Chapter XII
New Challenge

  1. Persistent effort to regain the initiative.

  2. U-boat operational fleet expanded.

  3. "Total Underwater Warfare."
    1. Schnorchel.
    2. "Kurier" (High speed flash transmissions).
    3. Special ciphers and a new short signal code.

  4. Threat of new types.

  5. Attempt to blockade the United Kingdom.

  6. The Biscay and Channel pickets.

  7. Distant operations.

  8. Last attempt at convoy warfare in open Atlantic. Seewolf.

  9. U-boat weather reporting.

  10. U-boats in the Far East.

  11. The Baltic.

  12. Collapse in the Homeland.


  1. Persistent effort to regain the initiative.

    The last months of the war with Germany were marked by. persistent effort of the U-boat navy to regain the initiative at sea. On paper the attack was to be launched with a new fleet of high underwater speed U-boats which might have altered the war situation, had conditions on the land and air fronts given the necessary support and protection to the rebirth of the Navy. The new fleet did not sail. Instead, the existing fleet, equipped with schnorchel, approximated a fulfillment of plans against Allied shipping by a gradual increase of pressure, which mounted steadily to the very day of enforced surrender.

  2. U-boat operational fleet expanded.

    On 16 December 1944 the last German land offensive began in the West. It was stopped in the Ardennes and at Bastogne. In mid-January 1945 the Russians began the great drive that reached the Oder 40 miles east of Berlin by February. To the accomplishment of these omens of disaster, and in spite of repeated heavy bombings of his U-boat bases, Admiral Dönitz continued his program of renewing the U-boat fleet at sea. Before the last U-boat had reported in Norway from France, operational boats entered the Atlantic from Norwegian bases and increased in numbers from November on. That increase is readily measured. On 1 January 1945 the U-boats composing the Atlantic fleet numbered 98, with 35 at sea. By 1 May 1945 the fleet had expanded to 167, with approximately 90 at sea.1 During this period over 100 U-boats were transferred from the Baltic to the Atlantic command. Although approximately 50 U-boats were sunk, additions continued to outnumber losses.

  3. "Total Underwater Warfare."

    The U-boat fleet which offered the new challenge was distinguished primarily by schnorchel, the device which almost restored the U-boat its invisibility against searching eyes


    patrols and radar. As the U-boats invisibility returned, its effectiveness increased. Along with schnorchel came other devices through which German skill pointed toward new ways of conducting submarine warfare.

    1. By November 1944 the experiments with schnorchel which began in January 1944 had been successfully concluded. The schnorchel U-boat could cruise in areas heavily patrolled by aircraft, even extending its realm to shallow coastal waters. Command could observe that operation in areas such as the Channel, North-Channel-Minch, and the east coast of Scotland, could be successfully carried out, that losses had appreciably lessened, and that a total schnorchel war cruise of up to 70 days could be and had been completed. Freed from fear of surprise aircraft attack, crews were able to go about the proper business of a U-boat attack. Nollmann (U-1199), who operated off the east coast of Scotland in October, reported after entering port that schnorchel had proved its worth to the full.

      "We were submerged for fifty days without a break. I have the feeling of complete superiority of a schnorchel U-boat...Morale of the crew is good and they are convinced that the U-boat arm is again superior to the enemy." (2024/7 November 1944)

      By the end of December it had become very evident to Allied aircraft that the schnorchel U-boat was a difficult target to locate and attack. In his reliance on schnorchel, Command introduced the phrase "Total Underwater Warfare" into current orders. This phrase was somewhat exaggerated in that it did not allow for the many new difficulties which arose with continuous submerged cruising. The health of the crews became a renewed object of concern. Delicate mechanical apparatus was affected by the increased dampness. The U-boat was forced to rely as never before on its hydrophones and periscope for observation, and schnorcheling cruising interfered with the smooth operation of both. Navigation and radio communications became new problems. In securing the existence of the remodeled submarine, schnorchel made it necessary to relearn the U-boats functions. These difficulties


      were met by message after message of instructions and suggestions.

    1. "Kurier" (High speed flash transmissions).

