February 26, 2016
29 November 1939 marked the demise of U-Boat U-35, barely three years old. It had been the "bad luck boat" of the Saltzwedel flotilla due to several prewar accidents: rammed by a freighter in 1937; nearly sunk in 1938 by a propeller of the battleship ADMIRAL GRAF SPEE; struck by an airplane in 1939. However, it had a successful prewar career as well: the first U-Boat patrol (together with U-28) into the Atlantic (to Ponta Delgada in the Azores); several patrols to Spain, Ceuta, Gibraltar and Morocco. Due to the accidental death of the commander, the famous Otto Kretschmer was given his first U-Boat command on U-35.
During the war, U-35 was at first quite lucky. Most notable is the story of a single depth charge that almost left the U-Boat incapacitated on the seabed at a depth of 115 meters. It had also taken the 28-man crew of the Greek steamer DIAMANTIS on board for more than a day, landing them on the Irish coast. This violation of Irish neutrality resulted in international headlines, including the cover of LIFE Magazine.
On 29 November 1939, its luck ran out. U-35 was spotted on the surface by the British destroyer HMS ICARUS, which feigned a three-hour hunt due to its malfunctioning ASDIC (sonar). The destroyers HMS KINGSTON and HMS KASHMIR were directed to the hunt by the commander of the destroyer flotilla, Lord Louis Mountbatten. Depth charges quickly forced U-35 to surface and scuttle. "Abandon Ship!" was ordered by the commander, and the Chief Engineer scuttled the U-Boat. Several of the crew cheered "U-35 Hurrah, Hurrah, Hurrah!" as the U-Boat slipped below the surface of the ice-cold North Sea for the last time. The entire crew was rescued.
The U-35 crew was now on the receiving end of the type of chivalry bestowed on the Greeks, as the crewmembers spent the next seven years as Prisoners-of-War. First stop was the Tower of London, where Lord Mountbatten came to visit. The following years as POWs in Canada were marked by escape attempts, marriages by proxy, and even a prisoner exchange.
After repatriation to Germany, three crewmembers emigrated to Canada; another stayed in Scotland. The story of U-35 continued, with yearly reunions in Germany and correspondence with Lord Mountbatten until his assassination by the IRA in 1979. In 1986, due to Norwegian oil exploration, the wreck of U-35 was discovered at a depth of 190 meters and filmed by a remotely-operated vehicle.
In 2001, two crewmembers were again "interrogated" in the Tower of London – this time for a documentary about the history of the Tower. In 2009, a monument was erected in Ireland to commemorate the DIAMANTIS incident. A website and a book under development keep the story alive.
Now only crewmember Willi Jacob survives at the age of 98.
Hans U. Mair is a JHU/APL analyst and engineer in NSAD since 2009. When asked about his middle initial, he may reply “U-35” ...