Diary of a U-Boat Commander

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Dialling agent code 2 on AS36 connects you to a reading of the book "Diary of a U-Boat Commander" by Stephen King-Hall. It is the LibriVox audiobook version read by Mark Smith. LibriVox is a public domain, free audiobook service. http://archive.org/details/diary_uboat_commander_mfs_librivox

A description of the book from classicly - "The Diary of a U-Boat Commander (1918) by Stephen King-Hall purports to be the account of an actual German officer during WWI. It is a vivid glimpse into one man's experience from the start of his position on a U-boat (Unterseeboot), fighting during an intense submarine blockade, and his passionate longing for a sweetheart back home in Germany. In the beginning, Herr Shenk is a stereotypically arrogant Prussian nobleman, disrespectful of his inferiors. Eventually comes to a deep understanding the evils of war and the maniacal order he served. Readers won't like Shenk at first, but read on! The story (true? made up?) gets going during the second half: Herr Commander makes decisions which will impact the lives of crew and country, but will ultimately wrestle with his own soul in the face of conflict. Anyone interested in the Great War, especially its vicious sea-battles, will enjoy this diary of a U-Boat commander who undergoes a monumental change of heart."

You are connected to a random point in the book each time you dial. However, the entire recording of the book is not available. Every time it reaches a particular point in the text ("When the boats are in, one seems to do-"), it will cut off and return to the beginning of the recording. The call also seems to end after roughly 15 minutes.

There are parts of the text missing on the recording on the agent system - sentences and entire paragraphs. These pieces of text are NOT missing on the original LibriVox reading, so presumably must have been cut out for the version uploaded to agent code 2. They have been edited out quite well, so that you probably wouldn't realise there are lines missing unless you were looking at the original text. Below is the entire text that is featured, and I've highlighted the parts that are missing on the Agent System number.

Section 1 of Diary of a U-boat Commander. This is a LibriVox recording. All LibriVox recordings are in the public domain. For more information, or to volunteer, please visit librivox.org. This recording is by Mark Smith of Simpsonville, South Carolina.

The Diary of a U-boat Commander, by Stephen King-Hall of the Royal Navy.


"I would ask you a favour," said the German captain, as we sat in the cabin of a U-boat which had just been added to the long line of bedraggled captives which stretched themselves for a mile or more in Harwich Harbour, in November, 1918. I made no reply; I had just granted him a favour by allowing him to leave the upper deck of the submarine, in order that he might await the motor launch in some sort of privacy; why should he ask for more? Undeterred by my silence, he continued: "I have a great friend, Lieutenant-zu-See Von Schenk, who brought U.122 over last week; he has lost a diary, quite private, he left it in error; can he have it?" I deliberated, felt a certain pity, then remembered the Belgian Prince and other things, and so, looking the German in the face, I said: "I can do nothing." "Please." I shook my head, then, to my astonishment, the German placed his head in his hands and wept, his massive frame (for he was a very big man) shook in irregular spasms; it was a most extraordinary spectacle. It seemed to me absurd that a man who had suffered, without visible emotion, the monstrous humiliation of handing over his command intact, should break down over a trivial incident concerning a diary, and not even his own diary, and yet there was this man crying openly before me. It rather impressed me, and I felt a curious shyness at being present, as if I had stumbled accidentally into some private recess of his mind. I closed the cabin door, for I heard the voices of my crew approaching. He wept for some time, perhaps ten minutes, and I wished very much to know of what he was thinking, but I couldn't imagine how it would be possible to find out. I think that my behaviour in connection with his friend's diary added the last necessary drop of water to the floods of emotion which he had striven, and striven successfully, to hold in check during the agony of handing over the boat, and now the dam had crumbled and broken away. It struck me that, down in the brilliantly-lit, stuffy little cabin, the result of the war was epitomized. On the table were some instruments I had forbidden him to remove, but which my first lieutenant had discovered in the engineer officer's bag. On the settee lay a cheap, imitation leather suit-case, containing his spare clothes and a few books. At the table sat Germany in defeat, weeping, but not the tears of repentance, rather the tears of bitter regret for humiliations undergone and ambitions unrealized. We did not speak again, for I heard the launch come alongside, and, as she bumped against the U-boat, the noise echoed through the hull into the cabin, and aroused him from his sorrows. He wiped his eyes, and, with an attempt at his former hardiness, he followed me on deck and boarded the motor launch. Next day I visited U.122, and these papers are presented to the public, with such additional remarks as seemed desirable; for some curious reason the author seems to have omitted nearly all dates. This may have been due to the fear that the book, if captured, would be of great value to the British Intelligence Department if the entries were dated. The papers are in the form of two volumes in black leather binding, with a long letter inside the cover of the second volume. Internal evidence has permitted me to add the dates as regards the years. My thanks are due to my friend K. for assistance in translation. Signed, ETIENNE.

