Why are the submarines afraid of destroyers?

War memories of the sailor Helmut Heidbrink (3): "But the war! What mischief lies in this word."

lemoLiving Museum Online
    • Helmut Heidbrink (left), 1927

> Contemporary witnesses

This entry is from Renate Nicklisch from Hamburg, 2015


Introduction to the war memories of the sailor Helmut Heidbrink (1923-1944)
I was born in 1944 and the niece of the author. Like many of my class, I only know the war from stories from my parents (if they have spoken about it) and later from films and documentaries. At school we didn't advance in history lessons until World War II, so I didn't get interested until much later.
Through my mother, who is now starting to tidy up her drawers at the age of 90, I came into possession of my uncle's diaries. As I read through it, I got the idea that one shouldn't just let such records disappear into oblivion. We must also preserve the memory of German history for our children and grandchildren.
I know there are very many written and published diaries out there. Each of them is a private witness of the time. This is lived history that will surely be remembered after reading it.
These notes have also led me to research in the central library and on the Internet to what extent they are identical with what has been written.
For me it was an exciting thing to dive into the past.
In the work VERDAMMTE SEE (A War Diary of the German Navy) by
I found many statements confirmed by Cajus Bekker.
It was also important to me to show how euphoric the young men were when they started their training to become soldiers in the German Wehrmacht and believed in victory. Perhaps, in the end, they suspected that they would no longer see peace.
With a few exceptions, the diaries have been adopted verbatim and with only a few changes in spelling.

warmemories of the sailor Helmut Heidbrink
Started with joining the German armed forces on November 30, 1941

August 1, 1942

I'll be 19 tomorrow.
Take this as an occasion for a few lines.
What lies in these past long and so short years.
A carefree childhood and youth. And if the war hadn't come, maybe this youth would have ended carefree and beautifully. But the war!
What mischief lies in that word. I don't want to say that I'm afraid of this disaster. Even as a soldier it is out of the question. But it would be better for everyone if the war had ended or not come at all. Anyway, the current time weighs on me like a nightmare. To use a word of the soldier's language, I am fed up with this "mess". I either wish I had a real front-line command or the war was over. It is now August 9th.
I wanted to write again and again, but never had the time or the inclination to do so. Everything is still as it was. We now mostly work for the 7th school flotilla, which will soon be going out again for practice shooting. Load fuel, oil, provisions, etc.
But that is the only work that could be described as important to the war effort. Apart from the somewhat limited food, air raid alarms and the blocking balloons that go off every day, one hardly remembers the war. And that as a soldier, while the advance is rolling again in Russia. Russia is expected to collapse this year. Hopefully. It would be desirable. Because then the war would be over, so to speak.

England would be child's play against Russia. America will then likely stop on its own. Because economically we can hold out longer than America. That should be clear to everyone. Well, I'll see how it goes on.
Even if I sometimes think why I am living in these difficult times, I am proud and happy to witness this great and most glorious time in Germany.

Sep 28, 1942

Since I'm on watch again, I get to jot down a few lines. I'm still here. Now provide a service. I have the laundry and craft items from the 2nd Company under me. That works. But only in the morning. Military service is now back in the afternoon.
The NCOs we have now are bad superiors. You draw the contrast between superiors and teams too blatantly. They report every little thing to higher authorities. In doing so, of course, they attract the hatred of the teams. Thank god these are only exceptions. We hope that these "misses" will leave us again soon and that we decent comrade superiors will come. -

My cousin, Erwin R., who was still at home when I was on vacation, has also been moved in. As luck would have it, we met here again. He is also doing a T.W.L. course. We had wonderful hours. However, he'll be leaving next week.
I only entrust the following lines to this book. He was on watch a few days ago and fell asleep there. He was gently detained here for 3 days. And just about today, since my duty to watch is to look after and monitor the detainees, I was able to keep him company today. - Yes, it can happen that quickly.
Otherwise everything is still clear, except that there are more air raids. Last week the planes tried to attack here at night. We could hear the thundering defensive fire through the thick bunker walls. However, some fires could not be prevented by dropped incendiary bombs. When we left the bunker after the all-clear, the side opposite us was brightly lit by fire. As we found out later, it was half as bad. Something like that always looks more dangerous at night.

