The action and sinking of the German submarine U-133 as seen through historical records, war diaries and field research

During the Second World War, one of the main weapons of maritime warfare was the submarine. Its contribution was so significant that it became instrumental in determining the development and final outcome of the war. Of all the navies involved in the conflict, it was only the German Kriegsmarine which assigned particular importance to the technical development and high production rate of this fearsome weapon. This can be attributed to the efforts of just one man, Admiral Karl Dönitz. During WWI, Dönitz had served on the light cruiser S.M.S. BRESLAU and then on the submarines U-39 and UC-25. From his own experience, he knew the capabilities and effectiveness of submarines. They had been used with great success and had achieved unprecedented results.

In 1935, the Germans rejected the Treaty of Versailles. Unchallenged by the complacent British, the National Socialists in Germany went on to self-affirm their right to establish a powerful military rearmament program. Among the weapons given high production priority were submarines. The responsibility was assumed by Dönitz at the time, and later formalized in 1936 when he was officially appointed the Commander-in-Chief of submarines (“Befehlshaber der U-Boote” in German). Thus Dönitz, who retained this position until the end of the war, became responsible for the development and deployment of the German U-boats in all seas of the world and on all sea fronts. A fanatical submarine advocate, he was utterly convinced that ultimate victory could only be achieved by German submarine supremacy.

 

German postcard, which depicts the badge of the submarine (U-Boot – Kriegsabzeichen). A prerequisite for its acquisition was participation in two combat patrols. (The Dimitris Galon Archive ©)

 

The Battle of the Atlantic was the first front of the submarine war. Beginning immediately after the outbreak of war in September 1939, submarines became the German Navy’s pre-eminent offensive means of warfare at sea. Their objective was the isolation of Britain by naval blockade. The intention was to force the internal and external collapse of military, political and social structures, thereby weakening the British Empire and ensuring victory for the Fatherland. The tactic had been successfully tested during WWI. Indeed, Britain’s Achilles Heel was well-known to the Germans in both wars; its economic success rested on the bulk importation of commodities and raw materials from foreign countries. So, in the course of the Battle, hundreds of German submarines were sent out into the Atlantic to cut off the supply routes and bring Britain to its knees. These attacks were primarily carried out by groups of submarines, the so-called “Herds” or “Rudel” in German. They bore code names, mainly from Germanic mythology and history, and operated with a common plan and complex tactics. Because of the nickname “Gray Wolves of the Deep”, which had been given to the captains and crews of German submarines as early as WWI, the attacking submarine groups were also called “Wolfrudel” or “Wolfpacks”. This offensive strategy proved to be enormously successful. They sank more than 4,000 ships, amounting to a tonnage of 14.3 million. Among the losses were about 400 Greek merchant steamers. U-133 carried out two war patrols in the North and Central Atlantic, but it soon found itself sent to another developing front.

Immediately after the fall of France and the entry of Italy into the war during the winter of 1941, a new theatre of war began to acquire special importance – the Mediterranean. Italy’s inability to effectively contribute to offensive operations and its incompetence at maintaining territories already attained left control of the Mediterranean by the Axis powers uncertain. As a consequence, the German Supreme Staff were forced to make two important strategic and tactical moves; the Balkan and North African Campaigns.

The capture of Crete in May 1941 marked the successful completion of the Balkan Campaign. After the Afrikakorps (Deutsches Afrikakorps) effective counteroffensive in North Africa under General Erwin Rommel’s command, the German Army set out three main priorities: an offensive against the Soviet Union, a successful conclusion to the North African campaign and the continuation of the Battle of the Atlantic. The first two were intended to control energy sources – the oil of Baku and the Arabian Peninsula – while the third was to continue the starvation of Great Britain.

The importance of the war in Cyrenaica [an Italian colony in present day eastern Libya] and the North African campaign in general prompted the Supreme Naval Command of the Third Reich to send six submarines to the Mediterranean in September 1941. The aim was to enforce a naval blockade of the British held Tobruk, which strongly resisted Rommel’s Afrikakorps. These submarines constituted the German 23rd Submarine Flotilla, the very first in the Mediterranean. They were based at the Naval Station on the Greek island of Salamis. More submarines were withdrawn from the Battle of the Atlantic and sent to the Mediterranean. At the end of October 1941, the 29th Submarine Flotilla based in La Spezia, Italy and Pola, Croatia was formed. By early January 1942, a total of twenty-five German submarines were operating on war patrols in the Mediterranean, eight of which were stationed on Salamis. Among these was U-133, which is currently wrecked off the northeast coast of the Greek island of Aegina.

A total of sixty-five German submarines operated in the Mediterranean during WWII. They were all sunk. Twenty-four were sunk by enemy torpedoes, some were even sunk by friendly fire. Others were depth-charged, struck mines, hunted down by aircraft or scuttled. Although U-boats certainly had the upper hand in the first years of the war, by war’s end, the losses in all theatres were simply staggering. Crew losses roughly amounted to 30,000 people, out of a total of 40,000 enlisted. That makes up 75% of the manpower assigned to the weapon. Of the total 863 German submarines that fought on all sea fronts, 784 were sunk.

The end of the war found six of these submarines submerged in the wider Greek territory. In addition to U-133, the remaining five submarines sunk were the U-557 († 16.12.1941, from friendly fire west of Crete), the U-453 († 21.5.1944, in the Ionian Sea), the U-407 († 19.9.1944, south of the island of Milos), the U-565 († 29.9.1944, off Salamis island, Saronic Gulf), and the U-596 († 30.9.1944, in Skaramanga Bay, Saronic Gulf).

Of the remains of these submarines, the only one that has been positively identified is the U-133. It lies at a maximum depth of 74 meters, northeast of Cape Tourlos, off the island of Aegina. This makes it the only shipwreck of a Second World War German submarine accessible in Greek waters.

U-133, whose historical significance is particularly important, was discovered by chance in 1986 by the professional divers Efstathios Baramatis and Theophilos Klimis. It was identified as the German sub U-133 in the 90’s by professional diver Costas Thoctarides, even as it was also being investigated by research-diver Aristoteles Zervoudis.

 

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

The strategic importance of the Mediterranean Sea in modern times was established as early as the 18th century. However, the opening of the Suez Canal on the 17th of November 1869 was to give it new significance, especially for the British. It drastically shortened sea voyages between Britain and its colonies in India, the Far East, as well as the oil fields in Arabia and the Persian Gulf. To keep the sea routes of the Mediterranean open, the British Empire relied on its powerful naval fleet and a string of strategically located military naval bases, the main ones being Gibraltar, Malta, Cyprus, Alexandria, and Port Said. Although British sovereignty was hotly and dramatically contested by the action of German U-boats throughout WWI, the British remained dominant in the region.

 

The Supreme Commander of German U-boats, Admiral Karl Dönitz, at the 7th Submarine Flotilla base at St. Nazaire in France. On 26.11.1941, after its first war patrol, the U-133 sailed from here. (The Bundesarchiv ©)

 

During the interwar period, the political conditions remained relatively stable until the early 30s. The National Socialist Workers Party’s (NSDAP– “Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei”) growing influence culminated in Hitler’s rise to power in January 1933. Under his dictatorship, the Treaty of Versailles was rejected and Germany began to rearm. The ultramodern German military projects, the Italian attack against Ethiopia in 1935, Benito Mussolini’s calls for a “New Roman Empire”, and finally the announcement of the so-called “Axis” Berlin-Rome vision in 1936, all threatened the delicate balance of power in Europe.

 

Over the stern of U-133. On the left the detached bow of the submarine can be distinguished. It is located directly under the stern. (The Dimitris Galon Archive ©)

 

Italy began its vehement assertions on the Mediterranean, even calling it the “Mare Nostrum” or the Italian Sea. Mussolini’s claims were largely bolstered by the Italian war machine, which included a powerful Air Force (the Regia Aeronautica) and the fourth largest Navy in the world, the Regia Marina Italiana. They were further strengthened by the Italian government’s policies on colonization, in addition to a strong military presence on strategic bases in the Italian colonies of North Africa, the Dodecanese, and Abyssinia. Despite these formidable elements, and the fact that 120 submarines were at his disposal, Mussolini was unable to seriously threaten British power in the Mediterranean at the time.

The British government – following international developments and seeing heavy clouds of war on the horizon – voted on the 30th of January 1939 that the British Admiralty draw up a Plan of War. It had two principal objectives; the safeguarding of sea routes in the North Atlantic and the maintenance of British power in the Mediterranean. At the outbreak of war, the first objective immediately lead to the Battle of the Atlantic and the well-known struggle it entailed. The second objective was to maintain British sovereignty in the Mediterranean, thereby ensuring control over the oil rich areas on the Arabian Peninsula.

 

B.d.U. Admiral Karl Dönitz. The abbreviation B.d.U. comes from the German term “Befehlshaber der U-Boot”, which means “Commander-in-chief of Submarines”. Dönitz, who had served during World War I initially in S.M.S. BRESLAU and then in submarines, was the commander of the submarines throughout World War II. After the war he was sentenced to imprisonment by the Allied Nuremberg Court-martials. He remained in prison until the 1st of October 1956. After his release, he lived in Aumühle, Hamburg until his death on 24th of December 1980. (The Bundesarchiv ©)

 

The beginning of WWII, on the 1st of September 1939, did not substantially change British power in the Mediterranean. The Battle of the Atlantic, however, rapidly exhausted British forces, whose shipping convoys were constantly attacked by German submarines. By the spring of 1940, the British merchant fleet had begun to sail around the Cape of Good Hope to avoid the Mediterranean. However, the Royal Navy continued to dominate the Mediterranean, relying on the triptych strength of its military bases, Gibraltar, Malta, and Alexandria. On the 10th of June 1940, when Italy entered the war to fight side-by-side with the Germans, it immediately appeared that the situation was not going to change. The ineptitude of the Italian Army and its inability to create and support an organized plan of operations disclosed the strong internal contrasts between the Mussolini’s grandiose plans, and the narrow practical capabilities of his Armed Forces.

