U-853
May 6, 2011 9:02 AM   Subscribe

"ALL U-BOATS. ATTENTION ALL U-BOATS. CEASE-FIRE AT ONCE. STOP ALL HOSTILE ACTION AGAINST ALLIED SHIPPING. DÖNITZ."

"The order was to become effective at 0800 the following morning. However, of the 49 boats then at sea, several were submerged and would not receive the message. Among them was the U-853."

Sixty-six years ago today, off the coast of Rhode Island, the last German U-boat in American waters was sunk at the Battle of Point Judith.

"Built in 1943 [...] the U-853 had been a recent addition to the German Navy. [...] She was nicknamed Der Seiltaenzer (Tightrope Walker) by her crew and had reached her operating position off of New England late in the month of April 1945."
posted by AugieAugustus (42 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

 
MMMM....DÖNITZ. THAT IS ALL.

--REAR ADM. HOMER J. SIMPSON
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 9:05 AM on May 6, 2011 [42 favorites]


when you look at the Atlantic on Google maps and turn on Wikipedia links you see where all the submarines sunk.
A chilling sight.
posted by joost de vries at 9:07 AM on May 6, 2011 [6 favorites]


There is something about underwater shipwreck pictures - particularly of submarines - that just creeps me the hell out.
posted by rmd1023 at 9:18 AM on May 6, 2011


when you look at the Atlantic on Google maps and turn on Wikipedia links you see where all the submarines sunk.
A chilling sight.


More chilling to me are all the ships the submarines sank.
posted by kmz at 9:21 AM on May 6, 2011 [4 favorites]


In the midst of the destruction and the dreadful noise they could hear the screams of the Black Point's pet chimpanzee from somewhere in the wreckage.
posted by kuatto at 9:22 AM on May 6, 2011


Wow, thank you for the post. What a thrilling telling amongst the ongoing sadness of war.
posted by PepperMax at 9:22 AM on May 6, 2011


I'm from Pt. Judith (well, Great Island, specifically). My grandfather was a commercial fisherman out of Galilee (also part of the Point) and once dragged up a WWII torpedo right offshore. Quite an event, from what I understand. USCG came and blew it up safely.
posted by blaneyphoto at 9:23 AM on May 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


If you think about it, the submarines were already sunk.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 9:29 AM on May 6, 2011 [5 favorites]


And as with every great naval event, the lesser vessels arrived to provide services too mundane for the warships to perform.

The style this is written in is kind of adorable. Also, damn they really beat the shit out of this Uboat. Revenge is dish best served immediately and in 9 courses I guess.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 9:39 AM on May 6, 2011


U-Boat sinkings off the U.S. East Coast
posted by mcstayinskool at 9:40 AM on May 6, 2011


Interesting how they managed to keep the presence of U-Boats in our coastal waters, if not a secret, certainly not widely known. Local residents knew, but they didn't have the ability to spread the information like we can today.
posted by tommasz at 9:45 AM on May 6, 2011


Where my Rhodey-born wife's family spent summers camping (coastal Ri and Connecticut), there are still half-buried structures that were either (both?) gun emplacements or watchtowers just back from the shore. Despite reading a lot of WWII history, I never think of the Battle of the Atlantic touching Rhode Island; I guess I better do so more reading!
posted by wenestvedt at 9:49 AM on May 6, 2011


tommasz, I think it was pretty widely known. According to wikipedia, 348 ships were sunk between February and May of 1942. That's pretty difficult to not notice. And in May, the US began to implement dim-outs along the coast to stop silhouetting ships against the bright lights of cities to help reduce losses by subs.

I think it was widely known that u-boats were patrolling the coast, but most people considered themselves lucky that the US wasn't undergoing bombing runs like most of Europe.

And someone needs to mention how Hemingway volunteered during the war to search out German submarines along the Cuban coast using his fishing boat. He never found anyway, but I believe his plan was to lure them to the surface and then attack somehow (as far as I know, he didn't have any depth charges or anything).
posted by Crash at 10:02 AM on May 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


The Hemingway Method.
posted by longbaugh at 10:18 AM on May 6, 2011


From UBoat.Net, U-boat losses 1939-1945:Monthly losses chart and more about the U-853. The last ship she attacked (and the last American vessel sunk by any German U-boat) was the Black Point on May 5, 1945.
posted by cenoxo at 10:23 AM on May 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


Good post.

