Tuesday 4 April 2023

Atatürk’s Assaulters - German U-Boats In Service With The Turkish Navy

By Stijn Mitzer and Joost Oliemans
Yeni dört denizaltı gemimiz için bildirdiğimiz isimler şunlardır; 1) Saldıray, 2) Batıray, 3) Atılay, 4) Yıldıray. Bunların manalarını izaha bile hacet olmadığı kanaatındayım. Manaları, som Türkçe olan bu kelimelerin kendisindedir, yani saldıran, batıran, atılan, yıldıran. – The names we have announced for our four new submarines are as follows; 1) Saldıray, 2) Batıray, 3) Atılay, 4) Yıldıray. I believe there is no need to explain their meanings. The meanings of these words, which are pure Turkish in themselves, that is, (the one who) attacks, (the one who) sinks, (the one who) shoots, (the one who) intimidates. (By Mustafa Kemal Atatürk)

The rapidly modernising Turkish Republic of the 1930s looked at Germany's high technology industry with significant interest to modernise several aspects of its society and services. Throughout the decade, some 300 German Jewish scientists that fled Nazism were welcomed with open arms to continue their research in Türkiye, while the Turkish Air Force ordered a total of 24 Heinkel He 111 bombers and 26 Focke-Wulf 44/58K trainer aircraft from Germany in 1937. [1] In 1940, the national railway company TCDD placed an order for six German MT5200 diesel multiple units, which were on a par with the most advanced trains operating in Europe and the world at that time. [2]
Arguably the most significant attempt at importing German high-tech engineering came in 1936, when the Turkish Navy ordered four Project 280/Ay-class submarines designed on the basis of the German Type IX ocean-going class of submarines. The Ay-class was officially developed by the Dutch dummy company NV Ingenieurskantoor voor Scheepsbouw, a front office for German submarine design, which was still forbidden by the Treaty of Versailles. Two of the submarines were to be constructed in Germany, while two more, the Atılay and Yıldıray, were to be built by Taşkızak Shipyard in Istanbul. One of the submarines constructed in Germany, the Batıray, was finished as a minelaying submarine but was seized and commissioned by the German Kriegsmarine upon completion in 1939.
Fortunately for Türkiye, the Saldıray ecaped the fate of its sister ship by being finished several months earlier than the Batıray. Construction of the U-Boat had commenced in February 1937 at the Krupp Germaniawerft in Kiel, and she was launched in the presence of German and Turkish officials in July 1938. [3] After extensive outfitting, she was ready for delivery in early 1939. However, due to pre-war tensions there was a lack of sufficient Kriegsmarine personnel that could be made available to sail her to Türkiye. This ended up delaying her departure to the 2nd of April 1939, when the Saldıray finally set sail to the Aegean Sea under the German flag while being crewed by Turkish sailors and German officers. [3]

Workers of the Krupp Germaniawerft in Kiel perform the Nazi salute at the launch ceremony of the Saldıray in July 1938 (Kriegsmarine personnel can be seen saluting). The yet unfinished Batıray can be seen in the background.

The Turkish government's decision to send its own sailors to Germany is likely what saved the Saldıray for Türkiye, as a delay of just mere months would have meant it too was seized by the Kriegsmarine. As the Saldıray joined the Turkish Navy with a ceremony held on the Golden Horn, Istanbul on the 5th of June, 1939, the Yıldıray and Atılay were still under construction at the Taşkızak Shipyard just mere kilometres away. These submarines were built by Turkish workers under German supervision and constructed mostly from locally-procured materials. [4] The Atılay was launched in 1939 and entered service a year later, but the withdrawal of German technical expertise and parts after the outbreak of World War II meant that the Yıldıray could only enter service in 1946, six years after it was launched.

The Atılay is launched into the Golden Horn estuary in 1939.

The launch ceremony of the Yıldıray in 1939. Due to the withdrawal of technical assistance and the cessation of the delivery of crucial parts by Germany, the Turkish Navy succeeded in bringing the Yıldıray into operational service only in 1946.

The purchase and local construction of four highly advanced ocean-going U-Boats was considered of such importance for the defence of Türkiye that President Mustafa Kemal Atatürk decided to name the submarines himself. Writing Prime Minister Celal Bayar on the 17th of January 1938 to announce the names of the four submarines, Atatürk would never witness the arrival of the first submarine to Türkiye, passing away some nine months after writing his letter in November 1938. The hand-written decree of Atatürk for naming the submarines is still on display at the Istanbul Naval Museum, underlining the significance it bore (and perhaps, in a symbolic sense, still bears) to the Turkish Navy.

The Atılay (meaning: the one who shoots) underway at high speed. Note the 10.5cm cannon forward of the conning tower.

