2 Apr 1945
Everyone who went on leave is now back ‚‚ā¨" von der Leyen returned yesterday. Preparations for departure continue.
I‚‚ā¨ôve started practicing with the P-38 again. I expect I will need it soon.
3 Apr 1945
Mayer came to my office today to apprise me of the latest military developments. I told him I was too busy ‚‚ā¨" he should see me tomorrow. I lied. I just didn‚‚ā¨ôt want to hear any more.
Lippisch and I went to Ole‚‚ā¨ôs for dinner and drinks. With the boat more or less ready, we had very little to talk about ‚‚ā¨" Lippisch is not a conversationalist. As we sat, drinking in silence, Inger walked in. ‚‚ā¨ŇďHerbert, so glad I found you!‚‚ā¨¬Ě I stood and greeted her ‚‚ā¨" she kissed me on the cheeks in the French fashion. I introduced her and Lippisch and asked her to join us.
We exchanged the usual pleasantries without moving toward the subject that had so obviously caused her to seek me out. I surmised it had to do with von der Leyen.
‚‚ā¨ŇďSo, Inger, tell me how well my Navigator did on ski.‚‚ā¨¬Ě
‚‚ā¨ŇďVery good - quick learner.‚‚ā¨¬Ě
‚‚ā¨ŇďYes ‚‚ā¨¬¶ well, I thought he‚‚ā¨ôd be good at it. And it would be good for him.‚‚ā¨¬Ě Inger smiled but didn‚‚ā¨ôt respond. The silence was starting to become awkward when the waiter arrived to take a drink order for Inger ‚‚ā¨" akavit, and I ordered another for myself.
‚‚ā¨ŇďInger, did Franz tell you he sank a ship on the last patrol?‚‚ā¨¬Ě No he didn‚‚ā¨ôt.
‚‚ā¨ŇďChief, why don‚‚ā¨ôt you tell her about it?‚‚ā¨¬Ě
Inger turned to look at Lippisch expectantly as he formulated his answer. He took a sip from his beer, slowly replaced the glass on the table, thought for a moment, and said, ‚‚ā¨ŇďHe sank a ship. A big one.‚‚ā¨¬Ě He took another sip of beer.
Since Inger wasn‚‚ā¨ôt disposed to say what was on her mind in Lippisch‚‚ā¨ôs presence, I asked him to excuse us because we had a matter to discuss. He nodded and I escorted Inger outside.
All she really wanted was to thank me for sending Franz. Their time together had been chaste ‚‚ā¨" she emphasized that ‚‚ā¨" and very pleasant. He had changed, she said. I agreed, telling her that he had been promoted and had more responsibility. Those things change a man.
She was very solicitous of my condition. I said everything was good now. She looked down at my wedding ring and then at me. ‚‚ā¨ŇďHerbert, I pray your woman well.‚‚ā¨¬Ě I thanked her and we said goodnight.
I went back into Ole‚‚ā¨ôs and finished my drink. Lippisch and I walked back to the base in silence.
5 Apr 1945
LW called me to his office. He wanted to know how my preparations were going. ‚‚ā¨ŇďWe can leave anytime, Sir.‚‚ā¨¬Ě The crew is well drilled, all the boat‚‚ā¨ôs systems have been triple-checked ‚‚ā¨" once we‚‚ā¨ôve loaded fuel, weapons, and provisions we can sail. ‚‚ā¨ŇďVery good,‚‚ā¨¬Ě he said. ‚‚ā¨ŇďYou‚‚ā¨ôll leave this weekend.‚‚ā¨¬Ě
7 Apr 1945
Our armies in the Ruhr have been encircled. Kassel, Gotha, and Karlsruhe have been captured. The Bolsheviks are attacking Vienna. And we fight on.
Final loading is completed. We should be sailing in a few hours.
8 Apr 1945
There were some last minute delays. We left Bergen at precisely 0200.
Transited the fjords without incident. At dawn dove the boat to 50.
I‚‚ā¨ôve ordered von der Leyen to plot a course along the southern route. I want to get to our hunting grounds quickly. I‚‚ā¨ôm also dispensing with some of my caution. We‚‚ā¨ôre traveling at one-third, and snorkeling more frequently.
9 Apr 1945
Our patrol zone is AM53 ‚‚ā¨" at the northern entrance to the Irish Sea. In a VII-C I would consider it a suicide mission. The water is fairly shallow and thick with enemy warships. It is also a choke point through which enemy merchants taking the northern convoy route must travel. I‚‚ā¨ôm confident that U-2501 will be up to the challenge.
10 Apr 1945
When von der Leyen tried to shoot the sun he discovered a storm overhead. The snorkel is ineffective so we‚‚ā¨ôll have to surface to recharge. By way of compensation, the enemy‚‚ā¨ôs ability to find and track us is severely degraded.
