Captain Christian August Max Ahlmann Valentiner (December 15, 1883 – July 19, 1949) was a German U-boat commander during World War I. He was the third highest-scoring U-boat commander of the war, and was awarded the Pour le Mérite for his achievements.
He was also listed as a war criminal by the Allies, for killing hundreds of civilians by sinking the passenger liner Persia without warning on December 30, 1915, contrary to international law.
The eldest of the four children of Otto Friedrich Valentiner and Mathilde Julie Valentiner, Valentiner was born in Tondern (Tønder), Province of Schleswig-Holstein.
In 1882, the family moved to Ketting on Als where his father held a job as a priest for two years, then moving to Sonderburg (Sønderborg). Valentiner started his time in school in Ketting, then Augustenburg (Augustenborg) and later in Sonderburg on Reimers school.
Pre-war military service
At the age of 18, he joined the Imperial German Navy of the German Empire on April 1, 1902, as a Seekadett on the school ship Moltke. On August 15, 1902, he saved a ship's boy from drowning in Swinemünde's harbor, and received his first of many decorations, the Rettungsmedaille (life-saving medal).
In 1903, Valentiner joined the naval school where he attended many courses, especially in diving, his preferred topic. He ended his training on the Hansa. On May 14, 1903, he saved an able seaman in Heligoland harbour from the waves and certain death, and was awarded the Order of the Crown Medal for his courage and valour in action.
On September 29, 1905, he was promoted to Leutnant zur See and in 1907 he became an officer on SMS Braunschweig. He was promoted again on March 30, 1908, to Oberleutnant zur See. From 1908 to 1910, Valentiner was company commander for 1. Matrosen-Artillerie-Abteilung in Kiel.
In 1911, Valentiner became an officer on the U-boat salvage ship SMS Vulkan. In this job, on January 17, 1911, he saved all 30 men of U-3 by getting them out via a torpedo tube after it sank in Kiel Harbour due to an unclosed valve in the ventilation shaft. Among the saved crew was Otto Weddigen, later the commander of U-9, and Paul Clarrendorf, the commander of U-boot-Abnahme-Kommando in Kiel which enlisted U-boat crews. Valentiner received the Order of the Crown 4th class for the life-saving mission.
On July 1, 1911, Valentiner took command of the new U-boat U-10. On board he showed incredible skill and boldness and on training manoeuvres he sank several ships with drill torpedoes without ever being sighted. His performance literally changed the German vision of U-boat warfare.
On March 22, 1914, Valentiner was promoted to Kapitänleutnant and nine days later he became a teacher at the U-boat school in Kiel, a position he held until the outbreak of World War I on August 4, 1914, when the United Kingdom declared war on the German Empire.
World War I
When World War I broke out, Valentiner took command of U-3, the U-boat on which he three years earlier saved 30 men from dying. His orders were to sink Russian warships in the Baltic Sea, but he failed, and blamed the old U-boat which did not have the capabilities of the newer boats in the Kaiserliche Marine. Valentiner returned to base without any successes and was relieved from his command on October 27, 1914. He was sent to Berlin to face Prince Heinrich and explain the problems with the older U-boats. The prince was furious and sent him away.
When Valentiner returned to Kiel he was quite surprised to learn that he was to take command of the newest U-boat, U-38. He was also allowed to choose his own officers from the U-boat school.
From December 5, 1914, to September 15, 1917, Valentiner was stationed by 2. U-Halbflottille/U-Flottille Pola at the Austrian base of Cattaro, in Montenegro. All German U-boat activities in the eastern Mediterranean Sea took place from here. Until the end of March 1915, U-38 had several problems with its diesel engine, and repairs were required. Training of the new crew took place between repairs near the British east coast, which were considered the most safe and simple for training.
After March, U-38 started to patrol in the eastern Mediterranean Sea and on December 30, 1915, U-38 and Valentiner sank the British passenger ship Persia without any warning. Of the 519 aboard, 343 perished. The action was highly controversial since it broke naval international law and the Rules of Prize Warfare. The action took place under Germany’s policy of unrestricted submarine warfare, but broke the Imperial German Navy’s own restriction on attacking passenger liners, the Arabic pledge. After the attack, Valentiner was placed on the Allies list of war criminals. At home, he was awarded with the Knight's Cross with Swords of the Royal House Order of Hohenzollern on May 14, 1916.
On December 3, 1916, Valentiner took U-38 into the Funchal harbor on Madeira and sank three enemy ships. For this accomplishment, he became the sixth U-boat commander awarded the Pour le Mérite, on December 26.
On September 15, 1917, Valentiner left U-38 and Cattaro and returned to Kiel to take command of the new U-157. Kapitänleutnant Rabe von Pappenhein was to have taken this command, but for unknown reasons, this was changed. With U-157, Valentiner undertook the longest cruise of the war, from November 27, 1917, to April 15, 1918, a total of 139 days. This cruise came to be his last. In total, he sank 150 ships with a tonnage of about 300,000 tons.
Valentiner returned to the U-boat school to teach new submariners his techniques. His experience and advice were taken into account in the construction of the new boat U-143, which was faster and had a much improved dive time, but it was never finished.
Valentiner was accused of "cruel and inhuman treatment of crews" in fifteen different incidents involving French, British, and Italian ships. The Allies demanded all war criminals be extradited, but most simply resigned quietly and disappeared for a while, including Valentiner.
He went first to Berlin, was deleted from the list of naval officers, and acquired a new passport under the name Carl Schmidt. Valentiner then traveled to East Prussia and lived at Kadinen, an estate that his father managed, where he waited for the extraditions to proceed. He eventually became impatient and returned to Kiel. The peace negotiations were eventually completed, and per the Treaty of Versailles, all U-boats were dismantled. On his promotion to Korvettenkapitän, Valentiner was relieved of duty.
The German Navy had argued that the Royal Navy's use of Q-ships and false flag attacks had changed the nature of the war, making it impossible for German submarines to surface and give a targeted ship the chance to surrender.
Valentiner started a small company in Kiel, trading engines and parts. He later became a shipowner, and also worked for both Drägerwerke (diving equipment) in Lübeck and Adeltwerke in Eberswalde, northwest of Berlin.
World War II
In January 1940, Valentiner was appointed group commander for U-Boots-Abnahmekommision (UAK) in Kiel-Danzig, a position he held until March 1945. Meanwhile, on January 1, 1941, he was promoted to Kapitän zur See. On March 31, 1945, he was discharged from the Kriegsmarine.
On June 19, 1949, Valentiner died in Sønderborg hospital from lung disease, likely precipitated by the inhalation of toxic vapors from the engines in his first U-boats, U-10 and U-3.