The French naval fleet was an important element of British dominance in the Mediterranean. The fall of France in June 1940 and the ensuing destruction of the French fleet resulted in a power imbalance in the region. Forced by this unfavorable circumstance, the British Admiralty decided to withdraw its forces from the Eastern Mediterranean and transfer them to Gibraltar as it no longer seemed possible to maintain control of the wider area. Realizing the enormity of such a mistake, Prime Minister Winston Churchill intervened and the plan was rescinded. He did not want to risk the possible loss of the island of Malta, the British “aircraft carrier” in Mediterranean, nor of Egypt, the “gateway” to the oil fields in Arabia.

Libya had been an Italian colony since the Italian-Turkish War of 1911 to 1912. On the 13th of September 1940, the Italian army in Libya, commanded by General Rodolfo Graziani, launched a general offensive against British-occupied Egypt. After the capture of the Egyptian town of Sidi Barrani, Graziani decided to halt the advance as a prelude for a second offensive which allow him to quickly seize the Suez Canal. Sometime later, on the 28th of October 1940, Mussolini sent his concentrated military forces in the Italian protectorate of Albania across the border to invade Greece. However, the Greek army not only managed to stop the Italian advance dead in its tracks, but it also counterattacked, driving the Italians back and gaining large areas of southern Albania in the process. Immediately after these two Italian incursions, Churchill ordered the transfer of British troops from Egypt to Greece, which subsequently led to the German invasion of the Balkans and Greece in April 1941.

 

Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, Commander of Afrikakorps, on the North African front on the 1st of June 1941. It was he who called for the transfer of German submarines to the Mediterranean so as to enforce a maritime a blockade and isolate resistant British forces in “Fortress” Tobruk. (The Bundesarchiv ©)

 

These were not the only failures which marked the ineptitude of the Italian Armed Forces. When the Italian Navy was engaged in a battle with the British Royal Navy off Taranto on the 11th and 12th of December 1940, and again off Cape Matapan on the 28th of March 1941, the Italian losses – both in terms of materials and morale – were so substantial that the Regia Marina Italiana failed to recover until after the Italian capitulation on the 8th of September 1943.

On the 9th of December 1940, the British forces of Egypt, to which were added the 7th Armored Division and the 4th Indian Division, began a counterattack against the Italian army which had halted in west Egypt. Under the orders of General Archibald Wavell, the British attack exposed the Italian Army’s vulnerabilities and they were soon routed. Sidi Barrani fell on the 16th of December, followed in short order by the city of Bardia a few days later. On the 21st of January 1941, the British offensive against the Italians holding “Fortress” Tobruk began – it fell within 24 hours. On the 30th of January, Derna fell. Then, on the 7th of February, British Middle East Headquarters triumphantly declared, “Benghazi is in our hands.” Within a short time, 70,000 Italian soldiers were taken prisoners. The danger of a total defeat of the Axis in North Africa was no longer a mere possibility, but literally ante portas.

Confronted with the political and military incompetence of Italian military operations, Mussolini accepted the help Adolf Hitler had offered him in January 1941. German intervention began on the 11th of February 1941 with the arrival of the German 5th Light Division in Tripoli, Libya. On the 6th of February, the general command of the German expeditionary force – the Afrikakorps – was given to Rommel. On the 31st of March, following the arrival of additional Afrikakorps units, the German offensive in Cyrenaica began. Marsa el Brega, the entrance to Cyrenaica, fell in the first wave. On the 2nd of April, the town of Agedabia was taken. It enabled a rapid advance to “Fortress” Tobruk, which was besieged on the 11th of April. However, Tobruk withstood all efforts made by the Germans. Thus, Rommel was forced to leave a temporary British enclave behind the front lines as he continued his offensive. All along the North African coastline city after city fell to the German Army. Bardia fell, as did Sollum, but only after a fierce battle. The British counterattack, codenamed “Battleaxe”, not only failed in its objective to stop the German advance, but it also resulted in devastating losses. After 72 hours of fierce fighting, the Germans had gained control of Cyrenaica, and the British has lost over 100 armored tanks in the shattering defeat.

 

The entire wooden deck on the submarine’s casing has disintegrated. Through the gaps that have been created along most of the length of the wreck, the pressure hull is visible. However, the various mechanisms required to operate the submarine are mostly indistinguishable due to the deformity caused by oxidation and the encrustation of marine organisms. (The Dimitris Galon Archive ©)

 

On the 17 of June 1941, the German offensive stopped. The Afrikakorps now controlled the entire area, from Tripoli to the Egyptian border town of Sollum, east of Tobruk. Rommel, who had become known as “the Desert Fox”, was an expert in using the desert terrain to gain tactical advantage before launching relentless attacks. The quick succession of victories rejuvenated the lost morale of the Axis forces, recaptured the lost Italian positions, and drove the Allied troops 800 kilometers to the east. He only halted the advance at Sollum because of supply problems and a lack of reinforcements. Materials and men came by way of convoys from Europe, mainly from Italy. It was to become a thorn in Rommel’s side. The Allies made the most of it by pouring all their energy into sinking as many Axis convoy ships as they could. Despite their modest numbers, British submarines based in Alexandria and Malta managed to inflict devastation on the Italian convoys, thereby exacerbating the problem of supplying the Afrikakorps. In August 1941, convoy losses reached 40%, meaning that 4 out of 10 ships carrying war material, fuel, medicine, food, and human resources were sunk. The problem was so profound that the entire German North African campaign was in danger of collapse.

 

Men of German Afrikakorps on the Cyrenean front. (The Bundesarchiv ©)

 

Tobruk proved to be another serious problem for Rommel. This besieged British fortress kept up staunch resistance and posed a constant danger to the Afrikakorps. The port remained open and a steady supply of munitions, medicine, food, and manpower – with British convoys coming from Alexandria and Port Said – kept morale high and threatened a counterattack from the rear. Such a development could lead to the collapse of the front at Sollum, and the consequent loss of Cyrenaica. This prompted Rommel to request immediate assistance, including the help of German Navy in the form of submarines. The idea was to continue the siege of Tobruk on land, while cutting of the supply lines by sea, thus finally subjugating the obstinate British defense. Making such a decision was difficult for Dönitz. The Battle of the Atlantic was still raging and the constant presence of German submarines was an absolute necessity. After Adolf Hitler’s personal intervention, however, Dönitz ordered the deployment of submarines from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean.

 

A cargo ship unloads armaments and supplies for Axis forces in Cyrenaica (The Bundesarchiv ©)

 

At the end of September 1941, six German U-boats ran the gauntlet through the Straits of Gibraltar and headed to the island of Salamis, Greece. The 23rd Submarine Flotilla was created in the same month. It was commanded by someone with extensive submarine warfare experience, Lieutenant Commander Fritz Frauenheim. These and all other German submarines which operated in the Mediterranean during the war were Type VIIC boats. This type was chosen based on patrol range, usability, underwater endurance, mission duration, and speed. More U-boats were soon transferred from the Atlantic and the 29th Flotilla based in La Spezia, Italy and Pola, Croatia was created in October of the same year. The Germans had finally introduced their greatly feared submersible weapon to the region.

 

Above the conning tower of U-133. The observation Periscope (Navigationsperiskop) on the right is visible, and the attack Periscope (Angriffsperiskop) on the left. (The Dimitris Galon Archive ©)

 

Submarines based in La Spezia, Italy and Pola, Croatia, operated in the Central and Western Mediterranean, whereas those on the island of Salamis operated in the East Mediterranean. Consequently, the 29th Flotilla focused its efforts on the blockade of Tobruk, while the 23th Flotilla carried out constant attacks against the Allied convoys moving from Alexandria and Port Said to Tobruk and Malta.

Combined with the operations of the German 10th Aviation Corps under General Albert Kesselring, the U-boats in the Mediterranean brought drastic results at the beginning of 1942. In addition to sinking many Allied ships, among them the British battleship HMS BARHAM, they also achieved the restoration of supply lines to the Afrikakorps. Material support was such that on the 21st of January 1942, a new German offensive to the east began. In a very short time, Rommel captured the cities of Derna and Benghazi, reaching as far as the Gazala Line. In fact, the decisive role German submarines played in the North African campaign was realized as early as the end of 1941. In the 30th of December entry, Dönitz notes in his War Diary that “The intervention of the submarines in the eastern Mediterranean has worked so far as a relief for the North African front. That is why the decision to transfer submarines to the Eastern Mediterranean was correct. […] Many successes were achieved. The losses so far are minimal.”

Among those submarines was U-133.

 

U-BOAT 133, ATLANTIC-MEDITERRANEAN

On the 7th of August 1939, the German Navy High Command ordered Bremer Vulkan, Bremen to build five VIIC Type submarines bearing the serial numbers 132 to 136. Assigned the construction number of 12, the second submarine in this directive was laid down on the 21 of August 1940 at the Vulkan shipyard in Vegesack, an area to the north of Bremen. It was launched on the 28th of April 1941 and delivered to the Kriegsmarine. After the installation of armaments and the completion of the additional work and tests, it entered service under the command of Lieutenant Commander Hermann Hesse on the 5th of July 1941 as the German U-boat 133. The submarine was assigned to the 7th Submarine Flotilla, based on the Eckernförde of Kiel, and initially used for training purposes.

 

Entry of U-133 in the 7th Submarine Flotilla’s visitors’ book on the 22.10.1941. On this day it was sent as a “frontline submarine” on its first war patrol in the raging Battle of the Atlantic. The signatures of Herman Hesse (Kmdt. = Kommandant or Commander), F. Müller (LI = Leitender Ingeniour = Chief Engineer), Harald Preuss (I.W.O. = Erster Wachoffizier = First Officer), Hans-Joachim Schale (II.W.O. = Zweiter Wachoffizier = Second Officer). The last two remained on U-133 after the departure of Hermann Hesse and were killed when the vessel sank on 14.3.1942 northeast of Aegina. (The Axel Urbanke Archiv ©)

 

Like all VIIC Types, its general technical characteristics were:

  • Displacement: 761 tons on the surface, 865 tons underwater, 1,050 tons in total.
  • Length: Pressure hull 50.5 meters, total 67.1 meters.
  • Width: Pressure hull 4.7 meters, total 6.2 meters. Draught: 4.7 meters.
  • Propulsion: 2 diesel engines 2,400 kilowatts (3,200 horsepower) on the surface, 2 electric engines 560 kilowatts (750 horsepower) submerged.
  • Speed: With diesel engines 17.6 knots, with electric motors 10.5 knots, on the surface. Submerged (electric motors only) 7.6 knots.
  • Operational range: 6,500 nautical miles at an average speed of 12 knots, on the surface, and 80 nautical miles at an average speed of 4 knots submerged.
  • Torpedo tubes: 4 in the bow and 1 in the stern.
  • Complement: 44 to 52 men.
  • Diving depth: 100 meters (construction depth), 165 meters (test depth), 250 meters (theoretical crush depth).
  • Crash dive time: 30 seconds.
  • Armament: One 88 mm deck gun, one 20 mm anti-aircraft gun (Flak 30), 14 torpedoes.