      Among the more significant attempts to increase the effectiveness of the U-boat was the resumption in November of "Kurier" trials. These had started in August and then had been discontinued. "Kurier" was a short signal procedure, embodying a special cipher and frequency code. It presented a problem of great difficulty to the Allied intercept net. The British succeeded in copying some transmissions. On 5 December, Command had said "Kurier testing is of the greatest military importance." (1509/5 December) But the program was interrupted before any real use of "Kurier" could be made by operating U-boats. Although trials seem to have been underway again on 5 April, the end of the war stopped further experimentation.

    2. Special ciphers and a new short signal code.

      On 17 November 1944 there appeared in U-boat traffic a new policy of sending certain messages to U-boats in a special individual cipher. These appeared to be of operational importance, containing the assignment of heading points and attack areas. At the same time a new short signal code Ursula was introduced. By the end of April a relatively small number of special cipher messages had been broken. Ursula was reconstructed by the Atlantic Section before the code book itself was captured by the British. While the use of the special cipher and Ursula had interfered to some extent with our knowledge of U-boat movements, the continued reliance of the Germans on their normal cipher for the bulk of their communications tended to negate the advantages of the new systems, not only jn terms of following the U-boats movements but also in terms of security. Ursula was reconstructed on the basis of information correlated from the normal radio traffic to and from the U-boats; the special ciphers which were read were broken by the mistakes made and revealed in the normal traffic.


  1. Threat of new types.

    The potentialities displayed by the remodeled U-boat navy were formidable in themselves but in the background there remained an additional and more powerful threat, the new type XXI and XXIII U-boats, which would have eliminated the principal weakness of the older types, namely their low underwater speed. Through Japanese Naval Attache traffic it was possible to follow the progress and the delays in the new type U-boat program.

    The specifications and trials together with the postponements and changes in plans for the new types were radioed by the Japanese Naval Attache to Tokyo. Allied aerial bombardment caused numerous delays. The original date for operational appearance of the new types was October 1944. An estimated date of November 1944 was then made. Midwinter was named, then January 1945. In March 1945 operations on a large scale were planned for May and June. Command had made so many references to the renewed U-boat war, with new models, that the German Naval Attache in Tokyo was addressed by Dönitz in what must have been a rather embarrassing bluff. The type XXI, upon which so many hopes had been based, had failed to stand final tests, and Dönitz explained to Wennecker that all of the talk about a sudden increase in new U-boats was more enemy propaganda, that actually promised renewal of the U-boat war was already a fact. He pointed to the undeniable increase of old types, operating with schnorchel, and claimed then as his new fleet.

    A few of the new types made an appearance. From 23 January 1945 to 1 May 1945 there were references in SHARK (Atlantic) U-boat traffic to 18 of the new type XXIV; only four of these, however, made war cruises. Even so, these cruises were enough to demonstrate the success of the small type. The high underwater speed 1600 tonner - type XXI - never proved itself on a war cruise. On 3 May U-2511 (Schnee) departed on a war cruise that was cut short by the surrender; he was the only type XXI to get underway on an operational cruise.

    The Russian offensive in the East played a large part in delaying the appearance of the new U-boats.


  1. Attempt to blockade the United Kingdom.

    The remodeled fleet threatened to start the war all over again, putting its greatest emphasis on a close-in blockade of the British Isles. The coastal waters of the UK had been abandoned early in the war, but with the schnorchel it was possible to operate 500 ton U-boats in shallow coastal waters. Areas of special concentration included the Minch, North Channel, Bristol Channel, English Channel and Irish Sea. Returning U-boats were repeatedly ordered to report the situation, for these reports were of utmost importance to Command in selecting lanes and evaluating areas for further U-boat activity. In return, outbound U-boats were provided with detailed information on cruising lanes, mines and Allied shipping. German naval intelligence and B-Service activities were marked. Sighting reports of Allied shipping off Cherbourg and the Channel Islands were regularly supplied. Lack of initiative was reproached severely. The hesitation of two U-boat Commanders, Schwarting (U-905) and Dohm (U-325) led to the following reprimand:

    "In the all-out push to destroy the enemy (the Commanders should have) gone into an area where the enemy is to be encountered with certainty (therefore into the Channel or the Irish Sea)." (0302/19 February 1945)

    In this final phase of the Battle of the Atlantic there was a conspicuous effort on the part of Command to whip up the spirits of untried Commanders.

