Meat, vegetables (mainly potatoes), bread and fruits were the basic ingredients in the submariners’ menu on German U-Boats during World War 2.
While long-distance German U-Boats were excellent killing machines, habitability ranked very low on their designers’ priority list.
Type VII boats were the workhorse of the German Kriegsmarine, with 703 built. They were too small for ocean ships, though: there was no place for a pantry, not to mention refrigerators. Meanwhile, for about a 1.5-month patrol with a crew of 50, the ship stored as much as 12.5 tons of food, including 2,180 kg of tinned meat, 108 kg of sausage, 1,750 kg of potatoes, and 151 kg of fish, according to the book “U-boat Combat Missions: First Hand Accounts of U-boat Life and Operations.”
Food was cramped literally everywhere: between torpedoes, overheads, under tables and…in the toilet. The absence of a pantry on the boat resulted in one of the two toilets being used as a temporary storeroom. Food provisions filled the toilet along with the rest of the room.
Hams, sausages and bread were hung between the front torpedo launchers and up on the ceiling in order to delay spoiling, though it was inevitable in closed submarine conditions.
During the first months of the war submariners could diversify their menu by trading with fishermen, taking over fresh food from enemy ships before sinking them or even fishing by themselves, but as the Allies’ hunt intensified, they had to rely on the stashed supplies.
Fresh products were consumed over the first days of the cruise. Later on, it was only worse. What was left were products with long shelf lives, and, well, tinned food. Sometimes the tins broke due to pressure changes, and sometimes they were poorly packaged or labelled, so the crew had to eat, for example, brawn for days.
“Do you know how the interior of the U-Boat smells? Oil, fuel, paint, mold and urine’, recalls Otto Kretschmer, commander of the U-99 and one of the most effective commanders in Kriegsmarine, also nicknamed the “tonnage king”, in the book ” Der Wolf im Atlantik.”
The toilet could only be used at a small depth. Deeper, physiological needs were handled using buckets that were emptied during the emergence.
In addition, it all mixed with a smell of perfume. Submariners poured whole bottles on themselves in an attempt to kill the unpleasant smell of sweaty and scarcely washed bodies. Also, there were deadly chlorine fumes released in the case of damage or flooding of the ship’s electric propulsion battery.
A good chef, able to conjure up a tasty dish from such products and in these conditions, was worth a lot. His work wasn’t easy: he worked on a tiny galley with small electric burners, cooking for the crew for several shifts.
Although the submarine crews were served the best food available in Kriegsmarine, as they run out of fresh goods, they were also gived Bratling – a soy based meat subsitute. It made the dishes even more bland. Where the cruise extended, food rations were cut.
It was only in the Type XXI U-Boats, built at the end of the war, that there was a refrigerator, air conditioning, and a decent air filtration system. A pantry, a freezer, and a refrigerator were located under the galley. The refrigerated room was located down the companionway stairs, like a basement.