I first met Franz Stanzel at the 1988 Grainau Canadian Studies conference in Bavaria, held at a rustic lodge a few kilometers southwest of Garmisch Partenkirchen, site of the 1936 Winter Olympics, and a similar distance northeast of the Eibsee with its huge resort hotel which from 1940 to 1945 was requisitioned as a recreation centre by the Luftwaffe. Midway through the conference we took a long walk through snowy pine woods and I casually asked my genial companion how he had become interested in Canadian literature. He replied that it had been a complicated war-time accident, that he had been a prisoner of war in Quebec. He added that on Germany’s March 1938 invasion of Austria, when he was 14, his family had fled to Rumania, which a military coup however would soon make a German ally. Forced to join the German armed forces, he had enlisted in the navy in late 1940. His U-boat was sunk in the Mediterranean in 1942, he was rescued by the British and sent to a prisoner-of-war camp in Quebec. He was surprised to find the prisoners there encouraged to plant and maintain a vegetable garden. The food was better than his parents had been eating in wartime Europe. Kindly elderly women brought the younger prisoners like himself both cookies and books, including classic works of English literature. On
How closely this necessarily compressed narrative – offered by a theorist of narrative during an informal winter’s stroll – accords with the one in his new autobiography my German is much too weak to ascertain. But it is clear that it emphasized for his Canadian guest the positive aspects of his war experience – his parents’ attempted flight, his rescue, the cookies and the books, and omitted his youthful naivety about the conflict, the unnecessary deaths of many of the U-boat’s crew, and the loss to imprisonment of important years of his life, from age 18 to 22. The section titles, subtitles and captions of the new book (laboriously translated here by me) create a somewhat darker narrative that -- among other things -- examines the history of U-boat surrenders in the context of German Kriegsmarine archives and wartime German navy practices.
PART I The ensign and his admiral – From Hela to La Spezia – PART II on patrol – U 331 on its last voyage – 17 November 1942: D-Day for U 331 – Going back to D-Day – boat dive, hands on deck – The attack on U 331 from the enemy's point of view – British sources for the destruction of U 331 – The loss of U 331 in the war diary of the FdU [Fuhrers der Unterseeboote, i.e. U-boat headquarters] Mediterranean – additions to the KTB [Kriegstagebuch, i.e. battle diary] of the U 331 from external sources, available after the war – the Mediterranean strategy of the Axis Powers – The asymmetry of the horizons of knowledge of the BdU [Befelshaber der Unterseeboote, i.e. U-boat fleet headquarters] and the U-boat captain – “Better to perish honorably than to strike the Flag” – Secret Directive (‘GeKaDoS’) of 17/6/1943 from Admiral Doenitz to all U-boat commanders – Two capitulations: U 99 (Kretschmer) and U 331 (von Tiesenhausen) – U 331 versus USS Leedstown – Nemesis in submarine warfare? – Postscript of the literature scientist – PART III as a prisoner of war in British custody - Algiers - Gibraltar - Liverpool - London - Grizedale Hall - Canada - The hike through the POW camp begins – Posttraumatic processing of the disaster experience – On to Canada – The “Shackling Crisis” in 1942/3 – digger - hobbyist - farmers - Education citizens – The routine of camp life at Camp 44, Grande Ligne, Quebec – sexual gratification behind the barbed wire – the Rahmlow case – end of the war and delayed repatriation – After reading the retrieved diaries for 1944-1946 – The Diaries 1944-1946 once again – letters from captivity home – repatriation in December 1946 – I was born with a caul? – List of crew of U 331 on its last journey – Sailed La Spezia.
Some years ago I came across a British narrative of Franz Stanzel’s capture, in a 1943 report that the Royal Navy had commissioned possibly because of the controversial way in which the U 331 had been destroyed (“Report on Interrogation of Survivors from U.331, a 500-ton U-boat, Sunk at about 1430 on 17th November, 1942") . With its forward hatch jammed open by aerial depth-charges, the sub had raised a white flag, and a British destroyer had been dispatched to attempt to capture it. But a British naval aircraft – possibly unaware of these developments – had torpedoed it, killing approximately 30 of the 49 crew. That moment is depicted on the cover of Franz Stanzel’s new book. The British report, perhaps not surprisingly, blamed the U-boat’s crew members for creating at least part of the confusion that led to its sinking. It also revealed, however, that the sub was considered notorious by the Royal Navy for having sunk the battleship Barham some months before with a loss of 841 crew.
Stanzel was a midshipman on the U 331, and a new member of its crew. The British report offers this summary of his Kriegsmarine career, presumably based on information he had given them:
The midshipman was Oberfähnrich zur See Franz Stanzel. He joined the German Navy at Stralsund in September, 1940, undergoing a three months' course of recruit training. He then underwent courses at the Naval College at Flensburg-Mürwik and served some time thereafter in patrol boats in the English Channel. Further courses at the Naval College at Flensburg were followed by training at the U-Boat School at Pillau. He was promoted Oberfähnrich zur See in June, 1942, and was due to be commissioned very shortly. This was his first patrol in ‘U 331,’ which was his first operational U-Boat. On commissioning he was to have remained on board ‘U 331' as Second Lieutenant, ....