    1. Irish Sea.

      Thomsen (U-1202) was one of the first ordered into the Irish Sea where he claimed the sinking of four steamers. The operation was reported in great detail. His initiative was promptly recognized by the award of the Knight's Cross "for his outstandingly performed war cruise . . ." (0523/5 January 1945) Thomsen's success prompted COMSUBs to send other U-boats to this area and an average of 3 to 4 a month was maintained. Provided with detailed information on lanes, traffic and defense, these U-boats claimed other successes. During January alone, six ships were torpedoed and four others


      attacked in the Irish Sea. This area remained profitable to the end. Five ships were sunk or torpedoed here in April.

    1. English Channel.

      The renewed aggressiveness of the German U-boats also brought results in the English Channel, where the greater number operated.

      Pulst (U-978), who operated in the Channel from 4 November to 25 November, claimed the sinking of three steamers and declared the Channel a "very rewarding op area with good prospects for success." (0606/18 'December 1944) He, too, was promptly awarded the Knight's Cross "for his distinguished execution of a Channel war cruise . . ." (2231/28) Just after 16 December, when the German army's counter attack began, Channel U-boats were told: "Sinkings are of the greatest military importance right now." (1555/18 December) Between the 18th and 29th of December, a large number of attacks were reported by Allied vessels and a total of seven merchant ships and two escorts were torpedoed. Although the cross-channel supply lines of the Allies were not seriously threatened the U-boat was more than a mere nuisance. During the six weeks prior to the end of the war, approximately 18 ships were sunk or torpedoed there.

    2. Thames.

      A new experiment was tried in late January when U-245 (Schumann-Hindenberg) operated in the Thames estuary. Schumann was equipped with "Kurier" and succeeded in communicating with Control by "Kurier." Schumann returned to Helgoland on the 16th of February having claimed the sinking of one ship and the torpedoing of a second. In April, he reentered the area, this time with U-2322 (Heckel), a type XXIII U-boat. Schumann claimed two successes and Heckel one.

    3. East coast of Scotland. (Operations by type XXIII).

      U-2324 (Hess) operated in the Firth of Forth area during the end of January but had no success. He was followed in February by U-2322 (Heckel) who claimed the sinking of a 6,000 ton steamer. U-2321 (Barschkies) operating there in


      March claimed a 2,000 ton steamer and U-2329 (Schlott) claimed a freighter off Aberdeen in April. U-2324 (von Rappard) had no success during the same month. Of five type XXIII war cruises made off the east coast of Scotland three had been successful and no losses had been suffered. The potentiality of this type was thus demonstrated before the end of the war.

    1. Southwest approaches.

      During the end of March a couple of U-boats operated for the first time in many months in the southwest approaches to the British Isles. On 21 March U-1202 (Thomsen) reported sinking a destroyer from an eastbound convoy and 10 days later claimed sinking two more ships from another eastbound convoy. He sent detailed reports on the convoy traffic situation. By the end of April a total of 22 U-boats had been ordered to this area. They were given individual attack areas and performed a north-south shuttle in an effort to discover "convoy evasion routes." Successes, however, numbered only four ships, either sunk or torpedoed. At the time of surrender a large number of U-boats were still there.

    2. Conclusion.

      The last attempt to blockade the United Kingdom was more formidable in intention than in results. Allied knowledge of U-boat dispositions interfered with the most elaborate attempt to block the approaches, but the U-boat remained a serious threat to the end.

      "The monthly total (for December) both as merchant vessels and gross tons lost due to submarine action was the largest of any month since August, 1944. The total of submarines sunk or probably sunk was the smallest reported since April 1942." (U.S. A/S Bulletin, January 1945, 1.)

      The last few weeks of the war showed a marked increase in sinkings despite the hopeless situation in the German homeland and in the Baltic: approximately 30 ships were sunk or torpedoed between the middle of March and the first of May.


