Lost U-boats still out there

A U-boat of this type, listed for decades as being sunk off Gibraltar, was found on the sea bottom about 60 miles off the coast of New Jersey in 1991.

According to the definitive website Uboat.org, a total of 50 German U-boats remained unaccounted for after the end of World War II.

U.S. Navy officials have steadfastly held that unless an official German report of a U-boat engaging a blimp turns up, or the wreckage of a sub is found off Mount Desert Island, there is no reason to reopen the inquiry into speculation it was enemy action that caused blimp K-14 to crash into the sea east of Mount Desert Rock in July of 1944.

However, as those pushing for the case to be reopened point out, the history of what happened in World War II is constantly being rewritten as more information comes to light.

And when it comes to whether the U.S. Navy or German Navy records have the last word on what happened, critics point to the case of U-869, dubbed “U-who,” discovered 60 miles off the coast of New Jersey in 1991.

It took six years and numerous dives on the site, including missions that resulted in the deaths of three divers, before the wreck was positively identified.

The discovery was all the more remarkable in that U.S. Navy records showed the sub being sunk by a destroyer off the coast of Gibraltar on the far side of the Atlantic Ocean in February of 1945.

While German Navy documents are detailed in their descriptions of where submarines went, the technology of the day did not make it easy for commanders to track where their subs were. Radio communications were brief, and usually done in bursts to avoid detection. Most records of activities come from logs kept on the ship and brought ashore when the U-boats returned to base.

“If they didn’t make it back the admirals usually had no idea where they were,” points out K-14 airship accident expert Fred Morin of Massachusetts.

According to U-boat.net, some 1,154 U-boats were in operation during the war. A total of 450 were lost to Allied action or accidents.

Of the 50 boats that were unaccounted for, paperwork reveals the areas they were officially assigned to but there is no way to know if they ever reached those areas or went elsewhere later. And, as Mr. Morin points out, no records of “off the books” secret missions have been found.

“They [Germans] may have kept records but I doubt they wrote everything down or that all the records have been found,” he said.

Earl Brechlin

Editor at Mount Desert Islander
Former Islander editor Earl Brechlin first discovered Mount Desert Island 35 years ago and never left. The author of seven guide and casual history books, he is a Registered Maine Guide and has served as president of the Maine and New England Press Associations. He and his wife live in Bar Harbor.

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