War can be a dirty job. It’s pretty much part of the job description. But the mental image one conjures up of dirt-encrusted soldiers fighting it out waist deep in the mud is usually reserved for those fighting on the ground. In the air and on the water it’s surely a different story right?
The soldiers in those environments aren’t stuck in some hole in the ground, having everything around them blown to muck by enemy fire.
Well, in the case of Karl-Adolph Schlitt, who captained a German U-Boat in WWII, he was to learn that in war, you can quickly find yourself up Schlitt creek without a paddle.
The war was raging and the end was drawing near
Let’s set the scene a little. It’s April 1945 and the European conflict is fast approaching its end. The German Reich is disintegrating rapidly, encroached on both sides by the Soviet Union and the Western Allies. It’s Air Force and Navy are entities that exist more on paper than in reality, mere ghosts of what they were just a few years ago. More prudent individuals have already begun to realise that the war has been lost, yet caught up in destructive machinations beyond their control, the fight goes on.
Amongst all of this chaos a single German U-Boat was dispatched to covertly operate in the North Sea, near the Scottish coast. At this point in the war, there was no possible way a single spy submarine would be able to turn the tide of the impending German defeat. Yet German submarine U-1206 commenced its operations as ordered regardless. Under the command of Captain Karl-Adolph Schlitt, the sub was operating only 8-10 miles off the British coast, near Peterhead Scotland, on the 14th of April 1945.
And that’s when the trouble began.
Well, to be more accurate, you could say that the trouble began when a new toilet system was installed onto the submarine. For as long as humans have taken to the sea, the question of how to deal with waste disposal has been a rather pressing one. This got a heck of a lot more complicated with the advent of submersible technology.
What was once an annoyance became a schematic nightmare as designers had to come up with a way for submariners to safely answer the call of nature in a small metal tube surrounded on all sides by a crushing wall of water pressure. Suffice to say, it was not a simple solution.
The toilets on U-1206 implemented a complex system of high-pressure valves designed to flush even when the sub was running deep underwater. These toilets were so complicated that a specially trained operator was required to accompany anyone that used the lavatory.
This is where the shit hits fan… literally
The details of what happened next are a bit fuzzy, but it’s generally agreed that the Captain chose to make use of the lavatory without the expert attendant. In Schlitt’s report of the incident, he claims that the system broke down; however a second, more widely reported account states that the Captain got the order of the valves wrong as he was trying to flush. This resulted in a rush of seawater, as well as the contents of the toilet, being showered all over Shlitt.
It sounds like something straight out of a Tarantino movie, a Nazi captain getting covered in sewerage, but it really happened. However, it didn’t end there as the submarine was now being flooded with large amounts of water (and other stuff) which then leaked into the submarine’s battery compartment. This caused the batteries to leak deadly chlorine gas, leaving Captain Schlitt with no other option than to surface his U-Boat.
After surfacing near Scotland, the sub was almost immediately spotted by the British, who proceeded to bomb the ever living heck out of them. Badly damaged, the sub was scuttled and the men were forced to abandon ship. Four died during the scuffle and the remaining crew-members were promptly captured.
There isn’t much more information about what became of Karl-Adolf Schlitt. Presumably, he changed his identity at the first available opportunity to avoid the embarrassment of being remembered as the sub captain that nearly drowned his crew in sewerage.