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.

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“We shall Fight in France…we shall never surrender…”

 

Winston Churchill to Parliament on 4 June 1940

“…we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be…we shall never surrender.”

 

THE BRITISH ARMY IN FRANCE 1940 (F 2038) Men of the 2nd Battalion Royal Fusiliers in a trench in front of the Maginot Line, 3 January 1940. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205204830

 

THE BRITISH ARMY IN FRANCE 1940 (F 4121) Men of 2nd Battalion Essex Regiment study a map during an exercise at Meurchin, 27 April 1940. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205204923

 

THE BRITISH ARMY IN FRANCE 1940 (F 4074) Gracie Fields shares a joke with troops in a village near Valenciennes, 26 April 1940. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205204920

 

THE BRITISH ARMY IN FRANCE 1940 (F 4186) Searchlight of 10th Battery, 3rd Searchlight Regiment, Royal Artillery, near Carvin, 1 May 1940. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205204924

 

THE BRITISH ARMY IN FRANCE 1940 (F 3238) Troops from 2nd Battalion Middlesex Regiment, 3rd Division, training on the Vickers machine gun at Gondecourt, 21 March 1940 Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205204892

 

THE BRITISH ARMY IN FRANCE 1939 (O 46) Motor transport of 2nd Battalion Coldstream Guards outside Battalion HQ at Conlie, 22 September 1939. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205204992

 

THE BRITISH ARMY IN FRANCE 1939 (O 223) Men of 1st Battalion Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders constructing trenches at Aix, 12 November 1939. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205205011

 

THE BRITISH ARMY IN FRANCE 1939 (O 514) Troops of the 1st Royal Berkshire Regiment, 2nd Division, checking the papers of civilians at Becun on the Franco-Belgian border, 10 October 1939. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205205029

 

THE BRITISH ARMY IN FRANCE 1939-40 (O 2288) The Grenadier Guards building breastworks on flooded ground at Hem, December 1939. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205205065

 

THE BRITISH ARMY IN FRANCE 1939 (O 86) Men of the BEF being transported from Cherbourg to their assembly area in a railway goods wagon, 29 September 1939. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205204998

On the top right you will note the loading limits of the goods wagon for military purposes:  40 men or 8 horses.

THE BRITISH ARMY IN FRANCE 1939 (O 415) Troops from the Royal Berkshire Regiment manning trenches near Mouchin, 29 November 1939. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205205023

 

THE BRITISH ARMY IN FRANCE 1939 (O 427) The cramped interior of the battery commander’s dugout at a 25-pdr field gun battery near Mouchin, 29 November 1939. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205205025

 

THE BRITISH ARMY IN FRANCE 1939-40 (O 878) Lines of barbed-wire obstacles stretch across snow-covered fields near Menin, 17 Infantry Brigade sector, 21 January 1940. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205205055
THE BRITISH ARMY IN FRANCE 1939 (O 327) A 40mm Bofors anti-aircraft gun and crew near Douai, November 1939. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205205017

 

*Featured image:  A 40mm Bofors anti-aircraft gun and crew near Douai, November 1939 Courtesy Imperial War Museum

Russian Soldiers Dancing Like Crazy Ivans

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Russian soldiers in World War Two uniforms prepare to march through Red Square
(photo courtesy Financial Times)
“Must be drunk, Herr Oberleutnant. They’re dancing around like lunatics.”

While retreating through Rumania in World War Two, sentries for a German unit notice something very odd going on in a nearby village occupied by Russian troops. For reasons unknown, the Russian soldiers suddenly begin to dance around like fools. German troops, peeking out of their foxholes, start laughing as the Russian troops in the distance run around like they are mad, jump up and down, roll on the ground, swat themselves all over.

Most of the Russians begin shouting so loudly the sound carries as far as the German line and the German troops double up with laughter. Incredibly, the Russian soldiers manning the defense perimeter along the side of the village facing the Germans, jump out of their foxholes, shrieking, and waving their arms in the air. Are the Russians drunk the Germans wonder?

All of a sudden,

…a bunch of Russians are running directly toward us, as if they are being chased by the very devil. As they’re running they’re flapping their arms all about, as if trying to fly.

The German soldier witnessing this event is just about to open fire with his machine gun when his officer tells him to hold fire because the Russians are unarmed.

