It Stinks In Here No Bathing Facilities on U-Boats

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It Stinks In Here No Bathing Facilities on U-Boats

“It stinks in here!”

In every memoir I have read about the UBootwaffe every author mentions how disgusting the boat smelled after a week at sea and that they never got used to it.


This still photo from the German film “Das Boot” gives you an idea of how cramped was the interior of a U-boat. This particular shot is of the engine room with the two 12 cylinder MAN diesels usually found in German U-Boats of the era. “Das Boot” translates as “The Boat.” In German, “boot” is pronounced “boat.”

Freshwater was rationed and the men only received one cup a day for personal use such as brushing teeth. Most men drank the water because they were often thirsty.

Because there was a limit to the amount of fresh water a UBoat could carry, the men were unable to bathe unless they used sea water. Boats were supplied with special soap to use with salt water but they didn’t like it and rarely used it.

Many U-Boat crewmen developed skin rashes, boils, and other types of skin diseases. The UBootwaffe had a special medical department which did nothing but study the skin diseases of Uboot crewmen. (Tuberculosis was also a major problem due to the constant damp.)

Commander of the boat sweats as do all the men around him as he maneuvers the boat to avoid British depth charges. The “old man” is actually Heinrich Lehman-Willenbrock, commander of U-96. The author of Das Boot made one war patrol on the U-96 and years later fictionalized his experience in his novel.

Also contributing to skin diseases among the men was the sickening miasma of air inside the uboat which clung to their skin and often infected their lungs. When boats returned from patrol and the flotilla engineers went aboard to make an inspection, they usually vomited because of the horrible smell.

U-boats were not well ventilated so when they were on the surface, the only way to get fresh air into the boat was to keep the bridge hatches open, close the outboard air intakes to the diesels, open the e-motor interior hatch and interior engine room hatch. This allowed the diesel engines to draw air from the outside through the open hatchways.

This arrangement didn’t help as much as one might think since there was no way to vent the bad air except by opening the engine room deck hatch or the forward hatch to the deck in the crew compartment. This was never, ever done at sea except in an emergency.

So the fresh air coming in helped but it did not expel the bad air. The author of every U-Boat memoir I have ever read remarks on the horrible fugue of noxious air and the disgusting smell which no one ever completely adjusted to.

Sweating men without fresh water to bathe will soon have the boat smelling like a locker room uncleaned for years.

This smell was a combination of the body odor of 45 or more unwashed men, their exhalations, rotting food, diesel oil, cooking odors, and worst of all, the smell of urine and excrement in the bilges.

While the most common types of uboat, the type VII, and type IX had two toilets or water closets, one was always used for storage and wasn’t available. So one toilet had to suffice for more than 45 men. The controls were so difficult to operate that each boat had one man specially trained in how to work the controls and he was known as “the toilet fuhrer”).

Below 25 meters the toilet did not work because the water pressure was such that one could not open the outboard toilet valve to discharge the contents of the toilet.

The outboard toilet valve was a weak spot which could compromise comprise the water-tight integrity of the boat when it was used. So the men used cans or buckets to urinate or defecate. As you might imagine, in the heat of action or action drills, these containers were often kicked over or in an emergency dive tipped over, spilling their contents which seeped into the bilge.

Being in a Uboat was like serving time in a public latrine that was never sanitized in spite of constant efforts by the crew to keep the interior of the boat clean.


As an aside, the founder of the U-Boot Archiv in Cuxhaven, the late Horst Bredow, an officer in the UBootwaffe, had made one war patrol in the last months of World War Two. He had to be hospitalized upon returning to port because he had developed a skin rash covering his entire body. Another officer replaced him on his Uboat. The boat was sunk with all hands on her next war patrol. (The Archiv has changed its name from “U-Boot Archiv” to Deutsches U-Boot Museum.)

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By | 2018-07-14T19:46:11-04:00 July 25th, 2018|Charles McCain, Kriegsmarine, Nazi Germany, sub, submarine, Third Reich, uboat, uboot, ww2|Comments Off on It Stinks In Here No Bathing Facilities on U-Boats

About the Author:

Charles McCain is a Washington DC based freelance journalist and novelist. He is the author of "An Honorable German," a World War Two naval epic. You can read more of his work on his website: