German submarine U-869

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Career (Nazi Germany)
Name: U-869
Ordered: 25 August 1941
Builder: DeSchiMAG AG Weser, Bremen
Yard number: 1077
Laid down: 5 April 1943
Launched: 5 October 1943
Commissioned: 26 January 1944
Fate: Sunk, 11 February 1945
General characteristics [1]
Type: Type IXC/40 submarine
Displacement: 1,144 t (1,126 long tons) surfaced
1,257 t (1,237 long tons) submerged
Length: 76.76 m (251 ft 10 in) o/a
58.75 m (192 ft 9 in) pressure hull
Beam: 6.86 m (22 ft 6 in) o/a 4.44 m (14 ft 7 in) pressure hull
Height: 9.6 m (31 ft 6 in)
Draft: 4.67 m (15 ft 4 in)
Propulsion: 2 × MAN M 9 V 40/46 supercharged 9-cylinder diesel engines, 4,400 hp (3,281 kW)
2 × SSW GU 345/34 double-acting electric motors, 1,000 hp (746 kW)
Speed: 19 knots (35 km/h; 22 mph) surfaced
7.3 knots (13.5 km/h; 8.4 mph) submerged
Range: 13,850 nmi (25,650 km; 15,940 mi) at 10 knots (19 km/h; 12 mph) surfaced
63 nmi (117 km; 72 mi) at 4 knots (7.4 km/h; 4.6 mph) submerged
Test depth: 230 m (750 ft)
Complement: 4 officers, 44 enlisted
Sensors and
processing systems:
FuMO-61 Hohentwiel U
Armament:
Service record[2][3]
Part of: 4th U-boat Flotilla
(26 January–30 November 1944)
33rd U-boat Flotilla
(1 December 1944–11 February 1945)
Commanders: Kptlt. Helmuth Neuerburg
(26 January 1944–11 February 1945)
Operations: 1st patrol: 8 December 1944–11 February 1945
Victories: None

German submarine U-869 was a Type IXC/40 U-boat of Nazi Germany's Kriegsmarine during World War II whose wreck was discovered off the coast of New Jersey in 1991. Its keel was laid down April 5, 1943 by DeSchiMAG AG Weser of Bremen. It was commissioned on January 26, 1944 with Kapitänleutnant Helmuth Neuerburg in command. Neuerburg went down with his boat.

U-869 conducted one World War II war patrol without success. It suffered no casualties to its crew until it was lost in February 1945, with all but one of 56 crew members dead. One man, Herbert Guschewski, was not on board, as he became ill just before the patrol. The story of its finding is well chronicled in the book Shadow Divers by Robert Kurson.

Supposed sinking off Africa[edit]

On February 28, 1945 the American destroyer escort Fowler (DE-222) and the French submarine chaser L'Indiscret conducted a depth charge attack on a submerged contact in the Atlantic near Rabat and reported a kill, although little visible evidence was presented to confirm the kill. Based on the information provided, U.S. Naval Intelligence rated the attacks "G—No Damage." U-869 had been previously ordered by Karl Dönitz to move its area of operations from the North American coast to the Gibraltar area. Postwar investigators upgraded the rating from "G—No Damage" to "B—Probably Sunk," leading to an erroneous historical record that U-869 was sunk near Gibraltar. For many years this attack was assumed to have been its end.

Discovery off U.S. coast[edit]

In 1991, Bill Nagle, a former wreck diver and the captain of Seeker learned about a wreck outside New Jersey and decided to mount a diving expedition to the site. On September 2, 1991, an unidentified U-boat wreck was discovered 73 meters (240 feet) deep (a hazardous depth for standard scuba diving) off the coast of New Jersey. Nicknamed U-Who, the exact identity of the wreck was a matter of frequent debate, and initially the wreck was thought to be either U-550 or U-521. The discoverers of U-Who, John Chatterton, Richie Kohler, Kevin Brennan continued to dive the wreck for the next several years, taking considerable risks (three divers, Steve Feldman, Chris Rouse and Chris Rouse, Jr., died exploring U-869). Eventually, the team recovered a knife inscribed with "Horenburg", a crew member's name. However, they learned at the U-boat archives that U-869 was supposedly sent to Africa, so this piece of evidence was initially disregarded. A few years later, they found part of the UZO torpedo aiming device, and spare parts from the motor room engraved with serial and other identifying numbers. On August 31, 1997 they concluded that the boat they found was U-869.

The location of the wreck is approximately 39°32′56″N 73°19′56″W / 39.54889°N 73.33222°W / 39.54889; -73.33222.

Cause of sinking[edit]

The men who found U-869 believed that it was a victim of its own torpedo, which may have become a "circle-runner". Torpedoes manufactured later in the war had acoustical seeking capability. It was theorized that the torpedo was initially fired in a turning pattern and when it missed its target, it picked up the sound of the submarine's propeller. At least two other U-boats are known to have been lost to their own torpedoes: U-377 in 1944 and U-972 in late 1943. Chatterton and Kohler based their theory largely on a lack of other evidence to support other causes for sinking. They claimed there was no reported naval activity in the vicinity thereby ruling out a sinking by attack. Also, the damage to the hull was from the outside and thereby ruled out an internal explosion. This problem also affected the US submarine force at least twice, as seen with USS Tang (SS-306) and USS Tullibee (SS-284).

Gary Gentile, a noted wreck diver, researcher, and author, rejects Chatteron and Kohler's theory. He cites attack logs and eyewitness accounts from the crew of two destroyer escorts suggesting that the U-boat was initially damaged with a hedgehog launched by the Howard D. Crow (DE-252) and then subsequently damaged with a depth charge by the accompanying Koiner (DE-331).[4]

The United States Coast Guard, in its official evaluation of the evidence, discarded the circle-running torpedo theory and awarded the sinking to the two destroyers. This was confirmed by Marlyn Berkey who was on a destroyer as part of the Pacific fleet entering NY harbor after the war was over, the submarine showed up on radar and his destroyer depth charged the sub and sank it as evidenced by him of oil and debris floating on the surface, they were allowed to place a broom upside down coming into New York which meant "clean sweep". Contributing to their findings was the fact that there are two damage holes in the wreck of U-869. This was more consistent with the attack reports that cited two explosions versus the circle runner theory which would only explain one hole. The official records state that U-869 was destroyed on February 11, 1945 by two U.S. destroyer escorts, Howard D. Crow and Koiner.[5] John Chatterton, one of the divers who discovered U-869 in 1991, states in an article in Issue No. 19 of Wreck Diving Magazine his belief that the two U.S. destroyer escorts attacked the wreck of U-869 after the U-boat had been struck by its own torpedo.

Only one crew member survived by virtue of not having been aboard. Second Radio Officer Herbert Guschewski came down with pneumonia and pleurisy shortly before the boat's departure. Like the families of the crew, Guschewski did not know what happened to his fellow sailors until 1999. He watched a program which eventually became NOVA episode "Hitler's Lost Sub" and contacted the producers shortly afterwards, who interviewed him and kept a portion of it in the 2000 American broadcast.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

Notes
Bibliography

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 39°19′48″N 73°12′00″W / 39.33000°N 73.20000°W / 39.33000; -73.20000