The enemy had to pay dearly for this enterprise. 2 large bombers were shot down here alone. This contrast to the damage done is very high. As it is here it will probably be everywhere on the fronts, in Russia, on the Canal, in Africa, in the ocean and everywhere where Germany's troops are located. -


Runner again. For the first time as a private. Am on the 14th. M. with some comrades retroactively from 1.10. been promoted. You feel! It's all about the angle on the sleeve. 2, - RM military pay more is also available.

Go on vacation again tomorrow. I wasn't going to go until Christmas, but - who knows what might happen in that time. What you have, you have. Nobody can take that away from you. Maybe it'll work out again for Christmas with a holiday vacation. Well, there is still time. In any case, I am very happy to see my homeland again.
Everything else is in balance here. Air raid alarm is also still from and to. Something was going on on the 1st day of the week. Of 12 low-flying 4-engine bombers, 8 were shot down within 40 minutes during the night. That was one thing!
An inferno of anti-aircraft din. -
I have to stop now, because “Luftgefahr” is just coming through. The second time tonight, by the way. I'm curious what there is.
It was nothing, not even an alarm. I'm curious how it will be at home.

1. 11. 42

For the last time in Flensburg.
I was on vacation until October 29th. Was called back. It goes on board to the far north - to the enemy. The time has come. -
The vacation was very nice. I spent it with Emil Rose, an extended relative. He is a corporal and was also on vacation. When I was invited, I got to know the initial concepts of dancing. Never would have believed that dancing is so beautiful. The girls were fine. -
I still have time until the 3rd, then off we go. My memories are actually becoming memories of war now.

On board, 11/15/42


Now I am where a German soldier belongs in a war. As a German, I will do my duty. However, the law forbids me to make any further recordings.


Pillau, April 2, 43

Now start my notes again, because I believe I can do this again. I'm here now in Pillau, again in the passage.
How come? Actually, I should still be at the front. But fate did not want it.
What has happened between October 19, 1942, when I was on vacation, until today? So when I almost finished my vacation, a telegram called me back. It became known to me there that I was going to Norway to join the cruiser "Admiral Hipper"
be commanded. I was really happy at first, but this subsided a bit. I still don't know why. Perhaps it was the feeling that probably afflicts every soldier when he goes to the front for the first time.
Well, on 3.11.42 at 8 o'clock it started with 10 other comrades. From Flensburg to Hamburg, where we arrived around noon. Of course we had time until the evening. Once again we were funny and exuberant. Who knew what to expect in the north.
We were on our way to Lübeck until midnight. A very cold barrack was our accommodation. At dawn we marched back to the train station. On this way we still recognized the traces of that night in which English. Bombers almost destroyed this city. It must have been terrible. Thousands dead and buried, 20,000 people homeless.
Ruins remind you. RETRIBUTION. -
Now we come to the Norway transport collection point in Güstrow i./Mecklenburg around noon. Here, too, the opportunity for free time, which lasts almost 2 days, is used. We are more on land than in the barracks.
The transport starts on November 5th. A large special train full of soldiers of all weapons. It goes back via Lübeck, Hamburg, Flensburg, then at dawn on the 6th across the border to Denmark.
Here at the train stations, the familiar image of sausage, bread rolls, confectionery and newspaper sellers.
Unfortunately we don't have any Danish money.
The food on the train is good. An extra kitchen trolley takes care of that.
At lunchtime we come across the huge bridge that spans the Little Belt. Now about Funen, about the Gr. Belt; by ferry to the island of Zealand.
We're in Copenhagen in the evening. It then goes back to Sweden by ferry. Even on the water we can see the unfamiliar image of an un-darkened city. We come ashore. What's this? Spanish horsemen and wire entanglements block the streets, behind them the Swedish military with a sidelight.
Such posts race up and down on the transport train. All Germans have to put down their handguns and stow them in their luggage. You feel like a prisoner.
Well, the Swedes have to do it to maintain their neutrality. But it's still an exaggeration.

When everyone is stowed in the train, it’s off. I can find a good place in an express train car. Aviators, Navy and Army - all mixed up. Since it is evening and everyone is very tired, you make yourself comfortable in the luggage net etc. and fall asleep. Towards tomorrow I wake up and go out into the corridor. It's already snowing out here. The electr. Railway to the north. The settlements are becoming more and more isolated. In the end only huge forests. Nordic game flits by from time to time.
There is enough food and tobacco products. After a few hours the train stops. We can get out and run out. Then it goes on.

