German submarines during the Spanish Civil War
The involvement of Nazi Germany during the Spanish Civil War was immediately visible at the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in July 1936. With the help of German airplanes, the ‘African Army Corps’ was flown to Spanish mainland from Spanish Morocco. But also the German Kriegsmarine was involved in the civil war. Under strict secrecy submarines were deployed. A story that began many years before the Spanish Civil War in the Netherlands.
After the first world war, Germany became a constrained military force. The Versaille treaty set limits to the size of the German army. Under this treaty, Germany was inter alia forbidden to build and use submarines.
However, to circumvent provisions of the Versaille treaty and to safeguard German companies and German patents fromthe victors, Dutch and Scandinavian subsidiaries or corporation organizations were used. The chief of the Reichswehr Hans von Seeckt played an important role in this.
Therefore, in 1922 the Dutch company Nederlandse Ingenieurskantoor voor Scheepsbouw (IVS) was established. This was the result of an agreement between the Reichsmarine (admiral Paul Behnke) and the management of Krupp. Krupp was the owner of the Germania yard in Kiel, where the first German submarines were built. The IVS was a collaboration between the German Krupp Germania site in Kiel, AG Weser in Bremen and AG Vulcan in Stettin. Here, 40 German engineers worked on new types of submarines. The research carried out by these German companies received clandestine support from the Reichsmarine. From the German funds, 1 million Mark was made available by the Reichsmarine.
The IVS settled on the Gedempte Burgwal 1 in The Hague. In 1931 the office moved to the Kneuterdijk 8. Remarkably, the company received in 1936 the N.V. Nederlandsche Vereenigde Scheepsbouw Bureaux (Nevesbu (NVSB)), a design agency which was a joint venture of RDM De Schelde, Wilton-Fijenoord, NDSM and Werkspoor, as neighbours in the same building.
Until 1934, IVS undertook, in particular commissioned by German Reichsmarine, to design submarines suitable for Germany and then to build and test them in the Netherlands (Shipyard Fijenoord) and abroad (for example in Turkey, Spain and Finland).
In Spain, secret negotiations were conducted by Wilhelm Canaris with the dictator Primo de Rivera. During the training of crew and test tours, Germans were involved in Finland and Turkey in order to gain operational experience. In addition, assembly parts (for no less than twelve submarines) were built which were secretly smuggled to Kiel in 1934 awaiting the order to assemble them.
This was produced in parts by another German cloak organization in which the IVS co-operated. In 1931 newspaper articles appeared on the factory M.E.A.F. in Utrecht that made torpedo parts.
After Nazi Germany had agreed on a fleet treaty with the United Kingdom in 1935, the Kriegsmarine could begin the submarine assembly. For half a year after the treaty became into force, Germany had operative submarines available.
In January 1936, the submarine flotilla came under the direction of Karl Dönitz (Führer der Unterseebote) who became a great-admiral in 1943 and who followed up Hitler in 1945.
At the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, it was decided to use submarines under Operation Ursula (named after the daughter of Karl Dönitz) and under strict secrecy. The crew was obliged to sign a confidentiality statement threatened with the death penalty in case of violating this secrecy. This operation was closed on December 10, 1936. Subsequently, submarines were used both in the Mediterranean and the Atlantic Ocean until the autumn of 1937. After the fall of 1937, the Germans concentrated mainly on the Atlantic and Gulf of Biskaye and left the Mediterranean Sea to the Italians. An overview of their involvement is shown in the table below.
|U33||21 nov 1936 -21 dec 1936||Kurt Freiwald|
|U34||22 nov 1936 -21 dec 1936||Harald Grosse|
|U28||jan 1937||Hans-Günther Looff|
|U35||jan 1937||Hans Rudolf Rösing|
|U27||apr – mai 1937||Hans Ibbeken|
|U25||apr – mai 1937||Eberhard Friedrich Clemens Godt|
|U36||mai – jun 1937||Klaus Ewerth|
|U28||mai- jun 1937||Hans-Günther Looff|
|U33||jun – jul 1937||Kurt Freiwald|
|U35||jun – jul 1938||Hermann Michahelles|
|U34||jun – jul 1939||Ernst Sobe|
|U19||jul – aug 1937||Viktor Schütze|
|U14||jul – aug 1938||Victor Oehrn|
|U36||juli – aug 1939||Klaus Ewerth|
|U25||jul – aug 1940||Eberhard Friedrich Clemens Godt|
|U26||jul – aug 1941||Werner Hartmann|
|U31||end aug – end oct 1937||Rolf Dau|
|U28||end aug- end oct 1937||Hans-Günther Looff|
|U30||end aug- end oct 1937||Hans Cohausz|
|U29||end oct – end dec 1937||Heinz Fischer|
|U34||end oct – end dec 1937||Ernst Sobe|
|U25||end oct – end dec 1937||Eberhard Friedrich Clemens Godt|
|U36||jan 1938||Klaus Ewerth|
|U32||feb 1938||Paul Büchel|
|U35||feb 1938||Werner Lott|
|U27||sep – oct 1938||Johannes Franz|
|U33||sep – oct 1938||Hans-Wilhelm von Dresky|
|U30||sep – oct 1938||Hans Cohausz|
|U35||– 5 jan 1939||Werner Lott|
The submarines used by Germany during the Spanish Civil War were all built in the period December 1935 – February 1937.
After the Spanish Civil War, the commanders of the first two submarines sent to Spain, Kurt Freiwald and Harald Grosse, received high military honors from Franco.
Many commanders and officers of the submarines deployed during the Spanish Civil War became famous during World War II.
Commander Hans Rudolf Rösing, Viktor Schütze, Victor Oehrn, Werner Hartmann and the officers Otto Kretschmer, Wolfgang Lüth, Günter Prien and Fritz Frauenheim were U-boat aces and brought 237 ships, together 1214699 registerton, to sink. Officer Günter Prien sunk the British battleship HMS Royal Oak in the port of Scapa Flow on October 14, 1939. Eberhard Friedrich Clemens God became the right hand of admiral Karl Donitz as a staff officer. Victor Oehrn became also a staff officer and in 1941 commander of the submarines in the Mediterranean. Heinz Fischer was senior officer involved with the submarine training and played an important role in the invasion of Norway at Trondheim.
The German deployment of submarines during the Spanish civil war was a major step forward in the rearmament of Germany. After gaining experience in the design, construction and sailing of submarines in the period 1922-1935, large numbers of boats, crew and tactics could now be tested. The knowledge and experience gained in the Spanish Civil War would be used immediately in 1939 at the start of World War II and the battle for the Atlantic and Mediterranean rule. The role of the Dutch company Nederlandse Ingenieurskantoor voor Scheepsbouw would later be discussed in the Nuremberg Process.
St. Spanje 1936-1939
- Een vos in schaapskleren, S.J de Groot, 2015, ISBN:9789067076791
- Wie is Mussert en wat wil de N.S.B.? Weg er mee!. Anton Struik, 1936
- The secret international; armament firms at work, Union of Democratic Control, London, 1932
- Website uboat.net