Escape and Surrender
12 May 1945
From: U234 (Fehler)
To: GZZ 10
Position 50.00 N - 30.00 W. Surfaced, course 260, speed 8.
D/F [Direction Finder Fix - author's note] 51.00 N - 27.00 W
0623Z [6:23 a.m. - authors note]dlxxii
Surrender transmission sent from U-234 at 6:23 a.m., 12 May, 1945
12 May 1945
From: U-234 (Fehler)
To: Comsubs Op
Surfaced at 0800B/12/5/45
Position 50.00 N - 34.00 W
Course 260. Speed 8.
D/F Position 50.00 N. - 34.00 W
2340Z [11:40 p.m. - authors note]dlxxiii
A second transmission from U-234 sent over 17 hours later reporting, by coordinates, an unchanged position since the morning transmission, while reporting a velocity of 8 knots in both transmissions. Despite the reported unchanged position, direction finder fixes show U-234 was travelling westward twice as fast as the velocity reported: in the first transmission U-234 actually was well east of its reported position, and it actually was well west of its reported position in the second transmission.
There are more mysteries related to U-234 than its enigmatic passengers and cargo. The whereabouts of U-234 from April 16 until May 12, 1945, almost a month, are, seemingly, a conundrum - a puzzle whose answer leads to another riddle, which leads again to another puzzle, and so on, until you arrive back at the original question - what happened? Review of the U-boat's logbook itself reveals a perplexing collection of contradictions when compared against intercepted radio transmissions, other accounts of the voyage, and even other information within the same logbook, suggesting that at least part of its record is falsified.
In fact, even a cursory glance at what are purported to be various pages of the war log reveals astounding inconsistencies in the physical nature of the book and the handwriting therein, leading to questions and doubt regarding its very provenance. In addition, the few apparently clear facts provided by the war log reveal a bizarre and unexpected travel routine for a fleeing U-boat. And the actions taken by the U-boat commander in the final days prior to its surrender are duplicitous and deceitful - and apparently in coordination with United States Navy activities.
In short, the evidence suggests that U-234 may not to have left
Norway under the conditions it was reported to, may not have cruised the
course across the Atlantic it was claimed to have traveled, and definitely
did not surrender when, where and to whom it was ordered to capitulate.
Instead, in almost every case, its commander, Captain Lieutenant Johann
Heinrich Fehler, appears to have been intent on achieving a different,
But even before the U-boat cast off from the pier, its presence was generating considerable interest - both in Germany and across the Atlantic in the United States. A captured German ULTRA radio encoder/decoder had allowed the Allies to break the German codes and thus receive and decode U-boat transmissions describing U-234's secret mission and other aspects of its operations. U-234's Chief Radio Operator Wolfgang Hirschfeld's two accounts of these events corroborate and add enlightening detail to this data.
According to these sources, as noted in a previous chapter, U-234 had received important radio transmissions that seemed to indicate a struggle over chain-of-command of the U-boat was taking place between Hitler's headquarters and U-boat Grand Admiral Karl Doenitz. Probably on 12 April, U-234 received a special order that Hirschfeld later wrote had originated from Hitler's bunker headquarters.
"One day we received the following transmission, 'U-234 is not to leave yet. Wait for orders. - The Fuehrer Headquarters'"dlxxiv
The signal intelligence itself seems to substantiate at least the basics of Hirschfeld's story, although there are differences in the details between his accounts and the intercepted radio transmissions. For instance, in an English version of Hirschfeld's memoirs, the order told Fehler to "'only sail on the orders of the highest level' - Fuehrer HQ."dlxxv An English translation of the German version of Hirschfeld's account quotes the order as, "'U-234 is not to leave yet. Wait for orders' - Fuehrer HQ."dlxxvi An actual intercepted dispatch similar to, and therefore probably connected to the one Hirschfeld was referencing, commanded U-234 to remain at Kristiansand until "especially ordered."dlxxvii
The intercepted radio transmission put the date of receipt of this order
as 12 April, but Hirschfeld's recollection put the day he saw the order
as "about 14 April." And although Hirschfeld in both of his accounts identified
the dispatch he saw as originating from the Fuehrer Bunker, the intercepted
version of the transmission is identified as coming from the German Commander
of Submarine Operations. Here is our first conundrum; was there truly a
mysterious messenger in the Fuehrer Bunker, and, if so, what was his intent
in ordering the U-boat to stay?
Standard command center procedure would suggest that, had U-234 received a specially coded message from Hitler's headquarters, the U-boat command communication center would automatically relay the transmission to U-234 on behalf of the Fuehrer Bunker.
Although the Allies' captured ULTRA decoder could decipher the U-boat command code, apparently it was not equipped for the special leadership frequencies or codes of the Fuehrer Bunker. The original message from the bunker would not have been intercepted. Presumably, U-234 was not equipped with the special equipment to receive such a message either.
So the U-boat command communications operators needed to rephrase the wording to downplay Hitler's headquarters connection, in order not to reveal to prying ears the high priority of the message or the Bunker's involvement in it; but to insure, nonetheless, that U-234 received appropriate operating orders. Following this procedure would also conserve proper chain of command. And it would also explain why Hirschfeld read the Fuehrer Bunker message a day or two later in the communications center. Possibly he recognized the relayed message for what it was and went to the communications center to read the original.
Hirschfeld writes that he made a special daily visit to the flotilla communications center while in Kristiansand to pick up messages for the U-boat.dlxxviii Such a practice seems odd, since U-234 appears to have been capable of receiving all standard U-boat transmissions - vis-a-vis the present relayed dispatch. The daily visits therefore suggest Hirschfeld, and Fehler by extension, were expecting the special message.
Whatever the case, as a result of one of these visits, Hirschfeld writes that he knew the transmission originated from the Fuehrer Bunker because he was given a copy of the order and that it was identified as having come from Hitler's headquarters. An interesting set of comparisons about this message can be made between Hirschfeld's first version of the incident in his book Feindfahrten, written in German, and his second account written with Geoffrey Brooks, Hirschfeld, The Story of a U-boat NCO - 1940-1946, written in English several years later. The details in Hirschfeld's earlier version of the episode described how Fehler showed the dispatch to his passenger, General Kessler, who surmised that a mystery guest was coming from Berlin.dlxxix
The later version of this episode makes only a veiled, oblique, passing mention of this discussion.[dlxxx] From my contacts I learned that, after the first book, Fehler and others "in the know" about the mysterious Fuehrer Bunker dispatch, vigorously censured Hirschfeld for having revealed anything about it. Ensuing claims were made that Hirschfeld had, in fact, falsely elaborated his report of this episode. Such after-the-fact editing seems suspect, however, given the proven veracity of many other elements of Hirschfeld's accounts of events - which will be pointed out as our narrative continues - and the chain of anomalies and enigmas otherwise left in U-234's wake.
At any rate, in Hirschfeld's early version, Kessler surmised that Berlin was sending another passenger to travel in the U-boat and that he guessed the unexpected traveler would be Hermann Goering, whom, to Fehler's horror, he called "The Fat One." Kessler went on to explain that Goering's presence in the U-boat was unacceptable to him because he and Goering had had a falling out and so he was not prepared to spend several months confined in small U-boat quarters with the Luftwaffe Reich Marshall. Despite the exclusion of this event from Hirschfeld's second account, to a large degree, revealing this little-known detail qualifies Hirschfeld's authenticity as a witness of this event, and by extension, the veracity of his original claim that the order for U-234 not to leave Kristiansand came from the Fuehrer Bunker. During Kessler's interrogation following U-234's surrender, Kessler, indeed, revealed the details of an otherwise little-known falling out he had had with Goering.[dlxxxi]
Shortly, according to Hirschfeld's first account, a second dispatch came through the flotilla communications center. Tellingly, Hirschfeld's later version of events once again excludes any mention of this transmission. The communiqu=C8, also sent on a leadership-dedicated frequency, though benign on the face of it, was even more mysterious than the first. The dispatch read, "To lead radio chief Hirschfeld on U-234, for your last trip, much luck and healthy return home. Your Bubi."
When called before the Flotilla Commander to account for the enigmatic message, Hirschfeld explained that the transmission had been sent from Bernhard Geissmann, the head radioman at 10th Flotilla in Lorient, France. He then writes obliquely that this answer could not be followed up on because Lorient had been captured. The obvious intent of his response thus was to protect the identity of "Bubi." "Bubi" may, in fact, have been Bernhard Geissmann, but that seems unlikely since it is almost certain the Allied forces that captured Lorient would not casually allow an enemy prisoner to transmit a personal message on a captured enemy's special frequency transmitter.
Who, then, was Bubi, and what was the meaning of the message? If, indeed, it was not from Bernhard Geissmann, then it would seem the transmission was a coded message from an unknown sender, presumably including a prearranged signal designed as part of a predetermined plan. Perhaps the phrase "healthy return home" indicated the plan now was in place for U-234 to return to Germany upon the proper signal to pick up the mystery guest - we will probably never know. Within a few hours of this dispatch, according to Hirschfelddlxxxii - but probably the next day according to a second radio intercept received 13 Aprildlxxxiii - Commander Fehler received another order.