It becomes night again and day again. It's November 8th. At 12 noon we pass the Arctic Circle. Have thus reached the northern cold zone of the earth. And you notice that right away. A lot of snow and an icy cold. It’s still further north. Children skate on a huge lake, which is frozen over. From time to time a single skater appears from the woods. Maybe a hunter or something.
Evening is coming towards Narvik.

The border has passed. I look out the window. The cliffs of the fjord rise steeply. The train races along one of these fjords. Below us it goes steeply into the depths. It is the fjord in which German destroyers sank in April 1940 after a heroic battle. The wrecks can still be seen.
Now we are in Narvik, get out. The train journey is over. We enter the "holy earth" where the heroes of Narvik fought and bled.
We have to go to the shelter first for further orders. We walk a long street, over the ore railway, past the shot-up houses, which are not or only partially restored. We come to a barrack camp. Here we learn that we can go even higher. We have to wait until morning. We sit around and fall asleep at the tables. There is no sleeping accommodation. It's thaw out here. That is probably due to the Gulf Stream here.

In the morning we march to the port. A van is waiting for us. It must be a former Norwegian freight steamer. The storage rooms are prepared for accommodation. It's pretty adventurous. There is plenty of food again. Now the steamer slides out of the harbor. I'm on the upper deck.
Mast tips of sunken ships protrude like grave crosses from the water. It goes between skerries and fjords. A fantastic sight, the clear blue tide, the rocks covered by snow and ice, on which, as if glued, fishermen's huts. One wonders what these people live on.
It goes on like this all day. In the evening we are anchored off Tromso until morning, because sailing in the archipelago is very bad at night. When it gets light we go on. On the radio we hear about the news from France and North Africa. All of France is occupied. The French fleet sank itself, etc.
The journey goes on again until evening. Always the same picture. In between we come to the open sea. Here we have to put on life jackets as there is a danger of submarines. But everything is going well.

Now we are in Alteide. We'll stay on the ship until the next morning. Then we are disembarked. It goes in the freezing cold in an open truck over a mountain road to another small port. In the afternoon we are picked up by a tug. This is overflowing with soldiers. We're sitting very tight below deck. The heat is stifling. At Bukta * we dock and get off. We are now inquiring how to proceed. The cruiser is about 3 hours away by boat.
So let's wait until the next day when it's light. However, this is only the case for 4 to 6 hours during the day.
We walk with our luggage along a long road to the soldiers' home. Here we become aware that another boat from "Hipper" is coming. So back to the port. Here we wait half an hour. It's getting colder, we're freezing. Then it starts to snow. He rises to the storm. Polar snowstorm. For 3 hours we stand unprotected in between. Finally the boat is coming. We have to climb over a destroyer to get in. We're leaving. The sailors in the boat have beards. On the way we stop at several ships, e.g. cruiser "Köln", but the cold has made me so apathetic that I am no longer interested in any of this.
Finally after 3 hours we reach the heavy cruiser "Hipper".
It's still snowing. We go up the stairs and are now on the upper deck. We are amazed. We hadn't imagined it to be so large and modern.
It is 1 a.m. on November 13th, 1942. Our goal has been achieved, the longest journey I've made so far is over. -

The first night we are housed makeshiftly in a command post under the armored deck. Here we notice the narrowness of a ship. We will register the next day. One is amazed and cannot find an explanation why so many people should come to the torpedo weapon. It's all full of old, experienced people, for the most part since it was commissioned. It must be a misdirection. One telegraphs to the station. But it's true. The “old ones” are supposed to go down to the Uffz. School, etc. So we stay there. I'm with those who are about to get to the torpedo weapon. Some come to the flak, others to the battle posts. The first few weeks I found it very difficult to get used to life on board. Be it the narrowness of the stairs,
the hammocks, the service or the whole area. We are in the Kaafjord.

