shipwreck, Type IXC/40 U-boat, Kriegsmarine, Germany
( 252 x 22 ft ) 1051 displacement tons, 48-56 crew
February 11, 1945
sunk by destroyer escort USS Crow - no survivors
The "U-Who?" was identified as the U-869. This took some detective work, as neither US nor German records placed the U-869 anywhere near the eastern seaboard, and no submarine was recorded as sunk at the location of the wreck. The initial theory was that the U-869 was the victim of a circular-running torpedo, one which malfunctioned and homed-in on the sub that launched it. While there are numerous documented cases of this, a submarine can usually detect a circular-runner and evade by diving under it. Self-kills were rare.
That theory also does not explain the extensive damage at two locations on the wreck. ( Two torpedoes? Even more unlikely. ) Much more likely is that the sub was sunk by Coast Guard convoy escorts in an attack on Feb 11, 1945. But since there was no definite confirmation of a kill, the Navy denied the Coast Guard credit for anything, which was not uncommon. According to Navy records, the Coasties just wasted a lot of ammunition on nothing. See below for details.
The now-famous "Horenberg knife"
German Navy markings on a dish
The U-869 never sank a ship. The remains of the crew are still inside the broken hull, and even today this hapless boat continues to take lives: 3 divers have died on her since her discovery in 1991. Four other submarines in the area that are at much more diveable depths are:
John Chatterton exploring U-869 - Dive Sites & Shipwrecks - New Jersey Scuba DivingJohn Chatterton explores the interior of the U-869, or 'U-Who?' He discusses the dive as it happens, and the details of the exploration and identification of the wreck.
John Chatterton explores the U-869.
Pause the video at 3:37 to see the easy lobster he missed.
Sectional drawing of a Type IX u-boat. Click to enlarge.
The U-869 as it lies on the bottom. Note the extensive damage.
At the widest point, the pressure hull is slightly less than 5 meters in diameter, and tapers to both ends. In the video, Chatterton enters through the blast hole amidships and moves forward to the torpedo room.
Looking aft in the control room of a Type IX u-boat. This is where Chatterton enters the wreck, but on the U-869 it is blown wide open.
Moving forward to the Officer's mess.
Internal hatch of a Type IX u-boat, the U-505, preserved in Chicago.
This hatch leads to the aft torpedo room, which also served as crew berthing. In the event of damage, these hatches would be closed to seal off the watertight compartments. Whatever happened to the U-869 must have been immediate and catastrophic, as all the hatches appear to be wide open.
Looking forward in the Petty Officers' quarters on a different Type IX, with closed hatch leading to forward torpedo room.
The forward torpedo room of the U-505. As the U-869 may never have fired a shot, there is probably several thousand pounds of touchy old explosives in her torpedo rooms. Be careful, John !
Backtracking from the tordeo room to the Petty Officers' quarters.
Looking aft into the extremely tight electrical room.
by Captain Dan Crowell
An expedition on September 2, 1991 aboard the dive boat SEEKER left Manasquan inlet to examine one of thousands of lumps that litter the floor of the Atlantic along the East Coast. The boat pulled away from the dock at midnight for a five hour journey across open ocean to a point 65 miles off the New Jersey coast. The trip is an annual event set aside from the usual schedule to investigate clues to a lump that may hold more promise of interest than an old trash barge or pile of rocks. These clues are usually obtained by trading locations with fishermen, or dragger captains who wish to avoid these lumps so as not to lose their nets.
U-869 departs on her only cruise
As SEEKER neared its destination, Captain Bill Nagle - owner-operator of the boat - was called to the wheelhouse. The sun had just risen into a clear sky and the seas were tolerable as he took over the helm. On approach to the coordinates Captain Bill slowed the engines and began a search pattern. Within a few minutes an erratic jump on the bottom recorder traced an outline of an object resting on the bottom. The signal was given to toss the grapnel off the bow. The anchor line jerked back as the grapnel clambered over the wreckage then fetched up securely, and the line was quickly tied off.
