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A Dutchman Saw Life In Hitler's Navy

Discussion in 'History of Holland and Belgium during World War I' started by Jim, Dec 7, 2006.

  1. Jim

    Jim Active Member

    Sep 1, 2006
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    via War44
    This first-hand account of conditions in the German Navy was written by a young Dutchman who served some time on the "Scharnhorst" and "was given hell" on the "Deutschland" When this Story was first published it was stated that the paper had the sailors name but in view of his concluding remarks it was decided not to name him.

    No matter how much i have researched this no name every comes up..:fag:

    I got into Hitler's Navy by accident, and I got out of it by sheer good luck. What happened between those events is a story that will remain seared in my memory till my dying day. The sea is in my blood, for I'm a Netherlander, born in Rotterdam; and that is how I first met tough old Captain Scharf, of the German Merchant Service. He gave me my first job at sea, and two years later, when he became Commander of the SS Europa I was given my first fulltime job on the famous Nazi liner. I wanted action; the life aboard the "Europa" was dull. Capt. Scharf's Oberliet-zur-See suggested that i should apply to be transferred to Naval duties at Kiel. They were short of men (this was in 1937, at the height of the Nazi naval rebuilding boom), and my Dutch nationality was not thought likely to be a bar. It was not. Within ten days I was enrolled as one of the "Gefolgschaft" (worker-followers) at the Deutsche Werke, largest of the State naval shipbuilding yards at Kiel. They paid me 62 pfennig's an hour, and six marks a week had to go in compulsory contributions to the Nazi Party, Winter Relief, Sick Fund, and so on. Each Saturday I drew the equivalent of £1 8s for a week of 50 hours! They put me on assembling gun-turrets and electrical gun controls for 14-inch guns, heavy work that brought some fifty of us to a take-it-easy strike stage. There was a row. An appeal was made to Admiral Heusinger von Waldegg, the Krupp's expert who tries to combine the extreme jobs of being "workers trustee" on the shipyard Union list, and of being Chairman of the Deutsche Werke board! Admiral von Waldegg solved our troubles in a way typical of this crafty old sea-dog. He agreed with us that conditions were tough at Deutsche Werke, as there was such a big rearmament drive, but suggested that we should go along to the Germania shipyards, also in Kiel, as there were better jobs going. We went only to discover that Admiral von Waldegg is also boss of the Germania Yards and that as "temporarily unclassified" workers we should be de-graded to a rate of only 50 pf. an hour! Some of my mates took jobs at this sweatshop rate, but as I knew the most popular young "Leutnant-zur-See" aboard the "Scharnhorst," I spent a night in the docks and then set off on a hike for Stettin (a walk about as far as from Manchester to London), and waited for my "Leutnant-zur-See" pal to come ashore. My last few marks were spent in a cheering kimmel with him at the Hotel Bismarck, and so my first Navy job was sealed! While the" Scharnhorst" was at the Stettin naval base I was to study at the Kiel "Marine schule" and by the time the "Scharnhorst " set off on manoeuvres I would be a fully fledged member of the "Reichskriegsmarine" (Navy, to you !). I sat down and studied with 80 other lads some tough U-boat chaps up for a refresher course, a few young "Vollmatrose" (" A.B.s ") from the "Graf Spee" ... my particular pal being a certain Hans Munschmeyer, whose father fought in the Great War alongside von Spee himself, and was killed in the battle of the Falkland Isles. We little dreamed then that the "Graf Spee" would meet a similar fate. In less than two months I did a "crammer" course on Nazi Navy material. Pay was nil; pocket-money and beer allowance equal to about 1s. 8d a week. We got up at 6.00am each morning, learned every Jerk in the "Exerzierreglement" (drill book), worked all day on naval technical stuff, seamanship and gunnery, and then sang ourselves to sleep at nights with Nazi marching-songs and their rather bawdy Naval versions! During my first trip in the "Scharnhorst" we were on manoeuvres for nearly two months off southern Norway and the North Sea. They soon nicknamed me a "Meckerergrouser" (literally one who bleats like a goat), but I wasn't by any means the only grumbler aboard the "Scharnhorst" We worked 10-hour shifts except when there was gunnery practice, when it was nothing to be on duty for nearly 14 hours at a stretch. We slept eight in a tiny cabin aft, and at over 15 knots it was almost impossible to sleep owing to the thump in the screw-shafting. Food was plentiful, but spoiled by bad cooking; we did, however, get more fresh meat than I have ever seen before or since in naval or civilian centres of Germany, and as the refrigerators of the "Scharnhorst" are fairly small we didn't carry a lot of old stock.

