The myths about U-boats in East Germany
Although historical research has clearly proven that there were indeed plans and first preparations to create a U-boat Force in East Germany, rumors pop up occasionally, nevertheless, claiming those preparations to have been much more advanced than so far assumed. Particularly, in internet fora contributors tell of first sea training of East German U-boat crews on board Soviet ex Kriegsmarine U-boats, others put forward the alleged urge by the Soviets viv-á-vis the GDR to build up a U-boat Force in East Germany, which such demands going on well beyond the abandoning of the initial preparations in 1953. And, the raising of two Kriegsmarine U-boats in the Baltic Sea and their transfer to East German shipyard for restoration need to hold out as evidence of the concrete introduction of U-boats to the East German Naval Forces.
Although there are facts and figures presented about U-boats in East Germany since the Spring of 2011 at the homepage of the German U-boat Museum, we should, nevertheless, put together again the facts to qualify the myths around this period of Naval history in Germany as such. Now, what are the facts about U-boats in East Germany?
There were actually plans starting in the Spring of 1952 by the then leadership of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) in agreement with the Soviet leadership to create a “U-boat Service” as part of the further build up of the East German Armed Forces. In early May 1952 a “Planning Proposal for the Development of the Sea Police of the GDR for the Years 1952-1955” laid down among other things to procure a total of 13 U-boats until 1955, and to establish the training organization required plus appropriate infrastructure to base everything.
The implementation of those plans occurred rather speedy.
In mid 1952, in the port of Sassnitz at the Baltic island of Rügen construction work started for the infrastructure necessary to accommodate a U-boat base, among others a finger dock with shore connection for power and water was to be established. Soon, a new major building project for the accommodation of U-boats commenced at the Jasmund inland sea, the large inland lake connected to the open sea through narrow inlets in the Northeast of Rügen, which was to be part of the new main base of the East German Naval Forces to be established there. Also, the premises of the Dwasieden castle nearby Sassnitz was selected to accommodate the future U-boat Training Establishment (ULA), with partial renovation of the castle itself plus the erection of several huts for administration, accommodation, teaching and welfare purposes.
The buildup of personnel for the training organization was not easy because the search for and the approach of ex U-boat men with war experience and being not incriminated by a National Socialistic past turned out to be very disappointing. Overall aim was to operate in the end a training establishment for about 50 officers in four courses (Commanding Officers course, plus courses for watch officers, torpedo officers and engineering officers), as well as courses for 150 Petty Officers and 280 Ratings. Reading the biographies of the officers heading the establishment eventually is somewhat peculiar, as no one of these has ever served on a U-boat of the Kriegsmarine. The one and only officer ever commanding the establishment, Commander Heinrich Jordt, had served during the last period of World War II as Petty Officer (Engines) on board a Kriegsmarine minesweeper.
Nevertheless, at the end of 1952 at least a core of teaching and administration staff could be assembled for to prepare the intake of students, supported by a considerable advisory group of Soviet U-boat specialists. By order Nr. 1/53 of 04 January 1953 by the then Head of Sea Police, General Inspector (equivalent to Vice Admiral) Waldemar Verner, a trained window dresser, but a man of merit in the communist resistance, training at the ULA started in January 1953.
In the Summer of 1953 already a personnel strength of some 180 staff and 480 students is reported. Following a six months basic training further practical training on board U-boat was planned, which were to be ceded by the Soviets for that purpose. With that a look at the third aspect of the history of U-boats in the GDR shall be taken: Arms planning and measures associated with it. For training purposes it was planned to take over ex Kriegsma-rine Type VII U-boats from the Soviet Navy (Listed: U 1057, U 1058, U 1064, U 1231 and U 1305), which were given to the Soviets in 1945 as prize and which were operated by them since.
In addition, two smaller coastal U-boats of the series M/ XV of the “Malyukti”-Class were planned to be given by the Soviets. In preparation of an own construction program planned (14 smaller, about 320 to U-boats, following a First of Class in the second quarter of 1954 there was one U-boat to be launched every three months) the Kriegsmarine Type VII C U-boat U 1308 (scuttled at the end of war off Warnemünde) was salvaged in February 1953 and initially taken to Rostock for de-mudding, to be transferred to the Volkswerft (= People´s Shipyard) at Stralsund in November 1953.
However, due to technical problems and the liquidation of all U-boat plans in the GDR in mid-1953 U 1308 was eventually scrapped. The initial idea was, the use this U-boat as concrete “blueprint” for the own construction of U-boats at the Volkswerft. The official ship building program ( “Measures necessary for the Execution of the Naval Ship Building Plan 1954-1956”, with about 200 warships and 50 auxiliaries) approved in March 1953 included now the construction (Project 20 “Stichling”/ = stickleback) of a total of 14 U-boats displacing about 750 tons, which would be a slightly smaller version of the Kriegsmarine Type VII C U-boat.
