Thursday, November 5, 2015


Meyer took Werner to another building, this one with a guard at the door. They climbed a flight of stairs with one door at the top, which Meyer opened with a key. Meyer's office was a mass of document binders on shelves and large rolled up drawings in neat containers with markings on them. His office table was in front of a large window overlooking the submarine. Meyer took a binder from one of the shelves, opened it on a large table and beckoned Werner over.

"These were the design specifications for U-1215. As you can see, these capabilities are much more ambitious than the newest u-boats we already have. Look! Three weeks continuous submerged operation. That means no surfacing for recharging batteries or ventilating the submarine's atmosphere. We can ride out every storm underwater where we won't feel the effects of the waves and hide from enemy aircraft and ship's radar. Beneath the surface of the water is where a submarine needs to be. It's where we are safest and most effective."

Werner looked incredulous. "Hmph, the sub may certainly stay under that long but we humans can't. We'll use up the air in the sub in just one day. We'll eventually have to surface."

"The submarine is equipped with air scrubbers, Captain. The ventilation fans direct the air into purifiers that remove carbon dioxide from the air before redistributing it into the spaces." Meyer was clearly enjoying his role as teacher. "We also produce our own oxygen by electrolysis. This is a process where water is broken up into oxygen and hydrogen using electricity. The oxygen is distributed through the submarine spaces via the same ventilation fans."

"What do we do with the hydrogen," Werner asked. Then, a thought occurred to him. "Is that what you use as fuel?"

"No, Captain, the hydrogen is vented out of the submarine. The rate of hydrogen production is small enough that we can vent it out of the sub into the surrounding water without leaving an obvious trail of bubbles. Let's continue." Meyer seemed impatient to get on with his lecture.

"Let's talk about the Type XXI. That type can run for two to three days on electric power but only at 5 knots. If it runs at its maximum of 17 knots continuously, they'll use up their batteries in less than two hours. U-1215, on the other hand can maintain 18 knots indefinitely. Okay, no one actually knows how long we can maintain that. Some say we can run at maximum for more than a year but that would not be practical, of course.

"Maximum depth of 400 meters. This is more than the limit of present designs like the Type XXI. This enables us to find thermal layers and hide from the enemy's sonar devices. Deeper depths also complicates the escort's depth charge attacks since it is much more difficult to estimate where and when to drop the depth charges due to the length of time it takes for the bombs to sink.

“Here, look at this." Meyer pointed at the next item. "Most submarines have one or two aft torpedo tubes. Our torpedoes can be configured to turn in the opposite direction that we are going so the aft torpedo tube was deemed unnecessary. Someone, however, thought we could use the aft tubes to launch submarine decoys. These are torpedo-shaped devices with sound generators that simulate the sound of a submarine running on batteries. It also changes course every now and then so that a pursuing destroyer will think it's us trying to get away. This will allow us to escape and attack again from a different angle. It may also fool them into thinking that there is more than one submarine in the area. They're filled with diesel fuel and are designed to break apart when hit by a hedgehog or when a depth charge explodes close by. When that happens, the sound generators simulate a submarine filling with water and the diesel fuel will fool them into thinking that the submarine's hull has been torn open. Brilliant, don't you think?"

Werner thought it was useless but who knows if they might need it. "Yes," he lied, "quite ingenious." Meyer nodded his head vigorously.

"These other specifications are for installation of improved equipment like the torpedo firing solution equipment, longer range torpedoes, air scrubbers, more sensitive passive sonar, radar detectors, larger fresh water distillation equipment, and improved living conditions for the crew."

Werner considered the design specifications and wondered if this new sub was able to satisfy all of them. If they had indeed built the submarine to specs, it would be the most advanced submarine the world had ever seen. But could it turn the tide of the war in the Atlantic?

"So, has this submarine satisfied all the specifications, Meyer?" Werner asked.

"We have not begun operational tests, Captain. We have tested most of the equipment such as the air purifiers, and distillation equipment but we have not taken the submarine out into the open ocean. We have tried diving and surfacing in place right here inside the pen, but not outside." Meyer had a smile on his face that made Werner think he was enjoying his presentation. His expression reminded Werner of an old classmate who was about to spring a surprise on him. Werner decided to find out.

"Is there anything else I need to know about the sub? Lt. Fischer mentioned something about a reactor." Meyer's smile widened even more.

"For that I need to take you on another tour of the sub, Captain."

It was Werner's turn to smile.

"Would I be allowed to speak during the tour, Commander?"


Meyer led Werner back into the submarine via the forward hatch. Meyer began describing the torpedoes.

