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Each month, SHARKHUNTERS is pleased to present the history of one or more German U-boats as well as one American submarine. What you see here is a sample of exactly what is published in the current issue of our KTB Magazine.
The history of U-181
Built by: A. G. Weser (Bremen)
Launched: 30 December 1941
Commissioned: 9 May 1942
Feldpost Nr.: M45435
Sunk: 12 February 1946
Sunk by: US Navy
Location sunk: Scuttled off Singapore
Position sunk: 03º 05.30'N x 100º 41.30E
(Thanks to Dorian Ball for the Lat/Long position)
(no men lost)
Conning Tower emblem Tower emblem This is how the
of U-181 in the beginning when the boat tower was painted
was under Lüth. in the Indian Ocean
It is the crest of to avoid confusion.
of the city of Posen
The first Skipper of U-181 was Wolfgang Lüth, the second most successful submarine Skipper of WW II. Lüth earned the KNIGHTS CROSS with OAK LEAF, CROSSED SWORDS and DIAMONDS. He had commanded several U-boats previously, including U-13, U-9, U-138 and U-43 before taking command of U-181 on 9 May 1942. He became the right-hand man to GrossAdmiral Dönitz after the alleged suicide of Adolf Hitler when Dönitz was Chancellor of Germany. Because of his position, Dönitz was allowed to maintain armed security around himself well after Germany had surrendered. Lüth was in overall command of the security forces and it was his own order that a sentry should ask for the password only once – and if the correct password was not replied, the sentry should shoot to kill. Lüth was walking through the grounds of the Germany Naval Academy at Flensburg/Mürwick one night, his mind on other things, and he did not hear the sentry challenge him for the password. As Lüth himself had ordered, the sentry fired one shot, killing Lüth instantly. There was a quick Court of Inquiry and the young sentry, who was under command of our good friend GERD THÄTER (194-1987), was found totally innocent of any wrongdoing.
Lüth was awarded the Diamonds, and here is the text of the radiogram of 24 October 1943
The second and last Skipper of U-181 was Kurt Freiwald, an officer and Skipper of the ‘old school’. He had been in the Kriegsmarine and commanded a combat U-boat long before Germany invaded Poland – about three years before! He commanded U-7 and he also commanded U-33, one of the U-boats that took part in ‘Operation URSULA’ in which the Kriegsmarine sent help to Franco during the Spanish Revolution in 1936! This story was first told by SHARKHUNTERS many years ago, and was fully covered in our KTB Magazine at that time. Freiwald commanded U-181 until the German surrender in May 1945.
motorship 8,159 GRT
An older ship, EAST INDIAN was built in 1918, owned by the Ford Motor Company and operated by the US Maritime Commission. Under her Master Ovide L. St. Marine, she was carrying 9,600 tons of manganese ore, some tea and other general cargo. She drew 29 feet 6 inches and was making 11.5 knots when attacked. Her armament consisted of a single 4 inch gun, two .50 cal. and two .30 cal. machine guns.
Heading from Cape Town to New York via Punta Arenas, she was making a zigzag course but Lüth kept after her for quite a while, then fired two torpedoes which struck the starboard side. Due to the nature of the cargo, the ship sank in less than two minutes and the engines were still running. Of the eight officers, thirty-nine men, fifteen Armed Guards and twelve passengers aboard, seventeen got the Number 4 lifeboat launched while thirty-four others just jumped overboard and swam to four liferafts. The Master, fifteen crewmen and seven passengers never left the ship.
Soon afterwards, U-181 surfaced and Lüth asked what ship, what cargo etc. then they offered fresh water to the survivors and gave them the course to steer to reach Cape Town. Thirteen days after the sinking, the British steamer SS DURANDO saw the Number 4 lifeboat and took them aboard. None of the four rafts were ever found. Six officers, twenty-eight men, eleven Armed Guards and ten passengers died in this action. The radioman, who was picked up in the lifeboat, later died of shock.
11.10.42 K. G. MELDAHL Norwegian steamer 3,799 GRT
11.13.42 EXCELLO American steamer 4,969 GRT
She was bound for Cape Town from Port Said, Egypt and was steering a straight course when the single torpedo hit, causing two explosions with no explanation for the second detonation. This brought down the mainmast, blew the covers off the Number 4 and 5 holds, knocked over the winches and scattered debris everywhere. The engine room began to flood immediately, and the engines were quickly secured.
The eight officers, thirty men and thirteen Armed Guards abandoned ship in three lifeboats, although the Number 1 boat jammed in the falls. Several men jumped overboard and swam to rafts. The ship sank by the stern in less than twenty minutes and then U-181 surfaced and questioned the men.
Very soon, the boats became separated and on 14 November, one made landfall at Port St. John and another arrived there the following day. A week later, the British hospital ship ATLANTIS found the third boat and picked up the 13 survivors aboard, landing them at Cape Town. The explosion killed one Armed Guard and the first engineer died after swallowing fuel oil.
11.20.42 CORINTHIAKOS Greek steamer 3,562 GRT
11.22.42 ALCOA PATHFINDER American steamer 6,797 GRT
She departed Beira, Mozambique on 20 November for Port Elizabeth, South Africa. The full moon gave her a great silhouette, and Lüth spotted her and fired one torpedo. It struck the ship portside at the engine room, blowing a column of smoke and debris 200 feet in the night sky. The damage was so severe, and the cargo being heavy ore, the ship sank in less than three minutes by the stern. The engines were not secured, and the ship was still making some 4 knots when she went down.
Five Armed Guards stayed at their guns until the last possible moment. With the water rising into their gun tub and no target to shoot, they went over the stern into the sea. One lifeboat and two rafts were launched, and most of the ship’s compliment made it safely to them. One officer and two men died on watch below; the single passenger and one crewman did not leave the ship; and the radioman was electrocuted trying to send a distress call when the water rose around him. The survivors landed at Mozambique about eighteen hours later.
