Three amigos

A trio of cheerful guys, bespectacled and with classy straight pipes. The back of the photo only says “Januar 1944”. The place is western Europe – France, Belgium or the Netherlands – and their branch of service is probably the coastal artillery, which was the responsibility of the Kriegsmarine (Navy). There are some subtle differences to their uniforms that make me think that, mostly the style of their sidecaps and an emblem on their shoulderboards (visible under magnification on the original photo). Anyway, little do they know that they’ll probably be in combat in five months. Hopefully the three friends survived the war.

Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines

In the skies above Paris… Not really. An army Unteroffizier and his navy buddy have their photo taken in a studio in Paris, 1940. I have seen this very set used in at least one more photo, so I guess it was a rather popular souvenir back then.

Those were the happy days being a German soldier. Sure, at least 27,000 of them had been killed in the Battle of France, but the campaign was short and triumphant, and the humiliation of the defeat in 1918 paid back. The war against the Soviet Union was a year off in the future, and instead the German soldiers could enjoy occupation duty in France. There were plans and preparations for the invasion of Britain, Operation Seelöwe, but while the Luftwaffe fought in the skies over England, soldiers on leave had a fun time in Paris. A year and a half later, many of them would be freezing to death on the Eastern Front…

Off to war

An Unterseeboot type VIIC about to leave its home port of Danzig. A military band is playing, the crew is lined up on the deck, and people in civilian clothes make the Nazi salute. Danzig was the base for the 8. Unterseebootsflottille. The flotilla was primarily a training flotilla, and it’s possible that the U-boat crew in the photo has finished training and is to join its frontline flotilla.

The U-boat war was primarily fought in the Atlantic, but after initial successes (“The Happy Time”), Allied anti-submarine warfare got more effective, and together with the breaching of the German naval code, losses began to mount. 75 % of the U-boat sailors never returned to port.

The most famous U-boat of the VIIC type was probably U-96, at least to the modern public. Immortalized in the German 1981 movie Das Boot, we follow the officers and crew on a months-long patrol in the Atlantic. Based on real events, the movie is regarded as the best submarine movie ever made, and one of the best war movies of all time.