Von der Leyen and I continue our chess games. He visualizes well but he plays poorly. Strategic thinking is not his forte.
11 Apr 1945
Hartenstein had the con when a merchant was detected by hydrophone just before 0500. I was awakened. When we determined it was a single, I ordered that we not engage it.
Another merchant was detected at 1337. It too was a single. I ordered that we proceed on course.
Herzog was on duty just after 2100 when yet another merchant was picked up by the SO. I was again called to the control room. We had to alter course to investigate. Once it became apparent that it was only two unescorted merchants, I broke off the chase.
12 Apr 1945
The storm is still raging above
Another lone merchant was spotted after 1600. Where is a convoy?
Two singles were spotted between 2100 and 2200. Still no convoys.
13 Apr 1945
Herzog was on duty for two more single contacts in the early morning hours and another just before 0500. All of these merchants were detected in our patrol zone, which, according to von der Leyen‚‚ā¨ôs dead reckoning, we reached at 0123 ‚‚ā¨Ňďprecisely‚‚ā¨¬Ě.
I had breakfast this morning consisting of scrambled eggs and ham. The Electroboat‚‚ā¨ôs amenities are just as amazing as everything else. Shortly after I finished, Herzog and Hartenstein came to my cabin to speak to me.
Herzog said we‚‚ā¨ôd had nine contacts ‚‚ā¨" he wanted to know why I refused to attack. I didn‚‚ā¨ôt like his tone. I hadn‚‚ā¨ôt made Herzog privy to my plans - I hadn‚‚ā¨ôt thought it important to discuss them with him. Now he had the temerity to demand ‚‚ā¨" for that‚‚ā¨ôs what it sounded like ‚‚ā¨" that I explain my actions. And why was Hartenstein present?
‚‚ā¨ŇďSince when does the Captain need to explain himself to his Executive Officer?‚‚ā¨¬Ě
‚‚ā¨ŇďBut, Sir, nine contacts‚‚ā¨¬¶‚‚ā¨¬Ě
‚‚ā¨ŇďLieutenant Herzog, answer my question!‚‚ā¨¬Ě
‚‚ā¨ŇďSir, I just wanted to know ‚‚ā¨¬¶‚‚ā¨¬Ě
‚‚ā¨ŇďHerzog! This is insubordination! Return to your post, immediately!‚‚ā¨¬Ě Utterly deflated, he walked back to the control room.
I turned to Hartenstein. ‚‚ā¨ŇďWhy are you here, Lieutenant?‚‚ā¨¬Ě
‚‚ā¨ŇďSir, you‚‚ā¨ôve been heard to make defeatist statements and now you refuse to prosecute attacks‚‚ā¨¬¶‚‚ā¨¬Ě
‚‚ā¨ŇďStop right there Lieutenant.‚‚ā¨¬Ě I began working the combination on my safe.
‚‚ā¨ŇďCaptain,‚‚ā¨¬Ě he continued, ‚‚ā¨Ňďyou need to explain your actions.‚‚ā¨¬Ě
I pulled the P-38 out of the safe, racking the slide as I did, and spun around. The barrel ended up pointing right in his face.
‚‚ā¨ŇďLieutenant! Don‚‚ā¨ôt say another word or, by God, I‚‚ā¨ôll spread your brains all over the deck!‚‚ā¨¬Ě Hartenstein‚‚ā¨ôs eyes grew wide and crossed as they focused on the gun barrel just in front of his nose.
‚‚ā¨ŇďLieutenant, you are confined to your quarters until I can figure out what to do with you. If you step outside them for any reason ‚‚ā¨" and that includes going to the head ‚‚ā¨" I‚‚ā¨ôll have you shot. Or do it myself.‚‚ā¨¬Ě He stood, rooted to the spot in abject terror. ‚‚ā¨ŇďMove, Lieutenant!‚‚ā¨¬Ě He walked rapidly to his cabin and disappeared inside.
Carrying the pistol, I walked to the control room. ‚‚ā¨ŇďMr. von der Leyen, you have the con. Chief, Number One, please come with me.‚‚ā¨¬Ě Everyone, even Lippisch, stared at the gun, then at me. They‚‚ā¨ôd heard my outburst and now apprehension was in their eyes.
Back at my cabin, I ordered Herzog to turn his keys over to Lippisch. ‚‚ā¨ŇďMy keys, Sir?‚‚ā¨¬Ě
‚‚ā¨ŇďYour keys to the weapons locker, Lieutenant. Give them to the Chief and confine yourself to quarters.‚‚ā¨¬Ě He handed them to Lippisch and walked away in a daze.
