UBoat 869

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Well I hope somebody else saw the PBS special on Hitler's Lost Sub tonight-am just breathless having just seen it. This was a boat lost off the coast of New Jersey, probably a victim of one of its own torpedoes circling around and blowing up .Three divers lost their lives on it recently, trying to find out which Uboat it was. Germany had it as lost off Gibralter for the past half century- her last orders redirected her there from the US Coast orders previously given. What was amazing is that one of the crewmen didn't go out on patrol because of pneumonia, and saw this TV program about finally finding the U869 and called the TV station to tell about his part in the story. A knife with the name of a crewman was discovered which helped to confirm her identity but it was a plate off one of the engine spare parts box with U869 on it that clinched her ID. And re-wrote history. The divers visited the families of the lost men -one sister lived in Maryland and was so emotionally moved to find her brother's remains were only 60 miles away. Absolutely incredible program- available on VCR. Got me to thinking about artifacts and salvage and Titanic of course. I met the Shuttles from Florida whose lives changed when a family member's letters were found on Titanic and restored. Not to start the pro-salvage thing again- but it sure CAN make such a positive difference in lives to know what happened and what a loved one was doing and where they were at the end. It took fifty years for the story of my cousin's disappearance in WWII over New Guinea to come to light- I spent three years nearly night and day searching until the magic thread came to light-I know how happy it made my family to know at last what happened. Who knows what Titanic may yet give up.

You're right that was an interesting program. I couldn't believe the risks those divers were taking when going into that wreck. The one guy just wouldn't give up. In fact, some wreckage inside the electric motor room fell on him, and he almost lost it. Then, amazingly, after making it out. He made another dive and went back in there. I'm surprized only three of them died.

I think the Titanic is a bit different, though. With Titanic, and unlike U869, one knows where its happened, when it happened, and for the most part, how it happened. You don't have the mystery that was apparent in "Hitler's Lost Sub." Also, with U869, there were skulls, and bones, laying around - - which I found rather unpleasant. But the Divers were trying to identify the wreck, not salvage her. With Titanic, the parties are trying salvage the ship, find jewels, make money off it at exhibitions, maybe even sell some of the artifacts. So the Titanic salvage thing is about making money, not bringing any closure to families.

Incidently, I walked into this WWII submarine that's docked on San Francisco's Fisherman's wharf, named the U.S.S. Pampanitino. I don't usually suffer from claustophobia, but it really hit me in there. Those U869 divers must have had some nerve.
Todays submarines aren't much better when it comes to available space. I've toured several including the Pampinato in San Francisco, the U505 at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago as well as some Los Angelas class attack subs and even an Ohio class ballistic missile sub.

Some places on all of these boats are so small, you have to step into the next comparment to change your mind.

Michael H. Standart
Point well taken Joe- but sometimes good things come out of the strangest motivations-including profit making. I remember the day Mrs. Haisman got the watch- and I doubt VERY much that it was her Dad's-it looked like a lady -sized watch to me- but SHE thought it was-and was so happy to have it during her lifetime. The Shuttles learned so much about their relative formerly unknown-just like the Uboat crewman's sister. There's some gray area between the black and white sometimes.Was talking to the family of one of the big air crashes recently- they wanted anything belonging to the person who was lost-closure, yes-and a way to reconcile the reality of the disaster in their own mind. The plane JFK was killed in was brought to nearby Newport to be assembled to find the cause of the crash, at one point it rounded the shore on the boat which was bringing it back-Hammersmith Farm was in the background- Jackie O.'s mother's home-and a place John Jr. grew up-every issue of that newspaper showing that plane on the fantail of the boat was bought up-just the irony and poignancy of it . Am always amazed how human nature requires visible proof of something which is beyond the ability to easily grasp. I think that's why people must go see Titanic artifacts- indeed artifacts of anything from the Roswell crash site to moon rocks. -I believe Titanic will yield some remarkable discoveries-even this many years after the fact. Maybe not about the 1912 culture- we already know it- but about the people who were onboard.

Your point about "visible proof" is well taken. I think it has to do with our propensity to associate a person with an inanimate object in that person's absence. This is something akin to the "phantom captain" phenomenon mentioned by R. Buckminster Fuller in his 1938 book, "Nine Chains To The Moon." For example, if you are talking on the telephone all the time with a particular person, and you never actually see the person - -you tend to perceive the person as the telephone, not flesh and blood.

And, money-making aside, there's some fascination about things going on here that's part of "human nature" - - - which I'm not sure that I fully understand. For example, why was U869 so interesting? Why did those divers risk their lives trying to answer the question of what sub this was? Why did the old artifacts, including the bones and the eeirie submarine itself, make the story so interesting?

