U-Boats of WW1

Colin Tabeart

This display covers the German Submarine Arm from its beginning in 1906 to the end of WW1 and the surrender of the remaining boats. The organisation and disposition of the force is sketched out, how to recognise a U-boat cover is explained, and there are examples of covers and cards to, or more often from, U-boats and flotillas. The sinking of a submarine almost always results in 100% casualties – deaths, not injuries, but occasionally men did escape to be made POWs for the duration – a POW letter is shown. Very rarely a U-boat was captured rather than sunk – such as was UC-5, shown in the display. The U-boat arm suffered horrendous casualty rates in the war, far higher than that of any other arm or theatre of war, but maintained their morale to the end. When the High Seas Fleet mutinied, the U-boat men remained loyal.

Willy Stower was the German equivalent of the British painter and etcher William Wyllie. A couple of Stower’s propaganda paintings are included. The other item of ephemera towards the end of the display is a handbill produced by my grandfather, Bert Hatch, at his cycle shop in the Fens: “Business as usual in spite of German submarines and zeppelins.”

U-boat mail was not censored; the various postal markings used, and frequent manuscript endorsements of the actual boat of the sender, make it much easier to recognise and collect German submarine material. By comparison British submarine mail of either world war is extremely difficult to find. I hope this little display will encourage others to consider collecting such material, as well as giving them some idea of what to look for. Much of the little knowledge shown in the display, and many of the covers, are thanks to our member, John Leathes, gratefully acknowledged.

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