IHS Presents Hydrofoil Pioneers...

Gotthard Sachsenberg

by Bob Johnston

(Last Update 27 Aug 00)

Gotthard Sachsenberg teamed with Baron Hanns Freiherr Von Schertel to take the Schertel-Sachsenberg hydrofoil system into the production of practical and useful marine vehicles.

The material for this article comes from my recollection and notes of a visit we made to Sachsenberg's home in Lich, Germany, a few miles north of Frankfurt am Main. This visit in the fall of 1953 was arranged by Prof. Weinblum for Phil Eisenberg and me while we were on an exploratory tour of hydrofoil developments in Europe directed by the US Secretary of Navy. Also the paper "European Development of Hydrofoil Craft Technology" by Baron Von Schertel, presented at the First International Hydrofoil Society Conference in Nova Scotia, Canada in July 1982 provided background information.

Sachsenberg's home was an old family schloss which was the base for a farming operation. This castle was the only asset left of a substantial family fortune after World War II. It was and had been the home of Gotthard's sister for many years. The family shipyard was in Dessau-Rosslau, located inland on the Elbe River. This became part of East Germany, and all related property rights were lost to the family. The castle was about the size of a small city block, square in shape with a turret located on one corner of the four story building. In the top of the turret was Gotthard's office. In this office Prof. Weinblum, Phil, and I met with Goddard and members of his old shipyard staff for a couple of days. As we climbed the wide staircase to his office we found ourselves surrounded by old antiques including many suits of armor. It was there that I learned how small the old knights were as none of the suits were much over five feet tall. As we would go up the stairs people would peak out from various doors with a high degree of curiosity regarding the visitors, particularly concentrating on the character in a US Navy uniform. Later we learned that these curious individuals were chemists and pharmacists who were using the castle as laboratories for experiments in producing medicinal drugs. These individuals had all been good Nazis and were unable to find post war employment due to their past affiliation. They had joined Sachsenberg to attempt to reproduce drugs of other countries that had proven beneficial. This was to be the start of a new Sachsenberg fortune along with his continued involvement in hydrofoils with Schertel. This renewed fortune was never achieved during Gotthard's lifetime.

The other thing I remember about the castle was how cold the place was on the October days we visited there. There was no central heat in the castle. Gotthard's office was heated by a small wood burning fireplace about which we all tried to get, as close to as possible. Gotthard was a bundle of energy, bustling about the office and rushing into an adjacent room to take frequent phone calls. We left wondering what all those phone calls were about. However we did enjoy two days of meeting members of the Sachsenberg Brothers Shipyard and held very frank, open, and interesting discussion with Gotthard and his staff about their experiences before, during and after WW II in hydrofoils and other ventures.


Sachsenberg's Experiences Prior To Meeting Schertel

Gotthard was interested in marine activities from his very youth. As such it was only natural that he would join the German Navy. He was in the Navy for a number of years culminating in his selection as a Destroyer Captain during World War I. For his service as a Commanding Officer during the war he was honored and decorated by the Navy. Gotthard's brother's marine interests went in the direction of building and servicing marine craft and ships. This led to the establishment of the Sachsenberg Shipyard in Dessau-Rosslau. When Gotthard left the Navy he joined his brother in the management and operation of the shipyard, which then became known as Sachsenberg Brothers Shipyard. The yard was located on the Elbe River where they built and maintained river boats, small ships for the North Sea, and other small craft.

Gotthard was also interested in politics; he ran for and was elected to the German Parliament. He served there for several years until Hitler and the Nazi party came into control. The Sachsenberg family was Jewish and although the Nazis wanted to use the family's assets in their build-up of their war machine, the family did not escape some harsh treatment.

In his parliamentary role Gotthard opposed the military build-up, particularly the emphasis placed on the Luftwaffe. To further aggravate the Nazis, he published documents on the subject. He displayed and gave us a number of these articles, which were all were based on the same theme. His expressed contention was that war used to be a game conducted by and for gentlemen. He cited the knights of old who battled to control a space on the Rhine River so that tolls could be collected to support their estates. These knights were members of the estate owners' families and their hired combatants. He cited cases where the battles were engaged in the surrounding fields during the day and in the evening the participants retired to the nearby taverns and enjoyed their brew together and swapped war stories. Now, modern war is a threat not only to the armies and navies engaged, but also to the women and children who happen to be in or near the field of engagement. Today, Sachsenberg wrote, we are building a substantial air force with equipment which is designed to bomb and destroy cities and facilities in foreign countries. As soon as we do this you can count on the foreign country's retaliation. We are therefore in the process of developing equipment that will lead to the destruction of our own cities and the loss of life of our children and their mothers. These articles were published during the 1930s and predicted what came to be for Germany.