  1. The Biscay and Channel pickets.

    Through the reading of U-boat traffic it was possible to follow the fortunes of the besieged German bases on the Biscay coast and on the Channel Islands which remained after the liberation of France. Garrisons were left at the once great U-boat bases of St. Nazaire, Lorient, Pallice and at La Rochelle on the Biscay coast. It was intended to meet the problem of supply by aircraft and transport U-boat. The former soon proved unable to meet the needs, but a few U-boats were regularly sent from Germany. The first to arrive was U-773 (Baldus) who reached St. Nazaire on 18 November and was followed shortly by U-772 (Reimers). By January it was COMSUBs' intention to send a 750 ton U-boat every month. U-868 (Turre) arrived in February and U-878 (Rodig) in March. Both were ordered, to bring back materials critically needed in the Homeland. U-5I6 (Petran) was on his way in May when the surrender came. During this period Spanish coasters brought in fresh food on at least two occasions. By February the food situation had become so acute that the garrisons on the Gironde declared that if this means of provisioning fell through it would bring serious consequences. For diplomatic reasons, however, Command was unwilling to approach the Spanish government on such a subject while Germany was weakening.

    In March the problem of fitting returning Monsun boats with schnorchel, if and when they arrived, caused considerable discussion between commands. Eick (U-510) arrived just before the surrender. The possibility of using the bases as ports of call for operational U-boats requiring fuel and repairs was aired and rejected, since the plan would require an uneconomical use of type IXc U-boats engaged in the transport of supplies.

    German soldiers left on the Channel Islands made a raid on Granville, damaging harbor facilities and capturing the SS Eskwood, a 790 ton freighter. Slight as this raid was, von Rundstadt and Dönitz both congratulated Lt. General von Schroetter on the achievement. Documents taken from the Eskwood were requested by Command for speedy evaluation in the hope that they would give information on the enemy and convoy situation in the English Channel.

    In April an attack by the Allies on the Gironde fortresses gave Commander Piening, in command at St. Nazaire, the


    opportunity to put to sea on U-255, looking for a target among the enemy forces in the Bay of Biscay. Piening had strongly urged incidental operation in the Biscay area by U-255 and other U-boats to be brought from Norway. His foray was without results. He left St. Nazaire for the last time on the 8th of May, surrendering the U-255 on 14 May. From these notes it can be seen how barren of advantage to the Germans were the Biscay and Channel spots to which they so insistently clung. If they could have held Cherbourg or Brest Allied embarrassment would have been achieved. The Germans allowed upwards of 100,000 men lie idle in spite of a shortage of manpower.

  1. Distant operations.

    1. Gibraltar approaches.

      While no activity occurred in the Middle and South Atlantic during this period, 750 tonners were dispatched to Gibraltar where operations had been abandoned eight months before. In October 1944 Altmeier (U-1227) reported Gibraltar a very promising area. Hechler (U-870) proved this by sinking two ships northeast of the Azores on 20 December, and three others off the straits of Gibraltar between the third and tenth of January. He claimed nine successes which Dönitz immediately acknowledged with "Very well done" (1118/21 January 1945), and Hitler promptly awarded him the Knight's Cross. On 22 February, Hein (U-300), who had followed Hechler, was sunk by two British minesweepers but not before he managed to sink two ships. Petersen (U-541) was enroute to this area just before the surrender.

    2. Iceland.

      Another area that continued to pay dividends was Iceland, with concentration off Reykjavik, although only one U-boat at a time operated there. Meermeier (U-979) in September reported "A very favorable attack area . . ." (2208/18 October) Hein (U-300) on 10 November attacked an sank three ships within the space of seven hours. In February and March, a recurrence of activity appeared and Ernst (U-1022) sank two ships off Reykjavik. Meermeier was again in the area at the end of the war.