11.24.42 MT. HELMOS Greek steamer 6,481 GRT
11.24.42 DORINGTON COURT British steamer 5,281 GRT
11.29.42 EVANTHIA Greek steamer 3,551 GRT
11.30.42 CLEANTHIS Greek steamer 4,153 GRT
12.03.42 AMARYLIS Panamanian steamer 4,328 GRT
04.11.43 EMPIRE WHIMBREL British steamer 5,983 GRT
04.11.43 TINHOW British steamer 5,232 GRT
* See end of this page for a survivor's memories of this sinking *
06.07.43 HARRIER South African steamer 193 GRT
07.02.43 HOIHOW British steamer 2,798 GRT
07.15.43 EMPIRE LAKE British steamer 2,852 GRT
07.16.43 FORT FRANKLIN British steamer 7,135 GRT
08.04.43 DALFRAM British steamer 4,558 GRT
08.07.43 UMVUMA British steamer 4,419 GRT
SHIPS SUNK BY U-181 UNDER FREIWALD
06.19.44 GAROET Netherlands steamer 7,118 GRT
07.15.44 TANDA British steamer 7,174 GRT
11.02.44 FORT LEE American tanker 10,198 GRT
She departed Abadan, Iran on 21 October heading for Brisbane, Australia on a straight course. The torpedo hit portside in the fire room, causing the boiler to explode and all power failed, shutting down the turbine engines. The ship began to settle at the stern, the boiler room and engine room filled with water, causing the crew’s mess to fill with smoke and steam.
The Master passed the word that the crew should stand ready to lower the lifeboats, but some either misunderstood or they panicked and immediately lowered the Numbers 3,5 and 6 boats. A second torpedo struck starboard side between the engine room and Number 9 tank, which destroyed #3 and #5 lifeboats, dumping the men into the sea. A huge fireball rose some 200 feet in the air, catching the ship afire instantly. Just as quickly, a wave washed over the ship and doused the fire.
Of the ten officers, thirty-nine men and twenty-six Armed Guards, sixty-six successfully abandoned ship in four boats. U-181 came alongside, questioned the men in the #4 boat, then departed. The survivors took what they needed from the rafts floating near them. After three days, strong winds separated the four boats. On 7 November, the British MV ERNEBANK rescued the sixteen survivors in the #2 lifeboat and landed then at Fremantle. On 9 November, the American tanker SS TUMACACORI picked up the seventeen men in the #6 lifeboat and landed them at Albany, Australia.
On 16 November, the American SS MARY BELL spotted the #1 lifeboat with seventeen survivors – and they opened fire on them! After 12 rounds landed near the lifeboat, someone aboard MARY BELL realized that they were survivors – the shelling stopped and the men were rescued and landed at Colombo, Ceylon.
The #4 boat with ten merchant seamen and six Armed Guards was never seen again. Three officers, twelve seamen and ten Armed Guards were lost.
First Person Memories of U-181, and the U-Bootwaffe
OTTO GIESE (45-1984) was Second Watch Officer on U-181 on her last patrol
to the Far East, and here is a poem he wrote (translated) set to music it became
Where the cold wind stands,
The wind blows the fog.
where we move,
Grey is our dress, our fur
we hunt; so we hunt
When the enemy shows up,
The sun shines blood red.
He loses ship and man.
“It’s all a bit primitive but then there was not space nor time
between work, watches, a heavy working boat, attacks too close to Murmansk etc.
and preparing some more poems and drawings for our festivity paper in the stick,
slime and slime of the boat if we should finally get back home.”
Here are OTTO's memories of his time in the war:
My name is Otto Giese, Oberleutnant
of the German naval reserve in WW II.
After a short introduction for you to see why and how I joined the German
U-Boats, I’m going to tell you how the men lived on board those boats on which
I served, which were U-405
and U-181 and about where these boats operated.
I was born November 8th, 1914 in the free Hanseatic town of Bremen in North Germany. My father was just leading a company of German lancers into France when he received the news about my arrival. The years passed by with education of all sorts. I started to love the marshes, the rivers and the seas on which I roamed with my kayaks and with my sailing boat. No wonder therefore that I decided to go to sea on one of our large square-riggers after I had finished high school.
We were all cadets of the Merchant Marine, this was the year 1933. At first, life on board seemed to be so hard for some boys that at night, in hammocks they secretly cried. We got kicked with sea boots at times or beaten with ropes end when we had broken the honor code. Often we stood in the rigging for hours on end in the tropics, barefoot, and up north with heavy sea boots unsecured on the foot wires, leaning against the canvas sails. Our hands wore many blisters and were often bleeding, and fingernails were torn off. Hurricanes bore down on the ship which was steadied only by the barest of sails.
The cadets were divided into watches and divisions and we had lessons every day. We had much to learn. Today life on board everywhere is better; food and treatment is good and often I wonder if toady’s youngsters would take what we had to swallow in those days.
After fifty months before the mast including a variety of steamers, I went to the academy to stand for my mates license which I finished in 1938. Same year I went for my basic military training with the Navy at Wilhelmshaven, in North Germany. With me were many Captains and Officers of the Merchant marine and of the Fisheries. At the end of the same year, I was commissioned a junior officer on our 3rd largest year ocean liner, SS COLUMBUS of the North German Lloyd at Bremen.
We made trips out of New York for Cooks Traveling Agency into the Caribbean and out of Africa. It was a swell time for a young officer. Also I was in charge of training the German crew for the International Labor Day race in US Coast Guard cutters along the Hudson for 1939.
The outbreak of World War Two found us in Caribbean waters and after having landed our passengers in Havana Cuba, we were ordered by Berlin to make for Mexico where we hid behind the reefs of Antonio Lizardo. Meanwhile we trained the crew for exercises in scuttling our vessel and in boats maneuvers.
The British were waiting but December 1939 we got orders from Berlin to try to run the blockade for Norway and Germany. We got as far as about 200 miles off Baltimore with escorts by US destroyers and the heavy cruiser TUSCALOOSA, which continued to send our position to the British. When the Canadian destroyer HYPERION stopped us with gunfire and when we successfully set our big liner afire and opened the sea valves, the TUSCALOOSA brought us to Ellis Island from where we were shipped by train to San Francisco, early 1940. Here we were interned as alien seamen on Angel Island across from Alcatraz where Al Capone was at that time sitting.
The year passed with idleness and I really got concerned that I might miss the duty to serve my country on the firing front. But at the end of 1940 a chance offered itself for five of us officers to escape on board the Japanese liner ASSAMA MARU, via Hawaii then to Yokohama, Japan.