The overall economical situation in the GDR became worse and worse, and the flood of refugees leaving the GDR increased from 160,000 each in 1951 and 1952 to a stunning 120,000 between January and April 1953. This led the leadership of the GDR to re-consider its course, also the much too ambitious arms procurement program. Consequently, on 12 June 1953 the closure of the ULA was decided, at that time with a personnel structure of some 768 men, as part of the new lower ceiling in manpower set for the Paramilitary Police (“Kasernierte Volkspolizei/ KVP”) as predecessor of the later to come “National People´s Army” (“Nationale Volksarmee/ NVA”) and “People´s Navy” (“Volksmarine”).
In literature, sometimes the strikes and uprising of 17 June 1953 among the East German population against its regime were not the spark for the end of the GDR´s U-boat Force, rather it was the final sealing of a process that had started already some weeks before. In this context, also the planned takeover of U-boats from the Soviet Union for training purposes never materialized.
How did the story develop further? Officially, the training at the ULA was abandoned with effect of 01 July 1953, and the liquidation of the establishment was decreed with effect of 01 of August 1953. Personnel were re-appointed to other military units and agencies of the Sea Police. Basically, four developments could be observed thereafter, which is noted in literature as proof that plans for U-boats were nourished further by the GDR.
Firstly, a study of 08 April 1953 is being mentioned that dealt with the expediency of the U-boat training within the Sea Police. In fact, this study rather seems to be an evaluation of the U-boat training carried out until mid-1953, since it does not call anywhere in the study for a resumption of the creation of a U-boat Force in the GDR.
Secondly, some refer to the “Development Plan for the Naval Forces of the GDR 1956 – 1960” of 08 June 1955, which actually listed the introduction of 6 U-boats. Although this five-years-plan experienced some modification during the following year, among other things the procurement of the 6 U-boats were to be facilitated by simply buying 2 U-boats each between 1958 and 1960 vice an own construction program, there has never been any other concrete measure to implement the plan apart from few minor budget precautions. According to the plan the U-boat Force of the GDR would have had 6 U-boats in its inventory until 1960, plus a U-boat training facility and a small U-boat base at Sassnitz, in all some 476 personnel in staff and training. Already in 1957, the forward projection of the plan did not list U-boats any longer – and U-boats never turned up in plans afterwards.
Thirdly, in January 1955 the Kriegsmarine Type XXIII U-boat U 2344 was salvaged, after it had sunk following a severe collision on 18th of February 1945 off Heiligendamm. The U-boat was brought to the Neptun shipyard at Rostock, but was released for scrapping in 1957 due to irreparable damages. Current historic findings allow the conclusion that this U-boat, if it would have been restored, were to serve as target demonstrator for the anti-submarine training of the surface forces of the “People´s Navy” (the GDR Naval Service/ ex Sea Police was given the name “People´s Navy” as of 03 November 1960), but was never intended to be the core of a new U-boat Force of the GDR.
And fourthly, there are documented commentaries by high ranking Soviet officials until the final period of the GDR encouraging the GDR to think of establishing a U-boat Force. However, there is no fixed knowledge yet about the seriousness of these remarks, maybe it was just polite diplomatic skirmish. As a matter of fact, never any planning activity has been started in the GDR as a result from those Soviet remarks in the margins of diplomatic meetings, which, therefore, allows to qualify these remarks a unofficial Soviet wishful thinking at best.
There have never been any further attempts to create a U-boat Force for the East German Navy apart from some plans and conceptual studies until approximately 1956, some initial infrastructural measures in 1952/ 1953, seven months of operation of a U-boat training establishment, and the salvage of a Kriegsmarine Type VII C U-boat from the bottom of the Baltic Sea for experimental purposes. The alleged “pressure” by the Soviets to build up a U-boat Force should be clearly assessed as polite remarks in the margins of diplomatic meetings at best and rather qualified as noncommittal ideas, but never as a “directive” to implement.
Above all, the strategic-tactical role of the East German Naval Forces in the Warszaw Pact did not include any East German U-boats for the “People´s Navy”, as there were enough U-boats in the inventory of the Soviet Baltic Fleet and the Polish Navy. Therefore, there have never been any U-boats in the East German Naval Forces apart from early plans and some initial measures for creating a U-boat Force, different claims are mere myths.
- Kopenhagen, Wilfried/ Mehl, Hans/ Schäfer, Knut: Die NVA Land-, Luft- und Seestreitkräfte, Motorbuch-Verlag Stuttgart, Februar 2006
- Mehl, Hans: Die andere deutsche Marine, Motorbuch-Verlag Stuttgart, März 2004
- Schäfer, Knut: DDR-Volksmarine – Kampfschiffe 1949-1990, Motorbuch-Verlag Stuttgart, April 2010
- Schlemm, Jürgen: Die U-Bootwaffe der DDR, in: Das Archiv-Jahrbuch 2002 des Freundeskreises Traditionsarchiv U-Boote e.V., S.108-126.
Text: Peter Monte – Picture: Deutsches U-Boot-Museum