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March Object of the Month – German One Man, Torpedo Carrying Marder Submarine (Midget Sub)

For the March edition of our Artifact of the Month, we are taking a look at the German World War II Marder submarine. The one we have here at The Mariners’ Museum resides in the International Small Craft Center, and is thought to be one of four left in existence. It was received here in May of 1948, as part of an indefinite loan from the Army Ordinance Department at Fort Monroe, VA.

Marder Submarine, following restoration in 2005. Courtesy of The Mariners’ Museum.

The Marder was known as one of the German’s midget submarines, and was an advanced design of the previous Neger design. The Neger design was unable to fully submerge, and therefore could only remain on the surface, making it extremely difficult for the operator to escape once firing the torpedo. The Marder is 26 feet long by 20 inches wide, and broken into three different sections. This particular artifact has been restored to a grayish-green color, with a white interior. The operator sat towards the bow of the submarine, under a plexi-glass dome that was fitted to the entry hatch. This dome allowed for better visibility and accuracy of the operator when firing. There was also a compass attached to the inside of the dome, so to provide addition navigational assistance to the operator.

The Marder’s torpedo, which was typically a G7E, was attached to the bottom of the submarine. After firing the torpedo, the operator would then attempt to return to safety, either by rendezvousing with a larger ship that could lift it aboard or by returning to a designated meeting spot. However, the Marder was limited in its diving capabilities; with its estimated maximum depth was about 100 feet below the surface. Typically, the sub would remain at about 45-50 feet below the surface. Because of these limitations, the Marder was designed to stay mostly within the Mediterranean and English Channel. While submerged, it had a speed of 1.5 knots, but could reach about 2 knots when moving along the surface. While its ability to submerge made it more successful than its predecessor the Neger, it was still difficult for the operators to escape.

These operators often wore thick wool clothes under a rubber suit, along with a cloth helmet and an oxygen mask to help breath within the confined area. Unfortunately, 1/3 of all missions in the Marder resulted in death of the operator, most commonly due to stress, exhaustion, carbon dioxide poisoning or poor weather. While they could be beneficial in a surprise attack, the low success rate was problematic.

One of the first attacks took place in the night of August 2/3 1944, as a German counterattack against the Allied invasion of Courseulles-sur-Mer. As a part of Allied Operation Overlord, the invasion of northern France continued into August. During this specific attack, there were 58 Marder’s sent to attack, yet only 17 returned. However, they had been fairly successful and sank a Liberty ship, a mine sweeper and the destroyer HMS Quorn. Additionally, the Marders damaged both a cruiser and a transport ship as well. While often considered an almost definite suicide mission, when accurate the Marder was able to ensure some serious damage was done.

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