Sunday, August 18, 2013

The Crew of U-2511 Learns of Hitler's Death, and Carries on.

One of  the big, downright exasperating "What-ifs?" associated with the final days of the Third Reich center around the "miracle weapons," specifically Type XXI Uboats and whether they might have reversed the course of the war in Hitler's favor. The short answer is of course, "NO!"  Had they actually become operational at the beginning of May, 1945, as they were about to do, it's doubtful they could have even lengthened the war to any real extent. Of course, if they'd been ready to go six months earlier, it might have been a somewhat different story.

The Type XXI U-boat was a truly revolutionary vessel.  As the fans never tire of saying, it was a true submarine, unlike the earlier U-boats which were, by comparison, surface ships with a very limited capability to operate submerged.  The Type XXI and Type XXIIIs could operate underwater at very high speeds thanks to their revolutionary propulsion systems.  The Type XXI used a hydrogen peroxide Ingolin turbine while the XXIII used a battery system.

The U-2511 was the only Type XXI to briefly go operational following completion of its shakedown trials. It was about to put a torpedo into a British heavy cruiser when the order came to cease offensive operations.

Below is an excerpt from a deleted chapter from my novel Germania:

Until that moment, the way everything had gone, it might as well have been the happiest day in Adalbert Schnee’s life. To begin with, the U-2511’s sea trials had all been going so extremely well, that in another three days the testing would be completed and then they’d be free to go hunting for whatever came their way. And today something did come their way. As they were going through some tests off the Norwegian coast, the sonar room started picking up multiple propeller sounds: They went to check it out and found it was a big fat British crusier escorted by three destroyers.

At first Schnee followed them from a distance. But after shadowing them for about an hour, he grew bolder, ordered full speed ahead and made straight for them, rushing up through the cruiser’s wake, bringing himself directly underneath its keel, only to turn hard-a-port and make a play attack on one of the destroyers, after which he turned hard-starboard and did the same to one of the others. Then he started running circles around them half a dozen times and twice venturing back under the cruiser’s amidships. It went on like this for most of the afternoon. He continued to play a one-sided kind of cat-and-mouse with them, one-sided since they never once had an inkling of his presence.

It was amazing! Nothing he’d ever done in his career as a U-boatman ever came close to this. Not any of the kills he’d chalked up the north Atlantic or off the American coast or easy picking he’d enjoyed in the Indian Ocean. Nothing was quite as exhilarating as repeatedly buzzing your enemy and them never knowing about it. The U-2511 was not only faster than anything in the water, even swordfish and sharks, it was also invisible.

He wished he could attack them. But the Grand Admiral had expressly forbidden any extra-curricular hunting. “Don’t go getting ahead of yourself Kapitaenluetnant!” Doenitz had warned. “Finish the testing regime first. Business first, pleasure second,” he told him, giving a little sardonic smile. So he didn’t, because that was the thing about Doenitz. He didn’t believe in any of that ‘read-between-the-lines’ stuff. He said what he meant and meant what he said.

But even if an actual attack was ruled out, he could still allow himself a couple of practice attacks, all in the name of testing, of course. And if by some chance the Englisher saw them coming and shot first, well then, that would be a slightly different situation, wouldn’t it? Just slightly. But it never happened. No matter what U-2511 did, they stayed invisible to the British. So he kept his little game up into the evening.

But then the radioman passed up a message that there would be an important announcement broadcast in two hours and that they were to tune in and listen to it. And hearing that brought Schnee suddenly back to earth and for the first time since leaving the docks at Christiansund two days earlier, he remembered what was going on back home in Germany. An important announcement? What could that be? What were the possibilities? Well, none of them were good. Berlin was still surrounded, last he heard. Had there been a rescue? Could the siege have been broken? Had something happened to the Fuehrer? Probably something had. Suddenly all the joy he’d felt was gone, replaced by a sickening feeling in his stomach. The war was being lost and whatever he thought he could make happen with his new wonder weapon probably would not change anything.