    1. North American coast.

      The policy of keeping one or two 750 ton U-boats off the North American coast, particularly in the Nova Scotia Newfoundland area, continued throughout the winter. With the spring the number rose sharply. From mid-March to the end of the war, 18 U-boats were either in or headed for the coastal waters between Hatteras and Halifax. U-boats repeatedly. reported weak and inexperienced defense. COMSUBs in March appraised the defense as follows:

      "The usual American patrol, unwatchful and relatively unpracticed, consisting of destroyers, corvettes, and PC-boats. Temporarily strengthened when (U-boats is) noticed. Aircraft irregular." (1914/16 March 1943)

      Kneip (U-1223), who operated off the mouth of the St. Lawrence during October, had reported "Op area promising." (2132/25 December) Altmeier (U-1222), operated off Nova Scotia in November, said, "Successes may be expected only directly off Halifax." (2051/22 December) January proved to be a favorable month. Dobratz (U-1232), before returning on the 14th, struck at two convoys (SC 194 and HX 141) off Halifax on the 4th and 14th respectively, and sank a total of five ships. Admiral Dönitz personally proposed to Hitler the Knight's Cross for Dobratz and his successes were cited as an example of what the schnorchel U-boat must do. One incident of particular interest was the penetration of Frenchman's Bay by Hilbig (U-1230), who succeeded in landing two agents, Colepaugh and Gimple, on the coast of Maine during the night of 27 November 1944. As in the case of the 500 tonners, detailed information was requested from the Commander's own situation. The remarkable increase at the very end of the war was due in part to the last attempt at convoy warfare in the open Atlantic (see paragraph 8 below). It should be noted, however, that of the 18 U-boats referred to above, 10 or 11 had been sunk in American waters by the day of surrender2


      U.S. task forces were able to achieve a number of U-boat sinkings before hostilities ceased. On the 18th of March, USS Lowe, a member of Task Group 22.14, made a sure kill off Sable Island. This was probably U-866 (Rogowsky). Besides the four U-boats presumed sunk in the operation against Group Seewolf (see paragraph 8), three others were attacked in April. The USS Gustafson made contact on the 6th off Cape Cod and sank U-857 (Premauer). The USS Buckley (TG 22.10) achieved a kill on the 19th in 42°N - 62°W and 10 days later the USS Natchez (TG 02.10) made a good attack off Hatteras. On the 5th of the following month, U-853 (Fromsdorf) sank an American freighter off Rhode Island, and on the following day was contacted and sunk by USS Atherton (CTG 60.7).

    1. Note on rumor that U-boat would fire U-bombs at New York.

      Late in January 1945, rumors spread to the effect that German U-boats would soon launch rocket projectile into the cities of the Atlantic seaboard. Speer, director of German manufacturing, stated in a broadcast that the so-called U-1 and U-2 bombs would fall upon New York by 1 February 1945. The American public, no longer believing in the likelihood of enemy air raids, began to indulge in new apprehensions of war at home. High officials acknowledged that it could happen. Reliable agents reported observing U-boats in Norway that looked as if U-rails were being laid on deck. In view of the fact that nothing came of this, that even after the surrender no such evidence was revealed, it may be noted here that there was never any such evidence of such preparations in German naval radio traffic.

  1. Last attempt at convoy warfare in open Atlantic. Seewolf

    There was a final weak attempt to resume convoy warfare in the Atlantic. On April 2, six IXc (750 ton) U-boats that had been given a previous heading of 46°57'N - 25°00'W, were ordered in a series of "HARKE" ("rake") Offiziers to form a reconnaissance line in the area 49°30'N - 25°00'W and sweep west-southwest along the US-UK convoy lane.


    "For almost 1-1/2 years the enemy has experienced no surface attacks on convoys and is prepared for only underwater U-boat operations...attack ruthlessly and with determination. " (0336/3 April 1945)

    On 9 April the U-boats were told to form group Seewolf. Twelve successive standing lines were ordered in the course of the westerly sweep. The general latitude chosen was in keeping with the main transatlantic convoy lane, although a little too far to the north. Convoys were "expected" somewhat after the familiar fashion of earlier U-boat days. In the course of the sweep, the line even achieved a better approximation of the actual convoy routes by a shift to the south. Four U.S. Navy task groups (Mission Bay, 22.1; Bogue, 22.3; Core, 22.4; and Croatan, 22.5) plus four destroyer escort groups were sent out to meet Seewolf . On 16 April CTG 22.5 (USS Croatan) attacked contacts in vicinity 47°57'N - 30°30'W and two U-boats were believed destroyed. Six days later the same task group claimed sinking a U-boat in 43°26'N - 38°23'W. On the 24th of April, U-546 (Just) was destroyed after sighting by aircraft from the USS Bogue. Earlier on the same day this U-boat had torpedoed and sunk a destroyer (USS F. C. Davis), the only success of the group. Without having made a contact on any convoy, Seewolf was disbanded on the 24th of April; the southern members of the line (U-880 Schotzau, U-518 Offermann, and U-858 Bode) were ordered to maneuver freely in the Halifax-Gulf of Maine area, and the northern members (U-805 Bernadelli, U-1235 Barsch, and U-546 Just) in the area from New York to the south. This last gesture at convoy operations was probably experimental. Following the sweep against the convoy lane "release for occupation by boats individually to attack area in American coastal region" was intended. (2030/2 April)

