Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Penang Submarine Base 1943-1945

Penang was captured by Japanese forces invading from the north through Thailand on 19 December 1941, one of the key stages of the Battle of Malaya, days after having neutralized American sea power at Pearl Harbor. Three and a half years of rule of terror ensued. Many of the local populace fled to the interior and plantations to escape from Japanese atrocities, of which many were reported and documented. During this occupation, Penang was governed by four successive Japanese governors, starting with Shotaro Katayama

Penang, situated on the west coast of Peninsula Malaya was under Japanese occupation and in Feb 1942, Japan make Penang as their submarine base, under the command of Admiral Uzuki. A second base was established at Kobe, Japan, and a small repair base was located at Singapore, Jakarta and Surabaya.

In early 1943, German Navy made Japanese occupied Penang their first port of call and principal base for U boats. From 1943 to 1944, Jerejak Island was made a submarine base by the Germans. This base served Axis submarine forces: (Italian Regia Marina, German Kriegsmarine, and the Dai-Nippon Teikoku Kaigun, or Imperial Japanese Navy). Here at regular intervals, technological and information exchanges occurred.

Why German U-boat base in Penang?
Before the German invasion of Russia (Operation Barbarossa) commenced in June 1941, land and air transportation between Germany and Japan was possible. The two allies often seek to exchange knowledge and other raw materials. Germany needed rubber, metals such as copper and bismuth, and medicines such as quinine. On the reverse, Japan needed steel, mercury and optical glass. In addition, the two nations were interested in each other’s latest military hardware, including prototypes of the latest weapons and blueprints for research. After the invasion of Russia, the only practical means of exchange was by sea. Initially, this was met by surface blockade-runners running to and from the Far East. But the British blitz in 1942 disrupted the flow of materials that by the end of 1942, it became clear that German supply lines were being threatened and the situation could not continue as it is. As a consequence, a proposal was put forth by Admiral Donitz on February 1943 to use submarines for transport purposes. In order to provision for U-boats traversing the Indian Ocean, an Eastern base was clearly required.

Another reason for German interest in an Eastern base seem to suggest that while the Atlantic campaign was going well for the Germans, U-boat operations gradually extended southwards, down the African coast and finally up to the Cape of Good Hope. In its quest for more fertile fields, it was only logical to further extend into the Indian Ocean, where it is believed that Allied ASW capabilities were not as sophisticated as those in the Atlantic.

Finally, with the collapse of the Atlantic campaign in May 1943, U-boats needed to be on the offensive elsewhere and with that, U-boats were dispatched to their Far Eastern bases in mid 1943 to undertake offensive operations in the Indian Ocean. Planning however for these bases had already begun, as early as late 1942.

(Extract from German Interest in the Far East,

Where exactly was the location of the site of a German submarine base from June 1943 to March 1944.?

It is a little known fact that Penang served as a German U-boat base in the Far East. Where exactly was the location? Some said it was at Pulau Jerejak, some said there was also a secret submarine naval base situated near this Bukit Batu Maung fort. In the Pulau Jerejak island you can found 2 Russian Sailors Grave which their cruiser was sunk in WW1 by Germans. There was a German U-boat Deck gun found on a mountain Bukit Batu Maung in Penang, which is now Penang War Museum. From the historical photo , the U boats were seen clearly at Swettenham Pier, which was established in 1903, and named after Frank Athelstane Swettenham (1850-1946), the first Resident General of the Federated Malay States between 1896 and 1901. Batu Maung is better bet for the submarine base, but Swettenham Pier had a photo for evidence.....

Author Dennis Gunton, author of the book The Penang Submarines, said that:

The mooring space at Swettenham Pier, beneath the parapets of Fort Cornwallis, for example, was largely turned over to German use. "The Japanese built 26 sheds housing various workshops on the esplanade adjacent to Fort Cornwallis, blocked from public view by a six-foot wall,"

Historian Lawrence Paterson, author of the book Grey Wolves: U Boats in the Indian Ocean, who said that;

The 302,200 square feet of machine shops and maintenance areas were linked by railway track to Swettenham Pier. "The facility was able to accommodate up to five U-boats at a time alongside the wooden pylons "And as there was initially little fear of an Allied air attack, the Germans did not hesitate to leave their boats tied in a position that would be considered dangerously exposed in the increasingly bombed French ports. "At Swettenham Pier, they quickly established a torpedo balancing station within the established Japanese balancing workshop as well as maintenance facilities where diesel repairs could be undertaken," adds Paterson. "A mobile torpedo balancing unit was later established aboard the Japanese supply ship Quito." Interestingly, Paterson also records that two German Arado Ar 196 seaplanes were incongruously painted with hinomaru (Japanese national) markings and provided at least a token escort for incoming U-boats.

German U Boat base was at Swettenham Pier.

