DATES – 27 September through 11 October 2003
This was a 15 day ‘Patrol‘ in Germany!
We went to Berlin!
SHARKHUNTERS were in this historic German capitol on the very day of reunification a decade or so ago, and we were there again this year for the anniversary celebration.
One of our Members said this about his time with us:
“Once again let me say that I had a great time on the trip. I will tell everyone to take a Sharkhunters tour. Trust me when I say I had a great time – met great people, made new friends…..and I saw, walked with and spoke with those who made history. I’ll be back”
In addition to places we normally visit, this year we visited Berlin and Poland and as we see in this photo, some were deep into underground bunkers known only to a handful of people.
Much of the day was spent just checking into our four-star hotel and meeting all the travelers. In the evening, Professor Brünig joined us for cocktails. He was Skipper of U-108 and various other boats and has been a Member of Sharkhunters for many years.
|Professor Brünig and Kay Cooper||Two submarine Skippers discuss tactics, Cdr. John Holt (USS SENNETT) and Professor
Brünig (U-108) as Alan Sheder talks with another veteran off camera.
|John Gestrich and Sean Cooper relax at lunch.||Phil Braun, Professor Brünig and John
Gestrich after our ‘Harbor Patrol‘.
Member Ellyn Ponton wrote this about her time on our ‘Patrol’
“I had a fantastic time! I liked best about this trip was the day in Kiel – the Navy Memorial, the U-Boat Memorial, the view over the Baltic. My best memory was – being there. When I signed on, I had certain expectations – more like hopeful aspirations. This ‘Patrol’ was more than I expected in every way. I certainly hope to go with you again.”
Up EARLY in the morning for the Fischmarkt, which opens at 0600! What began many years ago as a marketplace for fishermen to sell their products from the Elbe River and the North Sea has evolved into a huge flea market, filled with souvenirs and goodies of all sorts. There are crowds of people from all over – music comes from the main hall, people are dancing inside while outside shoppers search for just the right treasure.
Our Member Commander John Holt, Skipper of USS SENNETT, wrote:
“A great big vote of thanks for putting on such a great tour!”
After a few relaxing hours in the hotel, we are off to the river again and board our boat for the two-hour harbor tour where we have a chance to meet one another in an informal setting and to relax and learn the history of this important German trade city.
|Some of our group on the harbor cruise||Ellyn Ponton;
John Holt, Skipper USS SENNET (SS 408)
and Prof Brünig, U-Boat training Skipper
Our deluxe cruise bus took us to Laboe, a town outside Kiel, where we were met by three friends. They were
Waldemar Triebel, First Officer on U-978
Ernst Göthling, crewman on U-26 and
Volkmar König, midshipman on U-99 all are long-time Members of Sharkhunters
|Col. Wilhelm Höhn US Army (Ret) and Ernst Göthling at the
Navy Memorial. That is U-995in the background.
|Rolf Rosellen was in U-Boat training school when the war ended.
Here he is in the Zentralle (central control room) of U-995.
We immediately boarded U-995, the only Type VII-C left in the world, for a tour that lasted as long as we wanted to remain aboard and it was a trip into history. This boat is maintained beautifully by the Deutsche Marinebund (DMB) which is the German equivalent to the Navy League.
U-Boat veteran Rolf Rosellen, now an American citizen, wrote:
“I had a fantastic time! I liked everything about the trip, the way it was organized. Everything went smoothly. My best memories of the tour was the Naval Memorial, the U-Boat Memorial and the visit to the grave of Großadmiral Dönitz. You outdid yourself – a great trip.”
We were joined again by Professor Brünig and we all went to the Marine Ehrenmal (Navy Memorial), a beautiful structure with an attached museum, memorial chamber and of course, a gift shop.
Lunch is at our favorite place – Seeterrassen on the shores of the Baltic. The U-Boat veterans were busy signing autographs but still had time for the great food.
Then our bus took us to the U-Boot-Ehrenmal, right on the shore of the Baltic. This beautiful but sad place is the memorial to the German U-Bootfahrer who did not return …about 32,000 out of 39,000 were lost in the battle at sea and their names are emblazoned on bronze plaques lining the walls of the Honors Chamber. We had a short ceremony, placed a wreath and spent some time in the chamber itself.
Three men of the U-Bootskameradschaft/Kiel (Submarine Veteran’s Association of Kiel) joined us and then we went to the HQ building where our Members bought a great many souvenirs and made donations to the U-K. It was a wonderful time.
