The German submarine that was sunk by its toilet – U-1206

U-1206 was a Type VIIC U-boat of Nazi Germany‘s Kriegsmarine during World War II. She was laid down on 12 June 1943 at F. Schichau GmbH in Danzig and went into service on 16 March 1944 before sinking less than a year later. The boat’s emblem was a white stork on a black shield with green beak and legs.

⇒ German Type VIIC submarines were preceded by the shorter Type VIIB submarines. U-1206 had a displacement of 769 tonnes (757 long tons) when at the surface and 871 tonnes (857 long tons) while submerged. She had a total length of 67.10 m (220 ft 2 in), a pressure hull length of 50.50 m (165 ft 8 in), a beam of 6.20 m (20 ft 4 in), a height of 9.60 m (31 ft 6 in), and a draught of 4.74 m (15 ft 7 in). The submarine was powered by two Germaniawerft F46 four-stroke, six-cylinder supercharged diesel engines producing a total of 2,800 to 3,200 metric horsepower (2,060 to 2,350 kW; 2,760 to 3,160 shp) for use while surfaced, two AEG GU 460/8–27 double-acting electric motors producing a total of 750 metric horsepower (550 kW; 740 shp) for use while submerged. She had two shafts and two 1.23 m (4 ft) propellers. The boat was capable of operating at depths of up to 230 meters (750 ft).

The Type VIIC was the workhorse of Germany’s U-boat fleet. The first VIIC, U-69, was commissioned in 1940, and 568 were built by various shipyards during the war, making it the most widely produced combat submarine in history.

Only one Type VIIC boat still exists. The U-995 is on permanent display as a museum in Laboe, outside Kiel, Germany.

⇒ The submarine had a maximum surface speed of 17.7 knots (32.8 km/h; 20.4 mph) and a maximum submerged speed of 7.6 knots (14.1 km/h; 8.7 mph). When submerged, the boat could operate for 80 nautical miles (150 km; 92 mi) at 4 knots (7.4 km/h; 4.6 mph); when surfaced, she could travel 8,500 nautical miles (15,700 km; 9,800 mi) at 10 knots (19 km/h; 12 mph). U-1206 was fitted with five 53.3 cm (21 in) torpedo tubes (four fitted at the bow and one at the stern), fourteen torpedoes, one 8.8 cm (3.46 in) SK C/35 naval gun, 220 rounds, and an anti-aircraft gun. The boat had a complement of between forty-four and sixty.

⇒ The plumbing on German subs of that era differed from American and British subs in one important respect: The German toilets discharged their contents directly into the sea, instead of in a holding tank. Not having such a tank saved precious space, but it came at a price. The toilets could only be used when the submarine was traveling on or near the ocean surface. When the submarine was submerged, the pressure outside the hull was too great for the toilets to be able to flush.

If nature called under such circumstances, crew members had to use buckets, tin cans, or whatever other containers they could get their hands on. They had to carefully store the contents of all those containers -don’t spill!- until the submarine surfaced, when they could be poured into the toilets and flushed, or taken topside and emptied into the sea.

The ventilation systems on World War II German subs were notoriously inadequate, which meant that even in the best of circumstances, the air was foul with diesel fumes, human body odor, and other smells. When the toilets were unavailable and all those buckets and cans were filling to overflowing with you-know-what, the stench was even worse.

Service history

After being commissioned, under the command of Oberleutnant zur See Günther Fritze, the submarine took part in training exercises with the 8th U-boat Flotilla until July 1944 when it was assigned to the 11th U-boat Flotilla. Command was handed over to Kapitänleutnant Karl-Adolf Schlitt. The boat was then fitted with a Schnorchel underwater-breathing apparatus before being released for patrol duties.


On 28 March 1945 the submarine departed from Kiel for its first training patrol in the North Sea, returning on March 30. The submarine departed from Horten Naval Base for a one-day patrol on 2 April, and its first active patrol began on 6 April when it departed from Kristiansand.


On 14 April 1945, 24 days before the end of World War II, while U-1206 was cruising at a depth of 200 feet (61 m), 8 nautical miles (15 km; 9.2 mi) off Peterhead, Scotland, misuse of the new toilet caused large amounts of water to flood the boat. According to the Commander’s official report, while in the engine room helping to repair one of the diesel engines, he was informed that a malfunction involving the toilet caused a leak in the forward section. The leak flooded the submarine’s batteries (located beneath the toilet) causing them to release chlorine gas, leaving him with no alternative but to surface. Once surfaced, U-1206 was discovered and bombed by British patrols, forcing Schlitt to scuttle the submarine. One man died in the attack, three men drowned in the heavy seas after abandoning the vessel and 46 were captured. Schlitt recorded the location as 57°24′N 01°37′W but the wreck could not be located.

During survey work for the BP Forties Field oil pipeline to Cruden Bay in the mid 1970s, the remains of U-1206 were found at 57°21′N 01°39′W in approximately 70 m (230 ft) of water. The site survey performed by RCAHMS suggests that the leak that forced U-1206 to surface may have occurred after running into a pre-existing wreck located at the same site.

More details about the incident:


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