Commander in Charge(CIC) at Penang Submarine Base

It was reported that the successive different Commander in Charge(CIC) at Penang Submarine Base are as follow :

* Fregattenkapitän Werner Trendtel(who was assigned to Kriegsmarine High Command from Apr 1938 until May 1941 and then transferred to the German embassy in Tokyo as part of the Marine Attaché staff from May 1941 until Apr 1943 from Japan, but did not take over command because of a new task in Japan)

* Korvettenkapitän Wolfgang Erhardt(B: 14 Mar 1907. Commanded T 7. Later served as leader of naval attaché office in Malaya and military attaché office in Singapore from Mar 1943 until the end of the war. Taken into Allied custody and finally released from captivity in Mar 1947. Later commanded Bundesmarine's sail training ship GORCH FOCK from 1958 until 1962).

* Kapitänleutnant Konrad Hoppe - aviation officer, Oberleutnant (Navy) Konrad Hoppe (Crew 35). Hoppe was promoted to Kapitaenleutnant after arrival in Japan, and was placed to disposal for service by Navy HQ. Among his new duties were supervising the building of the base at Penang and later also at Surabaya, on the northern coast of Java. DKiG holder Kapitänleutnant Konrad Hoppe was the Fliegeroffizier of the “Michel” (HSK 9)Hoppe was dispatched on U-168, but later returned to Surabaya, Java as CIC)

* Erhardt again (because Hoppe was dispatched on U-168, but later returned to Java)
* Korvettenkapitän Wilhelm Dommes - CIC at Penang from Sept 1943. Commander of U 178 from 02.1943 to 11.1943. Wilhelm Dommes (16 April 1907 in Buchberg – 23 January 1990 in Hannover) was a German U-boat commander in World War II and recipient of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross. The Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross was awarded to recognise extreme battlefield bravery or successful military leadership. He is notable as being the commander of U-boats in the Indian Ocean, whereby German and Japanese forces cooperatively fought for the only time in the war. In January 1945 the base commander of Singapore and Chief of all Monsun boats. (

* Korvettenkapitän Waldemar Grützmacher - CIC at Penang from January 1945. Before this, he was CIC in Yokohama.

Werner Trendtel may not be physically with the base, may involved in planning stage at Tokyo. Wolfgang Erhard may be overall in charge at Malaya, including Singapore and Penang. But only Wilhelm Dommes and Waldemar Grützmacher were the men that actually at the Penang Submarine Base, and see action. Konrad Hoppe only oversee the building of the base.

Monsun Gruppe, the German U Boats fleets in Penang
Monsun Gruppe or Monsoon Group was a force of German U-boats (submarines) that operated in the Pacific and Indian Oceans during World War II. Although similar naming conventions were used for temporary groupings of submarines in the Atlantic, the longer duration of Indian Ocean patrols caused the name to be permanently associated with the relatively small number of U-boats operating out of Penang. The Indian Ocean was the only place where German and Japanese forces fought in the same theater. Arrangements were made to avoid incidents between U-boats and Japanese submarines - attacks on other submarines were strictly forbidden. The idea of stationing U-boats in Malaya and the East Indies for operations in the Indian Ocean was first proposed by the Japanese in December 1942. As no supplies were available at either location the idea was turned down although a number of U-boats operated around the Cape of Good Hope at the time. A few days after Cappellini reached the East Indies, U-511 became the first U-boat to complete the voyage. This boat carried Japanese naval attache Admiral Kichisaburō Nomura from Berlin to Kure. The boat was given to Japan as RO-500; and its German crew returned to Penang to provide replacement personnel for the main submarine base being established at a former British seaplane base on the west coast of the Malayan Peninsula. A second base was established at Kobe and small repair bases were located at Singapore, Jakarta and Surabaya. As part of the dispersal of U-boat operations following heavy losses in the North Atlantic during the spring of 1943, Wilhelm Dommes was ordered to sail his U-178 from his operating area off South Africa to assume command at Penang.
(source: wikipedia)

U-511, under the command of Kptlt. Fritz Schneewind, arrived in Penang(then still under Japanese occupation) in July 1943, followed by U-178 in August 1943. This essentially started the U-boat campaign in the Indian Ocean and also provided the Germans with penetration into the Pacific for the first time, alongside their ally, Japan.

On March 28 1943, U-178 departed from France and en route to the Indian Ocean, BdU sent a message that she was to sail to Malaya and set up a U-boat base there. After having replenished from a surface tanker in the Indian Ocean, the U-178 arrived in Penang at the Malayan Peninsula on August 1943. KK Wilhelm Dommes(Korvettenkapitän Wilhelm Dommes) became the first commander of the German U-boat base in Asia,located in the former British seaplane base in Penang. A second base was established at Kobe, Japan, and a small repair base was located at Singapore, Jakarta and Surabaya.

U511 - The first U Boat to arrive in Penang

In April 1943, U178 was sent to Penang to establish the U Boat base there. But the first U boat to arrive was U 511 on 15-7-1943, commanded by Kptlt Fritz Schneewind, who took temporary charge of the base as Senior Officer, while his U Boat go on to Kobe. U511 was one of the two U boats presented to Japan for copying. U178 only arrived in late August 1943, after 152 days at sea. It was command by Kptlt Wlheim Dommes, who became Commander of German U Boat base in Penang, with satellite facilities at Singapore, Djakarta, Surabaya and Kobe..

