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U-869 or Unterseeboot 869 was a German Type IXC/40 submarine of the Kriegsmarine whose wreck was discovered off the coast of New Jerseymarker in 1991. Her keel was laid down April 5, 1943 by AG Wesermarker of Bremenmarker. She was commissioned on January 26, 1944 with Kapitänleutnant Hellmut Neuerburg in command. Neuerburg went down with his boat.

U-869 conducted one World War II war patrol without success. She suffered no casualties to her crew until she was lost in February 1945, with all but one of 56 crew members dead. One man, Herbert Guschewski was not on board as he became ill right before the war patrol.

Supposed sinking off Africa

On February 28, 1945 the American destroyer escort USS Fowler and the French submarine chaser L'Indiscret conducted a depth charge attack on a submerged contact in the Atlantic near Rabatmarker and reported a kill, although little visible evidence was presented to confirm the kill. Based on the information provided, U.S. Naval Intelligence rated the attacks "G—No Damage." U-869 had been previously ordered by Karl Dönitz to move her area of operations from the North American coast to the Gibraltarmarker area. Postwar investigators upgraded the rating from "G—No Damage" to "B—Probably Sunk," leading to an erroneous historical record that U-869 was sunk near Gibraltarmarker. For many years this attack was assumed to have been her end.

Wreckage off U.S. coast

In 1991, Bill Nagle, a former wreck diver and the captain of the Seeker learned about a wreck outside New Jersey and decided to mount a diving expedition to the site. On September 2, 1991, an unidentified U-boat wreck was discovered 73 meters (240 feet) deep (a hazardous depth for standard scuba diving) off the coast of New Jerseymarker. Nicknamed the U-Who, the exact identity of the wreck was a matter of frequent debate, and initially the wreck was thought to be either U-550marker or U-521. The discoverers of U-Who, John Chatterton and Richie Kohler, continued to dive the wreck for the next several years, taking considerable risks (three divers, Steve Feldman, Chris Rouse and Chris Rouse, Jr., died exploring the U-869). Eventually, the team recovered a knife inscribed with "Horenburg", a crew member's name. However, they learned at the U-boat archives that U-869 was supposedly sent to Africa, so this piece of evidence was initially discarded. A few years later, they found part of the UZO torpedo aiming device, and spare parts from the motor room engraved with serial and other identifying numbers. On August 31, 1997 they concluded that the boat they found is the U-869.

The men who found U-869 believed that it was a victim of her own torpedo, which may have become a "circle-runner" if a defective steering mechanism caused it to change direction in the water and head for its origination point. At least two other U-boats are known to have been lost to their own torpedoes: U-377 in 1944 and U-972 in late 1943. Another famous wreck diver, Gary Gentile, has theorized that the boat was actually sunk by depth charges, although ultimately both are simply competing theories.

However, the United States Coast Guard, in its official evaluation of the evidence, discarded the circle-running torpedo theory. Among other problems, there are two holes in the wreck of U-869, though an errant torpedo would have made only one. They believe that the boat was destroyed on February 11, 1945 by two U.S. destroyer escorts, and .

Only one crew member survived by virtue of not having been aboard. Second Radio Officer Herbert Guschewski came down with pneumonia and pleurisy shortly before the boat's departure. Like the families of the crew, Guschewski did not know what happened to his fellow sailors until 1999. He watched a program which eventually became the NOVA episode "Hitler's Lost Sub" and contacted the producers shortly afterwards, who interviewed him and kept a portion of it in the 2000 American broadcast.

See also


Additional references

  • The Last Dive: A Father and Son's Fatal Descent into the Ocean's Depths Bernie Chowdhury. Harper Paperbacks, 2002., 384 pp., ISBN 0-060-93259-7
  • Shadow Divers Exposed by Gary Gentile (ISBN 978-1883056247)
  • Shadow Divers by Robert Kurson ISBN 0-375-50858-9
  • The Last Dive by Bernie Chowdhury ISBN 0-06-093259-7

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