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There are many stories from the Great War, and I'm sure you will read lots of them during the next year or two, as the 100th anniversery approaches. This one though is a bit different, for it comes from the other side, involves a German U-Boat, a mysterious explosion, and a Ghost. Unlike most stories, this one though, begins at the end. On the 30th July, 1918, an American Submarine, L-2, was on patrol off the west coast of Ireland. The U-Boat menace had largely receded, as the Allied convoy system had proved to be very effective in combatting the threat. The cream of the U-Boat crews, who had caused so much distruction in the early part of the War, had mostly been lost at sea, and the spirits of those now manning the boats was at a low ebb. The American Captain was totally surprised then, when scanning the surface through the periscope, spotted a U-Boat on the surface, which appeared to be stationary. He ordered action stations, and they loaded Torpedo's into the forward tubes. Just before he ordered them fired off, to his astonishment, the U-Boat exploded in a blinding flash, and sank, stern first into the grey waters of the Atlantic Ocean. He swore, to his dying day, that there was a figure, standing on the stricken vessels prow, as she disappeared from sight forever. A strange end you may think, but the submarine, U-65, had an even stranger beginning.
U-65, was built in Bruges, in Belgium, early in 1916, as the story goes. She was the first of a new type of submarines, designed to have a longer range, and a higher surface speed, (13 knots) than her pre-decessors, which had proved to be a handicap in the battle of the Atlantic. She carried more crew, 31, and 3 Officers, but was as cramped as the rest of most undersea boats. It took a deal of courage to serve aboard one of these boats, no matter which side you fought on, for they were in fact, nothing more than long steel tubes. During the building of U-65, a steel girder slipped from a crane, and killed one construction engineer on the spot, and so badly injured a second, that he died later in Hospital. Prior to her launch, three engineers were running her new diesel engines, when a problem occured, and dispite their pitiful cries for help, the hatch to the engine room couldn't be opened, and all three perished, asphyxiated by the deadly fumes. The next incident happened when it came to U-65s diving trials, in the Scheldt Estuary, for a crewman, ordered to check the forward hatches and the breech of the gun, simply walked across the deck, stepped over the rail, and disappeared into the choppy waves of the North Sea. It may be, that the he didn't fancy a life in submarines, but it added to the growing alarm, that this boat was cursed. The diving trial however went on, and as the U-Boat reached 5 fathoms, (30 feet) periscope depth, the Captain order her leveled off. U-65 had other ideas it seemed, and continued her dive to the muddy bottom of the Estuary. Dispite trying every trick on the book, she then refused to budge, and with an endurence time underwater of just 12 hours, things looked a bit bleack for the remaining crew members. Just as all seemed lost, and the crew were saying thier last farewells, the boat gave a lurch, and shot back to the surface. All the crew were ill, and two sailors later died in hopital from the effects of the fumes. U-65s next little trip was back to the builders yard, where a complete overhaul was ordered. Not surprisingly, some of the crew asked for transfers, for they feared worse was to come, and in part two, we will find out if it did.
Oberleutnant Karl Honig was in charge of the new boat, when in February 1917, it took on stores for a patrol. As the last of the Torpedos was going down the forward hatch, it exploded. The second Officer, two seamen on deck, and three more below, were killed in the blast, several more injured, and the U-Boat badly damaged. She was towed back to the builders yard, during which a seaman claimed to have seen the ghost of der Schwarze, ( the dark one as the second officer had been known among the crew.) A second man, Peterson, also claimed to have seen this apperition, and was found shaking and hidding behind the Conning Tower. The day before the repaired vessel was due for it's patrol, he vanished. ( most probably deserted, but you never know ) During what was otherwise a successful patrol, several seamen reported seeing the long dead second officer, and when the duty officer was found sobbing and hysterical on the bridge, babbling about a ghost, the Captain decided to act. While he may have calmed the men down with his pep talks, he certainly made a mistake when he called on the Rev Franz Weber, to perform an exorcisum. This only strengthened the belief that the boat was Jinxed.
In Feb, 1918, after another successful patrol in the Dover Straits, they arrived back in Ostend. The docking was shortly followed by an air-raid, during which a bomb narrowly missed U-65. It did however do some other damage, for at that moment, Karl Honig was walking down the gangway on his way to report his mission. A disc shaped piece of shrapnal from the bomb, whistled across the dock area, taking Honigs head clean off. Understandably, the crew were deeply shocked at this, for they had concidered, up to that point, that he was a lucky Captain. When he was carried off U-65, his headless corpse wrapped in a canvas shroud, several of the crew saw the Ghost of the second officer, standing at the head of the gangway. After this last report, U-65 was sent into reserve, and her crew scattered among the rest of the fleet. War being war though, and with the loss of so many Boats, by April she was refitted, and resumed patrols. During the May patrol, and it's said, after another sighting of the Ghost on the prow, a crewman went mental. Held down while was pumped full of drugs, for it's not recommended that you allow a madman, to roam about the confined spaces of a submarine, he afterwards gained some self control, but when allowed on deck for a breath of air, he flung himself in the Atlantic and drowned. If this wasn't enough, a few days later, the Captain, not as experienced as the last one, surfaced and was promptly shelled by a warship. Luckily the shells did not hit anything vital, except the U-Boats Coxswain, whose jugular vein was severed by a shell splinter. This was, apparently, the last recorded death of 17 men aboard U-65, until her entire crew were blown to bits in that unexplained explosion. All this was investigated by both a German Psychologist, and by a british historian, Hector C Bywater, after the war ended. I don't know what conclusion they reached, nor will I suggest that it's all true, after all, it's a damn good ghost story, even if the U-65 was built in Wilhelmshaven, in 1915.
A wonderful thing is work, I could watch it all day. ( See my Blog entry )
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