U-Boat 977

U-Boat 977

Heinz Schaffer
ARRSE Rating
4 Mushroom Heads
Originally published in 1950, this edition is the most comprehensive English translation to date and despite the title, U-977 takes up only a small part of Schaffer's book. From the outset it is apparent that neither the author nor U-977 made a significant contribution to the German war effort; in fact, it was not until his first ( and last ) voyage in U-977 that he undertook an operational patrol as a U Boat commander. During the early part of this patrol that he learned of Germany's surrender.

It was this voyage that caused him to write the his book in an effort to dispel the rumours that members of the Nazi elite and even Hitler had been transported to South America aboard U-977. Despite this rebuttal, rumours that Hitler was alive and well and living in an Antartic redoubt persisted for many years. Schaffer and his crew made this epic voyage to avoid surrendering to the Allies and, in so doing, showed that a submarine could remain submerged and undetected for a long period. U-977 was underwater for 66 days relying on its snorkel for fresh air for the crew and to run the diesel engines which recharged the batteries.

The boat was certainly not designed for this type of operation and the account highlights the desperate conditions faced onboard for the majority of the time, undertaking any offensive action and surviving would have been impossible. However, it was only a few years later that the first nuclear submarine was launched which was able to remain submerged for long voyages and remain capable of effective operations throughout.

The majority of the book relates to Schaffer's naval training. From his early years he had always wanted to be a naval officer and with the outbreak of war in 1939 joined up as an officer cadet. German naval training was lengthy and extremely rigorous and he provides an excellent account of his progress through the system. On completion of training he served on two submarines and then, at the age of 23, was given command of his first boat in November 1943.

From this point his career was atypical. His boat was already obsolete and of little, if any use, in the Atlantic. He was instead attached to a number of training flotillas to train crew and future commanders. No explanation is offered as to why he undertook this role for a comparively long time.

In December, 1944, he was given command of U-977, although, as he admits, he knew by then that the war was lost. It was not until April,1945, that he sailed for the Atlantic, via Norway, undertaking training and familiarisation with a new snorkel system which allowed the engines to be run whilst submerged. It was during this time that a message was received which ordered all U boats to surrender to the Allies. Schaffer was unable to authenticate the message and refused to believe that Germany would have agreed to unconditional surrender. Following a subsequent message from the Allies, which he saw as a ruse, he ordered that the radio be turned off. Then after consultation with the crew a decision was made to sail to Argentina where, it was believed, they would be treated honourably.

There are times when Schaffer demonstrates unbelievable levels of naivety more akin to an adolescent than an adult and a U boat commander and his writing is at times childishly "heroic". No doubt this is a result of his indoctrination and more than willing belief in honour, integrity and following orders.

What cannot be denied is the journey which he and his crew undertook and the insights he gives us on naval training and submarine warfare during the Second World War.

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