This message came from Grand Admiral Karl Doenitz, commander of the U-boat fleet, and told Fehler not to accept orders from anyone but the Admiral himself, and then commanded Fehler to depart as quickly as he could make the appropriate preparations.dlxxxiv
Upon receiving the order, according to Hirschfeld, Fehler openly acknowledged the clash over chain-of-command of the U-boat by joking about Doenitz's willingness to take on the top brass; but really, Fehler was in a tight spot. How could he expect to execute conflicting orders from both the supreme commander of the U-boat navy and from the Fuehrer's headquarters itself? Should he fail to do either, the personal consequences could be catastrophic. Certainly, at the very least, an order directly from the Fuehrer's headquarters to Fehler had to have a profound influence personally on U-234's commander.
He must have felt great pressure as he was ground between his two powerful leaders. Fehler would need to work magic to squeeze out of this, his very first pickle as the U-boat's captain - and he had not even left friendly shores! Yet he seems to have worked some effective sleight of hand, for radio transmission intercepts record that U-234 apparently seems to have fulfilled both orders! The massive U-boat is actually documented by these intercepted radio transmissions to have left port twice. Here is the second of our circular puzzles.
The intercepts record that U-234 had "put out of Kristiansand south" on 16 April, according to one transmission.dlxxxv But another transmission two days later, on 18 April, reported U-234 was on its way "out of port at present."dlxxxvi How could the U-boat have left port on the 16th and still be leaving Kristiansand two days later on the 18th? Possibly Fehler had changed plans and returned.
According to U-234's "official" log, however, on 18 April the U-boat was already approximately 200 miles away, heading north in the opposite direction reported on the 16th, and was then in the latitudes around Bergen, Norway.dlxxxvii Apparently, the U-boat had not been called back if the log is correct - but then, we shall see that the log, itself, is suspect. For there is another "official" log; a log that ends abruptly on 18 April, the very day of the second report of U-234 exiting port. We shall return to this convoluted chronicle momentarily.
The strange contradiction of the two messages regarding U-234 leaving port twice may be answered once again by radioman Hirschfeld, in another of his cryptic, abstruse passages that appears to shine light on these mysterious movements. In both of his accounts of the journey he writes that, once U-234 was clear of Kristiansand, U-boat Commander North Captain Hans Rosing sailed to and boarded the U-boat from a "communications launch" [italics added].
This event had always perplexed me because, although Hirschfeld infers it occurred off Kristiansand, I knew Rosing was headquartered in Bergen. True, he may have been visiting Kristiansand on official business, the U-boat base was certainly within his jurisdiction, but why would he wait for U-234 to leave Kristiansand and then chase it down in a small craft rather than address its crew at the pier, as was the common practice? After reviewing Hirschfeld's words and the intercepted "second exit from port" message, combined with the evidence of the strangely truncated logbook on the one hand, and the position of U-234 near Bergen, as posted in that logbook on the other hand, it seemed to me that U-234 secretly may have been detoured to Bergen for an unknown purpose.
If this was the case, and it was supposed to be kept secret, it would explain the logbook having been abruptly concluded on that day rather than record the fact of the Bergen visit. A "mock" or replacement logbook would then have to have been created to hide the clandestine detour - possibly right away, possibly at a later date - thus the "official" logbook.
Hirschfeld's description of the meeting with Rosing strongly supports the idea that U-234 visited Bergen, since that was Rosing's headquarters. And, as mentioned, the puzzle revealed by the intercepted radio transmission reporting that U-234 left port a second time seems to support that conclusion as well. U-234 was, indeed, at the right longitude, and only a few miles offshore at Bergen on the 18th. To make a surreptitious stop there to take on Rosing would have been quick and easy.
The tersely ended logbook supports the likelihood of the secret sidetrack on that date. As does the fact that according to Herbert Werner, author of the U-boat classic book Iron Coffins, and himself a U-boat commander serving in Norway at the time, Rosing was, in fact, in Bergen during 16 through 19 April, 1945.dlxxxviii Rosing himself asserts that he does not remember his whereabouts at the time,[dlxxxix] although the event seems so singular that one would expect the key details to remain in one's mind.
Whether at Kristiansand or Bergen, almost certainly Rosing and Fehler did not risk their one-of-a-kind U-boat, priceless cargo and important passengers and crew sitting openly in the dangerous waters off port - where British submarines and anti-submarine craft regularly prowled to interdict U-boat activities - just so Rosing could give three cheers for captain and crew. One can only speculate what the purpose of the detour might have been. The few small clues Hirschfeld provided, and knowing that Fehler was caught in the middle of a perilous game of cat-and-mouse between Doenitz and the Fuehrer's Headquarters, surely must provide context. There must have been an important operational reason for this secret side trip.
Probably that reason is revealed in Hirschfeld's description of the boat that brought Rosing to U-234's side - he described it as a communications launch [italics added by author].
Apparently, certain communications were of such high importance or of such a secret nature that they were not entrusted over the regular U-boat service air waves, even in encrypted form. At least, such seems to be the case here. Possibly Rosing was hand delivering one of the special-frequency dispatches from the Fuehrer Bunker that U-234 was not equipped to receive; so this detour was U-234's "at sea" version of Hirschfeld's visits to the Kristiansand communications center on land. To ensure secured receipt of an important secret message, a special boat seems to have been employed with a well-trusted messenger, U-boat North Commander Rosing, whom one would suspect under the circumstances personally delivered to Fehler a mysterious missive.
We may speculate that such a message was most likely operational orders for U-234, possibly resolving the struggle between Doenitz and Berlin over who would command the U-boat, or perhaps giving instructions on how to deploy until time to pick up its secret guest from Berlin. Or the communications launch itself may have been sent to transfer to U-234 the equipment required to receive the special-frequency messages from Berlin. This is conjecture, but certainly not outside the realm of possibility. Hirschfeld makes it clear in his writings that the radio components of the boat were modular and easily changed in and out of the console;dxc and that the boat was equipped with the very latest instrumentation and every possible technical advantage.
Rosing's final words to captain and crew may be telling about what he knew of the mission of U-234; he said, "Comrades, when you return from this mission, we will have our final victory." Given the desperate situation for Germany - it would fall within two weeks - the crew rightfully, though quietly, questioned his sanity. But given the purpose of U-234's mission, if there was hope of victory at all for the Third Reich, it was in the success of this made-over minelayer - and, tellingly, Rosing knew it.
While our first conundrum is still somewhat of a mystery - to be answered later - it would seem our second conundrum, U-234's leaving port twice, is solved.
But what of the strangely truncated logbook - which leads to our third conundrum: why does one logbook end abruptly and its supposed sequel not jive with the rest of the evidence regarding U-234's movements? When I first requested a copy of the captured war log of U-234 from United States archives at the beginning of my research, I was told by an archivist that the logbook had been thrown into the sea by U-234's captain. He asserted that Fehler got rid of the journal prior to the U-boat's surrender to avoid compromising the document.
But U-234 carried Nazi Germany's greatest secret weapons, I reasoned, including the V-2 rocket, the Messerschmidt 262 jet fighter, all of the plans and documents required to manufacture them, atomic bomb components and presumably plans to build those weapons, as well. If Fehler did not know the important details about his freight, which seems improbable despite his later claims, he at least knew the basic reason and deep importance of his cargo and passengers, and yet he surrendered them all intact.
I reasoned that this was a significant incongruity in the report that Captain Fehler had surrendered the valuable Nazi secrets and personnel, apparently without a second thought, but had refused to surrender his comparatively trivial logbook. The journal, presumably, simply reported the course he cruised prior to surrender. What could be damning about that if the story was as simple as suggested? No, the logbook itself apparently held important secrets that Fehler did not want revealed, and thus Fehler had indeed consigned it to the deep and we would never know U-234's whereabouts between 16 April and 12 May, 1945. Or, possibly, the book was intact but held damning evidence, and thus was being kept in some separate archive, out of circulation from prying eyes.
When, during a research session in Washington in 1997, I was told the Library of Congress held a collection of captured German documents, I raced over to the venerable old building in hopes of locating the missing log. I was informed the captured documents did indeed contain a journal from U-234, but that all the documents had been microfilmed and returned to Germany to be archived there. Satisfied with the opportunity to read the microfilm rolls, I began searching for traces of a logbook from U-234.
Roll 18 held what I was looking for - almost. A logbook identified as that of U-234 began on 24 March, 1945, the day before the U-boat's departure from Kiel to Kristiansand. As noted previously, it ended abruptly on, of all days, 18 April, 1945 - the same day of U-234's mysterious "second exit" from port. I use the word "abruptly" because, while the U-boat's activities are detailed through the days and weeks leading up to and through 17 April, including leaving port on 16 April - corroborating the first intercepted message of it leaving port on that day - the heading "18 April" is written in longhand halfway down the page, but the rest of the page is blank.