Here were about fifteen German merchant vessels at anchor, ready to run the British blockade with vital cargo for the German war industry. 1941, I was assigned Second Officer on the motor vessel ANNALISA ESSBERGER in charge of navigation for the blockade run, security and coding systems. Amongst other cargo we had the first aerial torpedoes on board as heretofore, the German Air Force was still using bombs. Also we had two huge mines deep down in the holds to blow our vessel up in case that we should be brought up by the enemy.
EDITOR's NOTE - OTTO GIESE told us a lot, and it is all here…..well, most of it that is. We left out the part where he and Captain REINHARD HARDEGEN (102-1985) were friends from their young days, went to school together and even chased the same girls together. OTTO told us that it was always HARDEGEN who wound up with the girls. There is a tremendous amount of history here, and it is all first person.
SHARKHUNTERS Members get this kind of information in every issue of their KTB Magazine. www.sharkhunters.com
“Meanwhile the destroyers sliced
the surrounding sea at top speed, trembling and nervously trying to scent out
U-Boats. Swarms of various types of planes started from the aircraft
carrier and battled bravely with our onslaught. Meantime the nervous convoy took its course through
Spitzbergen. Flotsam was all over -
rafts, lifebelts, drums and all sorts of debris and many a dead seaman.
There were stretches of thick oil on the icy waters.
No way that anybody could survive such conditions for long.
Next day, in the early morning, we detected the silhouettes of a floating plane, badly damaged and half sunk. There were rafts with survivors, German fliers, whom we took on board. They told us they had tried to save some other pilots and had crash landed. Soon we saw the other raft with two men hanging badly hurt, over the side. In the rough sea, we had problems to get close and I jumped overboard, tied to several heaving lines, swam the fifty yards, grabbed them and was pulled back.
We had to hurry; get them down blow deck because of constant surprises by the enemy. There were two who were still alive, with broken bones and crushed skull. We administered intramuscular cardiosol and lurilene injections. They realized they had been saved on German soil. They talked about their families and home before they died. It happened very quietly.
We ran ahead of the convoy towards Murmansk and were soon enwrapped by peasoup thick fog; visibility a few hundred yards. Constant detonations of depth charges around us. Everybody was on edge naturally because of the eternal ALARM maneuvers.
There, about 1700 hours, we saw a fat destroyer of the ACHILLES or EPHRITY class coming full speed towards us. Before we went into the cellar, we fired two torpedoes at him and heard underwater two hard metallic detonations. We surfaced. We had hardly our binoculars at our eyes when Kapitän Hopmann yelled ALARM for destroyers. Damn! They sure were close. Head over neck we slid into the Central Control Room, falling on top of each other. One guy had hit the copper combing of the hatch with his head and the skin of his head was completely pushed backwards; he was nearly scalped.
The boat went down at an ever increasing angle and everything that wasn’t secured slid forward. Everybody held onto something. Hopmann ordered the Chief Engineer to go down to two hundred meters fast. Our “Sparks” had reported that the destroyers had stopped. They listened and got our bearings. We knew there were three of them. We heard the clear pinging of their sonars and then there was knocking and tapping on the hull when their reflex was positive. All that Hopmann said was:
boys, now they come.”
First faint, but fast growing sharp
and loud, as if cutting through our hull were their prop noises and with it
opened up and inferno-like a thousand thunders and strikes of lightening in one. There is no comparable noise in battles ashore.
No bombing or booming of guns of heaviest caliber.
There is no description by words; you just have to hear it yourself.
It can strike pure terror into the timid hearts.
Then again it was as if some mighty fist threw pebbles and sand over our
hull and new detonations close by.
What in the heck was going on up there with those fellows? I can’t believe that they want to kill us like rats in a cage. Paint was cracking off the walls; there was a sinister noise of high tension in the frame of the boat the deeper we went. Laminated glasses had broken apart; the light began to flicker and emergency lights came on. Water had come into the boat as they had been unable to close the torpedo tubes doors in time and a shrill hissing came from the direction of bow torpedo room, which made one man lose his self-control, and we had to silence him.
Looking at the men, I noticed that many held onto something firm to steady themselves. There was utmost tension in the faces when looking at the depth manometers or up above as if they tried to watch the destroyers in order anticipate their next moves. I admired especially one man, “Old Joke”’, the comedian with his usually big mouth he stood there calmly and chalked each detonation on the curtain around the ladder leading to the conning tower. One. Two. Three. Four. Slant. Were there forty? Or fifty? Or more - I forgot.
Of course under attack in this case, there was only the least movement of the crew possible. Everybody had to stay on station in order not to upset the trim of the boat. If somebody had to urgently relieve himself, he was handed a bucket filled with water and oil. Such an act usually gave reason to much teasing, and humor was soon back and acted as sort of relaxant of the strained nerves. However only whispers naturally were allowed.
Later at Narvik I asked one of the pilots whom we had fished out of the soup what he preferred - attacks with his plane through artillery and shrapnel fire or a depth charge attack on a U-Boat. He only laughed and patted my shoulder.
my plane is disabled,” he
still can bail out with my parachute. If
your sub is disabled and your engines sputter, and your last compressed air is
used up - you’ve had it and you die like a damn rat.”
This was my last trip on U-405. There were endless celebrations, good food, a real bed and much camaraderie. When we started
on a new trip and passed the breakwaters with roaring diesels, we waved to each
other for a last time. It was
November 1942; exactly a year later nearly on the day, that proud and brave U-405
met her fate with all hands lost.
She had been depth charged by the US destroyer BORIE and had to surface. Both boats battled each other in a gunfire and a torpedo duel. Both boats tried to ram each other and got locked after several engagements. The ensuing battle at short distance was grueling as there was no pardon seemingly acceptable. Finally one four-inch shell from the BORIE blew Hopmann and his bridge crew overboard. The two vessels pounded and rolled in the heavy seas and there was a terrific noise of steel grinding against steel mixed with constant gunfire.
Finally, about seventy two minutes after the first contact, U-405 plunged stem first and exploded underwater. The BORIE was so badly damaged that her crew abandoned ship, which had to be destroyed thereafter by bombs from an AVENGER plane.