Korvettenkapit Dommes of U178, had got the order on 22 July to refuel from the Italian submarine Luigi Torelli SE of the Cape of Good Hope. On 7 August Admiral Doenitz asked Dommes whether his boat would be fit for a prolonged patrol in the same area after an overhaul in the Japanese base at Penang, Malaya. Dommes agreed, fueled from Torelli next day and in company with the Italian submarine, U178 reached Penang on the 29th.

Why was Dommes sent to Penang? The Battle of the Atlantic had been won by the Royal Navy in May (41 U boats destroyed that month) so that Doenitz had now decided - too late - to send 11 U-boats to the Far East. He believed that in those waters they would have better opportunities and chances and that the anti-submarine measures were not yet fully organized. Until then the U-boat campaign in the western Indian Ocean had not been profitable. The sinking were uneconomic even if one considered the loss of only two U-boats. The anti-submarine measures in those waters were steadily increasing and because of the Axis surrender in North Africa the Mediterranean was reopened to Allied shipping. It meant that the Cape route lost much of its significance for the Allies.

How did the Japanese react to the German proposals? As early as December 1942 they had offered to place some bases at the disposal of the German Navy, for example Penang and Sebang (in Sumatra). But Doenitz was not in a great hurry to accept the offer as far as his U-boats were concerned. Only after the catastrophe in the Atlantic did he take up the offer. But he would soon be disappointed because the Admiralty and Vice-Admiral Max Horton (C-in-C Western Approaches) had anticipated such a diversionary movement of the U-boats and already by mid-1943 the British were building up powerful forces in India. This was why the Japanese requested the Germans to deploy U-boats in the Arabian Sea instead of the east coast of South Africa.

U511- Gift of U-boats to the Emperor of Japan.
Part of the German attempt to improve relations with Japan involved the gift of two U-boats to Hirohito. This gesture of goodwill was to be completed by the presentation of two Japanese submarines to Germany. Japan had requested two large U-boats, 1100 and 1350 tons, but only 750 tonners were sent. The Germans, therefore, were in no position to complain when the Japanese gift turned out to be three old ex-Italian boats which the Germans themselves had repaired.

As usual, misunderstanding plagued the exchange. The German navy demanded payment, evidently not having been informed that the submarines were gifts, and the personal intervention of Hitler was required to straighten matters out.

The first German submarine left Europe in April 1943, under the command of Schneewind (U-511). On board were Admiral Nomura, former special naval representative in Germany, and Woermann, German Ambassador to Nanking. As was the case with Musenberg, Schneewind did not hesitate to engage in operations along the way, with no more success than the former.

On 14 July 1943, U-511 reached Penang, the first German U-boat to touch at a Far Eastern port. The U-boat was officially turned over to the Japanese navy at Kobe on 16 September. Schneewind became Senior Officer U-Base Penang.

The Japanese officers and crews to man the second gift submarine were brought from Japan on the Japanese submarine I-8 in the fall of 1943. After several months of training and study, they took over U-1224, and on 30 March 1944, departed Kiel for Japan. As an instrument of German goodwill, U-1224 was a failure. The course and approximately daily positions of the submarine were known by radio intelligence and enabled TG 22.2 to meet U-1224 on course at about 18°E - 33°W and to sink it, possibly on 13 May 1944.

Independent operations, May to August 1943.

During the summer of 1943, seven U-boats operated independently in the Indian Ocean: Kentrat (U-196), Hartmann (U-198), Bucholz (U-195), Lüth (U-181), Gysae (U-177), Dommes (U-178) and Bartels (U-197). They were concentrated, mainly around Durban, Lourenco Marques, south of Madagascar and off Mozambique. Capetown and Mauritius were also patrolled. According to claims reported in their messages, operations were highly successful. Thirty-six ships, of about 235,000 GRT, were claimed sunk, nine of them by Lüth, who was awarded the highest German decoration for his success.
On 22 June all of these U-boats were refueled by the Charlotte Schliemann south of Madagascar, the first refueling of its kind in the Indian Ocean. Five of the seven returned to Europe. Bartels was sunk while operating off Madagascar, and Dommes (U178) was ordered to make Penang his homing port and operational base.

U-178 was, therefore, the first U-boat assigned to U-base Penang. Kptlt Wlheim Dommes of U178,became Commander of German U Boat base in Penang.

First 'wave' - 11 U-boats and two auxiliaries

Doenitz decided to send the Gruppe Monsun ('Monsoon Group') into the Indian Ocean where they should harass Allied shipping, and after completing their patrol enter Japanese-held Penang. The group consisted of nine Type IXC boats and two IXD-2. For refuelling near the equator there was the U-tanker U462. The supply ship Brake would act as a depot ship in the Indian Ocean.

