The End of the Milk Cows – U-490 et al Part II

(U-219 Type XB minelaying submarine)

U-195 had enjoyed a fairly uneventful cruise from Bordeaux to Djakarta. She left Bordeaux with a 250-ton cargo comprising optical instruments, mercury, dismantled V-weapons, torpedoes, blueprints, radar sets and a Japanese technical officer. After departing in company with U-180 and U-219, as described above, on the night of 23/24 August, she had been attacked almost at once by small patrol craft (probably MTBs) and chased with the use of hydrophones. The boat had escaped by lying on the sea bottom at 100 metres. Subsequently U-195 had schnorkelled to the Spanish coast to fix minor damage and the crew had repaired the boat on the surface in Spanish waters. Thereafter the boat sailed without difficulty all the way into the Indian Ocean, presumably using her schnorkel through the North Atlantic. Her daily distance travelled at sea near the Azores was around 100 miles. The boat claimed that she had suffered fuel losses, forcing a slower passage at most economical speed, and she was ordered to refuel from U-181 if necessary. U-181 (Kapitaen zS Freiwald) had started on 19 October on the return trip from Djakarta to Norway, sinking a large American merchant ship (2 November) en route, but had suffered near Cape Town from ‘badly burnt bearings’ and was commanded on the 26th to return to Djakarta. U-boat Command prepared a fuelling rendezvous in the south-western Indian Ocean between U-195 and U-181, but the boats failed to locate one another at their joint rendezvous in square KT90 on 12 December, and both continued independently to Djakarta.

U-181 was instead commanded to meet the homeward-bound U-843 at dusk on 20 December in KL6555, and to refuel the smaller boat ‘fully’. By 1 January, U-181 could inform U-boat Command that she had refuelled U-843 and was returning to Djakarta where she arrived on the 6th. On the 11th, the report was amplified: U-181 had supplied U-843 with 60 tons of fuel and 2 tons of lubricating oil in an operation hampered by bad weather and poor equipment. U-181 had sailed from Djakarta with ten cases of acute malaria, three of dysentery and seven of severe boils or skin troubles, and the commander had suffered from diphtheria. However, the crew had returned to base ‘in better shape’. U-195 docked safely at Djakarta on 29 December and two U-cruisers also arrived. The commander’s report (used above) was transmitted to Berlin, together with his favourable opinion on the deployment of the Type IXD1 boat as a transport, while the cargo was removed for transhipment to Japan.

The arrival of U-219 and U-195 sufficed to provide new radar detector equipment (Borkum and Tunis) for all the U-boats then based in the Far East. The signal to this effect from the German radio station at Penang (17 January 1945) was intercepted and decoded by the Australian Defense Agency, but nothing could be done. However, both boats were suffering from numerous mechanical defects, as well as only two-thirds of expected battery capacity. The intention was that both U-219 and U-195 should load up with a cargo of rubber, tin, wolfram and other commodities obtainable with difficulty in Germany, and then return home. But the planned move of U-219 to Surabaya, like Djakarta on the coast of Java, for the purpose of loading up with these strategic materials, was rudely interrupted on 27 December. A large Japanese ammunition ship, the Taicho Mam, suddenly exploded in Djakarta harbour – apparently she had been torpedoed – the blast rocking the port and damaging U-219, whose crew observed the many floating corpses in the harbour – and the sharks. U-532 and U-510, also moored in the port, suffered no damage. Specialists were summoned to the stricken U-minelayer and were commanded to prepare the boat for her return to Germany in February 1945. Meanwhile, her crew enjoyed a lengthened stay at the Tjikopo rest home, high in the mountains, while U-219 was placed in dry dock in January. Djakarta was now abandoned by the Germans as a U-boat base.

In December, U-boat Command ordered all U-boats in the Indian Ocean to return to Germany, filled with such cargoes as they could manage. They were expected to carry the barest minimum of torpedoes home in order to maintain a slight offensive capability against undefended targets. In this connection, U-510 sailed from Djakarta on 11 January 1945, U-532 on the 13th and the U-cruiser U-861 (Korvettenkapitaen Oesten) on the 14th. Since the two Type IXC/40 boats lacked sufficient fuel to reach Norway, the U-cruiser was needed to replenish them in the west Indian Ocean, while U-195 was to sail as a back-up (or, if possible, as another homeward-bound boat). U-195 had arrived at Djakarta after the 27 December explosion. Having been offloaded, she set out on her way back on 19 January 1945, although in urgent need of a refit. Her principal mission was to refuel the returning U-532 as she was carrying no fewer than 437 tons of fuel, 17 tons of lubricating oil and twelve weeks of supplies.

