Was U-352 the Worst U-Boat of World War II?

THROUGHOUT NAZI GERMANY, the exploits of U-boat commanders and their crewmen have been glorified in the course of the early years of the Battle of the Atlantic. U-boatmen have been hailed as heroes; U-boat commanders turned legendary figures draped with Iron Crosses. And the successes of this “Blissful Time”—because the Germans referred to as the interval from January to July 1942, when U-boats obliterated Allied transport alongside the U.S. East Coast—propelled the need of future U-boat commanders to achieve the identical excessive degree of feat. U-352’s commander, Hellmut Rathke, was no exception.

By all accounts, although, U-352 was primarily a failure. U-352 didn’t sink any ships. U-352 didn’t account for any Allied tonnage loss. None of U-352’s torpedoes hit their meant targets. U-352 gained no notoriety—aside from being the primary U-boat the U.S. Coast Guard sank in World Conflict II after Rathke ordered a brazen assault in broad daylight.

Regardless of the most recent in U-boat design and marine engineering, and regardless of all of the technological advances made to the predators of the deep, avarice and errant human decision-making on this case in the end proved to be the extra damaging weapon.

U-352 was a state-of-the-art Kind VIIC like this vessel, rising from the shipbuilding facility at Kiel, Germany—additionally a big U-boat base. (Nationwide Archives)

underwater risk

THE EVOLUTION of World Conflict II U-boat design was rooted within the successes of earlier fashions from the Nice Conflict, when Germans had perfected strategies of submarine warfare that have been a considerable risk to Nice Britain. Now Nazi Germany required a ship with a simpler vary to succeed in American shores. Nazi Germany wanted an environment friendly and proficient killing machine. Enter the Kind VII U-boat.

Previous to 1940, a Kind VII U-boat variant first launched in 1938—the Kind VIIB—dominated the ocean. This newest in U-boat design and engineering was a marvel: the introduction of a second rudder gave it an improved turning radius and a repositioned aft torpedo tube allowed it to hold a better variety of torpedoes. These attributes, when mixed with an prolonged vary, elevated pace, and extra expeditious dive time, made for a formidable variant—one vastly superior to earlier U-boat designs.

The enhancements saved coming. The appearance of a type of energetic sonar—the Sondergerät Für Energetic Schallortung or S-Gerät—allowed for the detection of each ships and mines. However its set up required 24 inches of area not obtainable within the Kind VIIB. Consequently, a brand new German U-boat was launched in 1940: the Kind VIIC.

In an engineered setting the place each sq. inch of area has objective, fractions of inches matter. To be able to create the area the S-Gerät required, German engineers needed to design and fabricate a brand new hull part, set up extra framing, enlarge the conning tower, lengthen the gasoline tanks, lengthen the saddle tanks, and set up a brand new filter system all through the U-boat. Fairly an engineering enterprise for an extra—albeit vital—two ft of area.

The Kind VIIC went on to turn out to be essentially the most produced U-boat all through the warfare and the workhorse of the U-boat fleet. Kind VIICs unleashed vicious assaults within the North Atlantic and ravaged Allied transport. The importance of this effort shouldn’t be underestimated. In January 1942, when U-boats first arrived alongside the American shores, a British Admiralty Report succinctly declared: “Though we will not win the warfare by defeating U-boats, we will assuredly lose the warfare if we don’t defeat them.” Either side knew the stakes. Success within the North Atlantic—by chopping off warfare provides to Britain from the West and thereby placing a stranglehold on the British—meant Germany had an opportunity to win the warfare. The lack of hundreds of Allied sailors and troopers, the destruction of lots of of hundreds of tonnage, and important injury to the American psyche have been largely the work of the Kind VIIC silent hunter-killers.