1943 saw me on six different courses for U-Boat watch officer and I advanced from ordinary seamen to Lieutenant. There was much to learn, but my experiences from U-405 were a great help. After a short time on U-1191, I received orders to report on board U-181 in Bordeaux, France.
This was one of the most successful boats; under the command of one of our highest decorated U-Boat officers, Korvettenkapitän Wolfgang Lüth. I found the boat in one of the U-Boat pens. It looked like a mess, absolutely junky with workmen all over like the ants. Fregattenkapitän Kurt Freiwald arrived to take over his boat. He had been on the staff of Raeder and Dönitz. Here was an officer of the old elite who had been instrumental in building up the new U-Boat arm long before the war. He was tall, slim, elegant, gray-blond hair, steel blue eyes, reserved - they gave him the best boat with the best crew.
Lüth was still on leave. I meet his First Watch Officer Gottfried König, and his Second Watch Officer, Fritz Düring also some newcomers like L.I. (Chief Engineer Dieter Hille) and our Doctor, Klaus Buchholz.
When Lüth finally came to Bordeaux, the crew jubilated. Soon there was a big farewell party for Lüth with all the many trimmings typical with his temper and often rather drastic humor which the crew who so had greatly cherished. They would have gone for this man through Hell and fire. We wondered if Freiwald would be able to match up with this somewhat rough Wolfgang Lüth, and he did, as we would see later.
For the moment, while the boat was overhauled in the pens, we enjoyed ourselves to the very best in Bordeaux. Whoever was in this vivacious southern French town where the great cabarets were. We had our battles with the MPs, made horse races on chairs, had the chandeliers swinging and of course set on bar stools, on top of bar counters and behaved like acrobats. We enjoyed the excellent French cuisine and the Bordeaux wines, and treated the many and exquisitely charmed little French ladies like queens.
I met the unique Obersteuermann (Chief Navigation Officer) Johannes Limbach, our Third Watch Officer who came back from leave. He was one of the old gang and had been much liked by Lüth. When we celebrated ashore, we usually stayed together so to say, to the last drop in the glasses. Once we had to requisition a wheelbarrow to cart Johannes back to the base. Other we carried home of hooked (borrowed?????) autos. There were never scenes as disgusting as those in the film “DAS BOOT”.
In February, 1944, Grand Admiral, Admiral of the Fleet Dönitz (called the Lion), visited us and we sat with him after lunch in a large circle of officers and talked to him from man to man or from friend to friend, about our experiences, worries, and new trips.
Mid-March on a sunny afternoon, we started on our long trip to the South Atlantic and Indian Ocean towards Penang at the Malacca Strait. König had left us and Düring became Chief Watch Officer. I was Second Watch Officer, Limbach the Third Watch Officer.
We were all on board, ready for new adventures after the long time ashore. The boat ran submerged through the Bay of Biscay and only surfaced two hours after dusk, and two hours before dawn, to charge batteries and to receive coded messages from headquarters. During the nights, we had on the boat daytime routines and during the day vice versa. Through the periscope at radio program time, we saw many fishing boats at the Spanish Coast, only once had we been caught by ASDIC. So to say, we were blitzing through the Bay of Biscay. Soon we ran southward towards Madeira.
Early one morning at 40 meters we were passed by a destroyer, but nothing happened. Life on board this Type IX-D2 boat was more comfortable than on the VII-C because this is one of our largest size types. However we had considerably more crewmembers and we were on a trip, which could easily take 180 days at sea. Consequently the boat was stuffed with stores and provisions and even the second toilet was used as storage. Still there were no showers on board and one had to crawl into a narrow space at the farthest end of the stern torpedo room, in to the bilge to find a hose and use some salty cooling waters from the diesel. Later, in the Indian Ocean, we used to run the boat under a rain cloud, had the crew come up on deck in permissible numbers & in the nude to rub the dirt & oils off the skin. Such moments were like Sundays to us.
I believe we were the first German U-Boat to have a film projector on board with a variety of our newest films, compliments of the geniality of our Kommandant. The films were shown in the bow torpedo room on a large screen. When there were some risqué scenes, they went ape and one could always notice some hands going up to try to touch the bosom of a nice actress on the screen. Later we showed our films in the base ports of Penang, Singapore, and Batavia with greatest success.
…..hands went to the breasts of the actresses on the screen…..
Also there was a new invention by
Freiwald, which met the approval of the officers.
This was called: “The
Coward on Duty”. Our
plans of action were usually discussed by Freiwald with us. These discussions were absolutely honest and in depth.
One of us however had to play “The
Coward on Duty”, and had to express all the negative and dangerous sides of
that particular operation and admonish of utmost care, even to the extent of
cowardice. This made us always
realize that each penny had two sides to the story so to say.
We received orders to proceed together with U-Kentrat (U-196 under command of Korvettenkapitän Eitel-Friedrich Kentrat) to a plan square south of Madagascar. We were now passing the Canary Islands. One of the Chief Warrant Officers had birthday and while the special record was playing he received his congratulations by Kommandant and officers in the central command room, he went with a bottle of liquor from man to man in the boat and dealt out to each one half an ounce of the good juice. The Cape Verdes were passing by.
Since we left Bordeaux we were running at forty meters, temperature was now on the boat around 35 degrees Celsius or 95 Fahrenheit and we had about 3 percent CO2. Our doctor wrote the daily newspaper, the TYPHOON, which reported the many humorous happenings on board and kept us posted about international news. The Russians had reached at that time the German front yard. We figured that Hitler should soon come out with his miracle arms in order to turn the war around to our favor, but we knew better.
One morning all Warrant Officers appeared with bald heads, no bad idea. The beards of all men, of course those of age, was sprouting meantime and there were some quite illustrious shapes. On the latest health inspection by the doctor if was detected that seven men still had crabs, another one is full of rash. There is fever, several headaches and angina. This constant marching submerged was a health hazard. Relative humidity in the boat was always 97 to 100 percent. The sweat water on the walls went down in buckets, and all leather and other clothes were covered with a thick layer of mold, everybody is constantly sweating. The only dress we wore were our swim trunks.
