Prien U-47 Sunk by Own Torpedo

Kapitänleutnant Prien 6534-40
Kapitänleutnant Gunther Prien photo taken September 1939 German National Archive

 

Years ago a special panel of Bundesmarine officers headed by Flotillenadmiral Otto Kretschmer evaluated all data from German sources and data from declassified Royal Navy.

The consensus was good odds that U-47 sank herself with a circular running torpedo. According to logbooks, position reports and individual memories of veterans who participated in that convoy action, U-47 was on the opposite side of the battlefield from HMS Wolverine, making it impossible for HMS Wolverine to have sunk U-47.

This panel concluded that U-47 was sunk by a circular run of her own torpedo and not by HMS Wolverine doing at this time? Prien sank dozens of Allied ships and was great for the Allies that he was killed early in the war.

U47 returns to post after a successful patrol. (German National Archives)

Great Read Berlin Embassy by William Russell part one


Berlin Embassy by William Russell

Five Stars

I like this book a lot. I’ve read it four or five times. Part of the reason is the detail on everyday life in Berlin during the years 1939, 1940, and 1941. When I was researching my first novel, An Honorable German, I read this book on Berlin, among many others, because several chapters take place in the city of my book take place in Berlin and I needed details.

Another reason I like the book is that William Russell, a thoroughly decent and polite young guy from Mississippi, was in Germany studying German. He had very little money and often could afford only one meal a day. Finally, he got taken on as a part-time (later full time) clerk at the American Embassy, one of the reasons being his fluency in German.

Hitler’s new Reich’s Chancellory under construction in 1938

Russell was not important. Didn’t come from an important family. Had no high-level social contacts, had no money and didn’t know anyone important. Yet he happened to be at the epicenter of calamitous events and watched the Nazis ready their nation for war.  Just as important, he realized it which is why he kept notes for this book which appeared in 1941 to great acclaim.

Russell has an eye for detail including everyday exchanges he had with people he saw each day such as the Portierfrau for his apartment house. “The postman told me today that you forgot to pay your radio tax last month.” In Nazi Germany, if you owned a radio you had to pay two marks a month, or .80 cents, to listen since it was public radio, so to speak, and without commercials.

“Tell the postman that I don’t listen to German stations,” Russell said, “Tell him I consider London more accurate.” The Portierfrau laughed, somewhat uneasily.

Germans were forbidden to listen to foreign radio although a huge portion of them listened to the German Service of the BBC to get accurate news. The author speculates that based on his observations 60% to 70% of Germans listened to foreign radio, which is in line with the figures from post-war surveys. Russell also tells us: “Old fashioned headphones, which could be used for extra private listening, were sold out in every German radio shop during the first week of the war.”

 

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Rechts das Brandenburger Tor
Aufnahmedatum: 1939
Aufnahmeort: Berlin
Inventar-Nr.: Hu U1598-1a
Systematik:
Geographie / Europa / Deutschland / Orte / Berlin / Regierungsgeb‰ude / Botschaften
The US Embassy in 1939 is on the left in this picture. USA is printed on the roof in an attempt to minimize damage from accidental aerial bombings. The Brandenburg Gate is to the right. Damage sustained by the Embassy during the Battle of Berlin and from aerial bombings proved to be extensive partially as a result of being located so close to Hitler’s bunker (which was a block farther south of the embassy which is to the left in this picture).

 

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.

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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.

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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.)

The link to their site is here:  www.dubm.de

copyright(c) 2018 by Charles McCain

I am the author of the World War Two naval epic, An Honorable German.

Kindly consider purchasing a copy of my novel on Kindle because the book is out of print and I only receive royalties on Kindle purchases.

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SAYS NEW YORK TIMES BEST SELLING AUTHOR NELSON DeMILLE

“A truly epic and stirring tale of war, love, and the sea. An Honorable German is a remarkable debut novel by a writer who…seems he was an eyewitness to the history he portrays in such vivid detail. An original and surprising look at World War II from the other side.”

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My entire website, this entire blog, and this blog post are Copyright (c) 2018 by Charles McCain. If you repost one of my blog posts, please be so kind as to have the courtesy to tell me.

SIGNAL Nazi Germany’s Life Magazine

Nazis seized Seize Greece then Endeavor to Look Helpful

reading_athos_lg

1 August 1943. A helpful German soldier showing a copy of Signal in Greek to an Orthodox resident of the ancient monastic state of Mount Athos. (photo courtesy of Andrew Zoller).

Many organizations in the Third Reich produced publications of every sort. Through late 1944 the Kriegsmarine produced its own highly sophisticated five color magazine. But the best known was the Life Magazine knockoff, Signal which was produced by the Ministry of Propaganda and Public Enlightenment.  This ministry was run by the evil, criminal, and despicable toad, Joseph Goebbels.

Union General U.S. Grant on the cover of a Signal Magazine in Dutch, 1944

 

All propaganda publications in the Third Reich were written by professional journalists and illustrated by professional artists and photographers. Signal was quite a sophisticated publication and presented German soldiers as being tough against their military opponents but gentle and fun with civilians. Lots of photos show German soldiers playing with children who are usually blonde. This type of propaganda tried to counter the reality of the bloody, evil, and murderous nature of the Third Reich.

The famous US publication Life Magazine, whose format was copied by Signal,  was printed on glossy paper. The Germans didn’t have the capacity to produce large amounts of glossy paper for magazines so  Signal was printed on newsprint paper. I have about a dozen different copies I bought over the years mainly as curiosities. However, a number of people collect them and some have amassed every single issue published.

Signal was published from April 1940 through May of 1945. This was a major propaganda effort by the Nazis and the scope of it is revealed in these statistics from the website of Signal researcher and scholar, Andrew Zoller.

Signal was published monthly in 30 languages at its peak, including English.

During the barbarous reign of the Nazi empire, approximately 32,000 news vendors in 20,000 towns and cities and sold Signal.

Peak circulation of 2,426,000 copies came in May 1943.

160,000,000 copies were printed during the years of the magazine’s existence (estimated).

 

signal 6 1940 (2)
Signal Magazine in French 1940 showing German soldiers walking on the beaches of Dunkirk from which the British Expeditionary Force was rescued and taken off at significant loss by the Royal Navy. (Heroic small boats played a role as well but 80% of the troop lift was done by the RN)
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a cover which depicts the takeover of all Europe by the Soviet Union, a fear the Germans constantly reminded Europeans about.
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Signal Magazine in Russian. I presume this cover shows a Russian soldier in the service of the German Armed forces. Estimates vary of the number of Soviet citizens who fought for the Germans. The low estimate is approximately one million with other estimates going as high as three million. The Ukraine was an especially fertile recruiting ground for the German Army and the SS.

 

Signal_1941-04_french_cover
Signal Magazine in French
P2080196
Those ever friendly U-Boat Men–except when attacking Allied shipping— on cover Signal Magazine from 1943. (collection of author Charles McCain)