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U-1206

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U-1206 was a Type VIIC ordered on 02 April 1942, and laid down 12 June 1943 at F Schichau GmbH, Danzig (werk 1576), launched 30 December 1943, and commissioned 16 March 1944.

The VIIC series was an advanced class designed to evade detection and sink enemy convoys efficiently. U-1206 was fitted with a Schnorchel underwater-breathing apparatus.

Its career involved 1 patrol 16 March 1944 to 31 January 1945, 8. Flottille (training) then 1 February 1945 to 14 April 1945, 11. Flottille (active service). In command was Captain Karl-Adolf Schlitt. No ships sunk or damaged during patrol.

Scuttled on 14 April 1945 in the North Sea off Peterhead, at 57.24N 01.37W, following an accident on board, leaving 4 dead and 46 survivors.

In the mid 1970s, While survey work was being undertaken for the BP Forties Field oil pipeline to Cruden Bay during the 1970s, the remains of U-1206 were found in approximately 70 m of water at 57.24N, 01.36W. later confirmed by GPS as 57d24.160' W001d36.930.

In May 2012, a team of divers dived to a depth of 86 m to explore the wreckage of U-1206, 12 miles off Cruden Bay. The submarine was reported to be in very good condition given that it had been on the seabed for more than 60 years.

Sunk by lack of proper toilet training

Rather than adopt the British method of storing sewage in septic tanks on board the vessel, German engineers developed a high pressure system which saved space and weight by ejecting such waste directly into the sea. However, the system only worked properly when the vessel was on or near the surface, not always possible during wartime patrols, when the submarine could be forced to stay submerged for long periods. The system was also complex, and required training in its proper operating procedure

Just 9 days into U-1206's first patrol, the captain and crew fell victim to that complexity when an attempt to use the toilet went badly wrong.

Unable to operate the mechanism, Captain Schlitt called for help, but the engineer who came to his assistance accidentally turned the wrong valve, filling the cabin with a mixture of seawater and human waste:

The vile cocktail then leaked into the submarine’s battery compartment located directly below, causing a chemical reaction which began to release lethal amounts of chlorine gas.

Left with no other option, Captain Schlitt ordered the crew to blow the ballast tanks and head for the surface. The U-boat’s torpedoes were fired to shed extra weight and increase buoyancy.

But as U-1206 appeared from the depths, it was spotted by a Royal Air Force patrol who began to open fire. The crew scrambled for the dinghies, while Captain Schlitt ordered the U-boat to be scuttled and any secret equipment on board to be destroyed.

From the 40 on board, four crew members drowned. The rest were taken as prisoners of war. Some of the men managed to survive the perilous ten mile journey to the Peterhead coast before being apprehended.

Captain Schlitt’s official statement read as follows: “I was in the engine room, when, at the front of the boat, there was a water leak. What I have learned is a mechanic had tried to repair the forward WC’s outboard vent.

“The engineer who was in the control room at the time managed to make the boat buoyant and surfaced, despite severe flooding.

“Meanwhile the batteries were covered with sea water. Chlorine gas started to fill the boat.

“We were then incapable of diving or moving. At this point, British planes and patrols discovered us. I let the boat sink.”

- The Nazi U-boat sunk by a toilet malfunction - The Scotsman[1]

On 14 April 1945, the boat was quietly cruising at a depth of 200ft only 8-10 miles off Peterhead, Scotland, when the commander, Kptlt. Schlitt, decided to use the toilet without consulting a rating trained in its operation (the procedure was complicated). Something went wrong, and when the specialist arrived he misunderstood the situation and opened the wrong valve, which resulted in large quantities of seawater entering the boat. The water reached the batteries directly under the toilet, causing the production of chlorine gas, and the boat was forced to surface immediately; unfortunately right underneath an enemy aircraft. The crew managed to clear the gas by blowing clean air into the boat, but were at the same time bombed by the aircraft, causing extensive damage which left U-1206 unable to dive. Considering the hopeless situation, Schlitt had no choice but to destroy the secret material and order Abandon Ship to save his crew.

- (Brennecke, J. (2001).[2]

References

1 The Nazi U-boat sunk by a toilet malfunction - The Scotsman Retrieved 24 February 2017.

2 The Type VIIC boat U-1206 - German U-boats of WWII - uboat.net Retrieved 24 February 2017.

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