German submarine U-1206 was a Type VIIC U-boat of Nazi Germany’s Kriegsmarine during World War II. Construction started on June 12, 1943 at F. Schichau GmbH in Danzig. She was put into service on March 16, 1944 and a little over a year later, in April 14, 1945 she was at the bottom of the North Sea. The boat’s emblem was a white stork on a black shield with green beak and legs. U-1206 was one of the late-war boats that had been fitted with new deepwater high-pressure toilets, allowing their use while running at depth. These toilets were a rather complicated procedure, so special technicians were trained to operate them. Operating the toilets incorrectly…in the wrong sequence could result in waste or seawater flowing back into the hull. Not only would it have been a nasty mess, it could be dangerous.
On April 14, 1945, just 24 days before the end of World War II in Europe, U-1206 was cruising at a depth of 200 feet, eight nautical miles off Peterhead, Scotland. A sailor decided that he knew the procedure for flushing the toilet, and after performing the procedure wrong, caused large amounts of seawater to flood the boat. According to the Commander’s official report, while in the engine room helping to repair one of the diesel engines, he was informed that a malfunction involving the toilet caused a leak in the forward section. The leak flooded the submarine’s batteries, which were located directly beneath toilet, causing them to generate chlorine gas. The Commander had no alternative but to surface. Immediately upon surfacing, basically right in the middle of several British patrol boats, U-1206 was torpedoed, forcing Schlitt to scuttle the submarine. One man died in the attack, three men drowned in the heavy seas after abandoning the vessel and 46 were captured.
I can’t imagine the frustration the Commander must have felt. Prior to the stupidity of one sailor, the submarine had been cruising along in relative safety. A forced surfacing was sure to put them in harms way, but the gas in the submarine would most certainly kill them too. He did the only thing he could do, and U-1206 was at the bottom of the North Sea less than an hour later, where it would remain, hidden During survey work for the BP Forties Field oil pipeline to Cruden Bay in the mid 1970s, the remains of U-1206 were found at 57°21’N 01°39’W in approximately 230 feet of water.