A glance at the depth sounder revealed deeper water than anticipated. Captain John Chatterton decided to tie in the anchor line and make a reconnaissance dive. He quickly geared up then flopped over the side of the boat. Descending the anchor line, John reached the bottom and quickly secured the grapnel so it couldn't pull free of the wreckage. It was very dark and visibility was only 10 to 15 feet as he continued his survey. With light in hand illuminating only a small area John swam along what appeared to be the upper edge of the hull. He recalls noticing the top of the hull curved inward to meet the deck area, unlike a ship, which would have a gunwale that protrudes above the main deck. "Another barge, " he thought to himself.
Continuing he noticed a hatch and again it was unlike one found on a ship or barge. This one was built to withstand great pressure. Pictures started forming in John's mind as he surveyed the wreckage further. A high pressure cylinder and narrow beam were revealed while swimming up over the wreck. The answer was soon unveiled. "It's a sub!" John excitedly looked for evidence to substantiate his discovery. Checking his gauges, the bottom timer indicated the dive was over and John reluctantly swam back to the anchor line.
The mounting of the antiaircraft gun visible in the shot above
Guidance fins on a torpedo
Ascending the anchor line, John stopped at fifty feet to begin his lengthy decompression. As the divers on board waited impatiently, diver Kevin Brennan noticed John's bubbles close to the surface near the anchor line indicating he was decompressing. Kevin decided not to wait for John to surface. He donned his gear and splashed into the water. Kevin figured John would indicate whether or not there was anything of interest before he made the descent. When Kevin reached the anchor line John saw him and quickly scribbled something on his slate. As Kevin made his descent, John held out his slate: "SUB!" Kevin's eyes opened wide with excitement, then he ascended to alert the others of their impending dive. The remaining divers moved about in a frenzy to don their gear, each exuberant to be one of the first to dive a virgin wreck. The excitement must have been too much that day for not one artifact was recovered to give any clue of the wreck's origin.
The next trip proved unproductive and ended in tragedy. A diver, [ Steven Feldman ] for reasons unknown, was rendered unconscious and swept away in the current. He was not recovered until several months later, far from the wreck, by a commercial fisherman. Diver John Yurga did recover the first artifacts that day but they added no immediate evidence to the wreck's identity.
As the weeks passed between trips much research was underway. This also proved fruitless as to the origin of the wreck. No naval records showed the sinking of any submarine within hundreds of miles of the wreck's location. Though the records showed no sinkings they did reveal the bombing of anything that even remotely resembled a shadow below the surface of the water by naval and civil defenses. We theorized that in at least one case, this method to defend against a U-boat attack was more than effective. Through conjecture, our opinion was formed that the wreck was of German origin.
The third trip was greatly rewarding. John Chatterton, Steve Gatto and I all recovered artifacts that would confirm the wreck as being German. I recovered items from one of the survival canisters with operational instructions written in German. Steve Gatto recovered a part of U.Z.O., a torpedo aiming device with the Kreigsmarine insignia stamped into it. John recovered china from deep inside the wreck. Not only did the china have the Kriegsmarine insignia but also the date, 1942. John's find narrowed the field of research considerably but the definitive answer to the mystery remained elusive.
A bulkhead opening
John Chatterton announces the discovery
On the fourth and final trip of the 1991 season many more artifacts were recovered. One in particular may hold the key to unlock the mystery. A knife with a name crudely inscribed in the handle was recovered by Chatterton near the same area as the china. Though the wreck holds no real archeological value or treasure, the thrill of discovery and exploration is more than enough reward to justify the time, expense and risk of those experienced and daring individuals willing to be part of the adventure.
reprinted from Sub Aqua Journal September 1992
Photos courtesy of Dan Crowell
reprinted from Discover Diving magazine, December 1995
On September 2, 1991, Captains Bill Nagle and John Chatterton with the crew of the dive charter boat SEEKER discovered an unidentified U-boat off the coast of New Jersey. The find was based on Loran numbers for an unidentified shipwreck that had been provided by a commercial fisherman during 1990. Schedule conflicts and inclement weather kept Nagle and Chatterton from visiting the site approximately 60 miles off Barnegat Inlet, but in September 1991 an open weekend and a favorable weather prediction permitted such an offshore trip. Nagle invited several experienced wreck divers to join the search for the wreck, reportedly in over 200 feet of water.