He thought about the enemy cruiser and how badly he wanted to sink it. “Up periscope!” he ordered. There was a mechanical hum as the vertical tube slid up from its well.

He grabbed the handles and peered inside the eyepiece. There it was. Big, fat, beautiful gray ship with white camouflage stripes, pushing up smoke a few miles away. He stared at it for a few seconds, but already the excitement was gone. No point in following it now. Down periscope!” he muttered, looking away angrily from the eyepiece. The periscope retracted down into its well.

“Take her down thirty meters.”

“Jawohl! Down thirty meters,” answered the helmsman and immediately the ship bowed as it began its descent. A few seconds later it leveled out. “Depth thirty meters and holding.”

“Starboard turn. Change the course to one, two, seven.”

“Starboard, new course, one, two seven, jawohl.”

“Bring the speed to six knots.”

“Jawohl, speed six knots.”

The engines began to race a little faster. He felt the ship turn starboard.

“Radio room, report.”

“They’re still playing Bruckner, sir,” came the reply.

Schnee looked at his watch. Three minutes to ten. For the last two hours they’d been playing nothing but selections from Wagner and Bruckner. Never a good sign. Oh well, no point waiting, Schnee decided. “Pipe it through!” he ordered.

The intercoms crackled to life with the dolorous strains of violins. The men looked up from their stations. It sounded bad. What was the word from Berlin? It had been two days since anyone had heard anything other than that resistance was continuing and that the Fuhrer was personally directing the city’s defense, whatever that meant.

Finally, the music stopped and an announcer voice came on. “An important announcement by Grand Admiral Karl Doenitz,” he said. There was a long roll of drums.

“The Grand Admiral? Why? Why is he speaking?” someone asked. Good question, thought Schnee. Why would it be Doenitz announcing anything? It didn’t make sense.

The drum roll stopped. Then the Grand Admiral came on.

“German men and women,” he began. “Soldiers of the German armed forces! Our Fuehrer, Adolf Hitler, has fallen. In deepest grief and respect the German people bow. He early recognized the frightful danger of Bolshevism and dedicated his being to this struggle. At the end of this, his struggle, and his unswerving direct life’s path, stands his hero’s death in the capital of the German Reich. His life was a unique service for Germany. His mission in the battle against the Bolshevist storm-flood is valid for Europe and the entire civilized world.”

“The Fuehrer has appointed me as his successor. In conciousness of the responsibility, I take over the leadership of German Volk at this fateful hour…”

Everyone in the control room exchanged incredulous looks. Doenitz appointed as successor? What was going on? Doenitz the new Fuehrer? It was crazy! Why him? Wasn’t it supposed to go to Goering or Himmler? Why Doenitz? It didn’t make any sense at all.

Schnee was as shocked as the rest of them. What could have happened? Had the others also died in the fighting? Had Goering or Himmler gone back in? Had they tried to lead a rescue? Or was it something different? But what? He had no idea how politics worked. But then neither does the old man, he reflected, thinking about Doenitz. He never had anything to do with the powers in Berlin, other than to see that the Navy got what it needed. What was he going to do now?

The Fuehrer has fallen. Besides being dead, I wonder what ‘fallen ‘means? When he thought about it, Schnee somehow suspected Hitler probably hadn’t died in street fighting. Had he killed himself? Isn’t ‘fallen’ one of those nice, empty things they say when someone kills himself?

He listened to the rest of the address, not really hearing the words. What the Grand Admiral was saying was really nothing more than solemn, comforting-sounding noises. There was no real information to be gleaned from it. Then it was over and they started playing music again. Bruckner.

“Turn it off,”Schnee ordered. The intercom speakers went silent.

“You heard it, gentlemen,” said Schnee in a loud, quarterdeck voice. “Now you know as much as I do. We will await any specific orders that may derive from this new situation. But until then, we will carry on exactly as before. That is all.”

“Engineering officer, what’s next on the list?”

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