‚‚ā¨ŇďChief, go to the locker and put on a sidearm. Hartenstein has been spreading mutinous talk among the crew. Until we know the extent of the problem, we should be armed at all times.‚‚ā¨¬Ě
‚‚ā¨ŇďHartenstein, huh? I knew he was trouble.‚‚ā¨¬Ě Lippisch spat directly on the spot Hartenstein had stood just a few moments before.
I talked to Herzog in his cabin. What had Hartenstein been telling him? The story was that my contacts with Mayer had been noted and someone had overheard me saying the war was lost. It would have had to have been at Ole‚‚ā¨ôs the night I spoke to Lippisch. Hartenstein had been retailing this information to various people, including Herzog, for some time. Then, when I refused to go after singles, Hartenstein said it proved I was a defeatist ‚‚ā¨" or worse ‚‚ā¨" and guilty of dereliction of duty. Herzog didn‚‚ā¨ôt believe it but felt that if I explained myself then Hartenstein would abandon his crazy ideas.
I‚‚ā¨ôll give Herzog credit for trying to put the best face on his actions. Of course, he should have stopped Hartenstein‚‚ā¨ôs activities as soon as he became aware of them. That he didn‚‚ā¨ôt indicated he thought Hartenstein might have been right. It was best for me to accept Herzog‚‚ā¨ôs explanation, lame though it might be, and return him to duty. I also needed to tell him about my plan in order to alleviate his concerns.
‚‚ā¨ŇďI have been trying to find a convoy in order to demonstrate that one Electroboat alone can decimate it. If I were to use up torpedoes on singles, it would interfere with that demonstration. My plan was approved by Commander Lehmann-Willenbrock himself. Does that answer your question, Number One?‚‚ā¨¬Ě
‚‚ā¨ŇďCompletely, Captain. I never doubted you for an instant.‚‚ā¨¬Ě
Since arriving in our patrol zone, two individual warships had been detected sailing by at long range. When a third warship materialized at 1500, it had become routine and thus elicited no great anticipation of future action. I had the con and ordered that we turn to investigate. Sounds from a second warship were heard five minutes later. I asked for a depth check ‚‚ā¨" it was 70 meters beneath the keel. We were cruising at 50 so there was not a lot of room to maneuver in the third dimension.
I ordered speed one-third, depth 40. By the time ten more minutes had elapsed, the SO had counted 5 warships - most likely it was a hunter-killer task force. A first estimate of the hunter-killer‚‚ā¨ôs course was WNW - toward its Atlantic hunting grounds ‚‚ā¨" speed slow. The escorts were probably taking a pounding in the high seas generated by the storm still raging above, hence the slow speed. I turned the con over to Herzog, telling him to maintain course and speed ‚‚ā¨" I‚‚ā¨ôd be back in a few minutes.
I went to Hartenstein‚‚ā¨ôs cabin and stuck my head in. There was a stench of urine and Hartenstein was sitting morosely on his bunk. ‚‚ā¨ŇďLieutenant, we‚‚ā¨ôre going into action and I need you in the torpedo room. Report there immediately!‚‚ā¨¬Ě He rushed past me and along the passageway, disappearing through the forward hatch.
Back in the control room, at 1530 I ordered slow ahead, all quiet. I had the SO ping the lead escort and then the nearer flank escort to obtain their course and speed. Course was 276 ‚‚ā¨" speeds were 6 and 5 knots, respectively. This, plus the range data from the pings, validated what I already surmised: the hunter-killer‚‚ā¨ôs escorts were in a diamond formation, with the probable CVE in the center. I ordered Tubes II and III flooded and left the default settings on both Wrens.
At 1555 I ordered another ping on the lead escort to update the course and speed. Right after the second ping, the SO said, ‚‚ā¨ŇďThat got his attention ‚‚ā¨" speed now medium.‚‚ā¨¬Ě
The lead escort had altered course ‚‚ā¨" it was now headed directly toward us, following the bearing it got from our last ping. My shot on the escort would therefore be zero deflection. I selected Tube II and fired the Wren along the target‚‚ā¨ôs bearing. The SO gave us a running account of its progress. There was a satisfying explosion, signaling the Wren had found its quarry. The SO said it was going down ‚‚ā¨" time was 1604.