There are no entries in the half-page underneath the date. No course coordinates, no weather reports, no times, no bearings. In other words, the remaining half-page is blank. There is no information for 18 April, the same day that intercepted transmissions mysteriously identified U-234 as leaving port for the second time in three days. And there are no entries for the 19th or 20th - the log does not pick up again until 12 May, the day U-234 first transmitted its intent to surrender to Allied forces.dxci
Baffled by the inconsistencies and the gargantuan gap in the record, I approached a Library of Congress archivist, who informed me the original logbook had been sent to the Bundesarchiv in Germany; he suggested perhaps I could get the full record from there. I faxed the Bundesarchiv, requesting the log. In return I was mailed a photocopy of record RM 98/676, with the words "Uboot U234" written in blue fountain pen ink on the front cover. Nowhere throughout the entire document is U-234 identified as an organic, photocopied part of the journal as the U-boat of record. The copy of the log begins on 19 April, per my request (I now wish I had requested it from 24 March, when U-234 left Kiel.
I wonder if the record would have started then or abruptly on 18 April?) and ends on 12 May, the day Fehler surrendered his vessel to the USS Sutton. But there are two problems with this logbook; the positions, speeds, bearings and coordinates given for the last day before surrender show a course materially different than that actually sailed by Fehler, as revealed by Allied radio direction-finding coordinates, and as substantiated by Hirschfeld. And the Bundesarchiv logbook is neither the same printed layout nor are its entries written in the same handwriting as that of the logbook microfilmed by the Library of Congress, of which it is supposed to be part and parcel.
Since both the intercepted transmissions and the Bundesarchiv logbook are primary evidence - authoritative, contemporaneous and organic to the events under study - these conflicts are significant. The inconsistencies in the evidence suggest gross negligence or willful deceit in completing one or both of the records. Radio intercepts are and were dispassionately dated intelligence for the purpose of tracking important events, and there seems to be no reason why anyone would manipulate this particular record. On the other hand, that there are major inconsistencies in the physical and informative aspects of the Bundesarchiv logbook casts considerable doubt on its veracity, in the opinion of this researcher. The data recorded in the logbook in many cases does not fit either the official account or unofficial recollections given of U-234's journey; and on another level, in fact, the entries appear to try to hide the U-boat's actual movements.
There is a long list of details within the logbook that conflict with other data in the log or with other substantive evidence regarding the movements of U-234, or that is incongruous with the U-boat's stated mission and the rest of its activities. Even some of the evidence external to the logbook conflicts with U-234's mission and logbook, thus all the information taken together suggests an organized effort to camouflage U-234's movements.
On 21 April, for example, as U-234 was supposedly fleeing to Japan on its specially dedicated mission, and outwardly at least, was under orders not to participate in any other operational activities,[dxcii] intercepted radio transmissions show the U-boat received an order to "guard Ireland."[dxciii] Certainly such an operational assignment was incongruous with the extraordinary nature of U-234's mission, cargo and passengers.
And the U-boat was not built for combat patrol, having only two torpedo tubes, both at the stern, and just seven torpedoes.dxciv That U-234 undertook patrol operations, as the dispatch seems to suggest, is therefore highly unlikely. In the context of these considerations, the dispatch to "guard Ireland" seems more likely to have been a signal telling Fehler to proceed with his mission by circumnavigating Ireland, or otherwise positioning himself no further away from the European mainland than the Celtic island.
During 20 April, the day just prior to this order, according to the coordinates given in the logbook, U-234 mysteriously had broken off from its pre-planned routedxcv to Japan. The route was supposed to take U-234 on a bearing almost due north through the strait between the Farroe Islands and Iceland; instead U-234 had been turned roughly due west. And according to its daily noon-time coordinates postings, the U-boat, specially equipped to sail submerged at eight to ten miles-per-hour, and almost 20 miles-per-hour surfaced,dxcvi was hardly moving, traveling at between one and two-and-a-half miles per hour - just enough speed to maintain steerage. The average man walks at between two and two and-a-half miles-per-hour.
According to the logbook, this is the speed the U-boat traveled throughout the journey until its last few days at sea. While Fehler later suggested this slow speed was the most economic velocity for such a long mission,dxcvii intercepted transmissions indicate U-234 may have planned to refuel in Indonesia,dxcviii even though it appears to have had enough fuel to make Japan sailing under relatively normal conditions.dxcix
Considered against this information and the nature of the mission, the special capabilities of the U-boat, and reports that it later sailed submerged for six days apparently unnecessarily and very inefficiently, the slow velocity recorded in the log seems rather to suggest Fehler was marking time in an effort to remain close to home.
When the message later came ordering Fehler to "guard Ireland," the U-boat was turned north again toward its originally planned course, but still at the same slow speed. The receipt of the order to guard Ireland, and Fehler's suspiciously slow speed and westerly direction just before receiving the dispatch - suggesting he intended to stay in the North Sea rather than heading out to the Atlantic - seem to support the possibility Captain Fehler was expecting an order that would require him to remain relatively close at hand.
Although the apparent holding pattern was broken off with the dispatch to guard Ireland, the order to stay close to Ireland and thus keep U-234 within three-days proximity to Germany, tends to substantiate a higher-level plan was being followed in support of some mysterious objective. While obeying the order and adjusting his course appropriately, Fehler continued to sail at a snail's pace, apparently still anticipating a change of plans that, when received, would require him to be in the region.
According to the Bundesarchiv logbook, U-234 now turned north at two miles-per-hour on its way back to its preplanned course, but for the next two days the U-boat covered less distance than otherwise would have been expected, even at its two-miles-an-hour speed. Indeed, the U-boat's coordinates show a position change of barely ten miles during the 24 hours between noon on the 22nd and mid-day of the 23rd. This delay appears to have a different cause than the intentional stalling activities Fehler had practiced until then, however, and it further validates Hirschfeld's accounts.[dc]
According to the log, late on the evening of the 22nd, U-234 was abruptly turned northeast. But after less than an hour's sailing its course was reversed again to the southwest for over three hours before coming about once more to a corrected course that intersected the original planned journey. This strange episode in the log occurs almost due west of Trondheim, Norway, which is the longitude Hirschfeld gives for a near miss with a freighter that almost churned under U-234 in the steamer's propellers as the U-boat was making way at snorkel depth. Fehler was forced to "emergency dive" to avoid a collision and certainly must have followed the exercise with a standard drill to ensure he had evaded detection. The record of apparent evasive maneuvers tends therefore, once again, to validate as accurate the general authenticity of Hirschfeld's account of events.
During its journey, U-234 swung from one direction to another a few times, as recorded throughout the log, but these appear to be standard check-up maneuvers and possible course corrections. There are other sizeable and apparently unexplainable discrepancies, however, between where the U-boat was at a given time as recorded in the logbook according to celestial or electronic navigation coordinates, and where it was plotted to be according to reckoning by distance and direction.
Records of both techniques were kept in the log. Small disparities between these two forms of navigation are to be expected as they are used to cross-check one another. But the errors recorded in the case of U-234 occur too often and are too large - off by as much as 200 percent or more in distance and almost 90 degrees in direction in a single day's travel - and occur as often as one-third of the U-boat's days at sea. In short, while certain critical events seem to be accounted for in the log, like the near-miss with the steamer and an electrical fire that is recorded in Hirschfeld's account, as well, the general plotting in the logbook appears to be patently and inexplicably sloppy and inaccurate.
The gross disparities in the record suggest someone was completing the logbook very quickly and without caring where U-234 actually was when the entries were being made. In fact, completion of the log seems to have been done with little concern for ensuring the two forms of navigation would validate one another at all! And as the journey progressed, the errors became greater. At the same time, other unexpected but seemingly important changes occurred.
For example, in the opening hours of 1 May - about the same time Martin Bormann is reported to have been preparing to make a rendezvous with a giant U-boat in Hamburg - U-234 again broke from its planned journey and turned due east, back toward the North Sea, from a southwesterly course. The logbook records that this diversion lasted only an hour. Review of the events leading up to and after this strange course change, however, may be revealing.
Beginning in the early morning hours of 30 April, about the time Bormann was concluding a series of deceptive dispatches to Doenitz to arrange the final details of his escape from Berlin, a series of changes in the way U-234 was controlled occur in the log. First, and perhaps most telling, although the Bundesarchiv log and Hirschfeld both agree that after the near miss with the steamer U-234 had run surfaced almost every night until beyond the Iceland/Farroe Island Narrows,[dci] the logbook records Fehler now chose to run submerged in the Atlantic.
Having already run perhaps the most dangerous part of the journey surfaced at night - the North Sea and the narrows were heavily patrolled for anti-submarine activity - the logbook shows that Fehler now chose to go forward slowly and inefficiently beneath the water's surface. According to the logbook, U-234 sailed continuously without surfacing from the early hours of 30 April until late 5 May - the crucial time span between Bormann's disappearance from Berlin starting on the 30th of April, to Doenitz's capitulation on the 5th of May. If true, running for almost six full days either fully submerged or at snorkel depth was a rare event for any U-boat.
Importantly, Hirschfeld's account - proven extremely accurate thus far - conflicts with the logbook, saying U-234 continued to proceed "submerged by day and surfaced at night under the protection of our radar."[dcii] Even Fehler admitted the logbook is only partially true when he later wrote that on the first two nights after passing through the strait his efforts to surface were thwarted by unidentified aircraft on his radar.[dciii] He affirms, however, that on the third night the U-boat was able to remain surfaced "for several hours."
He gives no account of the fourth, fifth and sixth nights. Regardless of what U-234 actually was doing, these accounts demonstrate the protection provided by the special radar with which the U-boat was equipped; which could search the ocean and skies for miles around within a split second without giving away the U-boat's location.[dciv] The cutting-edge radar system had already saved the U-boat serious incident once, having early in the voyage detected anti-submarine airplanes, allowing Fehler to evade danger long before the planes could get a fix on the U-boat.[dcv]
Hirschfeld's account of these critical first days in the Atlantic,
while brief, differs markedly from Fehler's. He states that "during
the first night we were obliged to dive twice because of aircraft,"[dcvi]
the connotation being that during the rest of the first night and on the
remaining nights, the boat ran surfaced. Later analysis of Fehler's
account will prove even greater disparity between what was written in the
logbook and what appears to have actually occurred.
In trying to decide which record is true, Fehler's, Hirschfeld's or the seemingly faulty logbook, the operational situation of the U-boat must be considered. Fehler was now on the open Atlantic where U-boat interdiction was considerably leaner than on the North Sea and where he had much more room to maneuver surfaced and the benefit of the best radar.
Additionally, in this part of the Atlantic where it was harder to support antisubmarine activity from land bases, U-boat detection by the enemy was usually made only upon a U-boat attack upon an enemy ship, and therefore a U-boat that did not attack was relatively safe from detection. Fehler admitted as much in an undated letter written to Harry Cooper, president of Sharkhunters,[dcvii] in which the captain stated he was little concerned about being discovered; he had no intention whatever of attacking anything. In fact, he intended to steer clear of all contact.
Considering his superior radar and all of these favorable conditions and the greatly improved fuel economy and speed of running surfaced as opposed to snorkeling, Fehler had comparatively good reason to run surfaced, at the very least during the dark of night. He even writes in his letter to Cooper, "Later on in the open ocean, staying submerged during daytime offeres (sic) a fair chance to pass through undetected,"[italics added for emphasis] inversely inferring that he did, indeed, sail surfaced at night, despite the logbook's entries and again corroborating Hirschfeld's account.[dcviii]
Conversely, Fehler had very little reason to run submerged. Perplexing and contradictory as it seems, however, the logbook records that Fehler had, in essence, "gone to ground" and remained submerged. Considered against the U-boat's operations in the Iceland/Farroe Island Narrows, its superior radar equipment, Fehler's supposed concern for fuel economy, and other conditions as have been outlined, sailing submerged in the open Atlantic for six days straight seems unlikely. In the context of a second, more intriguing, escape scenario, however, as we shall see, such entries in the Bundesarchiv logbook make good sense - as a cover-up for the period of time between 30 April through 5 May, when U-234 may have disappeared on a secret side trip.
A second set of telling data regarding such a detour arises from conflicts within the Bundesarchiv logbook and between the logbook and another record, as well. During the voyage, General Kessler was entering in his diary the U-boat's position coordinates taken at noon each day.[dcix] His postings match exactly those of the logbook until 30 April, when Kessler, for the first time during the journey, failed to post coordinates.
On that day, the Bundesarchiv logbook showed coordinates at noon of 61? 58' N, 14? 49.5 W, a distance from the previous coordinates that roughly represented the U-boat's average speed thus far. The following day, Kessler posted the exact same coordinates for 1 May that the logbook showed for 30 April - 61? 58' N, 14? 49.5 W.
For 1 May, the logbook in its turn showed 61? 14' N, 16? 08' W, indicating U-234 had traveled the average daily distance again. Up to this point, because the logbook entries remain consistent with daily distances covered, one would assume the logbook is correct and Kessler had just made a mistake. That Kessler's diary exactly matched the coordinates in the logbook until 30 April and then, even when it differed, it showed only an apparent error in transcription of being off by one day, supports this theory. Probably Kessler was receiving his data secondhand as provided by the sophisticated radio navigation system U-234 deployed. But Kessler never corrected his 1 May entry, even though it obviously would have been wrong when he updated his diary the following day, on 2 May.
Reviewing the coordinates given in the Bundesarchiv log beginning the very next day, however, on noon of 1 May and again on noon of the following day, shows the U-boat traveled barely half of its already slow average daily distance. Such an adjustment considered with Kessler's erratic entries of a few days prior may suggest a correction of some sort was made in the log. This suggestion becomes more plausible when considering that the distance traveled for the same 24 hours, as actually written in the log, is over 60 statute miles - five statute miles above the daily average - despite the logbook coordinates showing a half-day's average travel. One minor course change recorded during that period would hardly have impacted the overall distance traveled and therefore could not be accountable for the discrepancy between the two entries. The record therefore suggests uncertainty about where U-234 was, beginning on 30 April.
The stream of conflicts within the logbook consistently increased from this point in time forward. A second inaccuracy occurred two days later, between 3 and 4 May, when the posted coordinates recorded the U-boat again moved only a handful of miles, certainly fewer than ten. But the logbook posted 54.7 statute miles traveled with no course changes significant enough to account for the difference. Perhaps tellingly, General Kessler's diary on 3 May fails for the second time to record any daily coordinates at all.
This herky-jerky motion of the U-boat from day to day as recorded in the logbook, which is out of phase with Kessler's also herky-jerky data, but which Kessler seems to try to account for, seems again to indicate uncertainty as to where the submarine actually was after 30 April.
A third conflict that continues the uncertainty - the largest of the three - occurs in the 24 hours between 5 and 6 May. The coordinates posted show distance traveled of about half of the 55-statute mile daily average, for a total travel distance of about 30 statute miles; but the actual distance reported records a whopping 99 miles - close to twice the average distance! This is the furthest distance U-234 traveled, by far, recorded to that point in the journal. What compounds this truly significant and very obvious error is that course bearings given throughout the 24-hour period are almost consistently 220?, a straight line west southwest, but the end coordinates show U-234's position was about 30 miles southeast of its position 24 hours prior. In other words, both the distance and the direction traveled are in serious discrepancy within the log.
The distance traveled, as entered directly in the logbook, differs not only by about 60 miles, or three times the distance calculated from the coordinates, but the logbook is off by almost 90? in direction, or one-quarter the arc of the compass, as well. As noted earlier, marginal differences in a course tracked by coordinates compared against a course tracked by bearings and distance are to be expected. Winds, currents and human error of just fractions of a degree will create variances in position when navigating a submarine. But the size of the discrepancies listed above are hardly explainable by anything but the most profound errors, suggesting almost no regard for where the U-boat actually was.
The variance between the coordinate positions posted on 5 and 6 May, compared to the direction and distance plotted, is just too extreme. If one does not believe U-234 actually sailed southeast - per the coordinates posted - but rather sailed according to the dead reckoning information, or vice versa - an entire day is lost. But there is nothing in the document to suggest a correction was made for a lost day. In our scenario of U-234 making a secret side trip, unaccounted for days are central to understanding what the U-boat may have been up to during this time. The only other answer for the "lost day" would be if the U-boat came to a complete standstill for 24 hours, which runs counter to all accounts. But even if it had, why would Fehler have recorded U-234 was traveling in two directions at once?
U-234 did not stand still; quite the opposite. A last, and also substantial, series of conflicts between the Bundesarchiv logbook and other sources occurs on 11 through 12 May, which included the final 24-hour period recorded in the log - which ended on the 12th, when Fehler apparently first radioed his intent to surrender. The final coordinates entered in the logbook - 49? 20' N, 31? 51 W - were for noon 12 May.
This is in a line with the course plotted from 7 through 12 May, which adhered to an average bearing of 220?, or south southwest. Surprisingly, however, actual bearings on the 11th and 12th swung widely, from 180?, or straight south - a course pursued throughout most of 11 May - to a course change to 260?, almost due west, which turn occurred at 2:35 on the morning of the 12th.
The distance covered during 7 through 10 May, as calculated from the daily coordinates, was about 60 to 70 miles per day, again about the average. But on the 11th, the coordinates show a doubling of velocity to about 120 miles. The actual total distance sailed entered in the logbook for 12 May is 201 statute miles, which, while a great increase in speed, given the drive south then dogleg west, calculates closely enough to match the 120 miles represented by a straight line from start coordinate to end point. At the outset these entries appear to be accurate, although, as noted, representing a great increase in U-234's velocity.
