Appendix D2 - The White Flag
Translation by Gerry RaffÃ© of editorial and letters published in KRISTALL, 1956.
The White Flag on U 570?
Did the U570 raise the white flag? This question has haunted the world for 15 years. The Commander says 'No'. But an English book on naval warfare asserts, to the contrary, that the above aerial photograph is the proof. Yet, is it U570? Is it a white flag that hangs from the conning tower?
'No. 6/Admiralty A3 op Text: In Square 116 "U-boat 570 has surrendered by a white flag to a Hudson of 269 Squadron (captained by) SqLdr Thompson Now in tow by the armed trawler "Northern Chief'. Course Hofn Island. Details follow. RAF Coastal Command Group 15 Reykjavik op three SK."
A few minutes after receipt of this teleprinter message of 27th Aug 1941 sent at 19.04 hrs. the First Lord of the Admiralty in London was notified. He dialled Prime Minister Churchill immediately. Both considered this news to be the most sensational from the sea since the Bismarck had been sunk three months earlier to the day. A German U-boat capitulating with a white flag! Incomprehensible ‑ to Churchill and to DÃ¶nitz.
How deeply Churchill was impressed by the event is borne out by the fact that in his six‑volume book "The Second World War", in which he devotes many chapters to the U-boat war, only two boats are specifically mentioned Prien's U47 that shook England's convictions of naval supremacy and the U570 that gave a great boost to Britain's hopes. He writes " In Aug, a Hudson aircraft of Coastal Command attacked a U-boat with depth charges in the Western Approaches. The U-boat was injured and unable to dive and the crew attempted to man their gun: but the Hudson, with her own machine guns, drove them below and, for the first time in the war, a submarine surrendered to an aeroplane. A heavy sea was running and no surface vessel was near, but the Hudson maintained relentless watch over her prize. Aid was summoned and the next day the U-boat was towed by a trawler to Iceland. She was later commissioned into the Royal Navy. The incident was unique".
A whole fleet protects a U-boat.
Scarcely had the trawler Northern Chief brought the German U570 the 75 mile journey to Iceland than two special aircraft bearing experts from London arrived in Reykjavik. Like zoologists who had dreamed all their lives of a particularly rare beetle but could never have hoped to put one under the magnifying glass, so the British Naval officers descended on the U570. The main electric motor and Diesel engines of this V11c boat, the attack systems and armaments were thoroughly examined. Special attention was given to the short‑wave transmitters and receivers, the sonar system and the extremely sensitive and secret detection equipment. There had never been such a find! Only too quickly the British construction engineers, the U-boat experts and the information systems technicians understood every detail of the vessel.. What they failed to understand was the fact that a U-boat commander could have let his vessel fall into enemy hands in this condition... what efforts are made to prevent just this are shown by an event that occurred on 26h Sep 1939.. On that day, the captain of the British submarine Spearfish , Lt. J H Eaden, reported that she had been severely damaged by depth charges and was lying, unfit to dive, in the Skagerrak. The British Admiralty sent the cruisers Aurora and Sheffield to the rescue at once. The battleships Nelson and Rodney, the battle-cruisers Hood and Repulse with air‑support from the Ark Royal left port at the same time on a course for the Norwegian coast to shield the two cruisers and the submarine. Thus was Spearfish escorted to her base. One submarine was worth the deployment of a whole fleet.
But the British were not always so successful in safeguarding the big secrets of their submarines and Winston Churchill was only correct to an extent when he called the capitulation of the U570 'unique'. Two English submarines had also surrendered to the German navy.
In Apr 1940, the British submarine M37 Seal, under the command of Lt R P Lonsdale, was laying mines in the Kattegatt. Whilst submerged, she was severely damaged by one of her own mines. She sank, uncontrollably, and lay on the bottom. Lonsdale decided to remain like that and only to surface at nightfall. But after darkness, it became apparent that the vessel could not be trimmed. At every attempt to surface the vessel sank by the stern.
By evening on the following day the air in the boat was so foul that the Chief Engineer and his men no longer had the energy to continue working. Lonsdale knew that only one last attempt to surface could save them. He called his crew to prayer in the control room. Only six of the 54 came, the others were too weak. The Lord's Prayer died away in the conning tower. Then the Commander had air blown into the stern tanks. Surprisingly, the small amount was enough. The engines started. Lonsdale immediately decided to steer his badly damaged boat to the neutral waters of Sweden. But the Seal ran in circles. The rudder and one of the propellers had been tom off by the explosion.
