How a Toilet Sank a Submarine —- The Sinking of U-1206, WWII
One April 14th, 1945 the German U-Boat U-1206 was cruising off the coast of Scotland at a depth of 200 feet. Commissioned in 1943, U-1206 had an uneventful career with no kills or sinkings, and with the war dying down it seemed that the submarine would never see any action. Then somebody flushed the toilet.
The U-1206 had recently been installed with a new high pressure toilet which allowed it to be used in the deep sea. The new toilet was a wonder of engineering, but also very complex to use. The ships captain, Kptl. Adolf Schlitt chose to use the toilet without consulting a specialist trained in its operation. One flush and large quantities of seawater entered the boat. When the salty seawater mixed with the chemicals in the ships batteries, the sub filled with chlorine gas, forcing it to surface.
Unfortunately U-1206 surfaced directly below a squadron of enemy aircraft, which immediately bombed the U-boat. Despite pumping fresh air into the sub, the boat was critically damaged and unable to dive. Rather than surrender the boat, Captain Schlitt ordered the ship to be scuttled. The incident caused the deaths of 4 crewmen.
When World War I broke out, it was not uncommon for navies on both sides to commission civilian ships for military use, either as transports or warships. One sneaky move was to arm civilian ships, especially passenger liners, to trick the enemy. Such ships could use the element of surprise to attack an enemy who believes the ship is nothing more than an unarmed civilian vessel.
In 1914 the German Navy armed the passenger liner Cap Trafalgar with two four inch guns and six 37mm autocannon. In addition the Cap Trafalgar was disguised to look like a similar British Cunard line passenger liner called the RMS Carmania. The idea was that the Cap Trafalgar could approach British merchant and supply convoys with little suspicion of being a German warship. When the convoy least expected it, the Cap Trafalgar would open fire and destroy the convoy.
On September 14th, 1914 the Cap Trafalgar was discovered off the coast of Brazil by the British passenger liner RMS Carmania. The Carmania was likewise armed to raid German merchant convoys, and was disguised as the Cap Trafalgar just as the Cap Trafalgar had been disguised as the Carmania. For 90 minutes the two doppelgangers battled each other in a gunnery duel, often at ranges no more than 200 yards. During the battle the real Carmania took the most hits and suffered heavy damage. After being struck with 72 shells her bridge was completely destroyed and she sustained hull ruptures under her waterline. However the real Cap Trafalgar suffered mortal damage and sank into the ocean, taking 51 German sailors with her. The rest of the German crew, 279 men altogether, were captured by the British.