Intercepted radio transmissions from U-234 to Halifax that included direction-finder bearings corroborated that the U-boat was sailing toward 2608 on the compass. [dcx] The direction-finder also showed, however, that on the morning of 12 May, U-234 was actually at a position 70 to 80 miles north, and more importantly, 150 miles east of the position calculated from the times and bearings recorded in the logbook. At 4:15 a.m. on 12 May, the intercept's direction-finder coordinates had put the U-boat at 51? 00' N, 27? 00' W. The U-boat's position as extrapolated from the logbook's speeds and bearings, however, indicate it should have been at 498 20' N, 318 00'W, give or take a few miles. Therefore, as noted, it was trailing about 150 miles east-northeast of the position recorded in the logbook.
Fehler further complicated things - apparently with a plan in mind - by falsely transmitting during that same 4:15 a.m. radio message that U-234's position was 50? 00' N, 30? 00' W, significantly differing both from the direction-finder coordinates and the calculations made from the logbook data. So we have three considerably different positions given for U-234 at 4:15 a.m. 12 May: one from the direction-finder of the intercepted transmission, one calculated from the Bundesarchiv logbook, and one that Fehler reported to Halifax. The direction-finder location is by far the most likely to be accurate, since it is the only objective source.
Drawing a line on a map with one end touching the point marking the direction- finder coordinates and the other end the point marking the logbook position posted for noon 12 May, shows that Fehler's radioed false position falls directly on that line and almost at its center. In the 4:15 a.m. transmission he also gave his speed as 8 knots, but he was actually sailing 16 knots according to calculations made from the intercepted transmissions as well as Fehler's own later admission.[dcxi]
From U-234's actual position as revealed by the direction-finder, at the 16-knot speed it was sailing, U-234 would make the position falsely recorded in the logbook just about noon - the time of the daily logbook posting. Doing so would bring it in conformance with the fabricated logbook scenario suggesting that U-234 was heading on a much more southerly course well west of its real position, rather than the fast westerly track it had actually been on. Thus he would continue an illusion he had created that U-234 was sailing a conventional course to Japan on the Great Circle. And U-234's position would be directly in line with the previous six days of posted coordinates, further validating the false entries in the logbook.
Fehler then does a strange thing. Having carefully set up the deception to the point of entering false data in the logbook, instead of heading straight for those noon coordinates already posted to complete the illusion, Fehler proceeded on a more westerly route. He also abruptly discontinued his second logbook. There are no more entries in the Bundesarchiv log after noon 12 May.
Why? Possibly because Fehler's deceptive first transmission to Allied forces reported a false position not only calculated to camouflage his movements, but those coordinates would show U-234 proceeding on a course that passed exactly through the intersection of the boundaries of Allied naval control of the Atlantic Ocean. East of this point was the jurisdiction of the British and French, which he was racing out of. West and north of it was the jurisdiction of Canada; and west and south of it was the jurisdiction of the United States.
Probably at 4:15 a.m. - the soonest Fehler felt with confidence that he could reach the desired coordinates by noon - he falsely radioed the information to the Allies that he was at that moment breaking into the American-controlled sector of the Atlantic. He would be expecting to capitulate to the United States and surrender his boat, passengers and deadly cargo and then his mission would be over.
Instead of the United States responding to Fehler's radio message, however, Canada's Halifax station first hailed the U-boat and commanded it to sail for Nova Scotia. For Fehler, surrender to Canada, apparently, was unacceptable; demonstrated by the fact that he began a series of activities designed to avoid Canadian capture.
First, instead of heading toward the noon coordinates he appears to have so carefully set up for his cover story and had apparently already posted in the logbook, he continued on a very fast westerly track well north of the camouflage course he had created. Presumably, realizing that Canadian forces were going to try to claim U-234, Fehler concluded the best way to avoid the Canadians was to stay away from where they expected him to be. Instead of heading southeast, as reported, he stayed north for the time being.
Second, further realizing that general knowledge of his duplicitous maneuvers would reveal a hidden agenda, and therefore concluding that he should leave no record henceforward, Fehler discontinued keeping his semi-fictional second logbook.
Beyond this point, he probably realized it would be more difficult to create a workable cover story for a convoluted logbook than to explain his reasons for failing to complete the diary. He could easily say the war was over for his boat, passengers and crew and so there was no need for further entries. At 9:45 p.m., Fehler reported to Halifax U-234's position again, 50? 00' N, 30? 00' W, the same position he claimed to hold at 4:15 that morning, even though he also reported a speed of eight knots in both dispatches, inferring the U-boat was on the move the entire time.
The direction-finding coordinates for this second transmission, however, placed the U-boat at 50? 00' N, 34? 00' W. He had now moved from being well east of his reported position, as indicated in the morning transmission, to well west of that same double-reported position. According to the direction-finder coordinates for this dispatch, U-234 had traveled approximately 200 miles in 18 hours - or at least three times the average speed recorded in the logbook. The U-boat was running at over 16 miles-per-hour, as noted earlier, or at over 90 percent of its top surfaced speed.
Captain Fehler admitted to making this mad dash over the Atlantic at "16 or 161/2" knots on "the night of 12 or 13 May" in his letter to Sharkhunters already mentioned. Hirschfeld confirmed, as well, that Fehler had ordered him to report false speeds and directions to Halifax.[dcxii] Thus, once again, either the Bundesarchiv logbook and Fehler's uncoded transmissions are wrong, or the radio intercepts and both Fehler and Hirschfeld's later accounts are incorrect.
The direction-finder information is
by far the most objective of the evidence; it seems certain, therefore,
that the dubiously-marked Bundesarchiv logbook now can be accepted virtually
as a ruse to cover covert activities.
Fehler had an explanation for these mysterious machinations, though. In his letter to Sharkhunters, which is a response to Sharkhunters President Harry Cooper's own suspicions about the activities of U-234, the Captain described how he met with his officers and German passengers after hearing about the Reich's capitulation on 8 May to discuss what he should do about surrendering.
While many opinions were openly voiced in this meeting, according to radio chief Wolfgang Hirschfeld, Fehler never divulged his own opinions or intentions.[dcxiii] General Kessler independently confirmed this in a post-war interrogation. But Fehler later reported in the Sharkhunters letter that he and General Kessler had decided prior to leaving Norway that if capitulation was necessary he would not surrender to British forces, allegedly because the food, conditions and treatment of POWs would not be as good as in the United States. As a result, according to the letter, Fehler had determined to get out of the British quadrant of the Atlantic and so was racing toward the setting western sun in the direction of America.
Fehler's explanation of U-234's desperate dash does not hold up under close scrutiny, though. He asserted in his letter that on the night of 12 or 13 May, when Tomonaga and Shoji, the Japanese officers on board, heard the high revolutions of the propeller shafts, that they deduced Fehler had decided to surrender the U-boat.[dcxiv] According to Fehler, rather than be captured alive, which would be disgraceful for the two Samurais, the Emperor's officers committed a form of hara kari by each taking an overdose of Luminal, a sleeping drug. They were left to this less dramatic form of suicide because Fehler had confiscated all of the passengers' weapons when they boarded the U-boat in Kiel, including Tomonaga's ceremonial samurai sword.[dcxv]
Fehler stated in the letter he sent to Cooper that he planned, had the Japanese not taken their lives, to drop the officers either on the Spanish or Portuguese coast or on the Canary Islands. The discrepancies in Fehler's assertion are obvious and two fold. First, the radio intercepts of 12 April are in plain text, they are not coded messages, and they included falsified coordinates, both conditions indicating the messages were intended to open communications with the Allies - albeit either very cautiously or with a hidden agenda in mind.
Regardless of his agenda, the German capitulation already having occurred, Fehler knew better than to think he could open communications with the Allies and then just sail about the sea wherever he pleased. He knew the Allies would demand a swift capitulation of U-234, too, which they did. Thus almost certainly, the evidence demonstrates that Fehler was already in the beginning stages of surrendering when he was informed the Japanese had taken the poison, which contradicts his story about planning to take the two officers to safe harbor.
And second, Fehler freely admitted that at the time the Japanese poisoned themselves, U-234 was headed west at high speed, and had been doing so for about 200 miles - supposedly since 2:35 that morning according to the logbook, but certainly since 4:15 a.m. He added that his reason for this run was to escape the area of British control.
But the three locations Fehler claimed he planned to drop off the Japanese - Spain, Portugal or the Canary Islands - were in very different directions than the one he was racing toward, and they were well within the British area of jurisdiction. The fact he was racing west when the boat's doctor told him the Japanese had taken the poison contradicts his explanation of intending to take them to the Iberian Peninsula or the Canaries, again revealing that he had no intention of taking Tomonaga and Shoji to safe haven
The evidence shows he was bent on surrendering to the United States regardless of the consequences to Tomonaga and Shoji. In fact, according to his own account, upon hearing the Japanese had taken the poison, Fehler even refused to stop his U-boat to submerge below the stormy surface weather long enough for U-234's doctor to recuperate from an alleged case of seasickness so he could treat the poisoned men.
