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Remembered Today:

U-boat crews. Conscripted?


Sue S
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By the autumn of 1916 Germany had decided upon a future policy of unrestricted submarine warfare. The UC11 and UB11 classes of boat were coming into service. As a direct result the ubootwaffe expanded on an unprecedented scale. With the rest of the KDM bottled up in the Jade, key personnel were drafted to U-boats from general service. Torpedo ratings, Telgraphists and artificers were in massive demand. Officers too were co-opted into the servce. Many of those serving in the mercantile marine were reservists and there was an existing mechanism to 'recruit' skilled navigators. They are often described as 'War pilots' in crew lists. Many were perfectly happy to make the transition to the exalted Ubootwaffe but they were certainly not volunteers in the accepted sense.

In short, pre 1917 it was a largely volunteer outfit, post 1917 it was dominated by conscripts

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In short, pre 1917 it was a largely volunteer outfit, post 1917 it was dominated by conscripts

I think this is a misuse of the word conscript. Conscripted means enlisted by compulsion which implies they were drafted in from the general population whereas all were either already serving or were reservists and some may well have volunteered for the German navy. Better to say it was non voluntary

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I think this is a misuse of the word conscript. Conscripted means enlisted by compulsion which implies they were drafted in from the general population whereas all were either already serving or were reservists and some may well have volunteered for the German navy. Better to say it was non voluntary

Was the German Navy not conscripted like the Army?

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Sue,

There never was a problem for real volunteers in the U-boat weapon. Most of the men serving with the Hochseeflotte had nothing to do, and were waiting for action that never came. The U-boats were very successfull, till the end 1917 early 1918, and many of the commanders became living legends, well that is for the time they lasted in many of their cases... So volunteering for the U-boat weapon was a logical step for many sailors.

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Its probably worthwhile pointing out that the RN Submarine Service was not an exclusively volunteer outfit in either war. Admiralty pressed required officers and rates from 'Gens' whenever it required.

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Thanks for your comments everyone. As most of you will probably know by now, I am writing the biography of Gus Bonner: Q-ship VC. Amongst his personal papers are letters from Gordon Campbell and William Sims in which both talk about the disturbing effect that Q-ships had on U-boat crews and I wanted to know more in order for me to provide evidence for some of their points.

The book is due out in November and whilst it will not be possible to thank every member of the Forum individually in the book, I will be making special mention of the contribution which so many members have made. Best wishes. Sue

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I rather think that after the declaration of unrestricted submarine warfare in 1917, the U boats had a more disturbing effect on the Q-ships, than the other way around !

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I do must say that I agree completely with that.

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the royal navy in the sixties had the same problem when putting ships companys together for the then new nuclear boats. instead of it being a full volunteer branch, they began drafting ratings. i myself was drafted, but as it turned out ,during my course at dolphin a dreadful accident occured, a trainee and an instructer were drowned in the escape training tower. the rating who died had an unknown history of epelesy and so everything was put on hold. when everyones papers were checked it was seen that i was underage for subs and drafted to another surface ship, a very happy fella.

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