Michael Usselmann  
  Michael Usselmann

Able Seaman

Michael Usselmann

Rangefinder, 3. later 2. or 4. Division

* 8.7.1918 in Bamberg (Bavaria) - † 27.5.1941

Michael Usselmann Germany (1918)

Germany (1918)


Andreas Usselmann (Nephew) / Bamberg

Andreas Usselmann himself tells about his uncle Michel: "As a little boy (born 1945) I found out in my parents' house that my uncle was a crew member of the battleship Bismarck and had been since the ship sank on May 27th was listed as missing in 1941. A picture in the apartment showed him in naval uniform. Michel was born as the fourth child of Michael and Margareta Usselmann, née Ernst, on July 8, 1918 in Bamberg. With his siblings (two sisters and a brother) he grew up on his parents' farm at the foot of the Altenburg, a landmark of the city of Bamberg. I found out from my father that after he finished elementary school – a photo shows him as a communion child – he completed an apprenticeship as a butcher at the Geldner ('Alter Eckenbüttner') butcher's shop in Bamberg. He then worked as a journeyman in the Panzer butcher's shop. During this time he also maintained a tradition of the Bamberg butchers - he trained as a wrestler (light heavyweight) in the Bamberg weight training club SC Roland."

The SC Roland wrestling team with Michael Usselmann on the far right.

The SC Roland wrestling team with Michael Usselmann on the far right.

1 The age of majority began at the age of 21.

At the end of 1938 Michael Usselmann went to the Navy. Since he was still a minor at the age of twenty1 and his father had died the year before, his older brother signed the required declaration of consent for the application for acceptance by the Navy. The basic training in the 3rd ship cadre department in Kiel lasted four and a half months. He then served on the training ship Schleswig-Holstein. The old battleship became known through the bombardment of the Polish fortress Westernplatte on September 1, 1939. It was considered symbolic of the beginning of the Second World War. Until the end of the month, the Schleswig-Holstein took part in further land bombardments in support of the army's advancing land units and then returned to its training activities. Officer candidates completed their first on-board internship on the ship. As a member of the permanent staff, Michael Usselmann was of course not affected. On October 1, 1939 he was promoted to Ordinary Seaman, 1st Class. The Schleswig-Holstein was deployed again as part of the "Weserübung" operation. She was given the task of occupying Nyborg and Korsør in the Great Belt. A group of auxiliary vehicles was put together especially for this task and named Warship Group 7. The large scale of the entire operation - Denmark and Norway were to be taken by surprise - and the limited size of the Kriegsmarine explain the seemingly random formation of six trawlers, three test boats, two tugs and two transporters, with the Schleswig-Holstein as lead ship. On the approach to Nyborg, an incident occurred in the narrow fairway. In the early hours of April 9, 1940, the Schleswig-Holstein ran aground. The embarked troops had to be disembarked and the other formation ships dismissed to carry out their mission. The Schleswig-Holstein was only able to get free again in the afternoon with the help of the battleship Schlesien and boats from the 15th minesweeper flotilla. Despite high ship losses, the operation achieved its goal.

Michael Usselmann as a communion child From May 1940, the secondary armament on the battleship was disassembled and used to equip the auxiliary cruisers Orion and Widder. The High Command of the Navy now made plans to decommission the Schleswig-Holstein, which had been in service for 32 years. However, Grand Admiral Raeder prevented the final shutdown. In August, the crew was ordered to leave the ship except for one watch. Michael Usselmann joined the crew of the Bismarck on August 3rd. The shipyard instruction continued for another three weeks before the ship was put into service on August 24, 1940. Michael Usselmann was a trained rangefinder and initially assigned to the 3rd Division. He completed several courses and only returned permanently on board at the beginning of 1941 as an able seaman. A few months later, the ship was send on it's first mission. On May 27, 1941, Michael Usselmann deceased to the serious injuries he sustained in the last battle of the Bismarck. He died at the age of 22. His nephew continues: "I still remember my grandmother regularly washing parts of his uniform and waiting for her son to return. I also have lasting memories of how my grandmother burst into tears when one day a man came who looked very much like her son. Assuming her son was still alive, she died in May 1960. The fate of the Bismarck prompted me to investigate my uncle. While reading the book 'Battleship Bismarck' by Jochen Brennecke, I happened to see the address of the surviving Georg ('Schorsch') Herzog from Neukirchen as a footnote. I got in touch with him. His account (printed below) describes how my uncle died. As luck would have it, although I was only born three and a half years after his death, I am attached to the Navy and also exercised wrestling. I feel obliged to honor his memory."

