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‘Lost Fleet’ of U-boats Located in the Black Sea

For Rudolf Arendt, captain of the German submarine U-23, the situation must have been unbearable.

It was August 1944, and Arendt’s U-boat, along with two others, was enjoying its second year of terrorizing Soviet shipping in the Black Sea. Although Turkish neutrality had denied the boats conventional access to the sea, the Germans had found a way to get into the mostly landlocked waters anyway. In 1942, in an epic feat of logistics, they had tugged, pushed, and trucked six U-boats two thousand miles overland from Germany. When the submarines finally reached the Black Sea, the small fleet ruled the waters, destroying dozens of enemy ships.

But late that summer, the hunters suddenly became the hunted. As the war began to tip in the Allies’ favor, Romania—the Nazis’ ally on the sea’s western coast— abruptly changed sides and the U-boats suddenly found themselves at sea without a port. Three of the submarines had already been lost in combat; Arendt and the other captains were given the order to scuttle the remaining three. They dropped their crews off in a remote bay near the Turkish town of Agva and then sailed out, for the last time, into deeper water. The three captains scuttled their submarines in three separate locations, and rowed ashore.

The fate of the submarines, nicknamed “Hitler’s lost fleet,” has long vexed historians. But recently, a team led by Selçuk Kolay, a Turkish marine engineer, announced that they believe they have located the U-boats’ final resting place. They found U-20 in about eighty feet of water; U-23 is thought to be nearby, three miles off Agva. The third boat, U-19, rests in deeper water. Their saga is “one of the least well-known stories of the war, but one of the most interesting,” Kolay told the Sunday Telegraph before presenting his findings last winter at the International Shipwreck Conference in England. “It is a quite incredible story.”

So, too, is the tale of the boats’ discovery. The U-20 was found literally by accident in 1994, when a Turkish navy diver investigating the cause of a snag found a submarine on the other end. Based on the diver’s description, Kolay, a respected underwater explorer, concluded the boat was probably the U-20. But it wasn’t until 2006 that Kolay was approached about the German subs again, this time by a documentary crew making a film about Rudolf Arendt. Kolay and Arendt, now eighty-five, met in Agva and sailed from there.

They quickly found U-20 again. This time, Kolay went down to take a look and found the boat in excellent condition. “Nothing missing on it except for the deck gun and the antiaircraft guns, which were thrown away in deeper waters,” he said. Even the sub’s radio frequency finder was still in place on the conning tower.

Arendt’s U-23 proved harder to find. The old German skipper couldn’t remember which of the hun dreds of small bays up and down the coast was the one where he had come ashore. Sonar scans of the area turned up nothing, and the search was called off for the year. Kolay, though, didn’t give up. While reading Arendt’s memoirs, he came across a map the German had drawn to help him find his way back to his crew after scuttling the boat. Map in hand, Kolay searched the coast by boat until he found a bay that exactly matched Arendt’s drawing. He sent Arendt photographs of the area, and both men are certain the U-23 is nearby. Kolay hopes to dive the site this summer.

The way in which the German submarines made it to this lonely spot some two thousand miles from home still amazes historians. After Germany invaded the Soviet Union, the six U-boats of the “lost fleet” were ordered to sail into the harbor at Kiel, on the Baltic coast, where they were tugged through the canal system to the Elbe River. They then made their way upstream to Dresden, where they were disassembled and driven by truck more than two hundred miles to Ingolstadt, a town on the Danube River. The subs were then sent downriver through Austria, Hungary, Yugoslavia, and Romania—almost the entire length of the waterway—until they reached the Black Sea, where they were reassembled at their new base in Constanta.

At last, the U-boats sailed into open water—their crews undoubtedly aware that there was no going back.

Naming of German School for V-2 Scientist Unleashes a Barrage of Controversy

Klaus Riedel, a German rocket scientist during World War II, was known for many things during his short life. A graduate of a Berlin technical college, he performed early work on liquid rocket fuel in the 1930s that brought him the attention of Wernher von Braun and recruitment into the German army’s rocket program. Like his mentor, Riedel hoped his work would put a man in space. Instead, he ended up working on the V-2 missile, helping develop the mobile launch pads for the weapon that killed nearly three thousand British civilians. He was killed himself at age thirty-seven in a 1944 car accident.

This winter, Riedel became known for something else as well, when a German town in the free state of Saxony, near the Polish border, named a middle school after him, igniting a political firestorm. The decision outraged some in Germany, where monuments go up every year in remembrance of the victims of the Nazi regime. “They should make clear forced laborers made the V-2 under the most inhuman conditions and then explain why they chose the name,” said Astrid Günther-Schmidt, a Green Party member in the Saxon state parliament. At least twenty thousand slave laborers died working on the German wonder weapon.

But the mayor of Bernstadt auf dem Eigen, where Riedel grew up, has stood his ground, saying he supported naming the school after the town’s most famous resident to emphasize Riedel’s contribution to science. “We want to concentrate on Riedel as a technician and a pioneer of space exploration,” Mayor Günter Lange told the BBC. Riedel, he points out, was not a member of the Nazi Party, and he has been widely recognized as a key contributor to the development of early missile technology. In 1970, a crater on the moon was even named after him.