Finally the boat had passed the line, the Equator. Still running submerged 37 days out from Bordeaux, she is now exactly on the dangerous track of constant planes between Bahia and Freetown. In the night we meet U-Lüdden (U-188 under command of Kapitänleutnant Siegfried Lüdden) in order to transfer the former Chief Engineer of Lüth who had been with us since Bordeaux. A short HIP, HIP, HIP, HOORAY - and both boats vanished again into the darkness.
By radio we hear that U-Staats (U-508 Kapitänleutnant Georg Staats) was in serious trouble. His young wife was in Bordeaux; now she is a widow. But soon we could take revenge. April 30 on my watch, suddenly prop noises at 1400. Through the periscope we saw a fat freighter. 1500 surfaced with full speed, out maneuvering vessel to gain forward position. The sun burns, the eyes hurt. 2100 ALARM for plane. 2200 up again. Vessel disappeared but soon we caught her again. Bright moonlight; we blitzed to 6000 meters ahead of vessel. When the moon had gone down, we pushed into the dark sector and went 1000 meters rectangular to the main course which had been 175 degrees.
With hard starboard and raced to the under cover until we had vessel at 70 degrees on starboard. Multiple shot tubes one and three. Both torps hit aft on May 1 at 4:05. Vessel sank fast. A man in one of the lifeboats gave the name of his ship. JANETA was 5312 gross registered tons.
When the boat was 25 degrees south on May 5, she finally ran day and night surfaced and I jumped with all hands on cleaning our 3.7cm and the two 2cm twin barrel anti-aircraft guns, which had suffered badly, having been all the time under water. There was jubilation in the boat when the first automatic shots were fired without jamming. The men could finally see the sun again after some seven weeks of life under electric lights. Many had bad skin rashes and several had jaundice, which could not be detected in the boat. Our doctor was down with malaria.
Cape of Good Hope was soon behind us and the weather got rougher and cooler. Soon we saw a smoke cloud but it had been a way off. On my watch, we tried out our Foch Achelis gliding helicopter, which we towed on a cable against the wind and which gave the pilot a greater field of vision. At about eighty meters, the cable snapped and Achelis and pilot went in a soft swing to water. It rattled him badly. We had to get the man out quick because he was already attacked by large sea birds!
Kommandant suggested one day that we play a trick on our doctor, who had only a few hairs on his head left, being sort of bald and who used extensively Trelacen, a highly potent and odor rich hair lotion. Well, we obliged because we teased each other constantly. When the doctor slept, we tinkled a bit into the bottle, added some liqueur, sugar, glue and more lotion. We could hardly wait for the time of his grooming his scalp. I’d rather not tell the rest of this story because we nearly died laughing.
On another occasion I ground some carbon pills and poured the highly sticky powder into his sea boots. He was such any esthetically clean person of course, but since that time he secretly complained about the floorboards in the officers’ mess not being kept swept clean.
Soon we were on squares south of Madagascar waiting for ships on the tracks from Colombo, Aden and Australia to Durban. The calendar showed June 5th and we received the disturbing news that the enemy landed an invasion on the French Coast. Admiral Dönitz calls upon the U-Boat arm for an all-out fight. We check our timetable before deciding to haul towards Mauritius where we saw a CATALINA at close range and from there, zigzagging north.
Water temperature, about 84º Fahrenheit and in the boat 105º. Hallelujah - on June 19, we sank the GAROET 7,118 gross registered tons. Our boat passed the Maldives, south of India.
On board there were many tournaments - light athletics, U-Boat style card games and above all, chess. The fights were indeed dramatic. Kommandant and the doctor were the favorites. That’s where the intelligence set.
We passed the island of Minecoi and I suggested to have me put ashore in a rubber float and squeeze the lighthouse guard for new about passing convoys. Our so-called “Coward on Duty” pleaded against this plan & it never matured. Soon we had reached the west coast of India & had to reckon with coastal planes.
July 15th, at 18:15 ship in sight. 21:50 radar detection, Naxos force 3 to 4. Pitch dark night. Twenty to eleven, attacking. Two hits. Name TANDA with 7,174 gross registered tons. Again Naxos force 5 to 6, the plane should be over us. ALARM! Dive, dive fast. Depths of water about only 150 feet, we had to be careful not to hit the ship below. Around noon next day, we surfaced although we knew they were looking for us.
Sure enough, ALARM for plane. The men tumbled down wide-eyed. The Third Watch Officer reported as calm as possible,
“Plane out of the sun, saw too late. The BEAUFIGHTER, already that big!”
There were four extremely hard
detonations, two on starboard and two on port side, like hammer blows on the
hull. The boat shook and
trembled, all electricity went out. The
high pressure valve blew off into the center room with incredible noise.
The planes jammed with hard down. The
list grew to 35 degrees, the electric motors had stopped for a short while, a
coupling did not release. Overload
- all fuses blew. Situation
critical to say the least, but everybody kept cool under fire, discipline was
great and all men acted fast and efficient, without having to be told.
Before we hit the call button, the chief engineer managed to shift the depth rudders from manual and get the boat under control. Starboard fuel bunker had cracked a leak and was blown out and filled with water. The gyrocompass had gone ape and was useless, and the magnetic compass was unreliable due to great deviation. We surfaced in the night in spite of strong radar activity, we hove to between the Lackadive Islands.
On July 20 on surfacing after a test dive we detected a ship right behind us high over the horizon. Why they did not see us is still a miracle to me. 1700 - two hits. 1703 - sunk! KING FREDERICK, 5,106 gross registered tons. Same night we heard over the radio about the assault on Hitler’s life by the officers group. Dönitz declared general alarm for the Navy.
Almost 4 at night, we were carefully approaching Pulu Penang. Our sharp night glasses suddenly revealed a dark shadow. It was the tower of a U-Boat, which suddenly dived. With full speed we were playing hooky. After the war we found out that it had been the HMS DRATAGAN under Lieutenant Perry. Sorry old boy, you just had bad luck!
On August 8th, we made Penang. We had been at sea 144 days. There were flying in the breeze four pennants, from our extended periscope, each designating one vessel sunk with a total of 24,772 gross registered tons. There were of course big welcomes by the highest ranking Japanese authorities and the German Chief, Kapitän Thomas and his staff. The boat had heavy wounds, which had to be mended and the crew needed well deserved rest.