Kind VIIC U-boats have been constructed at 15 shipyards all through Germany. Flensburg, Germany’s largest northernmost metropolis, with a seafaring historical past courting again to the 1500s, was dwelling to the fabled shipbuilder Flensburger Schiffbau-Gesellschaft (FSG). It was right here that 28 U-boats have been constructed for the Kriegsmarine, together with 20 Kind VIICs. Located near the Danish border on the excessive west of the Flensburg Fjord, the shipbuilder had easy accessibility to the Baltic Sea. U-352, the second Kind VIIC U-boat FSG constructed, was launched on Might 7, 1941.

U-352’s new crew had been ordered to Flensburg that month, previous to launching, and lived on the U-boat whereas remaining building and outfitting have been accomplished. The extra 24 inches of size however, lodging aboard U-352 have been cramped: a complement of 46 crewmen—three officers, one midshipman, 18 petty officers, and 24 seamen—would make U-352 dwelling.

harsh however loyal nazi commander

CHOSEN TO LEAD U-352’s new crew was 31-year-old Kapitanleutnant Hellmut Rathke, a Flensburg resident. Rathke was an fascinating selection as commander since he had solely six years of naval expertise—none of which was beneath the floor and none of which concerned submarines. Clearly, the graduate of the naval class of 1930 was not chosen for his submarine acumen—however he might have been chosen as a result of he was a strict disciplinarian. His strategies have been efficient. The U.S. Workplace of Naval Intelligence (ONI) later reported that Rathke “inflicted a martinet’s self-discipline” on his males. Such measures might have been seen as vital, as 13 of U-352’s crew members have been youthful than 21, which ONI characterised as “excessive youth.”

U-352’s captain, Hellmut Rathke (above), had no expertise with subs however was an ardent Nazi and a strict disciplinarian. A crewman reported that he was additionally decided to earn a Knight’s Cross (beneath)—a high German army award. (Uboat.internet)

On high of that, Rathke was an ardent Nazi. A declassified ONI doc famous that “[Rathke] professes unqualified admiration for Hitler and Nationwide Socialism.” He thought of Hitler educated in all facets of life, calling the Führer “a genius in every thing,” not simply army issues, and a pacesetter who “unified all of the German peoples in Europe.”

Throughout the remaining phases of building, Rathke was usually seen on the Flensburg shipyard in a wheelchair; he had been injured in a snowboarding accident someday earlier than taking command of the U-boat. Nonetheless, Rathke had the respect of his males—or, at a minimal, instilled worry in them. He even punished one among his sailors for getting drunk whereas on go away by canceling the remaining go away and detaining him onboard U-352. When building was full, U-352 headed to the U-boat base at Kiel, Germany, for 5 weeks of sea trials, culminating within the boat’s commissioning on August 28, 1941. Afterward it made stops in Danzig and Flensburg for tactical sorties and minor repairs, then returned to Kiel for provisions that included 14 torpedoes and hundreds of rounds of ammunition for the 88mm deck gun and 20mm antiaircraft gun. U-352 was prepared for warfare.

itching for motion

ON JANUARY 15, 1942, U-352 departed Kiel. The mission for the U-boat’s first patrol was easy, if not broad: disrupt Allied transport off the southern coast of Iceland, the place British, American, and Canadian troops held a presence to discourage a German invasion. Icelandic waters have been vital for troop transport and the ferrying of army items and gasoline. Rathke and his males have been excited to do their half for the Fatherland by persevering with the destruction of Allied vessels by these within the U-boat drive who had come earlier than.

Rathke had larger aspirations nonetheless. Heinz Karl Richter, a fireman aboard U-352 who served beneath Rathke, stated in a postwar interview that Rathke was “obsessive about receiving a Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross.” It was the epitome of Germany’s Iron Cross awards and, together with its a number of variants, the very best award in Germany—issued to U-boat commanders for sinking 100,000 tons of enemy ships.