On a more personal note, I just found out from my sister (who's doing some family history research) that my great-great-great-grandfather, Ole Thompson, was horribly murdered on Dec. 23, 1881, on his Iowa farm, by another relative. Although really a morbid fact, and no mysterious Lizzie Borden tale - - to our family, this was absolutely fascinating. It brought some sort of "closure," too, in the sense that it confirmed a rumor we had been hearing from relatives over the years.

So, I'm not sure I understand what's going on with this . . . something about it appeals to our baser instincts, I guess.

With respect to Michael's point, I was really surprised to hear that about how crowded the new submarines are. I had read an article in the National Geographic some years ago about this. It seemed as though the fancy, new subs were really luxurious - - with entertainment centers and the like. Another Navy tale to suck in the recruits, huh?

Have you been aboard this Russian sub that docked next to the Queen Mary?
Sorry Joe, I haven't been aboard that Russian sub and I'd love to go aboard for a look. It's a Foxtrot type is it not?

With respect to crowding on modern nuclear submarines,I'mn afraid it's unavoidable. These ships are expensive and first priority must of nesseccity go to the extensive fit of sensors to support the ships combat mission. And remember also that up to half of the ships internal volumn is devoted to engineering i.e. the reactor,heat exchangers, turbines, generators, water desalinization, auxilary deisels, and so on. Then space still has to be found for consumable stores such as food and storage for spare parts, to say nothing of the weapons.

Then these boats have to be made as affordable as possible so the Navy can procure a useful number of ships to support it's missions and deployment committments. In all of this, some creature comforts get short shrift.

There are some compensations though. The food is absolutely the best in the fleet, and there are provisions made for recreation as well as continuing education. Then there is the incentive pay which is offered. Submariners are all volunteers too, and the screening standards are very high in any service for some very obvious reasons. A submarine is, above and beyond all ship types, the very last place you want an idiot, a mental basket case, or somebody who can't stand being cooped up in small places.

Submariners in any navy take a lot of teasing but nobody has any real doubts as to their intelligence, devotion to duty, or their courage. I've met plenty and I have the greatest of respect for the lot.

Michael H. Standart
I was amused by the NatGeo comment about the new subs being luxurious. When I was a whitehat on a boomer (SSBN), I had to share my rack with the guy whose watch was opposite mine. When I was a midshipman (and therefore berthed as a junior officer), my rack was a fold-down in the wardroom...I had to learn how to sleep while others ate or watched movies. Of course, this was over 20 years ago, so maybe my boats weren't what are considered "new subs." Talking with co-workers who served on the Ohios, conditions have vastly improved, but I don't think the term "luxurious" was ever used. The killer, of course, is the schedule...if you're a fast attack sailor, the boat owns your entire existance for 4 years, without a break. Boomer crews have it easier...two crews trade off, allowing half of your tour to be away from the accursed thing. Then again, boomer patrols are so monotonous. Is it any wonder that I switched designators to become an aviator? Carriers have room for all the niceties...but that also makes for a big target. I guess everything is a trade-off. :)

Hi Sparks, this all brings to mind Murphy's 3rd law of combat:"Don't look conspicuous, it draws fire. This is why aircraft carriers are called bomb magnets."

Seriously, I've been aboard an active boomer (The Henry M. Jackson) and I noticed that the crew was racked out between the missile tubes. Pretty typical actually. They cram so much into those things that they just have to put the crew wherever they can.

Michael H. Standart
Hmm- you guys have to come up and see me some time- I live 20 minutes from Sub capital of the nation-Groton. The Nautilus Museum is well worth a trip and has recently expanded. My husband is Annapolis class of 73- destroyers though- or as they now say for DE's Fast Frigates! Those were the days.
Hello everyone,
I found this program to be very fascinating as well. I found the accident involving the father/son team and the other incident involving the other diver to be very sad, and it gave me a real dose of reality. I hold several diving certifications, have dove inside ships, and as a few other board members who are divers can attest, anything can happen while you're down there, regardless of how much experience you have. It really makes one think, and realize how lucky you are. It also makes one hold a deep respect for the sea. While beatiful, it can take anyone at anytime, regardless of who you are.

I was also impressed that the researchers were able to locate the family members of three U-869 crewmembers. They finally can have some closure after all these years. I sincerely hope that more family members can be located in the future.

The whole special also left me with two big questions which researchers will most likely never solve: Why didn't the captain receive the orders to head towards Gibraltor, and why did the U-Boat sink? Such questions only help illustrate one of the reasons all of us are obsessed by our history. It is endlessly fascinating.
Best regards,
Tad Fitch
Tad- I guess more research on the hull is planned but by the look of the hull the damage looks self-inflicted by a torpedo circling back and killing off its own sub- not an unusual phenomenon under the right conditions-they ruled out internal explosion of any kind. And it wasn't a depth charge. The explanation for why the orders were not received was given on the program- the dispatcher in Germany thought they had received the orders which was why she was listed as lost in that area. The guy who maintains that sub archive in Germany is AMAZING!
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