What is the historical significance of submarines

From blind mole to deadly weapon

Status: 08/01/2019 3:57 p.m. | archive
The first submarine of the Imperial Navy "U 1" on a test drive.

On August 4, 1906, the first submarine of the Imperial Navy slides into the water at the Krupp Germania shipyard in Kiel - technically a master craftsman. For more than a year, the engineers and workers in Kiel worked feverishly on the prototype. Because they're running late. The construction of submarines for warfare began worldwide before the turn of the century. The Americans and British have had submersible ships for years. There was real enthusiasm in France, then the leading country in submarine building. And the Russians had three boats built for themselves in 1904 - in Kiel of all places.

The naval command does not want submarines

Why are the Germans so late? For the head of the Imperial Naval Office, Grand Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz, submarines have long been just "lame ducks", a weapon for cowards who shy away from open, knightly combat at sea. Like Kaiser Wilhelm II, he relies on the construction of large ironclad ships in order to finally stand up to the sea power Great Britain. Tirpitz has no use for submarines, these "blind moles" when competing with the other colonial powers for "place in the sun".

That will only change after the Russians are satisfied with the Kiel boats and the public call for German submarines has become louder and louder. They have been very popular with the bourgeoisie for decades, Jules Verne's captain Nemo with his "Nautilus" is known to many. Hundreds of inventors and tinkerers have repeatedly turned in vain to the naval office with their plans for diving ships, "pastors, teachers, seminarians, pharmacists, savings bank officials", as a semi-official naval magazine scoffs.

Kiel is experienced in submarine construction

In 1904 Tirpitz ordered the first submarine from the Germania shipyard - reluctantly. The marine engineer Gustav Berling, who was commissioned with the construction, is also "very downcast" in view of the task, as he considers diving ships to be "great nonsense".

The Kielers have some experience in submarine construction. The first boat built in Germany, the "Brandtaucher", was built on the fjord in 1850 by the Schweffel & Howaldt machine factory. And in 1903 the Germania shipyard tested the submarine "Forelle" according to plans by the Spanish designer Raymondo d'Equevilley - initially for his own account, even if the industrialist Friedrich Krupp was already speculating on government contracts. Engineer Berling continues to develop d'Equevilley's plans. Because they are based on designs by the leading French naval engineer Maxime Laubeufs, a plagiarism dispute soon breaks out, which has not yet been decided.

"U 1" is a technical innovation

The large crane of the Krupp Germania shipyard in Kiel lifts the more than 150-ton submarine into the water on August 4, 1906.

The German boat, which was built at the Germania shipyard in Kiel from 1904, is a two-hull boat, an invention of Laubeuf, which enables fast and deep journeys on the high seas: It consists of an inner pressure hull and an outer hull with diving cells, has a petroleum motor for Surface and an electric motor for diving trips. The 42 meter long and 3.75 meter wide boat has a command tower, viewing and ventilation pipes. It is operated by a crew of twelve, can dive 30 meters deep and remain under water for twelve hours. The maximum speed over water is 8.7 knots (17 km / h), under water it even travels at 10.8 knots (20 km / h).

After the large crane of the Germania shipyard lowered the 150-ton boat into the water on August 4, 1906, it undertook numerous test drives. The lift ship "Oberelbe" of the North German Salvage Association assists with the dives with and without a crew. In November 1906 the submarine was given the designation "U 1". In the following month it is officially put into the service of the imperial navy, home port becomes Eckernf├Ârde.

Submarines prevail

The big hour for "U 1" comes in the spring of 1907. Unnoticed, it approaches the cruiser "SMS M├╝nchen" under water - armed with three sharp torpedoes. This is explosive, because Kaiser Wilhelm II is on board the surprised warship. When "U 1" also made a long overwater voyage in a storm around Jutland in August of that year, the military were also convinced.

The Krupp Germania shipyard in Kiel becomes one of the leading submarine factories in Europe. Here "U 7" is located at the equipment quay around 1910.

The submarine building is now a secret, the next boats are being produced by the imperial shipyard in Gdansk - far away from the Western powers. Gradually, the naval command sets up a submarine flotilla. When the World War broke out, it had 28 submarines. In 1914, however, "U 1" was already technically out of date. It only serves as a test and training ship.

Deadly weapons: the "knights of the deep"

The submarines are developing rapidly under the pressure of war. The naval command now orders the rapid expansion of the fleet with submarine cruisers, while the large ironclad ships are mostly in the ports because they cannot cope with the overwhelming power of the British. A total of 320 German submarines are in use, sinking more than 6,000 civilian and 100 warships by the end of the war. The "blind mole" is now changing into the "knight of the deep" in war propaganda.

Submarine war breaks international law

The British passenger ship "Lusitania" sinks in May 1915, sunk by "U 20" with a single torpedo. Well over 1,000 people drown.

However, the imperial navy's unrestricted submarine warfare will soon also be directed against passenger and neutral merchant ships - a breach of international law. On May 7, 1915, "U 20" sank the British "Lusitania" off the south coast of Ireland, drowning 1,198 passengers and crew members.

By 1918, 200 German submarines were lost and more than 5,000 marines died. However, the Germania shipyard developed into one of the leading submarine shipyards in Europe by 1918. In 1916, the world's first commercial submarine, the "Deutschland", was built here. It broke through the British naval blockade and reached the USA.

"U 1" in the museum today

"U 1" is now in the Deutsches Museum in Munich and can be viewed, here is a look into the engine room.

After the end of the war, "U 1" was saved from being handed over to the British, dismantled into individual parts and transported to Munich by train. As early as 1917, at the height of the successful submarine war, the Deutsches Museum had shown interest in the first submarine tested and used in Germany. At the beginning of the 1920s it came into the collection of the largest technical museum in Germany. It can still be viewed there today.

Editor's note: In the first version of the article it was said that U 1 sank five war and 13 merchant ships in the First World War. That is not correct. At that time, the submarine was already out of date and only served as a test and training ship. Please excuse the mistake.

 

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Schleswig-Holstein Magazine | 05/03/2007 | 19:30 o'clock