I still forgot one thing! The NORTHERN LIGHT.
I've admired it hundreds of times. I can imagine that the indigenous peoples of the north considered this phenomenon to be the work of gods.
I can describe the whole thing in the words of the poet Ben van Eysselsteijn (1898-1973) in his fabulous book "Little Margot and the Seawoman":
“The night already lasts for moons. The big bear walks clumsily
in his eternal treadmill over the distant Pole Star.
The peaks of the icebergs glitter and tremble silvery white,
as if the stars had fallen down and were floating
they still continue on the endless ice.
From the unfathomable night streaks of light rise
they shine in green and red, a pang unfolds them,
as if invisible hands left a fiery curtain
slide apart to reveal the most distant stars. "
The clothing is also very good, thick furs, etc.
The superiors are also fine. You're at the front. All are comrades. Everyone knows that. It can happen that you suddenly need the help of a comrade.
Once the readiness is there. Ready to run out. A convoy has been reported.
We have to sleep dressed. But it won't work. Outside, the storm is said to be too strong. Everyday life continues.
I also met a friend from Hagen. I know him from civilian life. In general, 80% of the occupation are Westphalia.

All people who know what is important. One evening we have a division party. It is nice. The funniest comrades make their jokes and we forget the war for a short time. Then we tell horror and fairy tale stories. Sailor's yarn is spun. Fabulous!

It's Christmas again. Holy Evening. I have watch. Stand ashore in the snow. The northern lights shine more beautiful than ever. I come back to the deck. The Christmas party has started. The light tree, a Norwegian pine, shines. The beautiful delicacies are received. I also receive a letter from home. The first post! The most beautiful gift.

The commandant speaks through the radio. A fabulous guy, this Kapt.z.S. Hartmann. The thoughts of peace come again. Like last year I think: when?
There is no end to it.
Russia is too big. Winter is coming too fast. Just don't lose your faith.
We will win.
We are off guard on the 1st public holiday. The alcoholic beverages can now go their way. You can't describe it, something like that. It's going to be great. Why not. Forget everything once! Surrender to the greatest joy and exuberance. One understands.
Have not seen any reasonable daylight for weeks. Only electrical, artificially generated light. It's depressing at times.
Now these days are over too. Not much will be done in the next week. Then it's New Year's Eve and New Year's. A year will come to an end and a new one will begin. As always.
The last days of 1942 are coming to an end. It is the 30th of December.
What's this? One of them whispers something, like wildfire it goes through the ship: at 5 p.m. it is clear to sea. I do not believe it. Too much has already been said.
I won't believe it until we go. At 2 p.m. I move ashore as a guard. I watch the fjord. Boats cruise back and forth. Most of them invest in "Hipper".
It's the commanders of the units who are nearby. Our cruiser is yes
Flagship. The B.d.K. is on board. Important things will be discussed.
Now I believe in it. Should it be the upcoming, long-planned journey home? I dont know. Now a boat comes ashore. The leash command. The lines are thrown off. Only one remains on each bollard until it runs out. It is, of course, night at this time. The masthead lights on the mast now light up.
Clear to sea. A lieutenant approaches me from the street. He wants on board. I tell him that it is no longer possible. A boat will come. The remaining lines are thrown off. Everyone goes back on board. The boat is deployed. He is amazed.

Then he entrusts me with a letter with secret orders, remembers my name and disappears. The boat is coming. Everyone is happy that it is starting; nobody knows where to go.
The lines are falling. The headlights shine brightly on the fjord. Tugs move the cruiser. The network lock is raised. It's just before 5 p.m. Now we're going over. The stairway has moved in. A Jacob's ladder brings the sailors on board.
The boat crew and I stay in the boat. We are hoisted with the crane together with the boat. The boat is firmly deployed. We get out on the upper deck. I am the last to enter the ship. I give my orders, come on deck. Everyone is sitting around.
We don't know what to do. It is eaten right again.
There is a good soup. I eat my fill. The Christmas tree has disappeared. Likewise, everything else lying around loosely. Lines are shot up in some decks.
Then comes a whistle: "War march lock status". Everyone races to their station.
Bulleyes, bulkheads, hatches and fans are closed. We compete on the hill.
The artillery, flak and torpedo weapon. The I. AO speaks: “It's that time again”, he begins and reveals the secret to us.
A convoy on the way to Russia is to be attacked and destroyed. Now it is there. Now you can show what you've learned. With such thoughts we go out into the night. We're on the high seas. The I. AO once again urges everyone to do their duty. It is not certain how the fight will go. With the reputation:
“And thus commanded God!” He concludes his speech. Then a short exercise so that everything works out.
Then we also receive fur, boots and combat suits.
Now they are moved to the Kriegsfrei-Wach sleeping place so that everyone can be on the ward quickly in the event of an alarm. We pull our hammocks pretty much amidships. The hammocks remain lashed. On this one sleeps with clothes on.
At 8 p.m. the port watch, to which I belong, pulls up. I notice from the stars that we are going due north.
We take turns. One lookout post, one command transmitter, and so on until midnight, then the starboard watch pulls up.
At around 11 p.m. the box begins to swing. The first get seasick. I don't notice anything yet. I'm on the upper deck as a lookout. It's a ghostly sight. This troubled sea. The wind whistles deafeningly. Breakers wash over the deck. I hang on the ribs so I don't get carried away. Then it gets a little quieter, and then it starts again. Suddenly I have an oppressive feeling in my throat. I get seasickness. The ship sways a few more times and my good afternoon meal is outside. The first sacrifice for Neptune is made.