  1. U-boat weather reporting.

    The policy of sending U-boats to report weather from the north central Atlantic was continued to the end. An average to two U-boats reported during November and this was increased to three in December and January. The graph of U-boat weather reports shows a decided jump just before the German counter attack and U-boats on weather patrol were reminded of the importance of their task during this period.


Weather Transmissions and the German Counter Attack


    On 19 December, Lange (U-1053), Dobratz (U-1232), Hochler (U-810), and Marienfeld (U-1228) were told:

    "Your recent WW reports contributed decisively to determining the beginning of our great offensive in the west on 16/12." (1930/19 December 1944)

    Transmissions remained at a high level during the rest of December and the beginning of January but by February there was a decided decline. A U.S. destroyer escort task group (TG 22.8) left the Azores in early January to operate against the U-boat weather reporter, on the 16th. During April only one U-boat reported; his last WW was sent at 1713 on 5 May 1945. U-boats in the Far East.

    U-boat activity in the Far East remained at a decidedly low level. In spite of Japanese proposals in September and December that U-boats be sent in large numbers to operate against Allied shipping, the Germans were determined to concentrate their major effort in the Atlantic. Timm (U-862), already in the Far East, left Batavia in November to operate off Australia and New Zealand and succeeded in sinking two freighters. Earlier in the same month while on a submerged patrol south of Kangeor Islands in the Java Sea, USS Flounder (SS-251) succeeded in sinking Schrewe (U-537) who had left Surabaya on 9 November to operate off Australia.

    Herwartz (U-843), Junker (U-532), Eick (U-510), and Oesten (U-861) left the Far East for Norway during December 1944 and January 1945. On the third of April, Herwartz reached Bergen but was sunk by aircraft six days later while transferring to Flensburg. U-861 (Oesten) arrived in Trondheim via Denmark Strait on 18 April. The remaining two, Eick and Junker, were ordered to put into Nazaire to have schnorchel installed but had the option of going directly to Norway if fuel permitted. Eick reached Nazaire in April. Junker headed straight for Norway but surrendered 10 may off the Faeroes according to the prescribed surrender terms.

    By 27 January an agreement had been reached with the Japanese whereby German U-boats were to operate against the southern approaches to the Philippines. (Japanese Naval Attache #140, 27 January) Schneewind (U-183), the only U-boat


    involved in this token plan, was sunk 23 April by the USS Besugo just after leaving Batavia for a sortie.

    Three U-boats were destined to go to the Far East: U-864 (Wolfram) was sunk 9 February off Norway by a British submarine; U-876 (Bahn) was declared no longer capable of operating after an aircraft attack (PPB 19 April); U-234 (Fehler) left Kristiansand South on 16 April with General Kessler, German Air Attache to Tokyo, on board. Fehler surrendered to U.S. Navy forces 12 May in mid-Atlantic. In the East, at the time of the German surrender, no U-boat was at sea. There were two ex-Italian, cargo carrying submarines tied up in Japan (U-IT-24, Pahls and U-IT-25, Meier). The following were undergoing repairs: in Singapore, Freiwald (U-181) and Timm (U-862); in Batavia, Burghagen (U-219); in Surabaya, Steinfeld (U-195). Of these only Freiwald was ordered to return to Europe; the other U-boats were to be turned over to the Japanese. (1127/7 May) The Japanese got them all, Freiwald included.