"These torpedoes are of the acoustic type and were designed specifically for U-1215. They are battery powered and have four settings that can be loaded from the control room while they are in the torpedo tube. The first setting is the initial course that the torpedo will run once it leaves the tube. The second is the distance that the torpedo will travel before it switches to acoustic tracking or search mode. Once the torpedo has reached the set distance, the third setting will change its depth to any value we want. The last setting is a speed selector. Upon leaving the tube, the torpedo can be set to run at 15 knots. When it reaches the distance where it switches to search mode, the speed will switch to the maximum of 25 knots..."

Werner started in surprise. "25 knots? That's not much of an improvement, isn't it?"

"Ah, but this torpedo has certain abilities that will give it the advantage over other torpedoes. The first is the maximum distance it can travel. If we fire them at maximum speed, they have a range of 10 kilometers. If we fire them at the minimum speed of 15 knots, they can travel up to 28 kilometers."

"So," Werner added, "these are the longest range torpedoes in history?"

"That is correct, Captain," Meyer answered. "They are also the most quiet. They do not make any sound as they move toward their target."

Werner looked at Meyer incredulously. He looked at the tail end of the torpedo, which didn't have a propeller, and looked back at Meyer.

"I am not joking, Captain. They have tested these torpedoes somewhere else and they have confirmed they are so noiseless no one will know they are approaching, much less from which direction."

Werner perfectly knew the advantages of a silent torpedo. What he wanted to know was, how?

"If you will permit me, Captain," Meyer said, "I will tell you the secret later in the tour. Shall we proceed aft?"


Meyer led the way, passing through the upper deck into the sonar room.

"This is the sonar room. As you can see, there is not much difference from the usual sonar rooms except that ours is more spacious. The sub has three passive sonar sensors, one at the top of the conning tower, and one on each side of the conning tower. The ones at the sides function like human ears, allowing the operator to get a rough bearing of the incoming sounds. The one at the top can be turned around to get a more precise bearing to the target. The sonar circuits have improved filters that can remove the normal sea sounds but allow ship noise to pass. This will make the sonar crew's life easier."

Werner nodded but noted that there were two stations instead of the normal one in a typical submarine.

"Correct, Captain, we are investigating if two sonarmen can do a better job than one. We thought that having one sonarman work with the two side-mounted sonar sensors and another one on the moveable sensor would be more efficient than having one man do both. The first can report on a contact with a rough bearing and the second can obtain a more precise bearing. While he is doing that, the first can continue listening for other targets."

Werner saw the logic but thought that one sonarman worked well enough on the boats he had been on. It would be interesting to see how two would perform.

Control Room

Meyer led the way into the control room. "You can already see most of the improvements just by looking around, Captain. Over here is the helm and diving controls. The torpedo controls are over there. Engine monitors are here and the navigator's station is over there. All electrical conduits are hidden behind the walls." Meyer gestured around the control room vaguely as if it was all so ordinary.

"I don't see any valves anywhere, Commander." Werner had noted the lack of the familiar controls to dive or surface a typical submarine. "How do we dive or surface the boat?"

"Everything on this boat is controlled by electricity, Captain. The valves are electrically driven. All we need to do is press the necessary buttons or twist dials to control everything. It is much easier and faster than the old way."

"I see." Werner began to wonder if he was getting in a little over his head. There seemed to be so much to learn about the boat. Meyer sensed his apprehension.

"I wouldn't worry too much about how things worked, Captain. Your job is to run the boat and my job is to make sure it runs as designed."

Ah, the opening, Werner thought.

"I've been meaning to ask you about that, Commander. You're not really a naval officer, are you? A civilian with a temporary rank perhaps?"

"You are partially right, Captain. I was a physics graduate with a minor in engineering when the war started. I joined the Kriegsmarine right away but was pulled out of active duty before I could get my first assignment. I was initially put into weapons research before being assigned to this project. I was given the rank of Lt. Cmdr. to make sure that the officers didn't give me any duties other than my true job." Meyer seemed please at that. It had probably been his own idea.

"Well, Commander, while I respect your expertise in technical matters, I trust that you will respect my expertise in matters of submarine operations. There may be times when I will give you orders especially when the safety of the boat and the lives of the men depend on it. You are also expected to show proper decorum expected of an officer of the German Navy." Werner gave Meyer a hard look. "Is that clear?"

Meyer smiled and stood at attention. "Yes, Captain. I shall do as you say."

