Something caught my attention yesterday: the news that an American ship, torpedoed by a German submarine in 1945, was found off the coast of Maine. The ship was sunk on April 23rd, two weeks before Germany’s surrender. The killer, U-853, was later sunk off Block Island, RI, perhaps on the day of the surrender. Aside from the tragedy of men killing and dying so near the war’s end, I was struck by the fact that U-boats were still operating on our coast that late in the war. Remember, Germany was then effectively occupied by the Allies and the Soviets were fighting in the streets of Berlin. Hitler killed himself on April 30th, but the war went on in the Atlantic at our very front door.
There is much we are still learning about the Second World War. For example, historians didn’t know of Ultra – Britain’s solution to the German Enigma codes – until the 1970s. Ultra not only changed submarine warfare in the Atlantic, but it contributed mightily to Italy’s defeat in Africa and the Mediterranean (thanks to German communication leaks). The Germans had no idea that Enigma was compromised. When the Italians questioned Enigma’s security, the Germans insisted the reason so many Italian supply ships to Africa were being sunk was an Italian traitor in Naples giving out ship departure information to the Allies. In fact, it was German “loose lips.” The break-thru for the British came with the high seas capture of U-33 in February, 1940 where they found three Enigma rotors in a German sailor’s trousers. In May 1941, the Brits captured U-110, recovering Enigma codebooks which told them how to set the rotors. The Italians paid the price.
It is interesting to see how Hollywood distorted this entire episode in the 2000 movie U-571. In the film, an American ship captures the U-boat and discovers the Enigma machine and code books. The blatantly contrived film angered British Prime Minister Tony Blair so much that he denounced it in Parliament as an insult to the Royal Navy. British critics vented their spleen by denouncing the B-grade actors used to commemorate this pivotal event, which included mob-star Harvey Keitel and rock star Jon Bon Jovi. Hollywood, they noted, even invented an African American crewmember to share the credit.
Another example of post-war secrets is the Katyn Massacre of 22,000 Polish officers in 1940. It was thought to be a German atrocity, even though the massive grave site was revealed to the world by the Nazis. In fact, the USSR had occupied half of Poland before the war broke out and Poles were always a Communist problem. It was only in 1990 that the Russians admitted it was Stalin’s work.
Back to besieged Berlin, it is not generally known that Hitler decided to commit suicide and have his body cremated for fear of ending up like Mussolini – mutilated, defiled by urination, and strung up. It is said that he even saw photos of that April 29th mob desecration, perhaps on the day he shot himself, April 30th. Yet, Mussolini’s murder is considered a fitting end, while Hitler’s a last act of defiance.
Another little known fact of WW II was the Italian submarine fleet in the Atlantic. We first reported this in The Italic Way, issue XXIX – which you can find on our website (italic.org). Some 30 Italian ocean-going subs prowled the mid and south Atlantic from 1941 to 1943, sinking one million tons of Allied shipping. I first learned of this when reading the memoir of German Admiral Karl Doenitz, who headed the German submarine force, praising the Italian effort.
Before closing, and tangentially related to the Second World War, I have a wild hunch that this week we will hear that a peace conference to formally end the Korean War will be convened. Why? This Saturday will be the 66th anniversary of the armistice that ended the fighting, and note that the contents of the glowing letters exchanged by Trump and Kim in June are still a mystery. Add to that the recent and frequent in-person talks between Kim and Red China’s President Xi. Such a conference requires North Korea, the U.S., Red China, and ultimately the United Nations. Even though South Korea was not a party to the armistice, its presence will be necessary to effectuate a comprehensive deal – nukes, reunification, et. al.
The Donald wants his Nobel Prize! -JLM