Friday, April 15, 2011

April 14, 1945: Tweaky Toilet Costs Skipper His Sub

April 14, 1945: Tweaky Toilet Costs Skipper His Sub: "

1945: A malfunctioning high-tech toilet forces a German U-boat to the surface off the coast of Scotland, where it is promptly attacked by a British aircraft. The boat is scuttled as the crew abandons ship.

U-1206, sailing out of Kristiansand, Norway, as part of the 11th Flotilla, was cruising at a depth of roughly 200 feet when the commander, Kapitänleutnant Karl-Adolf Schlitt, decided to answer the call of nature. The submarine was a late-war Type VIIC, commissioned in March 1944. It carried a new type of toilet designed for use at greater depths.

Like a lot of new technology, the toilet was just a little buggy. Schlitt had trouble operating it. When he called an engineer for help, the man opened the wrong valve, allowing seawater to enter the boat.

When the water reached the batteries located beneath the toilet, the boat began filling with chlorine gas, forcing Schlitt to order U-1206 surfaced. Unfortunately for the Germans, the boat was only 10 miles off the Scottish coast, and it was quickly spotted by the British.

The crew was still blowing clean air into their U-boat when an aircraft appeared and attacked, killing four men on deck and damaging the boat so badly that it was unable to dive. Schlitt, seeing the game was up, gave the order to abandon and scuttle.

It was an ignominious end to Schlitt’s only combat patrol of the war as a commander — although, less than a month later, most of his U-boat comrades had joined him in captivity, as World War II came to an end in Europe.

As for U-1206, its wreck lay undisturbed until the mid-1970s, when workers laying an underwater oil pipeline came across the hulk sprawled on the seabed at 230 feet.

The Type VIIC was the workhorse of Germany’s U-boat fleet. The first VIIC, U-69, was commissioned in 1940, and 568 were built by various shipyards during the war, making it the most widely produced combat submarine in history.

Only one Type VIIC boat still exists. The U-995 is on permanent display as a museum in Laboe, outside Kiel, Germany. The U-505 (at Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry) and U-534 (on display near Liverpool, England), are larger Type IXCs.


Photo: The last Type VII U-boat in existence, U-995, is now a museum at Laboe, Germany. It’s the same model as the sub that was sunk because of a malfunctioning toilet.

This article first appeared on April 14, 2009.


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