That will have to do, Werner thought. "Good, now to comment on your statement about my job and your job, I do not agree that I do not need to know how this sub operates. It is essential that every officer knows how everything works so that we will be able to determine what to do in case of a problem. I also need to know the capabilities of this sub so as to devise tactics and procedures that would put those capabilities to best use."

Meyer gestured to the captain's stateroom and led the way. Inside, Meyer turned to his commander.

"Captain, I have no problems with teaching you everything you will need to know about this boat. Unfortunately, teaching you and everyone else is going to take a long time and time, Captain, is something that is in short supply. Germany is losing the war in the Atlantic and the Allies are gaining strength as we speak. This submarine needs to be put through its tests and built in large numbers so we may regain dominance over the sea lanes. Only when we have cut off the Allies from their supplies can we be assured of victory. I will teach you and the other officers those things you need to know but the principles may be a bit over your heads."

Werner thought about Meyer's little speech and decided that he was right. U-boat losses were mounting and officers and crew training were being shortened from years to months. The Allies were getting better and better at detecting and defending against the u-boats but the silent service was slow to adapt. Sure, there were new and better torpedoes, longer range boats and new tactics but all they did was to slow down the losses. They needed something that would make a radical difference. He had thought that the new Type XXI already being built would be that difference but apparently, other people wanted something vastly different from the present u-boats.

"Okay, Commander, we'll iron out any disagreements as they come along. I must insist, however, that all the officers must know as much as they can about this boat. You will conduct lectures about the equipment and we will discuss how we may best use them in combat. If I heard the admiral correctly, we will begin open sea trials very soon."

"That is the schedule, Captain. If Commander Weber had not died, we would have started the tests three days ago."

"Ah yes, the previous sub commander. Weber, was he? The admiral said he was not pleased about the choice. A drunkard, he described him." Werner shook his head at the thought. He, himself, drank only occasionally and only in moderation.

Meyer looked thoughtful for a few moments before speaking. "Yes, he was. But he is gone and you are here. The task of getting this boat through its tests rests in your capable hands, Captain." Meyer opened the door and gestured. "Shall we continue our tour, Captain?"

The Reactor

Meyer led Werner into the strange compartment he saw earlier with the admiral. Men had already started filtering in and doing their work, whatever it was. They spotted Commander Schmitt, the engineering officer, conferring with one of the technicians. Meyer pointed to the large object that dominated the compartment.

"That, Captain, is the reactor. This is what enables this submarine to be all we want it to be. Are you familiar with nuclear physics, Captain? No? Well, in that case, I can only offer you a simplified explanation of how this amazing thing works."

Meyer led him down the stairs to a control desk that had a large drawing above it. Werner only recognized the symbol for pumps and turbines but nothing much else.

"This container has a quantity of radioactive material, uranium actually, that can generate great quantities of heat. We control the amount of heat it generates by raising and lowering these rods into the pile. Water under high pressure is routed through the pile, which picks up the heat and releases it into a boiler. The steam thus produced turns these turbines which then turn these generators to produce electricity for the sub's systems." The diagram was a lot more complex than Meyer's explanation but Werner guessed that the basics of the system had been described.

"How much fuel are we carrying, Commander?" It was always a point of concern. Running out of fuel is a nightmare that no submarine commander wants to experience.

"The uranium fuel can last about five years Captain."

Werner's eyes widened at that. It was too good to be true.

"I can assure you, Captain, we have that much fuel on board the submarine."

Werner nodded his head and pointed to the rest of the drawings. "What about these other things?"

"The reactor is capable of generating great amounts of heat, Captain, much greater than this container can withstand. We need several safety devices and systems to ensure that doesn't happen. Commander Schmitt already knows how those work so at least, I have not failed you on this aspect of the job, Captain." Schmitt scowled at Meyer at that.

"Commander, I know how everything works except for how that reactor produces heat. I can only conclude that it is nothing short of black magic. Captain, this thing is dangerous, much more dangerous than a boiler in a surface vessel. A boiler failure may cause extensive damage to an engine room but it won't probably sink the ship. If this thing fails, we will be reduced to ashes in a few seconds, if these witches are telling the truth." Schmitt waved a hand at the technicians working around him.

Werner felt a slight chill come over him. He looked at the reactor and imagined demons stirring up a fire inside. "Is it generating heat now?"

Meyer answered before Schmitt could. "Right now, it is warm only, Captain. It is shutdown at the moment and is producing only a miniscule amount of heat."

