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;

at this point in time British planes and patrols discovered us

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.

Jamie Hillier


With a penchant for tweed and jackets with leather arm patches, Jamie began his career as a quantity surveyor, before climbing the ladder to lead major projects for a Tier 1 contractor.

Eventually expanding his book collection beyond copies of SMM7, Jamie has interest in a broad range of subjects linked to delivering better outcomes for society and the environment.

His strategic insights on MMC and behavioural science have made their way into numerous government, industry and academic publications, including the Construction Playbook, Transforming Infrastructure Performance Roadmap to 2030, the Platform Rulebook and the RIBA DfMA Overlay.

John Handscomb


Construction is in John’s blood. Learning from his father who was a planner and project manager, John began his career by working on some iconic projects in both the public and private sector.

As a procurement expert and integrator of new ways of working, John has pioneered the integration of platform principles, DfMA processes and supply chain within over £5bn projects in the last 15 years, for some of the largest building programmes in the UK. Despite his considerable expertise, John keeps it simple, communicating complicated ideas with ease and helping to equip the industry with new knowledge and skills.

Outside of Akerlof, John enjoys his executive role with technology start-up ScanTech Digital, spending time with his family, taking trips down the football, playing a bit of golf with friends and the odd pint. 

Our name is shared with George Akerlof, a Nobel Prize-winning economist.

His seminal paper, Market for Lemons, demonstrated the devastating consequences of making decisions under the conditions of quality uncertainty and unequal information between buyers and sellers, increasing the chance of buyers ending up with a ‘lemon’.

This 50-year-old concept continues to retain parallels within the construction industry.

Through our insight and experience, we can rebalance this information asymmetry on behalf of our clients, levelling the playing field to deliver better outcomes.