However their first three weeks at sea handed with no motion. The crew should have had a extreme case of langweiligkeit—boredom—when a service provider vessel lastly appeared on the horizon. A spark of vitality pulsed by means of the U-boat as the lads aboard raced to their battle stations. U-352’s second had arrived. Simply because the crew ready to fireplace on the unsuspecting vessel, nonetheless, 4 British escort corvettes—small warships—appeared. U-352 had been noticed, and was pressured to desert the assault and instantly descend.

The British convoy escorts dropped depth expenses and, in accordance with intelligence experiences, a crewman aboard U-352 remembered “some very respectable explosions.” None, nonetheless, brought on any injury. U-352 slunk away into the darkness and lived to battle one other day.

For the following two weeks, the U-boat patrolled Icelandic waters with out sighting one other vessel. Low on gasoline and filled with torpedoes, it began a return course to the U-boat base at Saint-Nazaire, France. Whereas en route, the submarine noticed a distant enemy destroyer. Rathke fired a fan of 4 torpedoes. All 4 missed.

But, regardless of a failed first warfare patrol, three sailors aboard U-352 have been awarded the Iron Cross 2nd Class—Rathke included—once they reached their new dwelling port on February 26, 1942. It isn’t recognized particularly why Rathke or his males—seemingly the 2 different officers—have been recipients. The award was given out comparatively freely, much more in order the warfare progressed. It might have been meant as a motivator, slightly than in recognition of a job properly achieved. And within the case of U-352, there would have been good cause to inspire the crew.

Nazi Germany was asking the 46 males aboard U-352 to return to sea after an unsuccessful mission. This time, U-352 was going to go a lot farther than Iceland: U-352 was going to go to America’s shore. If Rathke had felt the strain to earn an Iron Cross previous to the primary warfare cruise, now that he had primarily been given one, the strain absolutely mounted to show he deserved it. After an engine overhaul in St. Nazaire, U-352 was prepared for its second warfare patrol.

The U-boat departed the pens at St. Nazaire on April 7, 1942, for the three-week trek throughout the Atlantic. It was ordered to patrol off Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, in waters known as the Diamond Shoals. These wealthy looking grounds had already been dubbed “Torpedo Alley” by the Allied forces. Certainly a U-boat captain may discover a kill in these bountiful waters.

On the lengthy cruise to Carolina, the lads have been permitted to sunbathe on deck. The tight, cramped quarters of almost 50 males was stifling; any consumption of recent air was welcome. In accordance with ONI paperwork, the U-352 crew loved meals composed of “meat, potatoes, canned greens, and fruit.” A provide of gin was saved onboard as properly.

U-352 arrived at Diamond Shoals on Might 2, 1942. There, the People offered U-352 with a not-so-warm welcome. The lads aboard had been listening to American jazz radio applications when the U-boat needed to crash dive to keep away from bombing by a twin- engine plane flying coastal surveillance. Three days later, a U.S. Military Air Forces airplane noticed U-352 and dropped two bombs. Though the pilot claimed a kill, U-352 escaped with no injury. Nevertheless, U-352’s luck was about to expire.

Between the bombings and crash dives to keep away from the coastal convoy protections now in place in American waters, U-352 noticed quite a few Allied vessels. Within the days instantly after arriving close to the American shore, the U-boat fired eight torpedoes at varied Allied vessels. All eight missed.

reckless daylight assault

ON MAY 8, 1942, at 9 a.m., the U.S. Coast Guard Thetis-class cutter Icarus was ordered from Staten Island, New York, to Key West, Florida, to escort ships alongside the Japanese Sea Frontier—the U.S. Navy operational command that prolonged from Canada to Florida. Initially constructed as a Prohibition enforcement vessel for chasing rumrunners, Icarus was properly suited to its new duties defending Allied ships in coastal convoys. Armament aboard Icarus included depth-charge racks, .30- and .50-caliber machine weapons, and a big, three-inch deck gun.

