Lorient: submarines and museum!

So there you go another site vastly overlooked by yours truly in my blog. I have written several posts on Lorient but the coverage on its submariners’ history and museum was vastly overlooked me think. Therefore, let me tell you a bit more on Lorient and its submarine museum and history!

Lorient is a sub prefecture regional  government city for the department of Morbihan 56 in Bretagne, and very close to me, in fact is about equal distance to Vannes as well and even thus we come to Lorient often, the habit is to go to Vannes most of the time. Here, there is an underwater Museum of the Pays de Lorient, presenting the underwater heritage of  WWII within the oldest rescue center for submariners built in 1942 by the Kriegsmarine (or nazi navy), then reused for 42 years by the National Navy of France. The submarine “La Flore” S645, the former submarine of the French Army ,with an interactive museum ending with a visit of the submarine. Sublime for the lovers of history and seafaring!

Lorient

The museum features a fine collection of films, archive images, scale models, eye-witness accounts and unusual objects recovered from the Lorient coast from the 40 or so ships that were wrecked or scuttled during WWII. The Flore submarine is an old submarine disarmed in 1989 which is kept for its heritage, and to tell a history of Europe. A gateway allows you to bypass the submarine to admire it from the outside. Get on board! Using an audio guide, former submariners accompany you during your visit of the submarine, and you deliver their stories and the secrets of life on board. Opening in 1999 of the first visitation area in the heart of the Keroman submarine base, within the oldest submarine rescue center in the world, the former nazi tauchtopff renamed Davis Tower by the French Navy after the war. In a totally extraordinary place, where for five decades successive generations of submariners trained in shipwrecks, the Underwater Museum had just found its showcase on land to allow all visitors to “dive” into the history of war of WWII in the Pays de Lorient.

Lorient

The museum on submarine Flore info in English here: Submarine Flore museum at Lorient

The association of friends on the submarine museum in French with a lot more info here: Submarine museum of Lorient

However, for the history buff in me, this is the real story and a must to come to the museum me think. The Submarine base of Lorient.

The Keroman submarine base is a WWII bunker complex located in Lorient , Morbihan dept 56 of Bretagne in my belle France. It occupies the end of the Keroman peninsula, in the bay of Lorient and overlooks the Bay of Biscay. It took the basic name of General Engineer Submarines Stosskopf in 1946.  Built between 1941 and 1944 by Nazi Germany during the Occupation, it was then intended to house the 2nd and 10th U-boat flotillas of the Kriegsmarine (nazi navy), while being part of the device of the Atlantic Wall. Its presence is the cause of the destruction of the city of Lorient by the British and American air forces in January and February 1943, then of the late surrender of the Lorient pocket on May 10, 1945.  The submarine base was taken over by the French Navy after the conflict and was used until 1997 as a submarine base. Since the end of the 1990s, the site has been converted into a nautical center specializing in yachting and offshore racing. It also hosts a business center focused on the maritime world, a museum housed in the Flore submarine, as well as the Éric Tabarly cite du voile (see post). The complex is made up of three bunkers, Keroman I, II and III, two Dom-Bunkers located in the area of the Keroman fishing port, as well as a bunker located in Lanester, on the banks of the Scorff river. The three Keroman bunkers have between five and seven cells intended to accommodate U-boats, covered by roofs 3.5 meters thick for the K1 and K2 models, and 7.5 meters for the K3 model submarine.

Lorient

The city recovered its status of maritime prefecture by a decree of May 20, 1939, and had before the start of the war a garrison of nearly 5,600 sailors and a military arsenal employing some 5,000 workers, for a population of the agglomeration of 60,000 inhabitants. The city of Lorient is used as a base of fallback against the nazi advance in June 1940. The gold of the Belgian and Polish national banks is evacuated by its port on June 17 and 18, 1940. The same day, Admiral François Darlan, then withdrawn to Bordeaux, ordered the local forces to resist the nazi advance. Vice-Admiral Penfentenyo, who is in charge of the city, applies the scorched earth policy: the oil tanks in the city’s ports are set on fire, ammunition is drowned in the roadstead and the doors of the refit basins of the city. Its arsenal are blown up. On June 21, 1940, the nazi troops, which regrouped in Quimperlé, attacked Guidel. The city of Lorient falls on the same day.

lorient

At the beginning of June 1940, the konteradmiral (rear admiral) Karl Dönitz , He decided to establish his headquarters as well as the 2nd U-boat flotilla in the city of Lorient on June 28, 1940: the latter is equipped with modern facilities, is connected by rail and is less exposed to British strikes than Brest. Dönitz moved to a villa in the Kernével district of Larmor-Plage (see post) on October 16, 1940, facing the Keroman peninsula. A first attack by 12 British bombers reached Lorient on August 22 and 23, 1940. Hitler approved the construction plan of the submarine base asked by Dönitz on December 23, 1940 The site of the Keroman peninsula was chosen to accommodate the future base. Almost a million cubic meters of concrete are used to build the fortress, which is almost a quarter of the concrete worked in France for the nazi military effort.