When the mystery wreck was located at 39' 33' N, 73' 02' W, in about 230 feet of water, it was identified as a submarine, but not which one, nor even whether it was American or German. No artifacts were recovered on the first two trips that would identify its nationality. A third trip on September 29, 1991 was more productive.
The conning tower was separated from the hull and laying in the sand. The port side of the control room was almost completely demolished from bulkhead to bulkhead, nearly separating the submarine into two pieces. Captain Chatterton dropped into the damaged area and passed through the forward control room hatch into the radio room and Captain's quarters. Continuing forward, he passed through another hatch into the galley and found three small plates and two soup bowls. After returning to the dive boat, Chatterton inspected his artifacts. He was dismayed to find that the small dishes had no markings. However, the two soup bowls were marked with an eagle and swastika, a large M representing the Kriegsmarine ( Germany's World War II navy ) dated 1942.
Other divers recovered pieces of life rafts with German markings. Steve Gatto and Tom Packer, both of Atco, New Jersey, used their dive to dig in the pile of debris where the control room once was. Gatto recovered a bronze "UZO, " a torpedo aiming device inscribed with an eagle and swastika and the large M. Those artifacts identified the wreck as a German U-boat and the hull configuration indicated it to be a Type IX, but the question remained: Which U-boat? Neither U.S. nor German naval records show a U-boat casualty within I 00 miles of the site. Skeletal remains were viewed on subsequent dives. Captain Chatterton recovered a knife with a wooden handle, and on the handle was the hand-inscribed name "Horenburg." That knife proved to be the key to solving the mystery of the U-boat's identity.
In December 1993, Captain Chatterton sent an inquiry, with information, sketches and photographs of the U-boat to the Naval Historical Branch of the Ministry of Defense, London, England. In turn, the Naval Historical Branch forwarded the inquiry and material to Berlin, Germany for assessment by Dr. Axel Niestle, an authority on U-boats.
In July 1995, after reading my book, Dive into History: U-boats, co-authored with George Farr, Dr. Niestle sent me a copy of the report he had produced for the Naval Historical Branch for discussion and distribution. He concluded that the mystery U-boat referred to as " U-Who" by sport divers is U-869.
The Mystery of U-869
U-869, a Type IXC U-boat under the command of Kapitanleutnant Helmut Neuerburg, left Kiel, Germany on November 23, 1944 for snorkel training at Horten, Norway. The snorkel was a twin air-intake and exhaust tube that permitted a submerged submarine to operate its diesel engines instead of the much weaker electrical engines.
On December 3, it left Horten for Kristiansand-South to take on fuel and provisions. Nine days later the U-boat left for her first war patrol. Neuerburg was ordered to move northwards along the Norwegian coast before breaking into North Atlantic waters via the Iceland-Faeroe gap.
On December 29, Commander-in-Chief, U-boats ( Befehlshaber der Unterseeboote [BdU] ) ordered U-869 by radio signal to head to grid square CA 53 ( 40' N, 72' W ) off the U.S. coast. All U-boats carried such grid-covered charts ( duplicates of those at U-boat Headquarters ). The grid system allowed BdU to deploy U-boats without fear of enemy interception of his orders. In turn, the U-boats could keep headquarters informed of their locations without fear of providing the information to the enemy.
U-869, however, did not respond to the December 29 BdU order. The following day the U-boat was ordered to report her position, but there was no response. On January I and January 6, 1945, BdU repeated the order, but without results. The BdU's war diary ( KTB ) for December 30, and January 3, reflects anxiety over the U-boat's probable loss.
On January 6, U-869 finally reported in, but its position was inadequately fixed. From the position reported, BdU assumed the U-boat had used the Denmark Strait instead of the Iceland Passage to enter the Atlantic and was concerned about the impact of the longer course on U-869's fuel supply. The U-boat was ordered to continue southward and report the state of fuel and position the following night, and reissued the order concerning its operational area ( CA-53 ).
