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The Biber (German for "beaver") was a German midget submarine of the Second World War. Armed with two externally mounted 21-inch (53 cm) torpedoes or mines they were the smallest submarine in the Kriegsmarine. Her hasty development in spring 1944 (incorporating developments from a captured Welman submarine) to attack coastal shipping and help meet the threat of an Allied invasion of Europe and the resulting basic technical flaws combined with the inadequate training of her crews, meant she never posed a real threat to either of these, despite 324 being delivered. One of the class's few successes was against the Alan A. Dale.

A number have survived in museums including one example that has been restored to operational condition.

Development

Construction of the first prototype began in February 1944 and was completed in less than 6 weeks. The initial prototype was officially titled Bunteboot (but better known as Adam) was heavily influenced by the British Welman. It differed from the final design in a number of respects such as being nearly 2 meters shorter. Following testing on the Travemarker river on the 29th of May twenty four Bibers were ordered.

Design

The hull was built in three sections composed of 3 mm thick steel with an aluminium alloy conning tower bolted to the top. The conning tower contained armoured glass windows to allow the pilot to see out. The hydroplanes and rudder were made of wood and trying to control them while tracking the depth gage, compass and periscope made the craft hard to handle. Adding to the pilot’s difficulties the craft lacked compensating and trimming tanks making staying at periscope depth a near impossibility. The Biber had two diving tanks one in the bow section and one in the stern.

The submarine could be armed with either two TIIIc torpedoes with neutral buoyancy (achieved by limiting the number of batteries on board), mines or a mixture of the two.

The Biber was powered on the surface by a 32hp Otto blitz petrol engine which was used despite concerns about the risks posed by the carbon monoxide the engine gave off. The engine had the advantage of being cheap and available in large numbers. Propulsion while submerged was provided by a 13 horse power electric motor powered by three Type T13 T210 battery troughs.

Operation

Biber operations were carried out under the auspices of the K-Verband , a German naval unit which operated a mixture of midget submarines and explosive speedboats. The training of Biber operators was originally planned to take eight weeks, but the initial group of pilots was rushed through in just three weeks. Planning also called for flotillas of 30 boats and pilots with just under 200 shore support crew.

Operations generally lasted from one to two days with pilots either using a drug known as DIX to stay awake on longer missions or caffeine-laced chocolate. The poor quality of the Biber's periscope meant that night attacks had to be carried out on the surface.

Fécamp harbour

The control surfaces and propeller of Biber 105
The first Biber operation was launched on 30 August 1944 from Fécampmarker harbour. Twenty-two boats were launched but only 14 were able to leave the harbour and of those fourteen only two managed to reach their operational area. The bibers were then withdrawn to Mönchengladbachmarker.

Operations in the Scheldt Estuary

In December 1944 it was decided to deploy Bibers against traffic to Antwerpmarker in the Scheldt Estuarymarker. The force was based at Rotterdammarker with forward bases at Poortershavn and Hellevoetsluismarker. The first attack took place on the night of the 22/23 of December. Eighteen Biber were involved of which only one returned. The only allied loss caused by the operation was Alan A. Dale. Further operations between the 23rd and the 25th achieved no success and none of the 14 submarines deployed survived. On the 27th the accidental release of a torpedo in the Voorneschen resulted in the sinking of 11 Bibers (although they were latter recovered). The 3 undamaged bibers later sailed again none returned. An operation on the night 29/30 January resulted in damage to (much of it due to ice) or loss of most of the remaining Bibers. Losses combined with RAF bombing prevented attacks from being mounted in February 1945. The bombing had damaged the cranes used to move the Bibers into and out of the water. Reinforcements allowed operations to continue until April 1945 but no successes were achieved and the Biber flotillas continued to take a very high rate of losses. The last Biber mission was an attempt at mine laying and took place on the night of the 26th of April. Of the 4 bibers that took part one ran aground and three were attacked by Thunderbolts which sank two of them.

Attempted attack on Vaenga Bay

A Biber viewed from the side with a missing periscope
In January 1945 an attempt was made to mount an attack on Vaenga Bay in the Kola Inletmarker. The hope was either to attack one of the convoys that stopped there to refuel and take on ammunition or to attack the Soviet battleship Arkhangelsk (HMS Royal Sovereign on loan to the USSR). As it happened neither the battleship nor a convoy were in the port at the time of the planned attack. The plan was for U-boats to carry the Bibers within range of the harbour. U-295, U-318 and U-716 set off from Harstadmarker on the 5th of January with Bibers mounted on their casings. Vibrations from the U-boats’ engines causes the Bibers stern glands to leak allowing water to reach the machinery space and as a result the mission was abandoned.

Further developments

Planning for two man versions (Biber II and Biber III) began but never got off the drawing board.

Surviving examples in British museums

IWM example Biber No.90
There are surviving examples in British museums, including at the Royal Navy Submarine Museummarker, Gosportmarker and at the main Imperial War Museummarker, Londonmarker. The IWM example is Biber No.90 and was one of three Bibers launched from the canal at Hellevoetsluismarker in late December 1944. It was found sinking 49 miles NE of Dovermarker on 29 December 1944, its crewman had failed to properly close the engine exhaust system and died from resultant carbon monoxide poisoning. HMS Ready took it in tow and, even when it sank close to Dover harbour entrance, the Royal Navy still raised it and subjected it to extensive trials. One oddity discovered during the initial search of the boat was:
a bottle hidden under the seat and inside was a document in english, which, romantic as it read, appeared to have some bearing on upon the capture of the submarine, and possibly the explanation of why the pilot met his end.


That is all that the report says about that finding, any further details appear to have been lost.

The Biber held by the Royal Navy Submarine Museum is in a working condition and believed to be the only fully operational World War 2 submarine in existence . The submarine (No.105) was restored to working condition by apprentices from Fleet Support Limited in 2003 under the guidance Ian Clark. The restoration featured on Channel 4’s salvage squad. The Deutsches Museummarker also has a Biber.

References

  1. Paterson, p. 60
  2. Paterson, p. 61
  3. Kemp, pp. 188-191
  4. Paterson, pp. 64-65
  5. Paterson, p. 66
  6. Kemp, pp. 201-204
  7. Kemp, pp. 204-206
  8. Paterson, p. 147-151


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