by W.C. Stump

I will be covering a topic that hundreds of great books have been already been written about:  The German U-boat Service from 1918 to 1957.  I won’t try to duplicate the works of the many great authors on this subject, past or present.  I will build my article around an item that I have in my collection that is most unique.  It has no story of its own, but indirectly tells a great story if one has the slightest imagination.  It is a gray marble plaque that was brought to this country in the 1960’s.  No story came with it and an American tourist sold it to a friend of mine, who in turn passed it to me, all I can offer is that was picked up in Germany.  Yet, despite all this vagueness, it “talks” if you will listen carefully.  I will take each badge on the plaque, starting with the WWI U-boat War Badge and finish with the 1957 U-Boat Close Combat Clasp, and listen to the story that comes from the 50-year span of history that it covers.  Therefore, the following is what I have heard.  

For many years I have been an enthusiast of the Submarine Service.  It was, and is, an elite combat wing of any modern navy.  As a young child growing up in the coalfields of Appalachia, hundreds of miles from the sea, I dreamt of having a career in the Navy.  I read every thing I could about the Navies of the world and naval combat while spending every quarter I could save up to go to the “picture show” on Saturday afternoons. I loved War pictures and especially pictures dealing with the submarine service.  It would not be until 1962 when I looked on the great Atlantic Ocean for my first time.  I never sailed the sea until 1979, and the great Pacific Ocean provided me the first opportunity to sail on the ocean waters I yearned to sail on for so many years.  While flying over the sea was one thing, I really yearned to take a cruise. The opportunity presented itself when I was in Hawaii.  It only took one trip around Honolulu off Diamond Head, on the old sailing schooner used in the motion picture The Wreck of the Red Witch, to make it clear to me that I was just a “Hillbilly Landlubber” at heart.   The sea was not for me and I found this out quite quickly.  My stomach has yet to get over that two-hour trip over the bounding main in the waters around the Island of Oahu.  However, I still love sea tales and reading about the exploits of the Submarine Services as they were, and are today, truly elite members among their peers.  

In the early 1970’s I had a fine collection of U-Boat badges, insignia and uniforms.  When I sold my collection I seemed to be able to go in with other collecting interests.  Yet, deep down I really missed my U-Boat service collection and hopped that one day I might get the chance to collect the items again.  I had that chance present itself again in 1997.  It was during the recuperation period after my Heart transplant that I gave up on living.  I was broke, worn out, and thought my life was not worth living.  I was living alone with my old cat Smokie and had shut out the world and all my friends.  I was useless to myself and to the world. Had it not been for my long time friend Darrell Ranney I probably would have just faded away.  Darrell and another pioneer collector and long time friend, Ernie Lloyd, came to visit and we recalled all the “good old days “ and the times we traveled to Europe and all over the United States together.  Darrell is the founder of the Ohio Valley Military Society and holds membership number one.  He now is a dealer and keeps occupied by still attending the military and gun shows around the area.  He is also ill, retired, but keeps active.  When he saw what I had become, he challenged me to start collecting again and get over the heavy depression I had fallen victim too. We looked at the many photographs that each of us had taken over a thirty-year period and it brought back the zeal and enthusiasm that drove me to collect like a narcotic drives an addict to get the nest fix.  I got on line and became a computer addict in about two weeks.  I didn’t have much money, but with the use of my ex-wife’s collection of U. S. Wings and my son lending me the funds and his support, I started to live again and started collecting my favorite items.  Yes, you guessed right, items from the U-Boat service.  I also got in on the ground floor of Soviet medals and orders, and before I realized, I had expanded my ex-wife’s wings collection, got interested in collecting again, and had a very presentable collection and felt like the proverbial Phoenix, rising from its ashes to live again.