When U-869 did not report in, BdU radioed the U-boat to change its patrol area to west of Gibraltar ( CG 92-95 ), excluding the Gibraltar Strait; that area was heavily patrolled by Allied warships. U-869 was ordered to remain submerged and use its snorkel on the approach route after entering square CG; Allied aircraft patrolled the area and a surfaced U-boat would be an easy target. Forty-seven percent of U-boat sinkings during the war were attributed to Allied aircraft, a far cry from the relatively ineffectual role of the airplane in World War I anti submarine action. Dr. Niestle stated, "The change of the operational area for the U-boat was probably based on the assumption that the longer outward route had reduced its fuel stocks to the extent that distant operations off the U.S. coast were no longer possible."
On January 8, 1945, U-869 reported its fuel supply, but did not acknowledge the change in operational area. The radio report was repeated the following day. Dr. Niestle states, "Although the last two messages were intercepted by Allied radio stations, apparently they were not received by BdU, as he again ordered U-869 on January 9 to report its fuel state during the next night." This time U-869 reacted promptly, reporting its fuel supply on January 10, but again did not acknowledge the change in operational area. The intercepted version of the message did not contain the position of the boat at that time. Dr. Niestle states that the position, grid square AK 96, for U-869 given in BdU's war diary on January 10, 1945 "was probably derived only from plotting the boat since its last reported position.
"After January 10, 1945 no more reports were received from U-869. On January 19 BdU informed the boat about his expectation that the operational area ordered on January 8 is reached on about February 2. On February 17, the BdU attributed reports about the torpedoing of Allied merchant vessels in the Gibraltar area, intercepted by the German Radio Intelligence Service ( B-Dienst ), to U-869. He was, however, unaware ... that U-300 ... was responsible." On February 22, 1945 U-300, under the command of Hein, was depth charged by the British warships Recruit, Evadne, and Pincher, and sunk southwest of Cadiz and therefore, did not report the sinkings attributed to U-869.
All U-boats carried grid-covered charts ( duplicates of those at U-boat headquarters. ) U-869 was ordered to go to grid CA 53. The grid system allowed U-boat command to deploy U-boats without fear of enemy interception of the orders. In turn, the U-boats could keep headquarters informed of their locations without giving the information to the enemy.
Dr. Niestle continues, "Despite the absence of any conclusive information about U-869 after January 10, the BdU believed the boat to have operated in its assigned area ( off Gibraltar ) until depletion of fuel and provisions forced the boat to commence the return passage. Owing to the common practice of operational boats not to give away their position by radio signals for fear of being located by radio direction, BdU apparently saw no reason for expressing anxiety about the fate of U-869. Assuming the boat already on its home-bound passage, he informed it on April 2, 1945 that Kristiansand-South would be its port of destination, thus expressing his intention for subsequent onward transfer to Germany for yard overhaul. When the air defense situation in the Kattegat area deteriorated drastically during April 1945, this order was canceled on April 24 and U-869 was ordered to go to Bergen."
U-869 did not arrive at Bergen and did not surrender at the cessation of hostilities. In June 1945, the German Naval High Command prepared a "List of Lost U- boats" ( PG 13953 ), and assumed U-869 was lost on or about February 20, 1945 while still operating off Gibraltar. However, this was speculation and was probably based on the B-Dienst report of U-boat activity in that area.
After the war the Allied Antisubmarine Assessment Committee listed U-869 as being lost on February 28, 1945 in the area west of Rabat, Morocco ( 34'30' N, 08'1 3'W ). The U.S. destroyer escort Fowler and the French patrol craft L'Indiscret were credited with sinking the U-boat with depth charges. Fowler picked up a sonar contact while escorting convoy GUS 74. The contact was attacked with 13 magnetic depth charges which brought lumps and balls of heavy oil sludge to the surface after five or six explosions. A second attack with 12 magnetic charges dropped in the middle of the oil sludge resulted in two more explosions, but no further evidence of damage. Later, a L'Indiscret attack on a sonar contact in the same area caused a large black object to break the surface; it sank immediately, but no debris was observed and contact was lost. In the absence of any other explanation of the loss of U-869, the Committee credited both ships with a kill.
' U-Who' Identified
Dr. Niestle, referring to the knife found by Captain Chatterton states, "The inscription (Horenburg) was almost certainly used to identify the knife as property of a crew member with the same family name. The casualty list of the German U-boat Arm in World War II lists only a single person with the inscribed name. His name was Martin Horenburg, born on October 1, 1919, and recorded as lost on U-869 while serving as Funkmeister on this boat."