The dispatch of 11 submarines and 1 supply submarine under Operation Monsoon in Summer of 1943 to Penang. 4 of the submarine actually arrived at Penang, they were U188, U168, U532, U183

Pich (U-168) and Lüdden (U-188), the first Monsun boats to sail, left France about 30 June 1943. Tillesmann (U-516), Würdemann (U-506), Auffermann (U-514), Hennig (U-533), Schäfer (U-183), Junker (U-532) and Witte (U-509) left between 5 and 8 July. Pietzech (U-532) also left at this time, but was forced back to port with engine trouble and did not leave until 16 August. Kuppish (U-847) left the end of July. By the end of August, of the eleven Monsun boats which had sailed from France, five had been sunk in the Middle Atlantic, and one had been forced to drop out of the operation.

With the sinking of Metz is connected to loss of another important Monsun boat, Kuppisch (U-847). Three other active refuelers besides Metz had been sunk in July 1943, and Kuppisch was one of the several operational U-boats forced to act as refuelers pro-tem. On his way to the Far East in July, he was ordered to refuel six submarines. While standing by in the rendezvous area, (which radio intelligence had spotted several days in advance) he was attacked by Card aircraft and sunk on about 27 August. Not only the submarine but the man possibly destined to be the first Commander Penang was lost.(Note: Herbert Kuppisch, the man destined to be the commander of the Penang base. But was KIA when his boat (U-847) was sunk southwest of the Azores).

The U-boats sailed from France and Germany between 11 June and 8 July and their captains were ordered to operate in the Arabian Sea and then to proceed to Penang. Right from the beginning the 'Monsoon Group' met disaster. On 24 June U200 was sunk SW of Iceland by an American Catalina; on 8 July U514 fell victim to RAF Coastal Command's 224 Squadron in the Bay of Biscay; on 12 July U506 was sunk by US planes west of Vigo; three days later U509 was sunk by aircraft of the US escort-carrier Santee NW of Madeira when she was looking for the U-tanker U462 which had been destroyed by Santee's planes west of the Azores; on the 30th the group's own tender was sunk by 502 Squadron, RAF, NW of Cape Ortegal (Spain) and on 27 August U847 was destroyed by three planes of the US escort-carrier Card in mid-Atlantic.

Five of the 11 U-boats proceeding to the Far East and their U-tanker had been finished off before even crossing the equator. The 5 u boats were Schäfer, Pich, Hennig, Junker and Lüdden

They were fueled by the Brake on 8 September, southeast of Madagascar, before cruising to their attack area. Each commander was allowed to use his own judgment to some extent in choosing his attack area, and from September to November 1943, the northern Indian Ocean was well patrolled. The main areas of concentration were the Gulf of Aden, Gulf of Oman, and the Laccadive-Maldive Islands. Operations were also conducted off Mombassa, Calcutta and Bombay. The operations on which so much time, fuel and work had been expanded were extremely unproductive. Only three ships, of about 19,000 GRT, were claimed sunk, and the loss of Hennig on 16 October reduced the Monsun fleet to four submarines. The four remaining Monsun boats, Schäfer(U183), Pich(U168), Junker(U532) and Lüdden(U188) reached Penang by November 1943.

The fuel situation of the U-boats was now so critical that U516 was ordered to supply U532 and U533 from her own fuel and then to return to France. The two boats and the other survivors (U168, U183, U188) got round the Cape of Good Hope and joined the supply ship Brake about 450 miles south of Mauritius where they refuelled during 8-14 September. Doenitz was now looking forward to a surprise blow from his U-boats in the Arabian Sea but Japanese submarine operations in these waters had already alerted Eastern Fleet HQ so that convoys were being introduced and strong air and sea patrols covered the endangered routes to Durban, Mombasa, Aden, Bombay and Colombo.

After having refuelled from the supply ship Brake the boats of Gruppe Monsun proceeded to their assigned patrol stations; U168 to the Indian coast south of Bombay, U532 to the mid-ocean Chagos Archipelago and Ceylon, U183 and U533 to the Seychelles-Gulf of Aden area and finally U188 to the southern coast of Arabia. The group was joined by U178 from Penang. The six submarines did not have much success during their patrols which lasted until November. They sank only three ships (20,801 tons) during September and three more (13,015 tons) in October. Group Monsoon then withdrew to Penang, first arrival being U183 on 17 October. But the day before, U533 was lost in the Gulf of Oman to an obsolete RAF Blenheim Mk.V (Bisley) of 244 Squadron. The remaining four units were overhauled in Penang so that only U178, which should have returned to Germany for a refit, prowled the Indian Ocean for the rest of 1943 and sank one ship of 7,244 tons.

Penang was far from being an ideal base for the German Far East U-boats. It had never been a naval base and no trained labor or dockyard facilities were available. The U boat crews could undertake only emergency repairs assisted by shore personnel from the Armed Merchant Raider Thor (lost by fire at Yokohama, Japan, on 30 November 1942). It is not surprising that it took 50-70 days to overhaul a U-boat and prepare her for the next war patrol. As an example of the difficulties, a flashlight or battery could only be got from Bangkok, hundreds of miles distant.

Second cruise of the Monsun submarines - Far East to Germany.