  1. The Baltic.

    Meanwhile, in the Baltic, the working center of the U-boat navy was being paralyzed by a succession of military disasters on land. The Russians advanced so rapidly that by February plans were made to shift the U-boats in the Baltic to the North Sea. As of 17 February, a total of 157 U-boats had been evacuated from east Baltic ports to western Baltic and North Sea ports. As the situation grew steadily worse, U-boats were evacuated by all possible means including the towing of those disabled and half constructed. By 25 March 1945, the entire U-boat arm, including many unfinished type XXI U-boats, was removed from the Danzig-Gdynia area. (190l/25/17F CB) The resultant overcrowding of west Baltic and North Sea ports was greeted by intense aircraft bombardment which damaged many and sank more than could be reported accurately in the increasing German confusion. On 20 April, most U-boats had been evacuated from Bremen; three days later the base was declared ready for demolition. In Hamburg the night of 21-22 April was set as the deadline for departures. On 24 April, U-base Helgoland had practically ceased to function. By 26 April immediate suspension of work on a large number of U-boats was ordered, the crews to be sent to other bases or used for local defense. To the very last, however, there appeared no


    sign of a serious collapse in the German naval organization. U-boats were rushed for front-line operation in spite of everything. As at the time of the Biscay evacuation, the German navy maintained a disciplined organization throughout the confusion of events.

  1. Collapse in the Homeland.

    The German navy, as we have seen, had been able to recover its losses and renew with vigor the U-boat war even in the midst of breakdown at home. On the last day of the war in the Atlantic the U-boat fleet at sea was larger than it had been for many months, and the sinking of Allied shipping was beginning to show an upward trend. Command's promise to renew the convoy war had not been unfulfilled.

    Had the renewal program been begun a year earlier, a serious threat might have materialized. As it was, the collapse of the homeland forced the undersea fleet into sudden surrender.

    The loss of land on the continent affected the U-boat war in various ways. The transmitters in Berlin (Bemau) were threatened as well as those along the North Sea coast. As early as 1 February 1945, an improvised radio circuit called Distel was promulgated for emergency use in case of loss of transmitters. Control was in the process of shifting from Bemau to Wilhelmshaven on 2 February and Kurier trials were discontinued. By the middle of March there were a number of indications that transmitters were lacking; at the end of the month Panzer, a further modification of the emergency plan, was announced. Distel was not made operative, however, until 4 May 1945.

    The surrender, as seen through German naval messages, presented a limited and even distorted picture of events on the continent. There was false starts, hesitations, then sweeping orders as policies changed in the highest circles of command, and finally the simple fact of necessary surrender was given to the U-boats.

    During the closing days of April 1945, when Soviet armies encircled and penetrated Berlin where German leaders were waiting under the Chancellery, when American and Soviet troops linked at the Elbe and in the south, the U-boats apparently unaffected, continued their routines of war. Their supplies in Norway were sufficient for about six weeks of


    further operations. Even on the morning of 4 May, when all northern Germany surrendered, two U-boats Schmoeckel (U-802) and Lauth (U-1005), left Bergen for war cruises.

    It may safely be presumed that 74 U-boats operating at sea constituted a significant card for the Germans in their bargaining with the Allies. Upon Hitler's dropping out, and the failure of Rimmler's attempt to negotiate a surrender, the man to whom the U-boat arm owed allegiance was chosen as Führer. Grand Admiral Dönitz followed the policy of the Party in attempting to play the Western Allies against the Soviets. He at least had the partial satisfaction of surrendering to the British and Americans, the forces with which he most closely identified himself.

    Not until 29 April 1945 was there any sign in U-boat radio traffic of the impending surrender. The regular news service, of course, had kept the U-boats informed of the war's movement; but the false VE-Day of 28 April, which was silenced by the White House, was not referred to. In Penang and Batavia, however, the premature rumor received such credence among the Japanese that they visited the German commander of the area with condolences and intentions of seizing his ships.

    It was characteristic of the confusion of surrender week that after the German news broadcasts on 30 April had announced Hitler's death, a U-boat message of 1530/30 stated, "The Führer is present at the fateful battle in Berlin."3 COMSUBs West (Commandant Bergen) was ordered in 0948/30 April to take command of all U-boats. This presaged the shifts in high command preliminary to surrender.