The Diary of a U-boat Commander.

One volume of my war-journal completed, and I must confess it is dull reading. I could not help smiling as I read my enthusiastic remarks at the outbreak of war, when we visualized battles by the week. Months of monotony, and I haven't even seen an Englishman yet. Our battle cruisers have had a little amusement with the coast raids at Scarborough and elsewhere, but we battle-fleet fellows have seen nothing, and done nothing. So I have decided to volunteer for the U-boat service, and my name went in last week, though I am told it may be months before I am taken, as there are about 250 lieutenants already on the waiting list. But sooner or later I suppose something will come of it. I shall have no cause to complain of inactivity in that Service, if I get there.

New entry.

I am off tonight for a six-days trip, two days of which are to be spent in the train, to the Verdun sector. It has been a great piece of luck. The trip had been arranged by the Military and Naval Inter-communication Department; and two officers from this squadron were to go. There were 130 candidates, so we drew lots; as usual I was lucky and drew one of the two chances. It should be intensely interesting.

New entry.

At ---- (place deleted) I arrived here last night after a slow and tiresome journey, which was somewhat alleviated by an excellent bottle of French wine which I purchased whilst in the Champagne district. Long before we reached the vicinity of Verdun it was obvious to the most casual observer that we were heading for a centre of unusual activity. Hospital trains travelling north-east and east were numerous, and twice our train, which was one of the ordinary military trains, was shunted on to a siding to allow troop trains to rumble past. As we approached Verdun the noise of artillery, which I had heard distantly once or twice during the day, as the casual railway train approached the front, became more intense and grew from a low murmur into a steady noise of a kind of growling description, punctuated at irregular intervals by very deep booms as some especially heavy piece was discharged, or an ammunition dump went up. The country here is very different from the mud flats of Flanders, as it is hilly and well wooded. The Meuse, in the course of centuries, has cut its way through the rampart of hills which surround Verdun, and we are attacking the place from three directions. On the north we are slowly forcing the French back on either river bank--a very costly proceeding, as each wing must advance an equal amount, or the one that advances is enfiladed from across the river. We are also slowly creeping forward from the east and north-east in the direction of Douaumont.

I am attached to a 105-cm. battery, a young Major von Markel in command, a most charming fellow. I spent all day today in the advanced observing position with a young subaltern called Grabel, also a nice young fellow. I was in position at 6 a.m., and, as apparently is common here, mist hides everything from view until the sun attains a certain strength. Our battery was supporting the attack on the north side of the river, though the battery itself was on the south side, and firing over a hill called L'Homme Mort. Von Markel told me that the fighting here has not been previously equalled in the war, such is the intensity of the combat and the price each side is paying. I could see for myself that this was so, and the whole atmosphere of the place is pregnant with the supreme importance of this struggle, which may well be the dying convulsions of decadent France. His Imperial Majesty himself has arrived on the scene to witness the final triumph of our arms, and all agree that the end is imminent. Once we get Verdun, it is the general opinion that this portion of the French front will break completely, carrying with it the adjacent sectors, and the French Armies in the Vosges and Argonne will be committed to a general retreat on converging lines. But, favourable as this would be to us, it is generally considered here that the fall of Verdun will break the moral resistance of the French nation. The feeling is, that infinitely more is involved than the capture of a French town, or even the destruction of a French Army; it is a question of stamina; it is the climax of the world war, the focal point of the colossal struggle between the Latin and the Teuton, and on the battlefields of Verdun the gods will decide the destinies of nations.