Dr. Niestle continues, "Although this information apparently does not fit into the picture, as U-869 is recorded as lost in the Gibraltar area or at least in the Eastern North Atlantic, there can be no doubt about the identity of the wreck found being that of U-869. Apart from the fact that Horenburg was the only U-boat crew member with this name lost in the war, it now becomes clear that U-869 did not receive the BdU order to steer for the Gibraltar area instead for its originally assigned steering area CA 53. The difficulties to send or receive messages by radio in early January 1945 in the Atlantic have become obvious from the repeated difficulties to obtain reports from U-869 during that period. It is therefore not surprising that U-869 did not receive the message about the change of its operational area and continued on its original route. Moreover, the position of the wreck is almost identical with the steering area CA 53 assigned to U-869 on December 29, 1944 by BdU. It is therefore very likely that U-869 operated in this area, taking it as her intended operational area in the absence of the reception of any other orders contrary to this.
"Assuming a normal direct transfer route across the Atlantic from the point where U-869 reported its position for the last time on January 10, 1945, it is likely that U-869 arrived in CA 53 on or about February 1, 1945. At that time U-869 would have been already 55 days at sea. Taking into consideration the time necessary for the return passage ( at minimum 40 days ), it seems likely that U-869 would have commenced its return passage at the end of February 1945 or early March at latest in order to complete its patrol within the usual patrol length for snorkel operations off North America in 1944/45. Patrols did not exceed 123 days ( U-1230 ) during this period, but almost generally lasted more than I 00 days. With reasonable certainty it is likely that U-869 was lost in February 1945. However, the reason for its loss remains speculative, as there are no recorded antisubmarine attacks during February / March 1945 in the vicinity of the wreck's position.
"However, the following incident might give a possible explanation for the loss of U-869. On February 17, 1945 the U.S. tanker Harpers Ferry reported sighting a submarine in 38 58' N, 72 25' W and seeing a flare off her starboard quarter, after which there appeared to be an explosion on a vessel astern of her. If the object sighted by the tanker was indeed a U-boat, the explosion could well have been due to a torpedo, which, since no ship was in fact reported torpedoed at this time, may have either exploded in the seaway or in the targetswake, or have run back ( a circular run ) and hit the U-boat. Although the position of the incident is some 50 miles distant from the wreck location, the position in Harpers Ferry radio room may well have been three hours old, depending on how often it was updated. Hence the ship's true position could feasibly have been in the vicinity of the wreck's position, which lies close to the tanker's track into New York, to where she was bound from Cristobal and Cartagena. Because the U-boat wreck found shows extensive damage in its mid- section, the destruction may have resulted from one of U-869's T-5 homing torpedoes that ran back."
Thanks to the recovery of Funkmeister Martin Horenburg's inscribed knife by Captain John Chatterton and Dr. Axel Niestle's interpretation of events, " U-Who" has regained her identity as Germany's Type IXC U-boat U-869. More supporting evidence will come to light as divers continue to explore the World War II relic.
The Sinking of the U-869
by Harold Moyers
On the night of February 11, 1945 the U.S. Coast Guard-manned Howard D. Crow, a 306-foot long destroyer escort, was heading 143 degrees south, southeast out of Ambrose channel NYC Harbor. The ship had been underway for eight hours and had joined up with convoy CU 58 to serve as protection from German submarine attacks. The Nazis had just suffered the defeat of their final European land offensive in the Ardennes Forest (known commonly as the Battle of the Bulge). Allied forces were now nearly assured of victory. The United States homeland, untouched by bombings, and emerging as the world's great industrial power, was hailed as the "arsenal of democracy" this arsenal was transported across the Atlantic by ships like those of convoy CU 58.
USS Howard D Crow DE-252
At that stage of the war it was almost suicide to attack a defended convoy. The life expectancy of a U-Boat was two patrols. By 1945 an attacking sub could expect to sink only about one ship before detection. A few years earlier the situation was entirely different. German U-Boats were enjoying what they termed their "happy time". Allied convoys were being mauled by wolf packs of subs. These coordinated attacks, typically at night, were carried out over successive days over wide expanses of ocean. A mariner had reason to fear the approach of dusk and survival prospects were bleak in the cold, dark North Atlantic. Sailors on munitions ships or tankers carrying aviation fuel seldom knew what hit them. For them the wait was worse then the end.
