In a Nutshell
On April 6, 1945, deep into the second World War, a German navy submarine titled U-1206 departed from a port on the coast of Norway. The mission was plain and simple for the 50-strong crew – search for and destroy American and British ships in the North Atlantic Ocean. Considering it was the height of the war, you’d expect the enemy to put you down, not the toilet in your own submarine…
The Whole Bushel
Submarines are a wonderful addition to any navy fleet because they allow you to infiltrate enemy lines, gather precious intel and remain undetected. However, if you’re going to be submerged in water with the opposition at a dangerous distance, you better hope you don’t need to come up for air. You see, in 1945, German submarines weren’t designed to be pleasant for the crew.
Space was extremely limited, the stench was almost unbearable and there were only 2 toilets to serve the whole crew. Now, other subs in that era were similar in some respects, but one way the Germans managed to differ was neglecting a storage tank for their toilets; that meant disposing of waste directly into the water.
But, having a toilet system that performed in that manner meant you could only flush it when hovering around the surface. As you can probably guess, the crew still needed to go to the toilet even when fully submerged, which resulted in an abundance of containers filled with waste dotted around the quarters. So, if the smell wasn’t bad enough already, it must have been sickening at that point.
Moreover, the plumbing was enhanced slightly in the U-1206, but there were no significant, mind-blowing improvements. All the Germans decided to do was increase the pressure in the toilets which enabled them to be flushed at larger depths. Although, they became rather complex so certain members of the crew had to be specially trained to operate them.
A week into the tour, when the sub was positioned 200-feet below the surface and within touching distance of the Scottish coast, Captain Karl Adolf Schlitt needed to answer a call from nature. But, the Captain being the Captain thought he’d try and flush the toilet himself using the difficult-to-understand manual.
Of course, it didn’t go to plan, and he ended up calling the toilet-flushing specialist for assistance. The specialist then opened the outside valve, while the inside valve was still open, and allowed a constant surge of water to stream into the sub. Unfortunately, the water then drenched the bank of batteries below, amalgamated with the acid and forged lethal chlorine gas.
In order to prevent his own, and his crews demise due to the chlorine gas, Captain Schlitt made the bold decision to take the submarine to the surface to receive breathable air, despite them being in enemy territory. They were then spotted by an aircraft, put under fire and damaged so badly it couldn’t submerge itself again.
All in all, the malfunctioning toilet caused one member to be shot dead, three members to fall overboard and drown, thirty-six to be rescued by small boats in the vicinity and ten members to be captured by opposition forces. The same mistake has never been made again!