In port

Fischerischutzboot Weser, or her sister ship Elbe, in port 1933-35. The two ships were built in Wilhelmshafen in 1931, and served as support vessels for German fishing boats on the North Sea. They were based at Marinestation der Nordsee in Wilhelmshafen. The ships were armed with a 8.8 cm deck gun and machinegun. In 1939, both ships were rebuilt and had their sterns extended in order to improve their seaworthiness. They were transferred to the Kriegsmarine (Navy), and fitted with 2 cm AA guns and depth charge racks. The Weser and Elbe now served as minesweeper escorts. Weser ended up in the 7. Minesweeping Flotilla in northern Norway, and fell into British hands at the end of the war. She was used for post-war minesweeping, and was scrapped in 1954. The Elbe served in the Baltic Sea before going to the 5. Minesweeping Flotilla in northern Norway. Like her sister, she was captured by the British in 1945, but was handed over to the Soviets in December, 1945, and renamed Terek. She was scrapped in 1962.


Thanks to member Polar bear on Axis History Forum for help with identifying the ship.


No land in sight…

The view from the conning tower towards the stern of a Type VIIC U-boat, somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean. The photographer has taken a break from watching for ships and enemy airplanes. Three or four other members of the crew are scanning the horizon. The rest of the crew, some 45 men, are down in the narrow hull, savoring any whiff of fresh sea air. A patrol could consist of weeks of boredom, and then frantic action as a ship or even a whole convoy was encountered. At the same time, enemy warships scoured the ocean, playing a cat-and-mouse game with the U-boats.

The name “Battle of the Atlantic” was coined by Winston Churchill in February 1941. It has been called the “longest, largest and most complex” naval battle in history. The campaign started immediately after the British and French declaration of war on Germany in September 1939, and lasted until the German surrender in May 1945. It involved thousands of ships in more than 100 convoy battles and perhaps 1,000 single-ship encounters, in a theatre of war covering millions of square kilometers of ocean. The situation changed constantly, with one side or the other gaining the advantage, as new weapons, tactics, counter-measures and equipment were developed by both sides. The Allies gradually gained the upper hand, though losses due to U-boats continued until war’s end.

While the loss of life was relatively small compared to the land war, it still claimed the lives of over 100,000 people. Between 1939 and 1945, 3,500 Allied merchant ships and 175 Allied warships were sunk, and some 72,200 Allied naval and merchant seamen lost their lives. The Germans lost 783 U-boats and approximately 30,000 sailors killed, 75 % of Germany’s 40,000-man U-boat fleet. The German plan to starve Great Britain and stop the flow of supplies to the UK and the Soviet Union failed.

In icy waters

A U-boat Type VIIA, heavily caked with ice, as seen from another vessel. It’s one of ten built of that type, which were U-27 to U-36. The submarines were built at the Deschimag AG Weser and Krupp Germaniawerft shipyards in Bremen and Kiel, respectively. These boats, designed in 1933-1934 and built in 1935-37, were the first of a new generation of German attack U-boats known as Type VII. They were popular with their crews and very agile on the surface. The Type VII also had much more striking power than the smaller Type II’s. They had 5 torpedo tubes (4 at the bow) and would carry 11 torpedoes onboard or 22 mines. They also had the effective 88mm fast-firing deck gun with 220 rounds of ammunition. The deck gun was prefferred if conditions allowed, as it saved valuable torpedoes. With a total length of 64.5 meters, its surface speed was 17 knots, and 8 knots submerged. It was crewed by 42-46 men, and was capable of reaching a depth of 220 meters. All but two of the Type VIIA’s were lost in combat or accidents during the war, while U-29 and U-30 were scuttled in Kupfermühlen Bay on 5 May, 1945.

The most successful of the Type VIIA’s was U-32, commanded by Oberleutnant zur See Hans Jenisch. 17 of the 20 ships sunk by U-32 was under his command. His first victim was the neutral Swedish merchantman M/S Lagaholm, which was sunk on 2 March 1940. After sinking 16 more ships, U-32 was sunk on 30 October 1940 in the North Atlantic north-west of Ireland, by depth charges from the British destroyers HMS Harvester and HMS Highlander. Of the 42-man crew, nine were killed and the rest, including Jenisch, went into captivity and didn’t return to Germany until 1947.

Patrolling the waterways

A small patrol craft on a Dutch channel, summer of 1940. Operated by the Kriegsmarine (Navy), rivers, channels, and other bodies of water were patrolled by small boats armed with a machinegun or two. Many of the boats were captured from the navies of the conquered countries, or civilian craft confiscated by the Germans. Very little can be found about this “brown water navy” online, but it appears like it performed police duties, looking for smugglers, members of the resistance, etc, in conjunction with the Marineküstenpolizei (navy coastal police).

The photo appears to have been taken before the policing had become more organized. The Luftwaffe Feldwebel (sergeant) onboard the boat might be a friend of the guy behind the camera, as his presence is hard to explain otherwise.

If anyone has more information on this subject, I will be happy to add it to this post.

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.