 

On the 22 of October 1941, U-133 was ordered to go on its first combat patrol as a “frontline submarine” in the Battle of the Atlantic. The patrol commenced on the 24th of October and from the 30th of October until the 4th of November 1941, it participated in a Wolfpack comprising U-96, U-552, U-567, U-571 and U-577 under the code name “Stosstrupp”. On the 31st of October, the pack attacked the Allied eastbound convoys OS-10 and HX-156, resulting in the sinking of the Dutch cargo steamer BENNEKOM and the American destroyer USS REUBEN JAMES – a total tonnage of 7,188 tons. The first of these “kills” was torpedoed by the U-96 (Lt Cdr. Heinrich Lehmann-Willenbrock) and the second by the U-552 (Lt. Cdr. Erich Topp). On the 5th of November 1941, U-133, following a coded order received two days earlier from Submarine Supreme Command, joined a “Wolfpack” comprising 14 submarines and code named “Raubritter”. This pack, which was active from the 1st of November until the 17th of November, had already attacked an Allied convoy SC-52 on the 3rd, sinking four ships with a total tonnage of 51,192 tons. It was another of many blows against Britain and its desperate attempt to keep the Atlantic supply lines open. On the 8th of November, the “Raubritter” Wolfpack disbanded due to a heavy sea storm, which reached 9 on the Beaufort scale in the ensuing days, to reassemble at predetermined point on the 14th.

 

The captain of U-133, Lieutenant Hermann Hesse, was born in Cologne, Rhineland on 10.3.1909. After brief training in the Luftwaffe, he enlisted in the German Navy where he served on the ships WESTERWALD and KARLSRUHE. From October 1940 to February 1941, he trained in submarines. He then practiced in the 24th Submarine Flotilla, until taking office as commander of U-133. He served on this submarine from 5.7.1941 to 1.3.1942. He then served in the Admiralty of Submarines, until he again took up service at sea as Captain of U-194 on 1.8.1943. His submarine was sunk on 24.6.1943 in the North Atlantic, south of Iceland, by depth charges dropped by a Liberator aircraft from the British 120/H Squadron. (The Dimitris Galon Archive ©)

 

However, a new order from Submarine Supreme Command redirected U-133, along with U-85, U-571, and U-577 to form a Wolfpack code named “Störtebecker”. The name came from the legendary German pirate, Klaus Störtebecker (1360-1401), who operated in the North Sea and Baltic in the 14th century and was publicly beheaded in Hamburg on the 20th of October 1401. The 19th submarine pack operated from the 5th of November to the 2nd of December 1941. After continuous patrols in the North Atlantic, between Newfoundland, Iceland, Ireland, and England, U-133, U-85, U-552, U-571, and U-577 were ordered off the line and back to northwest France.

 

The crew of a German Type VIIC submarine during the Battle of the Atlantic. Note the difficult living conditions due to the confinement of the space and the long duration of the war patrols. (The Bundesarchiv ©)

 

As recorded in U-133’s Logbook, after carrying out an aggressive patrol of 5,446 nautical miles in the Atlantic over a 34 period, it sailed to the Kriegsmarine submarine base in St. Nazaire, France, where it tied up 14:30 hrs on the 26th of November 1941. On the 16th of December, after receiving supplies and completing repairs to the ballast tank balance pump, U-133 departed St. Nazaire and headed south to start its second war patrol. On reaching Biscay, its commander, Lt Cdr. Hermann Hesse, decided to take a westerly course in the hope of encountering some Allied convoy. After days of idleness, punctuated by surprise drills to test readiness, Lt Cdr. Hesse discerned smoke on the horizon on the 19th of December. It was an Allied convoy, heading north. However, it could not be approached because it was too far away. On the same day, U-133 and U-577 (Lt Cdr. Herbert Schauenburg) received an order from Submarine Supreme Command to head for Gibraltar and enter the Mediterranean.

The Straits of Gibraltar is the narrow strip of sea that separates Europe from Africa. Tangier, Morocco is located to the south, while off the Spanish coast, on the southernmost part of the Iberian Peninsula, lies the British “Fortress” – The Rock of Gibraltar. This was the most important British Naval Base in the Mediterranean. For German submarines, it was the most hazardous part of any journey to and from the Mediterranean. The number of WWII U-boat wrecks in and around the Straits is testimony to the difficulty of the venture.

 

The four torpedo tubes inside the bow of a Type VIIC submarine, as they exist today in U-995, one of the few German submarines of the Second World War still preserved. (The Dimitris Galon Archive ©)

 

Arriving at the entrance of the Straits at 15:16 hrs on the 21st of December 1941, Lt Cdr. Hesse decided to wait in the Atlantic for night to fall before attempting the dangerous passage. The anti-submarine nets and mines in the water, the British destroyers on the surface, the patrol planes equipped with searchlights, bombs and machine guns, as well as the shore batteries on the Naval Base at Gibraltar all severely limited the chances of success. The entries in the U-133’s Logbook which relate to the passage through the Straits of Gibraltar is a characteristic testimony of the ordeal many German submarines had to go through. It shows both the prevailing conditions inside the submarines and the importance of immediacy when it came to the decisions, commanders had to make in order to safely navigate their submarines safely through. The entries are listed here, directly translated from German, with authenticity, phrase specificity and the Lt Cdr. Hesse’s personal writing style preserved as far as possible.

“21.12.1941

15:16 hrs Straits of Gibraltar

Column of smoke to the left of the vessel, ends of masts protruding, steamship on a south-west course. Change course to the north. On the horizon there are two ships (high masts, the smoke trails are behind them) with a strong pall of smoke and a north course. They change course to the west, again to the eastward making zigzags. I am developing top speed to hold my position as I want to remain as close as possible to Cape Spartel. The sky is cloudless and planes can’t catch me unprepared, also horizontal visibility exceeds 15 nautical miles. I intend to enter the channel with the coming of night as I shall be able to move at a minimum speed, as the case may be, I shall have no high ripple at the stern, and shall be much more sheltered from air attacks.

18:31 hrs. Qu.CG 9567

Alert! We can see mast ends coming out of the channel on a westerly course. Distance from Spartel 13 nautical miles, I await the coming of darkness.

20:30 hrs. Ascent. Starting the channel crossing attempt. All men are in combat position. The horizon to the east is slightly misty. The western horizon is very open and clear because of the moon and Venus. Course to Cape Spartel Lighthouse = 70 degrees.

21:25 hrs. Cape Spartel is in front of us. No guard, no plane. I move with both diesel engines, at a low speed, keeping 1.5 to 2 nautical miles from the shore.

21:54 hrs. Tangier lies before us.

22:06 hrs. The Lighthouse of Malabata in front of us.

23:01 hrs. The Lighthouse of Tarifa in front of us.

23:42 hrs. I am in a position of 90 degrees ahead of Point Leona, at a distance of 3 nautical miles. A black shadow on a westerly course is detected near the coast. I turn the boat to stern and prepare the fifth torpedo tube. Almost simultaneously there appears, coming towards me, a larger shadow from the port side of the boat. It passes in front of the lighthouse beam, coming from Cape Tarifa, and I realize that it is a destroyer. Prepare torpedo tubes 1 to 4 to launch a spread of 4 torpedoes (I travel with the torpedo tubes ready and full of water, and the tubes 1, 4, and 5 ports open). The two diesels are working at the lowest power. I turn the boat to the left, to put myself in a position to attack. Almost immediately, the African coast is illuminated by a powerful beam from a large searchlight. It was directed behind the destroyer and towards the center of the channel. It only lasted for seconds, but I could discern three more destroyers in the beam. Everything is heading west.

The shadow, which passed from the left of the boat (it is a coast guard ship, a large one, which seems to have the responsibility of searching the bays of the coast, because of its shallow draft) is directed at high speed towards me, firing at the same time against me with a gun about 2 centimeters in diameter. He must have seen my profile in the beam of the searchlight.

23:45 hrs. Alert and crash dive to a depth of 55 meters. I follow a deceptive path, during which sounds are constantly audible. I change course to the south and touch the seabed. I’m holding the sub steady at 55 meters. Everything has been disabled on board, and absolute silence prevails. Sonar echolocation and sounds of propellers from two ships are heard. One of them is directly above us, that is, inside the Bay, the other behind us, that is, in deeper water. The submarine cannot hold onto the rocky bottom and the stern sideslips toward the north, into deeper water, creating a lot of noise. I empty the water ballast slightly, on both sides, to position 3, and the boat rises to 30 meters, change direction bringing the bow to the left and following a 60-degree course. Still a single ship is heard as well as sonar at long intervals. I use the electric motors at minimal power since the channel current, which moves with great force to the east, is able to take us out of the Bay area.

22.12.41

01:40 hrs. After 30 minutes without hearing anything, I surface. Point Leona is behind our stern. Three planes are cruising, with lights on, at a moderate height. They are north of us, over the channel exit. I continue my course with the electric motors at moderate power. The horizon to the north is like a pitch of rain clouds, to the south-east and south, the horizon is clear and cloudless, it is not possible to see what there is on the left side of the boat because of the dark horizon. Suddenly flares go off… [p.t.m. There are here five words which cannot be distinguished] I cannot pass through Ceuta as I find that, seen from the north, my profile must be strongly marked in the light of the beacon at Ceuta.

02:27 hrs. Dive, course 90 degrees.

03:35 hrs. Surfaced. I have passed Ceuta and I am moving in a northeast direction to avoid rain and storm. I’m turning the propulsion on the diesel engines to moderate power. Soon I hear a loud engine noise in front of me, I stop both engines and make a sharp U-turn. A plane flies over us and turns, taking a long leg towards Gibraltar. No bombs dropped; they definitely didn’t see us.”