It was Darrell who provided me with the U-Boat plaque and with it as the nucleus, I built a rather presentable complete U-Boat Badge and document collection in three short years.  My Internet friend, Gordon Williamson, was of invaluable assistance as he is truly a living example of what I would call a true expert in the U-Boat field.  He not only gave freely of his knowledge and advice, but also helped me acquire many of the items in my new collection.  Gordon and Jamie Cross have been of great assistance with their books and CD’s and saved me much time in reconstructing my files.   Some of my recorders were lost to the ages due to a flood that ravaged my home in 1976, but I have been able to replace 85 % as well as add all the new information available on today’s market.  


The First U-boat War Badge on the marble plaque is a 1918 variation instituted by the Kaisermarine in the early months of 1918.   To qualify for this badge, one had to complete three war cruises or be wounded or killed in action.  It is odd that it took until almost the end of the war for the U-Boat Badge to be instituted.  At the beginning of WWI, German and her allies had a formidable under see fleet.  Throughout the war, the U-Boat proved to be vital arm of the Kaisermarine.   A certain resistant to the submarine arm of all navies in the early days of the submarine development tended to have the submariners to be looked on as somewhat of a stepchild by the rest of the fleet.  The Battleship was the “king” of the seas and the submarine was looked upon as a coward lurking out of sight waiting to strike and run.  Many officers avoided the U-boat service looking for a more glamorous position of a battleship or other surface Man of War.  The image of the ship and her officers and men changed drastically as the years passed.  It was to become an elite and prestigious branch of the navies of the world.  

The basic design of the 1918 badge has a horizontal oval wreath of laurel leaves wrapped with a ribbon and the Hohensollern Crown at the top of the badge.  In the center of the wreath is a representation of the early German U-boat facing from left to right.  Many firms produced the badge; some in fire gilded brass, gold plated fine silver, solid back and hollow back, vertical and horizontal pins.  This design of this badge is the oldest of any ever produced as it was produced from 1918 until today.  In the 1920’s a thin hollow stamped badge was produced and comes with a needle pin.  I owned one from the Commander of the U-100 that was affixed to a padded cloth backing and then sewed directly to the tunic.  All the issue badges were most likely hollow back versions.  Later, the solid back versions came out and were sold at various retail outlets.  Gordon Williamson and Jamie Cross also believe that the first badges were of the hollow back construction.  I kept it for many years before selling it in 1989.  To say that I would like to have it back is an understatement.   

It is important to note that when the war was going against the Allies, it was the U-boat service alone that almost caused their demise.  It was the only branch of the Kaiser’s military service that lost more personnel per number served then any other branch of service.  Therefore, it should be understood that any original artifacts from the U-boat Service are to be considered to be very rare.  It is estimated that over 80% of both ships and personnel were lost in both WWI and WWII.  

Below are photographs of two original solid backs U-Boat badges, both with a hallmark, and most likely sold in retail outlets, a current fake solid back, and a current produced hollow back variation.  The hollow back stamped badge variation should be viewed with skepticism as it was made from 1918, through the interim between the wars, during WWII and into the early 1980’s.  Even today reproduction badges are being produced that are very hard to distinguish from the original authorized variations.  A collector should really know the source for any such badge before purchasing one because original WWI through WWII badges are near impossible to distinguish from a re-strike or modern reproduction except by the advanced collector or dealer.  Many fakes of the solid back variations are cast copies and the obverse looks very close to the original.  However, and fortunately, the reverse is usually of poor quality on many.  In the last few years the fakers are producing die struck and near perfect quality reproductions, many marked with names and logos of known WWI producers.  My ex-wife gave me a WWI U-boat badge as a Christmas present.  The example turned out to be a modern reproduction and was delivered by “Santa Pohind” via Cave Creek, AZ.  It is featured below and is marked “Walter Schot”.   In short, there have been more fake WWI U-boat War badges produced since WWII than original badges of the period.


Original solid back

Original solid back

Reproduction marked Walter Schot

Reproduction hollow back.

