---Wilhelmshaven June 1, 1915
U-20 arrived early in the afternoon. Schwieger hadn't wanted to take
the closer eastern approach to Wilhelmshaven since there would be many
tired and nervous lookouts in the screen of the returning fleet. The surface
fleet was very likely to shoot first and ask questions later if they spotted
a U-boat now, especially U-20. With their deck gun blown overboard and
their conning tower smashed by the charging destroyer, U-20's silhouette
no longer looked much like that of a German U-boat. The tower and the
gun were superficial damage, the real damage to U-20 was aft. The stern
of the boat had scraped against the bottom of the destroyer and the destroyer's
propeller had slashed open the aft torpedo room. The weapons officer and
a quarter of the crew had struggled against the sea for hours to save
The first thing the officers of U-20 noticed, standing in the deformed
conning tower as the boat entered Wilhelmshaven, was the huge gaps in
the ranks of the Torpedo Boat flotillas. Schwieger's quick estimate was
that over a third of the ships that had been in port when U-20 left on
its patrol were missing and the survivors sure didn't look very healthy
either. Then they got a close look at the first dreadnoughts.
"Good God." the engineer muttered when U-20 passed by the second
dreadnought, this one being the battered SMS Thüringen. The
entire superstructure seemed to be shot to pieces, only the massive armoured
turrets were reasonably intact. That anyone could have survived onboard
her was hard to believe. The sharp contrast to SMS Helgoland that
seemed to be completely undamaged was simply stunning.
The slow progress of U-20 towards its base was taking it past the First
and Second Battle squadrons, or what was left of them. Schwieger noticed
several ships missing, two of the older battle ships and one of the Nassaus.
Even the ships that had survived looked as though they had been through
"Look at Blücher!" someone shouted as the large
cruiser came into view. The superstructure was far more devastated than Thüringen's, several of the turrets were destroyed and the
ship was low in the water.
"Is this victory?" one crewman whispered, awed by the devastation
evident on almost every ship they passed by. Most of the crew were up
on deck to avoid inhaling the toxic fumes from the destroyed battery cells
below. There were still tendrils of smoke coming from the blasted turrets
and smashed casemates. There must have been thousands of casualties in
the battle fleet alone.
"That is what they claimed when we reported in at Helgoland." Schwieger replied quietly. It was hard to think in terms of victory when
watching the devastated fleet, even though he himself had made a successful
torpedo attack on a crippled British super dreadnought and most likely
had sunk it. Seeing up close the results of the inferno U-20 had only
seen as flashes in the distance brought back images of the wrecked Conqueror and the calm sea of death that they had crossed in pursuit of the Royal
Navy. "Although looking at this I find it hard to believe." he added quietly. Any one of the dozens of hits they had seen on the ships
they passed by could have sunk his frail small boat and there were gaps
in U-20's ranks as well.
"Look at Ostfriesland, sir, the entire turret is smashed."
the engineer said suddenly "That's 12 inch armour plating and a shell
must have punched straight through!"
So this is victory? Schwieger thought, a fleet which looks
like its been through a meat grinder. They themselves on U-20 didn't
look much like winners either. One can't help but wonder what is happening
in Rosyth, Cromarty, and Scapa today.
of June, 1915
---- Post office Wilhelmshaven 3/6 1915
It was strange how little remained of a man. He had spent three hours
trying to write the telegram informing a woman that she was now a widow
and that her children no longer had a father. It had only taken five minutes
to gather the XO's personal belongings onboard U-20. The clerk weighed
the package and told him what it would cost to send in a casual uncaring
way. Not that the clerk had any reason to care but he's attitude still
angered Schwieger. The loss of his first officer and also personal friend
had shaken him worse than he cared to admit and having been forced to
leave him in the tower when U-20 dived had made it even worse. The attitude
of this civilian brought his rage and grief out in the open.
"This is the belongings of a man who died fighting for his country!"
Schwieger roared, causing everyone in the post-office to turn and look
"I would change that attitude if I were you!"
The clerk paled slightly and cast a nervous glance around the office
"I'M sorry sir, I didn't know." he took the package and carefully
placed it among the other outgoing packages.
Schwieger paid and left, embarrassed by his own outburst. Once the telegram
and the package had been sent Schwieger felt somewhat better. A company
of troops were marching past on the street outside and traffic stopped
to let them past. Schwieger followed them for a while before they turned
down towards the harbour.
---- Headquarters of the U-Boat force Wilhelmshaven 3/6 1915
"Captain-Lieutenant Walther Schwieger to see Commodore Bauer." Schwieger told the commodore's aide.
"Yes sir. You are expected please go right in." the aide replied.
Schwieger stepped into commodore Bauer's office.
"Captain-Lieutenant Schwieger reporting as ordered sir." he
"Ah good, please be seated." Bauer replied. "I have read
your preliminary report regarding the events on the thirty-first of May."
he paused "How sure are you that you sank the dreadnought you attacked?"
"Very sure sir. She was already so low in the water that the waves
were breaking over her bow and even if we didn't see her go down we did
hear both torpedoes explode." Schwieger answered. "No ship in
that condition would have survived two torpedo hits, sir."