Hirschfeld's account, while not stating whether Dr. Walter was or was not sick, described Walter's activities in ways that demonstrate he was active and participating in the events underway throughout their entire span, apparently contradicting Fehler's report of Dr. Walter being sick.[dcxvi] And Fehler's assertion that the seas were so heavy as to cause a seasoned U-boater like Dr. Walter to become seasick does not jive with the account provided in the USS Sutton's day log that described the weather as clear and that the seas were moderating on that day.[dcxvii]
In fact, on the contrary, the doctor was healthy enough according to Hirschfeld, that Fehler ordered him, in essence, to oversee the Japanese's deaths. "Tonight we must get the Japanese overboard," Fehler explained to Walter. "If the Americans get to them, they'll do everything they can to bring them round. See to it that they die peacefully,"[dcxviii] he ordered the doctor.
Granted, Fehler may have been trying to fulfill Tomonaga's and Shoji's last wish to die in peace and with honor. But why would he tell a series of lies in his letter written forty years later, in justification for not reviving them, rather than tell the simple, honorable truth? The evidence suggests that whatever Fehler's hidden purpose, its end would be better served if Tomonaga and Shoji were dead. Perhaps they had discovered the Captain's underlying orders and Fehler feared they would talk too openly if captured. Or perhaps he feared they would sabotage the U-boat before he could surrender it, rather than let its important cargo fall into enemy hands.
What ever the case, considerations that Fehler was planning to get clear of the British area of control and later re-enter it to drop the Japanese officers off in the Canaries or Spain are highly improbable. Everything Fehler did at this time seems to be designed to surrender U-234 to the United States.
Fehler later asserted, again in his letter to Sharkhunters, that following his talks with General Kessler before leaving Kiel, and after at least two discussions with his officers and non-Japanese passengers while on the high seas - including Kessler again - that he had decided to surrender to the United States. This he said he did with Kessler's support. But Hirschfeld wrote that in the surrender discussions at sea, Kessler was in favor of completing the mission to Japan or of heading for Argentina, as were most of the other officers in U-234, a few of whom favored returning to Germany. [dcxix] Kessler unknowingly corroborated Hirschfeld's claim in a post-war interrogation, adding also that Fehler never expressed an opinion about where to surrender.[dcxx]
Argentina, as an alternative, was a covert ally of Germany's and surrender there allowed the expectation among the passengers and crew of U-234 that they would have a short, uncomplicated stay in South America before a quick return home to family and friends - and rebuilding lives in Germany. A few dissenters, however, preferred to land on some South Sea island paradise instead of ending their journey in Argentina. Hirschfeld reported that only Party Judge Kay Nieschling and the boat's doctor, Dr. Walter, voiced their support for surrendering to the United States. Importantly, as noted, Kessler was not in that small group.
Thus we have yet another conflict in the record - one of several that crop up between Fehler and Hirschfeld: was Kessler in favor of surrendering to the United States or not? Again we must try to determine who is telling the truth. Given Fehler's obvious prevarication regarding his intentions toward Tomonaga and Shoji, and his intentional misrepresentations in the Bundesarchiv logbook, as well as the deceptions in his transmissions to Halifax compared against Hirschfeld's consistently provable and accurate accounts, Hirschfeld's version is probably correct. Thus Kessler's preference to go to Japan or Argentina is more probable than Fehler's later assertion that Kessler had agreed to surrender to the United States.
Fehler's uncoded radio transmission of 12 May, intended to open the way to surrender, compared against his refusal to surrender to Canadian or British forces, clearly leaves only the United States as Fehler's intended surrender objective. Apparently he later tried to rationalize this plan by providing cover for his real intentions by cunningly suggesting Kessler agreed to it in the context of other considerations. And Hirschfeld's writing that Fehler never actually revealed his intentions to any of his passengers or crew about where he would surrender, in view of the fact almost all of the passengers and officers desired a course other than surrender, further supports the premise of this hidden agenda.[dcxxi]
The evidence suggests Captain Fehler just continued to quietly manipulate events until U-234 was "captured" by the USS Sutton. The only explanation he made for his decision to surrender to the United States appears to have been the one recorded four decades later in the dubious account he gave in the Sharkhunter's letter. As has been shown, Captain Fehler had demonstrated by both word and action that he was bent on surrendering U-234 to the United States. His apparent determination to do so even before the U-boat left Germany - his alleged, though now dubious, discussions with Kessler while still in Kiel to achieve this end, if true - indicates he already may have been laying the groundwork even then.
Or perhaps he was simply maintaining the illusion some forty years later when he wrote this account in the Sharkhunters letter. At any rate, his mad dash across the Atlantic, carefully manipulated to reach American controlled waters at a critical point in time, drives home his apparent determination to surrender only to the United States. So does his silent decision to land there against the desires of his officers and high-ranking passengers. Fehler's intentional deceptions to Halifax combined with his determination to sacrifice his Japanese passengers rather than off-load them in Spain, Portugal or the Canary Islands - or to even make an effort to save their lives at all - all testify of a personal commitment on Fehler's part to surrender only to the United States.
This fixation seems far out of keeping with a reasonable assessment of the situation he was in. Even more shocking - and revealing - is the fact that the United States Navy aided and abetted Fehler in his efforts to escape Canadian control. Hirschfeld recorded that while Fehler was in contact with Halifax, sending deliberately false reports about his position and movements, U-234's radio communications suddenly were jammed by very powerful transmissions.[dcxxii] Apparently somebody did not want U-234 in communication with Halifax.
Each time Hirschfeld tried to transmit to the Canadian station, regardless of which frequency he used, the jamming would begin anew, which suited Fehler just fine;[dcxxiii] the overrunning of his radio communications kept the Captain from having to continue his deceptions to Halifax. Soon, the USS Sutton could be seen cresting the horizon.
The Sutton reached U-234 shortly before dark. Using Morse code from a lamp, the destroyer ordered U-234 to "head for the Gulf of Maine and to ignore all further communications from Halifax.[dcxxiv] From this Hirschfeld deduced that the Sutton had done the radio jamming. Soon the Sutton slipped alongside the U-boat just a few hundred yards to port, but waited until morning to send a boarding party. In the meantime, Hirschfeld witnessed Dr. Heinz Schlicke throw several small tubes of microfilm overboard from the conning tower into the Ocean.[dcxxv]
"There goes the rocket that could fly the Atlantic," remarked Schlicke.
As history will someday discover, Schlicke possessed more than plans for a missile that could fly from Europe to America.
In the morning, a heavily-armed prize crew from the Sutton crossed the distance between the two vessels in a small craft and boarded U-234.[dcxxvi] Nerves were on edge as the outnumbered but well-armed Sutton contingent chained the hatch open to ensure Captain Fehler did not try a last-minute dive.
Documents were given to Fehler instructing him in the procedures for surrendering his boat and crew; then a skeleton crew of German sailors was left on board to operate the vessel while the remaining passengers and crew were ferried from U-234 to the Sutton. Hirschfeld, one of the few German crewmen left onboard the U-boat, later noted that U-234 was ordered to make for the Gulf of Maine. Later, this order was changed to direct U-234 to head for the Naval Yard at Portsmouth, New Hampshire.[dcxxvii]
Once again Hirschfeld's impeccable account is verified, this time by the Sutton's activity report,[dcxxviii] which recounted how the order was changed for the Sutton to escort U-234 to Portsmouth instead of the previous order that it report with the U-boat to Cascoe Bay, Maine.
The Sutton, for its part, before locating U-234 had been working alongside two Canadian ships that were also trying to find the U-boat. According to excerpts prepared from the Sutton's war diary [dcxxix] - the diary itself, perhaps significantly, apparently is not available - during the operation the Sutton had broken away from the Canadian vessels, which continued on an east-northeasterly bearing toward the last reported location of U-234. The Sutton headed south instead, on a trajectory that allowed it to intercept the U-boat based on direction finder coordinates the destroyer had received.
The Sutton's war diary notes that the Canadian ships apparently realized they had "missed their target," but continued to head off in an east northeasterly direction. Nothing is said in the war diary excerpts of the Sutton's having jammed the U-boat's radio transmissions or of ordering U-234 not to respond to Canadian radio communications.
So, having unwound the circular puzzles and unlocked the conundrums of U-234, how do we interpret the web of information, disinformation and contradictions surrounding the U-boat's surrender? The first step is to try to determine which evidence is sound and which is not; an objective we have tried to achieve throughout this and other chapters. Now we must summarize our findings about the evidence and its sources. Of the five sources of information about U-234's movements - the direction-finding coordinates, the Bundesarchiv logbook, the accounts recorded in Hirschfeld's two books, Fehler's letter to Sharkhunters, and Fehler's position reports to Halifax - the direction finding coordinates are by far the most objective and therefore reliable.
The evidence appears to indicate - if not outright prove - that large portions of the Bundesarchiv logbook are fabrications. And they appear to be so at least from the first mismatched coordinates recorded by Kessler on 30 April, if not earlier. They extend through the three series of unaligned bearings and coordinates recorded between 1 and 6 May, and continue through the outright lies apparently recorded by Fehler from then through to 12 May.