When Adolf Hitler came to Power in 1933, the Post-War Reichmarine was a shell of its former size when it was the second most powerful naval force in the world under the reign of the Kaiser.  Under the terms of the Versailles Treaty, the German Navy was surrendered and most of the U-Boats fleet was scuttled except for a few that were divided and retained as war reparations among the victorious Allies.  The bulk of the officers and men who had served during 1914 – 1918 had been lost along with their U-Boats.  During the early 1930’s, Germany had only a few surface ships consisting of outdated battleships and cruisers, which were used as training ships. Plus a few destroyers and lesser patrol craft.  The U-boat army of the Reichmarine did not exist.   However, as Germany began to secretly rearm they had officer corps and career ratings of the former Kaiserliche Marine who formed the nucleus of the new Kreigsmarine.  Foremost in this officer pool were Erich Raeder and Karl Dönitz.  Under Dönitz the new Submarine Service was reborn, but not until after he had spent 16 years in the Reichmarine.  He had spent a great deal of his post WWI service in the torpedo boat squadrons.  He was only an “Oberleutnant zur See” (Senior Lieutenant) in 1916 and rose slowly in the ranks to the rank of “Kapitän z. See” (Captain) by 1935.  It was in July of that year that he was given the task to reconstruct the German U-boat fleet by order of Grand Admiral Raeder.  By September of 1935 Dönitz took command of the 1st flotilla “Wediggen” with only three U-boats.  By January 1936, he was given the title of “Führer der Unterseeboote” fleet (Leader and Commander of the U-Boat Service). With Dönitz the tactics that revolutionized modern submarine warfare were born as well as a legacy in modern naval warfare.  During the period from 1935 to 1939, Dönitz’s accomplishments gained him rather quick promotions as he advanced to the rank of “Konteradmiral” in early January of 1939.  By January of 1943, he was promoted to the prestigious rank of Grand Admiral of the Kreigsmarine.


 The designer of the new U-Boat War badge was the Berlin Artist Paul Casberg.  I assumed it was designed by was Grand Admiral Erich Raeder, but my friend Gordon informed me that was not the case.     However, the U-Boat War badge of the Kreigsmarine was designed after the 1918 badge, but with new modifications.  The badge was officially instituted on October 13th, 1939 for crewmembers of submarines.  Raeder left the bestowal to the commanders of the individual U-Boats, to all officers, non-commissioned officers and other crewmembers.  To qualify they must severe on two combat missions against an enemy unless wounded on the first mission and then the requirements would be waived.  The badge was to be worn on the blue or white service jacket and pullover blue or white shirts, mess jackets and in the same location, as was the WWI Submarine Badge.  The regulations state that the Badge was to be worn during duty and off-duty hours as well. The Imperial Crown was replaced with the new national eagle and swastika adopted by the Third Reich.  The ship was altered and lay across the badge from right to left.  The new design resembled the Type VII boat and stayed the same throughout the war.  Many variations were produced by many manufactures, but the basic design was of the WWI badge retained.    

I should mention that examples were produced in embroidered cloth in gold colored rayon for the enlisted men and an embroidered gilt bullion wire version for the officers.  Few of these cloth versions were worn and were very unpopular.    I guess this is why we see rolls of unused cloth badges turn up on occasion.  The fakers like this style also because they are easier and less expensive to produce than metal badges.   Another variation was produced and it was the stickpin type and two distinct sizes were offered.  One was 18 mm X 14 mm and a smaller version 11-mm X 9 mm and both could be worn on civilian clothing, usually in the lapels.  Veterans of WWI produced the WWI stickpin during WWII for wear.  Both of these items are faked today and you have to be careful, as they are very hard to detect at first glance.  


