Richard Rebhan  
  Richard Rebhan

Stoker 3rd Class

Richard Rebhan

likely Prize Crew

* 22.6.1923 in Lindenau (Thuringia) – † 27.5.1941

Stoker 3rd Class  
Richard Rebhan Germany 1923

Germany (1923)


Otto Rebhan (brother) / Seßlach

Dieter and Heiko Luther / Effelder

Richard Rebhan was born on 22 June 1923 in the village of Lindenau in Hildburghausen County in southern Thuringia. He was one of six sons born to August and Anna Rebhan who ran a farm in the town. At an early age Richard showed an interest in machinery and technology. He liked to tinker and do handicraft work and was good in school. As was usual then, Richard joined the Jungvolk [the section of the Hitler Youth for boys aged 10 to 14] and later the Hitler Youth. After finishing elementary school in 1937, Richard started job training as a machinist in the Fischer Engineering Works in Gemünda.

In the Holy Week of 1939 the Wehrmacht held maneuvers near the town of Hildburghausen. Richard and his brother found abandoned ammunition and, as always, the boys were eager to try new things out. Otto held a cartridge in his hand while Richard struck the cap. It exploded and Otto lost his left thumb. Richard was so terrified that he hid and did not dare go back home. Despite this serious incident, the two brothers were very close.

Richard Rebhan (right) together with other confirmands at his confirmation

Richard Rebhan (right) together with other confirmands at his confirmation

Richard was enthralled by the complex technology aboard ships, and he planned to join the merchant marine after his journeyman's examination. So he applied for the merchant marine while still doing job training. Richard’s father wanted him to stay and work at home. War broke out and Richard was drafted into the Kriegsmarine, and was to report to active duty although he was only 16. When Richard’s father heard about it, he was beside himself and went to the military district office in the city of Meiningen. There he berated the officials and said they should be ashamed to draft children. He told them that he had experienced the horrors of war on the eastern Front in WW I and wanted to make sure his son was spared that. Mr Rebhan’s intervention had consequences for him. The authorities started to make trouble for him and demanded his arrest. Luckily the local Nazi Group Leader personally was able to prevent the arrest. At least Mr Rebhan was able to gain Richard a few month’s reprieve before he had to report.

Richard Rebhan as recruit It was late summer 1940, Richard had turned 17 and had not yet finished job training when he had to report to basic training. On this day, Richard’s brother Otto had to do a farming chore, so that he could not see Richard off. Even to this day, Otto regrets his absence, since that was the last time Richard was at home. Richard took the train from Lindenau-Friedrichshall to Hildburghausen, then to North Germany, where he reported to the 13th Training Division in Sassnitz on the island of Rügen. Because of the war, basic training had been shortened. Right after his initial military basic training, he was sent to specialty training in the Navy School in Wesermunde. Because of his job training and his skills and interest in technology, he was put in the machinist’s MOS. Richard finished his first technical training (Motor Training Class III) in the Navy School in the spring of 1941and was assigned to the battleship Bismarck. At 17, he was the youngest man on board. Presumably he was in the Prize Crew Division. Prize crews were transferred to captured merchantmen to make sure the ships and their valuable cargoes reached the German-occupied French harbors safely. Richard must have still been still familiarizing himself with the Bismarck when she put out on Operation Rheinübung on 19 May, never to return.

On 27 May 1941, 17-year-old Richard Rebhan went down with the Bismarck. The family had not seen him since his departure nine months earlier. But, despite his busy schedule, Richard had been a diligent correspondent and stayed in contact with the family. For reasons of operational security, he was not allowed to tell his parents he was on the Bismarck. But he used one trick to fool the censors. In a letter to his oldest brother Alfred, he wrote the word “Bismarck” in the fold of a letter. But neither the censor, nor the family noticed it. It was not until Richard wrote hints in later letters did the family find the word and know his ship. The family was despondent after hearing of the sinking of the Bismarck. Richard’s personal fate was uncertain; a letter from the Vice Admiral of the North Sea in July 1941 declared Richard as missing in action. The Rebhan family suffered great distress and bereavement as they not only lost Richard, but two other sons as well. To this day Richard and his brothers remain unforgotten.


You can read the story of Stoker 3rd Class Richard Rebhan on page 299 ff in Volume 3 of our book Battleship Bismarck – the True Face of a Warship. Beside that 436 pages with the stories of many other Stokers from the Bismarck are waiting to be read. The individual departments are described in detail supported by numerous drawings and pictures.

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Battleship Bismarck - The True Face of a warship Volume 3

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