"Voyaging through strange seas of thought, alone ..." William Wordsworth

22 June 2022

Breathtaking.


Ed Offley on German U-Boats directly off the coast of Virginia Beach during World War Two ...
Earlier in the crossing, Degen, navigator Günter Kunert, and his two watch officers had spent hours studying a large nautical chart of the area. They concluded that the strict operational order that Dönitz and his staff had written would doom U-701 to failure and probable detection. “Our order directed us to go straight to the entrance of Chesapeake Bay; to dive there during the night and to observe during the day the exact ship traffic of incoming and outgoing ships,” Degen recalled. But the chart showed that this meant U-701 would have to hide in just 36 feet of water, leaving her conning tower just four feet below the surface.

Dismissing the order as “suicidal,” Degen opted to make a straight run-in to the channel after midnight. The lighthouses on Cape Henry and Cape Charles would make the move simple and relatively easy. U-701 slowly headed west toward the Virginia Beach oceanfront.

After an hour, Kunert called out that the two lighthouses were aligned, and Degen ordered a 90-degree turn to starboard, running just several hundred yards offshore. Five months earlier, U-boats in the first coastal attacks had been amazed to find shoreline streets on New York’s Long Island brightly lit; now, after hundreds of ships had gone down from U-boat torpedoes, Degen and his lookouts were seeing the same “breathtaking” sight along the Virginia shore. “We could see . . . even cars and people and lighted houses,” Degen would recall. “These Americans didn’t seem to know there was a war going on!”

As the Cape Henry lighthouse loomed up ahead to port, Degen gave the order to his torpedo compartment to prepare to drop the mines. The torpedo gang flooded the five torpedo tubes and released the locking bolt that anchored the foremost mine in each tube. Before he could order the first mine dropped, Degen and his lookouts stiffened as a small patrol boat appeared traveling right to left across the U-boat’s track just several hundred yards away. She reached the edge of the channel, then reversed course, unaware that she was practically on top of the U-boat.

Offley joins Proceedings Podcast host Eric Mills to discuss U-701 ...


Thanks, Buff.

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