The second escort swung out from the task force to seek revenge. We pinged him ‚‚ā¨" range was 2100. He wasn‚‚ā¨ôt coming straight at us so I fired the Wren in Tube III with a 5 degree offset. Right afterwards, the escort altered course, turning more in our direction. The Wren adjusted ‚‚ā¨¬¶ and missed. The SO called out that the sounds had merged but nothing happened. ‚‚ā¨ŇďReady Tube V ‚‚ā¨" depth 5.0, gyro angle 0.‚‚ā¨¬Ě Perhaps the Wren had hit obliquely and failed to detonate. ‚‚ā¨ŇďWren turning, Captain ‚‚ā¨" continuing to search. Escort closing, now short range.‚‚ā¨¬Ě The angle on the escort indicated it would be going past us, a few hundred meters off our starboard beam. How to proceed was complicated by the Wren, still active, still searching. ‚‚ā¨ŇďDive, ahead one-third.‚‚ā¨¬Ě I‚‚ā¨ôd swing around behind the escort and beneath the Wren and try to set up the attack again.
Just as the escort started pinging us, the Wren caught it. ‚‚ā¨ŇďSecure from dive ‚‚ā¨" make your depth 40, ahead slow.‚‚ā¨¬Ě The escort slowed ‚‚ā¨" we passed him close on our starboard side.
The sounds of the escort sinking were quite audible in the boat. The time was 1614
The other two escorts had failed to adjust and were still trailing, leaving the way clear for us to attack their charge unmolested. ‚‚ā¨ŇďPeriscope depth ‚‚ā¨" ready Tubes I and IV, speed 40, gyro angle 0.‚‚ā¨¬Ě I wanted to see what I was shooting at. At periscope depth I ordered dead slow ‚‚ā¨" just fast enough for the Chief to maintain our depth.
‚‚ā¨ŇďUp scope.‚‚ā¨¬Ě I turned the scope in the direction of the bearing called out by the SO. For a second I thought I saw a gray shape looming out of the rain and mist but a wave washed over the scope and I lost it. The scope cleared and I saw the gray shape again for an instant, then another wave came. But, I‚‚ā¨ôd seen enough. ‚‚ā¨ŇďSet running depth 9.0, spread 2.0, prepare to fire.‚‚ā¨¬Ě It was a Bogue Escort Carrier.
The Bogue reappeared, bearing 18 ‚‚ā¨" very close now. This was the best shot I was going to get ‚‚ā¨" I snap fired the salvo and, for a moment, watched the twin wakes of the steam LuT‚‚ā¨ôs streaking toward the Bogue‚‚ā¨ôs midships.
I downed scope and ordered a 90-degree starboard turn, depth 40, speed one-third. We had barely begun to turn when both torpedoes hit. A few seconds later and there was a massive explosion ‚‚ā¨" could have been bombs on board the CVE detonating. We heard the creaking sound the Bogue made as it sank. Time was 1703
The SO reported that both other escorts were at close range and approaching. I snap fired a Wren at the nearest and ordered flank speed, starboard turn 90. Given the likely position of the escorts when we commenced the attack, I‚‚ā¨ôd estimate the range of the shot at 600 or 700 meters. The Wren missed the near escort, which had now started pinging and was going to sail right over our position. I halted the turn and ordered crash dive. The boat and the escort were coming at each other nearly head-on at a combined speed well in excess of 25 knots. As it passed overhead it laid a full pattern and I release a decoy - our depth was 60. By the time the depth charges exploded they were far behind. I ordered ahead slow ‚‚ā¨" back to all quiet.
We lost the escort in the sound of our props. The escort reemerged from the sound shadow briefly and then disappeared ‚‚ā¨" it was making a circle that was carrying it away from us. Just then, the Wren found the other escort. We heard him going down at 1707.
The escape was routine. The lone survivor of the hunter-killer group futilely attacked the decoy for a quarter of an hour and then gave up.
I could have gone back for the remaining escort but I decided that my idea had already been demonstrated. We secured from all quiet and reloaded: steam LuT‚‚ā¨ôs in Tubes I and IV, and T3‚‚ā¨ôs in Tubes II and III.
Once reloading was complete I went forward and ordered Hartenstein back to his cabin but with less restriction ‚‚ā¨" he could leave to eat and use the head. I also told him to clean his cabin first thing.
About an hour later, as we were preparing to surface in order to recharge, the SO reported a warship approaching. We let it pass at long range. Another warship appeared at 2100, again delaying our recharge.
I‚‚ā¨ôve turned the con over to Lippisch and left orders that, just as soon as it is clear of enemy escorts, to surface and recharge.
14 Apr 1945
I only got a few hours of sleep. Around 0120, I was awakened and told a convoy had been detected. The recharging still hadn‚‚ā¨ôt taken place and we‚‚ā¨ôd expended about 50% of our amp-hours. The situation wasn‚‚ā¨ôt critical but I like a good margin ‚‚ā¨" particular in heavily patrolled enemy waters such as these. Moreover, conducting the attack would accelerate the rate our batteries drained. The storm continued so we‚‚ā¨ôd still have to surface to recharge. I had to balance all of these factors against the probable value of the targets. I decided to surface and recharge while trying to overhaul to convoy in order to obtain a favorable position for the attack. No sooner had I issued the order than the SO picked up a warship approaching. I canceled the order to surface and replaced it with going to one-third, maintain depth 50, in hopes we could overhaul while submerged.
