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German submarine U-234
U-234 surrendering. Crewmen of USS Sutton in foreground
U-234 surrendering. Crewmen of Sutton (DE-771) in foreground with Kptlt. Johann-Heinrich Fehler (left-hand white cap)
Career (Nazi Germany)
Name: U-234
Ordered: 7 December 1940
Builder: Germaniawerft, Kiel
Laid down: 1 October 1941
Launched: 22 December 1943
Commissioned: 2 March 1944
Captured: Surrendered to USS Sutton (DE-771), 14 May 1945
Fate: Sunk by torpedo from USS Greenfish (SS-351) during trials, 20 November 1947
General characteristics [1]
Type: Type XB submarine
Displacement: 1,763 long tons (1,791 t) surfaced
2,177 long tons (2,212 t) submerged
Length: 89.80 m (294 ft 7 in) o/a
70.90 m (232 ft 7 in) pressure hull
Beam: 9.20 m (30 ft 2 in) o/a
4.75 m (15 ft 7 in) pressure hull
Height: 10.20 m (33 ft 6 in)
Draught: 4.71 m (15 ft 5 in)
Propulsion: 2 × diesel engines, 4,800 hp (3,600 kW)
2 × electric motors, 1,100 hp (820 kW)
Speed: 17 knots (31 km/h; 20 mph) surfaced
7 knots (13 km/h; 8.1 mph) submerged
Range: 18,450 nmi (34,170 km) at 10 kn (19 km/h) surfaced
93 nmi (172 km) at 4 kn (7.4 km/h) submerged
Test depth: Calculated crush depth: 220 m (720 ft)
Complement: 48-60 men
Sensors and
processing systems:
  • FuMO-61 Hohentwiel U
  • FuMB-26 Tunis
Service record[3][4]
Part of: 5th U-boat Flotilla
(2 March 1944–28 February 1945)
33rd U-boat Flotilla
(1 Mar 1945–8 Mar 1945)
Commanders: Kptlt. Johann-Heinrich Fehler
(2 March 1944–16 May 1945)
Operations: 16 April–19 May 1945
Victories: None

German submarine U-234 was a Type XB U-boat of the Nazi German Kriegsmarine during World War II.

Her first and only mission into enemy territory consisted of the attempted delivery of uranium oxide and German advanced weapons technology to the Empire of Japan. After learning of Germany's unconditional surrender, the submarine's crew surrendered to the United States on 14 May 1945.

Construction[edit | edit source]

Originally built as a minelaying submarine, she was laid down at the Germaniawerft yard in Kiel on 1 April 1942; U-234 was damaged during construction, but launched on 22 December 1943. Following the loss of U-233 in July 1944, it was decided not to use U-234 as a minelayer; she was completed instead as a long-range cargo submarine with missions to Japan in mind.

Sensors[edit | edit source]

Radar[edit | edit source]

U-234 was one of the few U-boats that was fitted with a FuMO-61 Hohentwiel U-Radar Transmitter. This equipment was installed on the starboard side of the conning tower.

Radar Detection[edit | edit source]

U-234 was also fitted with the FuMB-26 Tunis antenna.

Wartime service[edit | edit source]

U-234 returned to the Germaniawerft yard at Kiel on 5 September 1944, to be refitted as a transport. Apart from minor work, she had a snorkel added and 12 of her 30 mineshafts were fitted with special cargo containers the same diameter as the shafts and held in place by the mine release mechanisms. In addition, her keel was loaded with cargo, thought to be optical-grade glass and mercury, and her four upper-deck torpedo storage compartments (two on each side) were also occupied by cargo containers.[5]

Cargo[edit | edit source]

The cargo to be carried was determined by a special commission, the Marine Sonderdienst Ausland, established towards the end of 1944, at which time the submarine's officers were informed that they were to make a special voyage to Japan. When loading was completed, the submarine's officers estimated that they were carrying 240 tons of cargo plus sufficient diesel fuel and provisions for a six- to nine-month voyage.[5]