There is something about underwater shipwreck pictures - particularly of submarines - that just creeps me the hell out.

Of course it does.

"Deep under the calm water of a Caribbean lagoon, salvage diver David Moore discovers a sunken Nazi U-boat entombed in the sand. A mysterious relic from the last war. Slowly, the U-boat rises from the depths laden with a long-dead crew, cancerous with rot, mummified for eternity."
posted by marxchivist at 10:35 AM on May 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


wikipedia description of hedgehog weapons
posted by garlic at 10:36 AM on May 6, 2011


Watch out for U-Boats!

Watch out for U-Boats!

Watch out for U-Boats!
posted by Malice at 10:42 AM on May 6, 2011


*insert winking, insightful Cryptonomicon reference here*
posted by rodeoclown at 10:47 AM on May 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


For those interested, a first hand account by German U-boat Commander Herbert Werner can be found in the excellent memoir Iron Coffins.
posted by ahimsakid at 10:54 AM on May 6, 2011


The problem for all WW2 "submarines" is that they were not really submarines, but submersible boats. U-boats traveled mostly on the surface and only submerged for attack or evasion. Radar and broken codes did them in, but the destroyers got all the credit!
posted by three blind mice at 10:54 AM on May 6, 2011


damn they really beat the shit out of this Uboat.

"It was noted that of the hundreds of projectiles thrown at the elusive submarine (264 hedgehog projectiles, 195 depth charges, and 6 rocket bombs), there were but two hits."

*cough*
posted by quonsar II: smock fishpants and the temple of foon at 11:15 AM on May 6, 2011


I'm from Pt. Judith (well, Great Island, specifically). My grandfather was a commercial fisherman out of Galilee (also part of the Point) and once dragged up a WWII torpedo right offshore. Quite an event, from what I understand. USCG came and blew it up safely.

Apparently it was also a known hazard for the New London fishing fleet. One boat down here was blown right out of the water when a torpedo hanging in its nets went off, leaving only one survivor, who happened to be on the far side of the wheelhouse when it exploded. Joseph Mitchell refers to it in his essay on Ellery Thompson ('Dragger Captain').
posted by Kinbote at 11:23 AM on May 6, 2011


Yes, it's all thanks to radar!
posted by echo target at 11:23 AM on May 6, 2011 [3 favorites]


There is a saying that the A bomb ended the war but that Radar won it. Shortly after developing radar, the US was able to develop and employ sonar. And that ended pretty much the great menace of the German subs.
posted by Postroad at 11:23 AM on May 6, 2011


Shortly after developing radar, the US was able to develop and employ sonar. And that ended pretty much the great menace of the German subs.

That and surface radar detection, DF of subs receiving/sending messages, cracking the naval Enigma, constant vigilance from aircraft and ships etc, etc.
posted by longbaugh at 11:44 AM on May 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


This topics reminds me of that Arthur C. Clarke story about the last survivor of a Mars expedition, who obsesses over running out of air, thanks to reading about U-Boat sailors' deaths.
posted by doctornemo at 12:21 PM on May 6, 2011


Excellent FPP! That is all.
posted by Triplanetary at 12:27 PM on May 6, 2011


If you want to see what the u-boat war looked like from the other side, the war memoirs of Dönitz is a good read. The Germans saw their boats sunk because of broken naval codes, but didn't know what was happening. Fascinating read.
I'd take the last 10 pages, about Dönitz's brief time as fuhrer after Hitler's death, with a grain of salt. He claimed he knew nothing about the Holocaust, etc. Well, at least he fired Himmler.
posted by Triplanetary at 1:06 PM on May 6, 2011


Not some documentary footage of Donitz's time as Hitler.
posted by Authorized User at 1:50 PM on May 6, 2011


as Führer.
posted by Authorized User at 1:51 PM on May 6, 2011


From previously, the soundtrack...
posted by yoHighness at 2:21 PM on May 6, 2011