The Ay-class submarines boasted six 53.3cm torpedo tubes (four in the bow and two in the stern) and could carry a total of 14 torpedoes. The class was powered by two Danish Burmeister & Wain diesel engines producing 3,500 bhp (boiler horsepower) as well as two electric motors that allowed them to travel at some 20 knots on the surface and nine knots while submerged. [4] The Batıray had a range of 13,100nmi (19,400km) at ten knots while on the surface and up to 75nmi (144km) sailing at four knots while submerged. [5] The three other submarines in the class boasted a smaller range of 8000nmi (14,800km) at 10 knots while on the surface. The crew capacity comprised around 45 officers and sailors. The four Ay-class submarines were equipped with a 10.5 cm L/45 deck gun mounted forward of the conning tower. The Saldıray and Atılay were also armed with a 2cm Oerlikon anti-aircraft gun on a raised platform behind the conning tower. The Batiray could carry up to 36 mines that were launched through the torpedo tubes.
The Ay-class was not the first submarine class of German origin to serve the Turkish Navy. In 1925, the German dummy company NV Ingenieurskantoor voor Scheepsbouw (IvS) designed two Project 46-class coastal submarines based on the World War I-era UB III-class submarines for the Turkish Navy. Both vessels in the class were built by the Wilton-Fijenoord shipyard in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, in 1927 and entered service with the Turkish Navy in 1928 as to Birinci İnönü and İkinci İnönü. [6] The Project 46-class was followed by the Project 111-class, which was similarly designed by the (IvS). Construction on the submarine had originally commenced in 1930, initially for the Spanish Navy, which however had no interest in the design. The submarine was then sold to the Turkish Navy in 1935 as the Gür. [7] The acquisition of two submarines from Italy completed Türkiye's naval inventory of the 1930s. [8] [9]

The Project 46-class of coastal submarines was developed for the Turkish Navy by IvS on the basis of the WWI-era UB III class. Two were ordered by the Turkish Navy in 1925, entering service with the Turkish Navy in 1928. Note the names are also written in the Ottoman-Turkish alphabet, which was replaced by the Latin-based modern alphabet in 1928.

The Saldıray and Yıldıray served a largely uneventful career in the Turkish Navy until their retirement and replacement by ex-U.S. Navy Balao-class submarines in 1957. The Atilay was tragically lost after hitting a mine in the Dardanelles Strait on the 14th July 1942 resulting in the loss of its entire crew of 38. After the submarine failed to reach its destination on time, a search and rescue mission was launched; around 20:30 the same evening, the Atılay's buoy was located on the surface of the water. Though the phone in the buoy was in working order, repeated calls yielded no reply from the Atılay, confirming its tragic fate. In 1994, 52 years after the Atılay's sinking, the wreck of the submarine was finally located approximately 6km away from the shore and 68 metres below the surface. The Atılay and its ill-fated crew are remembered in the song Gitti de Gelmeyiverdi (He Went and Didn't Return) as the husband of Hamiyet Yüceses, a well-known Turkish singer at that time, was among the crew.

The ill-fated crew of the Atılay shortly before their demise at the hands of a mine laid during the 1915 Dardanelles Campaign in July 1942.

The Batıray that had been seized upon completion in 1939, was commissioned into the German Kriegsmarine on the 20th September 1939. Despite being outfitted as a minelaying submarine, the Kriegsmarine used her like a regular Type IX U-boat (on which design the Batıray was based). During her operational service (that lasted from June 1940 to March 1941), the UA made six patrols, over the course of which it sank eight Allied ships, including the British armed merchant cruiser HMS Andania. Out of the ten ships sunk by fourteen foreign submarines commissioned into the Kriegsmarine during WWII, the UA was responsible for eight. The submarine was used for training from July 1942 onwards and carried out no more operational patrols. It was scuttled on the 3th of May 1945 at Kiel.

The UA, or Batıray as she would have been known in Turkish service, under the flag of the German Kriegsmarine.

The tradition of operating advanced German submarine designs set in the 1930s is continued in the Turkish Republic's modern-day submarine branch, which consists entirely of German designs. The Type 209 already in service is set to be complemented by six Reis-class hunter killer submarines (license-built submarines based on the German Type 214 submarine design) that are to enter service throughout the 2020s. Though none of these are destined to bear the names of the Ay-class submarines, the spirit of these enigmatic vessels endures in their successors almost a century later. Attempts have been made to keep the legacy of the Atilay alive more tangibly by relocating the wreck to 30 metres depth as part of an underwater museum. Such plans have not yet come to fruition, and the condition of the wreck might preclude this from ever happening in the first place. As the final resting place of its crew of 38, perhaps it's for the best if is allowed to spend the rest of its days in undisturbed waters.

Gitti de gelmeyiverdi - He went and didn't return    
Gözlerim yolarda kaldı - I await his return (looking at the roads)
Hele nazlım nerde kaldı - Where is my dear
Ne zaman ne zaman gelir - When, when will he return
Gel a nazlım lahuri şallım - Come, my dear lahuri shawl
Sağı solu dolaşalım - Let's walk around
Ne zaman ne zaman gelir - When, when will he return

The wreck of the Atilay.

[1] The unlikely haven for 1930s German scientists https://physicstoday.scitation.org/do/10.1063/pt.6.4.20180927a/full/
[3] TÜRK DENİZALTICILIK TARİHİ http://www.denizalticilarbirligi.com/db.dztarih.htm