The Ivans run madly through the German lines, leaping over German foxholes while flapping their arms and shrieking. A swarm of mad bees had attacked the Russian soldiers and stung them so many times they would do anything to get away, even throwing down their firearms and running in the direction of the German line.

(Source: Blood Red Snow: the Memoirs of a German Soldier On the Eastern Front by Gunther K Koschorrek)

 

Russian soldiers dressed in Red Army World War II uniforms prepare to parade in Red Square in front of a backdrop of St. Basil Cathedral in Moscow, Russia, Thursday, Nov. 7, 2013. Thousands of Russian soldiers and military cadets marched across Red Square to mark the 72nd anniversary of a historic World War II parade. The show honored the participants of the Nov. 7, 1941 parade who headed directly to the front lines to defend Moscow from the Nazi forces. The parade Thursday involved about 6,000 people, many of them dressed in World War II-era uniforms. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)
Russian soldiers dressed in Red Army World War II uniforms prepare to parade in Red Square in front of a backdrop of St. Basil Cathedral in Moscow, Russia, Thursday, Nov. 7, 2013. Thousands of Russian soldiers and military cadets marched across Red Square to mark the 72nd anniversary of a historic World War II parade. The show honored the participants of the Nov. 7, 1941 parade who headed directly to the front lines to defend Moscow from the Nazi forces. The parade Thursday involved about 6,000 people, many of them dressed in World War II-era uniforms. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

(Courtesy of London Financial Times)

http://blogs.ft.com/photo-diary/tag/wwii/

Review of Serenade to the Big Bird

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Serenade to the Big Bird by Bert Stiles (4 stars)

I consider this book to be the best memoir of the American air campaign in Europe during World War Two. There are other fine memoirs but this is about the gut feelings of a young B-17 pilot and were I only going to read one memoir, I would read this one.

The reason? The author, First Lieutenant Bert Stiles, flew 35 bombing missions over Germany and German occupied Europe during the Spring and early Summer of 1944. After finishing his tour, he stayed in England and spent a month writing this extraordinary memoir.

Everything Stiles wrote about had just happened to him in the previous six months. His memories of fear, exhaustion, of boredom, German fighters and terror, of the death of friends and the subsequent sadness beyond words, of the drone of the engines on a B-17 and of how good a candy bar tasted after they were out of enemy territory; all of these memories were painfully fresh when he set them down.

And their effects on him were also fresh. He wrote about the time he came back from a mission during which he had seen at least a dozen B-17s from his Wing go down.

“…all those guys…all those good guys…shot to hell…or captured…then I came apart and cried like a little kid…”

This memoir has many virtues one of the most striking being that Stiles was a fine writer, a keen observer of human nature, and an extraordinary man with such a broad view of life that some of his observations seem out of place in not only one so young but in such a time as 1944.

Stiles was actually a pacifist but like many came to the conclusion that the Nazis threatened the entire concept of Western Civilization. This is a haunting memoir: amusing, ineffably sad, and brutally honest about the author’s emotions. At one point he was taking off active operations because he had become “flak happy.” That was the expression used in the day by the US Army Air Force for someone cracking-up from the stress.

From Serenade to the Big Bird:
“There are all kinds of people: senators and whores and barristers and bankers and dishwashers. There are Chinamen and Cockney’s and Gypsies and Negroes. There are Lesbians and cornhuskers and longshoremen. There are poets and lieutenants and shortstops and prime ministers. There are Yanks and Japs and poor whites…there are Germans and Melanesians and beggars and Holy Rollers…there are people.

And some day we are going to catch on, that no matter where people are born, or how their eyes slant, or what their blood type, they are just people…

They are not masses. They will not go on being slaves. They are just people, partly good, partly bad, mostly balancing out. And until we call them people, and know they are people, all of them, we are going to have a sick world on our hands.”
Bert Stiles had written a number of published articles and short stories before he wrote this memoir. He wanted to be a writer when the war was over. But that wasn’t to be. After completing his 35 missions in bombers, he could have gone back to the US as a flight instructor. Instead he volunteered to fly fighters which he did until he was killed in action on 26 November 1944 in a dogfight over Germany.

Stiles never saw his memoir published. He easily would have been one of the finest writers of his generation. Of the millions of small tragedies of World War Two and a lesson in how war kills men, and now women, indiscriminately.

If you want to buy the book you can click on the link in blue at the top of the page.