The war's turn was probably cold comfort for the men of CU 58. Ships were still being lost, although at a markedly reduced rate, and shipwrecked men were still freezing to death in the Atlantic. The men read the newspapers, they knew the war would soon be over; they had been running the U-Boat gauntlet in some cases for over five years. Merchant seamen suffered crew casualties higher than their U-Boat enemies. Many had to feel the stress of flipping the coin so many times with the ending of the war so near. The men of the Howard D. Crow didn't feel the end was as near for their wartime service. The invasions of Iwo Jima and Okinawa were still ahead and the allied "Europe first" strategy had left for the United States a Japanese enemy that was still very much alive. The men of the Crow and the other escorts knew that their reward for hard work in the Atlantic would be more hard work in the Pacific.
U-869 departs on her only cruise
The crew of the German submarine U-869 sailed two months earlier with a different reality. They felt they were condemned men. This was their first patrol and there was no optimism that they would return to the quay greeted as heroes with marching bands and pretty girls admiring the victory pennants hanging from the conning tower. The U-Boats had abandoned their warm, lively French bases and their new bleak Norwegian bases were in a shambles and constantly under attack. Victories were rare and celebratory pennants rarer. They had departed Kristanstand, Norway on December 8, 1944 for a point in the ocean several hundred miles south of Iceland, from there they would be directed via encoded radio message for a patrol destination. On December 29, 1944 U-Boat command radioed the submarine to patrol an area off the New Jersey Coast. The order was in turn rescinded when the U-869 radioed in her fuel supply. The young captain of the submarine, twenty eight year old Helmut Neuerburg, had been extra cautious on his voyage to his detachment point. Neuerburg was on his first sub patrol ever and he no doubt was alarmed at the growing number of lost Commander's portraits that were covering the walls of the officers' clubs. Instead of taking his boat between Ireland and Iceland, Neuerburg had decided to travel the longer, but less patrolled route south of Greenland. This is what had diminished his fuel supply. U-Boat command rerouted him to the straights of Gibraltar were he would have more time to operate on patrol. They expected him to arrive on February 1, 1945.
Early evening February 11, 1945 was overcast and unseasonably warm in the mid forty degree range. The sea was calm with a slight swell from the east. Lt. John Nixon commanded the Crow. The anti-submarine warfare officer was Ensign I. G. "George" King who at 24 was just a few years older than some of the men under him. At 4:39 PM the sonar operator, Howard Denson, yelled out a strong contact. The contact was from sonar, a machine that produced a pinging noise and then analyzed a return echo. A good operator could distinguish a steel object from a hard sea bottom or a school of fish. Denson was a good operator, he was an original member or "plank owner" of the Crow's crew. He was well trained on his sonar equipment, as were most operators, the increasingly lopsided Battle of the Atlantic testified to that. His contact was so strong that ASW (Anti-Submarine Warfare) officer King ordered preparations for an immediate hedge hog attack without waiting for the captains orders. A "hedge hog" was a special anti-submarine weapon mounted on the forward deck of the destroyer. It fired 24 missiles forward of the speeding vessel. The grouped missiles resembled a porcupine, or as the English say, "hedge hog". Each missile contained a 38 lb. warhead that only detonated on contact with a hard surface. The missiles landed on the water in an elongated elliptical pattern and rapidly sank until making contact, striking a sand bottom wouldn't set them off.
Hedgehog anti-submarine weapons in their launcher
The destroyer approached the submerged contact at 4:53 PM, fourteen minutes after making contact and fired her hedgehogs. Carpenters Mate Robert Quigly was below deck in the stem of the Crow. He knew nothing of the attack until the hedgehogs went off. At least one had detonated and the violence of the explosion was so great that he thought a torpedo had struck his own ship. He ran on deck only to witness an emerging oil slick on the waters surface. "What the hell's going on?" he asked gunners mate Ted Sieviec. Sieviec was his bunkmate and had also fired the hedgehogs. "We are attacking a submarine", he replied.