When I got to the forward observing position, which was situated among the ruins of a house, ((MISSING)) a most amazing noise made conversation difficult. ((/MISSING)) The orchestra was in full blast and something approaching 12,000 pieces of all sizes were in action on our side alone, this being the greatest artillery concentration yet effected during the war. We were situated on one side of a valley which ran up at right angles to the river, whose actual course was hidden by mist, which also obscured the bottom of our valley. The front line was down in this little valley, and as I arrived we lifted our barrage on to the far hill-side to cover an attack which we were delivering at dawn. Nothing could be seen of the conflict down below, but after half an hour we received orders to bring back our barrage again, and Grabel informed me that the attack had evidently failed. This afternoon I heard that it was indeed so, and that one division (the 58th), which had tried to work along the river bank and outflank the hill, had been caught by a concentration of six batteries of French 75's, which were situated across the river. The unfortunate 58th, forced back from the river-side, had heroically fought their way up the side of the hill, only to encounter our barrage, which, owing to the mist, we thought was well above and ahead of where they would be. Under this fresh blow the 58th had retired to their trenches at the bottom of the small valley. As the day warmed up the mist disappeared, and, like a theatre curtain, the lifting of this veil revealed the whole scene in its terrible and yet mechanical splendour. I say mechanical, for it all seemed unreal to me. I knew I should not see cavalry charges, guns in the open, and all the old-world panoply of war, but I was not prepared for this barren and shell-torn circle of hills, continually being freshly, and, to an uninformed observer, aimlessly lashed by shell fire. Not a man in sight, though below us the ground was thickly strewn with corpses. Overhead a few aeroplanes circled round amidst balls of white shell bursts. During the day the slow-circling aeroplanes (which were artillery observing machines) were galvanized into frightful activity by the sudden appearance of a fighting machine on one side or the other; this happened several times; it reminded me of a pike amongst young trout.

After lunch I saw a Spad shot down in flames, it was like Lucifer falling down from high heavens. The whole scene was enframed by a sluggish line of observation balloons. Sometimes groups of these would hastily sink to earth, to rise again when the menace of the aeroplane had passed. These balloons seemed more like phlegmatic spectators at some athletic contest than actual participants in the events. I wish my pen could convey to paper the varied impressions created within my mind in the course of the past day; but it cannot. I have the consolation that, though I think that I have considerable ability as a writer, yet abler pens than mine have abandoned in despair the task of describing a modern battle. I can but reiterate that the dominant impression that remains is of the mechanical nature of this business of modern war, and yet such an impression is a false one, for as in the past, so to-day, and so in the future, it is the human element which is, has been, and will be the foundation of all things.

Once only in the course of the day did I see men in any numbers, and that was when at 3 p.m. the French were detected massing for a counter-attack on the south side of the river. It was doomed to be still-born. As they left their trenches, distant pigmy figures in horizon blue, apparently plodding slowly across the ground, they were lashed by an intensive barrage and the little figures were obliterated in a series of spouting shell bursts. Five minutes later the barrage ceased, the smoke drifted away and not a man was to be seen. Grabel told me that it had probably cost them 750 casualties. What an amazing and efficient destruction of living organisms!

New entry.

((MISSING)) Another most interesting day, though of a different nature.

To-day was spent witnessing the arrangements for dealing with the wounded. I spent the morning at an advanced dressing station on the south bank of the river. It was in a cellar, beneath the ruins of a house, about 400 yards from the front line and under heavy shell-fire, as close at hand was the remains of what had been a wood, which was being used as a concentration point for reserves. ((/MISSING))

The cover afforded by this so-called wood was extremely slight, and the troops were concentrating for the innumerable attacks and counter-attacks which were taking place under shell fire. This caused the surgeon in charge of the cellar to describe the wood as our main supply station!

I entered the cellar at 8 a.m., taking advantage of a partial lull in the shelling, but a machine-gun bullet viciously flipped into a wooden beam at the entrance as I ducked to go in. I was not sorry to get underground. A sloping path brought me into the cellar, on one side of which sappers were digging away the earth to increase the accommodation. The illumination consisted of candles set in bottles and some electric hand lamps. The centre of the cellar was occupied by two portable operating tables, rarely untenanted during the three hours I spent in this hell. The atmosphere--for there was no ventilation--stank of sweat, blood, and chloroform. By a powerful effort I countered my natural tendency to vomit, and looked around me. The sides of the cellar were lined with figures on stretchers. Some lay still and silent, others writhed and groaned. At intervals, one of the attendants would call the doctor's attention to one of the still forms. A hasty examination ensued, and the stretcher and its contents were removed. A few minutes later the stretcher--empty--returned. The surgeon explained to me that there was no room for corpses in the cellar; business, he genially remarked, was too brisk at the present crucial stage of the great battle.

