Here's to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the
round pegs in the square holes... the ones who see things differently -- they're
not fond of rules... You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify
them, but the only thing you can't do is ignore them because they change
things... they push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the
crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that
they can change the world, are the ones who do.

Steve Jobs
US computer engineer & industrialist (1955 - 2011)

Thursday, April 13, 2017

The Tragic Truth About the Muskrat Falls U-Boat Wreck - U-180

It was August 20, 1944, Bordeaux, France - at the U-boat pens. The Allies had broken out from their foothold in Normandy, and the USSR had crushed the German army and began its invasion of Romania. Five days earlier the US had invaded Southern France in an operation codenamed "Anvil". The German occupation of France was at its end, and the remnants of the German forces were desperately fleeing for Germany, or in the case of the U-boats - the sea. It was under these dangerous and chaotic circumstances that the Captain of U-180 prepared to take her out to sea on his maiden mission as the U-boat's commander.

Rolf Riesen, the commander, was not a fervent Nazi, but he was a very patriotic German. He was also a family man who loved his family dearly, but saw them very rarely since joining the German Navy in 1938. He considered joining the navy his patriotic duty, and was very committed to the "higher cause". His served as a junior officer on the German heavy cruiser Lutzow until the end of 1941. He then transferred to the destroyer and torpedo boat holding division. Deciding to take a different tact, Riesen undertook U-boat training until September, 1942, and then served as a watch officer on U-198 until February, 1944. He then undertook U-boat commander training for three months, and on April 2, 1944 he took command of U-180 - his final command.  This story, although of major historical import, is dedicated to the memory of  Oberleutnant zur See Rolf Riesen, the last commander of U-180.

Rolf Riesen as a watch officer in 1942


Rolf Riesen just before leaving on his final mission 2 years later



Riesen supervised the loading of his beloved first command before going to sea. However, there were a number of wood crates in his boat that he had no idea of their contents. He was a very meticulous officer, keen on details, but a very superior officer gave him the "it's on a need to know basis and you don't need to know" speech. As a loyal and dedicated officer he did not question his superior. Little did he know the crates contained u-234 - uranium. What he did know was they were stowed below, with other cargo stored upon them. He also knew his orders had him sailing for Japan, which was not an uncommon destination for the "black boats" of the German U-boat fleet.

"Black boats" meaning U-boats involved in transporting special cargos of uranium, mercury, weapons technology etc to Japan, and often bringing gold bullion back as payment to Germany. U-180 had been used in a well documented secret mission to transport Indian nationalist politicians to a Japanese sub for delivery to India earlier in the war, but her Mercedes engines were too loud and left an oil trail to be used again. She was mothballed, but then brought back having her engines pulled, new engines added, a state of the art snorkel and radar installed, and other modifications which improved her operations significantly. As he left Bordeaux on that August day, Riesen had no idea of the horror and betrayal that lay in wait for him from members of his own crew - many of them had no idea either.

U-180 left port with three other U-boats bound for Japan. They had an escort ship on the surface to protect them from sudden air or naval attack. Shortly after they submerged the escort ship reported that all U-boats had cleared the minefield and were en route. So far so good. However, just as the voyage started Riesen was confronted in private by MtrOGfr Helmut Hantschel. Riesen had befriended Hantschel, as much as a U-boat Captain would, he trusted the young man. They were all young men to Riesen as he was considered an old man in the U-boat service. What Riesen didn't know was young Hantschel was not a naval officer. His real name wasn't even Hantschel. He was, in fact, an SS officer acting under direct orders from Reichsfuhrer Heinrich Himmler. His mission: take control of the U-180, and its cargo of uranium, and deliver it to the Americans at the Goose Bay Air Force base in Labrador, Canada. A grand plan to resettle Nazis after the war had been launched by Hitler's number one man, Martin Bormann. Bormann gave the order to Himmler, and Himmler gave the order directly to Hantschel.

Hantschel, for his part, was a fanatic Nazi with an almost psychopathic obsession with power. This was a dream mission for him, and he gladly accepted even though he had never been on a U-boat before. The confrontation between Riesen and Hantschel was nothing less than the deliberate killing of the Captain. Hantschel took a large knife from the sub's galley and plunged it in one single stroke through Riesen's heart. Riesen died almost immediately. As only a portion of the crew were aware of the plan to take over U-180, the killing needed to be kept secret to maintain order on the boat. To do this Hantschel used his experiences as a medic with the SS to carve Riesen into pieces. His remains were then placed in the rear torpedo tube and the Captain was expunged into the sea. And so begins the deliberate mutiny of U-180.

Surprisingly, perhaps, the absence of the Captain was kept under guard for days afterward. Days later three crew members suffered the same fate as they challenged the mutineers over the Captain's disappearance and the ship's mission. Most of the crew was unaware that the U-boat was heading for Canada rather than Japan. That was the way Hantschel and his mutineers wanted it kept. It was impossible to operate the U-boat over the trans Atlantic voyage without the various expertise of those on board, and complete discipline and control was absolutely necessary for success. It had to be a well oiled machine.

