But the U-3523's contents and mission remain a mystery
Researchers in Denmark claim to have found German U-boat
U-3523, bringing an end to a mystery surrounding the Nazi surrender in Europe
at the end of World War II. The submarine, missing for decades, was rumored to
have escaped to South America, and while its discovery proves that was not the
case, its contents are still unknown.
In May 1945, Nazi Germany
surrendered to Allied Forces across Europe. On April 30th Adolf Hitler had
committed suicide, and within seven days the Nazis had surrendered in Italy and
Berlin. On May 5th, German forces in Holland, northwest Germany and Denmark
surrendered. It in the Netherlands it is currently celebrated as Bevrijdingsdag, or Liberation
At this point, with German
soldiers and officials in disarray and killing themselves en masse, it
was unclear what a U-boat known as U-3523 was doing 10 nautical miles off the
coast of Denmark. On May 6, a British RAF bomber dropped depth charges and sank
it, killing all reported 58 hands.
Even before its mysterious
final voyage, the U-3523 was a rarity. It was a working Type XXI, also known as
"Elektroboote." The brainchild of Hellmuth Walter, a German
engineer also responsible for rocket engines in the Messerschmitt Me 132, the
Type XXI would radically change the development of warfare in the open ocean.
Since the 1930s Walter had proposedthat U-boats be
powered with electric motors and that their energy come from storage batteries.
The Type XXI, alongside the
later XXIIIs, were the culmination of his work. Powered by 2 diesel engines and
4 electric motors, Type XXI submarines were the first in history that could
maneuver for extended periods of time while submerged, up to several days. From
a hull design giving sailors more space to higher diving speeds, it emerged as
the clearly superior submarine of its day. Only four were made due to errors in
production, but after the war, Allied forces based submarines on XXI designs
for decades. Both Soviet Whiskey-class and American Tang-class submarines used
sinking of the U-3523 brought with it more questions than answers. The museum
that found it, Sea War Museum Jutland, says
in its findings that after the war, "there were many
rumors about top Nazis who fled in U-boats and brought Nazi gold to safety, and
the U-3523 fed the rumors. The Type XXI was the first genuine submarine that
could sail submerged for a prolonged time, and the U-3523 had a range that would
have allowed it to sail non-stop all the way to South America."
The museum doesn't know what's
exactly inside the ship. It's partially embedded 130 yards into the seabed off
the coast of north Denmark, making excavation difficult. The museum says it has
no idea what's on board: "nobody knows if the U-boat had valuables or
passengers aboard in addition to the 58 crew."
the ship had gone missing for so many years opened up theories that in fact it
had reached South America successfully, but those theories can now be put to
The museum has found 450 World War II wrecks. A
month before worldwide celebrations over the end of the war, it's worth
reflecting on the long arm of the conflict into this century. Recently, other
elements in the Nazi navy were found to be hurting the Norwegian environment. And last year, a
woman relaxing by the Elbe river in Hamburg found herself on fire thanks to World War II-era white phosphorous.