As we pursued the convoy through the storm, we were being drawn into shallower water ‚‚ā¨" depth under keel was 50 in places. I finally decided that the tactical balance had shifted against us and so, regretfully broke off the attack at 0220 and reversed course. We surfaced 10 minutes later. I remained on duty until the battery charging was competed at 0600. Before diving I radioed a report to BdU and requested instructions. We dove the boat and my final orders before going back to my cabin were to head for the western part of the patrol zone and deeper water.
15 Apr 1945
The storm blew itself out sometime after I went to sleep. Herzog snorkeled and received a response from BdU ‚‚ā¨" we were released to hunt at will.
A freighter was detected at 0922. By this time I was awake and decided to conduct the attack myself.
Just before 1000, I put Kramm on the observation scope and I lined up the shot on the target ‚‚ā¨" a C2 medium cargo vessel - with the attack scope. Both T3‚‚ā¨ôs hit.
The C2 was put dead in the water, down by the stern. I came around for the finisher and lined up.
Just as I fired, Kramm called out, ‚‚ā¨ŇďAircraft approaching, coming in low and fast!‚‚ā¨¬Ě I ordered crash dive and yelled at Kramm, who was continuing to watch the incoming planes, ‚‚ā¨ŇďWhere away?‚‚ā¨¬Ě He responded they were coming in from astern and slightly to port. As I added starboard turn to my orders, the planes dropped their depth charges, which detonated astern on our port side.
The aircraft had obviously been nearby and came in answer to a distress call from the C2. Our adversary was employing a nasty new tactic: coming in low, skimming over the wave tops so that we had no time to react. This was offset by the apparent inability of the enemy aircraft to set up their shot.
The torpedo I fired hit the C2 and, from the series of explosions, we could tell something vital had been hit. The SO reported the official time of sinking as 1027.
We withdrew from the area at depth 100. At this time I ordered von der Leyen to plot a course to hunting grounds that would take us closer to home. Our score is very respectable: three escorts, a medium freighter, and one Bogue CVE. I‚‚ā¨ôm not sharing this with anyone but, as far as I‚‚ā¨ôm concerned, this patrol is over. If we encounter any targets, we‚‚ā¨ôll sink them, but I‚‚ā¨ôve abandoned active hunting.
Weather turned bad in the evening. We had to surface in order to recharge. Picked up radar emissions and had to crash dive at 2145. Several aircraft dropped DC‚‚ā¨ôs astern.
17 Apr 1945
After completing von der Leyen‚‚ā¨ôs latest search pattern, I‚‚ā¨ôve ordered that we search farther north. This will bring us close to the ‚‚ā¨Ňďnorthern‚‚ā¨¬Ě return route.
19 Apr 1945
The bad weather is still with us. This morning I ordered von der Leyen to set course for home.
21 Apr 1945
We‚‚ā¨ôre through ‚‚ā¨Ňďthe gauntlet‚‚ā¨¬Ě ‚‚ā¨" the area with the greatest risk of encountering enemy aircraft. I ordered that the crew should have steak this evening to celebrate a successful mission and the sinking of the Bogue.
23 Apr 1945
A heavy rain was falling as we entered the outer fjords just after midnight. It was still with us when we sailed into Bergen harbor and docked at 0540.
I had Hartenstein escorted off the boat under guard.
At 0630, I went to LW‚‚ā¨ôs office to give him a verbal report. I wanted to make sure that the first account he heard of what happened with Hartenstein was from me. I ended up waiting a half-hour in his outer office for him to arrive.
When LW came in, he greeted me warmly. ‚‚ā¨ŇďAltmeier! How very nice to see you back. How did it go?‚‚ā¨¬Ě I stood and saluted, ‚‚ā¨ŇďWeather was lousy most of the time, Sir.‚‚ā¨¬Ě He led me into his office and had me sit. ‚‚ā¨ŇďFill me in,‚‚ā¨¬Ě he said.
