..and the seven little goats – Wolfgang Heibges and U 999
Much has been reported in newspapers and magazines about the many rescue operations by U-boats in 1945 for civilians from the threatened German Eastern Baltic areas of Memel and East Prussia. In most cases, the stories had only a short remark that reunions of the rescued and the saving U-boat crews long after the war was facilitated by the German U-boat Museum and Archive. Recently, we have published in our series “Myths” some compiled information about the contribution by U-boats to the evacuation of civilians from East Prussia across the Baltic Sea, among others also the story of U 999 and its Commanding Officer Wolfgang Heibges.
What was necessary and what detailed work had to be done by the archive to find out more long after the war about stories that came to light by inquiries from people which have been rescued at the end of the war. So, in March of 1984 a certain Mrs. Gisela Müller from Scheidegg-Lindenau wrote to me telling that she plus another women and a total of 7 children (two from Mrs. Müller, a young nice of her and four children from the other women) were rescued by an U-boat on 13 March 1945 from Hela, East Prussia, to the safe West.
Mrs. Müller was the wife of Commander (Eng.) Dipl.Ing. Hans Müller. He was the Chief Engineer of U 38 between October 1938 and June 1940, to then become Command Engineer of the 25th U-boat Flottilla, and eventually to be the desk officer submarines at the ship design commission. At the end of the war he and his family were living in East Prussia. Mrs. Müller asked me whether it would be possible to determine “her U-boat” she managed to reach safety with in the West in March 1945 based on the following, although rather faint data:
- It has been a U-boat as being on display at the Navy Memorial Laboe (i.e. a Type VII C)
- The Commanding Officer was called “Wolf” or so, and he was still very young
- The U-boat departed from Hela, on board about 40 refugees.
She was not able to provide better information, therefore, my detailed research had to start:
- What type VII C U-boats were in the sea areas of the Eastern Baltic and in East Prussia in March 1945?
- Which Commanding Officer of such U-boat was called “Wolf”?
To solve the problem I went through our lists of names such as “Wolf”, “Wolff”, “Wulf”, “Wullf”, or so – but none suited, all Commanding Officers carrying those names had been somewhere else. I notified Mrs. Müller about my research.
Two weeks later a letter from Mrs. Müller arrived, telling me that she meanwhile had talked to her oldest daughter, which believed to remember the Commanding Officer used to have played with the seven children on board the brothers Grimm fairy tale “The wolf and the seven little goats”. Therefore, it could well be that the Commanding Officer´s forename was “Wolf” or similar.
PC´s were really not common use in 1984, where one simply had to select certain names under the search criteria “Forenames” in the main data bank of “Commanding Officers”. Therefore, I had to thumb through all our files searching for “Wolf”, “Wolff”, “Wulf”, “Wolfram”, “Wolfgang”, or similar, to cross-check whether Commanding Officers with such forename had been in the sea areas with their U-boats at that time. And, there was success in sight: The search criteria matched Wolfgang Heibges and his U-boat U 999. Also, we had a note in our archive´s files that U 999 had taken along refugees in March 1945 when sailing for the West.
I was in contact with Heibges for some time already. So, I called him and asked him whether he had played “The wolf and the seven little goats” with seven children he also had taken on board during his voyage rescuing civilians from East Prussia. He remembered straight away. What happened then was pure joy at all sides: I notified Mrs. Müller and gave her the address of Heibges, she wrote to him, contact was established, they met and became close friends.
This was a wonderful result of our work at the U-boat archive and by myself, namely to have brought together again people which have encountered one another before, although during the dark hours of war under rather different circumstances.
Since 1984, Mrs. Gisela Müller was a close friend of the U-boat archive. Sadly, she passed away on 01st of August 2009, to follow Wolfgang Heibges who died some years earlier on 04 April 2005.
Mrs. Müller´s daughter, who had helped so much to solve our name problem through her memories and who was just 8 years old in 1945, remains in close contact to us. Mrs. Anita Krenz and her husband, Dr. Reinhard Krenz, are members of the association of friends of the archive (FTU).
Text by Horst Bredow (28 August 2012) – Pictures: Deutsches U-Boot Museum