Whilst the captain and his officers were deciding what to do, a German Arado 196 commanded by Lt Katte and flown by Sgt Meier suddenly appeared. The seaplane immediately opened an attack with machinegun fire. Lonsdale, his first watch officer, the helmsman and an able seaman were on the bridge. All were wounded except the captain. Nevertheless, Lonsdale called for a Lewis gun to be passed up to him on the conning tower. He fired until the magazine was empty. The Arado landed on the water. At this very moment, the German anti-ubmarine boat, Nettelbeck, appeared on the horizon.
In the meantime, against the possibility that it may not be possible to scuttle the vessel, everything in the Seal that might be of value to German experts was thrown overboard or destroyed. As the anti-submarine boat came within firing distance, Lonsdale jumped into the sea, the watch officer aid seaman being wounded, and swam to the seaplane to negotiate surrender. Half an hour later, his completely exhausted crew were taken prisoner by the Nettelbeck. A German prize team, under Lt Rasmussen, took over the submarine. The scuttling charges that had been laid by the British Chief Engineer were de-activated. The Seal was brought to Kiel. The marine construction staff did obtain some information but no great secrets. The wireless gear and detection equipment had been thrown overboard by the British.
Nevertheless, Propaganda Minister Goebbels made the German radio stations proclaim the capitulation of the British submarine as a crazy affair. "A unique event. A German submarine never falls into the enemy's hands", such was the proud summing up of the matter.
Like every other English naval officer who has lost his ship, Lonsdale, following his release from captivity in 1945, came before a court martial. Speaking for the defence, Captain G C Phillips stressed most of all the complete exhaustion of the crew, the majority of whom were close to suffocation.. Before the verdict is pronounced in English naval courts, the defendant is escorted from the courtroom. If, on his return, his sword lays on the judges' table with its hilt towards him. he has been acquitted. If, however, the point of the sword is towards him, he is guilty.
As Lt Lonsdale re-entered the room, the hilt of his sword lay bright towards him.
Lieutenant Commander Hans Rahmlow, commander of the German submarine U570 that capitulated eleven months after the Seal did not have to appear before a military court following his return from captivity. There was no longer a German navy. But his case continues to haunt the history of the U-boat war. Guilt or tragedy, the case is passionately discussed. Many former crew members of this unfortunate boat suffered and still suffer day because their U570 fell into the enemy's hands. In the new German navy opinions are in sharp conflict, was the surrender necessary or not?
Do we have a 'Caine affair' of the German navy before us? Is the action of the captain of the U570 distorted by wartime propaganda? Was it chance or human incompetence? Or a mixture of both? KRISTALL tries to answer this question without prejudice.
In 1946 the British Admiralty and the Air Ministry published, jointly the "Official Report on the Battle against U-boats 1939-1945". In this, there is a whole section dedicated to the U570. The translation reads as follows:
â€œThe capture of U570.
The 21st Aug 1941 was a red-letter day for Coastal Command. At 08.30 hrs and in very bad weather, a Hudson aircraft that was on anti-submarine patrol some 80 miles south of Iceland sighted a surfaced U-boat, U 570, that dived without being aware that it had been seen. The aircraft dropped smoke floats to mark the spot where the U-boat had dived and sent out a sighting report. Two hours later, another 269 Squadron Hudson, S for Sugar, that had been sent out from Iceland and captained by Sqn Ldr J H Thompson, sighted the U-boat that had just surfaced. The submarine tried to crash dive but the aircraft was too quick and released four depth charges. These were well aimed but the damage they caused was not fatal. However, the explosions, the shattering of instruments and an insignificant entry of water all created panic among the seasick and inexperienced U-boat crew. Rahmlow, the captain, was not of the same calibre of men such as Prien and Kretschmer who would have restored calm, repaired the damage and, most probably, made good their escape.
But convinced that everything was lost and afraid of the generation of chlorine gas, Rahmlow ordered his crew to put on lifejackets and brought the boat to the surface. Men appeared on the upper deck while the Hudson, complete master of the situation, called up naval support and, by skilful use of its machine guns, prevented the Germans from manning their anti‑aircraft gun. But the enemy was in no mood to fight it out. They waved a white flag, actually the shirt of the captain. The Hudson, in stormy weather, continued to circle its prey until early afternoon when, with fuel running low, it was relieved by a Catalina.
