Hermann Meier sat straight in his chair in the bow torpedo room of U-26. He was incredibly uncomfortable, although he tried desperately not to show it by wiping his sweaty hands carefully under the table with the clean white handkerchief he always carried in his pocket.
Someone touched his shoulder, and when he looked up, he saw it was one of the shipyard owners, a man of great wealth and prestige. The man smiled at Hermann.
“She is beautiful, is she not, Hermann?” said Ludwig von Clausen, referring to the 750-ton boat designed to prove to Great Britain the strength of the Kriegsmarine, the Third Reich’s new war navy.
“Yes,” Hermann replied, shyly. That von Clausen would even speak to him was of momentary shock. He took a large gulp of air to calm his nerves, making a mental note to relate the day’s events to Luise.
Hermann noticed the U-boat’s deadly torpedo tubes were hid behind bright swastika flags. Fine linen tablecloths covered the long table along with colorful spring flowers, and champagne glasses were placed in front of every chair. Hermann nodded to several men he knew who were senior yard managers, but he did not have the slightest knowledge who the rest of the guests were, although he guessed they were dignitaries from the Third Reich and the German Navy.
At the head of the table was a man Hermann had not seen before. To the left of the unknown man was Kapitänleutnant Hartmann. Suddenly the unknown man stood and as he did, Hermann realized with a shock he was Kriegsmarine Commander-in-Chief Erich Raeder. Everyone, including Hermann stood up.
A prim man, Raeder did not smile but instead seemed to look straight ahead at no one in particular. “This is a momentous day,” Raeder said. “I am extremely grateful to the men at AG Weser for their work on this magnificent U-boat. She will be of great pride to the Kriegsmarine and to the Third Reich. U-26 and her sister boat, U-25, is but the beginning of a new life for the U-boat arm of the German Navy. The German people need never worry again about the security of their ports.”
Everyone applauded and then the Kapitänleutnant popped open a bottle of champagne to the roar of the crowd. Crewman suddenly appeared and opened more bottles to fill the guests’ glasses. When all was ready, the crowd lifted their arms high with champagne bubbling over onto the tablecloths.
“To the U-26!” Hartmann shouted, and they all cheered.
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