Handelsmarine (German Merchant Marine) Career 1923 - 1932

Since there are still bits of misinformation being published about my career in the Handelsmarine, I have decided to give a basic run down on specifics, as a result of my own research.

Detail from my memories journal.
1923 – joined Seemannsschule at Finkenwaerder in Hamburg at the age of 15.  Below, image from akg-images.com. Although dated to 1925, I doubt much would have changed in 2 years, so it gives a very good idea as to how it was. From what I could make out, the Captain listed, Oelkers, was the same one that I had.

7-H10-0845-002284 (1101370) ORIGINAL: Aus dem Schulleben der deutschen Seemannsschule auf Finkenwärder. Aus: Hamburger Anzeiger vom 6.6.1925

1924 – Service aboard Full-Rigged ship Hamburg begins.
Letters by the shipping company Hans Hinrich Schmidt, from 1924 and addressed to Margarete Bohstedt, dated 22nd February 1924, documenting the consent of the ship owner on (transl.) “the payment of a catering funds worth a 180,- goldmarks by installment” and his suprise (transl.) “to hear from you that Captain Oelkers … did not inform you in detail about the conditions of your son’s employment on the cargo training ship Hamburg”. If she wanted to send him any letters, she was to address them to “Boy Seaman Prien onboard the sailing ship Hamburg c/o Messrs. The Quina Export Co., Pensacola, Fla. (U.S.A.). (Original source – Hermann Historica’s auction #54).

“My d. mother. Can’t you lend me a few old woollen socks? Neither do I have any nor do I own enough money right now to buy some. The ones I have are so badly worn that stitching won’t do any good, and I can’t wear my boots early in the morning in the mess, everything must go quickly. For this reason I always wear the torn ones, slip my old child’s socks(?) over the foot and wear the likewise badly damaged felt slippers Aunt J. gave me. But it is very embarrassing to be seen that way. If you have any with good heels and calf sections, please give them to Liselotte. Best greetings, yours truly, G.”.

Letter written while onboard the Hamburg.

*I came across this information back in 2008, I believe it was. I had emailed a collector and historian of the Signal magazine if there were any issues regarding U47 or Scapa Flow. He responded in the negative. Then, weeks later, I got an email from him out of the blue informing me of Hermann Historica’s website and this auction that had a lot of relevant items (auction #54). I had gone to look and it was a treasure trove of more personalized items, which really helped me. Many focus on my military service, but I prefer to look at my entire maritime career. I think that only looking at one aspect, and putting me on some pedestal as a result, creates a shallow, one-dimensional image of me. Images, though, seem to be “everything”, from what one can gather by reading both Count Not the Dead and Wolf (the latter by Jordan Vause). In some way, ironically, I suppose I am inadvertently fighting for my own “image”.
Hamburg. Steel ship, 1985 tons. Built at Nantes, France, 1886, as the Marechal de Castries; renamed Henriette, then Hamburg in 1924. Lbd 216.2 x 43 x 23.1 ft. Originally a French bounty ship, then modified to operate as a cargo carrying cadet vessel, and called at Australia to load grain.. Left Melbourne for home on 18 April 1925, but was forced to call at Sydney sixteen days later with a broken rudder, and did not sail again until 29 May. Arrived off The Lizard after 144 days and was sailing around to Cork to discharge her wheat when she went ashore in Dublin Bay, 29 October 1925. Refloated a month later, was dry docked for examination and although found to have suffered only minor damage her owners decided not to repair her and she was sold to the shipbreakers.  [AS6] – Wrecks on the Australia Run
Below images of the Hamburg. I would be in the one with the crew (1925). Source link.

Melbourne, 1925. Alan Villiers mentions this ship in his book, “The Set of the Sails”. I would be in this photo somewhere, as I was serving on it at the time.

1926(?) – 1927 – Service aboard the Oldenburg(now Suomen Joutsen), and HAPAG ship Olivia.
In late November 1922, after having been laid up for two years, Laënnec was sold to a German shipping company H. H. Schmidt & Co. from Hamburg. After refitting she was renamed Oldenburg after the city of Oldenburgand, through an agreement with the German school ship association Deutscher Schulschiffverein, she became a school ship for the German merchant navy.[6] Among the men who received their training onboard Oldenburg over the years was the German U-boat ace Günther Prien.
In 1925, while rounding Kap Horn, Oldenburglost her main mast in a storm and had to seek shelter due to damaged rigging. After emergency repairs in MontevideoUruguay, she crossed the Atlantic and headed back to Hamburg. However, due to strong easterly winds she was forced to pass the British Isles on the northern side instead of the English Channel. 78 days after leaving the Río de la Plata estuary, Oldenburg was taken into tow by a German tugboat and towed to Hamburg.[6]
In 1928 Oldenburg was sold to another German shipping company, Seefart Segelschiffs-Reederei GmbH from Bremen. In 1930, on her last voyage under the German flag, Oldenburg was almost lost when the cargo of phosphate shifted in heavy weather. After two weeks in a heavy storm, the longitudinal bulkhead gave way and the ship assumed a list of 55 degrees. Lifeboats, spare yards and the kitchen stove were lost overboard. However, the crew managed to righten the ship and sail her to MalmöSweden. After unloading the ship was moved to Bremerhaven to be laid up.[6] – Wiki
Jost Metzler also served on this ship the same time as I, as noted in the book, “The Laughing Cow”.

The Oldenburg

I haven’t been able to find anything more on the Olivia – other than its mention in the postcard and listed in a HAPAG book. A postcard from her to “Herr Günther Prien on SS ‘Olivia’, ‘Hapag’ – Hamburg” in 1927, “My Günther … Achim drove alone and felt very proud as a great independent travel boy, the little guy … Your Mom. “” (From Hermann Historica – Auction 54) – Below the postcard in the lower left corner.

1928 – 1931/early 1932 (?) – Service aboard the HAPAG ship San Francisco and eventual unemployment in 1932 after earning captain’s certificate.
*Note: I had emailed the company, now Hapag-Lloyd (after the merger in the 1970s of HAPAG and NDL) about the alleged collision with the San Francisco. The response that I got was in the negative. That there is no report of any collision with the San Francisco in their archives. This was, if I recall right, also noted in a book – either “The Royal Oak Disaster”, or “Nightmare at Scapa Flow”. There also never was any ship named the Pfalzburg. There is still too much of a reliance on the ghost written book by Paul Weymar (“Mein Weg Nach Scapa Flow” trans. as “U-Boat Commander”).

Excellent site with information on the ship here.

Me on the left.

The San Francisco, later renamed Rhakotis and sunk during WWII.

There is much more to this brochure - such as deck plans.

Original (vintage) HAPAG flag cap badge that I bought from eBay.

Unemployed in 1932 (x) - with a part of a work group.