The Preparation and training of U-boat Crews 1925-1945

The Inter-War Years

Despite the provisions of the Versailles Treaty in 1919, denying Germany construction and use of submarines, the German Naval Command fully intended to remain au fait with all matters relating to the subject, To do this it was planned that Germany should construct and test U-boats in other countries. From 1922 the opportunity was provided by setting up N.V.Ingenieurskantoor voor Scheepsbouw (IVS). This firm, capitalised by three German yards, had its head office in the Hague.

In 1925 Naval Ministry funds were put into IVS and an order was obtained from Turkey for two U-boats; there was also the prospect of building part of a new boat program for Spain. Korvetten Kapitšn Canaris thus ordered the establishment of a special submarine office under the nomenclature Au (Ausbildung - Training). In charge was Admiral Spindler. He outlined his field of activity in his first action report of 12.11.26, which coincided with Canaris' recommendation. A significant part of the report related to the factors affecting the choice of U-boat type to be supplied to fill the future German naval requirement: one main factor was the teaching materials available for the needs of crew training.

Spindler also needed a combined team of active-service seamen and engineer branch officers to take part in testing the boats for the Turkish Navy. Naval Command considered that on political grounds only retired personnel should be involved, together with highly experienced civilian staff. The connection with the Turkish Navy resulted in two of the officers, who were in the transit crew, being asked by the Turkish Navy to set up a U-boat training school for their own crews.

In Germany Spindler was actively establishing a training program, and in conjunction with the Navy Arms Superintendent he managed to start a series of theoretical lectures on the U-boat for senior ensigns. These took place from 1927 onwards, during the participants' torpedo courses at the Torpedo and Radio School in Flensburg-M?rwik. The training equipment used was film taken during WWI on U-35 and U-139. From 18 to 21 May 1927, 24 ensigns of the recruitment year 1924 received three 3-hour lectures on U-boat subjects.

On the engineer side, Spindler planned a training program for future U-boat engineers from 1927 onwards. The theme of these courses had already been discussed , questions having been posed as to how the knowledge of the use of the U-boats in the First World War could be preserved and developed. Also, how were the majority of technical personnel to be provided, and what training equipment was available, and what needed to be supplied.

As far as sea-training was concerned it could be arranged for a select cadre of future U- Boat Officers on board future projects of TVS, These problems were discussed iii a paper issued by the U-boat Office on 17. 10. 1927:

"In order to circumvent the Versailles Treaty and to develop the U-boat Arm to stay au fait with the subject, and to enable a limited amount of training to take place, which is not as yet feasible though every effort must be made to rectify this situation... our Spanish contacts now enable us, by the immediate expenditure of RM 1.5 million and a total of RM 3-4 million over three to four years, to come closer to our aim, i.e., to have our constructors and yard men fully conversant with all that is newest and best in the field of building submarines, and at the same time to train military personnel (seamen's and engineers branches) in matters relating to submarines."

Various circumstances (e,g, the delay in the start of building in Spain and the subsequent shuffle of personnel following the Lohmann incident) caused progress in the years 1928/29 to be retarded. The training program was however initiated by the course for 60 ensigns of the Class of 1925 which was given at the Marine Artillery School at Kiel in the early part of 1929. On the debit side was the cancellation of the planned course at Kiel Naval Academy for Engineers. Schottky, who lectured on the course in early 1929, took over the U-boat Office from Spindler in 1929, and he made efforts to implement simulator training on the UZ Boats and on the Roeder designed "F" and "T" devices (early simulators). The UZ boats were for seamanship and torpedo-firing training. The idea was not, however, adopted by the Naval Ministry, and was not practicable for other reasons as well. However, Schottky and a mixed group of serving officers, retired officers, civilian engineers and officials managed to gain practical experience during the testing of the two Finnish boats Vetehinen [CV-702] and Vesihiisi [CV-703] in the summer of 1930.

In 1931, despite certain difficulties, the Spanish Boat E1 was also finished, Due to the close connections between TVS and the Navy Ministry and the further fact that the boat was built with German money, the Navy had a great deal of interest in the tests that were to be made on the boat, for it was also to be tested as the prototype for the future submarine element of the German Navy (UA and the two Type IA boats were the result).

A notable fact was the close co-operation that existed between the serving naval officers and the builders. Control of the actual building was in the hands of Schottky and Hey (both ex-Naval Architects and engineer officials), who had under them an experienced team and the support of the naval yard at Wilhelmshaven.

The head of the testing team was Kapitänleutnant a.D. Bräutigam, who for some years had been in charge of submarine building in Japan, the boats there being constructed from original German plans. The Chief Engineer was Papenburg, and Rösing was also included, who had been on the team for the Finnish boats. Further officers who had taken Schottky's course also took part, together with a number of men from the Eckernförde torpedo testing station, as well as some naval architecture students. A further addition, as an observer, was the technical chief of the submarine construction department, then existing under the code-name "Igewit."

Before submarine training could be set in motion, preparations had to be made at three different levels:

  1. Instruction for ensigns in submarine subjects by special lectures:
    1. Crew of 1926
      - a 3-day course in January 1930: Kiel Naval Artillery School
      Crew of 1927
      - a five-day 20-hour course in April 1930
      Crew of 1928
      - a course in Summer 1930
      Crew of 1929
      - a course from 16 to 21.2,1931 at the Naval School, M?rwik.
      (this last course was cancelled by the C-in-C Navy due to problems over the exact dates the course could actually occupy. )
  2. Staff Officer courses in submarine subjects down to first lieutenant level - given from 1930 by Schottky, from 1932 by Schürer and Fürbringer.
  3. Training of a small number of active-service seaman and engineer branch,officers on the TVS boats abroad. It was also decided to send three young officers to join Fürbringer at the Turkish school.