Schneewind, who took over U-183 after Schäfer's death in Penang, Pich (U-168),Junker (U-532), Lüdden (U-188), and Spahr, who replaced Dommes in U-178, left Penang at intervals from 29 November 1943 to 1 February 1944. During January and February, patrols were maintained from Ceylon to the Gulf of Aden and around Mauritius Island. Contrary to plans this was the most productive phase of the entire operation, the U-boats claiming 21 sinkings, totaling about 119,000 GRT.

Of the eleven original Monsun boats, only one, Lüdden, returned to Germany.

The second Monsoon Group - Only one got through
In the autumn of 1943 Doenitz decided once more to send all boats of the large IXD-2 type to the Indian Ocean as soon as they were commissioned. It was the second Monsoon Group but fared even worse than the first after the submarines left their bases in France and Norway. The US Navy had established an airfield on Ascension Island with B24 Liberators and B25 Mitchells available to patrol the mid-Atlantic and out of four U-boats sent only one reached Penang. U848 was destroyed by one of the planes, 290 miles SW of Ascension, on 5 November, U849 on the 25th off the Congo estuary and U850 west of Madeira on 20 December by planes from the US carrier Bogue. Only U510 (Kapitnleutnant Eick) a Type IXC type boat, got through. She left Lorient on 3 November and rounded the Cape in January 1944. Though her movements were detected by RDF (Radio Direction Finding) the search for her was not successful. U510 sank five ships (31,220 tons) and damaged one of 9,970 tons during February and March before entering Penang; a notable individual score at this period of the war.

A second wave of Monsun Gruppe U-boats was dispatched from Europe to make up for losses in transit.

* U-219 sailed on a minelaying mission on 22 October 1943 but returned to France on 1 January 1944 after being diverted to fuel other boats in the North Atlantic.[14]
* U-848 sailed 18 September 1943 and sank the 4,600-ton British freighter Baron Semple before being sunk by USN PB4Y Liberators in the South Atlantic on 5 November 1943.[15]
* U-849 sailed 2 October 1943 and was sunk by a USN PB4Y Liberator in the South Atlantic on 25 November 1943.[15]
* U-850 sailed 18 November 1943 and was sunk by aircraft from USS Bogue on 20 December 1943.[15]
* U-510 sailed 3 November 1943 and sank the 7,400-ton British tanker San Alvaro, the 9,200-ton American freighter E.G.Seubert, and three more freighters before reaching Penang on 5 May 1944

By now torpedoes were running short in the German naval base. U1062 (Type VIIF) left Bergen in Norway on 3 January 1944 with 39 torpedoes (25 as cargo) on board. The three remaining U-boats in Penang (U168, U188 and U532) were meanwhile taking on board important cargoes and preparing for the long and perilous voyage home. They left the base between 4 January and 7 February and were ordered to expend their torpedoes in the Indian Ocean. U188 sank seven ships (42,549 tons), U532 another two and U168 two small vessels.

By RDF fixes the Royal Navy's Eastern Fleet could locate the supply ship Charlotte Schliemann east of Mauritius. The ship had already refuelled U178 and U510 on 28 January and should now refuel U532. Eastern Fleet guessed that Charlotte Schliemann was still in the area so the cruiser Newcastle, the destroyer Relentless and Catalinas from Mauritius were sent out to find and destroy her. Even the captains of Charlotte Schliemann and U532 decided on 11 February to shift their point of rendezvous to the south, i.e. into mid-ocean, because they would not run the risk of being detected by air patrols. Should planes attack the tanker, U532 would not dive but open fire with her flak guns. After two hours a Catalina was sighted and U532 dived in spite of the promise not to do so. The U-boat surfaced during the night to search for the supply ship but did not find her.

The Catalinas had summoned the destroyer Relentless which opened fire at 0100 the next day and then fired torpedoes at the supply ship, scoring one hit. The crew of Charlotte Schliemann abandoned her and 41 officers and men were taken prisoner.

Gradually the Indian Ocean became even less attractive for the U-boats, which sank seven ships in February 1944 and four in March. On 11 March the second and last supply ship, the tanker Brake, met the same fate as Charlotte Schliemann. She was about 1,000 miles SE of Mauritius and refuelling U188, U168 and U532. Again the Royal Navy got RDF fixes on the U-boat concentration, due to the ex-Italian U-boat UIT22 continuously sending radio signals to Brake while on her way to Japan. Eastern Fleet HQ sent out the escort carrier Battler, the cruisers Suffolk and Newcastle as well as the destroyers Roebuck and Quadrant to have a look at the presumed rendezvous. One of the carrier-borne aircraft sighted the tanker and U-boats at 1600 and homed Roebuck to the point. The destroyer opened fire and Brake was then scuttled by her crew. U188 reached Bordeaux on 19 June and U532 Penang on 19 April, together with U1062 which brought the precious torpedoes.