 

Four days later, at 12:15 hrs on the 26th of December 1941, U-133 arrived in Messina, Italy. After filling the fresh water and oil tanks, an external inspection of the vessel by divers, repairs to the deck, and restocking munitions, the submarine departed late in the afternoon of the 28th of December to continue its war patrol. After passing the Strait of Messina, problems with one of the propeller shafts developed. They could not be solved at sea, so Lt Cdr. Hesse decided on an immediate return to Messina, which was promptly effected. In the ensuing days, additional problems with the other propeller shaft as well as with the engine cooling pump were found. Therefore, the submarine was forced to remain in Messina for repairs until the 1st of January 1942 when it finally departed at 16:00 hrs on a southeastern course.

 

A page dated January 17th, 1942 of the U-133’s Logbook, where the attack and sinking of the British destroyer HMS GURKHA is registered, signed by the Commander, Lieutenant Hermann Hesse. (The NARA archive ©)

 

On the 5th of January 1942, U-133 was off the coast of North Africa, between Alexandria and Tobruk. It was now in its designated hunting ground – the orders being to inflict as much damage as possible on British convoys. Lt Cdr. Hesse, supported by his second and third in command, Lieutenant Harald Preuss, and Ensign Hans-Joachim Schale, waited patiently for prey. He was soon joined by other German submarines – his old comrade-in-arms, U-577 among them. For days Lt Cdr. Hesse remained under water at periscope height, watching the horizon for signs of smoke, or detecting some sound with the boat’s hydrophone. At night he would surface to refresh the air in the submarine and recharge the batteries with the diesel generators. He did sight convoys, but was unable to strike against them because of distance, the relative position of his submarine, or the proximity to Tobruk. After many frustrating days, he received an order on the night of the 13th of January. Along with U-205 (Lt Cdr. Franz-Georg Reschke) and U-577 (Lt Cdr. Herbert Schauenburg), he was to attack an Allied convoy which was heading for Tobruk. At 02:30 hrs, he discerned the lights of the convoy. However, he was attacked by a British submarine chaser, which forced him to remain submerged until dawn. On the 15th of January, a new message from Mediterranean Submarine Command announced the imminent departure of a new Allied convoy from Alexandria. The orders were that U-133, U-205, and U-577 were to immediately head for Sollum Bay. On arrival, U-133 spotted a British destroyer. Lt Cdr. Hesse fired a salvo of four torpedoes but missed. The destroyer responded with a depth charge attack, forcing the submarine to dive and remain at a depth of 80 meters for the rest of the day.

On the 17th of January 1941, while U-133 was patrolling west of Sollum, off Sidi Barrani, its hydrophone picked up the presence of ships in the area. The signals came from the Allied convoy code named MW-8B, which had departed Alexandria on the 16th and was heading to Malta. The convoy was accompanied by a 1,920-ton L-Class British destroyer, HMS GURKHA II (G63), which had been built in 1940 in Birkenhead, England, and the 1,604-ton, Gerard Callenbourgh Class Dutch Destroyer, HNLMS ISAAC SWEERS (G83), completed in 1941 in Southampton, England. Lt Cdr. Hesse prepared and launched an attack, which he describes in detail in the ship’s Logbook:

“17.1.42

03:00 hrs. West 4, 3-4, 7 degrees Celsius, visibility good, Qu. CO 9215

06:10 hrs. Diving and underwater course.

07:10 hrs. At periscope depth. Localization of sounds at right angles, in a bearing of 107 degrees. First, the hydrophone detects a propeller spinning at 78-80 revolutions, a steamer. This sound is soon masked by the sounds of a destroyer’s propeller, and a little later by the sounds of a second destroyer. Through the periscope I can see the thin masts of two destroyers sailing very close to each other, bearing a westerly course. Distance about 45 hm. [hm = hectometre, this is a unit of measurement used by artillery and the Navy, 45 x 100 = 4,500 meters]. From 07:25 hrs begin to hear sounds of sonar echolocation. Because the destroyers are coming straight at me, bearing zero degrees, I’m heading south and then reversing again. A destroyer is on a south-westerly course, right off my bow at a bearing of 80° = 25 hm. I’m launching an attack on this destroyer. When reversing for the attack position, a second destroyer with a starboard bow bearing of 90° = 10 hm and at a speed of 15 knots suddenly appears on the left side of my field of view in the periscope. A salvo of four torpedoes is ready. The bearing increases to 100° and I fire the torpedoes. The boat was kept submerged at a moderate speed, and by the order “all men forward.” [This order was intended to keep the submarine horizontal after the sudden loss of weight caused by firing the torpedoes.] The boat remained submerged. After 48 seconds, a torpedo struck, a few seconds later another explosion (boiler, depth charges on deck or munitions), after 2-3 minutes, the normal sounds of a sinking ship (the buckling of bulkheads and the hull) is heard. It was a destroyer of the Jervis class.

 

The British destroyer HMS GURKHA II (G63) which was torpedoed and sunk by U-133 outside the Egyptian city of Sidi Barrani on 17.1.1942. (The Imperial War Museum ©)

 

After slipping away, I steer to point A plus 80° and changed course to the north. Around 08:00 hrs, I detect a pursuit by sonar echolocation. Depth charges are dropped, 22 explosions in a relatively good position, directly above the ship. Three destroyers worked together for a while, but for most of the time it is only two. The crew behaved impeccably and was proud of their “Baptism of Fire.” No damage. The depth charges were dropped in groups of 5 and some on their own.

10:20 hrs. Distant sonar sounds and depth charge explosions, constantly moving away.

11:05 hrs. Surfaced and sending a short message: “Convoy Qu. CO 9214, course West.”

 

The Commander of U-133 Lieutenant Hermann Hesse, with the white cap, with other officers in front of the conning tower of U-133 at the Salamis Naval Base on 22.1.1942. The war emblem of the German 7th Submarine Flotilla, known as the”Bull of Scapa Flow” can be distinguished on the conning tower. After repairs and a transfer to the 23rd Submarine Flotilla on Salamis, the emblem was changed. (The U-Boot Museum Cuxhaven ©)

 

The ship struck by one of U-133’s four torpedoes was the HMS GURKHA II (G63), commanded by C.N. Lentaigne, of the British Royal Navy. It erupted in flames and caused a flaming oil slick on the surface. Despite the hazards, the HNLMS ISAAC SWEERS (G83) rushed to the rescue and managed to save all but nine crew members. While still ablaze, the GMS GURKHA II sank about 90 minutes later at 31°50′ N and 26°15′ E. The survivors were transferred to Tobruk, which was still under siege. The sinking of HMS GURKHA II was announced by the British as late as the 9th of March 1942, just five days before the sinking of U-133.

In the following days, the submarine continued its patrols in the same area, again encountering Allied convoys but not managing to sink a ship. On the 20th January 1942, Lt Cdr. Hesse found that his boat was developing problems, possibly as a result of the depth charge attacks on the 17th. Operational capacity was limited, which endangered the submarine itself and its crew. The entry on Page 22 of the U-133’s Logbook states among other things that:

“20.1.42

[…]

18:00 hrs. Ascent to the surface.

With the current state of the engine connectors, the ineffectiveness of hydrophone, which is constantly getting worse, as from the right side I receive no signal, while from the left I receive only noise, plus the loss of a screw from an external connector, I find that the boat is not capable of coping with a deep dive or an encounter with depth charges.”

A few days later, at 05:30 hrs on the 21st of January 1942, U-133 was south of the island of Gavdos. At 08: 00 hrs on the following morning, it met with ships of the German 12th Coastal Defense Flotilla of Attica off the island of Poros and was accompanied to the Naval Station on the island of Salamis, where it tied up at 10:45 hrs. It had completed its second war patrol.

 

LIEUTENANT EBERHARD MOHR AND THE LAST WAR PATROL OF U-133

U-133 joined the 23rd Submarine Flotilla and remained at the Flotilla’s base for repairs until early March 1942. At that time, the Commander of the Machinery and Repair Department was engineer Lieutenant Commander Otto Erich Zürn, one of the few officers in the Mediterranean who had been decorated for “Bravery in Battle”. During his service on U-48, he was awarded the Battle Cross of the Knights (Ritterkreuz), one of the most important medals in the German Armed Forces. Fully realizing the importance of the role submarines were playing in the North African campaign, particularly in the efforts to expel the British from Tobruk, Zürn carried out the repairs ordered by Kriegsmarine Supreme Command with every means at his disposal.

 

The last Commander of U-133, Lieutenant Eberhard Mohr (Düsseldorf 1915-Aegina 1942). On the day he took command, Mohr was 26 years old and had only served in submarine training units. The first war patrol in which he participated and whose responsibility he bore, was the third and final war patrol of U-133. It was destined to last only an hour as the submarine sank after striking mine in the former Greek Tourlos-Phleves minefield. (The Dimitris Galon Archive ©)

 

At the beginning of March 1942, U-133 was almost ready to resume action. This time, the conning tower bore the 23rd Flotilla’s mascot, a donkey. Lt Cdr. Hesse remained the official commander until the 1st of March. He was then assigned to be a submarine instructor in Germany. From March 1942 to January 1943, he served in the 2nd Submarine Flotilla, which was under the command of Rear Admiral Hans-Georg von Friedeburg. Friedeburg was one of three military men who signed the unconditional surrender of the Third Reich in 1945. He committed suicide shortly afterwards. As for Lt Cdr. Hesse, he requested combat reinstatement and on the 8th of January 1943, became the commander of U-194, an innovative Type IXC/40. The U-194 was on its very first war patrol when it ran into trouble. After an encounter with a destroyer on the 24th of June 1943, it was attacked by a homing torpedo launched by a PBY Catalina Seaplane (Lt. J. W. Beach) from the US-Navy Squadron VP-84. The submarine sank south of Iceland, at 59°00′ N 26°18′ W with a total of 54 people on board. Lt Cdr. Hermann Hesse, born in Cologne on the 10th of March 1909, was 33 years old when he died.