I see shadows on the horizon. Should that be the enemy already? No!
It looks like a boat. Involuntarily I think of the “Flying Dutchman”, look again carefully, but everything is gone again. So one can be mistaken. I vomit a few more times until I have nothing in my stomach.
Man, if that lasts for days, I think and I'm down. That's not how I imagined being sick at sea.
It is finally zero o'clock. We will be relieved. It comes up again in the deck. But now I lie down. It gets better. I fall asleep. We are woken up at 4 o'clock. We have to wind up again. The sea is calm now. Thank God. I'm not hungry.
The cruiser “Lützow” and 6 destroyers drive behind us. The guard lasts until
7 o'clock. We have to be close to the enemy because the starboard watch, so everyone is moving to station. I would like to eat something after all. Sign me out and go to the deck. As soon as I'm downstairs, the alarm bells are ringing. I race back up the decks.
Open bulkheads, close bulkheads. It takes a while to get back up on the pipe set.
I crouch in the protective hood, put on the phone. The convoy is in sight.
Plumes of smoke stand on the horizon. It's still too dark and you want to wait until dusk. It doesn't get very light like this.
We're turning off. As a result of this maneuver, we and one more destroyer leave the main unit. Around 9 o'clock it gets lighter. The sea is a bit moved. We come into sight of the convoy again. “We're attacking - hipsters ahead of all!”
How strong is the enemy? For the time being there are 8 English destroyers securing the convoy. How strong this is cannot be determined exactly.
I can't see anything because it starts on the starboard side. I'm on port aft.
Now our first salvos from the towers are thundering over to the enemy.
Orders, guide numbers, distances, etc. go through the phone, which I always carry. Volley after volley chases out. Some steamers are said to be burning. Damn that you can't see anything. Suddenly it says: "Torpedo runway from the direction of 20 degrees".
We evade. Our luck! 20 m astern, the enemy eel purrs past.
This brings the battle on the port side. At last! Whack, the towers thunder.
Due to the air pressure, the pane of our protective cover falls out. Acrid powder steam penetrates.
Now the 10.5 cm cannons intervene directly in front of us.
Columns of water rise up close to the enemy, which can only be seen as a shadow.
Now muzzle flashes over there. The enemy destroyers are finally starting to respond.
Uiih, crooked, boom, the first things come whizzing up, slam into the water just before us, huge fountains splash up. Our destroyer behind us is also firing from all pipes. Now the torpedo weapon should come on. Everything is clear. The closest destroyer is said to be the victim. But the Englishman is quicker this time. He's already shot torpedoes, over again.
In the course of the battle, the enemy shot 13 torpedoes at us alone. Nobody hit. But we also turned accordingly.
Another volley cracks. Direct hit on the enemy ship. A high flame bursts out. Pieces of the superstructure whirl through the air. The German destroyer is supposed to sink it with a torpedo shot. The convoy remains stopped.
What is he waiting for?
Several steamers are burning. There is smoke on the horizon. Now suddenly 2 enemy cruisers appear. So that's what they were waiting for. Because of this we also lose our destroyer. In fact, he was absent later on the retreat.
He was not up to the sudden superiority, although he struggled to the last. Nobody could help. Unfortunately!
It was the destroyer "Friedrich Eckholdt".
Now we have to keep the fight going. It goes on bending and breaking.
1:10 we are inferior in strength. But we fire and so do the enemy cruisers that have meanwhile reached the port side. The enemy's volleys sweep in, yowling. You actually don't think of anything and concentrate on your device. Everything else is irrelevant.
The grenades hit closer and closer. Splinters buzz around.
“Hit in K 3 starboard side” comes over the phone. But now it's time for our association to come to the rescue. Our towers thunder.
The opponent receives heavy hits. Our volleys are good. The fight takes place at a distance of 8-10 meters. Another volley from the enemy hums in.
"Hit in section 7 between deck port side" it says.
