The Toilet that Sunk the Submarine
IN APRIL 1945, German U-boat 1206 was strategically positioned off the Aberdeenshire coast when disaster struck.
U-1206 was part of the VIIC submarine series, an advanced hunter of the seas and a feat of German engineering designed to evade detection and sink enemy convoys with efficiency. On its maiden voyage, this hi-tech war machine was sunk after its captain used its high-tech toilet improperly
Unlike the British method of storing sewage in septic tanks on board the vessel, German engineers had developed a high pressure system, saving valuable space and weight by ejecting waste directly into the sea. Advanced as it was, the toilet was extremely complicated. A specialist on each submarine received training on proper toilet operating procedures, with a specific order of opening and closing valves to ensure the system flowed in the correct direction
The submarine lurked 200 feet beneath the surface of the North Sea when Captain, Karl-Adolf Schlitt decided that he could figure the toilet out himself. But Schlitt was not properly trained as a toilet specialist.
After calling an engineer to help, the engineer turned a wrong valve and accidentally unleashed a mixture of sewage and seawater back into the sub. The disgusting cocktail then leaked into the submarine’s battery compartment located directly below, causing a chemical reaction which began to release lethal amounts of chlorine gas.
Left with no other option, the order was given for the submarine to surface;
Schlitt wrote in his official account. Taking on fire from the Royal Air Force, Schlitt gave the order to abandon and scuttle the vessel – losing not only his ship but the lives of 4 crew and resulting capture of all survivors.
Unfamiliar technology, incorrectly applied by untrained personnel in a high risk environment, created a literal shit storm.
At Akerlof, we work to ensure that in applying new technology the context is understood – that modern methods and solutions are tailored and applied appropriately to suit our clients, their teams, skills and the environment. Technology that is right for the context and people.
Horses for courses.
This piece is adapted from an article by Elliot Carter, which originally appeared at War is Boring in 2015.