Daylight

  • Weather and sea conditions

  • Your speed

  • The depth of your submarine in the water

  • How often (and high) your periscope is above water

Try to only pop your periscope up occasionally to take a quick peek once the target gets close (especially under 1Km).

Putting it all together

The four steps above are all it takes. But orchestrating everything takes a bit of practice.

Here’s how I set up an attack:

  1. After spotting an enemy ship, I mark its location on the map.

  2. Go to periscope depth (if not already) and keep periscope down.

  3. I wait for a while (exactly how long depends, but perhaps 5-15 minutes of game time at 1x) and raise periscope and mark the ship’s location again.

  4. Using the ruler tool, I draw a line across the two marks to predict the ship’s course.

  5. With the ruler, I draw another line perpendicular (90 degrees) to the predicted course at a position I believe I can reach with my U-boat before the enemy gets there.

  6. I find a location that is about 400 meters along the perpendicular line and plot a course to reach it.

  7. It may take several plotted waypoints to have the U-boat lined up straight with the perpendicular line.

  8. Wait for the enemy to approach that point. Keep the periscope down and watch the enemy approach with the hydrophone (a fading line on your map which shows the angle, but not distance of the sound contact). Open the torpedo tubes (if you haven’t already) and rub your hands in anticipatory glee.

  9. Once the enemy reaches the point where you have a straight shot at it, raise periscope and fire one or more torpedo.

  10. Lower periscope (so the ship doesn’t spot you before the torpedoes have a chance to strike!) and either wait for the explosions or consider diving deeper and begin evasive maneuvers if there’s a warship nearby.

Navigating by waypoint:


Lining up a shot using marks, ruler lines, and navigation waypoints:


This is how it looks through the periscope. Fire tubes one and two!


Direct hit amidships:


Note that your torpedo will be aimed not for where the enemy currently is, but where the enemy will be when the torpedo reaches it. The ideal shot will have the torpedo strike the ship dead-on at the moment the ship is directly in front of you. To accomplish this, you need to fire before the ship is directly in front of you. Keep an eye on the gyroangle gauge to help with this. In practice, you don’t have to get this perfect, so don’t sweat it. Go ahead and fire when the ship’s directly in front of you and you’ll probably hit.

For even greater chance of sinking the enemy, you can target a specific portion of the enemy ship. When you’ve got the ship in your sights to fire torpedoes, open up the identification manual and find the correct craft. If conditions are right, you’ll see some new boxes at the bottom of the illustration of the ship: clicking on these allows you to specifically target the engine room, fuel, etc.

Crew management

Once you leave the training missions and start a real campaign, you will run head-first into the challenges of SHIII crew management.

As mentioned before, your crew will fatigue like Real Humans when you’re playing the game at time compressions of 32x or lower. Unfortunately, in this vessel of war, they will remain at their posts until they are personally dismissed by you, their captain. Yes, they will remain at their posts until they are exhausted and no longer able to perform their duties until you, the captain of the U-boat comes to carry them off to their bunks and read them a bedtime story, one by one.

When I first encountered this problem, I didn’t realize what was happening until I finally spotted a small convoy in my appointed sea square and was unable to fire any torpedoes at it because my crew were all just shy of unconscious from sleep deprivation at their posts. I rage-clicked each little sleepy sailor one by one and hauled him off to bed. Then I read Hansel and Gretel over the intercom as we floated there in the North Sea, watching the convoy drifted blithely off the horizon through the periscope. Soon the whole boat was filled with the sounds of snoring.

How to manage your crew without losing your mind:

  • Try to avoid time compression of 32x and lower for long periods of time. (But don’t be afraid of using these lower compressions - I used them all the time while getting into position to attack ships!)

  • When it’s time to cycle your crew to get the sleepy ones to bed, simply click on one of the available crew "mode" shortcuts and then switch back to the one you want. The game will take care of the tedious part!

  • Don’t be afraid to put everybody to work all at once if you need fast torpedo reload times while attacking. Lives are on the line and sleep can come later.

  • You cannot repair your damaged boat if you do not have enough people at the repair stations!


It would be really neat to sink a warship. But that’s not gonna happen. Remember how hard it is to hit a huge cargo ship going in a straight line?

You are a mouse to the warship’s cat. They’re faster and deadlier and they will eat you.

Run from cats. Pursue only the unguarded cheese.


As the years go by, the Allies get more aircraft and better radar. U-boats became the hunted rather than the hunter. Most did not come back.

Silent Hunter III is brutally realistic in this regard. Eventually you find yourself going a few kilometers on the diesel engines to recharge the batteries and get some oxygen, crash diving to avoid aircraft, and then repeating again and again and again.