A steady relay of aircraft during the night kept watch and parachute flares were dropped from time to time to keep an eye on the submarine. At 23.00 hrs an armed trawler appeared and warned Rahmlow against sinking his boat. More trawlers and a destroyer arrived in the early morning and, later in the day, in continuing very stormy weather, the crew of the U570 were taken off, the submarine was taken in tow and grounded on a beach in Iceland. It had not been badly damaged and soon, with an English crew, was under way to England where it later entered service as HMS Graph.
The boat gave us detailed information on technical matters that was of great value to our counter-U-boat procedures. From the event it could be concluded that there had been deterioration in the quality of U-boat crews. U570 was on its first patrol but none of the damage would have prevented it from diving. Instead of this, Rahmlow chose to surrender. Some of the older and tougher men on the boat have, whilst prisoners of war, expressed contempt for their inexperienced officers and for the timidity of the young Nazi crew-membersâ€�.
This was the official English report.
Everything sounds very clear and simple: and it is even more simple to say: Amongst 820 German submarines and their commanders there was just one failure. One who had not absorbed the usages of submarine warfare and its code of honour or could not accept them
But the commander of the U570 passionately denies such failure. He resists being ostracized by his comrades. He denies, bitterly, having raised a white flag. He went to court. He protested against his exclusion from the naval association founded after the war. He still does, even to this day. A permanent cloud hovers over the former naval community and will not disappear.
Whoever tries to clear up the matter comes up against a wall of prejudice, anger, resentment or silence. It was difficult to break through this wall. Even more difficult to pass judgement.
The initial judgment came from a Court of Honour conducted by U-boat officers in a prisoner-of-war camp. It was a judgement reached in accordance with the rules and the usages of the war, no one who gives it consideration should forget that.
Secret Court of Honour.
The whole world learned from the English press what happened to the U570 off Iceland in Aug 1941.
The U-boat men in the prisoner of war camps also learned what the English papers had written. It hit them like a thunderbolt. One of them had capitulated. Had surrendered his boat to the enemy without compelling reason. With all its secrets, perhaps, even the codes. It had even hoisted a white flag. This could not be so. U-boats did not carry a white flag. And a commander who takes off his white shirt to capitulate with it? No even more impossible.
Many of naval officers in the camp knew the captain of the U-570. To be sure, they did not like him. But he was one of them. Certainly, he was inexperienced and on his first patrol. But he was no longer a young man, rather an active officer of pre-war vintage who had undergone many years of careful training. He was someone who was referred to as 'an old Commander'. And that he even waited the whole night long doing nothing and then, in the morning, handed his boat over to the enemy?
What really made tempers boil over was the question of the secret equipment. Had it, at least, been destroyed? Or would the enemy, for weeks to come, have the keys to the encoded signals traffic of the submarines that would enable him to read every single operational signal and, if so, to take the submarines by surprise on their stations and destroy them? This question has dominated discussion of the U570 case until quite recently. Up to 1956, not even the former Chief of Staff of the U-boat High Command, Rear Admiral Godt in Kiel, knew for sure whether or no the secret equipment of the U570 had been destroyed. KRISTALL has searched for, found and questioned the Second Watch Officer who, as log-keeper, was responsible for the secret material. He was 21 years old at the time and understandably, after what he has since been through, he would rather not have heard of the whole affair again and would prefer not to have his name quoted. He did explain quite a lot. Most important "I, personally, and on my own initiative and without orders from my commander, destroyed the secret material".
But in 1941 this was not yet known to the prisoners of war in England and Canada. They lived on the triumphant English press. And on rumours. And the rumour went round like a flash 'One of us was a coward'.
Before the prisoners at Grizedale Hall, an outstanding U-boat commander declared: â€˜1 would have remained submerged and repaired the damage. 1 am certain that 1 would have got away if there had been no anti-submarine boats with underwater detection gear in the close vicinity. Supposing that the damage to the boat had forced me to surface, 1 would have opened fire on the aircraft. That's why a submarine carries an anti-aircraft gun and not a bad one. There would have been a real chance of shooting down the aircraftâ€™.
Coming from the mouth of an experienced and cool man, this sounds convincing. But what he did not and could not have known and something that only KRISTALL has now learned, is the fact that the U570's anti-aircraft gun was not ready for action because, against the objections of the Chief Engineering Officer, the captain had expressly ordered the essential parts of the 2cm gun to be removed and taken below deck. Why? So that they would not become damaged by sea-water.