    There were Gestapo men aboard the "Scharnhorst" Some were junior officers; some were just ordinary "Vollmatrose" like myself. If there was any critical talk of the Nazi Party in the wardroom, or if any of the A.B.s like myself happened to criticize the news we got over the radio, somebody was sure to sneak on us as not being a good "Volksgenosse" that is, a "Comrade of the Nation" Sudden disappearances of men, or transference of officers, were often due to Gestapo spying. I learned to keep my mouth shut. I helped to scrub and polish the decks and fittings, and when duty took me up on the control top, the tripod foremast or under the barbettes, I took no interest in the officers business. The only pals I had were aboard the "Emden" at present the only medium class cruiser of the Nazi Navy class cruiser of the Nazi Navy left afloat. The others, the "Nurnberg" "Leipzig" "Koln" "Konigsberg" and "Karlsruhe," all now at the bottom, all carried chaps who had studied and worked at Kiel with me. We were all young. Average age aboard, the "Scharnhorst" was 22. After a brief period on the aircraft-carrier "Graf Zeppelin" where I learned to fly a twin-engined Messerschmitt, I was suddenly, for purposes of discipline, transferred to the "Deutschland" (since renamed "Lutzow"). There was an impression that the Naval authorities wanted to tighten up on discipline. As I see it now, plans were already then being made for composite action of Navy and Luftwaffe in readiness for the Norwegian campaign. We were given hell on the "Deutschland"
    Each Oberliet-zur-See had been given special instructions to see that we were worked to breakdown pitch. Our quarters were worse than on the "Scharnhorst" and for a whole week I had to sleep on deck by the "Katapultflugzeug" (catapult-plane), despite the bitter cold. Then came the River Plate battle. In the Reichskriegsmarine we heard the news first, and it caused a tremendous tightening up of discipline. The "higher-ups" must also have known about the coming Norway action, for training was intensified. Those freezing nights on deck combined with the fact that I was getting too much starchy food and little red meat; gave me a bad cold, and then pneumonia. I came back in a Swedish tramp-steamer, and at Kiel was given a 10-day travel pass with "Auf Krankenurlaub" (on sick-leave) printed across it in red. That pass gave me free travel to the Dutch border, and within five hours I was back safe in Rotterdam. I've over-stayed my "Krankenurlaub" by months, but as I'm not going to be fool enough to go back into Hitler's Navy, i'll let Admiral Raeder worry about my desertion!
  2. MichaelBully

    MichaelBully Active Member

    Nov 4, 2016
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    Brighton, UK
    Last Summer I started a discussion in the 'World Naval Ships Forum' about Dutch volunteers in Hitler navy.

    I had found a Dutch TV programme on line about a chap called Herbert Curiel who joined the German navy at the age of 15 during World War 2. Need to watch it again.I fully accept that Herbert Curiel has totally changed his political stance a long time ago.


    Discussion is here.


    Only other Dutch volunteer in the German navy I can think of is the artist Jan Montyn, whose life was fictionalised in 'the book 'Montyn' by Dirk Ayelt Kooiman. The English translation was called 'Lamb to the Slaughter -An Artist Among the Battlefield' .

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