Thursday, September 24, 2015

A Bridge Watch in the Back Light in a Heavy Following Sea

This color photo was taken by Kriegsberichter Garms in 1942. It shows a “Brückenwache” (Bridge Watch) in the back light in a heavy following sea. Such seas could pose a serious threat to the Bridge Watch if it underestimated the wave heights. Few other positions on a U-boat were as critical as the Bridge Watch. Keeping lookout was a “holy act”, on which the success and fate of the boat largely depended. Carelessness at this post could have fatal consequences. The Bridge Watch consisted of four men. An officer and one man stood forward in the conning tower with an NCO and another man aft. Using binoculars, each member of the watch had to observe a fixed sector without interruption. Every five minutes each lookout had to report “Sektor ist frei melden” (sector is clear) if that was the case. Regulations forbade conversation during the watch. Sighting reports were to be made in clear, plain language while pointing a finger to indicate direction. The watch was also forbidden to smoke. In areas where there was no threat from the air, other members of the crews could be allowed onto the bridge to smoke, but never more than two in addition to the Bridge Watch. There was no smoking on the bridge at night. The Bridge Watch was expected to be especially alert transiting areas where the aerial threat was great (Bay of Biscay and the North Sea) and in special situations. These included the stopping of ships, use of the deck gun, encounters with other submarines and the interrogation of survivors. In such situations the Bridge Watch could easily become distracted, resulting in lack of concentration. The danger of a surprise attack rose proportionally in such situations. Because of the blinding effect of the sun, lookouts were required to wear sunglasses when the sun was in their quadrant. The watch was relieved every two or four hours. The lookouts were relieved one at a time at five minute intervals for a full hour. This was intended to prevent too many men from being in the conning tower during a crash dive and to give the new watch time to become accustomed to the darkness or brightness. To accelerate the change at night, 15 minutes before beginning their watch, below deck the new lookouts put on infrared glasses. The lookout being relieved could only leave when the new man had become accustomed to his surroundings. As a rule, the best watch officer and bridge lookouts worked the most dangerous periods. Assignment of lookouts was the responsibility of the captain. In heavy seas, with breakers rolling over the conning tower, Bridge Watch was a task that demanded everything of the men. If wind, cold, rain or fog were added, the men were often completely exhausted when it came time to be relieved. In heavy seas the captain could order the men to put on restraining belts, which were supposed to prevent them from being washed overboard. A following sea was especially dangerous, as its height and power were often underestimated. The restraining belts could only be taken off by order of the captain. The conning tower hatch was kept closed in high seas to avoid damage to the latch. Without an efficient Bridge Watch, a U-boat had neither great chances of success nor a long life expectancy.

Source :
 U-Boot im Focus - ediiton no.3, 2008

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