The Fate of HITLER'S Surrendered U-BOATS

By Shreyvogel, Jacques | Sea Classics, July 2005 | Go to article overview

The Fate of HITLER'S Surrendered U-BOATS


Shreyvogel, Jacques, Sea Classics


Of the 398 U-boats m in commission at the time of Germany's surrender 60-years ago, only a select few remain intact today

Although the surrender mandate broadcast to the German Fleet was a universal order made by the survivors of Adolf Hitler's crumbled "Thousand Year Reich," Allied reaction was understandably somewhat skeptical. The free world wondered if the die-hard submariners of the U-boats would obey the surrender order?

On the evening of 4 May 1945, Grossadmiral Karl Doenitz - heir to the title of Nazi Germany's Fuhrer after Hitler's suicide - ordered every German warship at sea to immediately cease hostilities and return to port. Given as a good faith indication of Germany's intention to lay down its arms under the dictates of the Allies' unconditional surrender decree, the question remained if the scattered remnants of the German Kriegsmarine would comply with the order or react as so many did at the end of WWI in 1918 by scuttling their boats en masse.

With the last great U-boat battle - Operation Teardrop -in its final stages, there was divided opinion among the Allies concerning the effectiveness of Doenitz's order. Indeed, many fanatic Nazi skippers had vehemently proclaimed they would never capitulate; that they would fight to the bitter end; that the victorious Allies would find "only rats and mice left in Germany."

That this defiant attitude might prevail was given additional credence a day later when U-853, under the command of Oberleutnant Helmut Fromsdorf, attacked and sank the collier SS Black Point along the Nantucket coast on 5 May 1945. Quickly located in the shallow waters off Long Island by the team of subhunting destroyer escorts USS Moberly and USS Amick, U-853 was sunk the following day by a flurry of hedgehogs and depth charges. At almost that same moment southeast of Cape Race, Kapitanleutnant Heinz Frische's U-881 was also sunk in a similar fashion by the DE USS Farquar - the last U-boat kill of WWII by the US Navy. Since both enemy boats were lost with all hands, it is not known if the hapless crews even received the cease-fire order. In all likelihood, if they were running submerged, the order may not have been heard since HF messages could be picked up only when the submarine was surfaced. Had they heard the signal, they should have immediately surfaced to comply with the surrender order. Similar fates under similar circumstances also befell the Type VIIC U-1008 and U-320, plus three Type XXIs: U-2534, U-3503 and U-2538, all attacked and sunk in European waters by Allied aircraft a few days after the surrender order had been repeatedly broadcast.

At that point in the war, though clearly defeated in the air, on land and at sea, the Nazi-controlled German Navy still had 398 completed U-boats in commission; dozens of these the highly-advanced new type XXI, XXIII and Walter boats. Though the preponderance were located in the Baltic, the U-boats were in fact scattered all across the world's oceans; 49 actively at sea when Doenitz's order was issued.

To reiterate the surrender command, on 8 May 1945 Adm. H.M. Burroughs, RN, acting on the orders of Allied Supreme Commander Dwight Eisenhower, transmitted over the U-boat radio network orders for all U-boats to immediately surface and fly a black flag or pennant. Next, they were told to report to the nearest Allied radio station for directions as to which Allied port to proceed.

But even as the surrender order rang out, the last undamaged units of the Kriegsmarine's U-boats, surface vessels and small craft were engaged in the frantic all-out rescue effort to evacuate more than two million civilian and military personnel in the Baltic who were fleeing before the fast advancing Russian armies. Doenitz dispatched anything that could float to assist in the mass German retreat. Although Eisenhower could not overtly assist the Germans in their struggle, he informally gave permission for the evacuation to continue until the full-surrender order became effective on 9 May. …

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