If you would like to continue having fun with this game rather than enduring a realistic simulation of an unpleasant era of U-boat life, try editing the AirStrike.cfg file. Shown below is the path where I found this file for the game installed on Linux. (To locate the same on Windows, perhaps try searching your file system for the filename.)

$ vim ~/.local/share/Steam/steamapps/common/Silent\ Hunter\ 3/data/Cfg/AirStrike.cfg

The contents of the file after I edited it:

; AirStrike Creation Parameters
; Airstrike Session:
;   1. Compute airbases in range according to their aircraft maximum ranges
;   2. Compute air coverage factors on allies/axis/neutral on the target zone
;   3. Compute airstrike probability from each base
;    3.1 check number of aircraft that can strike at that range and conditions, and compute a coverage factor based on the range of each aircraft type
;       and detection area around submarine ( 10 km radius )
;    3.2 multiply coverage factor for the target area with :
;       - current airstrike probability againt that side
;       - nigft factor ( if necessary )
;       - airbase competence
;       - close to airbase factor
;    3.3 check probability for airstrike
;    3.4 add more aircraft probabilistically for a large target

Maximum Aircraft Range=2500                 ;[>0] in kilometers
Poor Airbase Modifier=0.2                   ;[>0] Modifier for poor airbase (carrier) rating
Novice Airbase Modifier=0.35                ;[>0] Modifier for novice airbase (carrier) rating
Competent Airbase Modifier=0.5              ;[>0] Modifier for competent airbase (carrier) rating
Veteran Airbase Modifier=0.7                ;[>0] Modifier for veteran airbase (carrier) rating
Elite Airbase Modifier=1                    ;[>0] Modifier for elite airbase (carrier) rating
Night Modifier=0.5                          ;[>0] Modifier on strike probability at night
Default Air Strike Probability=10           ;[>0] Default probability to send an airstrike from a airbase (carrier)
Enemy Air Strike Probability Increase on Radio Messages Sent=30     ;[>0] Increase over the default probability on a radio message sent
Friendly Air Strike Probability Increase on Contact Report Sent=50  ;[>0] Increase over the default probability on a contact message sent
Enemy Air Strike Probability Increase on Player Detection=50        ;[>0] Increase over the default probability on player detection
Atenuation Factor=10                        ;[>0] decrease from an increased probability to default one on each air session
Logic Steps Between Air Sessions=10         ;[>0] steps between air fighting sessions, 10*Logic Interval(90sec)

All of these are worth fiddling with, but I think these two are the most relevant in terms of decreasing the annoyance of aircraft:

A higher Default Air Strike Probability means a greater likelihood of an attack.

Higher Logic Steps Between Air Sessions will increase the time between new waves of aircraft.

Does this reduce the realism of the game? Absolutely. Do I regret it? Not a chance.

Your first patrol

  • Enjoy launching with music and seeing the sights and listening to seagulls.

  • Practice spotting friendly Schnellboots on your way out.

  • Plot a course for your navigator to the appointed sea square.

  • Travel on the surface with your diesel engines. You are the wolf and all run in fear of your teeth and claws!

  • Crank up the time compression to 64x or higher.

  • Drop out of time compression occasionally to look around and smell the salty air.

  • If you spot anything that looks sinkable, practice lining yourself up for an attack. You will need to be ahead of the prey’s estimated course!

  • Once you get to your sea square, plot a zig-zag course across your whole sea square. You’ll need to stay in your square until you get confirmation via the radio that you’ve been there long enough.

  • Check your radio for instructions.

  • Feel free to leave your sea square for better hunting once main mission is complete.

  • Type IIA U-boats only carry 5 torpedoes. It’s easy to use them all up in one or two attacks (often without sinking anything). You’ll have no option but return to base when this happens.

  • Keep sailing out and patrolling sea squares. Eventually you’ll bring down enough tonnage to be able to upgrade to the larger, more powerful, deadlier Type VII!

Steam, Linux, Proton

As a side note, I’m playing this on Slackware Linux via Steam’s Proton (which, in turn, uses Wine for Windows compatibility). It has been very stable. I did experience a few crashes early on, but I’ve since been able to play for hours straight with no problem.

I had more artifacts and crashes with Silent Hunter IV via Proton, or I probably would have wound up playing that instead just because it’s more recent and I own both games. I also owned and played Silent Hunter II back in the day, but I don’t seem to have it on Steam. At any rate, I remember all three of these games crashing on Windows. So the Steam experience is pretty good.