By the following day, Icarus was transiting off North Carolina. The journey to this point had confirmed uneventful moreover the commonly scheduled zig-zag sample steering actions. With the captain retired to his quarters, there was no signal that Icarus would quickly make historical past. The cutter was cruising at 14 knots. In accordance with U.S. Coast Guard data: “The ocean was calm. There was a slight swell. Visibility was about 9 miles.”

At about 4:25 p.m., Icarus’s sonar operator reported a “slightly mushy” contact off the port bow. Though it was an indefinite contact, he made the clever selection to trace it nonetheless, and Icarus’s government officer summoned its commanding officer, Lieutenant Maurice D. Jester, to the bridge.

At about the identical time, aboard U-352, Rathke sighted the silhouette of a lonely ship on the horizon some 1,900 yards away. Rathke should have been determined for a win. He seemed by means of the assault periscope, shortly ordered everybody to battle stations, and fired a single torpedo. However he didn’t hearth on an unsuspecting cargo ship; he fired on a totally armed U.S. Coast Guard vessel whereas in shallow water, which restricted the U-boat’s capacity to cover—in broad daylight. The torpedo exploded 200 yards off Icarus’s port quarter. And the hunter shortly turned the hunted.

In a lethal sport of cat-and-mouse, Rathke—considering he was in even shallower water than he really was and, thus, in a nonetheless extra determined place—ordered U-352 to cover in Icarus’s wake to masks the U-boat’s propeller noise. However the males aboard Icarus proved the more adept hunters. Icarus dropped 5 depth expenses. Aboard the U-boat, a radioman shouted: “Achtung! Wasserbomben!” U-352 shook violently as Icarus unleashed hell from above. U-352’s government officer was killed. Its assault periscope was destroyed. Gauges exploded. Crockery shattered. The lads inside have been tossed round like dolls.

Icarus dropped three extra depth expenses. Massive air bubbles rose to the floor; U-352’s propulsion and electrical methods have been destroyed. The U-boat was crippled—actually lifeless within the water.

Rathke, who knew his U-boat was broken so severely that escape in it was not possible, ordered the crew to don lifejackets and respiratory apparatuses. He then ordered the saddle tanks on the aspect of the vessel to be crammed with air so the submarine may rise, and gave the order to desert ship.


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Like a whale breaching the floor, U-352 abruptly appeared from the deep. Rathke shouted for all males to go away the U-boat. As the lads poured into the ocean, Icarus’s three-inch deck gun blanketed the conning tower and perforated the metal hull with piercing rounds, and its machine weapons got here to life, additionally raking the conning tower. The continual hearth was so intense that the U-boatmen didn’t make the most of any of U-352’s weapons.

The U-boat remained on the floor for 5 minutes earlier than descending into the blue abyss. Fireman Heinz Karl Richter insisted it was Rathke’s obsession with getting a Knight’s Cross that “led to recklessness, in the end ensuing within the U-boat’s sinking.”

Icarus circled the spot and, for good measure, dropped an extra depth cost to make sure the U-boat wouldn’t hunt once more. Thirty-three males from U-352 had made it out earlier than the sinking, however 13 sailors went down with it. The lads who escaped, Rathke amongst them, swam away from the stricken sub as shortly as they may. As they floated on the floor like flotsam awaiting their destiny, the commander shouted out one final order—telling them to not give the People any data of army worth. The scenario was particularly dire for 4 wounded males, together with Machinist Mate Gerd Reussel, whose leg had been severed by gunfire from the Icarus. Whereas within the water, Rathke eliminated his personal belt and made an impromptu tourniquet round Reussel’s stump.

Icarus was ordered to choose up all survivors and transport them to the naval shipyard at Charleston, South Carolina. The wounded males have been introduced aboard first; Reussel died 4 hours later, and the U.S. Coast Guard went on to deal with him with dignity, burying him with full army honors at Beaufort Nationwide Cemetery in South Carolina, some 70 miles farther south.

