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Kriegsmarine (German Navy)

About the Kriegsmarine

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The Kreigsmarine was the German Navy from 1935 - 1945.

 

Pre-War

 

On 15th November 1932, the German Government decided to launch a naval re-armament program which included the building of U-boats (Submarines), aircraft and aircraft carriers which weren't allowed under the Treaty of Versailles. When Adolf Hitler came to power in 1933 he began to ignore the treaty's restrictions, acclerating re-armament plans.

 

An Anglo-German Naval agreement was signed on the 18th June 1935, allowing Germany to increase the size of its navy until it was equivalent to 35% of the British surface ship tonnage and 45% of the British Submarine tonnage. In the same year the Reicshmarine was renamed the Kriegsmarine.

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Expansion of the German Navy was delayed due to limited manpower and resources for ship building whilst the Luftwaffe (Air Force) and Army (Heer) were also being rapidly developed from 1935 -1939. Projects such as the D- Class and P- Class Cruisers were scrapped due to the resource limitations.

 

Spanish Civil War (1936 - 1939)

 

 

The Spanish Civil War was the first military action that the Kriegsmarine were involved in, with several large warships from the German Fleet being deployed. The heavy cruiser Deutschland was used immediately for humanitarian relief operations in support of Franco's Nationalists, the cruiser rescued 9,300 refugees from fighting including 4,550 Germans. U-boats were used to target Republican shipping as part of Operation Ursula. The Deutschland was attacked by Republican Airforce on May 29th 1937 resulting in 31 dead, 110 wounded of which 71 were seriously injured mostly from burns. Further attacks from Republican submarines against the German Fleet such as the Leipzig between 15th - 18th June 1937. The Kriegsmarine maintained a presence in the region until the conflict ended.

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World War II

 

From the outset of the war, the Kriegsmarine were used in the majority of campaigns such as the invasions of Poland (1939) and Norway (1940). Heavy losses were suffered during the Norwegian campaign with the Kriegsmarine losing 10 destroyers (Half of the German's destroyer strength at the time) and 2 light cruisers in the Battle of Narvik. In return they were able to sink some of the British surface fleet including HMS Glorious, an aircraft carrier.

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Life Aboard a U-Boat

 

Living conditions aboard a U-Boat were the poorest in comparison to all other wartime vessels. Deployement of crews aboard would usually last between a minimum of 3 weeks and a maximum of 6 months, depending upon the operation. Whilst on patrol the crews weren't able to bathe, shave or change their clothing. Crews were restricted to the clothes on their back and a single change of underwear and socks for the whole duration while on patrol.

U-boat crews consisted of a range of specialists such as Radio Operators, Torpedomen and Machine Technicians who were responsible for maintaining all equipment that was being carried onboard. General duties were carried out by regular Seaman and included tasks such as standing watch on the bridge, operating deck guns, loading torpedoes and other housekeeping activities. Workload was divided into 3 x 8 hour shifts for seaman, one for regular duties, one for sleeping and the other for miscellaneous tasks. Specialist crew such as the two radiomen had 3 x 4 hour shifts between the hours of 8am and 8pm and 2 x 6 hour shifts during the night.

Crew members disapproved being on watch duties during stormy weather especially if serving in the North Atlantic, where icy waves would constantly wash over the conning tower. This would completely submerge the boat and watch crews in freezing cold water for brief periods of time. Issued foul-weather gear did little to keep the crews dry during storms. During rough weather the watch crews secured themselves to safety lines to prevent them from being washed overboard.

Supplies were very limited onboard U-boats with fresh water being rationed for drinking, it was very common on longer deployments for crew to fill one of the water tanks with diesel fuel to expand their operational range. Food was cramed into all spaces when stocking up, this included filling up one of the two toilets onboard with food to increase storage capacity.

 

The best food available at the time was loaded which often included items such as: fresh meat, sausages, fresh fruits and vegetables, and loaves of bread. Often damp conditions inside the U-boats and limited refrigeration space meant food such as bread would soon go off, displaying a white fungi which the crews nicknamed 'Rabbits' due to the white fuzzy appearance.

 

For longer deployments food consisted mostly of canned goods served with a soy called Bratlingspulver. These canned goods where nicknamed "diesel food" as they were constantly exposed to exhaust fumes from the diesel that surrounded them.

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Constant crew exposure to seawater left the crew trying to remove salt from their skin, they were issued with a specialist saltwater soap to do this but it proved unpopular amongst the crew as it left a scum on the skin.