The first feelings of revulsion having been mastered, I determined to make the most of my opportunities, as I have always felt that the naval officer is at a great disadvantage in war as compared with his military brother, in that he but rarely has a chance of accustoming himself to the unpleasant spectacle of torn flesh and bones. This morning there was no lack of material, and many of the intestinal wounds were peculiarly revolting, so that at lunch-time, when another convenient lull in the torrent of shell fire enabled me to leave the cellar, I felt thoroughly hardened; in fact I had assisted in a humble degree at one or two operations. I had lunch at the 11th Army Medical Headquarters Mess, and it was a sumptuous meal to which I did full justice. After lunch, whilst waiting to be motored to a field hospital, I happened to see a battalion of Silesian troops about to go up to the front line. It was rather curious feeling that one was looking at men, each in himself a unit of civilization, and yet many of whom were about to die in the interests thereof. Their faces were an interesting study. Some looked careless and debonair, and seemed to swing past with a touch of recklessness in their stride, others were grave and serious, and seemed almost to plod forward to the dictates of an inevitable fatalism. The field hospital, where we met some very charming nurses, on one of whom I think I created a distinct impression, was not particularly interesting. It was clean, well-organized and radiated the efficiency inseparable from the German Army.

New entry.

Back at Wilhelmshaven--curse it!

Yesterday morning, when about to start on a tour of the ammunition supply arrangements, I received an urgent wire recalling me at once! There was nothing for it but to obey. I was lucky enough to get a passage as far as Mons in an albatross scout which was taking dispatches to that place. From there I managed to bluff a motor car out of the town commandant--a most obliging fellow. This took me to Aachen where I got an express. The reason for my recall was that Witneisser went sick and Arnheim being away, this has left only two in the operations ciphering department. My arrival has made us three. It is pretty strenuous work and, being of a clerical nature, suits me little. The only consolation is that many of the messages are most interesting. I was looking through the back files the other day and amongst other interesting information I came across the wireless report from the boat that had sunk the Lusitania.

It has always been a mystery to me why we sank her, as I do not believe those things pay.

((MISSING)) Arnheim has come back, so I have got out of the ciphering department, to my great delight. I have received official information that my application for U-boats has been received. Meanwhile all there is to do is to sit at this ---- hole and wait. ((/MISSING))

2nd June, 1916.

I have fought in the greatest sea battle of the ages; it has been a wonderful and terrible experience. All the details of the battle will be history, but I feel that I must place on record my personal experiences. We have not escaped without marks, and the good old König brought 67 dead and 125 wounded into port as the price of the victory off Skajerack, but of the English there are thousands who slept their last sleep in the wrecked hulls of the battle cruisers which will rust for eternal ages upon the Jutland banks. Sad as our losses are--and the gallant Lutzow has sunk in sight of home--I am filled with pride. We have met that great armada the British Fleet, we have struck them with a hammer blow and we have returned. I was asleep in my cabin when the news came that Hipper was coming south with the British battle cruisers on his beam. In five minutes we were at our action stations. We made contact with Hipper at 5.30 p.m., (footnote 1 - This is 4.30 G.M.T.--Etienne) and Beatty turned north with his cruisers and fast battleships and we pursued.

Two of the great ships had been sunk by our battle cruisers, and we had hopes of destroying the remainder, when at 6.55 the mist on the northern horizon was pierced by the formidable line of the British Battle Fleet.

Jellicoe had arrived!

Three battle cruisers became involved between the lines, and in an instant one was blown up, and another crawled west in a sinking condition. Sudden and terrible are events in a modern sea-battle. Confronted with the concentrated force of Britain's Battle Fleet we turned to east, and for twenty minutes our High Seas Fleet sustained the unequal contest. It was during this period that we were hit seventeen times by heavy shell, though, in my position in the after torpedo control tower, I only realized one hit had taken place, which was when a shell plunged into the after turret and, blowing the roof off, killed every member of the turret's crew. From my position, when the smoke and dust had blown away, I looked down into a mass of twisted machinery, amongst which I seemed to detect the charred remains of bodies. At about 7.40 we turned, under cover of our smoke screen, and steered south-west. Our position was not satisfactory, as the last information of the enemy reported them as turning to the southward; consequently they were between us and Heligoland. At 11 p.m. we received a signal for divisions of battle fleets to steer independently for the Horn Reef swept channel. Ten minutes later we underwent the first of five destroyer attacks. The British destroyers, searching wide in the night, had located us, and with desperate gallantry pressed home the attack again and again. So close did they come that about 1.30 a.m. we rammed one, passing through her like a knife through a cheese. It was a wonderful spectacle to see those sinister craft, rushing madly to their destruction down the bright beam of our powerful searchlights. It was an avenue of death for them, but to the credit of their Service it must stand that throughout the long nightmare they did not hesitate. The surrounding darkness seemed to vomit forth flotilla after flotilla of these cavalry of the sea. And they struck us once, a torpedo right forward, which will keep us in dock for a month, but did no vital injury. When morning dawned, misty and soft, as is its way in June in the Bight, we were to the eastward of the British, and so we came honourably home to Wilhelmshaven, feeling that the young Navy had laid worthy foundations for its tradition to grow upon. We are to report at Kiel, and shall be six weeks upon the job.

