An unlikely wartime poster gallery
In November 2013 the Memorial purchased 13 First World War (FWW) posters at the auction of the Dr Hans Sachs collection in New York. As part of my research into the collector Dr Hans Sachs (1882-1974) I discovered that, his passion for the graphic arts led to a German U-boat becoming an unlikely exhibition venue for posters at the height of the First World War.
A friend and fellow poster enthusiast of Dr Sachs, Mr Hans Paasche, served as a German naval officer and submarine commander during the First World War. In 1916 Paasche concerned for the welfare of his crew approached Dr Sachs with an idea to decorate the walls of his submarine with posters to help alleviate the monotony and boredom experienced by his men during long months at sea. He also suggested that free lectures be offered to the men in conjunction with the displays. Dr Sachs recalled in his memoir ‘I thought the idea a wonderful one, too, and it gave me a deep feeling of gratification to send him regularly for several months 30 or 40 exquisite posters together with thumbnail sketches of the artists who did them. Once, while he was out on the high seas he sent me a letter telling me how much his mates enjoyed the monthly exhibit, especially on long nebulous boring days - this first and probably only poster exhibit on a submarine in the midst of a raging war.’
The Memorial did not acquire any of the posters exhibited beneath the waves. However two very different posters featuring images of U-Boats were among the 13 acquired for the collection.
One is a striking German War Loans poster featuring a blue silhouette of a surfacing U-Boat. The stance of the 3 crew members and the stylized waves gives the poster a feeling of action. Together the simple colour palette, imperial emblems and gothic typography are used to convey German unity. U-boat propaganda was widely publicised and aimed to raise morale as well as funds, with authorities claiming that unrestricted submarine warfare would defeat England. The submarine’s advanced technology was a glamorous and chivalric antidote to dreary trench warfare, and parallel’s British use of war technology in posters as an emblem of modernity.
Der Magische Gürtel [The enchanted circle] was a German propaganda film produced in April 1917 to highlight the successes of Germany’s U-boat campaign against Britain. It focused on the activities of submarine U35 and included graphic footage filmed from its deck of the sinking of merchant ships. The effect of which was to make the film more useful as counter-propaganda for the Allies than it was in raising the support of neutral counties for the German War Effort.
Hans Rudi Erdt (1883-1918) was a leading figure in the Berlin based ‘Plakastil’ (poster style) group. A trail blazer in the field of graphic design, this group was known for its innovative use of typography, flat vibrant colour and simplified form. Erdt’s design for the film’s promotional poster is dominated by the sinister silhouette of U35. In the background is a stylised map of the United Kingdom in the colours of the Union Jack flag. The title of the film was taken from a speech by Winston Churchill, the then Minister for Munitions, who talked of liberating ‘our splendid Navy from the enchanted circle the submarine has drawn around it’. Previously unrepresented in the Memorial’s collection Erdt, who died of tuberculosis aged only 35, is an important German graphic artist and the addition of this work will complement and enhance the holdings of posters by other significant German graphic artists including Ludwig Hohlwein and Lucian Bernard.