Because the Geneva Convention did not permit the holding of Courts Martial in prisoner of war camps, three submarine officers secretly convened a Court of Enquiry in the Grizedale Hall camp and interrogated the crew-members who had meantime arrived.
Was the Chief Engineering Officer taken by surprise?
As regards the very young Second Watch Officer from Hamburg, the finding was easily reached. He had no influence on the decisions of his commander. Because he spoke good English and being an officer, he was first to be transferred from the submarine with the six men wounded by aircraft fire. He met with no reproach. The Chief Engineering Officer was also acquitted by the Court of Honour. He was a former chief mechanic who had served in the U25 under such a celebrated commander as the later much decorated Commander SchÃ¼tze and had been promoted to officer rank.. His relationship with the captain of the U570 clearly did not seem very close. Many years of military service had taught him to follow orders, nevertheless he had often voiced his own thoughts but, when unheeded, discipline and obedience prevailed. After the surprise bomb attack he had not been asked his opinion on whether it was necessary to surface. As they fell and exploded, the submarine was just down to 15 metres. At that point, because of the lights going out, instruments falling from the wall, glass shattering and the engines stopping, the captain ordered the tanks blown and the submarine came to the surface. The CEO told the Court that only some time after surfacing did it become apparent that the battery cells had been damaged and there was a consequent risk of a build-up in the boat of chlorine gas arising from the reaction of battery acid and sea-water.. He had also remained below deck with some of his men and tried to repair the damage. The bow lay deep and had taken water, obviously ballast tank 5 had been damaged as well as the watertight focâ€™sle. Blowing brought no result An attempt to force the torpedoes from their tubes did not work because their bow‑caps could not be opened. Continuing with their inspection, it became apparent that the batteries were damaged and the CEO, himself, repaired the broken bridges between the cells. He, incidentally, had set the charges for the scuttling of the boat although, according to him, he had received no order from the captain. He had nothing to say on the hotly argued matter of whether or no and in which form a white flag may have been displayed on the bridge. He did not care about it either, because he was busy below with repairs to the damage and preparations for scuttling the boat.
The CEO had not left the boat voluntarily but rather as the victim of unforeseen circumstances. He was in the control room when he gained the impression that a disturbance was taking place on the upper deck. He demanded clear orders from the captain regarding the destruction of the boat. He received no reply. Instead, there was the order "CEO, come on up"! He followed this absolutely usual and normal order because he believed that the captain wished to talk to him about something. He had no sooner emerged through the hatch of the conning tower than he was grabbed by Englishmen. He was then forced into a rubber boat that lay alongside. At the last moment and to his surprise, the captain jumped into the rubber boat with him. Nearby, there were several old-fashioned four-stack destroyers and two armed trawlers. He was imprisoned on one of these, treated correctly and put into a bunk because his clothes were saturated. Before this, he had a violent set-to with the captain about the way he had taken him, the CEO, by surprise and for leaving the submarine himself. The CEO then walked away and spoke no further to him. What does Captain Rahmlow have to say on the matter?
The Captain of U570 replies.
In 1941, at the PoW camp Grizedale Hall, the officers of the U570 were interrogated by a secret Court of Honour composed of respected, captive U-boat officers. The Second Watch Officer and the Chief Engineering Officer were dismissed. The testimony of the CEO played an important role in the assessment of the conduct of the First Officer and the captain. The CEO gave a detailed description of the damage to the boat. He did not know whether a white flag had been raised. Like the Second Watch Officer, he would rather not be reminded of this 'ancient history' any more. He no longer wishes to have anything to do with it. Nor does he wish to see his name quoted in connection with the U570 and he refuses to contribute any opinion for publication purposes. 'I can say nothing about the last hours of the U570', he says, 'and 1 have since spoken with none of the crew so 1 do not know how they left the boat'.
Although, following the Court of Honour, the CEO and the Second Watch Officer were re-admitted to the community of U-boat officers in the camp, the First Officer and the Captain received a terrible, devastating verdict that drove one to his death and the other into the hell of ostracism.
After the war, a novel was published in America that became a world best-seller 'The Caine Mutiny'. It also became well known in Germany through film and theatre versions. The story concerns a destroyer captain who is relieved of his command on the high seas by his officers who think that he is mad or a coward or both. In a Pacific typhoon he issues wrong orders that, in the opinion of the First Officer, hazard the crew and ship. The officers refuse to carry out the orders, relieve the captain of his command and save ship and crew. The First Officer has to answer a charge of mutiny before a Court Martial. He is acquitted.
