Fregttkapitän Arend Baumann
For some time (nearly three years) I have been working on the outline and story of a U-Boat during WWII. The story has undergone numerous changes and modifications, as all stories do, but the goal remains to tell a story that is both entertaining and as historically accurate as possible.
As a submariner myself, I have a particular interest in the German U-Boat sailors of World War II. It has become obvious to me through the years that they knew how bad things were, they knew the odds were more than stacked against them and yet not only did they still go to sea, they did so willingly and with a staggering lack of training. That strikes us today as odd, because we perceive the U-Boat crews as elite and fanatical, but seldom was that the real case.
At any rate, my story involves a Commander who is stoic, dedicated and familiar with both the United States and Great Britain, with distant but familiar to him relatives in both and with some education in the United States, gaining him a love of American sports. For the record, I outlined that long before tonight.
Eventually I settled on a name, although I am still bouncing back and forth on the first name, I decided to go with Baumann as a last name, giving me a closer connection to him as I write his story. I am still trying to decide between Lüdwig or Lothar for a first name.
At any rate, he has a history with the Navy, and is well connected politically and socially, enough so that when Admiral Dönitz suspects (he will never truly discover) Baumanns big secret, he cannot take direct action for fear of retaliation. Thus he is forced to come up with another scheme to deal with the issue at hand.
Having decided on my characters name (at least his last name), I decided to spend some of my vacation time researching U-Boat Commanders to see if any had the last name “Baumann,” and as it turns out, two (2) did. The first, Heinz Baumann commanded three boats, but made no war patrols, serving instead as a training boat commander. One has to wonder how he felt about that, but in any case, there was not much in his story that appealed to me directly.
The second was Fregttkapitän Arend Baumann. He was the commander of U-131, a Type IXC boat sunk off of Spain during the battle for Convoy HG76 by a combination of destroyers, sloops and aircraft and an amazing run of just plain bad luck.
But the most amazing thing about Commander Baumann and the U-131 story was that – and this is unusual – the entire crew survived the sinking. They were, of course, captured and sent to Gibraltar and then on to the UK for internment. And in that record of their interrogation there exists a more incredible story than I could have ever dreamed up.
The story is remarkably personal, including their accounts of their last night ashore, their jokes about Grand Admiral Raeder and their opinions about shipmates and service histories of each other. The accounts of their training voyage is heart stopping.
In the submarine fleet there is an old saying, “If you aren’t lucky, we don’t want you.” Baumann seems to have taken that mindset to heart and done everything humanly possible to eliminate luck from the equation, but in the end, a set of broken hydrophones (maintenance and training failures?) and some bad plotting led directly to the loss of the boat and their capture.
Commander Baumann went on to lead a long life, passing away in December of 1985 at the age of 82.
The Second World War is filled with untold stories of courage, intrigue, adventure, horror and terror. So many stories are untold and unknown and more are disappearing into the dust of history each and every day. My story is fiction, but maybe it can bring Commander Baumann and the story of his boat and crew back to life in our collective memory.