The records show that U-133’s crew roster remained more-or-less the same after Lt Cdr. Hesse departed. The new commander, Lieutenant Eberhard Mohr, assumed his duties on the 2nd of March 1942. The only other noteworthy change was the replacement of the Chief Engineer with Ensign Eugen Pöhlmann. He had been with the anti-submarine services but had been reassigned, after the appropriate training, as Chief Engineer on U-133. It was his very first posting on submarine. He had flown in from Berlin, arriving in Piraeus with Lt. Mohr.

 

On the left is the Commander of the 23rd Submarine Flotilla, Lieutenant Fritz Frauenheim and on the right, Lieutenant Helmut Ringelmann, Commander of U-75. The picture was taken at the Salamis Naval Base Officers’ Club in November 1941. Sometime later, on December 28th, 1941, Lt. Ringelmann was lost when U-75 was sunk off Marsa Matruh, Egypt, by the British destroyer HMS KIPLING. (The Axel Urbanke Archiv ©)

 

Eberhard Mohr was born in Düsseldorf, North Rhine-Westphalia, on the 21st of October 1915. He graduated from the German Navy school in 1935 and served in various positions until his promotion to second lieutenant in 1939. He initially served in artillery units in the German Navy, such as the 518th Coastal Artillery, and as second adjutant in command of the Gotenhafen Town Guard (now Gdynia, Poland). From April to September 1940, he was trained in submarine warfare. From September 1940 to January 1941, he served in the 24th Submarine Training Flotilla based in Danzig in eastern Pomerania (today Gdańsk, Poland) and from February to July of the same year, as an officer, in the 2nd Submarine War Flotilla, initially based in Wilhelmshaven in Germany and then Lorient in northwest France. On the 15th of September 1941, Lt. Mohr was placed in command of U-148, a Type IID training submarine, which belonged to the 24th Submarine Training Flotilla, based at this time in the former German city of Memel (today Klaipėda, Lithuania). He remained in this position, without ever participating in a war patrol, until March 1942, when he was placed in command of U-133. As his curriculum vitae shows, Lt. Mohr, who was 26 years old, had no combat experience whatsoever when, under his orders, U-133 cast off and headed out on its third war patrol. His command lasted little under an hour before the submarine struck a mine in the former Greek Tourlos-Phleves minefield and sank.

 

U-133 in the Saronic Gulf, during its arrival at the 23rd Kriegsmarine Submarine Flotilla Naval Base on Salamis. (The U-Boot Museum Cuxhaven ©)

 

The fatal third patrol began at six o’clock in the early evening of the 14th of March 1942. After a small farewell ceremony at the Naval Base on Salamis, with the commander of the 23rd Submarine Flotilla, Lt Cdr. Fritz Frauenheim present, the base’s anti-submarine barrier was opened and the U-133 exited towards the island of Psytalia and Piraeus. The submarine passed the base Commander as he stood at the dock on review. Commanding Officer, Lt. Eberhard Mohr, First Officer Lt. Harald Preuss, Second Officer Ensign Hans-Joachim Schale and Chief Engineer Ensign Eugen Pöhlmann, along with a complement of 41 men were on board. In all, there were 45 men, most of whom were approaching 25 years of age. After passing Kynosura and Psytalia, the submarine followed a southeastern course, towards Cape Tourlos in order to reach the passage through the Tourlos-Phleves minefield. The passage was directly in front of Tourlos and was protected by the guns of the 1st Company of the German Coastal Artillery 603, which was commanded by the Aegina Guard Reserve Lieutenant Fritz Wienecke. A little earlier, the German Naval Administration of Attica had received information about the appearance of an Allied submarine in the Saronic Gulf. They ordered the coastal patrol vessels 12 V 9 and 12 V 10 of the 12th Coastal Defense Flotilla of Attica to head from the area of Phleves island, where they were patrolling, to Cape Tourlos. The intention was to accompany U-133 after its exit from the minefield and protect it from any attack until the Celevinia Islands, south of the island of Poros. They arrived in the area of Cape Tourlos at six in the early evening, exactly the same time of U-133’s departure from Salamis. Remaining outside the minefield, 12 V 9 and 12 V 10 carried out an anti-submarine sweep before heading to the south of Cape Tourlos at low speed. Then they stood offshore one and a half nautical miles from the minefield passage exit and waited for the submarine they were to accompany. At fifty-five minutes past six, U-133 approached Aegina as it cruised on the surface. At a distance of about one and a half nautical miles east of Tourlos, it became visible to the 1st Company of Coastal Artillery 603. Two minutes later, at fifty-seven minutes past six, the Coastal Artillery witness and report an explosion. U-133 had disappeared from the surface of the water. The Mediterranean Submarine Command’s file on U-133 has not been found to date and is considered lost. However, according to the scant information offered by the German War Diaries, it can be assumed that U-133 had been sent to continue its interruption of the Allied assistance to Tobruk. At this time, the continuation of the German offensive to control Cyrenaica largely depended on the fall of Tobruk. Cyrenaica and the oil fields of the wider region were essential to the mechanized mobility of the German Army and the associated outcome of the war.

 

U-133 on the departure for its third combat patrol. Just an hour later it would sink off the northeast coast of Aegina after being struck by a mine from the old Greek Tourlos-Phleves minefield. Commander Eberhard Mohr and First Officer Harald Preuss are distinguishable on the conning tower. Near the anti-aircraft gun, the Chief of the Salamis Naval Base Machinery and Repair Department, Otto Erich Zürn, flanked by Second Officer Hans-Joachim Schale (left), and the Chief Engineer Eugen Pöhlmann (right) can been seen. (The U-Boot Museum Cuxhaven ©)

THE GREEK MINEFIELD OF TOURLOS-PHLEVES AND THE CHRONICLE OF THE SINKING OF U-133

As stated in the first volume of the Greek Royal Navy’s War Diary, immediately after the peacetime torpedoing of the light cruiser ELLI in the Port of Tinos, on the 15th of August 1940, an imminent threat of attack by the Italians was realized. On the 23rd of August 1940, the General Staff of the Royal Greek Navy issued Secret Order K/27/4332 – a plan to lay minefields in the areas of Tourlos-Phleves, Methana-Moni, and North and South Evoikos. The main purpose of these minefields was the protection of the sea area located to the west of the Saronic Gulf – in where there were places of great strategic importance such as the Port of Piraeus, the Naval Base on Salamis, the entrance of the Corinth Canal, and so on – as well as the protection of the sea channels between Euboea and the coasts of Central Greece. Passages were to be left open between Phleves island and Attica, as well as the Methana Peninsula and the island of Moni. These would be protected by coastal artillery. The plan turned the region west of the Saronic Gulf into an enclosed area into which it would be extremely difficult for Italian submarines and ships based in the Dodecanese Islands to penetrate.

 

The entry describing the Tourlos-Phleves minefield. War Diary of the Greek Royal Navy, Volume A, Service of Naval History, Votanikos, Athens.

 

On the nights of the 29th to the 30th of October 1940, immediately after the declaration of the Greek-Italian War, the operation to lay the mines in the Tourlos-Phleves and Methana-Moni Straits began, under the supervision of the Senior Commander of Destroyers, Captain Gregory Mezeviris. The auxiliary minelayers ALIAKMON and STRYMON, assisted by the destroyer VASILISA OLGA, were used to lay the Methana-Moni minefield. 115 Vickers Type mines were deployed. The auxiliary lighthouse supply ship ORION and the destroyers PANTHER, AETOS, IERAX and HYDRA, assisted by the destroyers VASILEFS GEORGIOS, LEON and SPETSES were used to sow the Tourlos-Phleves minefield which stretched a distance of 15,800 meters. The orders specified 325 mines should be deployed. 155 of them were Vickers Type and 170 were “M” Type. The letter “M” was the code for Greek “Moraitis mines”. The western boundary of the minefield would be marked by a buoy located 550 meters off Cape Tourlos. It would follow a straight line to Phleves island, where a buoy would mark the eastern boundary 200 meters off the island.

 

The so-called “Keri” or “Candle” at the Cape Tourlos of Aegina, a distinctive rock located just below the old Lookout Post No. 1 of the 1st Company of the 603 Coastal Artillery. From this point, personnel witnessed the sinking of U-133 in the evening of March 14, 1942. (The Dimitris Galon Archive ©)

 

The task was carried out by the aforementioned ships divided into two groups. One group moved from Phleves island to Aegina at a course of 270 degrees, while the other group followed a course of 90 degrees from Aegina to Phleves. This second group started laying mines 350 meters east of the buoy that had been placed off Cape Tourlos. Other factors such as the relative rate of mine laying and the average speed of the minesweepers led to an incomplete and irregular mine placement. In the end, as many as 100 mines were not deployed. The Navy Staff General ordered the gaps filled. Although an attempt was made fifteen days later, only 14 additional mines were actually laid – the extreme danger of the venture being the reason. This was realized just after midnight (00:30 hrs) on the 29th of March 1941 when the Greek Royal Navy ship, MIMIS (formerly JANE JOLLIFFE) sank under the command of Elias Diyiannis with the loss of 23 men in an unfortunate encounter after straying into Tourlos-Phleves minefield (see “The loss of the salvage tugboat MIMIS”).

 

The interior of one of the buildings at the Tourlos Naval Base, as it is today. On the wall is the Third Reich Navy War Eagle and the inscription; “Whoever fights is right! Anyone who doesn’t fight has lost all rights!” (The Dimitris Galon Archive ©)

 

Both minefields remained as they were throughout the Greek-Italian war. After the German attack on Greece, the Battle of the Metaxa-Fortifications, the collapse of the front, and the German occupation of Athens in April 1941, any pre-existing Greek minefields were simply incorporated into Axis defense plans. Thus, the Tourlos-Phleves and Methana-Moni minefields became part of Attica’s Axis defense and are mentioned in the German military maps and the Naval War Diaries as “Enemy Minefields” or “Old Minefields”. Moreover, the old Greek Naval Bases at Tourlos, the Port of Aegina and the island of Phleves were also incorporated into the German defense network. Being an important navigational point and gateway to Athens, German Navy’s 603 Coastal Artillery stationed in Tourlos were charged with the responsibility of minefield surveillance and control of ships heading towards or out of the Port of Piraeus.