So far Doenitz had committed 42 U-boats to his Indian Ocean campaign, 12 had been lost to planes and ships, 23 had made the round trip successfully but only six were at this time operational in the Far East; U168, U183, U532, U510, UIT24 and UIT25. But it was still believed that the Indian Ocean had a high concentration of Allied shipping, ignoring the fact that even in that sea most ships sailed in convoy and not independently. Doenitz should have known this and that his U-boats had no chance of penetrating the convoy escorts and firing their torpedoes. New submarine groups were sent out during 1944 but to reduce the risk of detection from the air the U-boats sailed independently, most of them being sunk.

Of the first six U-boats U177, U1059, UIT22 and U851 were sunk by air attacks before rounding the Cape. Only three got through to the Indian Ocean. Then fate caught up with U852, a new IXD-2 type cruiser which had left Kiel on 18 January 1944 under Kapitanleutnant Eck, the successful skipper of U50. On 13 March, Eck had sunk the Greek freighter Peleus of 4,695 tons in mid-Atlantic, machine-gunned the survivors on the rafts and hurled hand-grenades at them. Four men were still alive when U852 left the scene and three of them were rescued after 35 days. U852 was caught in the Arabian Sea on 3 May and heavily damaged by RAF planes (8 and 621 Squadrons) SE of Socotra Island, going aground off Somalia. Kapitanleutnant Eck, the medical officer, the officer of the watch and the rest of the crew were brought to England where the U852 atrocity was investigated. Only after the war were these three U-boat men brought to trial in Hamburg and sentenced to death. They were executed by a British firing squad on 30 November 1945. Which was the one that arrive at Penang?

The next nine U-boats followed between March and May 1944. Lost to US escort-carrier groups were U860 and the U-tanker U490. All other boats reached the Indian Ocean but the pickings were few and far between; three ships during June, four in July and eight in August. During this period U168, U183, U510 and U532 were undergoing repair and overhaul at Penang. While U198 sank two large British ships near Cape Delgado and Dar-es-Salaam in the first week of August, three warships of 3rd Escort Group sailed from Durban in search of her. The escort carriers Begum and Shah, with four frigates, joined in the hunt. Finally on 10 August an Avenger aircraft from Shah sighted U198 about 600 miles east of Mombasa. Next day another plane from the carrier sighted the U-boat again about 80 miles NW of the Seychelles. The aircraft dropped depth charges as U198 crash-dived. The U-boat came to the surface again and opened fire with her flak guns. U198 evaded the plane but later a Catalina sighted her farther north. At dawn on 12 August the British frigates and the Royal Indian Navy sloop Godavari closed the position. The latter ship and the frigates Findhorn (Royal Canadian Navy) and Parret dropped depth-charges and after the first salvo heavy explosions were heard under water and large oil patches came to the surface. That was the end of U198.

The last U-boats to reach the Indian Ocean were the Type IXD-2s U861 and U862. Two more U-boats, U863 and U871, were sunk in the Atlantic during their attempts in September to reach the Far East. After the Allied invasion of France, U180 and U219 were converted to transports and sailed from Bordeaux on 20 August. Two days later U180 struck a mine on leaving the Gironde, but U195 reached the Indian Ocean. Though U862 was attacked on 20 August off the Comore Islands in the Mozambique Channel, by a Catalina (which was shot down) and hunted by an escort carrier group, she entered Penang on 9 September. U861 reached Penang on the 22nd.

During August and September U859 reappeared in the Gulf of Aden and sank two 7,000-ton ships. But in a well-laid ambush the British submarine Trenchant torpedoed her on 23 September at the very doorstep of Penang. Ironically, the two boats had left their home ports on the same day in the spring.

Already on 14 February UIT23 had been sunk by Tallyho and on 17 July the Japanese I-166 succumbed to Telemachus. The Penang trap seemed to be closed by British submarines based at Trincomalee, Ceylon. Doenitz decided to transfer the base to Batavia, in Java. In Penang everything including torpedoes was short and the Japanese as usual unhelpful, but now more unfriendly as Germany's fortunes declined. The still-operational U-boats were loaded with strategic raw materials such as tin, rubber, wolfram, opium and ordered back to Germany.

U-boat base at Georgetown, Penang island ceased to exist as a functional U-boat base after October 1944 when all U-boats transferred to either Djakarta or Soerabaya due to Allied submarine activity off Penang followed by aerial mining. By 1945 when Grützmacher took charge Penang's only significance was as a radio station. It was the only official Kreigsmarine base permitted within Japanese held Asia. Penang would receive and transmit messages to OKM Germany, however two small frieghters Bogota and Eritrea with radio stations were positioned to maintain contact at Djakarta and Soerebaya, Indonesia.

Relocation to Batavia
U168 left Batavia on 4 October and was sunk the next day by the Dutch submarine Zwaardvisch. Farthest east of all the U-boats to perish she had accounted for just one ship. U181 left Batavia on 19th and sank the 10,198-ton American tanker Fort Lee east of Mauritius. Then engine trouble forced her back to Batavia. The US submarine Flounder caught U537 off Bali on 9 November. U196 sailed on the 11th and was lost on the Sunda Strait. U510 returned to Europe, as well as U843. U862 operated off Fremantle as one of the last U-boats in the Far East during February 1945 and sank two sizeable ships. U510 made a second attempt to reach Germany but being short of fuel had to surrender at St. Nazaire and served in the French Navy until 1958. U195 suffered engine trouble and had to return to Batavia. U183 was torpedoed by the US submarine Besugo in the Java Sea on 23 April 1945.