The Crow instantly called for help in the attack. The USS Koiner answered the call and turned northwest and headed the fifteen miles to the Crow at flank speed. A request also went out to CINCLANT (Commander and Chief Atlantic) for a hunter killer group to pick up the attack. Hunter killer groups were specialists; they usually patrolled with a light aircraft carrier and contained several high-speed destroyers. Once they picked up the scent, they would stay on a target for hours, even days. The Crow and the Koiner requested the hunter group because they needed to rejoin the convoy as rapidly as possible. Their absence left the convoy vulnerable to attack from any other submarine that may be lurking nearby.
The Crow continued her attack as she waited for relief. At 5:17 PM four depth charges were dropped on the slowly moving contact. This resulted in air bubbles and more oil coming to the surface. Twenty-five minutes later three more depth charges were dropped. Again air bubbles and oil came to the surface. At 6:00 PM the Koiner arrived and investigated the sonar contact, which was now stationary on the bottom. As the Crow stood off, Lieutenant Commander Judson of the Koiner ordered an attack. In all, Judson ordered three attacks on the stationary target, each attack brought oil to the surface but no movement. He lowered a small boat over the side and Chief Ring investigated the dark water over the attack site. Ring soaked up oil on a rag and returned to the Koiner. Lieutenant Commander Judson ordered both vessels to return to convoy CU 58 and take up station. At 7:26 they were underway. Judson classified the contact non-sub. CINCLANT was notified that the hunter killer group was no longer needed. The men of the Howard D. Crow were disappointed, errant depth charge attacks don't bring air bubbles and oil to the surface. They really felt they got one. In the escort report for CU 58 the event was written off as an attack on a wreck "submarine or otherwise" as the report stated. The attack occurred at an inexact point in the ocean roughly 39.30 North, 72.58 West. Sixty years after the attack, 92-year-old Charles Judson still recalls the night. "I thought I was attacking a wreck, it never moved the whole time I attacked it". Convoy CU 58 successfully crossed the Atlantic, with no losses.
USS Koiner DE-331 in 1945
After the war an exhaustive study was made to determine the fate of every German U-Boat. This was in part to determine who should be credited for which sinking. These after war assessments took into account information from a variety of sources, namely the Eastern Sea Frontier Diary (our attack and activity records), as well as German sources. After war assessors noted the Howard D. Crow and Koiner attack but were inclined to believe in Lieutenant Commander Judson's analysis that the contact was a shipwreck lying on the bottom. German submarine command kept careful records: No U-Boats were operating off the New Jersey coast in February 1945. The boat commanded by Helmut Neuerburg, U-869, was presumed by the Germans to be sunk off Gibraltar. That was her patrol area and they failed to contact the vessel after repeated attempts. After war assessors had three attacks on contacts off Gibraltar in which to pin the success for the sinking. They settled on an attack on February 28, 1945 by USS Fowler and the French vessel L'Indiscret. The attack was assessed "B" (probable).
Forty-six years later, a group of hard-core Atlantic wreck divers made an incredible discovery, a Type IX German U-Boat. The wreck divers, spear-headed by John Chatterton, set to work identifying the sub. The story is well told in the New York Times Bestseller Shadow Divers. The divers, principally Chatterton, Richie Kohler, and John Yurga, had a problem that was the exact opposite that the after war assessors had. The Jersey divers had a U-Boat without an attack whereas as the assessors had an attack without a U-Boat. The two pieces of information were for some reason never linked even though the attack and the newly discovered submarine were near one another. Official Navy records said no attack in February '45, period. The Germans said no U-Boat was in that place at that time. The boat became a mystery sub and in his characteristic cleverness Chatterton dubbed the find the "U-Who".
