Monday, January 9, 2017

U-403 in Zoppoter Woche in Danzig

After the successes of the early war years and the extensive propaganda coverage given by the radio and newspapers, public interest in the U-boat service and its men was tremendous. The National-Socialist regime used this interest and the enthusiasm of German youth to attract volunteers. Whenever possible, the U-Bootwaffe made itself accessible, so that young men in particular could see it up close. Successful crews visited their sponsor cities, and U-boat captains spoke at schools and addressed members of the Jungvolk and Hitlerjugend in addition. The Kriegsmarine took every opportunitiy to put its submarines on public display. Zoppoter Woche (Zoppot Week) in the summer of 1941 was one such opportunity. Situated on Danzig Bay not far from Danzig, Zoppot was a beach and spa resort. Zoppoter Woche, held every year in mid to late July, was a major sporting event with regattas, horse races and swim competitions. For the whole week the city's spa promenade was crammed with visitors. One attraction was the pier, which extended more than 500 meters into Danzig Bay, offering visitors a wonderful view of the shore promenade and the large Grand Hotel. Hitler had recently spent a week there during the opening phase of the campaign in Poland (1939). It was precisely there, during Zoppoter Woche in July 1941, that U-403 tied up to attract the attention of visitors.

U-403 (The Type VIIC boat) had been commissioned a short time earlier on 25 June 1941. Attached to the 5. U-Flottille and commanded by Kapitänleutnant Heinz-Ehlert Clausen, the boat had just completed UAK-Abnahme (UAK Acceptance Trials) on 8 July 1941. It was subsequently sent to the shipyard in Danzig for remaining work, including the fitting of a conning tower wind deflector. The color photo reproduced here provide an excellent view of the ship's emblem. It is the Wappen (Coat of Arms) of the boat's sponsor city, Halle an der Saale, with stylized representations of the sun, moon and stars. The emblem had been present on both sides of the conning tower since the boat's commissioning in Danzig-Neufahrwasser. The emblem was painted on metal shields which were then affixed to the conning tower. The crew also wore the emblem as a cap badge. In October 1941, U-403 added its own emblem. Then in the spring of 1942 Halle's Wappen was deleted on both sides of the tower, leaving just the ship's emblem. By the end of October, U-403 had completed its training phase at the AGRU-Front, as well as armament and tactical training. Much to the captain's displeasure, the boat was retained as a training vessel with the 27. U-Flottille in the Baltic. It was used to train U-boat commander trainees in Pillau and Memel. Not until 23 February 1942 did U-403 move from Kiel to Helgoland, from where it carried out its first operational sortie on 1 March 1942. Kapitänleutnant Clausen tied up his boat in Narvik 19 days later. By the spring of 1943 U-403 had completed five more patrols from Norway. On 1 July 1942 it was attached to the recently established 11. U-Flottille in Bergen. On 1 March 1943 the boat was attached to the 9. U-Flottille in Brest. One day later U-403 arrived at the Atlantic Coast base from Trondheim. Under Kapitänleutnant Clausen the boat made another patrol in April-May 1943. Despite the heavy U-boat losses in May 1943, Clausen brought his boat safely back to Brest. There followed a change of command, possibly because Clausen had not been particularly successful, sinking just two enemy ships totaling12,946 GRT in seven patrols. Under its new commander Kapitänleutnant Karl-Franz Heine, U-403 sailed from Brest on its 8th patrol on 13 July 1943. The last message from the boat was received 10 days later, when it reported it was under air attack at position 46 N 10 W. No further message was received, and the Befehlshaber der Unterseeboote (BdU) concluded that U-403 had been sunk by air attack on 23 July. On 27 August 1943, therefore, the boat was listed as "x" (probably sunk), and on 18 May 1944 as "xx" (lost). In fact U-403 had survived the attack. The absence of any further radio messages suggests that its radios were damaged in the attack. The boat was sunk, but not until four weeks later on 18 August 1943 near the Westafrican coast, after an attack by a French-flown Wellington of Nr. 344 Squadron. There were no survivors from the crew of 50. The new commander had brought the crew no luck.

The commander of U-403, Kapitänleutnant Heinz-Ehlert Clausen, photographed on the pier of Danzig Bay during Zoppoter Woche (Zoppot Week) in July 1941. His submarine is in the right background. That same day Clausen used his own camera to shoot the two color photos of U-403 reproduced here. Kapitänleutnant Clausen (born in 12 July 1909) survived the war and died in 24 March 1987. His only war patrols was with U-403 (7 patrols and 191 days at sea), with two ships sunk and total tonnage 12,946 GRT. The medals and decorations received by Clausen: Eisernes Kreuz II.Klasse (26 May 1940) und I.Klasse (4 October 1942); Kriegsabzeichen für Minensuch-, U-Boot-Jagd- und Sicherungsverbände (23 October 1941); U-Boots-Kriegsabzeichen (26 February 1942); and Kriegsverdienstkreuz II.Klasse mit Schwertern (1 September 1944)

Source :
 "U-Boot Im Focus" magazine, edition nr.5 - 2009

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