Though the tables were turned for Germany, two further attempts were made to get through to the Indian Ocean. U864 left Bergen (Norway) on 5 February 1945 but was sunk a short way out by yet another target hungry Allied submarine, HMS Venturer. U234 left Europe with two important Japanese submarine designers on board. She surrendered on 16 May in Portsmouth, US, where the Japanese committed suicide.

The remaining U-boats in the Far East were U181, U195, U219 and U862 as well as the transports UIT24 and UIT25 which were seized by the Japanese in May and commissioned by the Imperial Navy, merely to surrender ingloriously three months later. So ended the U-boat operations in the Indian Ocean and Far East: 'Misconceived, misdirected, and tragically wasteful in spite of devotion to duty, the valiant efforts, sacrifices, and success of the Far East cadre'.

(extract from

Incessant Allied air and submarine attacks render Penang untenable as an operational base for submarines. German U-boats withdraw to Batavia (Jakarta),

In May 1945, the last 4 German submarine and 2 Italian submarines were taken over by Japanese, when German commander surrender. U188, which had been based in Penang, was captured when Allies landing in France in June 1944. The log of U188 from May 1943 to June 1944 revealed to the Allies the situation of the Penang base and the Indian Ocean.(source: A world at arms: a global history of World War II, by Gerhard L. Weinberg, Cambridge University Press, 2005, pg 385)

Six boats remaining in Japanese territory were taken over by the Imperial Japanese Navy when Germany surrendered in 1945.

* U-181 (type IXD2 cruiser) became I-501 and was scrapped at Singapore after Japan surrendered.
* U-862 (type IXD2 cruiser) became I-502 and was scrapped at Singapore after Japan surrendered.
* UIT-24 (originally Cappellini, then Aquilla III) became I-503 and was found at Kobe when Japan surrendered and scuttled by USN in Kii Suido.
* UIT-25 (originally Torelli) became I-504 and was found at Kobe when Japan surrendered and scuttled by USN in Kii Suido.
* U-219 (type XB minelayer) became I-505 and was scrapped at Jakarta after Japan surrendered.
* U-195 (type IXD1 oiler) became I-506 and was scrapped at Jakarta after Japan surrendered.

Japanese forces in Penang finally surrendered to British forces on 6 September 1945.

The Action off the Coast of Penang

German submarine U-859 was a German Type IXD2 U-boat built during World War II. She was one of a select number of U-boats to join the Monsun Gruppe or Monsoon Group, which operated in the Far East alongside the Imperial Japanese Navy.
U-859 was built in Bremen during 1942 and 1943, and was heavily adapted following her completion in July 1943, with the addition of a Snorkel to enable her to stay underwater for longer during the hazardous passage to Penang in Malaya. Thus she was not ready for war service until the spring of 1944, when following her working up period and modifications she departed Kiel for the East.

Although U-859 only had a single war patrol from which she never returned, her six month career was highly eventful and carried her halfway across the world and into an entirely different theatre of conflict.

Commanded by Kapitänleutnant Johann Jebsen, U-859 sailed from Kiel for Penang on 4 April 1944, carrying 31 tons of mercury in metal flasks destined for use in the Japanese munitions industry, and (according to some sources) uranium oxide also destined for Japan. She avoided shipping lanes and during her time in the North Atlantic, remained submerged for 23 hours every day, running on her schnorkel, surfacing for just one hour per day at 23:00, later reduced to 15 minutes. Three weeks into her voyage, Jebsen saw a target he could not refuse. The MV Colin, formerly an Italian freighter taken over by American authorities and registered in Panama, was slowly steaming unescorted in the North Atlantic following engine failure. Three torpedoes sank her before the U-859 went on her way southwards.[3]
The boat's voyage continued smoothly for the next two months, and she rounded the Cape of Good Hope and entered the Indian Ocean without further trouble. On the 5 July she was spotted by a Lockheed Ventura aircraft, which swooped down on the boat only to be brought down by the anti aircraft guns. There were no survivors from the aircraft's crew.

Her second victim was her most famous, and became one of the most famous treasure shipwrecks of the Twentieth Century. The unescorted Liberty ship SS John Barry was transporting a cargo of 3 million silver one-riyal coins from Aden to Ras Tanura in the Persian Gulf as part of an American government agreement with the Saudi royal family; the silver coins had been minted in America for Saudi monarch King Abdul Aziz Al-Saud and were stacked in huge boxes in the hold, and went down with the ship when she was torpedoed at 15°10′N 55°18′E / 15.167°N 55.3°E, about 100 miles south of the entrance to the Arabian Sea. A massive salvage operation in 1994 succeeded in retrieving many of the lost coins.