Meyer decided that the captain had been scared enough, if he was. "Captain, these technicians are the people that Commander Schmitt was referring to during our introduction at the mess hall earlier. They are thoroughly familiar with how it works and how to control it. They are not really submariners though they have received a crash course of a few months to enable them to learn how to live life on board a submarine. Their primary job is to take care of the reactor. I must tell you though that they alone are qualified to operate the reactor so they must be exempt from the normal duties of the rest of the men."

Werner decided to make a point clear. "Commanders, whether you are submariners or not does not change the fact that you are members of this crew. In normal conditions, we shall follow the normal duty rosters as each department sees. Once we are in combat, and I intend to simulate combat conditions whenever possible, everyone must follow orders as given without regard to their work assignments. Of course, as good commanders, we must always take into consideration each man's role and skills. But where the safety of this boat and its crew is at stake, we must all make sacrifices. Clear?"

"Clear!" Both men answered in unison.

Karl Gunther, one of the technicians, overheard the captain's statement and wondered what those sacrifices might one day be. He hoped he would not be around should the time come.

The Electrical and Generator Room

Meyer took the stairs up to the electrical room followed by Werner. Schmitt decided to tag along. He was supposed to go there anyway.

The electrical room was already filled with people although "filled" was probably a relative thing. Werner could see one man at a control console and two other men who had panel doors opened and doing whatever it was they were doing inside.

"This is the electrical control room. The electricity from the generators is routed here before being sent to the various boat systems and equipment. The boat is run entirely on electricity, Captain. There are no noisy diesels engines, dangerous exhaust fumes or diesel fuel tanks. Everything was thought of to make this boat as quiet as possible." Schmitt had gone over to the man at the control desk while Meyer was explaining to the captain. He spoke up.

"If you ask me, Captain, not having a diesel engine to back up the reactor is asking for trouble. The technology is too new to be reliable."

"Come now, Commander," Meyer said, "Practically every improvement you suggested has been implemented on the boat. This vessel is as much your design as much as it is mine."

"Of course they should implement my ideas. This boat would be no good without them." Werner sensed a degree of playfulness in their tones. It was good to know that these two engineers were on good terms.

"Indeed, Commander," Meyer said. "Captain, I would have you know that the other major advancement in this boat aside from the nuclear reactor came from an idea from Commander Schmitt."

"Really," Werner replied. "And what might that be?"

"It is the secret to why this submarine is so quiet. Without the diesel engines, this sub is already quiet. But by putting forth an idea, the commander has eliminated the noise from the boat's screws."

A boat's screw was a major source of noise aside from the engines. The noise primarily came from bubbles forming around the blades as it turned, especially at high revolutions. 

Normally, in a submarine running on batteries, the noise from the cavitating screw was what gave it away. Reducing speed to around two knots eliminated the noise but a speed of two knots could not be considered "running." It was more like walking on tip toe.

"Are you going to tell me this idea of yours?"

"I can show you, Captain, but we'll have to go into one of the sheds on the pier." Schmitt seemed nonchalant but Werner guessed he was eager to demonstrate his idea.

"Don't keep me waiting, Commander. Let's go."

New Propulsion Method

Schmitt led the way out of the submarine and onto the pier. He walked to a shed along the line of buildings and entered. He told his audience to wait while he set up his demonstration.

He took a one inch rubber pipe that had two seemingly solid cylinders on opposite sides. Each cylinder had wires about two meters long coming out of them that went to a small box. Two other wires went into the sides of the tube perpendicular to the two solid cylinders. He ordered one of the electricians in the shed to fill a small tank with sea water. When the tank had been filled, Schmitt put the contraption into the water.

"Captain, are you familiar with the principle of how motors work," Schmitt asked.

Werner shook his head. He knew motors would run if you connect wires to them and pressed a button or threw a switch but how they did that was beyond him. Schmitt was ready for his ignorance, however, because he had another contraption to demonstrate the principle.

He took a jerrybuilt device, which he explained was composed of two magnets and a length of copper wire. The two magnets were arranged so that one's north pole was facing the other's south pole with the wire in between them. Schmitt explained that when an electric current is passed through the wire while it was inside a magnetic field, the wire would move. He then connected the wire's ends to a device he called a power supply. It allowed him to control when electricity flowed through the wire and how much current he wanted to pass through it. He set a dial a little in the clockwise direction.

"Just a little current," he explained. "Now, watch as I switch on the power."

The wire was a little loosely strung and when Schmitt flipped the switch, the wire moved between the two magnets slowly. Schmitt switched off the power and then reversed the connection on the wire. He switched the power back on and Werner watched as the wire moved in the opposite direction from before. Schmitt switched off the power again.