In due time we called at Singapore and Djakarta, Java. We enjoyed the tropical and intimate oriental atmosphere. The night was dark, sinister and hot when we headed for sea again on October 20, 1944. Homeward bound to some port in Norway. We had given all torpedoes with the exception of two ashore and had loaded on board every space possible and impossible, war materials of greatest importance for the badly suffering German war industry like for example 130 tons tin, 20 tons molybdenum, 100 tons raw rubber, one ton quinine, and some opium - all told about 240 tons.
We had become a blockade runner. We outmaneuvered enemy forces and soon we were deep into the Indian Ocean again. It was on November 1st when we suddenly saw a cloud of smoke at the horizon. A large single running tanker, 15 knots. We had tough time blitzing ahead of her and only an hour left between sunset and moonrise for our attack. Since one torpedo did not do the job with this big buddy, we had to use our last one too. She was the FORT LEE with 10,198 gross registered tons, which gave us a total of about 35,000 tons on this trip. In the Roaring Forty’s we had to box against mountainous seas. The diesels were overstrained. Worse, the babbitt and the main bearings was down to zero! The shafts were merely ruining on the bronze metal. The oil pressure was at its lowest and still we had 10,000 miles to go.
We were forced to return to Java
and finally Singapore for major overhaul. We
built with bought means a snorkel and were again ready to head out to sea when
Germany surrendered on May 5, 1945. Shortly
afterwards the Japanese requisitioned our three remaining boats in Singapore and
we went to the ex-British rubber plantation Batu Bahat in the Malayan jungle to
watch the bizarre cruel fights and endless killings in connection with the last
days of the Japanese Empire.
Now that we've read the stories of some of the people aboard the U-boat, let's read the story of a survivor.
Not all stories are told and retold by the men of the U-boats and other submarines. When a ship is torpedoed, there are people aboard the target. here is the story of a survivor of the British steamer TINHOW, which was sunk by U-181 on 11 May 1943:
I was aboard the TINHOW, sunk on 11 May 1943. I am Ayub Ali, British citizen of 81 years of age with a fine family of three sons. The U-boat that destroyed our steamer was U-181. The following is an account of my ordeal that fateful night.
We docked at Durban (South Africa) the 23rd day of our voyage. From Calcutta we called at Colombo then Mombassa and afterward, we arrived at Natal. The great African continent was a welcome break for us seafarers. For the hardness of dry land for us mariners brought about a joyous stability in our legs that had swiftly become elasticized by the ship’s arbitrary nautical motion. For the next two weeks, the hustle and bustle among throngs of merchants, stevedores, clearing and forward agents, port officials and coolies overwhelmed us. Durban, lying south of the 33rd parallel, was one of the busiest ports on the South African coast on the Indian Ocean. We followed instructions and busied ourselves with routine chores, and at midday stopped only to cook meals and to pay our devotions. For, as Islamic followers, we Trippurian crew were firm believers in the predestination of Allah’s Design.
On the afternoon we were to set sail was a hectic afternoon. I was on duty the whole day. Natal was dusty. The afternoon was breezy. Seamen, troops and spotlessly dressed local merchants collided with each other over narrow ramps, their arms and shoulders straining under personal baggage. Their eyes reflecting the clear blue sky. Weatherbeaten, their faces eager with a sense of great duty and urgency. Passengers too, accompanied by those who enlisted our help on TINHOW. There were others. They were bound for predestined war zones or neutral territories. Many vessels carried anti-aircraft guns and artillery canons for the whole world was ablaze in the grips of World War II now ranging in its fourth, and most terrible, year.
British Indians and our Allied forces were losing hundreds of ships every day. Deadly U-boats scoured the South Atlantic and Indian Ocean. They waylaid major shipping routes, and convoys were gathered to make safe passage possible. However, the destructive force of stealthy torpedoes launched from those submarines wreaked havoc across the major oceans of the world, and ocean going vessels were being hit faster than they could be built. Britain was building and launching a major vessel every twenty-four hours.
Afternoon loading schedules were met and we set sail. Exhausted, I fell into my bunk and because I was tired, tossed and turned for sometime before I fell asleep at around 2300 hours on the 10th of May of 1943. On that fateful night, we sailed northward for Haifa at about 6 – 7 knots with six holds full of potatoes and safety matches. I was twenty-three years old at that time, one of the youngest on board.
I awoke with a terrible jolt and in a frightful stupor, rose to my feet in seconds. I was in a cubicle, my sleeping quarters. Almost instantly, a quake threw me violently against the slim wall opposite the two bunk beds. I had been fast asleep on the lower bunk and I had on a pair of short khakis after the labors of the day. I couldn’t tell whether it was a couple of hours or a few minutes that I had rested. I wrenched my feet into my brown derbies and sprung out into the night.
The spent half of a moon hung on a peg of a cloud and threw a yellow gleam about the ship. The TINHOW shuddered and lurched as if it were a wounded beast. It dawned on me that we were hit and I had to get off the vessel. The war had been raging now for the fifth year. I knew that being hit was the order of the day. We heard news and stories of many disasters every day – entire convoys sunk and no survivors. Grisly news, yet we cared little. It did not deter us from embarking on these risky voyages. The pay was good, the food and board was free which meant we saved all our wages. Tobacco and chocolates were rationed weekly. We traded them amongst ourselves.
The half blind engineer, who rarely emerged from the engineroom, sucked on an old fashioned pipe when he did, had obviously left the engines running. Treacherously inclined, the ship was still steaming ahead. Scurrying up the shaft, I headed towards my station. Despite emergency drills and rehearsals, nobody seemed to be at their respective stations. What they were supposed to be doing was to organize a calm and orderly evacuation. Instead, there was chaos! There arose a frantic rush toward the buoy and the boats. I quickly slipped on my life vest and headed towards the back of the ship, towards where I knew was one of the eighteen boats.
Confused, and acting on some kind of automatic adrenaline, I was not thinking – just moving with the quick intuition of a jungle animal. I tripped and fell into the hold. It could have been twelve or thirteen feet down. I couldn’t see – it was pitch dark. I realized that there must be a ladder or shaft somewhere, and fumbled forward. My shoes splashed around and I heard the rush of water seeping between crates fast. I recovered, and shinnied up the shaft back on the deck, ran past the saloon aft and jumped onto the starboard boat which men were trying to lower. The ship was still moving. Heavy braids of rope tugged at the hull. It was impossible to lower the boat.
