Dr. Hans-Günther Busch  
  Bruno Köhler

Lieutenant (W)

Bruno Köhler

2nd Technical Artillery Officer (2.A.T.O.), 8th Divison

* 28.3.1916 in Dresden (Kingdom of Saxony) – † 27.5.1941

Lieutenant (W)  
Bruno Köhler Germany 1916

Germany (1916)


Friedrich Körner (Son of a Cousin)

Crew Book Crew 36

Ranks of the Kriegsmarine

Bruno Köhler was born 28 March 1916 to Antonia Stallmann in Dresden. While still young, she had married her teacher, Mr Köhler, who gave Bruno his family name. But the marriage did not last long, and Bruno Köhler grew up as an only child. His playmates were his two cousins, Reinhold und Friedrich Körner. While visiting an childless aunt in Hamburg, the three boys were exposed to seafaring and were immediately fascinated. In 1933, Reinhold Körner, the oldest of the trio, joined the Kriegsmarine to become an officer. In 1935 Reinhold’s younger brother Friedrich followed in his footsteps and joined up too. Because Friedrich was technically oriented, he applied as a candidate in the Engineering Officer’s career track. That same year the three friends met once more in Hamburg at their aunt’s house. The two Körners were in uniform. Reinhold was a Midshipman, Friedrich an Officers Candidate and only Bruno Köhler was still in civvies. A photograph shows the three at the top of the Hamburger “Michel”, the St Michaelis Church, a famous Hamburg landmark. In 1936 Bruno finally did his A-levels and followed his cousins to the Kriegsmarine. On 3 April 1936, a week after his 20th birthday, he joined Navy class 1936.

Bruno did his basic training with the 2nd Training Depot in Stralsund on the Baltic Sea. Being interested in technology, he chose the Ordnance Officers career track and was one of the first Ordnance Officers candidates being trained in the newly-created program. After the three-month basic training, the class attended a 90-day workshop course at the naval artillery school in Kiel. For his shipboard training Bruno was assigned to the old ship of the line Schleswig-Holstein often referred to by her call sign "Sophie X" in navy circles. The daily routine aboard ship was a great change for Bruno. If living space in the barracks was less than roomy, quarters on board were even more cramped. And the drill and training aboard ship were vastly different. But Bruno accepted all this without complaint, because he was finally going to sea.

Picture Gallery – Childhood of Bruno Köhler

Bruno Köhler with his mother in September 1916 Bruno Köhler in Zwickau in May 1917 Bruno Köhler in June 1917 Another (undated) picture of the young Bruno Köhler Another (undated) picture of the young Bruno Köhler Bruno Köhler (middle) together with his cousins Friedrich and Reinhold Körner atop of the Hamburger 'Michel' Bruno Köhler (middle) together with his cousins Reinhold and Friedrich Körner and his aunt and mother atop of the Hamburger 'Michel' Bruno Köhler as an ensign (W) together with his mother (left) and aunt (right)

Click on the thumbnails to enlarge

In October 1936 the Schleswig-Holstein put out to sea from Wilhelmshaven and sailed to the east coast of Middle and South America, where she put into several harbors. Time at sea meant drill and training; shore leave in the ports offered Bruno and his fellow cadets the chance to escape the military routine for a few hours. They also had the chance to get to know other countries and to interact with the local people and with the German emigrants, who were especially friendly. The cadets also practiced their etiquette as they were not only sailors, but representatives of their country. Six months later, 22 April 1937 the Schleswig-Holstein put into Wilhelmshaven. Several days later, the cadets went to the Navy School in Mürwik, where they took their Midshipman’s exams ending their first on board training. Before starting the next phase, Bruno took leave and enjoyed a vacation with his mother and aunt.

Afterwards Bruno started the Officers main training course at the navy school in Mürwik and soon discovered RHIP – rank hath its privileges. Promoted to Midshipman on 1 May 1937, Bruno now had only one roommate; he was a supervisor and was no longer chased out of his hammock early in the morning by a keening boatswain’s pipe. And others did the barrack policing and cleaning duties. Now in the “Red Castle on the Flensburg Fjord” as the Navy School was known it was classwork that prevailed, not drill. The officer students were taught navigation, mechanics, mathematics, gunnery and other courses. The midshipmen had 50 class hours a week in a stricly regimented curriculum. To unwind, they often went sailing on the Flensburger Fjord. Sundays were free days, and Bruno most probably took the opportunity to visit his aunt in Hamburg. During the final phase of the course, the gunnery officers visited different armament factories in Germany to observe manufacturing processes and other procedures. In November 1937 Bruno passed the Gunnery Officers Exam, and training for the Class of 1936 as a unit was over. Bruno completed a second workshop course at the naval artillery school before being stationed with the rest of the 1936 Crew Gunnery Officers at the Naval Dockyard Wilhelmshaven for training. On 1 July 1938 Bruno was promoted to Senior Midshipman (W) and three months later, after 30 months of service, to Lieutenant (W). His officers training was officially over.

For the next two years, Bruno found himself in land-based duty stations and longed for an assignment to the fleet. (Perhaps he wished to take an active part in the war.) He was especially interested in serving on the battleship Bismarck. But because gunnery officers served almost exclusively on land, this seemed impossible. But Bruno found out that Hans-Dieter Pfänder, an officer crew mate and friend of Bruno’s cousin Reinhold Körner, was stationed on the Bismarck. Bruno talked with Hans-Dieter who agreed to change assignments with him. The Kriegsmarine approved it, and Bruno Köhler came aboard the Bismarck in December 1940 as the Second Technical Gunnery Officer. He had fulfilled his dream, which he was soon to regret.

Bruno Köhler (right) with his cousins Friedrich (left) and Reinhold Körner (middle), picture taken in 1940 Bruno was soon thereafter promoted to Lieutenant (W). As the 2nd Technical Artillery Officer (2.A.T.O.), he was in the 8th Divison and was quartered in the middle of the port side of the bridge deck. In early 1941 Bruno had an unexpected meeting with his cousin Friedrich Körner, Chief Engineer of the U 556, which, like the Bismarck had been built by Blohm & Voss. Both vessels were at the shipyard in Hamburg, and the commander of the U 556, Herbert Wohlfahrt, asked Bismarck’s commander Lindemann, if he would have Bismarck’s band play for the U 556’s commissioning ceremony on 6 February. In return, Wohlfahrt offered to make the U 556 the Bismarck’s godfather and to help out when the big brother got into a bind. Bruno Köhler most certainly met with his cousin Freidrich Körner during this time.

Bruno spent some six months on board and took part in the second training cruise in the Baltic Sea before the Bismarck put out to sea on Operation Rheinübung in May 1941. He did not survive the sinking on 27 May and died two months after his 25th birthday. As fate would have it, Bruno’s cousin Friedrich Körner with the U 556 was near the Bismarck that day, but the U Boat could not help having shot all its torpedoes on patrol. Exactly one month later, on 27 June 1941, Friedrich Körner was lost with U 556 she was sunk by three British corvettes south of Iceland. Of the three cousins in the Kriegsmarine, only Reinhold Körner survived the war.


You can read the story of Lieutenant (W) Bruno Köhler on page 150 ff in Volume 2 of our book Battleship Bismarck – the True Face of a Warship. In the 340-page volume, there are stories of many more specialists who served on the Bismarck. The individual departments are described in detail supported by numerous drawings and pictures.

Take a look inside the book

Battleship Bismarck - The True Face of a warship Volume 2

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