Behind all this is the unidentified culprit 'The System' that makes it possible for a man, who has come to the verge of mental breakdown , a man, who in service has become a nervous wreck and a coward, can continue to hold command over others,fit or no longer fit for duty.
If the capitulation of the captain of U570 on Aug 27 1941 took place without compelling reason, why did none of his officers act like those on the Caineâ€™?
The German officers of the Court of Honour in the PoW camp in 1941 were not aware that the Caine story was theirs too. But they did raise the question: If the captain did not scuttle his boat â€“ in compliance with an unambiguous Standing Instruction' why did the First Officer not do it? if necessary, in defiance of his commander's order?
Why did he not relieve the captain of his command in order to prevent the boat from falling into enemy hands? And, above all why did he not scuttle her himself when the captain had left the boat and was paddling over to the enemy in a rubber dinghy? At this moment, the power of command in the submarine had passed to him as First Officer.
This was the question to which the officers making up the Court of Honour in the PoW camp at Grizedale Hall demanded an answer from the First Officer. The First Officer must have known, even if the captain didn't, that in accordance with battle orders, no submarine must fall into enemy hands. He nodded, yes, he had known.
Why, then, had he done nothing to overrule the captain's commands?
The answer nearly took the breath away from the interrogating officers. He thought that saving the crew was more important than the destruction of the boat.
The questioning became more insistent. Had the First Officer really not realized that the boat, together with all its secret equipment, would become available to the enemy? And that this could mean death to other U-boat crews?
Yes. He had realized it.
And yet he had thought it right to act the way he did? Did he think the rescue of his crew at the expense of other comrades' lives more important than the destruction of the boat?
Yes. That was his opinion.
The Court of Honour withdrew for consideration. When the old, highly decorated officers returned, their faces were as hard as stone. Their verdict was: Cowardice in the face of the enemy. The First Officer and, undoubtedly, the captain of the U570 would be answerable to a Court Martial after the war. Until such time, in the camp they would be ostracized and treated as outcasts. They were stripped of the right to wear medals, badges of rank and uniform.
But a vestige of solidarity with the prisoners remained. Despite all the toughness. Two of his crew were seconded to look after the ostracized First Officer. Just few days later they reported that the First Officer had second thoughts. He realized that he had acted in the wrong way. He asked for an opportunity to re-habilitate himself from the accusation of personal cowardice by escaping from the camp and undertaking an â€˜ act of war.
No fear of death.
From newspaper reports and chattiness of a camp guard, it was established that the captured U570 lay berthed in the Scottish port of Barrow-in-Furness. The First Officer volunteered to break out of the camp and to sink the submarine in the harbour. It was a daring plan. But it might just succeed. Those who knew of it heaved a sigh of relief. It would lift from him the guilt that, somehow, weighed on all of them. They worked feverishly to provide every possible support to the First Officer. Equipped with cash, civilian clothes, false papers and identity card bought from corrupt guards, he squeezed himself, one evening, through a hole cut in the wire, any noise covered by a camp sing-song..
But as early as the following day, he was apprehended by English Home Guards. He spun them a cover story about being a Dutch sailor who had missed the departure of his ship in London because he had overslept with a friendly girl. He now wished to hitchhike to Scotland to pick up his ship.
The story was good. And the effect on the Home Guard was also good. Unfortunately, however, through bad luck his escape from the camp had been too quickly discovered. And the news had already reached the Home Guard.
"Well", they said, "maybe your storyâ€™s true. But a German officer has escaped from the camp near here. . Let's just go there and see if it's not you. If you have told us the truth, there is a good chance that we can fix you up with a lift on a truck or a rail ticket to make up for the time you have lost".
They went off with their prisoner. As they approached a little wood, the 'Dutch sailor' did something surprising. Suddenly, he swung off to the left and sprinted for the shelter of the wood. It all happened so quickly that he had almost reached the edge of the trees before the surprised Home Guard could bring up their guns. They held their fire, though. They called on him to stop. Three times. But he did not stop. He ran. For his life? Or to challenge death? No one knows. By now he was right up to the first trees. There was a shot. It threw him to the ground. He was still alive when they reached him. Then he died.
A few days later he was carried to his grave. He was buried with full military honours in a little village close to the carnp. A party of officers, non-commissioned officers and men in uniform and with medals and decorations provided the escort. English soldiers fired the three volleys over his grave. The coffin was draped with the English battle-flag. The verdict that had condemned the living was publicly and solemnly revoked.
