Franz Machon

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Franz Machen
Nickname(s) Franz Machen, Françis Machon, Françis Machen, Frans Machon, Frans Machen
Born March 18, 1918
Died Unknown
Allegiance Nazi Germany
Service/branch  Kriegsmarine
Years of service 1939 - 1945
Rank Matrosengefreiter
Battles/wars Battle of the Atlantic
Awards None

Matrosengefreiter Franz Machon (polish Franciszek Machoń) (born March 18, 1918) was the only survivor of the sunken German submarine U-512, and one of few World War II U-Boat survivors. His story strikes remarkable similarities with Klaus Bargsten of U-521. After his capture, Franz agreed to help the United States Navy observe behaviour characteristics of fellow German P.O.W.s.

Early life[edit]

Machon was born in Kattowitz (Katowice) to John and Anna Machon, two Polish commoners. In his early years he worked as a streetcar conductor while attending school. He married a woman named Mary Munik (Maria Munik) who gave birth to a son (his son was 15 months old when he was captured).

After the Nazi invasion of Poland, Machon found himself drafted into the Pioneer Corp. He later requested to be transferred to the Kriegsmarine in Hamburg for submarine training.



On October 2, 1942 several hundred kilometers north of Cayenne (in position 06°50′N 52°25′W / 6.833°N 52.417°W / 6.833; -52.417[1]) U-512 was intercepted by depth charges from an American Douglas B-18 Bolo A aircraft (US Army Bomb. Sqdn. 99). The German U-boat quickly filled with water, and left the entire crew panicking in fear. Soon, the entire cabin was filled with chlorine gas and the crewmen began to cough. (It was guessed that the chlorine gas was produced from the batteries of electric torpedoes.) A short time previously it had been discovered that the escape lungs had been improperly stowed and that the majority of them had become wet from a buildup of condensation in the boat. Soon, air pressure in the compartment began to mount and speech became very difficult. Men were beginning to collapse rapidly from the combined effects of chlorine and high pressure. Others were starting to bleed from their mouth and from their ears in agony.[2]

In the next several minutes, tragedy would claim all 51 crewmen except for one, Machon. He and a boatswain's mate decided to attempt to open the torpedo loading hatch rather than die from the gas. Because his crewmate had no snorkel, he let him go first and quickly followed. After exiting the boat, his crewmate got confused with the direction to the surface and swam horizontally, only to lose himself between the hull and the superstructure. Upon reaching the surface, Machon swam around for roughly 1.5 hours unsuccessfully looking for his partner until an inflated life-jacket was dropped to him from a circling airplane from the 99th bombing squadron. This was soon followed by a drop of a thermos outfitted with water, a signal pistol, paddles and about 200 feet (61 m) of rope.

The Raft[edit]

The raft provided by the aircraft was his only form of shelter for the next 10 days. Several times, Franz unsuccessfully attempted to attract the attention of various tankers and passing aircraft by firing his signal pistol. In order to escape the heat he would usually swim in the water during midday.[3]

On the ninth day at sea he was attacked by seabirds which pecked him on the shoulders so violently he was left with permanent scars. He managed to capture two of the birds, which he split and dried in the sun. Later, with his provisions running low, he decided to eat them, complaining slightly of their fishy taste to his interrogator.

Machon, now helpless and facing the verge of death, etched his name into the paddle so that his body could be identified.[4]

The day following he was rescued by the United States destroyer, USS Ellis at position 07°50′N 56°05′W / 7.833°N 56.083°W / 7.833; -56.083 on 12 October 1942.


When Machon was rescued, the interrogators gave some time for him to recover his health. When he was found, he was severely sunburned and emaciated.

On October 19, 1942 he was formally interrogated. At first he was very nervous giving details to the Navy officials, but then opened up after realizing Nazi propaganda about Allied torture was false in P.O.W. interrogation methods. During his stay he helped Navy officials gather intelligence data on other prisoners, and was extremely co-operative to his captors. After being relieved from his duties, he stayed at Fort Hunt until his release.


On April 16, 1945 he was handed to the Polish authorities. He then settled with his wife and child in Wirek, Poland.[5] Today, not much is known about Machon except for his miraculous story detailed in his interrogation on the Ellis. Since his release in 1945, no word from him or his family has surfaced yet. If he is still alive today, then his whereabouts are unknown.


  1. ^ "U-512". 2003-11-12. Retrieved 2007-04-30. 
  2. ^ "Top Secret Report on U-512". United States Navy. 1942-10-19. Archived from the original on 2007-09-27. Retrieved 2007-04-23. 
  3. ^ "Interrogation of Franz Machon". United States Navy. 1942-10-19. Archived from the original on 2007-09-27. Retrieved 2007-04-23. 
  4. ^ "Interrogation of U-512 Survivor". United States Navy. 1942-10-19. Archived from the original on 2007-09-27. Retrieved 2007-04-23. 
  5. ^ "Forum Post Regarding Franz Machon". 2003-12-03. Retrieved 2007-04-30.