Posted on September 9, 2019
When Germany surrendered its U-boat fleet at the end of World War Two, the British Navy used two of them to tour the UK, showing the public what they were like. In August 1945 they went on a charitable tour around British ports raising money for orphans, war widows, and sailors.
As a sea cadet, Peter Leith was helping with the visit to Orkney. This is when he was offered the opportunity to travel from Orkney to Shetland on a submarine.
The Orcadian newspaper, dated 23 August 1945, reported that 3,500 people visited the U-boat and accompanying wartime photo exhibition. They had not been put off by the “miserable” weather and “heavy rain” reported in the previous week’s newspaper.
The newspaper reported that 120 people were unable to get sailings to their home islands after the event because of fog.
Among the visitors to the exhibition were the Kirkwall Sea Cadets, including Peter, collecting for the King George’s Fund to raise money for those affected by the war.
“When the U-boat was in Kirkwall, the crew said they would take two cadets to Lerwick,” recalls Peter, now aged 91.
“So they chose me and my fellow cadet Donald Sinclair. The plan was for us to go up there and get a boat back down to Orkney the next day.”
The overnight journey was a smooth sailing, a journey described as “accomplished in dense fog” by The Orcadian.
U-776 departed Kirkwall at 21:00, docking in Lerwick harbour, Shetland, at 11:00 the next morning.
The submarine did not submerge at any point in the journey – something Peter was “disappointed” about.
However, he recalls vividly what the U-boat was like inside when at sea.
“We had seen photos of submarines, and we had seen it in Kirkwall,” says Peter, but he had never seen inside a U-boat.
“I got talking to one of the submariners who worked on a few of the machines and asked how they managed on a foreign ship. ‘All submarines are the same,’ he told me.”