The Chief Officer of the U570 had fallen. Fallen for the U570.
The detail that had given him final honours were hardly back from the fresh grave and once more in camp when the one person arrived whom they least wished to see, the commander of the U570.
After a night interned for his own safety in protective custody, the English, who had become suspicious, transferred him to another camp before a Court of Honour could hear his defence.
To the German Commandant of this camp, a prisoner of war was just that. He considered that the matter of establishment of guilt or innocence was something to be left until after the war. And so we have asked Rahmlow to put forward his defence here. We have altered neither word nor comma of what he has written.
â€œReport on the seizure of U570 by the English.
Whilst surfacing on the 27th Aug 1941 in the Atlantic to the south of Iceland, our boat was surprised by an aircraft that dived out of a broken cloud-base. A surfaced U-boat is extremely vulnerable and in this situation, according to the rules, we had only one option; an immediate emergency dive. But before we could reach adequate depth, the aircraft had already released its depth-charges that exploded in the immediate vicinity of the boat. The boat was so badly shaken that our instruments shattered and failed to function. Furthermore, a row of electric battery cells (the source of power for underwater travel) had cracked and, finally, water was entering the boat through leaks in the forâ€™ard section. We went deeper; how deep we were, we could not know because our instruments were not working: we only knew that sooner or later the point would be reached when the boat would be crushed by external pressure of the water. In this situation only the immediate blowing of the ballast tanks with compressed air could help. 1 gave the order accordingly and brought the boat to the surface
.What was the situation now? The boat was no longer capable of diving and thus was deprived of its crucial strength. As already stated, the instruments for submerged travel were broken and could not be repaired with what we had on board. There was also the great danger of incoming seawater mixing with acid from the damaged batteries, leading to a build up of poisonous chlorine gas inside the boat. This actually happened in the course of events; the English, who were already on board when this occurred, could only go below wearing breathing apparatus and eventually cleared everybody out of the boat.
On the surface and by diesel motors we could not have escaped from the aircraft that kept contact with us and was relieved by another aircraft until an armed vessel appeared; if we had attempted to run, we would not have know where we were going because the depth charge attack had caused our compass system to fail.
1 therefore resolved to scuttle the boat. To abandon the boat furtively under cover of darkness was not an option. During the initial confusion and without my orders, the rubber boats had been slipped and had drifted away in the heavy swell. (There were only two people with active U-boat experience on board, The Chief Engineering Officer, formerly on operations as a chief mechanic and the leading helmsman, formerly Number One on a surface vessel: all the others were newly trained people).
During the night, because of the rising level of water forâ€™ard, ammunition and all other removable parts were thrown overboard to lighten the boat. Opportunity was also taken to throw overboard secret items, code pads etc. in the same way. Early next morning 1 gave orders to be prepared to open the valves and to leave the boat. When the crew went up on deck, a destroyer that had since arrived opened up with its machine-guns; half a dozen people on the conning tower were wounded. Reconsidering the situation, 1 decided to let the wounded go over to the destroyer, let the boat be towed until it was near the coast, there open the valves, abandon ship and try to swim to the shore. 1 was thinking of a case that was talked about of an English boat that was supposed to have evaded seizure in similar circumstances. But an English officer and two or three men came across from the trawler in a rubber float to pick up the wounded and boarded us. I, the captain, was to leave the boat with the wounded; the attempt by me and the First Watch Officer to switch our roles so that 1 could remain with the boat was rumbled and prevented. As I left, the First Watch Officer told me not to worry. He would scuttle the boat at an advantageous moment. But this was not to happen because , as stated earlier, the English evacuated the boat completely against the possibility of poison gas. Nevertheless, it was still our firm conviction that the English would never get possession the boat. When we last saw it, it was deep in the water and was sinking further. However, the English did succeed in beaching the boat in Iceland and, later, bringing it to England.
In a subsequent English account ('The Battle of the Atlantic') it was claimed that the boat had hoisted a white flag and that the shirt of the captain had been used for this purpose. My position on this is as follows:
The questionable claim that a white flag was waved is such self-evident rubbish that it must straightway irritate every reader. 1 was wearing a rubber stormcoat at the time because it was cold and stormy and, certainly, 1 would not have undressed down to a shirt. In reality, what happened was as follows: Just as we came onto the deck after the attack, one member of the crew, without orders and before 1 could stop him, pulled off the towel that he wore round his neck like a scarf and waved with it at the aircraft coming round because he hoped to stop it opening fire on us with its machineguns. He stopped immediately on my orders. The point should also be made that the English who had fired upon us in the course of the action - as stated above â€“ would have fired whether the boat was flying a white flag or not
Freiburg/Brsg. 27 Apr 1956.â€� Signed H J Rahmlow.