I started out by saying that I‚‚ā¨ôd not prosecuted a number of contacts in order to implement the plan we had discussed. ‚‚ā¨ŇďI think it paid off, Sir. We sank everything except for one escort out of a hunter-killer centered around a Bogue Escort Carrier.‚‚ā¨¬Ě LW beamed, ‚‚ā¨ŇďMost impressive, Altmeier. Most impressive.‚‚ā¨¬Ě
‚‚ā¨ŇďThank you, Sir. I owe it all to my crew ‚‚ā¨" I think they‚‚ā¨ôre the best in the U-boat Arm.‚‚ā¨¬Ě
LW wanted details on the attack, which I provided. I then turned to the Hartenstein matter. LW expressed shock and disbelief. LW knew that emotional breakdowns among U-boat crews occurred from time-to-time but deliberate acts of mutiny were simply unheard of. ‚‚ā¨ŇďI stopped it before it went anywhere, Sir.‚‚ā¨¬Ě LW became reflective. ‚‚ā¨ŇďI suppose I shouldn‚‚ā¨ôt be surprised. I know something of Hartenstein. Political. Hitler Youth-type. A real Scheiő¬≤tkopf!‚‚ā¨¬Ě LW‚‚ā¨ôs view of politics was similar to the Old Man‚‚ā¨ôs ‚‚ā¨¬¶ and mine. ‚‚ā¨ŇďPutting politics before duty is simply unconscionable. I‚‚ā¨ôll see he‚‚ā¨ôs dealt with harshly.‚‚ā¨¬Ě
There were a few details I omitted from the story ‚‚ā¨" the fact that I really do obtain ‚‚ā¨Ňďforbidden‚‚ā¨¬Ě information being one. But now, Hartenstein is so completely discredited that any accusations he may make against me in order to exculpate himself, will only make his eventual punishment even worse. After sinking my fourth Bogue, I can do no wrong.
In addition to my lies of omission, I told LW a lie of commission. I said that I wanted to give him a verbal report before I put together my written report. Actually, I typed that up while still on the U-2501, as I often do. When I returned to my office and began typing my ‚‚ā¨Ňďreport‚‚ā¨¬Ě, I was actually preparing several documents. One was a set of orders for Lieutenant Commander Herbert Altmeier. I had stationary with the official 11th Flotilla letterhead as well as a series of stamps so that, when I was done, it looked completely authentic. I forged LW‚‚ā¨ôs signature ‚‚ā¨" it was crude but unless the person reading it was familiar with his actual signature, the document would pass inspection.
In the afternoon, I hand delivered my written report to LW, asking him if I could take a couple of days leave, starting tomorrow. Of course, he said ‚‚ā¨" take a week.
I went to my quarters and packed a valise with uniforms and mufti. I had with me the forged orders for both Lieutenant Commander and Senior Chief Warrant Officer Altmeier I had produced earlier. My final bit of preparation was to take the old shoulder insignia and patches I‚‚ā¨ôd saved from my days as a FLAK gunner and alter one of my service uniforms to make it look like that of a Warrant Officer. When I was done I stuck it in the valise.
24 Apr 1945
This morning, I put in an appearance at Pen 2, where the U-2501 was now berthed, to let it be known I was going on leave. To Lippisch I said I was hoping we could get in one more patrol ‚‚ā¨" leaving unsaid ‚‚ā¨Ňďbefore the war ends‚‚ā¨¬Ě ‚‚ā¨" and asked him if he could expedite the turnaround process. I also ran into Mayer who updated me on the current military situation, which could best be described as a total disintegration.
I went back to my quarters, collected my valise, and walked through the gate just before 1100. It took me 45 minutes to get to the train station, where I bought a one-way ticket to Oslo. I got a private compartment on the train and changed into my dress uniform. My rank and awards should help to lubricate the gears of bureaucracy and prevent too close scrutiny of my documents.
I got into Oslo in time to catch the late ferry to Kiel.
25 Apr 1945
I arrived in Kiel in the early evening. A guard at the dock saluted and wanted to see my papers. I presented my ID, which he gave a cursory glance. Then he returned it and saluted again, passing me on. Instead of reporting to the naval base, which was what my fake orders said I was to do, I went looking for a hostel where I could get a room and prepare for the next phase of my plan: making my way through enemy lines.
My search for a place to stay was more complicated than I expected. I asked several of the locals where I could secure lodging for the night. I was told there was nothing available. Large sections of the city had been bombed ‚‚ā¨" many buildings had collapsed, others were boarded up as unsafe. This left many people homeless. Coupled with the influx of refugees arriving in port daily from the east, trying to escape the rampaging Bolsheviks, it meant that rooms were at a premium. I could probably find a cot in one of the air raid shelters. The nearest was a half-hour walk away.
