Article excerpt

Seeking to avoid scrutiny as it secretly rebuilt its U-boat armada after WWI, Germany's Kriegsmarine developed a small coastal submarine that provided the necessary training without arousing the ire of Versailles Treaty Allied watchdogs.

In 1933, the Crichton-Vulcan shipyard in Turku, Finland, built a small 250-ton submarine that was eventually named Vesikko. Designed by a company that claimed to be the Dutch shipbuilding firm of Ingenieurskantoor voor Scheepsbouw den Haag (IvS), the boat was ultimately destined for the Finnish Navy and saw distinguished service during World War II. seemingly, a straightforward tale thus far. But that's only a part of the story. That harmless-appearing construction project was merely the latest act of the covert plan that disguised the secret, soon to be openly defiant, re-building of the banned German U-boat arm. And Vesikko was the prototype for the first U-boats to serve in a German Navy since 1918.

At the end of the First World War, the Treaty of Versailles, which formalized the surrender of the German armed forces, forbade Germany from building or operating a submarine fleet. In the light of the highly effective German submarine campaign of 1914-1918, this was a very explicit and stringent prohibition - it prohibited not only research and development of Naval submarines in and for Germany but also any commercial designs as well.

According to Article 188, Germany was bound to deliver her U-boats to the Allied Nations, or to dismantle them. This obligation Germany fulfilled completely. Moreover, Article 191 stipulated the following: "The construction and purchase of all underwater vessels, even for commercial purposes, is forbidden in Germany."

It appears from this clear treaty clause that Germany's participation in the Dutch firm was not, strictly speaking, a violation of the Treaty of Versailles. According to Article 191, Germany was only forbidden to directly construct or purchase U-boats, (nothing about setting up technical missions abroad) and moreover, strictly speaking, only within Germany.

From 1919 until 1935, Germany had disguised its submarine program under various non-military projects. Nevertheless, behind this shroud of secrecy, the German U-boat staff continued to develop new theories, strategies and equipment to successfully wage a future commerce war. It is instructive to examine the origin, design and specifications of the first U-boat to be built as such after the cessation of hostilities in 1918.

As far back as 1922, Adm. Behnke - C-in-C of the Weimar Republic's Reichsmarine - had authorized covert construction of a new generation of German submarines. Germany financed the design work performed by 30 of their engineers, ostensibly from the Krupp armaments industry, and controlled by board members of three German shipbuilding yards. Under cover of the aforementioned Dutch registered firm - Ingenieurskantoor VOOT Scheepsbouw (IvS) registered in The Hague - submarine design and construction was begun in Spain and Finland. Former Construction Head at the Germaniawerft shipyards, Doctor of Engineering Hans Techel, headed the company while Korvettenkapitän (ret.) Ulrich Blum held the post of Technical Director. We can see that the decision to reestablish the peerless German U-boat force pre-dated the accession of the Hitler regime by 12-yrs.

How and why could the ex-Allied nations and the neutrals turn a blind eye to such blatant efforts to revive the U-boat arm under their noses? Simply because the Germans were the acknowledged supreme authorities on designing, building and operating submarines, and many nations wanted to tap into this expertise in building up their own submarine force. Besides, the Weimar regime of the 1920s did not appear particularly bellicose or threatening. It was reasonable to assume that this was simply a means for the Germans to acquire cash, strapped as they were by the reparations provisions of the Versailles Treaty. …