 

The 14th of March 1942 entry in the German Naval Defense Administration of Attica’s War Diary, where the sinking of U-133 is described in detail. (The NARA archive ©)

 

It seems – according to the War Diary entries of the German Naval Defense Administration of Attica, headed at this time by Commander Richard Leffler – the occupying army had continual problems with the Tourlos-Phleves minefield. Mines would shift on their moorings, creating maritime hazards on almost a daily basis. Thus, from October to November 1941, the passage through the minefield was widened to one and a half nautical miles. But the problems did not abate. Mines would detach from their moorings and wash up on the beach or drift randomly around on the surface, posing a danger not only to German or Italian warships and commandeered vessels, but also to Greek cargo ships. On the 12th of January 1942, for example, two floating mines were found and neutralized. On the 16th of January 1942, one of the mines was blown up in Lemonadika, Piraeus. On the 18th of January 1942, a Greek caique struck a floating mine near Tourlos and sank with crew losses. There are numerous references in the records. It should be realized that when U-133 sank, the Tourlos-Phleves and Methana-Moni minefields had not yet been expanded by the Germans. Some important minefields, such as the one between Cape Sounion and the uninhabited island of Agios Georgios, were laid by Italian Navy minelayer BARLETTA in collaboration with the Kriegsmarine, but limited resources meant that any attempt to rectify the inadequacies of the Tourlos-Phleves and Methana-Moni minefields would not be made until December 1942. So, the mine which caused the demise of U-133 had been laid in October 1940 by Greek destroyers.

 

The war emblem of the 23rd Kriegsmarine Submarine Flotilla, based on Salamis. The escutcheon depicts a donkey, the the Flotilla’s mascot. (The Georg Hoegel Archive ©)

 

According to the Naval Defense Administration of Attica, a cargo ship hit a buoy located off Cape Tourlos, thereby destroying its signaling lamp. It was the buoy which indicated the passage through the minefield. This happened on the 2nd of March 1942, twelve days before U-133 sank. Six days later, the buoy was replaced with a simple surface marker. No further entries in the Naval Defense Administration’s records indicate a more permanent replacement. On Saturday the 14th of March 1942 – the day U-133’s demise, the sun set at 18:20 hrs and it was two days short of a new moon. It may be surmised that the commander and lookout crew of U-133 simply failed to see the surface marker replacement, to the cost of their lives.

The sinking was witness by those Coastal Artillery 603 personnel stationed on Cape Tourlos and on watch at the time. War Diary entries describes events as follows:

“18:10 hrs: A submarine approaches from the Piraeus side, heading south (a submarine departure signal was not received from the Naval Base at Aegina).

18:55 hrs: The lookout at Tourlos reports a vessel heading south. It is identified as a submarine.

18:57 hrs A flash and eruption of water, an explosion is heard immediately afterwards. The submarine has disappeared.

19:02 hrs Message to the Naval Commander: “A submarine coming from the Piraeus side probably collided with a mine and sank.”

19:10 hrs. Naval Base of Aegina calls patrol vessels 12 V 9 and 12 V 10. They are ordered to head towards the location of the wreck using searchlights.

20:15 hrs. 12 V 9 is heading north. Message from the Naval Base of Aegina: “Stay! By order of the Naval Commander, you are ordered to take part in the investigation.” 12 V 9 shows a signal: “Understood.”

20:30 hrs. 12 V 9 no longer signals, probably headed for the island of Phleves.

20:50 hrs. 12 V 10 ordered to place a buoy at the site of the accident and sends message: “Buoy not available.”

21:15 hrs. An Italian torpedo boat arrives and investigates the scene of the accident using search lights.

21:45 hrs. The tugboats ordered by the Naval Commander to participate in the search arrive (no pieces of the wreck, no other items were found).”

 

U-133’s anti-aircraft gun is depicted. The Flak 30 (Flak = Flugabwehrkanone) had a caliber of 20 mm. Modelled on the Swiss 20 mm Oerlikon anti-aircraft gun, it was manufactured by the German Army. (The U-Boot Museum Cuxhaven ©)

 

The war diary of the Naval Administration of Attica, in the entry of the 14th and 15th March 1942, describes the same event as follows:

“Coastal Battery 603 reports that at 19:02 hrs, a submarine hit a mine and sank off Cape Tourlos. As there was a submarine departure at 18:00 hrs, it is thought that it is one of ours. The Aegean Admiralty, the 23rd Submarine Flotilla and the Marine Emergency Unit were notified. At 19:30 hrs, the Port Commander sent two tugboats under the command of Lieutenant Schweyer. Although the 12th Coastal Defense Flotilla of Attica does not have any free ships, we believe that patrol vessels 12 V 9 and 12 V 10 are near the site of the accident. A message from the Naval Base of Aegina instructs them to head there and stay at the location of the accident until 23:00 hrs, if feasible. […] The accident site is illuminated by the artillery unit’s searchlights. Work and navigation were difficult in the area due to poor visibility and because of flares fired after an airstrike. The instruction sent to the patrol vessels to head to and remain at the scene of the accident was received by one vessel, while the other vessel which was responsible for the fuel replenishment, did not respond. After an ineffective search at the site of the wreck, the patrol vessel and the remaining tugboat started to sail to Piraeus. Because of the information in relation to the site of the accident received by Coastal Battery 603, range between 800 to 2000 meters from the land, because the cause of the explosion that led to the sinking of the submarine has not been investigated, and because of the existence of other enemy mines is possible, an investigation of the mines in the area of Tourlos at dawn on the 15.03.42 was ordered. After a message from Aegina that the patrol boat and the tugboat, which were on duty, left the site of the accident, another patrol vessel and a tugboat were ordered from Piraeus. Around 24:00 hrs, there is a message from the Piraeus Naval Command that 12 V 10 is located on the outer edge of the minefield and has declared its position by launching Red Stars (flares). In order to avoid further accidents, the Naval Commander wishes the investigation by the patrol vessel and the tug to be carried out as soon as day dawns. It is the wish of the Admiralty, however, that they should be sent at once. Indeed, although the 12 V 10 sailed without the permission from the Naval Base and without any other order, it was ordered at 01:00 hrs on 15.3 to sail again to the scene of the accident. The other tugboat will be sent there at dawn, as the tug commanded by Lieutenant Schweyer did not return and apparently is still at the scene of the accident. The remaining rescue efforts will be carried out by the Aegean Admiralty and the 23rd Submarine Flotilla.”

 

The timber deck has disintegrated, leaving large gaps in the metal construction. Over the years, marine growth has created a colorful shroud around this iron “coffin”. (The Dimitris Galon Archive ©)

 

These are the official, first-hand information sources describing the sinking, which are also partially confirmed by the records from other units. The sinking of U-133 was judged as a maritime navigation error and was primarily blamed on the inexperience of Lt. Mohr, who received an honorary promotion to Lieutenant Commander shortly after his death. Although there are many theories about the causes of the sinking, they all suffer from serious inaccuracies or evidence which contradict the facts and historical evidence. The most serious of them use historical military documents, but they never manage to articulate a thorough and evidence-based position. Perhaps we may never know the exact reasons that led to the navigational error as there is no other testimony beyond a brief description by the only eyewitnesses, the Coastal Artillery 603 personnel manning Lookout Post No. 1 on Cape Tourlos, Aegina.

 

THE GERMAN INVESTIGATION AFTER THE ACCIDENT

Immediately after the sinking of U-133, a series of actions were undertaken. They aimed to identify the wreck, to find out if there were any survivors, to ascertain the cause of its sinking and to assess the magnitude of the damage. The investigations into the location of the wreck and the causes of sinking were undertaken by the 12th Coastal Defense Flotilla of Attica Commander of Minesweepers, Albert Oesterlin in collaboration with Naval Defense of Attica Commander, Lt Cdr. Richard Leffler and 23rd Submarine Flotilla Commander, Lt Cdr. Fritz Frauenheim. As stated in the log entries of Oesterlin’s unit, immediately after U-133 sank:

“The minesweepers 12 M 2, 12 M 6 and 12 M 7 sailed from Piraeus on a mission to find the wreck and widen the passage through the Tourlos minefield by 1.5 nautical miles. At the beginning of the work, many scattered oil stains were seen. At noon, when the tide came in from the south, an intense continuous release of oil was seen in the minefield at about 3,000 meters from the shore. A large oil slick was created and carried by the current to the north (wind, easterly 4-5). The depth, at the point where the wreck probably lies, is 80 meters. The oil slick remained until the coming of night. Buoys with moorings were placed in a direction from north to south, making parallel circles to the east and west and at a distance of 6,000 meters east of Cape Tourlos in order to indicate the exact location of the mines. In the course of this work, we passed over many mines which, by their light grey colour, are highly visible (located at a depth of 3-4 meters below the surface). Immediately after that, buoys were placed to mark free passage for the continuation of minesweeping operations (distance from Cape Tourlos 2,400 meters).”

 

The TTA trailer has been lowered into the water and the dive to U-133 has begun. The photo depicts the diving supervisor, who communicates by phone with the diver, crew members of the Italian tug and German sailors of the Kriegsmarine who assist during the event. (The Archiv Werner Hartmann ©)

 

On the 16 of March 1942, following the information of the German units about the time of the sinking, the commander of German Naval Command South, based in Sofia, Bulgaria, Admiral Karlgeorg Schuster, entered the following in the Command’s War Diary [Note that some changes in detail exist in the retelling]:

“In connection with the report from the 23rd Submarine Flotilla to Mediterranean Submarine Command, related to the sinking of U-133 in the Aegina minefield at 19:00 hrs on 14.3.42, the Admiralty of the Aegean stated that neither survivors nor objects from the shipwreck have been found so far. The location of the sinking, from which oil is constantly released, is located about 4,000 meters east of Cape Tourlos, inside the minefield. The desired lifting of the submerged submarine, which is located at a depth of about 90 meters, I consider – especially due to a lack of means and due to other high-priority tasks – meaningless and I order the end of the work until the final decision by the Supreme Command of the Navy, on whether it is important to salvage or not.”

