“The Bordeaux U-Boat base or the U-Boats bases’ of Bordeaux”.

Présentation Mise à jour le mardi 12 août 2014.

Une nouvelle mise en ligne d’un article déjà publié mais jamais encore traduit. Ce sont les nombreuses visites de la semaine passée sur la page dédiée, grâce notamment au partage de l’article sur le site uboat.net, qui m’ont incité à le rendre plus compréhensible dans notre monde global.

Ce post avait été initialement publié en Français sur le site « du côté du Teich » de Marion le 16 novembre 2012. L’objectif étant de redonner une « vérité » historique face aux confusions que nous pouvons, encore, lire sur la toile et même dans des articles d’un quotidien local bien connu. Depuis je l’avais remis en forme sur une page dédiée au mois d’avril dernier. Il est probable que sa version anglaise nécessite encore quelques corrections linguistiques et je ne manquerais pas de le faire en fonction des remarques et relectures.

Je vous souhaite une bonne lecture et n’oubliez pas de vous abonner, via votre adresse email sur la page d’accueil, pour profiter des prochains posts. J’envisage, bientôt, de vous proposer une sélection d’articles, de la presse écrite et de blogs ainsi que d’émissions radiophoniques autour des commémorations de la Première Guerre mondiale.

The Bordeaux U-Boat base or the U-Boats bases of Bordeaux”.

The German U-Boat bunker’s has to be distinguished with the Italian submarine base. The Italian submarine base was the first operational base which was created during the Occupation of France. The Italian base has been operational from the 1st September 19401 until September 1943.

BAF n°1 de Bordeaux - La Betasom (USMM)

BAF #1 Bordeaux – La Betasom (USMM)

The Italian submarine base of Bordeaux is established following the “Pact of Steel” signed between Germany and Italy in 1939. This pact also plans a naval cooperation between these two totalitarian powers’. This naval cooperation was brought into being by the Friedrichshafen’s meeting, where, during two days _ the 20th and the 21st June 1939 _ Admiral Cavagnari and Admiral Raeder2 have represented their own countries.

The Armistice asked by France, allowed the Occupants to choose a base for the Italian submarine navy’s corps. It is decided that the 1st tidal basin of Bordeaux will be the Italian submarine base. The Italian submarines would be at the disposal of Germany. The base was codenamed BETASOM for the telegraphic communications’. “BETA” or “β” is a reference to the Greek letter which is also the first letter of “Bordeaux” and “som” means “sommergibili”: “submarines” in Italian. The Italian Navy (“La Regia Marina”) assigned, at first, twenty-seven submarines, which constituted the “11 Gruppo di Sommergibili”. All in all thirty-two Italian submarines’ have been based in the 1st  dock of Bordeaux, even if some of these went back to Italy or never returned to the base.

sommergibile Betasom

A sommergibile in Betasom

Of course, a real military organization was set. Thus, all that regards the materials’, crew3 and the administration were under the management of Maricosom, which is the Head of the submarine commandment in Rome. Everything that concerned the naval operations depended on the decisions of the Kriegmarine – the German Navy, more precisely under the Admiral Dönitz4.

The Italian submarine’s base stopped its activity in September 1943, when Italy asked for the Armistice. Nonetheless, some of the submariners and Italian marine fusiliers decided to continue the war with Germany5.

While BETASOM was protected from aircraft raids by simple installations on the 1st dock, such as camouflage nets put on metallic framworks, the Germans began to build in September 1941 a concrete protected “garage” for the submarines. Let’s now see how the U-Bunker of Bordeaux, situated on the 2nd tidal basin (Bassin à flot n°2), has been built.


Since the Occupation of France, many French harbour cities are used as corvettes or submarines bases by the Kriegsmarine and many shelters have been erected. Concrete is then used, because it permits to build the well-known Atlantic’s coast submarines pens’. Thus on the Keroman peninsula (Lorient), at the end of the year 1940, from December 1940 at Brest and from March 1941 at Saint-Nazaire, the firsts U-Boot-Bunkers were under constructions. The La Rochelle – Pallice and Bordeaux U-Bunkers works’ began later (towards the end of 19416).

The area chosen for the edification of the Bordeaux U-Bunker was the place of the tidal basinsreservoir’s, near to the 2nd dock7. The U-Boat-Bunker is built on a hand by French and foreigners volunteers’8 hired by the Todt Organisation’s subcontractors’ and on the other hand by labour conscripts who were French and also foreigners. The plans were made by the “MarinebauwesenKriegsmarine’s office. The works are directed by Andreas Wagner. The whole edifice has 11 boxes and a 7 meters thick roof’s. Of course, the structure is continuously reinforced, such as anti-bombs structure added on the roof called “Fangrost”.

The entrances of the pens are in front of the “Bassin à flot n°2” and this base is completed by a “bunker-lock” situated at the entrance of the “Bassin à flot n°1”. The aim was to protect the entrance and the way out of the U-Boats in (and from) the “Garonne”. The “bunker-lock” construction begun in July 1942 had never been finished and was destructed by the French in 1947. Besides some little fortifications9, one annexe tower10 (uncompleted) and two important bunkers’: one torpedo bunker (destructed after war) and one fuel bunker achieved the base. From October 1942, the 2nd tidal basin welcomed the “12. Unterseebootsflotilleunder the command of Corvette Captain Scholtz. Furthermore apart the U-boats dedicated to the attacks, the base included supply and long range U-Boats.

Finally, from the city’s Liberation, many projects have been proposed on the future of this U-Boat-Bunker and on the “Bacalan’s” neighborhood, some of them have been done; but this goes over others subjects that we may see in some next articles.


1This corresponds to the Admiral Parona effective installation’s at the head of the Italian base. The base is officially opened the 30th August 1940 when Admiral Parona arrived in Bordeaux.

2Of course some others conferences are followed by the two naval powers before the constitution of Betasom.

3It’s only the Italian soldiers and the Italian workers who were authorized to repair the boats and to watched for the base. The French workers didn’t not the right to repair the “sommergibili italiani”, they were assigned to others tasks.

4Who is the BdU _ Befehlshaber der Unterseeboote _ Chief Commandant of the Germans’ submarines.

5The workers and the non military staff followed different fates, some of them have been sent to camps around Bordeaux. Others tried to join the “Resistance”.

6April 1941 for La Pallice and Bordeaux in September 1941.

7To see how the reservoir was before war: http://bacalanstory.blogs.sudouest.fr/.

8In my master thesis I called these men: “powerless-volunteers”, because of the bad economic situation in the Europe under Occupation. Cf., B. Jean-Baptiste, La base de sous-marins de Bordeaux comparée à celle de Saint-Nazaire, de 1940 à 2010, Master thesis (Master 2) under the Direction of Pr. Christophe Bouneau and Pr. Bruno Marnot, University Montaigne, 2012-2013.

9Two little bunkers can still be seen in the “Bacalan” neighborhood.

10This annexe tower is, nowadays, used by the exhibition’s structure staff.

And last not least, you can also come to ours monthly guide-tours around the “Bassins à flot” of Bordeaux.

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