A joint rendezvous was arranged between U-861, U-532, U-195 and U-510 about 900 miles south of Madagascar. The rendezvous position seems to have been agreed verbally among the commanders before departing from base, a wise, albeit very late, innovation. Even so, the rendezvous might have been compromised when U861 wanted a change of date for the replenishment to 7 February. All four boats met together on 8 February 1945, when U-195 refuelled U-532 with 100 tons of oil and U-861 replenished U-510. Surprisingly this left the U-cruiser short of fuel, since part of her fuel capacity had been used to store rubber. Then U-195 returned to Djakarta with diesel defects and her putative return to France abandoned, arriving on 5 March before moving next day to Surabaya.

The other boats then headed into the Atlantic, having begged U-boat Command successfully, with a joint request, that they should not be required to make frequent tell-tale progress reports while en route. U-861 would subsequently arrive safely in Norway just before the end of the war. U-532 would surrender at sea in the North Atlantic after Germany’s surrender, having sunk two single ships in the South Atlantic. U-510 remained short of fuel and was forced to make for St Nazaire in France, which was still in German hands, on 23 April 1945 in search of more fuel, repairs and a schnorkel. All three boats had been advised by U-boat Command on 25 March to put into St Nazaire for schnorkels. Later decrypted messages from the German Navy coastal service show the difficulty of arranging schnorkels for St Nazaire, requiring either hazardous flights by the Luftwaffe or a round trip from Norway by a transport U-boat. U-510 was still there when the European war ended, having sunk one ship in the South Atlantic.

The returning Monsun boats had at any rate escaped the massive Allied aerial minelaying operation that fouled the entire ‘Southern Area’ command on 23 January 1945. Penang, Djakarta, Surabaya and the Malacca Strait were all listed as having been paralysed by mines and the sea lanes were not cleared until 7 February. Burghagen expected U-219 to be ready for sea by March 1945, but battery and other defects caused further delays and a move to Surabaya. Likewise, U-195 was kept waiting until she could have her batteries replaced in a dry dock, which was scheduled for mid-May. The deteriorating situation in Europe caused increasing alarm to the crews of U-219, U-195 and the handful of U-cruisers still present. They feared that any day the war might end, they would be arrested and imprisoned by the Japanese. Those boats with defects were attended to without stint of labour. Then the blow fell. In April, U-boat Command ordered U-219, U-195 and the surviving UIT boats to remain in the Far East for the benefit of the Japanese.

U-183 (Kapitaenleumant Schneewind) had been sent to Kobe for replacement of her batteries in November 1944. However, her planned January return had to be put back to allow the keel ballast to be changed and diesel defects to be corrected. Finally, on 22 February 1945, U-183 left Kobe for Djakarta, arriving on 9 March. The Japanese and local German commands had decided in January that U-183 was to patrol the southern approaches to the Philippines in order to intercept American landing craft, while Japanese submarines patrolled the northern approaches. U-boat Command objected strenuously to the original plan, stating that antisubmarine defences were likely to be weak and U-183 should close right up to the invasion area.

It was not until 21 April that Schneewind could report (in a decrypted signal) that he had departed Djakarta for an operational area south of the Philippines as far east as 122 degrees, the operational area to be reached on 29 April. Two days later (the 23rd), the forewarned US submarine Besugo located U-183 still on the surface and fired a six-torpedo spread. One of the torpedoes struck U-183, sinking her with only one survivor remaining to be picked up by the Besugo. The loss of U-183 would not be recognized by U-boat Command until after the end of the war, when she failed either to return to base or to signal her surrender.

The Japanese finally seem to have appreciated the contribution of the U-boats in the Indian Ocean, and proposed in March and April 1945 that more be sent. Doenitz rejected the request on the grounds of lack of fuelling facilities en route, but the Japanese offered to send up to six of their submarines to refuel the U-boats in the Indian Ocean. Again the offer was rejected, to the embarrassment of the German naval staff in Tokyo, who reported that the Japanese believed them to have the authority to make such decisions. Consequently the Germans in Tokyo had lost face. On 3 April, Doenitz also rejected Japanese suggestions that U-boats could be used to land Japanese agents on Allied-occupied islands.

No further refuelling missions had been carried out in the Atlantic by appointed cows after the failure of U-219 with U-1062. U-boats were now being deployed in coastal waters around Britain and the sinking of U-1062 was to be the last by the American Atlantic carrier groups until April 1945. No U-tankers remained and the last Type XB U-boat outside the Indian Ocean, U234 (Kapitaenleutnant Fehler), remained in German waters.

