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Nazi U-Boats Surrender at Portsmouth

SURRENDER AT SEA (continued)

Uboat 4/

This rare photo shows not the surrender, but the commissioning of the U-boat 873 in Bremen Germany, the year before it arrived in Portsmouth, NH. The picture was given to a member of the US Coast Guard escort ship by a captured German crewman. (US Coast Guard Public Relations Office)

The Big Prize Arrives
May 19, 1945

The 1,600-ton U-234 arrived at the lower harbor or Portsmouth at 7:30 in the morning. Key prisoner Luftwafer leutnant Ulrich Kessler was described as "a typical Hollywood version of a German general."

"He wore a long leather greatcoat," the WHEB evening news report continued, "which reached to his ankles, highly polished leather boots and an Iron Cross which hung tightly about his neck. He posed for newsreel cameramen and seemed to be enjoying the publicity he was receiving. He was tall and wore white gloves."

After the crew was transferred to the Portsmouth Naval Prison by the Coast Guard, the captured sub was carefully searched for the bodies of the Japanese scientists, but they were not found. The crewmen, wearing "nondescript" uniforms, were described as generally well-fed, ruddy and sporting new haircuts. In a story that went unreported on the radio, crewmen claimed that they had been "victims" of the Norwegian Underground while docked there, since many of the sailors had received venereal diseases from prostitutes.

The local press relished in reports from the Naval Prison that Oberleutnant Barndardelli, skipper of the U-805, had complained about the food, refused to eat cafeteria style and dine with his own crewmen. The reporter then detailed the menu for the prisoner's meal -- lamb stew, steamed rice, lettuce and tomato salad, pickled beets, onions, cornbread and butter and stewed peaches and tea. The prisoners were transferred to Washington soon after.

Then the following news appeared on the wires from the first of the German prisoners already transferred to Boston: The skipper of one of four surrendered German submarines now at Portsmouth, New Hampshire, has committed suicide in his cell at the Charles Street Jail. Army authorities said that Kapitanleutnant Fritz Steinhoff, commander of the U-873 broke his spectacles and used a jagged piece of lens to slash one of his wrists." Steinhoff was taken to a Boston hospital where he died.

Off to Washington
May 21, 1945

Prize captive Generalleutnant Ulrich Kessler spoke to reporters in fluent English with a "decidedly Oxford accent" a reporter noted. Asked how he felt about the surrender, he replied, "I was in the last World War. I've been through it before. I'll probably go through it again."

Naval authorities expressed concern over the number of souvenirs that were finding their way into the city. Missing were dextrose "pep" pills, revolvers, canned goods, parts of German uniforms, many of which reached the hands of Portsmouth residents before the U-boats docked at the Yard. Reporters on the press tug observed some of the articles handed off the US Coast Guard boats by soldiers and marines to local boys in small boats.

A breaking news report off the wire services said that the mysterious stranger aboard the latest U-boat had been identified as designer of the German Messerschmitt combat air plane. This revelation brought to a close one of the most exciting news weeks at "America's oldest naval shipyard."

Source: Charlie Gray, "Surrender at Sea," (pamphlet), published by WHEB and Colonial Cleaners, Portsmouth, NH, June 1945. Abridged by J. Dennis Robinson at  Original essay © Do not duplicate. All use must be attributed.

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