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Old 03-18-23, 11:41 AM   #1
Join Date: Apr 2011
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Default A U-Boat Commander's War - A short story. Day 2. 2nd Sept, 1939

Day 2. 2nd September, 1939

“Coffee, Captain?” “Thank you, Schubert,” I replied to our cook. It was the early hours of the morning and I was sat on the edge of my bed, listening to the familiar sounds of a U-boat crew at work. Johannes Schubert was a big man, and it never ceased to amaze me how he could fit such a large frame into the tiny confines of the galley. The coffee was strong, black and piping hot. Schubert was good at his job, an essential skill towards maintaining the health and morale of our crew.

I had received word from the bridge that we had completed our outgoing transit of the Kiel Canal and were now in the Wadden Sea. I walked from my bed to the navigator’s table in the command room. I use the word “room” loosely, because there are no bulkheads in a Type II to separate and, if need be, seal off compartments. Instead, there is simply one, roughly 30 metre long by 3 metre wide, sealed metal tube, within which everything and everyone has to fit. Consequently, the Kriegsmarine had given these boats the appropriate, if slightly derogatory nickname of “canoes.” Oberfähnrich Zielke, our navigator, was on duty and bent over his charts, under the red glow of our internal night lights. “We will shortly be passing Cuxhaven, if you wish to take a look, Captain?” I thanked him and made my way up to the bridge. The watch courteously acknowledged my arrival before getting back to scanning their individual quadrants.

At 03.15 the port of Cuxhaven came into view on our port side. I was surprised to see that some areas were still lit, even though we were now on a war footing. I came to the conclusion that the powers that be didn’t believe that the Polish air force or navy would be a threat this far west.

“Alarm!” It was mid-morning and the weather continued to be good. There were scattered clouds and visibility was moderate. There was very little wind and the sea was no worse than it had been in the canal, which you would call calm for the North Sea. It was myself that had shouted the word that all U-boatmen dread to hear. The bridge crew clattered down the conning tower ladder, sliding more than stepping in their haste to get below. I was the last to clear the bridge, with a final check to ensure nobody was on deck and all was secure. I closed the outer and inner hatches of the conning tower and was pleased to see that the chief engineer had already issued the orders to initiate the crash dive. I had started my stopwatch when I first raised the alarm, and stopped it when we had finally disappeared beneath the surface. “Thirty-seven seconds, Oberleutnant Steitz. Not good enough!,” I said to the engineer. I had decided to test the crew’s efficiency with an emergency dive drill, but they didn’t know that it was a test. The tension on their faces eased when I told them it was a drill, but there were no smiles when I admonished them for their poor performance. “The dive time should be 35 seconds,” I reminded them. “Two seconds slower means two seconds longer for the enemy to attack.” We performed three more drills that afternoon, until I was satisfied with our performance. Secretly, I was pleased with the way the crew had conducted themselves, because the sea can be less than 30 metres deep in this area, so their depth control under emergency conditions had been impressive.

At 19.30 the sun set to a symphony of colours, as we continued on our course towards our designated patrol area.
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