The year was 1945. For the Allies, the end of the Second World War was in sight,
but it had not been a good year for Nazi Germany U-853 — The Last U-Boat.
After a devastating defeat at the Battle of the Bulge, the firebombing of Dresden,
and the Allies’ successful crossing of the Siegfried Line, the Germans continued to viciously fight the inevitable.
Increasingly desperate, they lashed out and inflicted as much damage as possible, as often as possible, to bring the Allies to the negotiating table.
As part of this campaign, in February 1945 German Naval Command dispatched U-853, a type IXC/40 submarine then in port in Stavanger,
Norway, to the East Coast of the United States with orders to harass and, if possible, disrupt US coastal shipping.
U-853 had an experienced crew with two patrols under its belt. On her first patrol under the command of Kapitänleutnant Helmut Sommer, she was nicknamed “Moby Dick”
by American destroyer escorts as they hunted her across the mid-Atlantic and were frustrated
by her extraordinary ability to appear suddenly and then disappear just as quickly U-853 — The Last U-Boat.
Her German crew called her der Seiltänzer, the Tightrope Walker.
Sommer was injured during an attack on U-853’s first patrol, and his next in command, twenty-three-year-old Helmut Frömsdorf, brought the submarine safely into port in Lorient, France.
There, the wounded Sommer was declared unfit for duty and relieved of command.
In port the U-boat was retrofitted with the newly developed Schnorchel, or snorkel, a critical new invention that enabled submarines to ventilate,
recharge batteries, and run on diesel power underwater, allowing them to stay submerged for weeks at a time.
The 10th U-Flotilla commander, Günter Kuhnke, took U-853 back to Germany, at which point Frömsdorf was officially made captain for the U-boat’s third patrol.
While new to command, Frömsdorf was a veteran crewmember onboard and, despite his young age, experienced in U-853’s maneuvers and operations. 1 U-853 arrived in the Gulf of Maine on 1 April.
On 23 April, she identified a World War I-era patrol boat, USS Eagle 56, towing targets out to a dive-bombing range.
She fired her torpedoes, sending the patrol boat and most of her crew to the bottom off Cape Elizabeth, near Portland, Maine. U-853 immediately fled to the south.
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