However, just a day before U-180 was to arrive at its destination in Labrador, a major battle broke out between the crew that was loyal to the mutineers and those that hadn't realized their mission had changed. In this one altercation, approximately half the crew were killed. Of an original crew of 56, only 24 were left now. Given the close proximity to the Goose Bay base, and wanting to remain submerged, the dead crew were left on the U-boat. Shortly after this final battle among the crew, Hantschel happened across a Canadian destroyer fishing with dynamite off the town Rigolet. read the media story here Years later, a then renamed Hantschel ( now Ernst Oscar Henschel) would relay to a sailor on that boat how he watched them fish with dynamite through his periscope. At that time Hantschel, or Henschel as he was then known, was a doctor in the Saskatchewan community of Prince Albert. Having been refused entry into the US after the war due to his "service" in the SS, Henschel emigrated to Canada at first.

U-180 then made its way up Lake Melville to a predesignated position just out to shore from the Goose Bay Air Force base. It was nighttime, and pitch black. The U-boat surfaced, and dispatched a dingy, with wooden crates, to a small supply/maintenance dock just south of the base (the dock no longer exists). There it was met by armed US servicemen. In the confusion and tension of the moment, 2 of the German U-boat men were shot to death by a US soldier when they made sudden moves he wasn't expecting. The uranium was eventually completely transferred. In accordance with the original plan given to him back in Germany, Hantschel and the remaining crew took the U-boat up the Churchill River on the surface. They used only their electric engines to power the boat to remain quiet in transit. However, even with these precautions they were heard and spotted by two Innu hunters in the area.

At the predesignated location, just south of Muskrat Falls, the crew scuttled U-180 in accordance with standard operating procedures of the German U-boat fleet. Charges were placed at the bow, rear, and centre of the boat. The dead crew members from the battle amongst the crew the day before, and the newly killed members from the supply dock, were left on board the U-boat as she sunk. However, even the scuttling didn't go well as two men were killed and two injured during the scuttling process. By the end of the mission only 15 crew members of the original 56 had survived.

The survivors of U-180, with the exception of Hantschel and a few others, were forced to stay in North America. Hantschel and the others were transported back to Germany to confirm the mission was successful. Ironically, Hantschel is shown graduating from Charles University of Prague, medical school, just six months later. He ended his career in medicine back in the United States as professor and chairman of the Medical College of Wisconsin, and has an annual award named after him. read here (notice the brief reference to his service in the German Navy) His wife, who he met in London in 1950, also became a well known doctor in the area. Today only two survivors of the horror and treachery that was U-180 are still alive. Both are now old men in their late 90's. One still has a keen mind, but the other unfortunately does not. The keen minded survivor was a fellow officer who loyally served under Captain Riesen, but as a young officer he was terrified to turn against the mutineers - with good reason as the history shows. He now lives with deep remorse and nightmares about his experience on U-180.

In the end, although the seizing of U-180 was a preplanned operation by the highest levels of the Nazi Party and the SS, the attempt to use the uranium as a bargaining chip with the Allies was apparently unsuccessful. The US double crossed their German partners, but got the uranium in any case for the Manhattan Project. U-180 remains unexplored on a sandy river bank near Muskrat Falls as a ghostly reminder of human tragedy, the ruthlessness of the dark world of Nazi Germany, and almost the last bit of evidence that the Germans and the Americans had cut a deal for uranium while still at war with each other in Europe. Meanwhile, the families of the men lost in U-180 have no idea what really happened to them on that dark voyage during the dying days of the war. Perhaps it may have been better that way, but for the necessity to observe the significant historical moment the wreck of the U-180 represents. It is the truth of the matter that counts now. It has been 75 years since U-180 sunk in Labrador's waters, yet the Government of Canada will still not release what documents they have on the matter. The grounds for the refusal - "releasing the information may cause harm or embarrassment to an ally." It was always hard to fathom how such an old story, and a forgotten wreck, could cause injury and/or embarrassment to an ally, but given the truth of what really happened to U-180 and its uranium cargo, well, perhaps it should.



Here are my previous stories on the U-boat wreck of Muskrat Falls:

Updated - Evidence of the Muskrat Falls U-boat Wreck
http://rocksolidpolitics.blogspot.ca/2016/06/the-evidence-of-muskrat-falls-u-boat.html

The Muskrat Falls U-boat Cover Up - emails
http://rocksolidpolitics.blogspot.ca/2016/07/the-muskrat-falls-u-boat-cover-up-emails_65.html






















2 comments:

  1. Source? The story is compelling but how do we know it's the actual story ?

    ReplyDelete

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