As one can imagine, these articles irritated the Nazi regime. That fact in addition to his religion brought Gotthard to trial. He was not present for his trial for as a member of Parliament, the proceedings were held in secrecy. Gotthard, through his friends, was kept informed of what was going on and learned that his sentence was death. He was also told when they would come to arrest him and carry out the execution. When the Nazis came to get him he dressed in all of his parliamentary regalia including the formal clothes and the wearing of the bright colored sash and his navy sword. He was loaded in the back of a truck to be taken into the woods and shot. A military officer accompanied him. Gotthard addressed this officer asking him if he wanted to be accused of shooting a member of Parliament. As they drove through the woods the officer became concerned over his planned action and told Gotthard that when the truck stopped he was to take off and hide. Gotthard did take off, but returned to his office in the shipyard which was now engaged in the war effort, and was not bothered again!

Sachsenberg Teams Up With Schertel

In 1926, while a student at the Technical University of Berlin in Berlin-Charlottenburg, Hanns von Schertel became interested in the hydrofoil principle. He studied the works and experiments of the early hydrofoilers including Forlanini, Grocco, and Guidoni of Italy and the experiments and demonstrations of Alexander Graham Bell and Casey Baldwin of North America. A year later in 1927 von Schertel started his own experimental work, fully obsessed with finding a solution for the problems of the flying boat. In the course of the next eight years he tested all foil configurations that he considered promising, both fully submerged and surface piercing. Seven experimental boats were built and tested. Fortunately he had a wealthy mother from the United States who had married a German Baron and could afford to support her son's efforts. He never did complete his studies at the Berlin Technical University. In his own words von Schertel stated, "It was a hard time during which failures kept following each other, and periods of disappointment and discouragement had to be overcome. But I never lost hope and believed that development work meant finding the right concept among a series of errors."

In 1935, von Schertel built his seventh test craft with V-shaped front and aft foils with trapezoid outer portions. This craft performed quite satisfactorily in various weather conditions on the Rhine River. With a 50 HP engine it could carry seven persons at a speed of nearly 30 knots. These demonstrations attracted the interests of the German Navy, Air Force, Ministry of Transportation and Finance and brought about the partnership of Gotthard Sachsenberg with his shipyard.

The Schertel-Sachsenberg Venture

As soon as the partnership was formed, they placed their first efforts on obtaining a commercial order for a hydrofoil. Using the seventh test craft of Schertel's, they conducted a round trip demonstration run from Mainz to Cologne on the Rhine River for the Koln-Dusseldorfer Shipline. This 370 kilometer trip convinced the Shipline of the feasibility of this new means of transportation for passenger service. As a result they placed the first order for a foilborne craft for commercial use. Before this craft could be completed and delivered, the German World War II effort interfered and the order was never fulfilled.

As work began on the commercial order, Schertel and Sachsenberg initiated a development organization with the objective of building a larger test craft. Some of the best talents in Germany were brought into this group including Professor Weinblum, a renowned hydrodynamicist and naval architect, and Professor Schuster, an expert in high speed propellers and foils. The efforts of this group along with the enthusiastic leadership of Sachsenberg in the development of hydrofoil construction techniques created the VS 6. The VS 6 was designed as a minelayer, propelled by a pair of Hispano-Suiza engines of 1560 HP which could sustain a speed of 47 knots. A competition was held by the German Navy between this craft and a 17 ton craft designed by Professor O. Tiejens and built by Vertens Shipyard. While the Tiejens craft was faster, it had poor turning capabilities and unsatisfactory take-off characteristics. The VS 6 was declared the winner, and hydrofoil orders were placed with the Sachsenberg Shipyard.