The cargo included technical drawings, examples of the newest electric torpedoes, one crated Me 262 jet aircraft, a Henschel Hs 293 glide bomb and what was listed on the US Unloading Manifest as 560 kg of uranium oxide. As evidenced by Hirschfeld and Brooks in the 1997 book Hirschfeld, Wolfgang Hirschfeld reportedly watched the loading into the boat's cylindrical mine shafts of about 50 lead cubes with nine inch (230 mm) sides, with "U-235" painted on each. According to cable messages sent from the dockyard, these containers held "U-powder". Author and historian Joseph M. Scalia, stated that he discovered a formerly secret cable at Portsmouth Navy Yard, the uranium oxide had been stored in gold-lined cylinders; this document is discussed in Hitler's Terror Weapons. The exact characteristics of the uranium remain unknown; it has been suggested by Scalia, and historians Carl Boyd and Akihiko Yoshida that it may not have been weapons-grade material and was instead intended for use as a catalyst in the production of synthetic methanol for aviation fuel.[6][7] When the cargo had been loaded, U-234 carried out additional trials near Kiel, then returned to the northern German city where her passengers came aboard.

Passengers[edit | edit source]

U-234 was carrying twelve passengers, including a German general, four German naval officers, civilian engineers and scientists and two Japanese naval officers. The German personnel included General Ulrich Kessler of the Luftwaffe, who was to take over Luftwaffe liaison duties in Tokyo; Kai Nieschling, a Naval Fleet Judge Advocate who was to rid the German diplomatic corps in Japan of the remnants of the Richard Sorge spy ring; Dr. Heinz Schlicke, a specialist in radar, infra-red, and countermeasures and director of the Naval Test Fields in Kiel (later recruited by the USA in Operation Paperclip); and August Bringewalde, who was in charge of Me 262 production at Messerschmitt.[7]

The Japanese passengers were Lieutenant Commander Hideo Tomonaga of the Imperial Japanese Navy, a naval architect and submarine designer who had come to Germany in 1943 on the Japanese submarine I-29, and Lieutenant Commander Shoji Genzo, an aircraft specialist and former naval attaché.[8]

Final voyage[edit | edit source]

U-234 sailed from Kiel for Kristiansand in Norway on the evening of 25 March 1945, accompanied by escort vessels and three Type XXIII coastal U-boats, arriving in Horten two days later. The submersible spent the next eight days carrying out trials on her snorkel, during which she accidentally collided with a Type VIIC U-boat performing similar trials. Damage to both submarines was minor, and despite a diving and fuel oil tank being holed, U-234 was able to complete her trials. She then proceeded to Kristiansand, arriving on about 5 April, where she underwent repairs and topped up her provisions and fuel.

U-234 departed Kristiansand for Japan on 15 April 1945, running submerged at snorkel depth for the first 16 days, and surfacing after that only because her commander Kapitänleutnant Johann-Heinrich Fehler, considered he was safe from attack on the surface in the prevailing severe storm. From then on, she spent two hours running on the surface by night, and the remainder of the time submerged. The voyage proceeded without incident; the first sign that world affairs were overtaking the voyage was when the German Navy's Goliath transmitter stopped transmitting, followed shortly after by the Nauen station. Fehler did not know it, but Germany's naval HQ had fallen into Allied hands.

Then, on 4 May, U-234 received a fragment of a broadcast from British and American radio stations announcing that Admiral Karl Dönitz had become Germany's head of state following the death of Adolf Hitler. U-234 surfaced on 10 May in the interests of better radio reception and received Dönitz's last order to the submarine force, ordering all U-boats to surface, hoist black flags and surrender to Allied forces. Fehler suspected a trick and managed to contact another U-boat (U-873), whose captain convinced him that the message was authentic.

At this point, Fehler was practically equidistant from British, Canadian and American ports. He decided not to continue his journey, and instead headed for the east coast of the United States. Fehler thought it likely that if they surrendered to Canadian or British forces, they would be imprisoned and it could be years before they were returned to Germany; he believed that the US, on the other hand, would probably just send them home.

Fehler consequently decided that he would surrender to US forces, but radioed on 12 May that he intended to sail to Halifax, Nova Scotia to surrender to ensure Canadian units would not reach him first. U-234 then set course for Newport News, Virginia; Fehler taking care to dispose of his Tunis radar detector, the new Kurier radio communication system, and all Enigma related documents and other classified papers. On learning that the U-boat was to surrender, the two Japanese passengers committed suicide by taking an overdose of Luminal (a barbiturate sleeping pill). They were buried at sea.[8]

Capture[edit | edit source]

The difference between Fehler's reported course to Halifax and his true course was soon realized by US authorities who dispatched two destroyers to intercept U-234. On 14 May 1945 she was encountered south of the Grand Banks, Newfoundland by the USS Sutton. Members of the Sutton's crew took command of the U-boat and sailed her to the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, where U-805, U-873, and U-1228 had already surrendered.

