By: Joshua Loper, Director DMHEF/DMM
The year 1945 was a pivotal year in World War 2. The big international news that almost starts the beginning of the end of our little story is Mr. and Mrs. Hitler commit suicide on April 30th, 1945, almost signaling the end of WW2 in Europe. Thus, leading Admiral Donitz to order all German submarines operating on war patrols to surrender on May 5th, 1945.
USN-80-G-320308: "Surrender of German U-boats, 1945 Surrender of German U-boat, U-858, 700 miles off the New England Coast to two destroyer escorts, May 10, 1945." Retrieved from U.S. Navy Heritage Command.
Our main protagonist in this story is Unterseeboot Typ-9C/40 Nummer 858, known to you and me as U-boat, type-9C/40, Number 858. She began her life in Bremen, Germany. Her keel was officially laid down on December the 11th, 1942, and she swam for her first time at her launching ceremony on June 17th, 1943. She, and other U-boats like her, were the hope of the German Kriegsmarine to strangle the Atlantic Convoys with her being born (Commissioning Ceremony) on September 30th, 1943. She was deployed on her second and last war patrol on March 11th, 1945.
"Commander Noorfleet accepts the formal surrender of U-858 from her CO, Kapitänleutnant Thilo Bode aboard ATR-57 at sea- LT Robert H. Braun serves as translator." Retrieved from: U-boat archive.net. Original photo and caption written on the back from: U.S. Navy Heritage Command.
U-858 received her order to surrender from Germany on May 8th, 1945. What is interesting is she complied with the order on May 9th. I understand why the crew probably needed to talk it over. On May 9th, Kapitänleutnant Thilo Bode complied with his order. As instructed, U-858 surfaced, raised a black flag, and started broadcasting her position, later that day establishing radio communications with US radio station OZZ110. After relaying her course and speed, USS Carter and USS Muir met U-858 on the morning of May 10th, 1945. USS Pillsbury and USS Pope arrived later that day, relieving the German crew by placing a prize crew aboard. Most of the U-boat's German crew was disembarked, except for the crew deemed absolutely necessary to bring in the U-boat under guard. The ships escorted her to Cape May, New Jersey early on May 14, 1945. The U-boat's crew was transferred to the rescue tug ATR-57, which took them to Fort Miles, Delaware, where the Delaware Army National Guard took the German prisoners of war into custody. The State Police of Delaware sent a representative, who even considered arresting the Germans. U-858 was brought to anchor at Cape Henlopen, Delaware, and later moved to the Navy Yard at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
The German crew on parade ashore after being landed in Lewes, Delaware, being turned over by the U.S. Navy to the Delaware Army National Guard. You can see the German crew holding the emergency seaman's kits given to them by the U.S. Navy. What is really cool in this photo is you can also see a few Delaware National Guardsmen on the right-hand side of the picture processing the POWs.
Now the U-boat was in the United States Navy as an official prize of war. With the war in Europe winding down, and the war in the Pacific still going on, USS 858 was almost going to be turned into a scrap ship. However, it was decided she should become a display queen to help sell American War Bonds in the final bit of WW2. The problem was the U-boat needed "an American connection to keep it snappy" according to Commander Noorfleet. It was decided that saying she surrendered 700 miles away from America in the Atlantic Ocean would not make it feel close to home... So, to help sell war bonds, the U.S. government started telling everyone she surrendered in Lewes, Delaware, using a little creative license to sell war bonds by making it closer to home, even though this was not the truth. Remember, the U-boat and crew surrendered officially on May 10th and were landed in Lewes, Delaware, on May 14th.
U-858, (now USS 858) with her U.S. Navy crew aboard during her war bond tours for the United States. A U.S. Navy patrol boat, and U.S. Coast Guard helicopter accompany her. Photo courtesy of U-boat archive.net.
USS 858 sailed around the east coast on war bond drives. She never received an American name, only keeping her number of 858 as a U.S. Navy ship. Her American crew had other names for her. One crewman called her "a sewer pipe with valves." Chuck Kline, who served aboard USS 858 on her war bond campaign, reported in the Military Times, "The Germans had no regard for creature comfort on their submarines," and stated, "the first time we got into cold weather, we were up at Portsmith, New Hampshire, and getting into that cold water, it was like a rainstorm inside that boat. We put oil cloth over our sacks so they wouldn't get wet." In 1946, USS 858 was in Key West, Florida, afterwards returning to New England. The U.S. Navy deemed 858 surplus to requirements and used her for torpedo practice, finally scuttling her in November, 1947, off the New England coast by the fellow American submarine USS Sirago.
This is, as far as I can find, the last known photograph of USS 858. Retrieved from U.S. Navy Heritage Command.
Nazi Germany spent 3.2 million dollars (during WW2) building U-858. For the kriegsmarine she sailed on only 2 war patrols, she never engaged an enemy vessel, and she never fired a shot in anger. Because of this, many people would view her war record as a failure. For the American navy, she raised countless amounts of money to help the U.S. win the war against Germany's ally, the Japanese Empire. U-858 possibly helping to save American (and our allies) lives by helping to end the war just a little bit earlier. Like one of my naval science instructors once told me, "Beware what you wish for." From my viewpoint, she fulfilled her intended mission to help end the war, just not in the way the Kriegsmarine originally intended.
See U-858 in one of the lesser-known footage reels on YouTube, start clip at 32 seconds:
Some really great places to find out more information on this topic are listed below.
For the historically, or technically inclined:
For light reading: