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Admiral Topp`s speech
Date: March 30, 2009 03:22PM

Dear Ladies and Gentlemen,

the Admiral gave the following speech to an English speeking audience after he retired from the Bundesmarine in or around 1970; I don`t know the exact time and occasion as to when it was given.

Maybe one of our moderators wants to put this at a "special section of our forum.

Manning and Training the U-Boat Fleet

By Konteradmiral Erich Topp (Retd).

I should like to say a few words about the training organisation. Based at Kiel the 'Higher Command of Submarine Training' was responsible for training several Divisions and Flotillas in all aspects of submarine warfare, including both material and personnel. Learning about the boat as a whole was the premise for developing it into a combat ready and powerful instrument to be put into the hands of a purposeful commanding officer.

The training of enlisted men, engineering ratings, Petty Officers, Midshipmen and officers in diving, surfacing, submerged attack at periscope depth, surface attack during the night, with torpedoes and gun was organised and followed the same pattern and rules used by all navies. I will confine myself to saying a few words about the tactical training of submarine crews, because - to my knowledge - the German submarine service placed a special emphasis on this. I have been in command of the Tactical Flotilla in Gotenhafen and can refer to this part of the training on the basis of my own experience.

The 27th Submarine Flotilla was composed of:

Six or more merchant ships, forming a convoy.
Three auxiliary vessels
Four Motor Torpedo Boats, forming an anti submarine screen.
Three Minesweepers
A squadron of combat aircraft protected the convoy acting as a combat air patrol.

Every fortnight 10-14 submarines, which had successfully passed the technical and weapons training, assembled with the Tactical Flotilla. Under war conditions they attacked the convoy that was operating in the Baltic See between Bornholm and Gotland. War conditions meant under all weather conditions, day and night. Compared with the convoy scenario in the Atlantic, the training attack operations in the Baltic took place in a relatively small area. Several cases of damage and the loss of two boats occurred in five years of tactical training.

Radar and Sonar on board the escorts was in a rather poor state of development and could not be compared with the electronic equipment of the British escorts. Besides, we did not know at that time of British ASW systems such as the High Frequency Direction Finder and the Leigh Light. So we were unable to provide tactical training for our submarines under simulated wartime conditions.

The problem of submarine personnel training - as I saw it - was in focussing on the problem of leadership.

What is a submarine? What are submariners?

By virtue of their training and experience, submariners are used to three-dimensional thinking. This mode of thinking comes less easily to a surface warfare specialist, who being used to movement in two dimensions only, considers three-dimensional problems an intellectual exercise.

To submariners, three-dimensional thinking comes naturally. They live in and are enclosed by the sea in which they operate. Coming from a surface ship, you would have to study in order to become familiar and to take advantage of this new world. One would have to develop other human senses, so as to react to noise, vibration, salinity, temperature, layers and so on. One has to develop and intensify the ability to cooperate with other members of the crew, because you would need each other simply to survive. Everyone has to know everything on board, and everybody must be able to replace the other, to take charge of another function.

You have not only to know the activities of your neighbour, but his character, his way of thinking, and his strong and weak points, because you are always on the alert. You have to be a psychologist. When you are leaving harbour, closing the hatch, diving, the crew is taking leave from a colourful world, from the sun and the stars, from the wind and the waves, from the smell of the sea. They are living under constant tension, produced by:

- living in a steel tube.
- confined space.
- congested compartments.
- monotony.
- an unhealthy lifestyle, caused by bad air, no normal rhythms
of day and night and lack of physical exercise.

It can only be balanced by:

- discipline.
- a well organised daily routine.
- officers, who deal correctly with the man and his welfare.

As an answer to this special way of life, submariners have developed a special spirit, which may be summarised in the words: teamwork and solidarity. During the wartime patrols, in a time of increasing physical and psychological insecurity, they were asked to become a 'band of brothers'. Human relations in such a group can be so strong that it encompasses the natural instinct for survival. Apart from this general concept of leadership there was a special German situation in the last war.

In 1943, the graphical plot of ships sunk fell drastically, and the construction of new ships in the United States was multiplying. At the same time the loss of submarines was increasing. For every three boats leaving for wartime patrol only one returned. In this situation, the internal stress on a commanding officer was extreme. With reduced successes and increasing losses, each crew had an endangered life. In spite of these hazardous conditions there was never a lack of submariners leaving port on new patrols.

Was there something besides honour and duty that motivated them? I believe on one side of the coin we need to analyse the relationship between training, education and leadership, and on the other side, the political environment.

All this culminates in a pertinent question: Was leadership competent to ensure combat readiness, even under the most difficult wartime conditions? Whereas morale and commitment remained high despite long, unsuccessful patrols, the danger for everybody on board was increasing tremendously - internal stress could not have been more extreme.

I quote your Prime Minister, Churchill:

'There is no reason to suppose, that if the German submarines would not have fought in a losing campaign, if the defeat of the German army had not brought collapse and surrender. Their morale was unimpaired to the bitter end'. How was that possible?
A few words on the men in the submarine force. We started World War Two with 3000 well trained submariners. It was evident that with a normal attrition rate and the construction programme to be accomplished, the calculated replacement of men was not to be reached.

By the end of 1941 there was a lack of trained officers. So the navy began a separate recruitment programme with special standards for submariners. Except for volunteers who qualified for 'small boats' non-commissioned officers and officers were drafted.

At the beginning of 1943 the personnel gap was bridged by the overall efforts for total war. Organisational steps, combined with the set-up of personnel pools in the submarine flotillas were able to comply with short term requirements.

As to volunteers, we had to change our policy by the end of 1941. The decisive criteria for the fitness qualification was reduced to the simple necessity of 'able-bodied personnel'. That does not preclude that many of the submarine crews and practically all of the officers were recruited as volunteers.

We entered the war with well trained personnel. I became the Commanding Officer of a small submarine when I was 26. The Petty Officers achieved rank at the same age. The crews averaged between 23-24 years. That changed from 1943 to 1945. The average age of submarine crews then became 21 years whilst Commanding officers were usually 23. They were shaped decisively by the educational and social conception of the Third Reich, which meant these young submariners were conditioned by their political environment of totalitarianism. Its philosophy was all out war, total war.

The political leaders of that time were handling the whole spectrum of psychologically influencing not only the military but the entire population as well.

An example shows how far young officers, after having passed out of the National Socialist youth organisation were indoctrinated. A rather successful Commanding Officer, after having commissioned a new boat with a young crew, went into his cabin, saw a picture of Hitler on the wall and said to his officers: 'Please take that away, there will be no idolatry here'. Talking with them, he was open minded and critical of the political and military situation - it was in 1944 - and he did not hesitate to voice his opinion.

He was denounced by his officers, accused of undermining the fighting spirit. He was condemned to death and executed. Whilst held prisoner awaiting trial for several months, not one of his senior officers contacted him.

This was certainly an exceptional case. It shows however the influence of the totalitarian regime on military leaders, who did not know at the time that their political masters were already engaged in criminal actions. Anyhow, here and in some other cases the 'band of brothers' were overshadowed by political parameters.

The unconditional power of the National Socialist Party granted a privileged position to the soldier, as long as he was a reliable follower of the party's principles.

Submariners played a special role in public opinion. They said: 'Submariners are members of an elite'. They called themselves 'Freecorps Dönitz'.

The other end of the spectrum of propaganda was covered by pressure and threats, even capital punishment.

In summary, you have to understand leadership on board German submarines in the last war against the background of a special political environment. Young officers were influenced by the political atmosphere that they had just passed whilst at school and in the youth movement. Hitler's charismatic power over the masses and his nearly mesmerising effect on Dönitz is well known.

I have already said that propaganda had built up a special image for submariners and that each submariner of course was profiting from this image. Otherwise the image caused a feeling of obligation to the effect that the reputation, the respect, that a submariner enjoyed obliged him even more. One's self-consciousness as a member of 'Freecorps Dönitz' was strengthened. This elitist concept of submariners created morale that was strong enough to camouflage or mask the overriding drive of every human being - to survive. That explains why submariners, even in March/April 1945, went on patrol. I left Kiel harbour on the 1st of May 1945 on board U-2513 with four other boats. Three of them were bombed by British aircraft and sunk; only two arrived in Oslo.

Analysing the problem of leadership during World War Two you have to take into consideration a historic lesson. The red revolution of 1917/1918 began in the Irnperial Navy. One reason for this mutiny was the lack of leadership in the officer corps. The navy of the Weimar Republic and of the Third Reich was stigmatised by these events. It resulted in the promise now to be the most loyal of the loyal, and it is one of the reasons that naval officers did not participate in the resistance movement. On the positive side it resulted in a great personnel and social engagement of all officers during the Second World War, not only in the lower but in the higher ranks as well. Between the Supreme Submarine Commander, Admiral Dönitz, his officers and men had always had close contact, for example he knew when he addressed submarine crews of the names and family problems of most of the crewmembers.

Commanding officers, on return from a patrol, had to report to Dönitz personally in his headquarters. His staff organised special trains to transport crewmembers to their rest area, at a prepared health resort.

There was never a lack of specially prepared food for long patrols, never a lack of coffee, tea or chocolate that was rationed to surface ship's crews. Of course the civilian population never received any of these items.

The general care and individual treatment of submariners created a confidence between the higher and lower ranks, that resisted many personal problems. Material and non-material care, acknowledgement and appreciation of personal affairs were important instrunents of leadership.

This personal contact between the commanding officer and his crew was the basis of a reliance that culminated in regarding their Captain as a kind of life insurance.

An example of psychological care: Sailors are superstitious. U-552 was leaving the Norwegian harbour of Bergen. We had already passed the Marsteen lighthouse and were in the open sea. My Navigator, a Petty Officer, was on watch, the boat surfaced. I had the feeling, perhaps as a result of so many patrols, that he was not the man I remembered. He was pale and did not seem able to concentrate. I tried to find out his problem, but he was laconic, taciturn. I questioned him, and finally he told me that he had forgotten his talisman, a myrtle wreath, that people in my country used to store under a dome of glass in memory of their marriage. I reversed course. After some hours we re-entered harbour and my Navigator, a very important man on board, was calm again and contributed to a successful patrol.

Another example of individual treatment: Obviously most of the punishments described in the disciplinary code cannot be applied to a submarine in wartime. Cells are not available. Stoppage of pay or sending a man to jail, after being home and having shared the same dangers, the same successes, made no sense. A Midshipman was on the Bridge, on watch, looking through his binoculars. Effective observation is a question of survival for a surfaced submarine and its crew. Apparently, as a consequence of the last few days and nights in harbour, he was tired. I saw him closing his eyes behind the ocular lens of his glass. I said to him: 'You are tired, I propose that you switch the watch with another man'. He said: 'No, Captain, I am not tired, let me continue the watch'. I agreed. Half an hour later I again went on to the Bridge. Again he closed his eyes. Now he was exchanged. At the OC's report I said to him: 'You are tired and must relax'. He was punished with three days of doing nothing on board, not even assisting the cook. What it meant to him is evident...To be nothing in an always active crew, always on the alert, carried the necessary message.

After the war, as a well known medical doctor, he paid me a visit and he said: 'the lessons learnt on board your boat, have accompanied me throughout my life'.

In conclusion, personal combat readiness in the last war could not be secured entirely by selecting able personnel or even through effective training.

In common with values, norms, political parameters and social factors, leadership received the fundamental credit for being successful throughout the war, and as such contributed to continuing the war, even when it was already lost.

I wanted to give you a personal realistic understanding of leadership in relation to recruitment and training. For me it is like looking through a kaleidoscope. Inside the tube there are some colourful chips, the same throughout the centuries, symbolising:

Devotion to one's country -

The German saying: He who follows the Prussian flag has nothing of his own.

Discipline -

Citing Admiral Nelson's famous words: 'England expects every man to do his duty'.

Comradeship -

John Jervis called the officers of his fleet: 'A band of brothers'.

High moral -

I have already mentioned Churchill, who said: 'Their moral was unimpaired to the bitter end'.

When you are turning the kaleidoscope, the chips are moving, and as an answer to the actual situation the picture is changing. A political regime can exploit the virtues of a soldier for its own political aims, even criminal ones.

'Primacy of Policy' is and always has been a rule not only in dictatorships but in all democracies. This principle can be perverted. Therefore I adhere to the poet Franz Werfel, who said: 'The primacy of policy annihilates the spirit, turning a master into a slave'.

There is only one primacy, that of conscience.

You all have a nice day.
Sincerely Yours
VEK

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Admiral Topp`s speech Volker Erich Kummrow 03/30/2009 03:22PM


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