Fehler had previously been an officer on the auxiliary cruiser Atlantis. After the latter ship had been sunk, he volunteered for the U-boat service and commissioned U-234 on 2 March 1944. U-234 was especially well equipped in anti-aircraft armament, for she was fortunate enough to have an extraordinarily competent black market ‘fixer’ as one of her officers. Originally fitted with three 20mm anti-aircraft guns, he managed to get it augmented by official and unofficial means to two 37mm guns of the new automatic design, a Vierling mounting and two twin 20mm cannon. Later still, a twin 37mm cannon replaced the Vierling. When she finally put sea on active service, U-234 carried a twin 37mm cannon on the aft bandstand behind the conning tower and two single 37mm cannon on the tower itself.

For the remainder of the year, U-234 carried out her working-up exercises and then other trials in the Baltic while others pondered her fate. Now carrying a schnorkel, she was converted in September 1944 into a submarine blockade runner between Germany and the Far East, but experienced considerable difficulty in the Baltic with her schnorkel trials. The trials were carried out under the supervision of an old First World War U-boat ace, Kapitaen zS Valentiner, who imparted this pearl of wisdom: ‘We used to say, he who schnorkels well lives longer. Now we say, he who schnorkels wrongly dies quicker.’

With no more time for trials, U-234 was ordered to practise more with her schnorkel off Norway. Owing to difficulties in equipping her, she did not leave Kiel until 25 March 1945, by which time she was furnished with an active radar mattress, a Kurier flash signal transmitter and a large range of materials amounting to some 240 tons to take to Japan, as well as several important passengers. U-234 also carried seven torpedoes, to maintain some offensive capability, and written orders for two minelaying operations: twenty-one mines were to be laid off Cape Town and twenty-one mines off the port of Colombo, Ceylon. The commander was told to be particularly sure that he noted that the mines off Cape Town should have settings for the southern hemisphere, while those planted off Colombo were required to have settings for the northern hemisphere. However, it was conceded that the mines should be laid only if it was ‘safe’. She then proceeded to Kristiansand, Norway, and started her schnorkel trials again in Hortenfjord on 28 March. Three days later, U-234 was rammed in the stern, while at schnorkel depth, by U-1301. An oil bunker and a diving cell were dented, while the torpedo tubes of U-1301 were so damaged that she took no further part in the war. U-234 was repaired back in Kristiansand.

Departing again on 24 April, U-234 proceeded into the Atlantic, initially using the schnorkel but later, during a strong storm, mostly on the surface through heavy seas (after further schnorkel difficulties), Fehler having decided that he would try to outrun any destroyers that located him rather than be caught at a slow speed underwater. U-234 had orders to schnorkel to the equator and then proceed to Japan, relying on radio signals transmitted from Norway and Spain to fix her position (the Elektra-Sonne radio navigation system). This system did in fact work quite well while the U-minelayer made her way between Iceland and the Faeroes ‘Northern Transit route’. Her total absence from German waters was expected to be about a year, so at least one of the German naval staff must still have been quite an optimist.

U-234 surrendered at sea on 14 May, six days after the cessation of hostilities in May 1945. The crew had lost contact with Germany after radio frequencies had had to be changed as the Russians closed in on Berlin, and it was not until 10 May that orders were heard in English commanding all U-boats to surrender. This had resulted in a long discussion about what to do next. The two Japanese passengers she was carrying committed suicide. When her 163-ton cargo was offloaded in the USA, ten cases of ‘uranium oxide’ for ‘the Japanese Army’ were found aboard in heavy, lead-lined containers. These were found to be so radioactive (unlike ordinary uranium oxide) that one of the German officers was forced to handle the cases. The nature of the contents was finally disclosed as recently as 1995 from American records. Among other items, U-234 was carrying enriched uranium to assist the Japanese with the development of an atomic bomb. Instead, the material was offloaded in the USA and, almost certainly although this has never been confirmed, used to make up the shortfall in enriched uranium required for the bombs dropped by the Americans on Japan.

U-218 had some further minelaying operations to come, in the English Channel on 2 July 1944 and again on 18 August 1944. She had been fitted with a schnorkel prior to these hazardous operations. This Type VIID U-minelayer was then withdrawn from service for refit in German waters between October 1944 and March 1945. She was at sea on her way back to Norway after a final mining operation in the Clyde when the war ended in May 1945. U-218 surrendered at Bergen and was the only one of the five Type VIID U-minelayers to survive the war.