In 1997, Chatterton was able to recover a tag solving the mystery as to the identity of the sub: she was the U-869. A careful analysis of Intelligence records indicated that the sub probably hadn't received the message to head to Gibraltar and obviously continued on her course to the New Jersey coast. As to why she sank? The original wreck diving trio came up with a circle run torpedo theory; the submarine fired a torpedo that doubled back on itself. At that stage of the war U-Boats carried acoustic torpedoes that homed in on high-speed propeller noises. These weapons were primarily defensive, in theory an escort racing in to attack a submarine could be destroyed by a homing torpedo. Despite initial reports of success the weapon was in fact ineffective. A major reason the circle run theory was accepted was that British Navy experts who viewed underwater footage of the gaping hole in the submarines control room felt the damage was so massive that it had to be from a torpedo and not a depth charge. The other reason it was accepted is simply what else could have sunk it? Records never recorded an attack in that area. The circle run torpedo theory has many flaws. Most notably that the U-Boat doesn't have a single wound but two wounds. She has a massive hole breaching her upper deck in the location of the aft torpedo room. The circle-run torpedo theorists have no explanation for this damage.
Damage to the aft torpedo room is clearly evident in this drawing of the U-869
It's a fallacy to say that only a torpedo could have caused the U-869's damage. Clearly a circular run torpedo wouldn't have made two large holes separated by a distance of 75'. The explosive warhead on a German T-5 acoustic torpedo was 604 Lbs. The explosive charge on a U.S. Mark 7 "ashcan" depth charge was 600 Lbs. The reason torpedoes typically produce more damage is because of the close proximity of the detonation. The depth charges on the Crow were set to explode at 200'. Several crewmembers remember that once while training off Corpus Christi, Texas they dropped depth charges set for 50'. The resulting concussion sprung leaks in the brand new warship and she had to go into dry dock for repairs. From that point on the charges were set to explode as deep as possible. The charges' depth fuses were set in 50' increments, 200' would have been a logical setting for the water depth at the attack site. The U-869 sits in 224' of water and the submarines hull is 22.5' in diameter. That means it's possible that a depth charge with 600 lbs of explosives could detonate a foot off the pressure hull. This could explain the gaping hole in the U-869's control room as well as the aft torpedo room. Add to that damage forty plus years of being struck by 10 ton clam dredges and fishing nets and you can begin to see that the damage is not unexplainable by depth charge. Those familiar with shipwrecks in this depth of water frequently see ships that have been reduced to a pile of rubble.
The known location of the U-869 is 4.5 miles from the reported position of the Crow and Koiner attack. Navigation of that era was an inexact science, 4.5 miles is remarkably close. If after the war assessors had known a German U-Boat was in that area in February, '45 they most certainly would have taken a closer look at the destroyers attack. The most interesting thing about the Crow / Koiner attack is the date, February 11, 1945. The U-Boat had reported its position January 6, 1945 at 56.21 North, 26.45 West. At this point she had traveled 2070 miles from Norway, or 69 miles per day. German U-Boat command expected her to arrive in her Gibraltar operation area on February 1, 1945. This was a distance of 1770 miles. This also equaled 69 miles per day. The U-Boat however never headed to Gibraltar she headed to a point off New Jersey, this distance was 2430 miles. If she averaged 69 miles per day it would have taken 35 days to reach the location in which she sank. That date would have been February 11, 1945; the exact date of the Crow / Koiner attack.
In light of this newly uncovered information a new ending can be envisioned for the U-869. Arriving in her patrol area in the busy waters off New Jersey she soon detects the sounds of a convoy over her underwater listening hydrophones. Traveling below the surface, her diesel engines breathing through an snorkel tube, the U-869 tries to position herself for an approach on the unsuspecting CU 58. Suddenly alarm fills the boat, the hydrophone operator hears the sound of an approaching warship moving fast. The young captain takes her deep. A hedgehog detonation sends the crew into a panic as the U-Boat skids along the bottom. Not dead but badly wounded she tries to creep away; one hedgehog isn't always sufficient to destroy a 1,120-ton U-Boat. The submarine was moving very slowly along the bottom as the Crow came in for her depth charge run. It's impossible to know which damage occurred first, the aft torpedo room or the control room. Either would have been instantly and catastrophically fatal. Lieutenant Commander Judson was probably correct in his assessment that he was bombing a wreck: a wreck that was one hour and thirty-eight minutes old.
It's highly likely that the attack on February 11, 1945 was responsible for the sinking of the U-869. The attack most probably prevented the submarine from attacking a ship in convoy CU-58. It's time to give these aging heroes the recognition they deserve.
USS Howard D Crow in 1957
from USCG Historian's Office, June 2005
illustrations added by editor, NJScuba.net
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