Icarus slides into the port at Charleston, South Carolina, with a particular cargo: the survivors of the sunken U-352. Under: two U.S. Navy officers and a British officer query Rathke (in shorts) and an government officer in Charleston’s navy yard. There’s no misreading Rathke’s expression. (Nationwide Archives)
(Nationwide Archives)

Now prisoners of warfare, the lads of U-352 have been photographed, fingerprinted, and interrogated. However the Coast Guard didn’t separate Rathke from his males as soon as aboard Icarus, as would have been the norm—probably as a result of all this was a primary for them: their first sunken U-boat of the warfare and first time taking prisoners. That allowed Rathke to be, in accordance with a later U.S. Workplace of Naval Intelligence report, “twice in a position to lecture his males.” He repeated the orders he gave whereas within the water—to not reveal any data to the People. And he made it abundantly clear it will be disrespectful to their fallen brethren if anybody spoke to their interrogators.

Rathke might not have been tactically sound, however he was safety aware. And it paid off: a report issued by the U.S. Atlantic Fleet Anti-Submarine Warfare Unit dated Might 18, 1942, explicitly said: “the captives have been allowed to mingle with one another to the extent that the U-boat captain warned and instructed his crew on issues regarding safety. This undoubtedly vitiated to a big extent efforts to acquire data which could in any other case have been of utmost worth.”

After the POWs have been transferred to a detention camp at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, a particular interrogation unit composed of American and British officers had their flip with the lads. However, once more, they divulged no data of significance. Rathke himself reported little or no. Staying true to his perception in Nazi rules, Rathke, an intelligence report famous, “refused to imagine that Germans inflicted outrages upon Poland and Poles.”

U.S. Coastguardsman Steve M. Kalata shows a lifejacket and swastika taken from their catch—the primary U-boat of the warfare sunk by the Coast Guard. (Nationwide Archives)

The survivors from U-352 would now sit out the remainder of the warfare on land, Rathke included. They have been transferred to a number of camps all through the US earlier than reaching their everlasting POW camp in Papago Park, Arizona, which held an abundance of U-boat prisoners.

There, Rathke maintained his iron fist and inflexible self-discipline over his males. In accordance with ONI reporting, he disciplined seamen for mundane issues equivalent to failure “to police toilet” and listening to a “distant dialog at officers desk.” Even the prepare dinner caught the wrath of Rathke, and was confined to his quarters for 3 days for permitting “bread leavings to be thrown into the drain.” On the finish of the warfare, Rathke returned to Flensburg; he lived there till his demise in 2001.

Following Rathke, U-352 prisoners present self-discipline as they march into Fort Bragg. For his or her captain—getting his mug shot, beneath—the warfare’s end result was far completely different from what he had hoped for. (Nationwide Archives)
(Nationwide Archives)

from feared warship to vacationer sight

U-352 TODAY REMAINS on the backside of the Atlantic at a depth of 110 ft, and is likely one of the hottest sport dives alongside the U.S. East Coast. I’ve dived the sunken submarine a number of instances over the previous twenty years, and it’s all the time a haunting sight. As I descend into historical past by means of the blue water, sporting greater than 100 kilos of dive gear, the hazy define of the conning tower—itemizing sharply to starboard—comes into view from about 40 ft above the wreck. U-352 is remarkably intact for having sustained a number of depth expenses, with most of its deterioration on account of almost 80 years spent in salt water. Pockets of the U-boat’s outer pores and skin have withered away, exposing skeletal stays of the metal ribs and frames that strengthened the strain hull— the round watertight compartment through which submariners dwell and work. Having peered by means of a number of of the U-boat’s open hatches, I can attest to the claustrophobia and confines of the metal coffin through which, on account of Rathke’s deadly error, 13 males are eternally entombed. ✯

The sunken U-boat—off the North Carolina coast—is each a well-liked dive web site and a warfare grave for 13 males. (Tanya Griffin Houppermans)

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