Three days later another unescorted merchant, the British SS Troilus was also sunk,[5] with six hands drowned.

On 23 September U-859 was running on the surface, within 23 mi (37 km) of Penang and the end of her voyage, when she was intercepted in the Malacca Straits by HMS Trenchant. In difficult conditions with a heavy swell running and a second U-boat thought to be lurking, Trenchant's commander Arthur Hezlet carried out a snap attack using his stern torpedo tubes, hitting U-859 amidships. The U-boat sank immediately in 50 m (160 ft) of water with several compartments flooded, and 47 men drowned, including her commander.

Twenty of the crew did manage to escape however, opening the hatch in the relatively shallow sea and struggling to the calm surface. Eleven of the survivors were picked up by HMS Trenchant immediately following the sinking, and the remaining 9 were picked up by the Japanese after being adrift for 24 hours and were taken ashore to await repatriation

In 1972 a total of 12 tons of mercury were recovered from the U-859 and brought into Singapore. The West German Embassy claimed ownership of the mercury. The Receiver of Wreck took possession of the mercury, and the High Court of Singapore ruled that "the German state has never ceased to exist despite Germany's unconditional surrender in 1945 and whatever was the property of the German State, unless it was captured and taken away by one of the Allied Powers, still remains the property of the German State..

HMS Trenchant (P331)
HMS Trenchant (P331) was a British T class submarine of the Second World War.On completion she was given over to the crew of HMS Thrasher whose submarine was due for a refit.
Trenchant under her captain Commander Arthur Hezlet, DSO, DSC acted in the Far East mostly off South East Asia against Japanese shipping sinking a range of vessels both transports and warships, using her torpedoes, gun and also by ramming. She often operated in company with her sister, HMS Terrapin.

On 23 September 1944 she sank the German submarine U-859 in the Straits of Malacca, by torpedoes. 11 of the crew were taken aboard as prisoners of war.

On 27 October 1944, "Chariots" carried into action by Trenchant sank a Japanese Army cargo ship, the Sumatra Maru in Phuket harbour, Siam.

Her most significant action during the war was on 8 June 1945, when she sank the Japanese cruiser Ashigara at a range of 4,000 yards with five out of eight torpedoes fired. The action in the Bangka Straits earned her commander a second DSO and the US Legion of Merit, and the ship the battle honour "Malaya 1944-45". The Ashigara had been carrying some 1,600 Japanese Army troops and materiel.

This was the history of Submarine base in Penang, long before Malaysia has her first submarine. The first submarine base in Malaysia, that was in Penang, a German/Japanese submarine base.....

Submariners Prayer

Lord God, our power evermore,
Whose arms doth reach the ocean floor,
Dive with our men beneath the sea;
Traverse the depths protectively.
O' hear us when we pray, and keep
Them safe from peril in the deep.
There are no roses on a Sailor's grave,
No lilies on an ocean wave.
The only tribute are the seagulls' sweeps,
And the teardrops that a sweetheart weeps.

Recommended video in youtube:
1. U234(HITLER'S LAST U-BOAT) (1/5) to 5/5
2. U-864 (HITLER'S LAST DEADLY SECRET) (1/5) to 5/5
3. The hunt for U864 , by BBC
4. Lt. Commander Gysae's U-boat in the Indian Ocean (Jan 1944), Lieutenant Commander Gysae's U-boat in the Indian Ocean, Repair work above and below water while sailing around the Cape of Good Hope, provisions, torpedoes, and oil transferred from supply U-boat, eating and bathing, a commercial freighter is torpedoed.
5. The war file- U Boat Wars, 1-4

Recommended books/websites/articles/blogs
1. The Penang submarines : Penang and submarine operations: 1942/45, by Dennis Gunton (The first and only book that was comissioned by the City Council of Georgetown, Penang - Malaysia. It is also the ealiest book written about both Japanese , German & Italian submarines operating in Asia during WW2. This book talks extensively about Penang Island as the primary U-Boat base, which was shared with the Imperial Japanese Navy. The relationship between two different axis navies as well as the fate of every Gruppe Monsun - the operational name given to the German U-Boats are also discussed here along with a handdrawn map that details all the U-Boats that was sunk in Asia and enroute from Europe to Penang).
2. German U Boat;
3. Monsun Gruppe, wikipedia article provide the list of U Boats in the Indian Ocean/Far East)
4. Hitler's Grey Wolves - U-boats in the Indian Ocean"
5. More than merchants: a history of the German-speaking community in Penang, 1800s-1940s(2006), by Salma Nasution Khoo, Areca Books, 2006
6. U-boat Operations of the Second World War: Career histories, U511-UIT25,by Kenneth G. Wynn, Naval Institute Press, 1998
7. pictures)
8. pictures)
10. Fateful Enmity" Turns Into Sincere Friendship, read, the touching story of how Captain George Duffy met the officer Konrad Hoppe of the German cruiser Michel, which sank the US American Leader during WW2, and how friendship developed despite the painful past).

1 comment:

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