 

The commander of the 23rd Submarine Flotilla, Fritz Frauenheim, inspects U-133’s crew before its departure from the Salamis Naval Base. First Officer Harald Preuss (right) and Second Officer Hans-Joachim Schale (left at the end) can be seen. (The U-Boot Museum Cuxhaven ©)

 

The 12th Coastal Defense Flotilla of Attica’s War Diary makes mention of the incident on the 17th March 1942:

“The wreck’s continuous intense oil release was located and marked with two buoys (a mine was detected exactly above the wreck). The artillery unit at Tourlos ranged the distance from land to the marker buoy at 2.200 meters, and the distance to the wreck at 2,700 meters. At 15:15 hrs, Commander Weiher and Lieutenant Commander Frauenheim, along with two Italian Vice-Captains, inspected the site of the wreck. According to their opinion, the continuous release of oil marks the spot where the submarine wreck is located. Further visits and discussions followed. The intention is to install a warning light at the location of the wreck, in conjunction with the additional installation of a warning light perpendicular to the wreck and further north of it. The purpose is to allow a safe night passage past Cape Tourlos at a distance of 500–100 meters.”

 

Based on information obtained from the diver, Commander of Minesweepers, Albert Oesterlin of the 12th Coastal Defense Flotilla of Attica records in the Flotilla’s War Diary that the wreck was beyond recovery and repair. Included in this assessment is this plan showing U-133 on the seabed, as seen by the Italian diver who visited her on April 4, 1942. Although the plan is accurate, there is an error. Relative to the main body of the submarine, the bow is not pointed towards the right, as shown, but to the left. (The NARA Archive ©)

 

On the 18th of March 1942, the wreck was located even more precisely by the release of not only oil, but also bubbles. This resulted in correcting the position of the buoys and the continuation of widening of the passage through the Tourlos minefield by the removal of mines. On the 19th of March 1942 we read that:

“The point of the wreck was marked with a red buoy just above the wreck and with two more buoys placed on either side at a distance of 50 meters east and west of the wreck.”

 

Because of oxidation over time, gaps have been created in the casing. Thus, the metal supports between the casing and the pressure hull are revealed. (The Dimitris Galon Archive ©)

 

On the 23rd of March 1942, the entry in the Admiralty of the Aegean’s War Diary states that:

“The location of the U-133 has now been clearly identified and marked with surface buoys, following observation of bubble release and as well as by scanning the seabed with an electrical device operating according to the principle of magnetic induction. The submarine was located submerged in the familiar minefield at a depth of 78 meters and at a distance of 2,700 meters from the shore. Mine removal in the area of the accident has been completed so that in good weather conditions, a diving bell can be used. The necessary preparations are under way.”

 

After receiving the War Diary entries of the units that dealt with the incident, particularly the 12th Coastal Defense Flotilla of Attica’s report that the submarine had been located at a depth of about 80 meters, the Supreme Command of the Navy, based in Berlin, decided on a further assessment in order to determine whether the submarine wreck might be made serviceable or not. The importance submarines as a weapon and the general need for submarines in the Mediterranean led them to this decision. An assessment of U-133 would indicate if it was in good enough condition to be repaired and rejoin the 23rd Submarine Flotilla. As the German Navy did not have the necessary equipment in the Aegean at this time to carry out such an operation, the Commander of the German Admiralty of the Aegean, Admiral Erich Förste sent a request to Staff Commander of the Italian Naval Forces (Supermarina) in Greece, Vice Admiral Arturo Catalano Gonzaga di Cirella for material and technical support. The request was granted.

Preparations and research were carried out by the 12th Coastal Defense Flotilla of Attica, with the minesweepers 12 M 2 and 12 M 5 in collaboration with the Royal Italian Navy, the Regia Marina Italiana. An Italian diving bell and divers were put at the German Navy’s disposal, as was a shipwreck recovery tugboat, the TITAN. It sailed from the island of Kefalonia to participate in the operation. The dives, which involved the Italian diver Lieutenant Enzo Biagi and German war correspondent Werner Hartmann, took place on the 4th of April 1942. The results of the investigation were accurately documented by Albert Oesterlin from the Supreme Command of the Navy. They put paid to any notion of recovering U-133. According to the information provided by the divers and recorded in writing in an accompanying draft in the 12th Coastal Defense Flotilla of Attica’s War Diary, the wreck was beyond repair due to its total destruction. From this point on, there is no mention of U-133 until its rediscovery by professional divers Efstathios Baramatis and Theophilos Klimis in 1986.

 

THE REDISCOVERY OF THE WRECK IN 1986

In 1986, a trawler that was nearing the northeast of Aegina, off Cape Tourlos, snagged its net on an unknown object on the seabed. During an attempt to free the net, some oil began to form on the surface. Not knowing where the spot came from and fearing a heavy fine for polluting the sea, the captain of the trawler decided to cut the net free, thereby leaving it and the net’s metal frame opening behind.

 

Professional divers Efstathios Baramatis and Theophilos Klemi were the ones who discovered the wreck in 1986. Efstathios Baramatis, on the left of the photo, was the first person to dive and see the wreck post-war, 44 years after it sank. (The Efstathios Baramatis Archive ©)

 

On the same or the next day, a sponge diving boat coming from the rocky islet of Petrokaravo and heading for the south of Aegina passed over exactly the same spot. The professional divers on board, Efstathios Baramatis and Theophilos Klimis, noticed the oil slick. Having many years of experience, they deduced that the oil must have come from a shipwreck at the bottom. They decided to mark the point with a buoy. On their return the following day, Efstathios Baramatis dived and immediately found the wreck of submarine. From the War Eagle and the Swastika on compass he found, he correctly ascertained that it was a German submarine. The submarine, which was yet to be accurately identified by professional diver Costas Thoctarides as U-boat 133, had finally been rediscovered.

 

Italian diver inside the diving bell on the deck of the Italian tug, preparing to dive to the wreck of U-133. The photo was taken by German war correspondent Werner Hartmann on April 4, 1942. Behind the top of the bell, notice an officer of the Italian Royal Navy, the Regia Marina Italiana, and a sailor of the German navy, the Kriegsmarine, with the characteristic cap. (The Werner Hartmann Archiv ©)

 

Apparently, the trawler’s attempt to release the net moved the submarine slightly, resulting in a change of pressure inside, which led to the expulsion of bubbles and oil to the surface, as seen by the captain of the trawler and later by Baramatis and Klimis. In the winter of 2011-12, during phone call conversations I had with Efstathios Baramatis and Konstantinos, his son, I requested a written testimony on the discovery of U-133. I gratefully received the following letter from the first man to dive the wreck since the war. The testimony is not only an historical document in its own right, but also delineates a personal account of the discovery.

“Returning from a dive in the Petrokaravo area behind Aegina – and as the sea was calm off Cape Tourlos, I discerned spots of oil on the surface and began to complain about the carelessness of the unknown person who had created the blight I was seeing. As soon as Theophilus Klimis, the captain, understood what was going on, he stopped the engine and suggested that it was some kind of shipwreck. In fact, we thought the incident was recent, so we could imagine what we would find! We immediately dropped a marker buoy and after turning on our depth gauge which had an old paper readout, we detected a wreck at 39 fathoms depth (71.29 metres). We left our marker, as back then there was no GPS or other such means and made for the port. I had already done two deep dives that day and couldn’t dive again.

The next day we started. Having reached the place after an hour and a half, we began to get ready. My suspense was at its climax. We released the hosepipe into the sea – all the dives were made with a surface-supplied breathing system, of course – and after I suited up, I splashed into the water. On my descent, I could see the oil blobs together with bubbles of air rising, meaning that the wreck was still watertight. On reaching 25 or 30 fathoms, I discerned a long shape like a cigar. I say “shape” because the water was very deep and visibility bad, but with the current prevailing I found myself in a minute or two upon the unknown wreck which was covered with barnacles and other marine crustaceans everywhere. I understood at once that it was a warship, but the sponges, barnacles and everything else it had stuck to it – including a trawler net – all made it difficult to identify the wreck, particularly the net. Afterwards we learned that on the same day or the previous day, a trawler had caught its net on the seabed had to abandon it. After passing the turret [conning tower], I discerned a machine gun and realized that it was a submarine. Then I made towards the front where there was a big opening, as if a piece of the bow were missing. All this time my heart was beating hard at the thought of how many souls might be hidden inside. After 25 minutes of diving and about 30 to 35 minutes of decompression, I came to the surface and conveyed what I saw to Theophilos. He agreed with me that it was a submarine.

At this point I want to mention that diving and decompression times, strange as they may sound compared to today’s diving charts and tables, are real. My dives were generally as follows; the first dive was done at 55-65 meters for a 35 to 45-minute bottom time and a decompression of little less than an hour. The second was done after two hours, a little shallower, and with the same decompression time. Certainly, very unrealistic dives by today’s standards. However, the daily routine and years of experience bring proportional expertise. Today I would not recommend it to anyone – we all know the potential outcome of such unrealistic dives.

 

Right in front of the 88 mm deck gun is the forward breach, where the bow section was detached after the impact of a mine from the Tourlos-Phleves minefield. At this point, the casing is slightly bent inward and covered in marine life. This makes any attempt to penetrate inside the submarine impossible. (The Dimitris Galon Archive ©)

 

Diving continued for several days because the trawler net had to be removed from the wreck. During this time, the compass dome burst during cleaning. Revealed on the face of the compass was the unmistakable symbol of a bird holding a swastika in its feet. It was now clear that the wreck was a German submarine. The compass, which was brass, gyroscopic, about 25 to 30 kilos, had, on its side, the bird with the swastika and some numbers. When the dome burst, the explosion was quite terrifying, and especially at that depth. From then on, interest was lost. What plays an important role for us professional divers is money. Unlike some others who obtain money easily, we work hard to get it because we need it to survive. I also want to say that during another dive, in the same area, I spotted another wreck at 43 fathoms (78 meters) but completely destroyed. From what I could make out, it’s probably a warship.

As for Theophilos, he was an expert at cutting up shipwrecks. He was the diver who went to Tinos, after the torpedoing of the battleship ELLI. He was also the man with whom Jacque Yves Cousteau came in contact during his trip to Greece. This was to inform him about the coordination of the wreck of the HMHS BRITANNIC. Indeed, on his return, after a time, he turned to thank Theophilos and found him after he had been injured by DCS.   He even left some serums on his way out. Grandfather Klimis has a long history, but what to write? I also think that Theophilos had worked on ORIA, where they were taking out car tyres and selling them for 1-3 gold coins apiece. He said that they made shoe soles out of them.