The KRISTALL report on U570 has created a stormy response. A flood of letters has reached us , for and against the captain of the U570. We publish some of the most representative letters and close the discussion of the affair. We do not judge. We report.
Herr Rahmlow has again asked us to give him opportunity to comment. This we do. He writes:
â€œ1. The U570 could not escape from the enemy because the damage caused by the depth-charges had made it unable to dive and the technical personnel did not succeed in repairing the damage to the extent that the boat was again able to submerge. Had we tried to escape on the surface, we would have been destroyed in no time at all..
2. The boat was armed against air attack with only one 2cm anti-aircraft gun. The accusation that has been made that the gun was not in firing order is unfounded. In bad weather or when submerged, the barrel and bolt were stowed in the conning tower so that seawater could not render the gun unserviceable. However, the enemy aircraft could not have been engaged with this gun because it kept out of range. On the other hand, the 8.8 cm gun is only of use against sea and land targets.
3. None of us ever gave thought to letting the boat fall into enemy hands. Rather, our thoughts were directed to making certain this was avoided yet not unnecessarily risking the lives of the crew. In the prevailing seas the English trawlers and destroyers that appeared on the following morning could not have been attacked with the 8.8cm gun with any chance of success. Neither was there any chance of saving a reasonable number of the crew had the boat been scuttled there and then as originally intended. I decided, therefore, to scuttle the boat only when it had been brought closer to the shore. I discussed this plan with the two watch officers and the necessary preparations were commenced. It must have been fate or just the fortunes of war that our efforts did not meet with the same success as in the case of the British submarine â€˜Sharkâ€™. My decisions found acceptance by the other officers. No one raised an objection.
4. The story of the white flag originated in the spontaneous behaviour of a member of the crew to which I at once took objection and to which I have referred. This occurrence was played up for propaganda purposes in the first English account of the event and repeated, unquestioned, in subsequent German reports. The publication of the picture in KRISTALL No. 13 with the alleged white flag is to be welcomed. By every account it was stormy and in such weather any flag would stream out and not hang like a wet cloth from the conning tower. Besides which, in this picture the weather and sea are calm. It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that, if it is the U570, the picture has been touched up. Had our boat run up the white flag the English would have been in gross breach of unwritten law in firing on the boat.
A Wireless Operator from the U570 has the floor.
Before our report on the U570 affair appeared - simply because of the announcement â€“ a wireless operator from the U570, Harry Ahlemann, sent us the following report :
â€œI was a wireless operator on U570. Around 13.00hrs on 27th Aug 1941 the boat went up from 40 metres to periscope depth to have a look around. The swell did not permit us to travel at periscope depth. The captain gave the order to blow tanks. The U570 surfaced without a prior look around the horizon and it was, as for every German U-boat, a position of most danger from British air attack. We were hardly up when our chief helmsman shouted down to the control room : Alarm!
The boat submerges sharply forâ€™ard. Too late! At about 20 metres, powerful detonations hit us. The lights go out. The electric motors stand still. Water squirts over the men in the control room and the motor room. From abaft, the entry of water is reported. (Shortly afterwards, this is found to be an error, it was coming from shattered gauges); It proves impossible to arrest the sinking boat with the bow hydroplanes.
â€œAll men astern!â€� shouts the Chief Engineering Officer. With this action, plus the blowing of ballast tank 5, the boat is steadied. Well, it no longer sinks. What happens now? As soon as the boat is steadied, the captain orders more tanks blown and we shoot to the surface like a rubber balloon.
The British plane that had already dropped its bombs, came in from astern attacking the boat again with its guns. Some of the crew, myself included, sought shelter from the Tommiesâ€™ bursts of fire as best we could on the upper deck. The 2cm. cannon on the conning tower was unserviceable Thus we were helplessly exposed to the low-level attacks of the British. Following an order from the captain, red star signals were fired to make the aeroplane aware of our defencelessness. It ceased its attacks immediately.
Our boat drifted helplessly, without engine power, in the sea. But there was no leak in the pressure hull. It floated without serious difficulty. The main electric motors had already been put in order so that the lights in the boat and even the wireless equipment functioned again. The bilge pumps were intact, too. The CEO with his men were going about repairs. But in the early afternoon of Aug 27th, the wireless gear was partly destroyed on orders from the captain and complete destruction took place during the following night.