Possibly the logbook was counterfeited from the very beginning, but more likely it was casually kept up to maintain an illusion for later investigators, which was that U-234 had never varied from its intended mission to Japan until Fehler made the decision to surrender. Considering all of this, the direction-finder data can be considered most trustworthy when measured against other hard documentation.
But what about the human component? Hirschfeld confirms in his memoirs that Fehler ordered him to report false speeds and bearings to Halifax,[dcxxx] thus indirectly substantiating the idea that Fehler may have intentionally falsified other data about U-234's travels as well. Although Hirschfeld sometimes confused the dates of certain events, he otherwise has proven to be accurate about the events he recorded.
People often forget exact dates 50 years past but still vividly recall the events, experiences or feelings that occurred in association with those dates. Hirschfeld's unique but accurate recounting of the enmity between Kessler and Goering, the electrical fire fumes that he described were vented by reversing the snorkel valving, and the harrowing story of almost being chopped into pieces by the propeller of the steamer, are all validated by corroborating documentation that authenticates Hirschfeld's accounts.
His final recounting of the change of orders taking U-234 from Maine to Portsmouth Naval Yard, as well as the accuracy of other details, puts an exclamation mark on his reliability. The one point of contention between Hirschfeld's account and the theory posited in this text lies in the fact that, despite referencing the mysterious message from Hitler's Berlin Bunker, Hirschfeld never mentioned any activity while U-234 was at sea that can be construed as picking up a secret passenger. He detailed activities that occurred on the boat throughout the relevant timeframe, and even once stated that U-234 "continued to head south at full speed" during a time when, according to the secret detour scenario, it must have been heading west.
But none of these activities can be interpreted either to relate to, or to disprove that U-234 secretly picked up a mysterious passenger. The only incongruity, and it is significant, is that according to the Bundesarchiv logbook, U-234 was still sailing at steerage speed during this time span, not at full speed as Hirschfeld writes. The idea that U-234 was traveling at full speed at any time prior to 11 May would indicate the U-boat was actually racing west to rejoin its camouflage course.
If it had raced south at full speed for any amount of time at all, U-234 would have well overshot to the south of its surrender point on the day it was turned over to the Sutton, which, of course, did not happen. Only in reporting that U-234 had sailed at full speed prior to 11 May does Hirschfeld suggest a fragment of the premise that the U-boat actually must have been traveling west, not south.
It seems implausible that Fehler could have secretly picked up a mystery passenger without his chief communications officer knowing about it. Certainly Hirschfeld, as were all others involved in the maiden voyage of U-234, was sworn to silence if it had, indeed, carried an important enigmatic passenger to safety in the final days of the war. Perhaps Hirschfeld's writing that the boat was sailing south is a single lapse representing his lone concession to the weighty burden of carrying such a secret for so long a time.
Uncharacteristic as it may seem, it appears to be the lone detail that would stay what is otherwise an avalanche of evidence favoring the theory that U-234 made a detour to pick up a mysterious passenger who made his escape on board U-234. In an effort to resolve this question and to learn more about the journey of U-234, in late 1998 I sent Mr. Hirschfeld a letter through the Sharkhunters organization, requesting an interview. As I had been advised probably would happen, Mr. Hirschfeld chose not to respond to my request.
Unlike Hirschfeld's lone impropriety, Fehler's activities are riddled with deceitfulness. From the falsified Bundesarchiv log to his handling of the Japanese prisoners, from his documented lies to Halifax to his contradicted stories about Kessler's inclusion in the plan to surrender to America, Fehler's story is grossly inconsistent with the known facts and obviously and intentionally misleading. The only question is, for what purpose?
With this in mind, combining the information we have learned in this and in previous chapters, what picture can we assemble of U-234's activities and surrender and Bormann's escape? Is any image becoming clear that would indicate the U-boat's mission?
Taking everything we know about U-234 into account -
the messages to it from the Fuehrer Bunker;
the wrestling for command of the U-boat;
the profoundly slow reported travel speed throughout most of the journey;
the mysteriously truncated Library of Congress logbook and secret visit to Bergen;
the carelessly doctored Bundesarchiv logbook;
the coincident timing as recorded in the Bundesarchiv log of Fehler's alleged but illogical decision to run submerged during the six critical days between 30 April and 6 May compared with the reported escape of Martin Bormann during that same time period;
and considering the little-known but seemingly reliable report that Bormann escaped in a "large" U-boat;
Bormann's connections and control of U-234's cargo, and probably, although covertly, his control of Doenitz himself;
as well as U-234's mysterious dash westward apparently from points unknown east of its professed position before surrender;
and Fehler's determination at all costs to capitulate to none but the United States
- considering all this, it seems probable U-234 was the "large U-boat" reported by Soviet intelligence that had the secret mission of rescuing Martin Bormann from Germany, delivering him safely to Spain, and delivering the cargo to the United States in exchange for Bormann's freedom.
Keeping in mind that both the above and the following are assumptions based upon the best evidence as detailed previously, the most probable scenario that can be reconstructed appears to look something like this: With a struggle over chain-of-command of U-234 raging between Doenitz and Berlin, and having already received communications from Hitler's bunker to stay put, Fehler departed Kristiansand according to Doenitz's order, but at very slow speed in order to remain close at hand when the time came to respond to an expected dispatch to pick up a powerful passenger from Berlin.
Apparently, the chain-of-command issue was still being contested on 18 April, when Fehler secretly altered course to Bergen to check for further communications via BdU North Commander Rosing and the U-boat communication center there. Realizing upon his decision to detour to Bergen that his logbook later would reveal his surreptitious movements and potentially expose his secret mission, he abruptly discontinued keeping this log from the 18th forward.
Fehler would later begin a new log designed to camouflage U-234's movements. At Bergen Fehler apparently did not receive the communication from Rosing he anticipated so he continued on a holding pattern westward across the North Sea. He proceeded extremely slowly - no faster than a man walks, just fast enough to maintain steerage of the U-boat - so he would be close at hand when U-234 was needed for the secret pick-up of his mysterious passenger.
On 21 April, Fehler received another order, apparently coded, that advised him not to proceed beyond the vicinity of Ireland. Upon receipt of this order, he broke from his holding pattern in the North Sea and continued slowly around the north of the United Kingdom isles. In the early morning hours of 30 April, at about the same time Martin Bormann was escaping Berlin by light aircraft, U-234 began a quick six-day cruise back to Germany and out to sea again under cover of a reported six-day submerged voyage in the Atlantic.
The falsified "submerged voyage" would in effect make U-234 "disappear" during the deceptive detour, in order to maintain a cover story should she be seen elsewhere or should another vessel fail to spot her in a location she otherwise should have been.
There is no record of U-234 receiving a message to return to Germany to pick up its passenger, but the author believes such a message was sent and received. The author suggests it was at this point that Fehler turned his U-boat east, submerged during the day and surfaced at night, and headed back into the heavily patrolled North Sea through the strait between Scotland and the Shetland Islands, then turned south - straight for Hamburg. U-234 made Hamburg in under three days, sailing at top snorkeling speed when submerged, with radar active, and probably with covert support and protection from well-placed Western Allied sources - remember the planes that did not attack in the Kattegat.
Quickly picking up Bormann, the large U-boat described by Stalin's
intelligence reports then made way, again under surreptitious Western Allied
protection, through the English Channel and into the Bay of Biscay, where
it rendezvoused with an unknown craft to offload Martin Bormann and possibly
his escape partner Heinrich Mueller.
Racing west and needing to maintain a cover story that would stand as the official history of the vessel, Fehler realized he was running out of time to surrender following the German capitulation order on 8 May.
He needed to be in a credible location along his previously planned journey before surrendering, in order to keep his cover story intact, or else his wayward movements might be revealed. In fact, and more important, he also needed to ensure he was in the American sector of enemy surrender responsibility to guarantee his cargo would be received by the pre-agreed upon country, the United States - and its Manhattan Project. By 12 May, he felt he could report a position in the American zone that he could reach before it was discovered to be false, and so he duly reported that position by radio.
But calamity nearly ensued when Canada, through Halifax, received U-234's first surrender transmission and ordered Fehler's capitulation before the United States responded. To maintain his cover and avoid surrendering cargo and passengers to an unintended party, Fehler was forced to abort his camouflage course. He turned instead to an even deeper level of deception, running free to the north and reporting inaccurate bearings and speeds - and for a period of time not reporting at all - until the USS Sutton was able to decoy Canadian ships away and jam U-234's transmissions.
