Rowing During the Sitzkrieg, The Blitzkrieg and Beyond

The opening of the rowing season, Berlin, Germany, April 1940. Picture: National Digital Archive, Poland.

2 September 2022

By Tim Koch

Tim Koch has not yet finished with the Narodowe Archiwum Cyfrowe.

Historically the borders between Poland and Germany (Prussia before the 1871 Unification of Germany) have been fluid but I am still not sure how one particular group of German rowing photographs ended up in the Polish National Digital Archives (Narodowe Archiwum Cyfrowe), the treasure trove that I recently wrote about in my piece, Wioślarskie on the Web: Images of Rowing during the Second Polish Republic. The pictures show rowing contests on the 1936 Olympic rowing course in Grünau, Berlin, during the 1939 – 1945 War.

That rowing continued in Germany during the first eight months of the Second World War is not too surprising. This was the period that the British christened “The Phoney War” or “The Bore War”, the French, “Drôle de guerre” (“The Funny War”) and the Germans, “Sitzkrieg” (“The Sitting War”, a word play on “Blitzkrieg” or “Lightning War”). 

Oh! What a Lovely (Phoney) War. British Army and French Air Force men outside a dugout named “10 Downing Street” on the edge of an airfield in France, 28 November 1939. Picture: IWM Non-Commercial Licence © IWM O 344

Nazi Germany invaded Poland on 1 September 1939 and the “phoney” period began with the declaration of war by the United Kingdom and France against Germany on 3 September 1939. After this, little actual warfare occurred until the German invasion of France and the Low Countries on 10 May 1940.

Even the end of the Sitzkrieg probably did not mean the end of leisure activities throughout the Reich. Hitler had expected a million of his soldiers to die in the Blitzkrieg in France. Instead, his goal was accomplished in just six weeks with 45,000 Germans killed or missing. The unexpectedly swift victory resulted in a wave of euphoria among the German population and Hitler’s popularity reached its peak with the French surrender in June 1940.

The rowing course at Grünau as set up for the 1936 Olympics.

April 1940

A crew from the League of German Girls or Band of German Maidens (“Bund Deutscher Mädel”) the girls’ wing of the Hitler Youth at Grünau. Picture: National Digital Archive, Poland.

August 1940, The German Championships

There were German National Rowing Championships before the war, but the archive notes seem to count them from 1940. Presumably the wartime championships were not included in the run of “normal” competitions.

The eights final. Picture: National Digital Archive, Poland.
A women’s four. Picture: National Digital Archive, Poland.
The “Berliner Ruderclub” eight. Picture: National Digital Archive, Poland.
The men’s singles winner, Josef Hasenöhrl. Originally a sculler with Ruderverein Ellida, Vienna, in 1936 he won Silver for Austria in the single sculls at the Berlin Olympics. In 1937, he won the Diamond Sculls at Henley, coached by Tom Sullivan. Hasenöhrl was serving as a lieutenant with the Wehrmacht in Luxembourg when he was killed on 13 March 1945. Picture: National Digital Archive, Poland.
The women’s singles winner, Sofie Müller. Picture: National Digital Archive, Poland.

September 1940

A regatta for postal workers. Reich Post Minister Wilhelm Ohnesorge congratulates a winning women’s crew. Picture: National Digital Archive, Poland.
A regatta for the Hitler Youth. Picture: National Digital Archive, Poland.

22 June 1941

An “international rowing competition” – presumably limited to the Axis powers. Possibly it included the Second German Championships. Picture: National Digital Archive, Poland.

June 1942

The “Third Spring Regatta”, possibly the Third German Championships. Picture: National Digital Archive, Poland.

June 1943

Only with defeats at Stalingrad in 1942 and in North Africa in 1943 did Germanic doubts about certain victory start to set in. Coincidentally or not, the last Grünau rowing pictures in the Polish archive are from June 1943.

“The Fourth Regatta”, presumably the Fourth German Championships. Picture: National Digital Archive, Poland.
More of the “Fourth Regatta”. By 1943, it seems that there were fewer young men available to race. Picture: National Digital Archive, Poland.

In October 2016, I posted a HTBS piece about a wartime regatta in Richmond, England, and in October 2014, I wrote about Grünau’s rowing connections.

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