Sunday, October 2, 2016

The Elephant in the Room, Part II

The Pens seen from the Harbor Mole

Yesterday's tour of the old German U-Boat pens in Brest was an amazing success! Our guide, a French Navy Commander, walked a dozen crew-members (including Captain Gray, Master of 'Leroy Grumman') through the complex, describing the fortresses' defenses and capabilities as we went. Wearing hard-hats to protect against any falling pieces of the ceiling, we heard the story of the first of Hitler's Western Wall sub pens, its construction which began in 1940 and took 500 days to complete using French labor, its support of two U-Boat flotillas during the Battle of the Atlantic, and the near-total destruction of the city of Brest by allied bombers attempting to neutralize this ugly structure and the submarines it maintained.
Our guide explains the problem of WWII ordnance disposal

I was professionally impressed by the workshop spaces, now used by French Navy EOD teams who spend most of their time locating and destroying ordnance left-over from World War II (and even WWI!), and drydocks currently in use maintaining minesweepers. The old monster which looms over Navbase Brest no longer repairs and re-arms Admiral Doenitz' U-Boats but still serves a purpose, supporting the ships and divers who locate and destroy the old ordnance in coastal French waters.
The main concourse, connecting workshops (right) with sub pens
One disturbing note (if walking through a decaying Nazi relic that supported the effort to destroy Britain by strangling the vital sea-links in the Atlantic isn't disturbing enough) was our guide's apparent pride in the base and even (if my read on his exposition and expression while describing the Battle of the Atlantic was anywhere near correct) in the accomplishments of the U-Boats based here.  I wish I could write here that I was the only one who left his presence with a queasy feeling inside, but later discussions with Shipmates who came on the tour confirmed that my impressions were shared ones.  Could it be that we spent the afternoon in the presence of a Third Reich apologist?
Damage caused by a British "Tallboy" bomb
In spite of our host's seemingly odd approach to his subject matter, I thoroughly enjoyed this rare opportunity to explore a relic of the German occupation, and to see for myself a major facility of Admiral Donitz's U-Boat force.  I have more photographs that I plan to post later, but want to get these impressions online before I get too busy with 'Leroy Grumman's upcoming operations.  I hope these images will give you some impression of the colossal and practical engineering achievement (with just a tinge of true and abiding evil) we were able to experience first-hand.
Exploring a U-Boat Drydock
It takes a village...the orange and green objects are training mines

The meter-thick walls--pocked by strafing aircraft fire
'Grumman's Captain Richard Gray (right) and our guide

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