Lancashire At War.co.uk

Exploring the hidden history of War sites in Lancashire

Birkenhead U-Boat

"There's a German U-Boat in Birkenhead you know".....that was how we found out about this excellent Museum / display while on a day out at Liverpool Docks. If only these things were better advertised.

 

At the Woodside Ferry Terminal there is indeed a German U-Boat, U-534 and a small Museum which houses the contents of the U-boat, salvaged when it was raised from the sea bed. It is a fascinating story, an excellent museum and an intriguing way of displaying a large boat in such a way that you can see inside it without having to actually go inside.

 

On the banks of the River Mersey the captured U-boat has been cut up into several pieces and glass panels have been put in place so that you can see into the boat itself. You can walk round the whole thing and stand on some of it.

It is a work of art.

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How U-534 came to be in a position to be sunk right at the end of the Second World War is not clear and therefore all sorts of theories have been given for just what they were doing and why. The order came that on May 5th 1945 at 8am all German U-boats would surrender. But U-534 in the Ocean near Denmark decided not to surrender, instead, along with two new type XXI U-boats, it set off towards Norway. Allied planes aware of the three U-boats' movements set off from Scotland to intercept them. It was sunk by a depth charge which cracked the hull when it exploded. All but three of its 52 crew managed to escape unharmed.

 

Having only left Germany on May 3rd 1945, the last U-boat to leave Germany, there has been speculation as to what its role was, what, if any, cargo it had on board, and where it was going when it made a run for it. The boat's Captain, Herbert Nollau, survived but never spoke about why they had failed to surrender. All sorts of conspiracy theories have therefore surrounded the boat. No doubt many were upset when it was found, raised off the ocean bed, cut up and no "precious cargo" was found.

ABOVE: The crumpled hull shows the damage caused by the depth charge.

 

RIGHT & MIDDLE: Inside the U-Boat, life must have been very cramped and claustrophobic.

Life on a U-Boat: Most U-Boat crews were volunteers. They suffered some awful conditions and were in possibly the most perilous occupation in the war. According to "The story of U-534", an excellent booklet available at the museum: "Engines and batteries filled one third of the space and fifty two members of the crew had to share the remaining space with up to 22 torpedoes, stores and a myriad of tools and spares that are needed to keep the boat running, ammunition for the guns and 18 tons of food and drink needed for a lengthy voyage".

The crew also had their own luxuries (see LEFT) many of which were salvaged with the boat in remarkable condition. Bottles, records, games, all sorts of things are on display.

 

But it was the odds of survival that made this job even worse than suffering the cramped conditions. "In all during World War II, 1,168 U-boats were commisioned and 790 were sunk in action. Out of 40,000 officers and men who successfully passed through training schools between 1934 and the end of the War no less than 30,246 were killed or died of their wounds. A further 5,338 crew members were rescued and became prisoners of war. Many historians believe that this is the highest casualty rate suffered by any single service in the history of warfare" - taken from The Story of U-534 available at The U-Boat Story museum.

ABOVE: One of two German Enigma machines captured from the U-534.

ABOVE: Just outside the Ferry Terminal is this replica of one of the first submarines ever built, the Resurgam - made of wood and steam powered, it was tested in Birkenhead docks. See more details BELOW.

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