News of U-234's surrender with her high-ranking German passengers made it a major news event. Reporters swarmed over the Navy Yard and went to sea in a small boat for a look at the submarine. The fact that she had a half ton of uranium oxide on board was covered up and remained classified for the duration of the Cold War;[9] a classified US intelligence summary of 19 May merely listed U-234's cargo as including drawings, arms, medical supplies, instruments, lead, mercury, caffeine, steels, optical glass and brass.[10] The uranium subsequently disappeared, most likely finding its way to the Manhattan Project's Oak Ridge diffusion plant. It has been calculated that it would have yielded approximately 7.7 pounds (3.5 kg) of U-235 after processing, around 20% of what would have been required to arm a contemporary fission weapon.[11]

A torpedo from USS Greenfish sinks U-234 off Cape Cod, Massachusetts

Dr. Velma Hunt, a retired Penn State University environmental health professor, has suggested U-234 may have put into two ports between her surrender and her arrival at the Portsmouth Navy Yard: once in Newfoundland, to land an American sailor who had been accidentally shot in the buttocks, and again at Casco Bay, Maine.[12] The US Navy reportedly unloaded about 1,200 pounds (540 kg) of uranium oxide from U-234 at Portsmouth.

Fate[edit | edit source]

As she was unneeded by the US Navy, U-234 was sunk off Cape Cod as a torpedo target by the USS Greenfish (SS-351) on 20 November 1947.

Media appearances[edit | edit source]

  • The Last U-Boat (1992) directed by Frank Beyer
  • Documentary film, Hitler's Last U-Boat Directed by Andreas Gutzeit International Historical Films, Inc. (2001) ASIN B0000646UH

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. "Type XB Mine-laying boats - German U-boat Types of WWII - uboat.net". uboat.net. http://uboat.net/types/xb.htm. Retrieved 2009-12-20. 
  2. Campbell, John Naval Weapons of World War Two ISBN 0-87021-459-4 pp.248&249
  3. "The Type XB boat U-234 - German U-boats of WWII - uboat.net". www.uboat.net. http://www.uboat.net/boats/u234.htm. Retrieved 2009-12-21. 
  4. "War Patrols by German U-boat U-234 - Boats - uboat.net". www.uboat.net. http://www.uboat.net/boats/patrols/u234.html. Retrieved 2009-12-21. 
  5. 5.0 5.1 "U-234 - Interrogation Report". U-boat Archive. http://www.uboatarchive.net/U-234INT.htm. 
  6. Boyd, Carl; Akihiko Yoshida (2002). The Japanese Submarine Force and World War II. Naval Institute Press. pp. 164. ISBN 1-55750-015-0. 
  7. 7.0 7.1 Scalia, Joseph M. (2000). Germany's Last Mission to Japan: The Failed Voyage of U-234. Naval Institute Press. ISBN 1-55750-811-9. 
  8. 8.0 8.1 Hirschfeld, Wolfgang; Geoffrey Brooks (2000). The Secret Diary of a U-Boat. Cassell. ISBN 0-304-35498-8. 
  9. Wilcox, Robert K.. Japan's Secret War: Japan's Race Against Time to Build Its Own Atomic Bomb. Marlowe & Company. pp. 1995. ISBN 1-56924-815-X. 
  10. NSA/USN SRMN-037, RG 457 (quoted in Boyd & Yoshida)
  11. Samuel, Wolfgang W. E. (2004). American Raiders. Univ. Press of Mississippi. p. 115. ISBN 1-57806-649-2. 
  12. Hammond, Pat (April 30, 1995). "NAZI SUB How U-234 Brought Its Deadly Secret Cargo to New Hampshire.". New Hampshire Sunday News. http://www.ussvance.com/Vance/nazisub.htm. Retrieved 2008-07-26. 

Further reading[edit | edit source]

External links[edit | edit source]

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