Amazing Photographs of WWII-era Submarine Pens

 
Submarine pen at Bordeaux.Photo: P. Charpiat CC BY-SA 2.5
Submarine pen at Bordeaux.Photo: P. Charpiat CC BY-SA 2.5
 
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For the construction of the pens in Hamburg (designated as the Elbe I and Elbe II) some 1,700 prisoners were used as forced labor.

While submarines proved to be Kriegmarine’s main asset when it came to naval warfare, the air supremacy of the Allies posed a clear threat to U-Boats once they docked harbor. Exposed on the surface and unmanned, these vessels were easy prey for enemy bombers.

Aware of this issue, the Naval Construction Office in Berlin started figuring out a plan in the 1930s on how to protect their most valuable vessels.

With the advancements made in aerial bombardment technology, they knew that the only thing that could truly save them were massive, concrete bunkers made to withstand even the most powerful explosions.

However, the logistics for such a large project were beyond the capacities of the Kriegsmarine.

That’s where the notorious Todt Organisation got involved. The Todt Organisation was a state-owned civil and military engineering firm responsible for supplying, overseeing, and executing huge construction projects on behalf of the Reich.

Woman with Ostarbeiter OT badge at Auschwitz.Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-2007-0074 / CC-BY-SA 3.0
Woman with Ostarbeiter OT badge at Auschwitz.Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-2007-0074 / CC-BY-SA 3.0

The organization was named after its founder Fritz Todt, Hitler’s trustworthy senior official and a prolific engineer. Todt made a name for himself as Inspector General for German Roadways during the construction of the famous “Autobahn.”

Reich Minister Todt March 1940.Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-1969-146-01 / Röhn / CC-BY-SA 3.0
Reich Minister Todt March 1940.Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-1969-146-01 / Röhn / CC-BY-SA 3.0

With the assistance of the Todt Organisation assured, the constructions of submarine pens began, firstly in Helgoland around 1940.

As the number of prisoners rose during the first years of the German war effort, the Todt Organisation had at their disposal what seemed like a limitless workforce.

Surrendered German U-boats moored outside the Dora 1 bunker in Trondheim, Norway, May 1945
Surrendered German U-boats moored outside the Dora 1 bunker in Trondheim, Norway, May 1945

For the construction of the pens in Hamburg (designated as the Elbe I and Elbe II) some 1,700 prisoners were used as forced labor.

Soon, submarine pens were constructed on the French coastline along the English channel.

Forced workers at the construction site of the Valentin submarine pens in Bremen, 1944.Bundesarchiv, Bild 185-23-21 / CC-BY-SA 3.0
Forced workers at the construction site of the Valentin submarine pens in Bremen, 1944.Bundesarchiv, Bild 185-23-21 / CC-BY-SA 3.0

During 1941, in Bordeaux, Brest, La Rochelle, La Pallice, Lorient, and St-Nazaire, building commenced for the construction of heavily fortified bunker ports as they were on the very frontline of the war. This was prior to the Normandy landings of 1944.

Submarine pen at Bordeaux.Photo: P. Charpiat CC BY-SA 2.5
Submarine pen at Bordeaux.Photo: P. Charpiat CC BY-SA 2.5

Several attempts to erect these gigantic structures were also made in Norway, Bergen, and Trondheim. However, due to extremely bad weather, rough terrain, and a general lack of cooperation from the local population, the construction was never finished.

Concrete U-boat pens at Brest showing damage sustained after bombing attacks by the Royal Air Force.
Concrete U-boat pens at Brest showing damage sustained after bombing attacks by the Royal Air Force.

For that matter, only a few of these pens became fully operational, the most famous of them being the Keroman Submarine Base in Lorient.

The U-Boat pens at La Rochelle.Photo: Pep.per de Ré CC BY-SA 2.5
The U-Boat pens at La Rochelle.Photo: Pep.per de Ré CC BY-SA 2.5

Read another story from us: The Crazy Dangers of Submarines Under Ice: To the North Pole & Back

This base consisted of three separate bunker pens ― two of which used a highly sophisticated method of hauling the submarines onto land. The Keroman complex was targeted numerous times by the Allies.

Construction of the U-boat base at La Pallice, 1942.Bundesarchiv, Bild 101II-MW-6860-25A / Tölle (Tröller) / CC-BY-SA 3.0
Construction of the U-boat base at La Pallice, 1942.Bundesarchiv, Bild 101II-MW-6860-25A / Tölle (Tröller) / CC-BY-SA 3.0

Between January and February 1943 alone, 90% of the city of Lorient was destroyed in the bombings while the concrete structures were hardly even damaged.

Entries of the submarines pens of Keroman III, viewed from the harbor, and at the bottom left Keroman I.Photo: XIIIfromTOKYO CC BY 3.0
Entries of the submarines pens of Keroman III, viewed from the harbor, and at the bottom left Keroman I.Photo: XIIIfromTOKYO CC BY 3.0

 

Roof of the U-boat base in Saint Nazaire. Photo: JVLVSF78 CC BY-SA 3.0
Roof of the U-boat base in Saint Nazaire. Photo: JVLVSF78 CC BY-SA 3.0

 

Unfinished German submarine pen at Cherbourg
Unfinished German submarine pen at Cherbourg

 

Three U-boats in a submarine pen at Trondheim, 19 May 1945.
Three U-boats in a submarine pen at Trondheim, 19 May 1945.

 

World War II U-Boat pens at Lorient, France.Photo: David Broad CC BY 3.0
World War II U-Boat pens at Lorient, France.Photo: David Broad CC BY 3.0

 

U-boat pens at Ijmuiden
U-boat pens at Ijmuiden

 

St.Nazaire under construction
St.Nazaire under construction

 

Lorient, under construction.
Lorient, under construction.

 

U-67 going into Lorient Bunker
U-67 going into Lorient Bunker

 

15-foot reinforced ferro-concrete U-Boat pen roof penetrated by a 22,000 lb MC Grand Slam bomb
15-foot reinforced ferro-concrete U-Boat pen roof penetrated by a 22,000 lb MC Grand Slam bomb

 

A forty-foot circle hole in the roof of a U-boat pen in Brest which had received a direct hit during the Allied bombardment.
A forty-foot circle hole in the roof of a U-boat pen in Brest which had received a direct hit during the Allied bombardment.

 

 

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