The incredible battles that took place during World War 2 will live on for a long time in the history books, in movies and in the stories passed on by surviving soldiers. While many tales are focused on incredible wins under severe pressure or fortunate moments that may have changed the direction of the war, one incredible story has rarely been retold. That is likely because it is too embarrassing for anyone on either side to tell. Germans are likely too ashamed to admit they lost a submarine because of a toilet issue and Allied forces are likely too proud of winning the war to give any credit to a toilet as a key influence.
The U-1206 was an incredible submarine that was built in 1944. It was designed so that it could go deeper in the water than any submarine before. This would allow it to evade being spotted by Allied troops and gave the Germans a significant advantage in maritime warfare. At this time in 1944, the war was changing. The Allied forces which had been behind for long parts of the war were now starting to turn the tide and were starting to win the war. Could an advanced piece of engineering give the Germans the advantage once again? Despite the U boat’s incredible design and the rigorous testing that the team underwent before its first mission, it did not go to plan. It would turn out that the first mission this U-boat went on would also be the last.
The crew spent almost a year learning how to operate the vessel and went on numerous training voyages in the North Sea. Finally, they were ready for their first mission. On April 6th, 1945 the German crew left from Norway and patrolled the waters for Allied ships. They were eight days into their journey when someone had trouble operating a toilet in the submarine. Reports suggest that it was the captain but no one can be certain. The captain supposedly then called for an engineer to get his help operating the toilet. The engineer opened the wrong valve and water started to enter the submarine. For this of you unfamiliar with submarine engineering, water on the inside is bad.
Once the water was in the submarine this also somehow led to a gas entering the vessel. The gas was poisonous and the crew could not stay underwater. Captain Schlitt had no choice but to land the submarine. Unfortunately, he brought it so surface off the coast of Scotland and was quickly spotted. For those of you unfamiliar with war strategy, being spotted is bad.
The U-boat was spotted by an Allied plane and the crew was forced to let the submarine sink and swim for land. Three men died while the submarine sank and 37 others were held as prisoners. As it was already 1945 the war was in its final months. Soon the rest of the German army would fall and they would lose the war.
They say that the smallest moments can change the outcome of the war. They point to the British having more agile planes, they point to the incredible battle at Dunkirk and how civilians took part in rescue operations, they point to how the British were able to break the Nazis Enigma codes (ok most of these things are from movies, I admit). But what if the real moment that changed the war was when a German U-Boat captain clogged a toilet in his submarine and flooded a chamber? The awkward moment we have all had when we clogged a toilet may have been the undoing of the Germans in World War 2.