When they arrived at the inlet the sun was beginning to set. The midget U-Boats were clustered in rows along the side of a long pier, at the top of which sat a slightly larger harbor tug, like a shepherd overlooking its flock. On the dock itself, a crowd of sailors in denims and leather jackets were busily at work, loading supplies and making their final preparations. Even in the dimming light, he could make out Rasch, in his white commander’s cap, giving orders to his men and helping pass containers onto the boats.
Ziggy told his driver to park the kubel behind a row of upturned boats. “Sling your
rifles,” he ordered. “I want this to look purely social.”
Rasch saw them approach and waved them to come forward. Walking toward the pier,
Ziggy did a hasty count of the boats. Nine, ten, eleven, twelve, they were all
still there. All over the dock, there were stacks of baggage and personal kit
along with packages of food, canisters of water and fat round tins of motor
oil. By the look of it, they had enough supplies to last each boat several
days, certainly enough time to get them past Denmark, maybe even up to Sweden.
Rasch threw Ziggy a jaunty salute. “So you’ve come to see us off?” he asked.
“That’s right,” said Ziggy. “You’ve got your fuel?”
“Finally,” said Rasch.
“So, what’s next? Gelting Bay?” asked Ziggy.
Rasch nodded. “We should be there by morning. Then it’s just a question of waiting for our passengers to arrive. We’ve told them that if they’re not there tomorrow at six, we’re heading out without them.”
“Did they say where they’re going?”
Rasch shook his head. “I told them our one condition is a little stopover in Copenhagen. Intel reports there’s a nice fat British cruiser in the harbor, along with escorts and auxiliaries, all just asking to get sunk.” Rasch gave a wicked smile. “You know I’ve got room if you want to come along. I hear you’re good luck. What do you say, Herr Korvettenkapitän?”
Ziggy noticed some men stepping off the tugboat onto the dock and realized they were in SS battle dress. “What are they doing here?” he asked. “I thought you weren’t picking them up till tomorrow.”
Rasch turned to look at them, then raised his hand and gave them a wave. “Oh them?” he said. “They’re just the advance team. They’ll do the run with us and do the signals with the men on the beach. They’re all right.”
Ziggy stared at Rasch. The man was an innocent. He hadn’t a clue about what he’d gotten himself and his men into. U-Boatmen didn’t know the first thing about conspiracy or double-dealing. To Rasch, pirate or not, a man was as good as his word. Ziggy looked back at the SS men staring hard at him and knew he had to act.
“Kapitänleutnant Rasch,” he said coldly. “I must inform you that you are under arrest.”
Rasch looked confused. “You’re joking,” he said.
Ziggy fixed him with his eyes. “I’m not. You’re under arrest for insurrection.”
Rasch’s face turned scarlet. “Insurrection? I don’t believe this! This is all bullshit,” he snarled. “You set me up.”
The SS men could see that something was going on. One was reaching into his pocket.
Behind Ziggy, his men swung their rifles in their direction. The SS men froze.
“Shut up, Rasch!” barked Ziggy, taking out his pistol. “All right everyone, listen up!” he shouted. “You’re all under arrest for violation of the surrender agreement. Everyone put down your weapons on the deck and form ranks. Now!”
Ziggy half turned to his men standing behind him. “Petty officer, put the cuffs on him. Rasch put your hands out.”
“You’re crazy,” said Rasch. “We’ve got you twenty to one.”
“I said put your hands out, Rasch,” barked Ziggy. He looked at Rasch’s men. “I
gave an order. Put down your weapons and form ranks!” He turned to his men, who
stood wide-eyed behind him. “Get the cuffs on him, now!” he told the petty
officer. Then he motioned to the other. “Any of these SS birds move the wrong
way, shoot to kill.”
Nervously, the petty officer stepped forward, holding the handcuffs while the other kept his rifle at the two SS men. “Take your hands out of your pockets and drop your weapons,” he shouted. But the SS men didn’t move. Neither did Rasch.
“Listen to me, Rasch, it's over,” said Ziggy. “Even if they don’t hang you, do you
really want to spend the rest of your life as an outlaw?”
Rasch glared back at Ziggy. But then his expression turned from defiance to angry resignation. He held out his hands and looked away as the petty officer snapped the handcuffs around his wrists.
“What the hell is going on?” shouted one of the SS men. “I can’t believe you’re going to let this prick tell you what to do. We’ve already paid you.”
“Raise your hands or I’ll shoot,” said the sailor with the rifle.
Slowly they put up their hands. “I don’t believe this,” one said.
“Petty officer, remove their weapons,” said Ziggy. He waited as the two sailors disarmed the SS men. Then he turned to Rasch’s men. “Prepare the boats for scuttling.”
Everybody looked at him in surprise. Rasch was livid. “What are you talking about, Loerber? This is a dirty trick.”
“You heard me,” said Ziggy.
“But you know scuttling has been forbidden.”
“Do you think I’m going to let you sail out of here to rescue Himmler and attack the British fleet?”
“Whose side are you on anyway?” frowned Rasch.
“Rasch, the war is over.”
“Jesus, you call this peacetime, Loerber?”
Ziggy stared at the handcuffed man in front of him and wondered how it had ever come to this. Having to handcuff a fellow officer to prevent him from turning gangster. “Rasch, we have our orders. We have to obey them, remember?”