Five different types of hydrofoils were ordered by the German Armed Forces during World War II in addition to the VS 6. In 1943, the 80 ton VS 8 was launched. The VS 8 was designed to provision Rommel's Army in Africa. It had the capability to carry a tank from Italy to Africa at a speed of 45 knots Six surveillance craft were built designated the TS 1-6. These hydrofoils displaced 6.3 tons and had a speed of 40 knots. A 60 knot hydrofoil was built and was designated the VS 10 with a displacement of 48 tons. The speed was never confirmed because the VS 10 was destroyed in a bombing raid. Two small, single seater torpedo boats were built. These were designed to approach the enemy as close as possible, then turn back sharply, launch a torpedo over the stern and make an escape at 60 knots. The last construction was a 5 ton hydrofoil catamaran with retractable foils.

Sachsenberg's Post War Activities

The Sachsenberg Shipyard along with a number of the yard's personnel fell into Russian hands after WW II's end. These facilities including several of the individuals involved in the development and construction of the hydrofoils also were retained by the Russians. Sachsenberg, von Schertel, Professor Weinblum, and a few others managed to escape into the Western zone. Most of the hydrofoils built at the yard were destroyed or damaged during the progress of the war. However one of the minelayers was captured and sent to England for evaluation. Unfortunately before there was enough interest in hydrofoils to fund an evaluation program the boat had deteriorated to the extent it did not warrant reconstruction. The TS number 6 was captured by the Russians and it became a test craft for their Navy. In fact the personnel, hydrofoil building facilities, and technical data including drawings of the various craft all became Russian property.

An aside comment is made here regarding the Russian's acquisition of this technical data and related craft. Shortly after WWII ended, then Lt. Philip Eisenberg USNR, and other experts were members of a technical team that went into post war Germany for evaluation purposes. Phil identified the valuable hydrofoil material at the Sachsenberg Shipyard and urged the allies to take the material and craft before Germany was divided into the various zones. His urging fell on deaf ears and very little was obtained by the Allied Nations.

The Russians, realizing the value of the captured material, established a design office in the Sachsenberg Shipyard at Dessau-Rosslau. Retained were engineers and scientists who had been involved in the yard's hydrofoil program along with engineers from the Junkers Aircraft Company forming a development and design group of about 100 people. This group designed and the yard built a 57 ton hydrofoil torpedo vessel. Powered by two Mercedes Diesel engines of 1000 HP each, the craft was designed for a top speed of 55 knots. The foil system was a submerged foil design using a stabilization system based on the surface effect theory. A number of the hydrofoil passenger boats, later built in Russia, continued to use this basic foil system. This office also prepared a basic design manual for the Russians, a copy of which was ultimately obtained by the US Navy (see IHS Newsletter, Winter 1993).

Baron von Schertel was able to get to Switzerland. There he dreamed of and planned on establishing a design office leading to the construction and licensing of commercial hydrofoils. Gotthard Sachsenberg shared this idea, and the two of them worked to find a way to finance, staff, and ultimately fulfill this dream. Financing was the major problem with Sachsenberg's wealth gone except for the aforementioned family farm. Schertel had inherited a title from his German father and wealth from his American Mother, but the money was tied up by US authorities. Finally working together, Sachsenberg and Schertel were able to convince Swiss bankers to lend them money to get started. With this Supramar was formed, but it was subject to the control of the Swiss bankers. By the early 1950s Supramar was able to attract a number of the old Sachsenberg Shipyard staff, who had been released by the Russians, to join them and a number of hydrofoil passenger designs were initiated. Von Schertel was the driving force behind these designs as Sachsenberg became less active due to his health and the Swiss bankers' role in Supramar.

The PT 10, FRECCIA d'ORO was introduced on Lago Maggiore between Ascona, Switzerland and Arona, Italy in July, 1953 as Supramar's first commercial design and venture. The FRECCIA d'ORO was the first operating, passenger hydrofoil to go into service anywhere in the world. This was followed by designs and vehicles designated PT 20, PT 50, and PT 150. The first PT 20, licensed to and built by the Rodriquez Shipyard in Messina, Italy was placed in operation in l956. The PT 50 followed in 1959, and the PT 150, built in Norway, went into service in 1968. Supramar ultimately entered into licensing agreements with hydrofoil builders in Italy, Japan, Norway, Holland and Hong Kong resulting in a number of Supramar designs operating in many countries. Unfortunately Gotthard Sachsenberg did not live to see the successes that grew out of his efforts.


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