Then, hit in the hangar, hangar is on fire. Damn it, now it's getting dangerous.
Everyone not involved in the fight rushes to extinguish them.
We fog ourselves up. Thick smoke rises from the hall. Sparks fly. But the fire is quickly extinguished.
The bullets are still chasing. A grenade hits the water under our set of pipes that has been swiveled out. The pressure of the water pulls up floor slabs and grating. We sit in the wet for seconds. The furs are heavy as lead.
We turn off and on. “Lützow” finally emerges from the haze. Thereby the destroyer.
They intervene in the fight. Only now does the enemy set his fire on us. We fire a few more volleys. Then we turn away because darkness has fallen again. There is no further point.
Our association is still fighting behind us. But everything is slowly waning.
The Englishman also turned away when he noticed our helpers. His losses are probably too high to counteract a non-weakened formation of a cruiser with 5 destroyers.
In the dark and in the fog we now lose our opponent. The fight is over. It's around 1 p.m.
Everything still remains on the war watch. It is expected that Russian forces might cut us off, but nothing like that happens.
Until 5 p.m. I sit in the protective hood with my comrades, a 7th Mech. Mate and a Mech. Guest.
Only now do you think everything over carefully. But the time is getting really long.
The port watch steps away. I'm very hungry. You can tell when you
Has not eaten anything for 24 hours and everything that you previously had in you was unintentionally left out. We’re pounding our stomachs. I'm going to the forecastle.
Jaws and banks, utensil boxes are shattered on deck due to the vibrations of the artillery. Almost all the basins in the toilet are broken.
At 6 p.m. we release the starboard watch until 8 p.m. Then it's the other way around. Some wounded are sitting around on the deck. We lie down and fell asleep straight away. Then a voice wakes us: “GAS!” We are too tired to take notice of it and we are not disturbed any longer.
The foam quenching must have formed gases, but the stove is down by the machine. It's midnight and we have to wind up again. The famous war march whistle wakes us monotonously. Oh yes, now it occurs to us: another year is over. I've never seen a New Year's Eve like this. It was probably the best turn of the year. We wish a "Happy New Year" and shake hands.
Our watch will go on until 3 a.m. Then the entire war guard comes in. We have reached our fjord.
When we started at the Schanz on January 1st at 7 a.m. to
to start work, we are anchored in the Kaafjord.
A few hours ago the sailing load had burned out.
The fire must have crept from the hangar to there unseen. All of this now has to be put back in order.
Our fallen comrades are lying in front of us on the ramparts. There are five men. Including a very young cadet. The flag is half-mast. In total we had 8 dead. Two had fallen, four were poisoned by gas, one inexplicably went overboard and drowned and one seriously wounded died after 14 days from his injuries.
That's how I experienced my first fight. It was a short but tough baptism of fire. The O.K.W. report of January 2, 1943 reported the following about the battle:

On December 31st, German armed forces attacked a British warship formation consisting of cruisers and destroyers on Bear Island in the northern Arctic Ocean, which secured a convoy. In several hours of fighting, our cruisers damaged several enemy ships. Cruisers & destroyers as well as merchant ships by artillery. The weather conditions made it difficult to observe the success. An enemy damaged in battle Destroyer was sunk by a German destroyer. A German submarine torpedoed 4 steamers of the escort, but could no longer watch the sinking due to the fighting situation. One of our destroyers did not return from the battle.

Book I. completed on April 25, 1943 (1st Easter day)

Matr. Gefr. Heidbrink


This is where the diary-like entries end.

The second booklet contains a review of the mission in the North Sea (Operation Rainbow) and the consequences that resulted from it.
The authentic content, insofar as it has to do with the history of World War II, is only reproduced in excerpts from here onwards, personal views have largely been omitted.