For a second, I was distracted by an officer in a white tunic. His cap was on the boat floor but he was frantically searching inside a toolbox. Without realizing that he must have been looking for an axe to cut away the ropes – me, still subservient to my superior officer, gracefully picked up his cap and with an unforgiving complacency in such a life and death situation, handed it to him. In fury and frustration, the officer reacted with great agility and jack knifed his boot into the back pocket of my khakis, which had the marvelous effect of rearranging my senses to the clear and present danger ahead and towards my only option. I knew I had to jump into the ocean!
The boat could not be released, as many boats could not, and those that were released by swift hacking axes, turbulently headed into the whirlpool being created by the sinking vessel. Many capsized; others dragged down by the ship served little purpose. This ship, being an old thing, never had properly working sirens or bugles. Many of our mates could have been deep in slumber when she went down. In fact, the torpedoes sliced through without exploding.
The water was horrible. It cocooned my skin like cold broken glass. I sank deep enough to fight for breath and immediately kicked off my brown derbies. I had bought them in a second-hand shoe shop in Glasgow the previous year in 1942. That year our vessel HINJRA was up in the dry docks for a month. They were tanned brown, and a superb pair of shoes.
Kicking them off however, deducted a couple of kilograms and buoyed by my vest, I popped up out of the deep. Gasping for breath now, I stared straight into the hot funnel of the vessel. It tried to suck me in, about a hundred feet in front of where I surfaced. I threw myself backward for dear life, and submerged under a gigantic wave. I held my breath until my eyes and ears buzzed. It seemed like the end had come. Only God’s Grace caused me to surface the second time. The ship was nowhere to be seen. Dozens of small red lights blinked around me. I realized one was blinking on my shoulder, next to a whistle. Foam and bubbles marked the spot where, ten minutes ago, was a ship on which we ate, slept, worked and dreamed. I was a good swimmer, but swimming for sport with a definite length, although arduous, is infinitely more pleasant than trying to swim two yards towards a hopeless horizon.
I aimed at a cluster of lights and caught hold of a davy. This is used for pegging the boats. It was round as a human thigh and twelve to fifteen feet long. Three sailors were holding on to it desperately. I swum on to latch myself on one side, which stopped the davy from rolling around in the water. It was difficult to keep it in balance and we kept changing our position and weight to keep the lumber from spinning.
We kept up the strategy of aiming for clusters of points of light, now visible all around us. We rose and fell in the deep swells. Moment by moment the remaining part of the endless night passed. Involuntarily swallowing pints of bitter salt water, our eyes and ears stinging from the salt, we watched the red orb of the sun slowly rising out of the blue dawn which quickly turned into a maddening glare.
We viewed this scene from our flotsam. The sea around us rose and fell in a gentle swell. As we rose higher, other unfortunates like us gripping various parts of the ship became visible. The scene calmed our disturbed souls a fraction. We are not along in this misfortune is a thought greatly consoling to the human soul, even if only for an instant. It fortified and strengthened us against abject despair.
By midday we had dined on our last bit of courage, and a dreary mood gripped our being. We knew odds of survival in this condition was bleak. The sea and the sky became oppressive conspirators against us. One of my companions, the ship’s carpenter, could hardly move his legs and was offsetting the balance of the davy. He clung on like a leach. My other companion, the Chinaman, hung his head low over the log and breathed in a shallow, hoarse manner as if he were drawing his last breath. We were weak from electrifying cramps that shot up our legs and our muscles were heavy like lead. Frequently thirst horrified us, and it magnified to a billion angry suns dancing on each drop of sea, mocking and taunting our parched throats. I tried drinking it once, but spat out the foul ancient mixture. Others gulped down a few good pints.
This was a mistake – dehydration set in fast and cramps from our overworked muscles rippled up our calves and thighs until we moaned in pain and agony. All hope was lost by this time and despite the brilliance of the day all around us, a darkness pervaded much like a silhouette picture. We clung on from muscle tension more than will and might and it was at this moment that a boat sighted us and hurriedly paddled towards us. It had capsized and about eighteen or so specimens became visible to us as if a light had been switched on again.
We maneuvered the davy towards the boat and the extended paddles. My carpenter friend let go the davy and plunged into the sea and swam a few yards towards the boat. We witnessed the terror in his eyes as his strength gave up a few yards from the extended paddle and powerless, we watched sink like a diving bell into the green waters and disappear into the deep. The men in the boat warned us to stay put, and they gradually came alongside us and pulled us onto the upturned hull. We thanked God but our very being was shriveled for a drop of water and we just lay exhausted on that inclined hull and scanned the horizon for any sign of land or bird or ay boat or rescue ships.
There was nothing to hold onto the capsized boat and from late afternoon, the sea turned rough and we were now twelve hours in the water or more and in told. On our skins appeared blisters, whether it was from the angry sun or the tortuous waters we could not tell. Our hot skins burned. Painfully we kept up a spirit of camaraderie and locked each other an arm-to-arm chain and braced our feet on the edge of the boat. We were all sitting on a slope in three rows, and the discomfort cannot be described in words.
I lost my second companion at that time. I had braced onto him on my left side and noticed that he had been dozing for a couple of hours. The swell had grown now, and a southerly squall joined the twin oppressors. The boat rose and fell with an irregular shatter. My partner on the left had collapsed and his grip slackened. I held him fast and deemed that I saw the life leaving his body. My companions urged me to let go and hold tighter to the chain because the chain was now unlinked. As the human chain relinked to me, my companion slipped over the bulk and entered the sea. I grabbed the hair on his head. He had died. His face registered death like an invisible signature that no physician was needed to verify.
From the human chain came repeated shouts to let go and restore balance. The wind was fierce and the boat crashed back into the sea. With every upheaval, a little air escaped from the upturned boat and decreased it buoyancy. I released the poor kid. Unseen angels lowered the tired corpse to some deep dark watery trench. No tombstone nor obituary, but as epitaph we bobbed up and down in the hands of cruel Poseidon.
