22 Feb 2009 - Chester (U-Boot 534), England
A short drive outside of Chester and near the Mersey ferry is housed the now broken remains of a salvaged German World War II submarine. Unterseeboot 534 (U534) was a Type IXC/40 U-boat of the Kriegsmarine built in 1942. The U-boat is one of only four large German WWII submarines in preserved condition remaining in the world, the only other IXC boat being U-505 in Chicago. U534 was used mainly for training duties, and during her life sank no ships. The boat was part of a museum until 2006. When the museum closed it was deemed too expensive to move it whole so was cut into four sections to be displayed at the Woodside Ferry Terminal opposite Liverpool.
U534 - Looking up at the conning tower
The German submarine war in WW2 was a fascinating campaign with technology and tactics continually evolving to swing the advantage from one side to the other until in May 1943 the Allies regained the initiative and kept it until the end of the war. The human side is also fascinating and it takes a special kind of person to serve on submarines. If you read any accounts of the men who served you will understand the roller-coaster life they led and learn of the extreme highs and lows they experienced.
U534 - The business end of the wolf
The U Boats were referred to as wolves for propaganda reasons. Unlike in WWI where submarines acted alone and were not as effective, the German tactics in WWII would be for a submarine to call in reinforcements when allied shipping was found and then attack together or to continue the propaganda, as a Wolf Pack. When U Boat losses became unsutainable and the futility of continuing the campaign became apparent the sailors often referred to their submarines as Iron Coffins instead.
U534 - Forward crew quarters and torpedo room
The fuel and oil tanks ran along the sides, making the food stored in this area taste of diesel. The wood on the left by the hatch was a cupboard which has been removed. Through the hatch is the forward torpedo area and a further crew quarters. Two of the four bow torpedo tubes can be seen.
U534 - Side view of the conning tower
On 5 May 1945, for unknown reasons, the captain of U-534 ignored the order to surrender, issued to all U-boats by Admiral Doenitz, and set course for Norway instead. To this day, mystery still surrounds U-534's refusal to surrender; however, numerous theories exist. What seems to be established fact is that U-534 was sailing on the surface of the Kattegat, together with three other boats, when British aircraft attacked. The crew managed to shoot one bomber down, but the boat received a direct hit from a depth charge.
U534 - Engine room
U-534 had a crew of 52 men, all of whom escaped and 49 survived. Five were trapped in the torpedo room as she began to sink but escaped through the torpedo tubes just in time. One of these crewmen, 17 year old radio operator Josef Neudorfer, failed to breathe out as he was surfacing from depth and the air in them expanded, effectively burst his lungs. The other two deaths were caused by exposure
U534 - Aft battle damage
The indentations show where the depth charge that sank U534 exploded.
U534 - Visitor centre and museum
The visitor centre acts as host to the many artifacts that have been recovered from the wreck. There had to be a good mathematician on board to interpret the contact data. The rulers and tables can be seen here along with a camera.
U534 - Life on board
Finding ships to sink were often rare occurrences and sailors had to find ways to fight the inevitable boredom that would set in when on patrol. Ludo, chequers and chess pieces can all be seen in this photo. Some everyday objects can also be seen such as the brush in the top right which the owner engraved his name in.
U534 - Day to day life
Cutlery, razors, a ceremonial dagger, uniform insignia and the coveted Iron Cross have all been left behind.
U534 - Preserved WW2 German flag
All U Boats carried a German flag, which was flown when arriving back at port. This has been preserved by the silt it was covered in at the bottom of the sea. By the end of WW2, 28000 sailors had lost their lives out of a total of 40000 who served - a casualty rate of 75%. Towards the end, losses became so high that many sailors never made it past their second mission. Despite such overwhelming odds the sailors continued to do their duty knowing that they must certainly be heading to their deaths.