The two surviving Type VIIF torpedo transporters, U-1060 (Oberleutnant zS Brammer) and U-1061 (Oberleutnant zS Hinrichs) had been commissioned respectively on 5 May and 25 August in 1943. After the usual trials and working up, both had been used to operate a shuttle service between Kiel and the U-boat base at Narvik, with intermediate stops at Kristiansand, Bergen, Trondheim and other ports, from December 1943 to July 1944. By then, each boat had completed four round trips and had returned to Kiel. Both boats were then re-equipped, the schnorkel being the most important new item, and in October both were sent, separately, to Horten for schnorkel training.

On 27 October 1944, U-1060 was being escorted by the minesweeper M-433 as she headed southwards back to Norway, after she had picked up survivors from a previously attacked U-boat, when she was herself attacked by carrier aircraft operating in the North Sea. During the assault M-433 caught fire and one of the aircraft was shot down, the pilot being rescued by the U-boat. After a second aircraft attack, M-433 was abandoned and another aircraft was shot down, while the U-boat lost twelve men including her commander. The damaged U-boat was beached by her crew, then destroyed on the 29th by rockets and depth-charges from other aircraft. The last torpedo-transporter, U-1061, was damaged by a bomber while en route to Bergen on 30 October. She returned in stages to Trondheim where repairs took until 29 January 1945. She put to sea again, but was forced to return to Bergen for further repairs, where she remained until 26 April. Now with a new commander (Oberleutnant zS Jaeger), U-1061 moved southwards to Kristiansand with U-991 and U-1307 but, with the end of the war The German Naval Command ordered in April 1945 that all war diaries that could not safely be returned to Germany should be destroyed rather than risk capture. This applied especially to war diaries of U-boats sent to the Far East, all of which were destroyed. Thus there are no original records for operations by U-boats in the Far East, excepting those such as U-178 that had returned to Europe before the end of the war.

When the European war ended on 8 May 1945, the remaining U-boats in the Far East were taken over by Japan, although none was used operationally. U-219 (Type XB) and U-195 (Type IXD1) were among those that shared this fate (the others being UIT24, UIT25 and the U-cruisers U-181 and U-862). All were in a poor state of repair one way or another. Admiral Wenneker, in charge of the German Tokyo office, sent out two signals on 6 May. One was to the U-boat crews in the Far East, and may be summarized thus: ‘U-boats must surrender. Uncertain fate in Far East. Regrettable, but necessary; hope the Japanese will understand your plight. Thanks for loyalty and hope to greet you in the hope of a reunion at home.’ The second was to the German naval staff at Kobe: ‘Carry out “Luebeck” order [general surrender] at 11.00 Tokyo Time and report.’ Next day U-boat Command sent a message to the Southern Command: ‘All U-boats, except Freiwald (U-181), to be handed to Japan. Ask if they want them as free gift or will pay. Crews to be disembarked. Freiwald is to return – in own boat, or a substitute.’

The crew of U-219 (Korvettenkapitaen Burghagen) was, as usual, working on board when Japanese soldiers marched in, saying that the Japanese Navy had taken over the boat as I.505. The German crew was required to leave at once and be interned. However, a ‘gentlemen’s agreement’ was speedily reached, whereby the German crews were permitted to stay on their boats as volunteers to aid the Japanese in putting the boats into good order. Surplus crew members could remain at the Tjikopo rest home. The crews ignored an order from U-boat Command on 16 May (sic) to surrender to the Allies – they were requested to leave their harbours, report to an Allied radio station and head for the nearest Allied harbour – together with the admonition: ‘The Grand Admiral [Doenitz] expects it of you.’ Discipline remained until the Japanese surrender in August, although the crews were now neither POWs nor sailors. U-219 was made fully operational, but was never deployed for use.

U-219 and the other U-boats still at Djakarta surrendered to the cruiser HMS Cumberland on 10 September. Tjikopo was occupied by British sailors on 2 November, where Burghagen negotiated for the Germans. All the U-boat crews remained as prisoners until 1946.

All the U-boats that had been requisitioned by the Japanese had survived until the end of the Pacific war, in August 1945. UIT 24 and UIT 25 both surrendered in August from the Japanese port of Kobe. The crews of both boats had been required to train replacement crews for the Japanese, after the German surrender, and it appears that each boat made one transport mission under Japanese command between Japan and the oil terminal in Borneo. Payments by the Japanese to the Kriegsmarine (now under Allied control) for these operations allowed the former crews to live fairly comfortably within a small Japanese hotel until the end of the war with Japan. Subsequently, every one of the requisitioned U-boats was scrapped in 1946.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.