1939 U-boat war badge

1918 stick pin

1939 stick pin

The U-boat badge usually came from the manufacture in a cheap paper envelope or an unlined paper box.  Both the paper envelope and shipping box are extremely scarce as when the badge was awarded the envelopes and boxes were discarded.  However, at many of the retail outlets, the buyer had the option of having his new badge supplied with a nice presentation case. These came with the manufacturer name and logo usually stamped on the interior top of the cased or with the LDO stamps, usually in gold type also in interior of the box.   I was told that some of the LDO boxes had their logo stamped on the top of the box also, but I have never encountered one of these.   (Gordon Williamsom and Jamie Cross have a photo of a stickpin from a Steinhauer and Lück sales catalogue and a U-boat presentation case featured in their COLLECTORS GUIDE TO U-BOAT INSIGNIA and their CD of the Same Name.) Likewise, a number of different presentation award certificates were produced including one for crewmen killed in the line of duty.   
I won’t go into all the variations of the U-boat War badge, as this is readily available in many reference books.  However, one special U-Boat Service Badge was awarded to only one person and for only one time.  It was the Special U-boat Badge in Gold with Diamonds.  The firm of Godet & Co., Berlin, in the same basic design reportedly produced it as the standard 1939 issue U-Boat War Badge and had diamonds set not only in the swastika, but in the wreath as well.  The badge had 12 diamonds set in each of the laurel leaves and nine diamonds set in the swastika.  It was a very unique badge and held the distinction of being given award status and was worn above the Iron Cross 1st Class on the left breast.  Admiral Dönitz can be seen wearing this badge in many pictures and was wearing it when he surrendered to the British at the end of the war. Unfortunately it was “liberated” from the Grand Admiral by one of the King’s soldiers, taken back to England and allegedly broken up.  However, many rumors abound about what really happened to the badge, and some say it is still in existence somewhere in England to this day.  I recall in my meeting with the Grand Admiral in the late 1960’s he was still resentful about the loss of his diamond studded U-Boat badge.  He asked me if I knew where his badge was.   Little did he know at the time, or even imagined, that 30 years later many fakes of his badge have and are being produced today.  I have a photograph of a current copy of the Grand Admiral’s badge listed below.

Admiral Dönitz most likely took the inspiration from his version of the U-Boat Badge with Diamonds to institute a similar special badge with diamonds to award his U-Boat Officers.  It differed in that it was produced with just the swastika set with nine small diamonds and none were added to the wreath, as was done with his badge from Admiral Raeder.  However, the award to his men was not an official sanctioned award by the Kreigsmarine.  When recognized, it was listed as the Submarine Badge with Diamonds, not Submarine War Badge with Diamonds. It was a private award of distinction and a recipient of the U-Boat service had to have been awarded at Oak Leaves to the Knights Cross for outstanding bravery to qualify for the Submarine Badge with Diamonds.  Despite its un-official recognition, it was also allowed to be worn over the Iron Cross 1st Class.   Admiral Dönitz told me in an interview in the 60’s that he ordered 100 badges in “pure silver”.  As it turned out, the badge was bestowed as a special badge of honor as various individuals.  Reichmarschall Herman Göring received one after he presented Grand Admiral Dönitz with a special Pilot/Observer Badge with Diamonds.  The earliest documented award to a U-Boat man was to Kapitänleutnant Herbert Schultze of the U-48.  The date on record for his award was July 15th, 1941. A special letter of notification accompanied the award and only the Commander of the Kreigsmarine could bestow it.  Thus, Grand Admiral Erich Raeder made the first award.  The first award made by Grand Admiral Dönitz was made presumably on January 30th, 1943 the date he was appointed Grand Admiral of the Kreigsmarine, as it was the same day that Korvettenkapitän Karl-Fredrich Merten received his Submarine Badge with diamonds.  28 U-Boat Badges with Diamonds were presented during the war to U-boat personnel. This special badge has been reproduced so many times that if one had a count of the number offered on Ebay alone, one could fill a cigar box full to the top.  Add the number offered by the dealer community during this same period, and on the many auction houses, a squadron of U-boat men could all have one.  I personally produced an exact replica of this badge for my own display utilizing an early fire gilded Schwerin U-boat War Badge and a jeweler fabricated diamond-studded swastika.  However, I simply glued the swastika on the badge as to not ruin a great example of an early Schwerin U-boat War Badge.   It serves my purpose and saved me thousands of dollars by not purchasing an original badge even if I could find one for sale in the first place that was unquestionably an original.


A known original

Top of Page


© Copyright LLC