It is almost too obvious, but: Das Boot is an excellent war movie, and an excellent movie. See it.
posted by ovvl at 2:56 PM on May 6, 2011


it took a few posts, but i knew that Mitchell & Webb clip would eventually show up. It's pretty much mandatory for any post which even casually references Donitz.
posted by jadayne at 3:10 PM on May 6, 2011


Shadow Divers is an excellent read about finding and IDing U-869 off of New Jersey. Hard to believe it's nonfiction--more exciting than most movies.
posted by gottabefunky at 3:23 PM on May 6, 2011


ALL U-BOATS. ATTENTION ALL U-BOATS. CEASE-FIRE AT ONCE. STOP ALL HOSTILE ACTION AGAINST ALLIED SHIPPING. DÖNITZ.
Did the Axis really refer to the Allies as the Allies? Or is that a less-than-literal translation?
posted by Flunkie at 4:55 PM on May 6, 2011


Chief Klough: Those Krauts sure know how to build a boat.
posted by bwg at 5:25 PM on May 6, 2011


"Shortly after developing radar, the US was able to develop and employ sonar. And that ended pretty much the great menace of the German subs."

I'm assuming this is sarcasm. The British and French navies had working ASDIC systems by the end of World War 1 and by the start of World War II the Royal Navy had 5 different systems for various kinds of ships. The problem was less detecting the ship than hitting the target with depth charges close enough to damage or destroy it, as you had to be directly over the sub giving it time to take evasive action. That's why hedgehog and squid and other similar throwing weapons were developed. At the start of World War 2 Britain shared its well developed ASDIC technology to the United States where it was further developed.

As for Radar, pretty much every developed nation was developing their own systems in the 1920s and early 1930s but the British were the first to perfect and deploy an effective aircraft detection system using it. These chains of Radar stations along the south coast, as much as the Spitfires and Hurricanes, were responsible for victory in the Battle of Britain. Hitler's decision to stop attacking them and RAF airfields and concentrate on bombing cities in retaliation for a few minor raids on Berlin were instrumental in him losing the battle and, it could be argued, the war.

America's response to the U Boat menace off its own shores was notoriously lax and incompetent for a long time. The Americans didn't use convoys or black outs for ages and German submarines enjoyed their happy time there in far greater safety than in the Battle of the Atlantic where, after savage losses, a combination of code breaking, long range aircraft, mini carriers, more effective ASDIC and anti-submarine weapons on destroyers and so forth meant that submarine action was sooner or later, and usually sooner, a one way trip for the U boat commanders.
posted by joannemullen at 5:59 PM on May 6, 2011 [7 favorites]


Wow, I used to go to Point Judith and Galilee as a little kid, but I never heard about this.

Is Aunt Carrie's still there?
posted by Sand Reckoner at 11:16 PM on May 6, 2011


It was indeed pretty widely known that U-boats were operating off the U.S. Atlantic Coast, including fairly close to the coast.

My mother used to go to the beach at Ocean City, NJ regularly in the summers during WWII. She said there were often gobs of oil, both in the water and washed up on the sand, from the ships that had been sunk out at sea. This would get on your feet and bathing suit if you were not careful.

(Speaking of submarines, my father spent about 3 months on a freighter going from the U.S. West Coast to India, where he was to be stationed during WWII. It was a lone freighter - no convoy, no escort - and he speaks of the fear they felt when seeing another ship burning in the distance, since they knew that meant a submarine was in the area and they were completely defenseless.)
posted by gudrun at 9:22 AM on May 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Is Aunt Carrie's still there?
posted by Sand Reckoner at 2:16 AM on May 7


Aunt Carries is (and always will be) still there! Free clamcakes on opening weekend!
posted by blaneyphoto at 9:24 AM on May 7, 2011


My dad was a teenager in 1942, living near Miami. He told me they would often see ships on fire at night off the coast. Near where he lived was a sub-chaser base, and they had on display a lifeboat that had washed up on the beach. Full of bullet holes.
posted by atchafalaya at 10:00 AM on May 7, 2011


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