Herbert Jahn did job training as a special lathe operator [manufacturing screws, cogs etc.] He started the navy the Kriegsmarine Training Workshop in Kiel where he was first selected for training as a radio operator. Because of his previous occupation, however, he steered towards the machinist’s career ladder. As the time for a ship assignment neared, he was given the choice between the aircraft carrier Graf Zeppelin and the battleship Bismarck. The rumors were already circulating that the Graf Zeppelin was probably a "still birth" and, therefore, he chose the Bismarck.
His joined the Bismarck at the Blohm & Voss shipyards in Hamburg. At that time the ship was still being outfitted and equipped, and the gun turrets had not yet been installed. Subsequently, he experienced the entire construction training and became familiar with the ship from top to bottom. He learned the layout of the pipes and valves and a lot more. This enabled him to instruct newly-arrived crew members by himself. His primary station onboard was the driving station in turbine room - center. He also had to perform copy work and similar duties in the construction yard for which he had to have a security clearance. For example, during this time of the dry dock lay-up he saw the hull's shape below the waterline and he remembered details about the raised bulge of the loop of the magnetic self-protection system or the microphone arrays of the "GHG"*.
His most sorrowful memory of his time aboard Bismarck is, however, the thoughts about one of his friends on the day of the sinking on 27 May 1941. "He had lost both legs and he begged us to relieve him from his suffering and toss him into the water. We finally did it, because none of us thought we would survive this inferno and make away safely.”
He says he owes his "second life" to the English cruiser HMS Dorsetshire which fished the majority of the 116 survivors out of the oily waters. Herbert Jahn can be readily recognized on the quite famous photo of the rescue action. He is the one with the perfectly-combed right-hand hair parting.
After a short stay in England, he reached Canada where he spent the next several years in a POW camp, where he earned a dollar a day as a lumberjack.
During captivity he built a finely detailed model of the Bismarck at the approximate scale of 1:500 [approximately 20 inches, 50 cm]. He created it entirely from memory and his own sketches. The main material was wood. But he even used his own hair for antennae, rigging, and such. At his release from captivity he was not allowed to take the model with him. However, the Red Cross delivered the model to him 2 years later. It was severely damaged stern, broken masts and without flags.
Here are some memories he has written in his own hand about the sinking on 27 May 1941; these are the lines he wrote a few years ago to one of his friends:
Herbert Jahn, one of the 115 men. Survivor of the battleship "Bismarck" Sunk on 27 May 1941 in the Atlantic (ca. 400 nautical miles westerly of Brest.) My primary station was turbine room - center. Before abandoning the ship I received the order to detonate the double bottom and cooling water discharge exit. The detonation occurred after I had left the compartment. Then, after detours, I reached the battery deck section 5-6 after 3-4. With the aid of other comrades we were able to open the starboard hatch to the main deck. About 10-12 comrades were able to follow me out. The view of the aft main deck was awful. The aft ship was already listing to port, and turret Dora already under water. One 38 cm barrel of turret Caesar was blown away. The view forward showed nothing but fire and smoke. In next few seconds I was washed overboard. While on top of a wave, I saw the ship capsize to port stern first and sink. About 250 - 300 sailors were in the water and some were rescued by the "Dorsetshire" (English heavy cruiser). This was my rescue.
Aviation and Civilian Personnel
Fleet Staff, Fleet Observer Group, Prize Crews and Combat Correspondents
You can read the story of Stoker 2nd Class Herbert Jahn in our new book "Schlachtschiff Bismarck – Das wahre Gesicht eines Schiffes" Volume 3 starting at page 251.
Beside that 436 pages with the stories of many other Stokers from the Bismarck are waiting for be read.