The Sutton then located and took possession of the U-boat and her fugitive, invaluable cargo and passengers and escorted her to Portsmouth.
dlxiii Hans Dollinger, The Decline and Fall of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, p. 241
dlxiv James P. O'Donnell, The Bunker, p. 348
dlxv Jochen von Lang, The Secretary, p. 331
dlxvi Jochen von Lang, The Secretary, pp. 331, 332
dlxvii William Stevenson, The Bormann Brotherhood, pp. 177, 178
dlxviii Ladislas Farago, Aftermath, p. 40
dlxix Ladislas Farago, Aftermath, p. 64
dlxx William Stevenson, The Bormann Brotherhood, p. 64
dlxxi William Stevenson, The Bormann Brotherhood, p.5
dlxxii U.S. National Archives, radio transmission from U-234, 12 May, 1945, declassified #NND957001, NARA date 9/15/97
dlxxiii U.S. National Archives, a second radio transmission from U-234, 12 May, 1945, declassified #NND957001, NARA date 9/15/97
dlxxiv Wolfgang Hirschfeld, Feindfahrten, p. 357; see also, Geoffrey Brooks and Wolfgang Hirschfeld, The Story of a U-boat NCO 1940-1946, p. 203
dlxxv Geoffrey Brooks and Wolfgang Hirschfeld, The Story of a U-boat NCO 1940-1946, p. 203
dlxxvi Wolfgang Hirschfeld, Feindfahrten, p. 357
dlxxvii U.S. National Archives, intercepted radio transmissions declassified #NND957001, NARA date 9/15/97
dlxxviii Wolfgang Hirschfeld, Feindfahrten, p. 357; Geoffrey Brooks and Wolfgang Hirschfeld, The Story of a U-boat NCO 1940-1946, p. 203
dlxxix Wolfgang Hirschfeld, Feindfahrten, p. 357
dlxxx Geoffrey Brooks and Wolfgang Hirschfeld, The Story of a U-boat NCO 1940-1946, p. 203
dlxxxi U.S. National Archives, interrogation report of General Ulrich Kessler #1540, p.4 (date unknown), declassified #NND750722, NARA date 9/16/97
dlxxxii Wolfgang Hirschfeld, Feindfahrten, p. 358; Geoffrey Brooks and Wolfgang Hirschfeld, The Story of a U-boat NCO 1940-1946, p. 203
dlxxxiii U.S. National Archives, intercepted radio transmission, 13 April, 1945, declassified #NND957001
dlxxxiv Geoffrey Brooks and Wolfgang Hirschfeld, The Story of a U-boat NCO 1940-1946, p. 203; U.S. National Archives, intercepted radio transmission, 13 April, 1945, declassified # NND957001, NARA date 9/15/9
dlxxxv U.S. National Archives, intercepted radio transmission 16 April, 1945, declassified #NND957001, NARA date 9/15/97
dlxxxvi U.S. National Archives, intercepted radio transmission 18 April, 1945, declassified #NND957001, NARA date 9/15/97
dlxxxvii Bundesarchiv 24/82 RM 98/676
dlxxxviii The author personally witnessed a telephone call between Harry Cooper, Sharkhunters president, and Mr. Herbert Werner, on January 21, 1999 in which Mr. Werner confirmed to Mr. Cooper Rosing's presence at Bergen throughout the time span in question.
dlxxxix Letter from Sharkhunters president Harry Cooper to the author dated 11 May, 1999
dxc Geoffrey Brooks and Wolfgang Hirschfeld, The Story of a U-boat NCO 1940-1946, p. 201
dxci U.S. National Archives, Report On the Interrogation of the Crew On U-234 Which Surrendered to the USS Sutton on 14 May, 1945, In Position 47?-07'N - 42?-25'W. declassified #NND873022
dxcii Undated letter from CaptainLeiutenant Johann Heinrich Fehler to Harry Cooper, president of Sharkhunters International, p.1
dxciii U.S. National Archives, intercepted radio transmission, 21 April, 1945, declassified #NND957001
dxciv Geoffrey Brooks and Wolfgang Hirschfeld, The Story of a U-boat NCO 1940-1946, p. 192; Second undated letter from CaptainLeiutenant Johann Heinrich Fehler to Harry Cooper, president of Sharkhunters International p. 1
dxcv U.S. National Archives, map of U-234's planned route as filed in U-234's official surrender report
dxcvi Geoffrey Brooks and Wolfgang Hirschfeld, The Story of a U-boat NCO 1940-1946, pp. 195, 201; also, compare with speeds of U-234 calculated from radio intercepts reported direction finding on May 12, 1945
dxcvii Undated letter from CaptainLeiutenant Johann Heinrich Fehler to Harry Cooper, president of Sharkhunters International, p. 1
dxcviii U.S. National Archives II, NSA Records, secret German transmission from Marine Special Forces to Penang, Shonan, Djakarta, Tokyo, 13 February, 1945, RG 457-190-32-2-7
dxcix Geoffrey Brooks and Wolfgang Hirschfeld, The Story of a U-boat NCO 1940-1946, p. 192; Undated letter from CaptainLeiutenant Johann Heinrich Fehler to Harry Cooper, president of Sharkhunters International, p. 1
dc Wolfgang Hirschfeld, Feindfahrten, p. 360
dci Geoffrey Brooks and Wolfgang Hirschfeld, The Story of a U-boat NCO 1940-1946, pp. 206, 206
dcii Geoffrey Brooks and Wolfgang Hirschfeld, The Story of a U-boat NCO 1940-1946, p. 207:see also Wolfgang Hirschfeld, Feindfahrten, p. 361
dciii Undated letter from CaptainLeiutenant Johann Heinrich Fehler to Harry Cooper, president of Sharkhunters International p.2
dciv U.S. National Archives, Report of Interrogation of U-234 passenger Kay Nieschling, 24 May, 1945
dcv Geoffrey Brooks and Wolfgang Hirschfeld, The Story of a U-boat NCO 1940-1946, p. 207; Wolfgang Hirschfeld, Feindfahrten, p. 361
dcvi Geoffrey Brooks and Wolfgang Hirschfeld, The Story of a U-boat NCO 1940-1946, p. 207; Wolfgang Hirschfeld, Feindfahrten, p. 361
dcvii Undated letter from CaptainLeiutenant Johann Heinrich Fehler to Harry Cooper, president of Sharkhunters International p.1
dcviii Geoffrey Brooks and Wolfgang Hirschfeld, The Story of a U-boat NCO 1940-1946, p. 207; Wolfgang Hirschfeld, Feindfahrten, p. 361
dcix U.S. National Archives, Report of Interrogation of General Ulrich Kessler, extract from POW's diary, declassified NND750122
dcx U.S. National Archives II, intercepted radio transmission, 12 May, 1945, declassified #NND957001
dcxi Undated letter from CaptainLeiutenant Johann Heinrich Fehler to Harry Cooper, president of Sharkhunters International, p. 3
dcxii Geoffrey Brooks and Wolfgang Hirschfeld, The Story of a U-boat NCO 1940-1946, pp. 210, 211
dcxiii Geoffrey Brooks and Wolfgang Hirschfeld, The Story of a U-boat NCO 1940-1946, p. 210
dcxiv Undated letter from CaptainLeiutenant Johann Heinrich Fehler to Harry Cooper, president of Sharkhunters International
dcxv Undated letter from CaptainLeiutenant Johann Heinrich Fehler to Harry Cooper, president of Sharkhunters International
dcxvi Geoffrey Brooks and Wolfgang Hirschfeld, The Story of a U-boat NCO 1940-1946, pp. 210-212
dcxvii U.S. National Archives II, USS Sutton activity report titled Capture of U-234-Events Leading to, p. 2, 18 May, 1945
dcxviii Geoffrey Brooks and Wolfgang Hirschfeld, The Story of a U-boat NCO 1940-1946, p. 212
dcxix Geoffrey Brooks and Wolfgang Hirschfeld, The Story of a U-boat NCO 1940-1946, p. 210
dcxx U.S. National Archives II, General Ulrich Kessler interrogation Report #5899
dcxxi Geoffrey Brooks and Wolfgang Hirschfeld, The Story of a U-boat NCO 1940-1946, p. 210
dcxxii Geoffrey Brooks and Wolfgang Hirschfeld, The Story of a U-boat NCO 1940-1946, pp. 211, 212
dcxxiii Geoffrey Brooks and Wolfgang Hirschfeld, The Story of a U-boat NCO 1940-1946, pp. 211, 212
dcxxiv Geoffrey Brooks and Wolfgang Hirschfeld, The Story of a U-boat NCO 1940-1946, p. 212
dcxxv Geoffrey Brooks and Wolfgang Hirschfeld, The Story of a U-boat NCO 1940-1946, pp. 212, 213
dcxxvi Geoffrey Brooks and Wolfgang Hirschfeld, The Story of a U-boat NCO 1940-1946, pp. 212, 213; U.S. National Archives II, USS Sutton activity report report titled Capture of U-234-Events Leading to, p. 3, 18 May, 1945
dcxxvii Geoffrey Brooks and Wolfgang Hirschfeld, The Story of a U-boat NCO 1940-1946, p. 216
dcxxviii U.S. National Archives II, USS Sutton activity report report titled Capture of U-234-Events Leading to, pp. 3, 4 (unnumbered), 18 May, 1945
dcxxix U.S. National Archives II, USS Sutton activity report report titled Capture of U-234-Events Leading to, pp. 2, 3, 18 May, 1945
dcxxx Geoffrey Brooks and Wolfgang Hirschfeld, The Story of a U-boat NCO 1940-1946, p. 211
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