Thursday, November 12, 2015


He scurried down the hall to the kitchen. It was difficult to find food to eat and this place was almost always occupied by at least one person. The only time that it can be expected to be empty was during night time though people can be expected to come in at odd times to get something to munch on or drink during their breaks. Tonight, it was empty. There were a few crumbs from someone's biscuit but the prize was a piece of meat left on a plate. He quickly stole it and took it back to his hiding place where he finished it off.

Deciding to explore after his meal, he crept towards the back of the sub, squeezing himself into any cavities or crevices he could find whenever someone approached. Moving stealthily, he came upon an open door. Waiting for the coast to clear, he entered...

Meyer was giving Schneider some lessons in the operation of the reactor. "This here are rods that control how much heat the reactor generates. If we lower the rods into the pile, the reaction is reduced which lessens the heat that is generated."

Schneider shook his head. "I still don't understand where the heat comes from."

Meyer sighed and put a hand on the young officer's shoulder. "Even if I explained it to you, you might not understand it. The principles of how all this works were fairly recent discoveries and few understand it. It took me a while to understand it myself."

Schneider folded his arms in front of his chest and looked at the diagram. Various lights and meters showed the status of the reactor and peripheral equipment, making a fascinating display on the control panel. He understood how steam could make a turbine turn but the workings of the reactor was quite beyond him. Learning that the reactor was capable of generating such a vast amount of heat that it was capable of melting the steel skin of the vessel was unnerving. He immediately deduced the importance of the control rods Meyer was describing.

"So, the control rods determine the amount of heat that can be generated. If we were to fully lower the rods into the pile...?"

Meyer smiled, he had a good student here. "The reaction stops...or at least becomes so low that the reactor is effectively shut down."

Schneider put a hand on his chin, as if contemplating the result. "That would lower or stop generation of steam, causing the turbines to stop or slow down." He turned to Meyer with a realization. "That would stop the generators! We'd be without power!"

Meyer moved quickly to dispel the man's fear. "The control rods have back up power from batteries, which can allow us to operate the rods in case of a problem. We will have time to either effect repairs on the generators or blow the tanks and surface the submarine...if that becomes necessary."

Meyer was careful to choose what words he used during these training sessions. If he told them too much, they could become too frightened and do something rash. The reactor used uranium which, by itself, was dangerous. It was contained inside a lead-lined container, which was encased inside a steel vessel. The system was designed to generate only enough heat to boil water and keep the turbines running and the generators spinning. There was no need for the maximum amount of heat the reactor can generate. It was, therefore, relatively safe. However, as Schneider suspected, a malfunction in the control systems could lead to a shutdown, causing the turbine and generators to stop, cutting all power to the submarine. They didn't have a back-up diesel engine to provide emergency power. What they had were batteries, which could provide temporary power for the submarine's systems and the control rods but only for a limited time. The control rods themselves were moved up and down by electro-magnets. This was a safety feature designed to drop the rods into the pile in case of power failure. It ensured that the reactor would not continue generating heat when it was not needed. If the control rods were to become stuck in the up position, the heat could easily increase to dangerous levels. Once that happened, U-1215 and all her crew would become casualties to the sudden appearance of a miniature sun, incinerated into ashes. The only consolation was that the pain, if any, would be very short.

He stayed hidden, listening. When the men moved off, he explored the interior of the vast room, noting locations and features. It was probably lunch time since there were less people around than normal. It was easy to flip from one place of concealment to another. He memorized the layout of the equipment and locations where he could safely stay out of sight.

Life in U-1215 settled into a routine. The drills came and went, keeping everyone on their toes and honing their skills in responding to alerts. To save their precious air scrubbers, they surfaced for a few hours at night to ventilate the spaces. Fischer and Meyer thought this was dangerous but Werner said that it would enable them to intercept radio messages and detect radar emissions from Allied warships. It would give them a direction to head for. These surface runs also offered opportunities to practice emergency dive drills. With five men on the bridge of the conning tower, an alert would be sounded and everyone was expected to be below, the hatch closed and secured, and the sub below the surface, within 30 seconds. If there were less men on the bridge, they could dive faster but they needed the eyes to keep watch.

They sailed west for more than half the day to get out of the Bay of Biscay before turning south-south-west toward the area east of Madeira, approximately 1000 kilometers away. From radio intercepts, the area was a hotbed of Allied activity. A number of u-boats had disappeared while transiting there, suggesting that U.S. hunter-killer groups were actively searching for and sinking their comrades. It was a dangerous place to be but it was also a target-rich patch of ocean.

Karl Gunther was noting down the readings on the gauges in the reactor room when he felt like he was being observed. He looked around but only saw his fellow technicians doing their own things. No one was looking at him, each of them engrossed with whatever it was they were assigned to do. He shook it off and continued.

He pulled back into a crevice when he saw one of the people turn toward him. Apparently, the man was one of those who can sense when someone was watching him. For the next hour, he stayed where he was until he saw an opening. He slipped out and disappeared through the door, returning to his hiding place in the kitchen.

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