Walking through town, I saw horrible devastation, though it began to lessen as I got farther from the port. It reminded me a bit of St. Nazaire, which had been damaged during bombing raids against the U-boat pens. Emerging from an alley, I came upon what appeared to be a convoy of trucks idling in the middle of the road. My destination was a few more blocks ahead so I started across the street. A soldier leaning against the truck I was walking past looked up and stared vacantly in my direction ‚‚ā¨" he seemed to gaze through me rather than at me. ‚‚ā¨ŇďSoldier, don‚‚ā¨ôt you know you are supposed to salute a superior officer?‚‚ā¨¬Ě Even if we were in different branches of the armed forces I still rated a salute. His posture didn‚‚ā¨ôt change but he did raise his hand to his forehead before letting it drop back to his side. ‚‚ā¨ŇďWhere are you going, soldier?‚‚ā¨¬Ě He thought for a moment and said, ‚‚ā¨ŇďHamburg.‚‚ā¨¬Ě I asked him where I could find the officer in charge. He gestured toward the front of the line of trucks.
The ‚‚ā¨Ňďofficer‚‚ā¨¬Ě in charge was a sergeant. Unlike his subordinate, he saluted me when I walked up. ‚‚ā¨ŇďSergeant, I understand you‚‚ā¨ôre going to Hamburg.‚‚ā¨¬Ě
‚‚ā¨ŇďWhy are you stopped here?‚‚ā¨¬Ě
‚‚ā¨ŇďThere‚‚ā¨ôs some debris up ahead blocking the road ‚‚ā¨" just as soon as it‚‚ā¨ôs cleared away, we‚‚ā¨ôll be moving on.‚‚ā¨¬Ě
I had seen that the trucks were filled with boxes, so they must be carrying supplies to our troops defending the city from the British.
‚‚ā¨ŇďSergeant, I need to get to Hamburg and I can‚‚ā¨ôt seem to find transportation. You‚‚ā¨ôd be doing me a great favor if you‚‚ā¨ôd let me ride with you.‚‚ā¨¬Ě
He knew enough about Kriegsmarine ranks to conclude I was an officer and from the way his eyes fixed on my Iron Cross ribbon, I could tell he figured I was a very important one.
‚‚ā¨ŇďCertainly, Sir. You can ride in the cab with me ‚‚ā¨" I‚‚ā¨ôll have Pfalz ride in the back.‚‚ā¨¬Ě
With this stroke of luck I was able to reach Hamburg just before midnight. After asking around, I was directed to officers‚‚ā¨ô quarters ‚‚ā¨" a commandeered hotel that had sustained some battle damage but was otherwise livable. The Wehrmacht was only too happy to put a brother officer up tonight so I would be refreshed tomorrow when I ‚‚ā¨Ňďreport for duty at the Kriegsmarine‚‚ā¨ôs naval facility at the Port of Hamburg‚‚ā¨¬Ě. No one asked to see my orders or otherwise questioned the veracity of my statements.
26 Apr 1945
I‚‚ā¨ôve decided that I will remain in Hamburg until the enemy sweeps past. It is much easier to be an anonymous civilian here, in the city where I was born and grew up, than someplace else. Using my position as an officer and ‚‚ā¨Ňďhero of the Fatherland‚‚ā¨¬Ě one last time, I secured transportation, courtesy of the Wehrmacht, to a hotel close to the Naval Base. The room charge was exorbitant but now I have a place I can stay while events proceed to their inevitable conclusion.
27 Apr 1945
I disposed of my uniforms and switched to mufti today. Technically, I was not a deserter until now. It‚‚ā¨ôs somewhat ironic that my rather elaborate preparations ‚‚ā¨" the forged documents and the altered uniform ‚‚ā¨" proved to be totally unnecessary due to the chaotic state of the command structure.
Food is hard to come by and what is available is expensive. My funds are being depleted much faster than I anticipated.
28 Apr 1945
I walked around town much of the day. I‚‚ā¨ôm carrying the P-38 loose inside the inner pocket of my jacket. A military holster is hard to conceal and civilians are not supposed to be armed.
I‚‚ā¨ôve been striking up conversations with the residents to find out what information they may have about what is going on. A common perception is that the British and Americans are ‚‚ā¨Ňďnot too bad‚‚ā¨¬Ě ‚‚ā¨" that we‚‚ā¨ôre lucky they‚‚ā¨ôre coming and not the Bolsheviks. This information comports with what I was getting from Mayer, much of which I originally dismissed because his source was enemy radio broadcasts. Still, as I walked along the edge of one of the burned out sections of the city today ‚‚ā¨" largely unchanged since I was last here in September, 1943 ‚‚ā¨" it‚‚ā¨ôs hard for me to accept the British and Americans as humane.
29 Apr 1945
I‚‚ā¨ôve been trying to figure how best to get to Pontch√Ęteau. If I can get to Belgium, I can pass myself off as a displaced Frenchman ‚‚ā¨" my Parisian accented French sounds like a native‚‚ā¨ôs. Another possibility would be to head south and then cross over into France through Strasbourg, again becoming a Frenchman. For now I am Herbert Altmeier, FLAK gunner and deserter from the U-boat Arm of the Kriegsmarine.