Some Germans applauded Lange for his steadfast response, saying Germany should be allowed, sixty years later, to salute some of its tainted heroes’ accomplishments. Whether that is possible in a country where the specter of Nazism still seems to loom over every political debate remains to be seen.

Former Navy Pinup Girl Honored

There were many ways to contribute to the war effort during World War II. Some did the fighting, some did the doctoring, some worked in the factories. But Aline Osborn did something not everyone could do: she used her curves to inspire the troops.

Osborn, now eighty-one, was honored last winter for her work as a U.S. Navy pinup girl, one of hundreds of young women who drove the men on to victory in short shorts and tight blouses. A model in Chicago in the early 1940s, Osborn got her big break when she was hired to do a navy pinup series. Her image eventually found its way onto the walls of thousands of Nissen huts and battle cruisers—and even the sides of some bombers. At the height of the war, Osborn says she received 120 letters a day from lovelorn soldiers looking for a date. She didn’t accept any of their offers, though—falling in love instead with a minor-league baseball player whom she married, and with whom she had six children. Osborn, who now lives in a retirement home in Portage, Indiana, was presented with a proclamation from the Indiana House of Representatives for her wartime service and devotion to her craft.

Documents Reveal that Postwar Britain Agonized Over the Fate of Mixed-Race ‘War Babies’

The relationship between British civilians and American soldiers stationed in England during World War II has always been complicated. For some war-weary Brits, the Yanks who trained there before the D-Day landings were just another burden: oversexed, overpaid, overfed, and over here, as the familiar joke went. Of course, not everyone felt that way. There were more than a few happy unions between allies, and by 1944, thousands of “war babies” were born.

But when the babies’ fathers were African American GIs, these wartime affairs caused serious problems. Mothers of mixed-race children fathered by black soldiers during the war abandoned their babies by the thousands. Papers recently released by the British National Archives detail how Britain agonized about the problem immediately after the war, the options inevitably colored by the racism of the period.

In December 1944, a conference held in England addressed the rising numbers of illegitimate births. Sending black babies “home” to America was suggested, although some found that idea appalling. “The suggestion that they should be shipped back to America is terribly cruel, even if it were possible,” insisted the general secretary of the Church of England Moral Welfare Council. Memos sent within the British government reflect a cool detachment on the matter. “The proposed solution [of sending babies to the United States] is high handed and—if confined to coloured illegitimates—has a Herrenrasse (master race) flavour not now popular,” one Whitehall official wrote.

When the war ended, the problem remained unsolved. In 1945 and 1946, Harold Moody, the founder of the League of Colored Peoples, suggested that black babies be classified as war casualties to give them a better chance of adoption. The British government remained split: the health minister felt mothers should be encouraged to keep the children, while the Home Office disagreed. “Provided it is clear that the mother does not want the child and there is a reasonably satisfactory home in the U.S.,” wrote one official, “the child will have a far better chance if sent at an early age to the U.S. than if brought up in this country.” That policy prevailed, the documents show, with thousands of mixed-race babies eventually shipped across the Atlantic for adoption.

New Dictionary Guides Users Through a Linguistic Minefield

Visitors to Berlin have long been encouraged to visit the Reichstag—the historic, recently refurbished building where the German parliament meets—but referring to the legislative body of parliament itself as the Reichstag is frowned upon. Why? Since World War II, the German legislature has been known as the Bundestag, or “Federal Diet.” The Reichstag, the name of the parliament dissolved by Hitler in the 1930s—and a word still associated with the Third Reich— has entered the dustbin of history. Its use, as any German will tell you, is verboten.

Welcome to the new German 101, where semantic land mines the Nazis left behind can cause even native speakers to accidentally stumble off the path of political correctness. More than sixty years after Hitler’s death, the German language is littered with words and phrases considered taboo— from führer to Untermenschen—but some historians worry that the Nazi vocabulary is creeping back into the vernacular of everyone from far-right politicians to bumbling Americans.

Which is why Thorsten Eitz and Georg Stötzel, two German professors of linguistics, have introduced a new 800-page dictionary to steer their countrymen through the wreckage of their linguistic past. The book, called the Wörterbuch der Vergangenheitsbewältigung (or Dictionary of Coming to Terms with the Past) is full of the dos and don’ts of Deutschland, offering detailed explanations of the meaning and usage of thousands of common German words. “We don’t mean to wipe out those words from the German language for good,” Eitz told ABC News earlier this year. “But we want to make people more sensitive to the power of those words and phrases and their associations to the Nazis. We’re taking a close look at what roles such terms play in today’s Germany.”

To wit: after completing a math problem, it’s never okay for a German to say he has reached an Endlösung or “final solution.” That’s the Nazi word for liquidation of the Jews. Nor is it okay to use the word entartete, meaning “degenerate,” to describe someone’s moral shortcomings. That was the word the Nazis used to condemn modern art.

Anschluss, meaning “annexation,” shouldn’t be used to describe a business merger: it’s the same word the Nazis used to describe their takeover of Austria. When choosing between tomatoes at the grocery store, one never, ever makes a Selektion. That word conjures images of the concentration camp practice of “selecting” inmates for the gas chambers.

Americans can be forgiven for being confused. Eitz and Stötzel say this linguistic two-step can be hard even for Germans. Just be glad the Nazis never co-opted the words Bier and Wurst.


Originally published in the July 2008 issue of World War II Magazine. To subscribe, click here.