U-977 – Really a mysterious last voyage?
On 06 May 1943 the Type VII C U-Boat U 977 (Displacement 871 t submerged, length 67.1 m, width 6.2 m, speed at surface 17.7 kn, submerged 7.6 kn, range 8,500 nmi at 10 kts, complement 44-52 men, armament 4 bow and 2 rear torpedo tubes, guns) was commissioned at its shipyard of Blohm & Voss, Hamburg. After initial training the U-boat remained in the Baltic Sea as training boat until February 1945, before it received its Snorkel at Blohm & Voss at the end of February 1945, to then go through combat training, dislocating from Kiel, Germany to Horten and Kristiansand, Norway. On 02nd of May 1945 at 22.00 hrs local time U 977 departed Kristiansand for a combat mission bound for the Western Approaches of the English Channel. At sea it received on 04 May 1945 the U-boat High Command message to all German U-boats to seize all combat activities, and on 09 May 1945 at the formal German surrender still at sea the order to hand over the U-boat to the victorious Allies.
Beginning on 05 May 1945, some 153 Kriegsmarine U-boats, although in different stages of combat readiness, did surrender to the Allies, either being still at sea or in German or German occupied foreign ports. The actual hand over occurred until mid-May 1945, since some of those U-boats still at sea had to transit longer legs to their port of delivery.
However, the Commanding Officers of 3 more U-boats at sea decided differently after they discussed the further fate of their U-boat with their crews. With the consent of their crew they decided to escape surrender in European or North American ports and to rather seek internment in other countries. U 1277 sank itself off the northern Portuguese coast on 03 June 1945 and the crew was interned at Portugal, U 530 made it as far as Mar del Plata in Argentina, to give up there as late as 10 July 1945, but most prominent of all the case of U 977.
When he received the order to seize combat activities and soon after the order to surrender, the Commanding Officer of U 977, Lieutenant Heinz Schaeffer, discussed with his crew the order to surrender and thereby outlined various options how to act, inter alia to escape to Argentina. The majority of the 48 strong crew approved of the Argentina proposal. 16 sailors, which had expressed their desire to rather join their families or leave before, were clandestinely disembarked off the Norwegian island of Holsenöy during the night of 10 May 1945 by means of life rafts.
During the next 66 days U 977, with her reduced 32 men strong crew on board, sailed continuously submerged through the Atlantic Ocean in southerly heading, using only her Snorkel for air supply. The first 50 days the U-boat did not come further than the Atlantic Coast of Northern Africa. Life and working conditions on board deteriorated fast, but remarkably the crew hang on.
Not before reaching the Cape Verde Islands on 14 July 1945 the U 977 surfaced and stopped for a short relaxation break. Under the much better conditions of transiting surfaced the voyage continued now towards Argentina, the equator was passed on 23rd of July 1945 at 30° W. Eventually, on 17 August 1945 at 11.00 hrs local time U 977 entered the port of Mar del Plata, Argentina, some 108 days and more than 7,600 nmi after it had departed Kristiansand and after the crew again could discuss a possible scuttling of the U-boats somewhere before the Argentine coast and making it ashore clandestinely, a surely remarkable achievement in terms of seamanship and leadership came to an end.
Initially, the crew was interned in Argentina, then, however, turned over to the US, same as their comrades from U 530, to become a kind of PoW (The war with Germany was over already) there. After they were brought to Europe and following a short British captivity the crew was released in 1946. The Commanding Officer was the last of them, since he was interrogated again and again as to the circumstances of the voyage of U 977 and the pretended mystery behind it.
U 977 was the second German U-boat after U 530 which escaped to Argentina after the end of war – and, soon rumors started to spread around this U-boat and the allegedly true reason for its adventurous voyage. In July 1945, the ex-Hungarian journalist Ladizslav Szabó, who had immigrated to Argentina before, published a theory in the Argentine newspaper “Critica” about Hitler having escaped by means of an U-boat to Argentina and further through Patagonia to a secret “fortress”, allegedly established in Antarctica and called “Neuschwabenland” or “Neu-Berchtesgaden”. This theory has been fostered probably much by the arrival of U 530.
The further arrival of another German U-boat, U 977, gave that theory even more attention as not experienced before and the Commanding Officer had to go through many lengthy interrogations by US and later British authorities on the accusation that he, the “Officer hiding Hitler”, had brought Hitler secretly to Argentina. For these interrogations Heinz Schaeffer was detained in special US and British PoW camps. Szabó and other theorists of conspiracies forged further on escape stories around Hitler, in 1947 his book “Hitler esta vivo” (= “Hitler is alive”) was published and in 2006 another concoction appeared “Hitler no murion en el Bunker” (= “Hitler did not die in the Bunker”).
An excursion into the internet is strongly recommended, where at “google” alone hundreds of hits can be achie-ved when punching in the relevant keywords. A highlight certainly is the alleged Kriegsmarine U-boat convoy which took Hitler and his entourage to the “fortress” in Antarctica, U 977 being part of it, of course.
Although the rumors on the allegedly secret voyage of U 977 could be “defused” in the end, inter alia through the notes in the war diary of U 977 and simple time-distance calculations, they maintained some life in Argentina, in particular when former high ranking National Socialists, that had managed to escape, were tracked down at their hiding places in South America. Heinz Schaeffer left Germany and went back to Argentina where he married in Buenos Aires in 1950. The Commanding Officer of U 977 published his memories a few years after the end of war
Heinz Schaeffer: "U-977 - Geheimfahrt nach Südamerika, Linen Verlag, Wiesbaden 1950, English Edition "U-boat 977" by William Kimber 1952, London . The book has been published as short version paperback "66 Tage unter Wasser - die geheimnisumwobene U-Boot-Fernfahrt nach Argentinien" by Erich Pabel Verlag 1986 , Rastatt.
On 24 August 2011, in its series “Once upon the time”, newsmagazine “DER SPIEGEL” published the story of that allegedly mysterious last voyage of U 977, we have made use of in this compilation as well.
Over and over again, there are the oddest stories and theories of conspiracy, above all in Anglo-American media, about the Third Reich and the end of its leadership. Quite logically, the more than 100 days voyage of U 977 to Argentina after the official end of the war is of much use to that and it is linked willingly to the escape of former leading National Socialists to South America, even when those were executed differently. Composing those stories, one consequently starts at the top, i.e. Adolf Hitler himself, and adds a few more ingredients, such as valuable captured pieces of art, precious metals and money. That makes headlines and supports the circulation of articles and books.
The myth around U 977 may never been cleared away entirely, but, has the Commanding Officer not given enough and clear answers to it in his book? Also, common sense should qualify the myth as sheer nonsense when one imagines the “Fuehrer” spending more than 100 days on board of an U-boat under appalling conditions.
And, what about Hitler´s suicide on 30 April 1945 in Berlin, to be followed by several forensic examinations to identify his remains beyond any doubt? Therefore, we should firmly close the cover of the file U 977 for good, being able to resist any further cultivation of the myth around this U-boat.
Apart from the above books and articles, see also