30 Apr 1945
News is slowly trickling in. Berlin is under siege by the Bolsheviks. The British continue to advance toward and around Hamburg. All I can do is wait and watch my money dwindle.
Funny, but I almost forgot that today is my 22nd birthday.
1 May 1945
The F√ľhrer is dead. Grand Admiral D√¬∂nitz is now in charge. He‚‚ā¨ôs a good man. Now I no long feel constrained to write that I wish the Grand Admiral had been running things from the start. Yesterday, writing that would have been treason.
2 May 1945
The war continues. The story is that Admiral D√¬∂nitz is trying to stem the Bolshevik advance while negotiating with the British and Americans.
3 May 1945
As I write this, it has just been announced that Hamburg has been declared an open city. It is expected that British units will begin moving in soon.
I still have no firm plans as to how to proceed other than to somehow get to France. I‚‚ā¨ôll have to adapt as best I can to the situation as it develops.
4 May 1945
British troops are now traveling about the city. There is talk that surrender is imminent.
I‚‚ā¨ôve encountered a number of British soldiers ‚‚ā¨" they‚‚ā¨ôre disciplined and not actively hostile for the most part. I have to hope that the same is true of the Americans.
I‚‚ā¨ôve begun looking about for transportation. Most of the rail lines have been cut so road transport seems to be my best option at the moment.
5 May 1945
I found a truck convoy taking people south under British escort. A British soldier was asking people where they were from ‚‚ā¨" if they said they were from somewhere in Bavaria or close by, he waved them through to the waiting trucks. He also waved through refugees from the east who had fled from the Bolsheviks. I got in line, preparing to say I was from Munich but before I reached the head of the queue, the officer announced we‚‚ā¨ôd have to wait for the next convoy.
I saw that the trucks were being driven by Germans so I went up to one and was able to bribe him to let me ride with him in the cab. It cost me nearly all of my remaining money. We left Hamburg at noon but progress was slow. Because of frequent stops, it took us six hours to reach Hannover. At Hannover, some more trucks joined the convoy and we proceeded on to our ultimate destination: N√ľrnberg.
N√ľrnberg is fairly close to Munich and Willi‚‚ā¨ôs family. I have the address (‚‚ā¨Ňďin case you ever want to visit‚‚ā¨¬Ě) and, if Willi is there, I know I can depend on him to help me in every way he possibly can. What I‚‚ā¨ôll need is enough money to get me to France.
6 May 1945
What should have been only a four hour trip took about twelve. I managed at most an hour or two of sleep on the way.
We drove along the outskirts of N√ľrnberg and stopped at large camp with hundreds of tents. Civilians ‚‚ā¨" presumably German ‚‚ā¨" were in the camp. The camp was surrounded by a chain link fence and there were American soldiers guarding the gate. The people from the trucks queued up at the gate and were made to enter a small hut next to the entrance. After a few seconds they‚‚ā¨ôd reemerge and walk through the gate.
When my turn came I walked into the hut and found a man I took to be an American officer sitting at a desk. In heavily accented German, he asked me my name and if I had any identification. I told him I was Herbert Altmeier, formerly a FLAK gunner in the Kriegsmarine and that all I had was an old ID ‚‚ā¨" I‚‚ā¨ôd lost the new one. It was only after I‚‚ā¨ôd made this admission and given him the ID that it occurred to me I shouldn‚‚ā¨ôt have said I was in the military at all. But I was tired and my thinking was muddled. It transpired there was no need for apprehension ‚‚ā¨" the officer wasn‚‚ā¨ôt interested in exacting retribution for my having fought against his comrades. He might have felt differently had he realized I must be personally responsible for the deaths of hundreds ‚‚ā¨" maybe thousands ‚‚ā¨" of his fellow countrymen.
From people in the camp I‚‚ā¨ôve learned that the American soldiers are called ‚‚ā¨ŇďG.I.‚‚ā¨ôs‚‚ā¨¬Ě. The ones I‚‚ā¨ôve observed tend to be much friendlier than the British. The G.I.‚‚ā¨ôs especially like to give bars of chocolate to children and attractive young women.
7 May 1945
This morning the G.I.‚‚ā¨ôs began passing through the camp, dispensing more chocolate from what must be an inexhaustible supply. They were laughing and joking with each other. One of the G.I.‚‚ā¨ôs started yelling something in German: ‚‚ā¨ŇďWar broken! War broken!‚‚ā¨¬Ě It made no sense.
I turned to a man standing next to me, ‚‚ā¨ŇďWhat is he saying?‚‚ā¨¬Ě
‚‚ā¨ŇďI think he‚‚ā¨ôs saying the war is over.‚‚ā¨¬Ě