The U-boat Pens

st_nazaire_uboat“All crew to their stations. Prepare to surface.” The distorted voice of Felix von Luckner crackled over the ship’s Tannoy system.

“Kapitän Entwhistle, if you would like to join me at the periscope.”

Minutes later Harold appeared on the Command Deck accompanied by his Chief Engineer, Albert Fleck, short and skeletal in a boiler suit that had once been white, hob-nail boots, a dish-rag round his neck and a woollen tea-cosy on his head.

“Ah Kapitän, and you have brought your stoker. Would you like to take a look at our destination?” Von Luckner ushered the trawlermen to the periscope and Harold peered into the eyepiece. He could see ice and snow – pretty much like all the ice and snow they had been surrounded by since coming south. Dead ahead was a low black rectangular orifice sheltered beneath an overhang in the cliff.

“Can I see too?” asked Albert. As he surveyed the desolate scene a lonely wandering albatross waddled over to the funny stick protruding through a hole in the lightly frozen ocean and blocked out the view. Distorted goggle eyes peered in at the startled artificer.

“What the f… …is that?

“The entrance to our U-Boat pens,” replied the Kapitänleutnant, blissfully unaware of the bird’s antics. He turned to his ensign, “Take her up.”

“Bow planes ten degrees, rudder amidships, blow all tanks.”

The Seeadler surfaced, breaking through the thin layer of barely formed ice and startling the inquisitive seabird into panicked flight.

A queue of ship’s officers formed at the bottom of the conning tower ladder whilst the Oberfähnrich climbed up to open the hatch. Von Luckner took two paces back and, with a hand pressed against Harold’s chest, indicated that the trawlermen should do the same. Seawater showered through the hatchway onto the up-turned faces below.

“This happens every time. They never learn.”

The submersible’s deck officers, still a little damp, were clustered outside on top of the conning tower when Harold and Albert joined them and the Seeadler was gliding silently towards the cavernous entrance. As they entered the submarine pens the crew lined the deck to take a salute from stevedores gathered on the nearest floating quay; a small brass band with a glockenspiel played ‘Edelweiss’. While Seeadler navigated alongside and was made fast Bert Fleck observed a Cuban, Foxtrot Class submarine and a Type VIIC/41 Flak U-Boat on neighbouring pontoons. The sleek Cuban vessel’s cargo of crates and steel drums was unloaded and stacked on shore. She was taking on the last of the supplies for her return journey and appeared to be making ready to sail.

“Stop engines. Prepare to disembark.” Once the trawlermen had been rounded up Easter joined Harry and Albert with von Luckner, Billy Tate remained with the crew who were quickly escorted ashore.

“Your men will be treated with respect, Kapitän. You may check on their wellbeing in a little while. But I wish to be with you when you first set eyes on our establishment here.” The Kapitänleutnant indicated the gangway. They proceeded along the pontoon to a short ramp and then ascended a long escalator. Globe lamps on patinated bronze mounts lit their way, the architecture was modernist with a severely Teutonic twist.

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