As darkness was setting in, the silhouette of a British corvette appeared on the horizon. â€œNow itâ€™s time, Herr Kaleu (KapitÃ¤nleutnant). Now we must scuttle the boatâ€�. It was the opinion of everybody on board. But instead, contact was made with the corvette by signal light. After a lengthy to and fro, the corvette demanded that a bright light be displayed. Displayed it was.
With the arrival of darkness, not only secret material and sea-charts had been thrown overboard but also ammunition. The war-heads of torpedoes were made useless or jettisoned. Why these final measures if the boat was to be sunk?
With the dawn and in the course of Aug 28th, several other corvettes and a British destroyer arrived and circled us continuously. The signal light traffic went to and fro. At noon, the British destroyer F 58 opened fire on us with a machine gun. One burst hit the bridge on which the crew were standing Four men, myself included, were more or less severely wounded.
Why did Tommy do this? Apparently, because we had ignored the floats that he had let drift towards us on lines, preparatory to boarding the boat.. When we vigorously waved a white bedsheet that, on orders of the captain , had hours previously been tied to a railing of the boatâ€™s conning tower (accompanied by muttering from the crew that bordered on mutiny), the British stopped firing. The wounded were bandaged and brought below.
I lay in a space below; there, two comrades who were of the opinion that they had no hope of coming out of the situation alive, suggested that the others should go up on deck after which the two would open the flood-valves of ballast tank 3 in the control room and go down with the boat. I can give the names of the men who were there then. (These are in the possession of the Editor).
Then there appeared in the controlâ€“room the first two English sailors with their pistols pointed at us. Until this day, I can hear the words of a comrade on a leather bunk next to me: â€œItâ€™s too late now, even for that !â€�.
Following the publication of our report, we have had the following communications:
â€œI have followed your report under the heading â€˜White Flag on the U570â€™ with great attention. As a member of the crew I can clear up several of the questions raised. Foremost the question whether the boat in the photo is the U570. It is the U570.
1. The slight forward inclination is clearly recognizable.
2. The periscope on the conning tower is recognizable but not the barrel of the 2 cm gun (Not assembled).
3. The white spot (pointed by arrow in photo) under the railing of the conning tower is the white flag that had been fastened there. It was in the form of a white bed-sheet in size roughly one metre by two metres.
4. Immediately at the end of the conning-tower armour plating, towards the stern, an open hatch is clearly visible. Under this hatch, as with all other VIIc boats, a large rubber life raft is stowed. It had been slipped on Rahmlowâ€™s orders on mid-day of 27th Aug and drifted away in the rough sea, not inflated nor even secured by a line. The secret material (signal papers, keys etc.) were destroyed by the operators during the night of 27/28th Aug. Such chlorine gas that had developed in the boat had no influence whatsoever on any activity in the boat. The honour of our Chief Engineer and Second Watch Officer was restored by the Court of Honour. Has no-one cared about the honour of the other 40 men?
Another member of the crew, who wishes to withhold his name.
â€œDuring the bomb attack on the U570, I was seated at the rear depth rudder. Before surfacing, Herr Rahmlow did not scan the horizon. After the lights were restored we were on the ball! There was calm in the boat. Never a panic. I was sent up with the 2 cm. gunners. The barrel of the gun was stored in a pressure tight container on the starboard side of the conning tower. The aircraft flew in rather low ,circles around us. It was not possible to get the barrel out of the container. There was no ship to be seen for miles around. The Hudson circled us, firing. In order to end this unpleasant situation and as, when the time came, we preferred to get into the drink uninjured, the white rag appeared on the conning tower. The Hudson stopped shooting. When the single trawler appeared in the night, we could have comfortably climbed out and scuttled the boat. That it was not done is entirely Rahmlowâ€™s responsibility. Was he, perhaps, just too old for a U-boat?â€�.
The Chief of Staff of the U-boat Command, Rear Admiral (Retâ€™d.) Eberhard Godt writes to one of our colleagues;
â€œIn similar circumstances, many U-boat captains would have acted differently to the captain of U-570 and, respecting strict traditional naval and military values, would have taken care not to let their boat fall into enemy hands. There can be no doubt that if the German Navy had continued to exist, the captain of the U570 would have been held responsible following his return from captivityâ€�.