War Mystery Solved

Taken from the Western Morning News, 22 December 2006.

Divers have uncovered the wrecks of three Second World War German U-boats off the Cornish coast, which have shed light on a British operation that has remained secret for more than 60 years.

Historians were amazed at the discovery of the catastrophically damaged U-boats which are lying in close proximity to each other seven miles off Newquay, because no U-boats had ever been recorded being lost there previously.

After extensive research it was revealed they had been the victims of a secret minefield laid especially to trap such vessels after the British intercepted a radio message from a U-boat commander.  His boat had sunk a British destroyer after discovering a gap in the minefield between Cornwall and Ireland to allow supply ships in to Cardiff and Bristol.

He radioed the news back to Germany, but the message was deciphered by British intelligence at Bletchley Park.  As a result the British laid deep mines designed to allow surface ships through but trap U-boats.

Historians were unaware of the secret U-boat death trap until the Government de-classified wartime documents recently.  And now the discovery of the three wrecked U-boats off Cornwall has shown just how successful it was.

Naval historian Eric Grove said the fate of the U-325, U-400, and U-1021, which disappeared in late 1944 and early 1945 was revealing.

"This shows the deep trap minefield was far more successful in killing U-boats than first thought," he said.  "It was only recently the Government revealed the existence of this deep water minefield and the presence of these wrecked U-boats shows how effective it was.  The U-boat crews were under orders to patrol coastal waters hunting Allied shipping at the end of the war because the Atlantic campaign was over.  Admiralty records show two of the three U-boats in question were thought to have been sunk by depth charge in the Bristol Channel.  This new research shows that was wrong and they actually struck mines off Cornwall."

Diver Innes McCartney was the main submarine investigator who, with German expert Axel Niestle, identified these submarines and the reasons why they sank.  He said the crew of the U-boats would have had no chance of survival when their submarine hit the mine.

"Minefields were fatal to a submarine," he said.  "A surface ship could survive a mine but U-boats had no chance of recovery if a mine exploded.  The crew were doomed.  When we dived on these U-boats we saw the whole bow had been blown off which is where the crew would have been quartered.  The inner pressure hulls of the U-boats were still relatively intact, though the outer hulls were decaying.  We could still see the sea boots of crew members sticking out, which was rather eerie."

Mr McCartney, an experienced submarine wreck diver, said the significance of the find really came home when he traced the 82-year-old widow of one of the U-boat commanders in Germany.

"She went through the whole gamut of emotions," he said. "They had been childhood sweethearts, married and had children - and then he just disappeared.  It was very difficult for her because his fate was a mystery. So to finally discover his whereabouts was very emotional."

Starshell, Volume VII, Number 37, Winter 2006/2007 (National Publication of The Naval Officers Association of Canada) reports:

"U325 - Originally credited to HMS Havelock, Hesperus and RAF Sqn. 201 on April 30, 1945, but they sank U242, then listed (in 1984) as 'unknown'.  Now discovered, just west of the swept channel northwest of Padstow, definitely mined, at the end of March or in early April 1945.

"U400 - Originally credited to the depth charges of HMS Nyasaland, a Colony-class frigate, on December 17, 1944, off the south coast of Ireland.  Now discovered, definitely mined, in the swept channel area off Padstow, sometime in December 1944.  Nyasaland's target off south Ireland is now considered to have been U772, originally credited to Sunderland aircraft attack, but she now seems to have survived that attack and is now changed to that ship's credit off Ireland.

"U102 - Originally credited to depth charges of the Captain-class frigates HM Ships Rupert and Conn on March 30, 1945, off western Scotland. Now definitely mined in the swept channel off Padstow, probably on March 14, 1945, in that a merchantman heard a loud explosion in the area that day.  Rupert and Conn's target is now considered to have been U965, last as described off Scotland's Western Isles and sunk by Conn, quite correctly.  U1021 was not the target."

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