Further, following Schottky's instigation, a much greater amount of time was spent on submarine subjects at the Naval School at M?rwik and the Naval Academy at Kiel.

Nevertheless there was still no final date fixed for the start of the submarine program. This was changed in 1932 following establishment of the building plan for 16 submarines for the Navy by 1938. This necessitated submarine training becoming more formalised and gaining greater experience by taking part in voyages abroad and by occasional lectures. Fürbringer was felt to be suitably experienced to set this up and so under the command of Kolbe he gave a six-day course in May 1932 to 49 ensigns at the TNS on the subject of submarines. It was further planned for 1932, under the control of Fürbringer, to train two seamen's and one engineer branch officer yearly on an intensive course. The course was to last twelve weeks, with 207 taught hours, and 1-2 hours daily on the "T" simulator.

Building CV707 (Vesikko) allowed a much larger number of course members following her completion on 1.4.1933, and on 15.6.32 it was ordered that eight junior officers were to take part, being those judged suitable at Autumn promotions date in 1932. To cope with these increased numbers a second instructor was brought in, together with seven other personnel who were particularly qualified in the subject.

Commander courses begin
The first regular course for future commanders started on 3.1.1933. After three months training in theory and tactics there was further special training in the working of the gyro-compass, underwater sound location and escape apparatus.

CV707 began her tests at the end of May 1933 with Fürbringer as captain and Papenburg as Chief Engineer. Apart from the ten course members two further reserve officers were present. Following a heart attack suffered by Papenburg, Bra?tigam took over command.

The first two fully German submarines were planned to start building in Autumn 1933, and the then Reichswehrminister von Blomberg ordered the establishment of a submarine school in Kiel-Wik, work on which was to begin on 1.10.1933. Kapitänleutnant Slevogt was named as Commanding Officer, with as Senior Lecturers Fürbringer and Hülsmann, and Rösing and Freiwald as lecturers.

The first crew at this school comprised eight officers, and 70-80 NCO's and seamen, all of whom assembled in Kiel in Summer 1933. The official description of the school was the "School of anti-submarine warfare" (Unterseebootsabwehrschule / UAS), and was on the organisation of, and technically incorporated into, the Inspectorate of Torpedoes. As the planned submarine building did not take place, due to the changing political situation, the school ran just the one crew until 30.9.1934.

Theoretical training included instruction in U-boat construction from the point of view of sailor and engineer, instruction in maintaining stability, weight distribution and trim maintenance above and below water, in both peacetime and war conditions. Also included was the use of escape apparatus. Seamen received basic training in the practice of firing torpedoes, and officers and senior ratings in the use of the periscope. Simultaneously, engineering personnel were instructed on the diesel and electric propulsion units. Training equipment included an electrically operated steering machine, as well as an electric periscope and a gyro compass installation.

Practical training was carried out with the aid of simulators - minesweepers - equipped with a periscope stub housed in a covered deck compartment, with an engine installation comprised of half of the drive of a Type II and submarine steering equipment. Training took place aboard these minesweepers and aboard CV707 in Finland from 28.5 to 4.8.1935. To take part in the latter seven officers and six NCO's were sent to Finland in the guise of tourists and students. Bra?tigam, Papenburg and Freiwald were mainly involved in this venture from the training staff

As from 1.10.1934 a further class was formed at UAS in view of the impending construction of six small boats starting in January 1935, The submarine arm then expanded until, in the middle of 1935, it stood at 15 seamen's branch and 9 engineering branch officers, 190 NCO's and men. On 1.12.1934 it was decided to expand the school by a further 580 men by 1.10.1935. This would thus provide the crews of 14 large and two small boats from UAS by the middle of 1936.

Following the launch of the first of the U-boats, Bra?tigam and Hülsmann were transferred from UAS to the newly created Development Board for submarines, which later became the UAK (Ubootsabnahmekonmmando / acceptance authority of the KM for submarines). Papenburg had already been transferred to have control of U-boat building. The first U-boat to come into service went to UAS in the late summer of 1935 as a training boat.

On 6.6.1935 all matters relating to U-boats were, with the exception of training, put under the command of the (then) Kapitšn zur See Dönitz. At the same time 28 seamen's branch and 9 engineering branch officers were posted to UAS. Among these were the later famous names of Prien, Schepke, Sch?ltze, Godt and Frauenheim.

U-boat Flotilla Weddigen was set up in Kiel on 27.9.35 with U-7 to 12, (leaving U-1 to 6 for training.) Practical Training patrols of from four to twenty days were made in these boats, although no torpedo firings were made at this time. Torpedo firing training was undertaken at Flotilla, where battle-training and tactical instructions were carried out.

As the production rate of larger boats increased, so did the demand for trained crews. Kiel-Wik however did not have sufficient training or accommodation facilities to cope with these large numbers, and so a UAS was established at Neustadt (Holstein) in May 1937. The Chief Instructor there was Kapitšn zur See Scheer. In 1938 the training boats were established within their own Flotilla, and in 1939 a special school of anti-submarine warfare was set up outside the UAS, which eventually came under the command of the BdU.

Next: The effect of War