This is what I had to say in general terms about the finding of the German submarine”

(Eustathios Baramatis)

 

U-133 TODAY

Being a professional diver and appreciating the value of his find, both as a historical object and a source of scrap metal, Efstathios Baramatis went to the German embassy in Athens immediately after the discovery of the submarine. He announced the find and asked if the government of the Federal Republic of Germany was interested. As his son, Konstantinos informed us, the Germans not only showed no interest, but also unequivocally stated “Leave the dead in their grave. Hitler is a great disgrace to us.”

 

The conning tower of U-133 as photographed from above. The open hatch, which leads to the interior of the shipwreck, the base of the UZO (U-Boot-Zielobjektiv) on the left, the lower part of the attack periscope on the right, remnants of the loop antenna, as well as remnants of the trawler net snagged on the submarine in 1986 which resulted in the discovery by professional divers Efstathios Baramatis and Theophilos Klemi. (The Dimitris Galon Archive ©)

 

After this rejection, Efstathios Baramatis sought out fellow professional diver Yiannis Panagos, owner of the Company “N.E. Yiannis Panagos”. They discussed a possible recovery and sale of the submarine’s metals for scrap. After WWII, permission had to be granted before wrecks could be recovered or removed. At first, this was just perfunctory and hundreds of wrecks were removed for scrap around Greece, but the criteria became more stringent as the years went by. A prerequisite for those seeking permission was the filing of an application with the details of the wreck and a formal request made by the applicant. Supported by Yiannis Panagos, Efstathios Baramatis submitted an application on the 27th February 1989 to the General Secretariat of the Ministry of Merchant Marine, registered under the number 1753. Later, a second application in order to purchase the shipwreck was submitted to the Navy, this time only by Yiannis Panagos. A 2003 law which classified shipwrecks fifty or more years old as “Cultural Monuments”, not to be removed or interfered with in any way was still a few years away, but the prevalent thinking had changed and both applications were flatly rejected. As a result, the recovery and scrapping of the submarine was not undertaken.

An article written by journalist C. Karagiorgas and published the “Mesimvrini” newspaper on the 4th of March 1991 appeared two years later. Entitled “Γερμανικό Λαβράκι στον Βυθό” or “A German Sea Bass on the Bottom”, it referred to the German submarine as the European Sea Bass (Dicentrarchus labrax), a greatly appreciated delicacy in Greece. The article included an interview with Yiannis Panagos and mentions the trawler incident. It also adds that the discovery of the wreck “became known among the closed circle of buddies who dive for sponges.” In other words, the small group of professional divers knew about the existence of the German submarine located east of Aegina. Yiannis Panagos stated that the shipwreck mentioned in Efstathios Baramatis’ recovery application was “misleading” and had nothing to do with the actual location of the shipwreck. Thus, it may be assumed that the exact location of the submarine was only known to Baramatis and Panagos, but the general region was acknowledged as C. Karagiorgas repeatedly refers to the location of the sinking in his article as “east of Aegina.” Because the “Mesimvrini” had nationwide circulation, it was generally known thereafter that a U-boat had been found in this location. As a result, tech divers began to seek out and visit the wreck from the late 90’s onwards. The first who correctly identified the wreck was the professional diver Costas Thoctarides.

The wreck of U-133 is located at a distance of 2,700 meters from Cape Tourlos, at an average depth of about 70 meters. The submarine conning tower is located at 67 meters, and its deepest point, the left propeller, is at 74 meters. Most of the hull lies at about 72 meters. The wreck consists of two pieces. The largest piece, which constitutes about three-quarters of the submarine, starts at a forward breach, where the bow section has been cut, and extends towards the stern. This piece is the main body of the shipwreck on which the conning tower, the 88mm deck gun and the remains of the 20mm anti-aircraft gun base are located. It lies in a south-west direction with its port side resting on the bottom at a tilt of about thirty degrees. The second part, the smallest, is located directly under the stern and consists of the bow and a small part of the forward torpedo room which also doubled as crew’s living space. This bow piece, which is about a quarter of the submarine, is pointing in a south-east direction. In other words, the port side of the bow section is almost perpendicular to main body at the stern. This odd arrangement can be explained. Following the explosion, the bow piece was detached and sank before the rest of the submarine. The main body then reached the bottom, with the stern coming to rest on top of and at right angles to the bow. Such a strange geometrical arrangement can only be attributed to “luck”.

 

A photo of where the anti-aircraft gun was located, as it is today. This area directly behind the conning tower was called the “Wintergarten” by U-boat crews. The railing has completely disintegrated. Of the anti-aircraft gun, apart from its base, very little is left to reveal its form and existence. (The Dimitris Galon Archive ©)

 

Torpedo tubes one and three, located on the starboard side of the bow section, are closed, while the starboard anchor has detached from its position and is near the stern of the submarine. At the stern of the wreck are the two three-pronged propellers, with the left one resting on the seabed. The course rudders, the vertical support shaft, as well as the hydroplanes are also distinguishable, although they are covered in marine growth. On the conning tower, the attack periscope and the air observation periscope can be distinguished. Both are lowered. The base of the UZO (U-Boot-Zielobjektiv), the remnants of the loop direction finding aerial, as well as the open hatch which leads to the interior of the submarine are found on the conning tower deck. However, the compass is missing as it was removed by Efstathios Baramatis in 1986.

Behind the conning tower is the space which the German crews called the “Wintergarten”, perhaps because of the protection the railing around it offered. In this area the 20 mm anti-aircraft FLAK 30 gun was located. Although Efstathios Baramatis’ testimony confirms that the weapon was in place on the discovery dive in 1986, only the base, which is completely encrusted, remains today. Directly in front of the conning tower is the 88mm deck gun, covered to this day with the large piece of the trawler net which was snagged on the submarine in 1986. Now encrusted with marine organisms, this net has formed one continuous mass, making the deck gun virtually indistinguishable. The wooden decking has disintegrated, leaving large gaps from which the metal supports between the casing and the pressure hull are visible. The whole wreck is covered by highly developed marine life which, over the years, has created a colorful shroud covering this iron “coffin”.

 

A propaganda poster from the Kriegsmarine to solve moral problems that sometimes arose during the war patrols on German submarines. The poster reads: “An 8,000-ton cargo ship can carry 11,550 tons of fuel. That fuel is enough to equip 11,550 modern aircraft on four missions.” (Bundesarchiv ©)

 

Directly forward of the 88 mm deck gun, the casing is bent inward and thickly covered with marine organisms. Forward of this point, laying on the sandy bottom left of the submarine is one of the compressed air cylinders which, according to Type VIIC schematics, was placed in a horizontal position above the crew’s living quarters, at the exact point where the breach caused by the mine explosion is located. It should also be mentioned that the wider area around the wreck is scattered with objects whose identification is difficult because of marine growth and the deformities caused by the powerful explosion.

U-133 is both rare and important in terms of a material artefact which embodies the events that took place in the wider region of the eastern Mediterranean during WWII. Its historical status, as expressed through its roles in the Battle of the Atlantic and the German campaign in Cyrenaica, as well as its accession to the first German Submarine Flotilla in the Mediterranean, the 23rd based on the Greek island of Salamis, makes U-133 a particularly important historical object that was inextricably involved in the history of all people who participated, directly or indirectly, in the military operations that lasted from September 1939 to May 1945.

 

A German U-boat Type VIIC, in the Vasiliadis dry dock in Piraeus during repairs in November 1941. The hydroplanes on the bow are clearly visible. (The Dimitris Galon Archive ©)

 

Yet the value of U-133 transcends that of a mere object. It is also the watery grave of all the members of its crew. Most were young men who died following the fanatic visions of extreme chauvinism which led to the global bloodshed of World War II. Through the roles it played as part of that tragic chapter of history and its own violent loss, U-133 allows us to realize what is perhaps the most important element of the wreck. Not only is it an umbilical which connects an inanimate metal object to the suffering of war, but it also bears a message from those who no longer have a voice to be heard. In my view, that message can be nothing else but “No more war!”  It is clear warning signal that similar events should be avoided in the future.

D.G.

Hamburg, 14 March 2014

 

The Commander of the 23rd Submarine Flotilla, Fritz Frauenheim inspects the crew of a German U-boat at Salamis Naval Base, accompanied by the commander of the Machinery and Repair Department, Otto Erich Zürn. (Axel Urbanke Archiv ©)

 

Propaganda poster published by the Kriegsmarine, with the exhortatory caption “Voluntarily join the Kriegsmarine”. The end of the Second World War found 784 of the total 863 German U-boats sunk and 30,000 of the 40,000 crew members who served on them lost. (The Dimitris Galon Archive ©)

ANNOTATION

This article was based primarily on primary sources. These include German war records, such as those of the Federal Archive of Freiburg and the War Diaries of the German units operating in Greece and filed in the microfilms of the NARA, Washington D.C. But without the assistance of distinguished researchers and friends, archival research and field research would not have been possible or at least would not have reached the historical depth which characterizes this work. At this point, therefore, I would like to express my sincere gratitude to all those who contributed to this article on U-133. Many thanks go to Theodore Dorgeist, Peter Schenk, Reinhard Kramer, René Stenzel, Axel Urbanke, Byron Tezapsidis and Platonas Alexiadis. The field survey and its results, which led to the confirmation of the identity, history and sinking of U-133, would not have been possible without the assistance of Vassilis Mavros, Yiannis Protopappas, Giorgos Vandoros, Nikos Pitaras and Stelios Therianos. Finally, I would especially like to thank Efstathios and Konstantinos Baramatis for their willingness to assist in research concerning the history of the wreck after its 1986 discovery, Aristoteles Zervoudis, who provided me with data from his archive, primarily that of the German war correspondent Werner Hartmann, as well as Louis Panagos, who willingly assisted in this research by offering data from the archive of his late father Yiannis Panagos.

Author: Kimon Papadimitriou

Kimon Papadimitriou, Dr Ing Rural and Surveying Engineering, is member of Laboratory Training Staff at the School of Rural and Surveying Engineering, Faculty of Engineering, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. In 2015 he developed the PADI Underwater Survey Diver distinctive specialty training course. Subsequently, he was certified to teach the Wreck Detective training course.