The next morning was calmer, but we were waist deep in the water. The boat was sinking!
My senses were heightened. The stench of people carried a distinct smell of fear. It was akin to the smell of dried fish. The blueness of the sky hurt our eyes. It signified for us freedom from the prison of the waters. Water lapped our bodies like demonic tongues – asking for our bodies, waiting to devour our flesh, lulling us, waiting – a hungry sea waiting to claim us, to putrefy and dissolve us. But like a past eight o’clock daredevil children, we refused its embrace – but for how long? Sleep came like rain on us. It beat our eyes and our noses, and whipped like a wind around us. Sleep signaled sure death – not for one of us, but by unlinking our chain, could lead to disaster. The whole of the night was spent in pursuit of driving away this enemy. We slapped and bruised each other from dozing off into oblivion. Surges and surges of overwhelming sweetness was cruelly slapped back into wakefulness and life.
We are in three rows, and our feet were in the sea. It was the fish that frightened us. One could have no problem with these huge creatures in front of the television, watching a nature program saying how gentle these giants are – but when one of them surfaces twenty yards from a crippled boat and the dimensions of its head dictate that all of us could be easily swallowed in one gulp – we do not consider what or how it eats, but only know how to be very frightened and then proceed unceremoniously to howl, shriek and beat the sea like madmen to startle the monster away from us. The fish dived and resurfaced for a second and third time, each while making as if to charge the boat. We raised a fearsome din each time and thankfully, it left us alone and dived away; deep somewhere away from the commotion. I believe we even had a nervous round of laughs after that.
Silently the potatoes came floating around that lunchtime. All our crew applauded in ecstasy – saliva in our mouths, we steadied the drifting crate while others kicked and tore open the cargo. The potatoes were handed over swiftly but it soon became evident that fate was playing a cruel joke. The spuds had seeped in with salt water. They were bitter and inedible and none went down our throats. I spat out repeatedly to get rid of the taste but some thirsty souls drank the unquenching sea. Their plight grew dim a little later as the bitter water cut through their stomach and their bowels, already loose, showed traces of blood.
Instead of extinguishing it, it inflamed their thirst to unbearable limits.
Fearing the boat would not outlast us, we debated to right the upturned boat by all moving to one side and then letting someone on to siphon out the water, a feat of engineering that would have been to scoop out a twenty-three foot boat with cupped hands – that is, if it didn’t sink like a stone when we turned it over.
We were divided on the issue and a vote showed a majority in disfavor of the idea on the grounds that it was too risky and exhaustive for us now at this stage. We left that idea alone and resigned our plight to fate. To Allah we pleaded for His mercy and in deep fervor, promised much reformation of deeds if we survived through His grace, our bitter ordeal.
As though in answer to our wild supplications, we espied pale peaks of a coastal mountain range that afternoon and feeling blessed, paddled vigorously towards them. We knew not then that those sharp crests spelled death for many. Gradually the wind and waves became restless again. The rocks were still faraway when the sun sank low, lost most of its luster & brightness. It marked the end of another day. Forthcoming was the terrible prospect of staying awake. In silence, I thought about my home and my mother.
It was the time in my village, now far away in British India (now called Bangladesh) when the peasants trudged home bearing the plow on their shoulders behind spent oxen in the sunset. Children read their lessons in unison in a large reverberating chant overseered by a senior scholar. The muezzin bleating the azaan echoing the ‘Oneness’ from daylight into night. The devout performing wudu in the duck pond, splashing water up to their elbows and hurrying to join our verses in an assembly inside the tiny hut that served as a mosque for the obligatory evening namaaz. My sweet mother gathering her nine children around an oil lamp and her warm fragrant sari perhaps sighing deeply for me, the vagabond son and adventurous daredevil who ran away to the sea flouting school and the bonds of serfdom in a feudal society so many years ago. This mattered little and was lost and buried amongst mounting fears of whether we would survive the night or, if the boat would hold out any longer. I wondered sadly if I would ever see my mother’s comely face again.
By sheer luck, the fishermen spotted us as the sun disappeared beyond the semi-twilight. They shouted out commands in an incomprehensible tongue for our rescue operation. We held on. The sea no longer seemed a cruel bitter wasteland but suddenly transformed into a gentle comforting guardian angel. The lapping water was like the laughter of a friend that had immensely enjoyed the terror and agony of our ordeal. Like a buddy who was intolerable but quickly forgiven for hatching nasty practical jokes. A lull came over us like a gentle mother tucking us in. We praised the indefinable spirit for our succor and waited to be pulled out of the water.
Bravely they picked up many of the wretched, half-naked crew fast and quick before darkness set in. As long as they could spot anyone or anything, they saved maybe seventy of us from our boat and other driftwood and flotsam.
My instinct for survival was indomitable and I had battled fiercely for the past 52 hours. Yet then, the moment the brawny arms of the gaunt fishermen locked onto my arm, I lost my senses to the world. I came to hours later, jogged by a violent rocking motion. The schooner was cutting through the breakers like a rippling dolphin powered by a throttling engine. The sea was choppy and we headed at top speed. I noticed that they had put up their sails as well.
Dry biscuits and perhaps a thimble full of water were handed out to keep us alive. Perhaps this was the rule, or they may not have had any rations enough for seventy destitute seamen. We were thankful nevertheless, and by morning we were ashore. We communicated whatever our needs and plights were, and gathered that we were in a Portuguese speaking land. None of us knew this language but the people were kind. It was only many years later, through friends, that I found out that it was Mozambique, a Portuguese colony.
We heard that many had died crashing on the rocky breakers of the shores that we had headed for,,,,,,
Many of us were taken to hospital and the remaining stalwarts, myself included, were put in a hotel where breakfast, lunch and dinner was served. I was showed my bedroom and informed that breakfast was served. The clean white bed smiled at me. I limped towards it, but could not haul my frame onto it. My legs gave way and I knelt in front of it and laid my head across the bed. I sank into a dreamless abyss. When I awoke from that position, I felt refreshed and sturdy. The whole day had elapsed and it was nearly dinnertime. I arose and signaled for some water.
The one expression that I often heard in those following days and later and became accustomed to using for expressing great amazement and relief was “Santa Maria!”
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