“These are not the orders the Fuhrer gave us,” said Rasch.
“Rasch, the Fuhrer is dead. The Grand Admiral is in charge now and he says it’s over.”
“Oh come on, Loerber, you don’t really think the Old Man wants us to do that, do you?” Rasch shook his chains with exasperation. “Goddamn it, man! Half the British fleet is up there. You’re going to make us pass up an opportunity like that?”
“Rasch, for heaven’s sake,” said Ziggy under his breath, “I’m doing this to keep you guys from getting murdered.”
Rasch looked back at Ziggy and for the first time, it seemed like something was starting to sink into his thick skull.
“Captain Rasch, what do you want us to do?” one of the men called out.
“Do as he says,” Rasch told them sullenly. “Kirschbaum, Meyer, Stahlmann, get to it.”
“What about scuttling charges?”
“No charges,” said Ziggy. “Remove all lines, open sea cocks, leave the hatches open. How deep is the water?”
“Twenty feet, sir.”
“Fine. Then the British can recover them if they want them that much.”
The three sailors set to work, untying the subs from each other, then climbing
inside each boat’s conning tower hatch to turn open the sea cocks. As soon as
they were finished with one, they hopped off its deck, while others used long
poles to push the boats away from the dock. For the longest time, it seemed
like nothing was happening. Ziggy watched nervously as the sailors moved from
one sub to the next, and it occurred to him that they might only be pretending
to be following his orders. Why wouldn’t they? They were being paid in gold.
How could obedience to orders stand up against that?
But then suddenly the first boat pitched forward and plunged into the dark water. A minute later another leaned over and sank.
Then he heard frantic shouting behind them. Ziggy looked down the pier and saw Sebastian and Cremer running up toward them. “Stop it! Stop it! What are you doing?” they shouted.
Sebastian grabbed Ziggy by the arm. “Make them stop!”
“Sorry,” said Ziggy.
“But Zigmund, this is madness.” Then Sebastian turned to Rasch’s men. “Everybody stop what you’re doing. Don’t let any more of those submarines sink. Save them! There’s gold in it for you!”
“Loerber, what do you think you’re doing?” shouted Cremer.
“Peter, I’m not going to risk our men in this operation.” He looked over at Sebastian. “He killed Luth. His guys will kill us just as easily.”
Sebastian looked shocked. “I can’t believe you’d say that!”
“Is this true?”
“Zigmund, how could you do this to me?”
“Will someone tell me what the hell is going on?” asked Rasch.
“You men!” shouted Sebastian. “Stop what you’re doing! Save the boats! I’ve got gold for you!” he pulled a small, shiny yellow ingot out of his pocket. “See?”
Rasch’s men stopped what they were doing and looked at each other.
“Don’t listen to him!” shouted Ziggy. “You have your orders. Carry them out!”
“Close the sea cocks, switch on the pumps!” shouted Sebastian.
“No! Don’t listen to him!”
The confused men stared at Sebastian and then at Ziggy. Suddenly their faces lit up with recognition. “Who is that guy?” one asked.
“He looks exactly like Captain Loerber! Is it his brother?”
“He just called him Sebastian ... Sebastian Loerber?”
The men looked at each other in amazement. “Does that mean Captain Loerber is...?”
“The Flying Magical Loerber Brothers!”
“Oh my God! Does that mean ...?”
“Sebastian Loerber is alive!”
“Sebastian Loerber is alive!”
“This is unbelievable!”
“What the hell is going on, Loerber?” asked Rasch. “Who is this guy? Is he your brother?”
“He’s the one running this operation,” said Ziggy. “Blood of Israel, pretending to be SS, pretending to be Blood of Israel, pretending to be SS, I’m sure he doesn’t even know.”
“Ziggy, you’re talking crazy,” shouted Sebastian. “Of course we’re not SS.”
Another sub dipped its bow and disappeared into the water.
“Ziggy, make them stop!” pleaded Sebastian. “I’ll explain it to you, I promise.”
“It’s too late, Sebastian,” said Ziggy.
“You’re going to let the biggest murderers in history get away, just so you can keep your goddamn self-righteous...”
“No, I’m not risking our men on any more of you harebrained...”
“Zigmund, we have to take the risk,” shouted Sebastian. “It’s for our people!”
“What’s he talking about?” asked one of the SS men.
“I have no idea,” said Rasch. “Loerber, what is going on?”
“It’s the family, isn’t it, Zigmund?” said Sebastian. “That’s the real reason you’re doing this!”
“Loerber, what are you doing?” shouted Cremer. “Stop the scuttling immediately!”
“It’s the Grand Admiral’s orders,” said one of Rasch’s men.
“Belay that. Loerber, did the Old Man tell you this?”
“Peter, I can’t explain this right now, you have to trust me.”
For a moment Cremer stood staring at Ziggy in confusion. But then Sebastian stepped in, swift and seamless as a breeze, sidling up next to Cremer, a pistol jammed hard against his neck.
“Zigmund, in the name of justice, you have to stop thinking like the rules still matter.
Look around you! Don’t you see it’s all gone out the window?”
(An excerpt from Germania, published in 2008 by Simon & Schuster, now also available on Kindle here).