((MISSING)) Frankfurt.

Back on seventeen days' leave, and everyone here very anxious to hear details of the battle of Skajerack. It is very pleasant to have something to talk to the women about. Usually the gallant field greys hold the drawing-room floor, with their startling tales from the Western Front, of how they nearly took Verdun, and would have if the British hadn't insisted on being slaughtered on the Somme. It is quite impossible in many ways to tell that there is a war on as far as social life in this place is concerned. There is a shortage of good coffee and that is about all. ((/MISSING))

Arrived back on board last night. They have made a fine job of us, and we go through the canal to the Schillig Roads early next week. We are to do three weeks' gunnery practices from there, to train the new drafts.

New entry.

1916 (about August).

At last! Thank Heavens, my application has been granted. Schmitt (the Secretary) told me this morning that a letter has come from the Admiralty to say that I am to present myself for medical examination at the board at Wilhelmshaven to-morrow. What joy! to strike a blow at last, finished for ever the cursed monotony of inactivity of this High Seas Fleet life. But the U-boat war! Ah! that goes well. We shall bring those stubborn, blood-sucking islanders to their knees by striking at them through their bellies. When I think of London and no food, and Glasgow and no food, then who can say what will happen? Revolt! rebellion in England, and our brave field greys on the west will smash them to atoms in the spring of 1917, and I, Karl Schenk, will have helped directly in this! Great thought--but calm! I am not there yet, there is still this confounded medical board. I almost wish I had not drunk so much last night, not that it makes any difference, but still one must run no risks, for I hear that the medical is terribly strict for the U-boat service. Only the cream is skimmed! Well, tomorrow we shall see. Passed! and with flying colours; it seemed absurdly easy and only took ten minutes, but then my physique is magnificent, thanks to the physical training I have always done. I am now due to get three weeks' leave, and then to Zeebrugge. I have wired to the little mother at Frankfurt.

New entry.

At Zeebrugge, or rather Bruges.

I spent three weeks at home, all the family are pleased except mother; she has a woman's dread of danger; it is a pleasing characteristic in peace time, but a cloy on pleasure in days of war. To her, with the narrowness of a female's intellect, I really believe I am of more importance than the Fatherland--how absurd. Whilst at Frankfurt I saw a good deal of Rosa; she seems better looking each time I meet her; doubtless she is still developing to full womanhood. Moritz was home from Flanders. He had ten days' leave from Ypres, and, though I have a dislike for him, he certainly was interesting, though why the English cling to those wretched ruins is more than I can understand.

I felt instinctively that in a sense Moritz and I were rivals where Rosa was concerned, though I have never considered her in that light--as yet. One day, perhaps? These women are much the same everywhere, and I could see that having entered the U-boat service made a difference with Rosa, though her logic should have told her that I was no different. But is that right? After all, it is something to have joined this service; the Guards themselves have no better cachet, and it is certainly cheaper. Here we live in billets and in a commandeered hotel. The life ashore is pleasant enough; the damned Belgians are sometimes sulky, but they know who is master. Bissing (a splendid chap) sees to that. As a matter of fact we have benefited them by our occupation, the shops do a roaring trade at preposterous prices, and shamefully enough the German shopkeepers are most guilty. These pot-bellied merchants don't seem to realize that they exist owing to our exertions. I was much struck with the beautiful orderliness of the small gardens which we have laid out since 1914, and, in fact, wherever one looks there is evidence of the genius of the German race for thorough organization. Yet these Belgians don't seem to appreciate it. I can't understand it. I find here that social life is very much gayer than at that mad town of Wilhelmshaven. At the High Seas Fleet bases there are the strictness and austerity that some people seem to consider necessary to show that we are at war, though Heaven knows there was precious little war in the High Seas Fleet; perhaps that was why the "blood and iron" régime was in full order ashore. Here, in Bruges, at any rate as far as the submarine officers are concerned, the matter is far different. When the boats are in, one seems to do--