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German submarine U-977: Wikis

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Submarino Aleman U-977.jpg
U-997 moored at Mar del Plata naval base
Career (Nazi Germany) War Ensign of Germany 1938-1945.svg
Class and type: Type VIIC U-boat
Name: U-977
Builder: Blohm + Voss, Hamburg
Laid down: 24 July 1942
Launched: 31 March 1943
Commissioned: 6 May 1943
Captured: Surrendered to Argentine Navy 17 August 1945 at Mar del Plata, Argentina
Fate: Sunk by torpedo from USS Atule during torpedo trials, 13 November 1946
General characteristics
Displacement: Surfaced 769 tons
submerged 871 tons
Length: Overall 67.1 m (220 ft)
pressure hull 50.5 m (166 ft)
Beam: Overall 6.2 m (20 ft)
pressure hull 4.7 m (15 ft)
Draught: 4.74 m (15.6 ft)
Propulsion: Surfaced: 3,200 hp
Submerged: 750 hp
Speed: Surfaced 17.7 kn (32.8 km/h; 20.4 mph)
submerged 7.6 kn (14.1 km/h; 8.7 mph)
Range: Surfaced: 8,500 mi (13,700 km) at 10 kn (19 km/h; 12 mph)
submerged: 80 mi (130 km) at 4 kn (7.4 km/h; 4.6 mph)
Test depth: Calculated crush depth: 220 m (720 ft)
Complement: 44-52 officers & ratings
Armament:
  • 5 x 53.3 cm (21.0 in) torpedo tubes: 4 bow & 1 stern (15 torpedoes)
  • 1 x 8.8 cm (3.5 in)/L45 deck gun with 200 rounds

German submarine U-977 was a World War II German Type VIIC U-boat which escaped to Argentina after Germany's surrender. The submarine's voyage to Argentina led to many legends and apocryphal stories: that it had transported Adolf Hitler or Nazi gold to South America, that it had made a 66-day passage without surfacing or that it had made a secret voyage to Antarctica.

Voyage to Argentina

U-977 was launched in 1943. She was used in training and made no war patrols during her first two years of service. On 2 May 1945 she was sent on her first war patrol, sailing from Kristiansand, Norway, under the command of Oberleutnant Heinz Schäffer (1921-1979). Schäffer's orders were to enter the British port of Southampton and sink any shipping he found there. This would have been a very dangerous assignment for a Type VII boat. When Admiral Dönitz ordered all attack submarines to stand down on 5 May 1945, U-977 was outbound north of Scotland.

Oberleutnant Schäffer decided to sail to Argentina instead. During later interrogation, Schäffer said that his main reason for this was German propaganda broadcast by Goebbels, which claimed that the Allies' Morgenthau Plan would turn Germany into a "goat pasture” and that all German men were to be "enslaved and sterilized". Other factors were the poor conditions and long delay in being repatriated suffered by German POWs during World War I, and the hope of better living conditions in Argentina, which had a large German community.

Schäffer offered the married crewmen the choice to go ashore in Europe. 16 men opted to so, and were landed from dinghies on Holsenöy Island near Bergen on 10 May.

U-977 then sailed to Argentina. The fable, intended to disguise where U-977 was at any particular point on her voyage, states that from 10 May to 14 July 1945 inclusive she made a continuous submerged Schnorchel passage, "at 66 days the second longest in the war (after U-978's 68 days)". From the U.S. Navy (USN) report of 19 September 1945 (see "References" below) it is clear this was untrue. It is exactly 66 days from 10 May 1945 when U-977 left Norway, to 14 July 1945 when she supposedly anchored at Branco in the Cape Verdes. Thus for this 66-day voyage submerged she would have had to submerge on the first day and surface on the last.

The USN Report on the U-977 crew interrogations was compiled within a month of the boat's surrender; it makes no mention of any 66-day voyage always submerged, a surprising omission since the ordeal must have been still fresh in the minds of the German crew. They told the American interrogators that U-977 "made for the Iceland Passage on course 300º (that is, a little North by West) diving once on sighting a plane and once on sighting a ship (this means she was surfaced at the time): "she was also D/F'd many times late in May".

According to the USN report and Schäffer's earlier published accounts, his submarine stopped in the Cape Verde Islands for a short break en route, then completed the trip traveling on the surface using one engine. Crossing the equator on 23 July, she arrived in Mar del Plata, Argentina on 17 August after 99 days at sea from Bergen and a voyage of 7,644 nmi (14,157 km; 8,797 mi).

In general, historians have tended to discount the USN report and accepted Schäffer's account as gospel instead. This account has a number of insuperable problem areas. The map in his book shows that U-977 left Norway, bore around the coasts of Scotland and the Irish Republic and headed for the Cape Verdes. The Schäffer map is singularly modest as to dates, providing only three: 8 May "End of the war", 24 July 1945 "crossed Equator", and 17 August 1945 "arrived at Mar del Plata".

After covering 1800 sea miles always submerged, U-977 surfaced in the Gibraltar area at the end of the 66-day run, Schäffer says. Therefore, unless the US Navy Report is incorrect as to dates, Schäffer was off Gibraltar on 14 July 45, although the Navy report has him 100 miles west of Madeira. Schäffer calculates that he has 5,500 sea miles to run to Argentina, and since he reached Mar del Plata on 17 August 1945, he took 33 days to do it (10 May to 17 August=99 days less 66). He has only 40 tonnes of fuel left, he says, and so he will sail at 7 knots, one diesel at 60 revolutions for ten hours and 14 hours on one electric motor. It is clear from this that his speed cannot have been anywhere near seven knots, and so his story is flawed.

Schäffer alleged that he crossed the Equator on 23rd or 24 July 1945, and this is the only date on which the US Navy and Schäffer agree. Comparing the USN report with Schäffer's account, the impression is of two separate voyages from Norway meeting up at the equator on 23 July 1945. Why they should both be anxious to coincide on this point may be explained by events at the point where U-977 crossed the Equator on 4 July 1945.

After arriving at Mar del Plata on 17 August 1945, U-977 was surrendered to the Argentine Navy. She was later towed to Boston and given to the U.S. Navy on 13 November 1945. On 13 November 1946, she was sunk off Cape Cod by USS Atule during torpedo trials. The crew was transferred into U.S. jurisdiction by presidential decree on 22 August 1945 and flown out for interrogation in the United States.

Schäffer later wrote a book: U-977 - 66 Tage unter Wasser ("U-977 - 66 Days Under Water"), the first postwar memoir by a former U-boat officer. It was published in 1952, and was translated into English. The latest English edition was published in 2005.

See also

References

  • Time Magazine Feb. 23, 1953 Bookreviev "Go In & Sink"
  • U-977 at "uboat.net"
  • Schäffer, Heinz, U-Boat 977: The U-Boat That Escaped to Argentina 2005 ISBN 1-84145-027-8 (First published in Germany in 1952 as U-977 - 66 Tage unter Wasser)
  • Schäffer, Heinz (2006). El Secreto del U-977. Buenos Aires: Editorial Hisma. ISBN 987-22996-0-9. 
  • Schäffer, Heinz, Leonce Peillard Der U-Boot-Krieg 1999 ISBN 3-453-14825-8 (In German)
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