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This is the place to discuss general issues related to the U-boat war or the war at sea in WWII. 
Re: Kriegsmarine Crew Photo
Posted by: Ken Dunn ()
Date: August 04, 2012 03:20PM

Hi Spindlegger,

This question comes up from time to time so I will go into it in a little detail.

First, there are two basic types of crews. The one we generally think of first is the crew of a specific vessel at a specific point in time. For example the crew of U-126. These crews include all of the men serving on the vessel together, officers and enlisted men alike.

The other type of crew represents a specific group of men during a specific year (for example Crew 33 = Crew 1933 in this context) and applies to officers only and it includes all of the officer candidates for the entire navy for that year. It is somewhat analogous to a class at the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis except that in the German navy the year it represents is the year the officer candidate was taken into the navy to begin his training and a class at the United States Naval Academy represents the year the officer candidate graduated from the academy (for example Class of 1933). The two systems of training were quite different but in both cases we are generally talking about a group of men that took some or all their initial training together.

Prewar, Germany only had one intake of officer candidates each year but when the war started they began having multiple intakes per year and their crew affiliation might be something like Crew 37a or Crew 37b or Crew X/39 (October 1939), etc.

These men were generally promoted as a group on a Crew schedule and men could also be assigned to a Crew for administrative / promotion purposes that did only part of their training with the real crew. An example of this is the HSOs. Initially they were merchant navy officers that transferred to the navy to replace the Crew 32 men killed when their sail training ship NIOBE sank. Twenty eight of them were transferred to Crew 33 long after Crew 33 began training but they joined Crew 33 for their time at the Naval Academy and essentially “graduated” with them. A few others who didn’t train with Crew 33 at all were assigned to it for administrative / promotion purposes later too. I think this included at least one man who was promoted from the ranks but I am not sure.

The good news is that there was an official Crew photo for these crews. All of those I have seen were group photos taken with the whole crew on the steps of the Naval Academy. However as you can imagine there were a lot of men in the photo, they were all dressed alike and they all wore hats and they were around the same age and had similar builds. Additionally there was no caption containing the names of the men with the photo so it is very hard to identify a single individual from that photo. All 28 of the HSOs in Crew 33 appear in the Crew 33 Crew photo too. Each man was given a copy of his Crew photo though but they are almost never for sale and they are very scarce as you can imagine. If you find one in a book it is doubtful that you will be able to blow it up enough to recognize a particular individual. However if you can find a print from the original negative you might have more luck. I think the one for Crew 33 was taken with a large format camera as its resolution is excellent. The trick would probably be trying to match one of those similar faces with a photo of a mature U-boat commander. Good luck with that.

Seeing the bright shining happy faces of the young men in these Crew photos provides a poignant reminder of exactly who we send to fight our wars. So many of the young men in those photos gave up their youth to serve their country and died in the process.

There was a “Crew Book” for at least many if not all Crews and it was something like a school yearbook though they are not all in the same format. However the few examples I have seen were put together long after that Crew left the Naval Academy and in some cases it was put together after the war. You can tell because the photos show the men at various ages. Horst Bredow has 4 or 5 examples at the U-boat Archiv in Altenbruch. The photos in these are generally individual photos of each man but there are generally some men missing. Also some of the men don’t look a lot like they did when they served on U-boats. All 28 HSOs in Crew 33 appear in the Crew 33 Crew Book too. Again these Crew Books are almost never for sale and are extremely hard to find. The copy Horst has at the Archiv of the Crew 33 Crew Book is a Xeroxed copy of the real one. The best you can do with that is a copy of a Xeroxed copy and the resulting quality of the photos is not good. If you can find one, they do have captions under each photo identifying the man though. Sometimes they show the man as he looked at the academy and sometimes they don’t. The captions in the Crew 33 Crew Book are also in the old German script that is quite difficult for most to read today.

Again, keep in mind that the Crew photo and the Crew Books described above contain all of the officer candidates in that intake for the entire navy including engineers, medical doctors, construction specialists and administrative specialists etc., not just those who went on perhaps years later to serve in the U-bootwaffe much less just those that became U-boat commanders.

Of the crew photos of those officers and enlisted men that served together on a specific vessel the commissioning photos are the ones that we typically see. These photos were taken during the commissioning ceremony for the U-boat and typically show the entire crew in formal attire in formation on the deck aft of the conning tower while the flag is being raised for the first time. We also often see a photo of the whole crew on the wintergarten and on the deck below it. As they are usually in formal attire I am assuming they were also taken at the commissioning ceremony though I have also seen some with the crew in normal U-boat attire that obviously weren’t taken at the commissioning ceremony. The photos taken at the commissioning ceremony were generally put together in a book and given to every man in the crew that attended the commissioning ceremony. I don’t think that the men that transferred to the boat after the commissioning ceremony got them though. They are a bit easier to find as the enlisted men had them as well as the officers and they appear in many books about specific U-boats or specific men. However there is no one place to go to get them. You have to find a U-boat man or his family that has one or a book that contains one. To get the commissioning photos for every U-boat you would have to find a U-boat man (or his family) that served on each boat during its commissioning ceremony that was willing to let you have a copy of theirs or find a book that has one supplied by a U-boat man (or his family) or copied from another book etc. It would be nice if the navy had a copy of every one but if they did, they have probably been lost since the war or they are in dusty boxes in a warehouse or in the basement of a museum somewhere. The individual shipyards where the boats were commissioned might have had copies at some point and perhaps they survived the war but I wouldn’t count on it.

On top of that since men were transferred on & off each U-boat from the time it was commissioned to the time it was sunk or the war ended many men never appeared in a commissioning photo and many of the men in commissioning photos never went on a war patrol on the boat in that photo either. So if you find a photo album of a U-boat man that you know served on a specific boat that contains a commissioning photo it might well be that the boat in the commissioning photo is not the boat you know he served on. Ebay is full of that sort of thing and the people selling those photos frequently don’t know the difference no matter what they claim in the description of the photo.

It is sad to think about what happens to the photos that once meant so much to us when we have passed away. Relatives generally get them, pick through them, keep the ones they find interesting and eventually get rid of the rest. Those that are kept go through the same process with the next generation and one day they are all gone. Few think about the possibility that somewhere down the line those old photos might have some historical significance.....

A great many of the photos at the U-boot Archiv in Altenbruch were donated by the families of former U-boat men and those wishing to donate them as well as other artifacts to the German government archives are frequently referred to Horst. Other photos are scattered around the world in other archives but many more just do not exist any more. Some new ones will surface eventually though, when someone dusts off an old box found in an attic or basement and wonders if they can sell them....


Ken Dunn

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Subject Written By Posted
Kriegsmarine Crew Photo Spindlegger 08/04/2012 07:41AM
Re: Kriegsmarine Crew Photo Ken Dunn 08/04/2012 03:20PM
Re: Kriegsmarine Crew Photo barinasboy 08/05/2012 02:16PM
Re: Kriegsmarine Crew Photo-Herbert Brammer johann 08/07/2012 05:52PM

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