Saturday, December 22, 2012

The Cursed and Haunted U-Boat of World War l

One of the most effective weapons the Germans had in their arsenal in World War l was the U-boat or submarine. 

These fast moving boats were used to demolish enemy supply ships. 

In 1916 the “Great War” was literally bogged down in a blood bath of trenches in France and Belgium. Hundreds of thousands of young men in both the Allied forces and Germany were being killed as they inched their way across the Western Front. 

In 1916 two years into the war the Germans were in a rush to finish construction on twenty-four new U-boats, which they hoped would help them turn the tide. 

One of these new submarines, U-Boat 65 became notorious within the Kaiser’s navy, for not thwarting the enemy, but for numerous mysterious tragedies. Many seamen connected to this vessel came to believe that she was not only cursed but haunted as well.

Even before construction upon U-Boat 65 was completed in 1916 tragedy struck. As the hull was being laid a giant girder held by chains suddenly broke plunging into the shell. One worker was crushed under its massive weight. 

For over an hour he experienced agonizing pain as his co-workers tried to remove him, but once the huge weight was lifted off, he died. An inquiry established that there was nothing wrong with the chains that had hoisted the girder—no explanation was found to explain why it snapped free.

Less than two months later, a second tragedy occurred. Three engineers who were in the U-Boat’s engine room testing the submarines’ dry-cell batteries were overcome by deadly fumes. 

Before their bodies could be dragged up to the fresh air, they all died. Again, no explanation was found as to why these batteries leaked. 

Misfortune continued to befall the U-boat. 

During its first launch out of port, a fierce storm hit the English Channel. The captain ordered her to surface to test her stability in rough seas. One sailor was washed overboard during this maneuver and right after this, as the boat dived a ballast tank sprang a leak flooding the dry-cell batteries with seawater, again the engine room was filled with poisonous gas. 

Twelve hours later, it was considered a miracle that the ship made it back to port for repairs without even more fatalities.

Several days later, as the boat prepared to launch again, a warhead on one torpedo that was being placed on board exploded killing the second officer and severely wounding several others. Once again an inquiry was held, but no explanation for the explosion was ever found. 

It was at this point the crew decided that their ship must be cursed. 

The U-boat’s crew went ashore to attend the second officer’s funeral, and then the captain gave them all leave in hopes that things would settle down. 

But when the ship left port, a week later, a panicked seaman approached the captain to inform him that he had seen the ghost of the dead second officer. 

The captain ignored this report feeling the seaman was probably hung over from shore leave. Days later the captain was taken aback when a second crew member reported seeing the apparition of the second officer as well. 

He listened as this man described how he had seen the dead officer casually come up the gangplank. He went on to explain how this ghost had walked aboard, strolled along, and then looked out over the sea. This man broke into sobs as he described the dead officer had suddenly just vanished. 

These two reports spread like wildfire among the crew, which were now firmly convinced the U-boat they served on was both cursed and haunted.

This apparition next appeared in the boat’s engine room observing the instrument panel. By this time the entire German naval armada had heard about these ghostly sightings. 

The captain did his best to dispel this talk noting his 34-man crew’s morale was badly shaken. But by January of 1918, even the captain had given up trying to dismiss the sightings—for he too had seen the apparition. 

The U-boat was making its way through extremely rough seas in the Channel when the captain ordered the vessel surface.

A crewmember opened one hatch to observe the stormy horizon. He was shocked to see an officer standing on the port side of the deck, which lurched violently with each wave toss. 

At first he wondered why a crewmember would be so foolish to be standing there. But when he realized that all the hatches were still battened down, except for the one he had climbed through, he was very alarmed for no one had passed him.

He then spotted the officers features and realized it was the ghost of the dead second officer. Summoning the courage to move he shouted to his shipmates that the spirit was indeed on board. The crew below went into a panic. 

The captain realizing he must gain control, quickly headed up the ladder only to see the dead second officer's features twisted in agony. Seconds later, the ghost vanished into the raging waves hitting the boat.

U-boat crews were some of the most courageous men during the war. It was a given that they only had a 50-50 chance of returning from their assigned missions. So when the U-boat 65 crew became too terrified to return to their vessel, an inquiry was held out of respect for these men. 

The Kaiser’s navy couldn’t officially declare a ship haunted but they re-assigned these men to other submarines and destroyers. The Germans then took a most unusual step—they called in a civilian enemy—a Belgium Lutheran pastor to do an “exorcism” of the craft.

After this, a no-nonsense captain was assigned to the “cleansed” ship with a new crew. He immediately let it be known that no talk of ghosts would be tolerated. 

Things were calm for a while then in May of 1918, the ghost made several more appearances. U-boat 65 had orders to patrol the supply lanes off the Spanish coast and in the English Channel. 

During this mission, a petty officer swore he saw the dead second officer walk through a solid iron bulkhead into the engine room. Another crewmember whose assignment was to man the torpedoes was driven mad by the appearance of the second officer’s apparition several nights in a row. 

This crew member was so terrorized that when the vessel surfaced to recharge its batteries, he leaped to his death off the deck.

The curse that plagued U-Boat 65 came full circle just four months before the Armistice was signed that ended World War l. 

In July of 1918, an American submarine spotted U-Boat 65 sitting on the surface like a sitting duck. Not believing their luck they prepared to fire a torpedo but to their amazement before they could the U-boat inexplicably exploded. 

To this day the reason for this explosion is not known but many people at the time were not surprised.

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