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Fehler, or "Hein" as he was known, was a merchant Skipper
before the war and a Naval Reserve officer in the Kriegsmarine and he was
activated when the war began. He found a position to his liking, as
Demolitions Officer aboard Schiff 16 - the famed raider ATLANTIS,
operating in the southern oceans. He earned his nickname of 'Dynamite'
at this time, because everything he did - he tried to find some way to use
explosives, sometimes to the exasperation of Captain Rogge, Skipper of ATLANTIS.
During one stop at the old abandoned whaling station in the Kergulan Islands,
Captain Rogge sent Fehler and a party ashore to find an easier way to fill their
water tanks from the waterfall and stream ashore and Fehler immediately began to
formulate a plan to blow something up to divert the flow of the water.
Rogge asked if it wouldn't be simpler to merely rig a giant funnel of sorts
connected to the ship's fire hoses, and bring the water to the ship that way.
During one action, after the crew of ATLANTIS had stopped a British ship and gotten the crew and foodstuffs on board ATLANTIS, Fehler sent his men to the lifeboats while he set the timer fuse for the explosives to sink the ship. As he was headed for the lifeboat, he noticed a number of crates of fine wine, so as the fuse continued to burn, Fehler calmly handed the cases of wine to his men in the lifeboats.....as Captain Rogge nervously watched,
Kapitänleutnant Fehler at a celebration
When ATLANTIS was scuttled after being discovered by a British cruiser, the entire crew went to PYTHON, another raider operating in the southern oceans. When she too, was discovered by a British cruiser and scuttled, the crews of two large ships were left in the waters of the Atlantic, thousands of miles from a friendly port. Captain K-F Merten called other U-Boats to the scene and they all towed a great number of lifeboats all the way from the southern Atlantic back to the French coast - and all the while, Fehler was chasing about in these strings of lifeboats in a power launch, distributing the rations of food to the men.
As the war was ending for Germany, the huge Type X-B Mine-Laying U-234 was drastically modified to serve as a cargo ship, and Fehler was put in command. On board, he had two Japanese officers who were specialists in unique areas of warfare; Luftwaffe General Ulrich Kessler to serve as the new Luftwaffe Attaché in Tokyo; Geschwaderrichter (Navy Judge) Kai Nessling to bring notorious spy Richard Sorge to trial; two ME 262 jet aircraft in crates along with all the technical data for the Japanese to mass produce them; a number of the latest acoustic torpedoes - and 560 kilos of uranium oxide consigned to the Japanese Army for their atomic bomb.
A wily fellow, Fehler realized that several other U-Boats had been sent to Japan with such war materiel but at a certain point in the Atlantic, they disappeared. Once at sea, he disregarded the orders that told him which course to follow since he felt there might have been an ambush waiting for him - and he was right. The Allies had known of each U-Boat making a trip to Japan with special cargoes aboard, and a Royal Navy submarine was lying in wait for them. All of these special boats were sunk, except U-234 whose Skipper decided to go his own route.
While more or less in the middle of the Atlantic, they received the surrender order. After an officer's conference, it was decided to surrender to the Americans. The two Japanese aboard were totally against this, since Japan was still war. Fehler promised to put them ashore at some neutral port before heading for the USA, but they apparently did not have faith that he would or could do this, so they committed suicide - but not by the old method of 'Hara-Kari' in which a ceremonial knife is used to disembowel one's self - they took huge doses of Luminol, a type of Phenobarbital. They did not die quickly or painlessly. Fehler told me that they cried and moaned all night long but no one could help them because they were in heavy weather and all hands were confined to their bunks if not on duty. By the next morning, they found the two in one bunk, holding onto each other. One was dead and the other too far gone to help. He died shortly after.
The two bodies were moved to the diesel room where they were respectfully sewn into canvas bags - they were not "stuffed into the engineroom bilges" as some rumors have it. The diesel room was the only place on the boat large enough to lay the bodies out for the canvas bags. When the weather had calmed down somewhat, the men were buried at sea in the normal tradition of the sea.
When U-234 signaled their position to the Allies and intention to surrender at a U.S. port, she was told by the Royal Canadian Navy that this was not acceptable - that she must head for Halifax and to radio their position to Halifax every hour. As ordered, Fehler sent a radio message to Halifax stating his speed at 8 knots and his position - the position he would have been in if he were indeed heading for Halifax at 8 knots. Instead, this crafty old sea captain was headed for the U.S. at maximum speed. Finally, the destroyer escort USS SUTTON came over the horizon and took control of the boat. Fehler told me that the US Navy crew acted properly and respectfully, allowing the German crew to take down their flag with dignity and ceremony. Most of the German crew was taken aboard USS SUTTON with only a skeleton crew aboard to operate the boat with an American crew aboard. The RCN was rather shocked when they demanded a radio transmission from U-234 and got one from the American prize crew.
U-234 was taken to the Portsmouth, NH naval base where her secret cargo were quickly removed. What happened to the uranium aboard is a mystery to this day. Many feel that it was used in one of the bombs dropped by the USAAF on Japan but - strangely, all the files pertaining to that uranium have disappeared....................
The last photo of U-234, taken through the periscope of USS GREENFISH.
U-234 was sunk as a target off Cape Cod in November of 1946
Fehler was a colorful man, and I spent a delightful day with him in his home in Hamburg in 1988. At the time, he was well into his 80's and a young man of 16 came through the study where we were visiting. "Your grandson?" I asked. No, he said, it was his son! Fehler was a great guy and he had one sea story after another, and he had a great deal of information about the war that cannot be found anywhere else.
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