    An administrative circuit (Series C) carried a message at 1546/1 May in which Dönitz quoted his authorization from Martin Bormann, the Nazi party Chief, "Instead of former Reichsmarschall Goering, the Führer has named you, Grand Admiral, as his successor . . ." Immediately Dönitz assured the U-boats that "the battle still goes on." From time to time, as surrender negotiations proceeded, the U-boats were reassured, "the battle is being continued." But an explanation was felt to be required. "In order to save hundreds of thousands of


    Germans from annihilation and slavery, carry on with your old rigor." (1149/2) Dönitz, no longer COMINCR and COMSUBs, appointed General Admiral von Friedeburg as Navy Chief and sent him with Marshal Keitel and General Jodl to talk terms of surrender. Friedebur technically assumed command of U-boats in 1305/2 May, and on the 3rd and 4th of May repeated that the U-boat war was being continued; but COMSUBs West again took over the U-boat command in 0447/4 May.

    First fruits of the negotiations appeared in 1118/4C May: "COMINCR forbids destruction of German merchant ships when enemy action threatens, except in case of action by Bolshevik forces." Then in 1614/4 May, Dönitz himself, in a special message, ordered all U-boats to cease all war-like activity and secretly begin return to Norway.4 A few hours later, a prod: "No one is more under oath to him (Dönitz) than the Navy . . ." (2311/4C) A "flash" message at 0134/5 declared the situation had changed, all U-boats in German and Danish ports and bays were to scuttle. Only eight minutes later, under Keitel's signature, all were informed that the surrender of North Germany to Montgomery would go into effect at 0800B: "No scuttling or demolition to be performed." (0142/5)

    At 2158/5 May Dönitz to all U-boat men:

    "Six years of U-boat warfare lie behind us. You have fought like lions. An overwhelming superiority in material has forced us into a very narrow space. From this small basis a continuation of our battle is no longer possible . . . U-boat men, unbroken unashamed, you are laying down your arms . . . Keep your U-boat spirit, with which you have fought bravely . . . Long live Germany."

    In view of the professed German motive of surrendering to the Anglo-Americans in order to save something from the Russians, it must have been hard to send out the message on ciphers at 1204/8: "Triton and Niobe cipher data are being


    handed over to the Anglo-Americans and Russians. . . "5 Plain language orders followed, canceling the return to Norway, giving orders to surrender according to Allied instructions. (2026/8 and 2034/8).

    It should be borne in mind that the U-boat arm was not, in May 1945, defeated at sea. The pre-schnorchel U-boat had been decisively swept from the Atlantic in the summer of 1943; but the loss was made good and the U-boat reappeared in force. The power of this fact in the imagination and memory of a possible future German navy will not be easy to estimate.

    Although 91 Atlantic U-boats were presumably at sea on the day of the surrender only 74 could be regarded as in, or possibly in, operational areas, and thus had to be accounted for. The remaining 17 U-boats were in German controlled waters between Kid and Norway. U-boat records as of the day of the surrender showed that of the 74 operating U-boats:

21 had been sunk or presumed sunk during March and April.

1 was sunk after 1 May.

8 came into German ports during April and after the surrender.

28 came into Allied ports after the surrender.

58 accounted for.

16 U-boats were still unaccounted for as of 27 May 1945.

74 Total


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1. This figure includes U-boats enroute Norway from Kiel.

2. U-881, Frischke, has not been accounted for as of 25 May 1945. It was later learned that U-881 was sunk on 6 May 1945 by the USS Farquhar off Newfoundland.

3. The first news of Hitler's death to appear in U-boat traffic came on 2 May, when Commander 2nd Defense Group sent a message (0011/2 (C) May 1945) to all boats in his command: "Inform crews immediately of the death of the Führer and of the transfer of command to Dönitz . . ."

4. 1614/4 was not read until 16 May; hence the first actual proof that Dönitz had issued orders to U-boats to cease hostilities and return was in a fragmentary plain text message intercepted at 1745Z on 5 May which referred to 1614/4. At---1/5 Mayall U-boats were ordered to cease operations against England and America immediately. (Read on 7 May)

5. Triton was the main naval cipher for Atlantic U-boats. Niobe was the main naval cipher for Northern Waters U-boats.

Transcribed and formatted for HTML by Chuck Roberts for the HyperWar Foundation