"The speed at which the wire moves is dependent on the amount of current, Captain." Schmitt twisted the dial a little more and, this time, when he switched on the power, the wire moved more energetically.

"You are aware, Captain, that it is dangerous to touch an electric wire or connection when you are standing on a puddle of water or when you are wet, yes? Well, that is because water is a good conductor of electricity, the same as this piece of wire. Sea water, because of its salt content, is an even better conductor of electricity. So, the theory is that if you pass an electric current through water that is inside a magnetic field, the water will move across the magnet field, just like this wire did."

Werner looked at the other contraption, the one with a rubber pipe and quickly understood what he was getting at. "So, what you are saying is that you can force water to run through this pipe without a pump."

"Exactly!" Schmitt was pleased with his new commander. Other people had not understood his explanations before.

"So, show me, Commander," Werner ordered.

Schmitt quickly took the rubber hose contraption and explained further, "these two solid-looking cylinders are actually coils of wire, Captain. When you pass a current through a coil of wire, you can create a magnetic field. We can't use actual magnets because the magnetic strength is constant and the magnets will continuously attract iron particles that are suspended in the water even when the sub is not moving. Using magnets will also force us to use a type of electricity that will erode the metal in the tube. By using coils of wire, we can use a different type of electricity that eliminates all those problems."

Werner was not aware that there were different types of electricity but he didn't ask for an explanation now. Schmitt was getting into his demonstration and he did not want to interrupt.

Schmitt dipped one end of the rubber pipe into the water, secured it, and said, "Watch."

When Schmitt switched on the power, a trickle of water began flowing out the other end of the tube. Werner was disappointed. While it was certainly quiet, such a small flow would not move anything other than a small toy and slowly at that.

Schmitt, however, had deliberately set the current to a small amount. He smiled widely as he switched off the power, set the dial to a higher setting and said, "Now, watch again."

When Schmitt flipped the switch, the water gushed out of the pipe with such force that the water reached the ceiling and emptied the tank in less than a minute.

Werner had been taken by surprise and had involuntarily stepped back. Meyer had already stepped back earlier to avoid getting wet, having seen one of Schmitt's demonstrations where he drenched one admiral's aide. Schmitt, himself was shouting with glee as the demo unit sprayed water into the shed. The electricians in the shed had apparently seen this demonstration before and had been standing in a safe place. As soon as the water spray had stopped, they took up mop and rag and began drying operations.

Werner looked at the demo unit and looked at Meyer. "The submarine uses the same principle for propulsion?" The only noise from the demonstration was the hiss of the water exiting the tube, the water hitting the ceiling, and Schmitt's howling laughter.

"That is correct, Captain," Meyer replied. "The proper name for it would be electro-magnetic propulsion system but for our purposes, we can just call it the engine. It worked so well during trials that we decided to use the same propulsion method for the torpedoes."

Werner remembered what he thought was a lack of propellers on the torpedoes. He had thought wrong.

"So, we have a submarine that makes no noise as she travels through the water; can travel at high speed for an indefinite period of time; torpedoes that can chase their targets without a sound; and an engine that doesn't require air to function. Gentlemen, I don't see why we are not building these things right now." Werner was a practical man. The principles were sound and they seemed to work well. Why weren't they already building them?

Meyer sighed noisily. He had made that argument before.

"To tell you the truth, Captain. This project is not only secret because we want to hide the technology from the enemy. We are also hiding from our own people."

Werner looked at him in surprise.

"You mean to tell me this is an unauthorized project?" What have I gotten myself into?

"Not exactly," Meyer replied. "Admiral Donitz had decided to prioritize the development and construction of the Type XXI and XXIII. These two boat types are a big advance over the older types and can potentially alter the course of the war in the Atlantic. He wants all efforts concentrated on these two types and put the U-1215 project on temporary hold."

"So why are we here?" Werner asked.

"The admiral made that decision himself. We were already far along into the project that we had actually built the submarine when the order to stop had been given. He had pleaded with Donitz to allow him to continue with just this one boat. Donitz didn't want to give his permission at first because he had already informed the Führer that he had stopped all activity on it. He allowed the admiral to proceed only on condition that he do it under absolute secrecy."

Meyer's words somehow failed to assure Werner that he was safe. The Führer was known to explode when he was not informed about things that thought he should know. Something like this could be seen as disobedience at the least or treason at the most. They could be shot for that though the admiral would probably receive the first bullet. His name would be on the second, he was sure.

"I will have to talk to the admiral later about that. It seems he has not been forthright with me about a lot of things."

More than you know, thought Meyer.

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