Just like surface ships, the toilet on board a submarine is referred to as its head out of traditional maritime custom. Compared to their surface cousins, submarines have a much more difficult time dealing with mundane operations including flushing the toilet. During the last month of World War II, a German U-boat was lost due to problems with its toilet. The captain of the U-1206 wanted to use the toilet, and did so without the assistance of one of the on-board engineers qualified in the operation of that particular toilet. The resulting mishap threatened to poison the crew with chlorine gas and forced the submarine to surface during the daytime near the coast of Scotland. It was quickly spotted by a British aircraft which attacked the sub and damaged it badly enough that it was unable to safely dive. The captain scuttled the submarine, just 10 days into the only real combat patrol for both the submarine and its captain, and just over two weeks before Hitler's suicide leading to Germany's surrender 8 days later.
Nazi Germany and U-Boats
Nazi Germany's Kriegsmarine (or Navy) built and operated submarines. The German term Unterseeboot (or "Undersea boat"), commonly shortened to U-Boot is used as a generic term for any submarine. The English version, U-Boat, refers exclusively to German military submarines, especially those of the First and Second World Wars.
The Paris Peace Conference of 1919 led to the Treaty of Versailles and its restriction of the size of the German surface fleet and outright prohibition of German submarines. Germany soon established a submarine design office in the Netherlands, a torpedo research program in Sweden, and concealed other submarine construction under the cover of "research" or other ruses.
After Germany had been caught running these illegal submarine projects, the Anglo-German Naval Agreement of June 1935 attempted to regulate the size of the German Kriegsmarine in relation to that of the U.K.'s Royal Navy. The German surface fleet was not to exceed 35% the tonnage of the Royal Navy, while it would be allowed a submarine tonnage equal to that of the entire British Commonwealth of Nations.
Germany, of course, exceeded the limits all around, and Adolf Hitler renounced the agreement on 28 April 1939, just over 4 months before Germany started World War II in Europe by invading Poland. At that point Germany had 65 U-boats, and 21 of them were at sea and ready for war when the war began on 1 September 1939.
The Type VII series of U-boat was the most common during the war. There were 10 Type VIIA subs built in 1936 and 1937, then 24 Type VIIB subs built between 1936 and 1940, each with an added 33 tonnes of fuel (and another 2,500 nautical miles of range), increased speed and manuverability, and an upgrade from 11 to 14 torpedos.
The Type VIIC was the core of the German submarine force. 568 Type VIIC U-boats were launched between 1940 and the last one, the U-1308, launched in November 1944 and commissioned 17 January 1945.
The U-1206 was built at the Schichau-Werke yard in Danzig (now Gdańsk, Poland). It was laid down on 12 June 1943, launched on 30 December 1943, and commissioned on 16 March 1944.
A few months later, the Germans began forcing Jewish prisoners from Poland, France, Netherlands, Lithuania, Latvia, Germany, and Hungary held at the nearby concentration camp KL Stutthof to work 12-hour shifts at Schichau-Werke. They were allowed just a half litre of watery soup and 250 grams of bread during the day and another half-litre of soup after work, were not given adequate clothing in winter, and died in large numbers due to workplace accidents, epidemics, and beatings by the guards.
The U-1206 was commissioned under Oberleutnant zur See Günther Fritze and deployed in training exercises with the 8th U-boat Flotilla from March until June 1944, when it was assigned to the 11th U-boat Flotilla and Kapitänleutnant Karl-Adolf Schlitt took command.What is a
The German Kriegsmarine adapted a Dutch naval innovation from the late 1930s, the snuiver (or "sniffer"). This was a device that brought in air for the diesel engines while the submarine itself was submerged. The device was renamed a schnorkel and widely installed on Nazi submarines during the last year of the war. The U-1206 had one added when it was assigned to the 11th U-boat Flotilla.