 

Whilst onboard with space being at a premium each crew member was assigned a locker each for personal belongings. As part of maximising the limited space, the front torpedo room doubled as crew quarters, but at the beginning of patrols, six bunks had to be folded up to store two additional torpedoes. Hot-bunking was extremley common between then crew where as soon as one person left their bed to go on watch, someone else would take their bunk to sleep in, which kept the bunks warm.

 

Only the captain had privacy in their sleeping quarters, in the form of a basic curtain that could be drawn around his quarters, which were located next to the control and radio rooms in case of an emergency.

 

Until food being stored in one of the two toilets was eaten, crews of 40 to 50 men were forced to share a single toilet. Toliets onboard were flushed into the ocean after each use with a hand pump. Crew were banned from using the toilet when following enemy ships as it was feared that the noise of metal clanking or any floating debris would alert the enemy to their position.

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Long periods of time spent underwater and out in the middle of the ocean when surfaced took its toll upon crew, with psychological effects such as feel confined in the small space. Weeks often went by where crews saw nothing but ocean while surfaced with crew only being able to move around the deck of the U-boat with no visible land insight.

 

Crews passed time by listening to records on gramophones that were built into the U-boats and playing games such as cards and chess. A U-boat Kapitan (Captain) Wolfgang Luth went as far as organising singing and lying competitions onboard which were compulsory for all crew to participate in.

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Image of Kapitan Wolfgang Luth, 2nd most successful U-boat ace of World War 2.

When returning to port after patrols, many of the crew were unrecognisable emerging with long beards and soiled clothes. This common appearance amongst returning U-boat crews earned them respect from Admiral Karl Dönitz when he saw them return, as he knew what life aboard a U-boat was like.

 

Information on U-boats during WWII courtesy of U-boat Aces.

 

Website: http://www.uboataces.com/

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A U-boat crew lined up on deck as they return home from a recent patrol.

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U-boats (Submarines)

 

U-boats were deployed from the beginning of the war, attacking Allied supply routes as part of the Battle of the Atlantic. With the fall of France and the successful invasion of Norway, U-boats were given improved access to British shiping routes in the Atlantic, with an increased number of ports to operate from. During the early stages of the war British convoys lacking escort support in terms of numbers and equipment were vulnerable to submarine attacks. This resulted in a high number of German victories in relation to the few number of losses the Kriegsmarine were suffering.

 

In June 1940, with Italy joining the war and the Battle of the Mediterranean beginning in September 1941 and lasting until May 1944, the Germans deployed a total of 62 U-boats to the Mediterranean theatre. U-boats operating in the Mediterranean were able to successful sink 24 Allied Warships which included: 12 destroyers, 4 cruisers, 2 aircraft carriers and a battleship. They also managed to sink 94 merchant ships during the campaign resulting in just short of 450,000 tons worth of Allied shipping being sunk. By the end of the Mediterranean campaign in 1944, none of the deployed 62 U-boats were able to return to home bases, either being sunk or scuttled by their crews towards the end of the war.

Original footage of Kriegsmarine during WWII. (Video credited to 3Dhistory.de)

Coastal Artillery

 

Kriegsmarine coastal batteries were stationed along the German coast aswell as being stationed on the coasts of occupied countries such as France, Norway and the Channel Islands. Coastal artillery were used to man various fortifications that were constructed to defend coastlines against enemy invasion, a large example is the Atlantic Wall. Naval bases were protected from enemy air raids by Kriegsmarine Flak-bateries. Seetakt sea radars on the coast were also manned by Kriegsmarine ground forces.

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Sections of the Atlantic Wall fortifications where Kriegsmarine Coastal Artillery were stationed in defense.

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German WWII Coastal Artillery Emplacement at Longues Sur-Mer, Normandy.

Coastal fortifications were set up in the Channel Islands in 1940 as part of defensive measures. Initially light defences such as machine gun posts and light anti-aircraft batteries were installed to protect key landmarks such as harbours and airports. With the planed invasion of Britain being postponed and the Germans switching their focus to invading Russia, it was recognised that the Channel Islands would need increased defensive measures for when the British invasion came. In early 1941 additional anti-aircraft batteries were deployed to protect the Islands along with coastal artillery batteries manned by Heer and Kriegsmarine personnel.

 

Plans to increase coastal artillery and fortifications on the Islands were confirmed on 20th October 1941, when Hitler issued a directive to convert them into "impregnable fortresses". Coastal defences and artilllery on Jersey alone included: 7 medium coastal artillery batteries, 6 light (10cm) field howitzer batteries, 6 medium and 25 light anti-aircraft batteries aswell as over 100 weapons of 2cm, 3.7cm and 8.8cm calibre. Fortifications on the island included subterranean command posts, coastal observation towers and communication centres.

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Coastal anti-aircraft batteries installed on the Channel Islands during WWII.