Rolf Seifert (nephew) / Fraureuth
„Schlachtschiff Bismarck – gesunken… gerettet… gefangen…“ – Josef Statz
Motor Training Class III
Badge for specialtraining
The red embroidered badge for specialtraining was worn by Petty Officer Second Class and Sailors underneath the rankbadge.
Erich Seifert was born as the fourth child of Paul and Selma Anna Seifert on 13 September 1919 in Fraureuth, a town of 3500 a few kilometers west of Zwickau, Thuringia. He was baptized in the Protestant Church a month later. He started school in the spring of 1926 and finished in 1934 and was confirmed the same day. He started job training as a machine fitter. In 1938, Erich decided to volunteer for the Kriegsmarine. He was found fit for induction, but first did service in the RAD (compulsory state labor service).
In 1939 Erich went to Kriegsmarine basic training. Because of his job training as a machine fitter he was assigned to the engineering MOS. After basic training, he completed the Motor Training Class III course and was assigned to the cruiser Karlsruhe, which took part in Operation Weserübung (the invasion of Norway) in April 1940. Part of Squadron 4, the Karlsruhe helped occupy Kristiansand after a short engagement. When the squadron put out to sea, the Karlsruhe was struck by a torpedo fired by an English submarine. 11 men were killed in the attack, and the Karlsruhe started to sink slowly. Since the motors and electrical plant were out of commission as well as the steering system, she had to be abandoned. Eric Seifert jumped into the fjord. But before doing so, he took off his leather overalls, a decision he was to regret. As soon as he hit the water, he was stung by the cold. And didn’t he have money in his pocket? It was lost just like all his personal effects in his locker. He was picked up by a torpedo boat and taken back to Germany.
Erich and the majority of his Karlsruhe mates were sent to Hamburg to the Bismarck which was not yet finished. During the technical indoctrination classes on the battleship, the men lived on boarding ships in the Hamburg harbor. Erich and four other mates from the Karlsruhe were on the same deck. Stoker Third Class Josef Statz, a Bismarck survivor, was later assigned to the deck. Statz established an immediate bond of trust with the more seasoned stokers. He was especially impressed by Erich Seifert, who was called “Fietje” on board.
For his part, Erich repeatedly related his experiences on the Karlsruhe to Josef Statz and other younger sailors. “If the same thing happens to the Bismarck and you have to abandon ship, keep your uniforms on, especially the leather overalls, and make sure the money is safe in your pockets!”
Once, there was an open house on the Bismarck, and Erich’s oldest brother Kurt came to visit him. Kurt was also in the service but was in the army. On 19 May 1941 the Bismarck started Operation Rheinübung. In the following days Erich Seifert and his mates went through an emotional roller coaster with dramatic twists of fate. Above all, being on constant alert, the sailors suffered from sleep deprivation and stress. The torpedo hit on the rudder on May 26 sealed the Bismarck’s and the crew’s fate.
The night before the final battle was tortured for the crew with the agonizing certainty of death. Erich Seifert suffered greatly, and the next morning his younger friend Josef Statz saw a completely changed “Fietje.” Erich Seifert, always Statz’s role model, was completely disoriented when he and Heinz Moritz came into the damage control center, Statz’s duty station. The battle had been going for almost an hour and the order to scuttle the ship had just been given. “Erich was standing there not saying a word. He was in an undershirt and barefooted, just panting,” remembered Statz later. The physical and mental exertions of the last few days had simply been too much. Statz turned to Heinz Moritz and asked if they should try to climb into the vertical shaft connecting the damage control center with the fore stand. But Heinz Moritz did not reply either. Instead Moritz and Erich Seifert simply climbed into the shaft and started working their way up. Statz followed.
There was a light at the top of the shaft, although normally, that was exactly where the fore stand was. The battle was still raging and the crescendo got louder and louder as the three got closer to the top. Heinz Moritz and Erich Seifert had just left the shaft and Josef Statz was still climbing out when a shell exploded in the fore stand, wounding all three. Erich Seifert pulled the mortally-wounded Heinz Moritz from the stand and laid him on the fore bulwark next to Josef Statz where he died. The area near the bridge was completely devastated as the enemy had massed his fire at the bridge and scored many hits. Shells were still striking here, and Erich Seifert tried desperately to find a way to get away from the bridge. He ran back and forth until he reached what was left of the port aft crane then slid down it to the main deck, where he disappeared. His final fate is unknown.
While Josef Statz followed his former messmate’s advice and kept his leather overalls on until his rescue, the 21-year-old Erich Seifert went down with the Bismarck. Because there were no eyewitnesses to his final fate, he was considered MIA until the official time limit passed. Erich’s mother never gave up hope that her youngest son would indeed come home. She repeatedly swung a pendulum over his picture to find out if he had survived the battle and was still alive.
Aviation and Civilian Personnel
Fleet Staff, Fleet Observer Group, Prize Crews and Combat Correspondents
You can read the story of Stoker 1st Class Erich Seifert in our new book "Schlachtschiff Bismarck – Das wahre Gesicht eines Schiffes" Volume 3 starting at page 329.
Beside that 436 pages with the stories of many other Stokers from the Bismarck are waiting for be read.