By the time the snorkel was fitted and tested, it was well into the spring of 1945 and the end of the war was in sight. The snorkel was of mixed benefits. A sub running submerged on diesel power relying on the snorkel was limited to a speed of six knots, in order to avoid breaking the snorkel's air tube extended at a right angle through the water. The "feather" kicked up by the snorkel was visible over a long distance. Early radar systems could detect periscope tips, and snorkels were at least as large a radar target. UK radar systems of 1940 could detect a submarine periscope from a half-mile away.
The worst thing for the crew was when a larger wave caused the snorkel's automatic valves to slam shut. The diesel engines would suddenly begin drawing air from within the boat, causing a partial vacuum that sometimes led to ruptured eardrums.
First Patrol of the U-1206
The U-1206 departed Kiel on 28 March 1945 on a two-day training patrol in the North Sea. It returned to port at Horten Naval Base on the 30th.
Second Patrol of the U-1206
The second training patrol was shorter, just one day. It left Horten on 2 April 1945 and put in at Kristiansand on the next day, the 3rd.
Third and Final Patrol of the U-1206
The U-1206 departed from Kristiansand on its first active patrol on 6 April 1945. It headed into the North Sea, between Britain and Scandinavia.
The Loss of the U-1206
Eight days into its only combat patrol on 14 April 1945, the U-1206 was cruising at a depth of 200 feet off the coast of Scotland. The Type VIIc design had a test depth of 230 meters (or 750 feet), and an estimated crush depth of 250–295 meters (or 820–968 feet). They were just 8 nautical miles off the easternmost tip of the coast of Scotland at Peterhead, in Aberdeenshire.
Captain Schlitt decided that he needed to use the toilet. The U-1206 had a new toilet design, intended to support operation at greater depth and thus exterior pressure. But a new design is an unfamiliar one, and he called for assistance. The specialist who arrived was also unfamiliar with the details of the new toilet design, as only some of the engineering ratings had been fully trained in the operation of the new toilet design. He opened the wrong valve and salty seawater started pouring into the submarine and flooding the battery compartment.
Basic chemistry time:
Water is H2O and salt is NaCl. Dissolve salt in water and you get an solution of Na+ and Cl– ions. Pure H2O isn't conductive, but an ionic solution certainly is. And diesel-electric submarines carry battery banks with enormous capacity. They provide 560 kilowatts of power for propulsion submerged.
|H2O + Na+ + Cl– + sub battery||→||H2O + NaOH + Cl2 + H2|
Oh, my. Water plus lye plus chlorine gas plus hydrogen gas.
Chlorine gas is a deadly poison, and recall Germany's earlier misadventure with hydrogen and the LZ 129 Hindenburg at U.S. Naval Air Station Lakehurst, New Jersey. Oh, the humanity.
Time to air out the boat, fast.
The submarine had to surface to clear the chlorine gas out of the air. Unfortunately, this was during the daytime and a British coastal patrol aircraft happened to be flying nearby. The U-1206 crew was managing to blow good air in and poisonous and explosive gases out, but meanwhile they were under fire from the British plane. One man was killed during the aerial attack, and the submarine was damaged to the point it couldn't safely be submerged.
Kapitänleutnant Karl-Adolf Schlitt ordered that the code books should be thrown overboard in the weighted bags brought along for exactly that purpose, the scuttling valves should be opened, and the men should abandon ship. Three men drowned in the heavy seas while abandoning ship.
Schlitt recorded that the sub was scuttled at 57°24'N 01°37'W, but later searches didn't find anything.
In the 1970s, survey work for the BP Forties Field oil pipeline stumbled across the remains of the U-1206 at 57°21'N 01°39'W in approximately 70 meters (or 230 feet) of water.Adolf
On 30 April 1945, just sixteen days after the loss of the U-1206, Adolf Hitler committed suicide. Germany unconditionally surrendered on 8 May 1945.
Karl-Adolf was taken ashore in Britain, treated kindly, returned home after the war, and survived to die at the age of 90 on 7 April 2009.