The insufficient size of Keroman’s first two bunkers does not allow them to accommodate certain U-boats such as type IX D and type X B which are too long for these installations, or even type XXI which are too high for them. The decision was therefore taken to build a third bunker, Keroman III, during Fritz Todt’s visit to Lorient on March 10, 1941. Work began in October 1941 and the building was operational in February 1943. The defense perimeter extended. on a strip of 24 km inland and also includes the naval air base of Lann-Bihoué (now Lorient airport). Nearly 400 blockhouses, machine gun nests, or even watchtowers were built between the mouth of the Laïta river and that of the Etel river. The commissioning of U-boats type XXI requires the creation of new bunkers because of their height. The Lorient base is the only one on the Atlantic coast to accommodate them; the construction of new facilities, Keroman IVa and Keroman IVb, was launched in the summer of 1943 to accommodate 24 of these U-boats. The construction of Keroman IVa was however slowed down by the lack of materials and labor and even had to be stopped on April 24, 1944; only the walls of two cells and the one making the interface with Keroman I have been completed. On the other hand, the construction of Keroman IVb does not go further than the work of digging the foundations and beginning of formwork of some cell walls.

The two Dom-Bunkers were built around the slipway of the fishing port from February 1941. They are made in six sections and measure 81 meters long, 16 meters wide and 25 meters high. The walls are 1.5 meters thick and their roofs have an ogive profile, so as to reduce the effect of the bombs. The Keromen I ,originally designed to accommodate U-boats when they are being repaired after they have been mounted on the slipway, they are not very practical in use and are converted into workshops, then into warehouses. It measures 120 meters long and 85 meters wide, has five cells and a covered slipway. Its roof initially consists of a reinforced concrete structure of 3.50 meters. It was enlarged in 1942 by the addition on its rear part of a technical section 81.7 meters long and 23 meters wide intended to accommodate electric generators and by the addition of a drive tower equipped with a 7 meters tank allowing sub- boatmen to simulate evacuation maneuvers. The Keromen II was 120 meters long and 138 meters wide and has seven cells, and was completed in December 1941.  Its roof has the same characteristics as that of Keroman I, with the exception of the DCA sites. It was extended in 1942 by the addition, on its rear part, of a technical part 57.42 meters long and 24 meters wide intended to accommodate electrical transformers. The Keroman III measure 138 meters long and 170 meters wide and has seven cells: two 95 meters long, three 98.5 meters long, and two 84 meters long.  Started in October 1941, the new bunker was completed in January 1943.

The Keroman base also served three times as a port of call for submarines of the Imperial Japanese Navy, then an ally of Nazi Germany, between August 1942 and 1944: the I-30, the I-8, and the I-29. Of the three submarines that joined Keroman, only the I-8 managed to return safely to Japan in December 1943.

The Lorient pocket surrendered on May 10, 1945 after a nine-month siege, and the French forces recovered the base in perfect working order. On July 6, 1946, the base took the name of “General Engineer Stosskopf” . At the beginning of the 1970s, the French General Staff decided to gradually replace its classic attack submarines with nuclear attack submarines until the beginning of the 21C. As the Lorient base does not have a nuclear fuel-processing site, it was closed in the early 2000s. La Sirène is the last submarine to pass through the construction sites and leaves the site on the 11th. February 1997 for Toulon.

The bunkers are preserved because of their heritage value and the cost of their destruction, estimated at 31 million euros. It was decided to constitute within its space, a center on “man and the sea in the 21C” structured in five poles: offshore racing, naval strategies, prevention of risks at sea, underwater archeology, and fishing and aquaculture. And indeed the whole area feels the sea ,the mariners, and the history of submarines. Hope you have enjoy the tour and the history of it as we do.

A French site U Boote on more detail of the history of this former submarine base is here: U Boote on Lorient submarine base

And the Lorient south Bretagne tourist office on the visit of the submarine base in French: Lorient south Bretagne tourist office on the submarine base of Lorient

Lorient

And now I feel better! You have another wonderful huge monument near me on the history of France, Europe, and the World never to be repeated again. However, a visit to the Lorient submarine base and museum is a must by all those who like us appreciated the effort. Hope you enjoy it.

And remember, happy travels, good health, and many cheers to all!!

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