"You are sure the torpedoes didn't malfunction, detonated prematurely?" Bauer wondered.
"Yes, we timed both shots and they hit precisely at the right time." Schwieger replied.
"You didn't hear her sink though, bulkheads breaking?" Bauer
"No sir, we had problems of our own at that time and we were too
heavily damaged to risk going back and investigate later." Schwieger
said "If the visibility had been better we most likely wouldn't have
escaped at all sir."
"Well I can tell you that the ship we believe you attacked was HMS
Thunderer and that the captain of Friedrich der Grosse have
claimed that his ship was responsible for her sinking, that you only 'hastened
the inevitable'." Bauer said.
"She seemed stable enough when we attacked her sir, she had power
and her guns were manned even though there were two Torpedo-boats in the
area that could have evacuated the crew. I would have to say the British
hadn't given up on her just yet. We were almost sunk, and my XO was killed,
making sure that ship wouldn't return to fight another day and we won't
even get recognition for that?" Schwieger wanted to know.
"You will get some recognition but Friedrich der Grosse will
get most of the praise for the sinking of the Thunderer, she was
after all..." Bauer read in the preliminary report sent from Helgoland
yesterday "by your own words 'the ship was barely afloat' when you
attacked her. I can't say that I agree fully with that decision but that's
the situation for now." Bauer told Schwieger "Also, I want a
more detailed report about your observations and activities during the
day especially regarding the other ship you saw and the cruiser groups.
It is extremely important that we make absolutely sure just how badly
the Royal navy have been hurt and your boat was the first German unit
in that area."
"Yes sir, I'm already working on it. If I didn't have to spend time
fighting for every piece of equipment I need to get U-20 back in fighting
condition I would have brought that report here today." Schwieger
"I'm well aware of that, but every man available are working on
the dreadnoughts. We are going to have to survive on what crumbs remain
for now." Bauer replied. "How soon can you have U-20 ready for
"Well sir, unfortunately it looks as if we need to dry-dock her
to repair the damage to the aft torpedo room and the stern in general,
there is also the problem with a torpedo that is stuck in one of the aft
tubes. We don't really know how badly damaged it is. I would have to say
three to four weeks yard time but it doesn't seem as if we are going to
get that for the next month or so at least." Schwieger responded.
"Yes, Well I need that report as soon as possible, and I will see
if I can find some place in the yards for U-20, Captain-Lieutenant."
----The docks Wilhelmshaven 3/6 1915
The security around the harbour had been stepped up drastically from
only this morning. Soldiers was guarding every street leading to the docks
and the large plumes of smoke indicated that something was up.
"Papers!" one soldier demanded when Schwieger approached. "What's
your business here?" he demanded suspiciously as he looked at Schwieger's
"My command is in port, private." Schwieger replied with the
annoyed tone of a superior having to explain himself to his inferiors.
"I apologise sir, we have our orders. You may pass Captain-Lieutenant." the soldier said without any trace of regret in his voice.
There were hectic activity on the docks today. Schwieger waited for a
slow moving freight train loaded with coal to pass. Instead of going straight
to his boat he went over to where the huge dreadnoughts were moored. The
tracks were filled with locomotives and wagons, the entire area looked
like an anthill with hundreds of workers and sailors labouring, preparing
the gigantic ship for action. Several of the damaged ships were preparing
to leave Wilhelmshaven probably to go to yards elsewhere in Germany.
"Was that the last one?" Someone called from the deck of the
"One more!" a dockhand shouted back.
Schwieger watched as a crane lifted the last massive 12" shell from
the wagon over to SMS Helgoland. The High Seas Fleet was preparing
for action, no doubt about that but this time U-20 would not be there
to take part in the fighting. The signs of the fleet preparing to leave
were evident everywhere he looked on the way back to U-20, a few days
more at most he thought. He had been told that it would be three weeks
before the yard could even take a look at the damage to his boat, he had
barely been able to get a pump to keep the leaking aft torpedo room dry.
---- U-20 Wilhelmshaven 3/6 1915
"How is our new pump coming along?" Schwieger asked his engineer
as he approached his boat.
"New?" the engineer growled and kicked, rather lightly Schwieger
noticed, the rusty device standing beside the boat on the dock "This
piece of crap is older than I am, hell its probably surplus from the Danish
"But it is working?"
"I would hardly call what it's doing 'working', I would prefer to
say that it hasn't yet failed completely." the engineer replied "I
have just spent three hours getting it back up and running. It broke down
just after you left sir. The men have been pumping manually all afternoon
"Well with the beating the fleet took our repair resources are spread
rather thin." Schwieger said. "But things might get better soon,
many ships will be transferred to other yards so things should lighten
up somewhat here in Wilhelmshaven."
"Well things can hardly get any worse." the engineer grumbled.
A sharp metallic bang came from the pump followed by a gurgling sound
as a small pool of oily water spread under the old pump.
Thanks to Jim for inspiration, suggestions, editing etc....
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