Georg Herzog wrote in his letter of January 26, 1962:

Dear Mr. Usselmann!

When I opened your lines, a picture fell out of the envelope, the picture of your uncle Michael Usselmann. I didn’t need to read your letter because it so happened that I was a very good friend of your uncle. Your uncle Michel was in my ship division for a long time, namely with the III. Division. The naval division on a battleship is roughly the size of a company and has 180-240 men. Our division leader was Lieutenant Lippold. Since your uncle was a rangefinder, he was later transferred to the II or IV Division. But after so many years, I can't say exactly which division he was in.

2 Georg Herzog refers to the accommodation ship New York, where the seaman personnel for the Bismarck were assembled.

Portrait photo of Michael Usselmann in the Navy Your uncle joined our ship2 in Gotenhafen as an old 'Sophie X' driver. That's what the people who came to our battleship from the Schleswig-Holstein training ship were called. More than half of those old mariners came to us back then to form the ship's tribe. The ship base was made up of three barges, since the Bismarck was still in the shipyard in Hamburg. Your uncle was sent on several courses and only really came on board in early 1941. I was a very young seaman at the time and many of these old ordinary and able seaman set an example for us. And a role model in every way. Above all, these old mariners were still from a good school and especially your uncle Michel, Otto Kuhn, Hans Wagner, Xaver Schmidtbauer were these people who supported us everywhere with good camaraderie, whether in good or bad times. So if tears came to my eyes when I held your uncle's picture in my hands, you may not quite understand it, but I'll tell you honestly, your uncle was so much to me like a brother. The spirit and camaraderie that was on the Bismarck lives on across the grave. But what should I write to you about your uncle? After that I was an anti-aircraft soldier and far away from your uncle in combat. There are no survivors who knew your uncle. (...)

3 Other sources often mention "Adolf-Hitler-Platz".

Up until May 27, 1941, your uncle 'Michel' was perfectly healthy. At 8:00 a.m. or 8:30 a.m. he was very badly injured and we rescued him from the debries as paramedics and brought him to the first aid station. The first aid station was on the 'Hindenburgplatz' 3, that's what the rearmost part of our ship was called. Your uncle had very severe wounds on his chest and his bottom right foot was completely blown away by a direct hit. Since the blood loss was very large, he died next to one of his best comrades, Hans Wagner from Bayreuth. His last words were a greeting to his mother.

You may be wondering why I didn't write to his mother sooner. Why I didn't fulfill my comrade's last wish. In this case you can think as you like, at least I am of the opinion that the suffering that came over his mother at the time was great; was enough and my lines would have only enlarged it. The death notice from the High Command of the Navy was only issued under our own affidavits. With that, the mother had the firm news that her son Michel was no longer alive. So what value would a great, gruesome report have had? It wouldn't be of much use to you either if I gave a big report today and if you are likely to use this report to open new wounds. I am willing to answer any questions you may have."


You can read the story of Able Seaman Michael Usselmann on page 213 ff in Volume 1.3 of our book Battleship Bismarck – the True Face of a Warship. Beside that 320 pages with the stories of many other Seaman from the Bismarck are waiting to be read.

Take a look inside the book

Battleship Bismarck - The True Face of a warship Volume 1.3

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