Our friend and Sharkhunters Member Heiko met us at the museum of Peter Tamm, probably the finest and most awesome naval museum in the world! There are tens of thousands of ship models and artifacts that boggle the mind. One could spend weeks there – months in fact, and never see it all.
|Captain von Bülow, Kay Cooper, Professor Brünig||Captain von Bülow sees his photo in a history book.|
Captain von Bülow pushed several people out of the way so he could sit next to Lay Cooper and he told her that she was “the loveliest blossom on the most beautiful rose in all Germany“. Those old Skippers really had class.
After the morning, our bus met with longtime friend Marianne Grap who took us to a beautiful Gasthaus outside Hamburg for lunch. There we were joined by Captain Otto von Bülow, Skipper of U-404 and holder of the Knights Cross with Oak Leaf and his son, a retired Kapitän zur See of the Bundsmarine. This veteran has been a Member of Sharkhunters for many years and he was happy to sign autographs for all our group. Professor Brünig was also with us and he told us that von Bülow was his training Skipper not once but twice when Brünig was a young Skipper, and that von Bülow was held in extremely high regard with the cadets.
We walked through the quiet and beautiful cemetery where Großadmiral Karl Dönitz is buried and after a few words, we placed flowers on his grave. Marianne made sure the flower arrangement was red, white and blue.
US Navy submarine veteran Cdr. John Holt, Skipper of USS SENNETT, writes:
“I had a really great time – you must keep the visits to the submarine memorial. My best memory of the trip was the good comradeship and ease of schedule. It was an overall grand job with good guides and an interesting schedule.”
All too soon, we had to say farewell to our friends in Hamburg as our bus rolled eastward to Berlin. We got settled into our hotel and met our friends in Berlin who made these arrangements and after a wonderful dinner of schweinehaxe, we turned in, ready for a few days in this capital city.
Our morning found us at the castle of Friederich the Great, called “San Souci” which means no sorrow. We toured through the castle, heard the life story of this great king of history, and saw the burial plot where he is buried along with his greyhound dogs. The palace grounds are immense – it would require horseback for the king to get around his entire estate, but it certainly is beautiful and well-maintained.
We had a special stop that most people don’t even know about – the “Fortress of the Four Princes“. This is a tiny fortress, the walls of which are only about a foot high but it runs about thirty or forty feet in length. This ‘fortress‘ has only recently been discovered under the earth in a far corner of San Souci and at first it was assumed that this was built centuries ago for four princes, little boys, who lived in the palace. However, further research proved that this was indeed no toy but a scale model prototype of fortifications planned to be built by the king! The German Government plans to cover up this entire area with sand “to preserve it until money can be raised to fully restore and preserve” the mini fortress of the Four Princes……..
|the “Fortress of the Four Princes“||Here we see one of the turrets of this tiny fortress.
It looks big, but it’s only about 2 feet high.
After lunch, our days was our own for whatever we wanted to do. Some of the group headed off to the place where Field Marshall Keitel signed the unconditional surrender and each had their photo taken sitting in the very chair and at the very table where Keitel sat. Others took a three-hour sightseeing tour of Berlin, a very cosmopolitan city. Then we went in a group to the fantastic shopping area on the ‘Kudam‘ which is the shortened form of the street known as the Kurfurstendamm, Berlin’s fashion avenue. Naturally, we went all through the most exclusive (and most expensive) store known as KaDeWe. We also stopped for a while at Germany’s largest bookstore where just about any book can be had, and we passed the famous Cafe Kranzler where spies of World War II and even the Cold War would meet to exchange secrets and to keep tabs on each other. Massive renovations have changed the face of this cafe drastically since those days of history.
We had several Members in our group who owned and rode Harley Davidson motorcycles back home and by sheer chance, there was a large Harley dealership within 200 meters of our hotel. Trouble was, they opened at 9 am and we were usually gone by 8 am. However, on Wednesday, we spoke with the manager and he agreed to open today at 7:30 am for our group and so there was a contingent of Sharkhunters making the march to Hog Heaven to buy mobs of Harley Davidson – Berlin souvenirs.
As we drove in the cool morning air, we passed the barracks of the 1st SS Division – the famed Leibstandart Adolf Hitler Division. Then we arrived at the Allied Forces Museum where we watched a film on the occupation and saw many exhibits and artifacts from the Cold War era. This is in a former US Army facility and the museum was in the old movie theater of the base – and two of our group had been to movies in this very building a couple decades past!
On to Olympia Park where we rode the elevator to the top of the Glöckturm, the bell tower that looked over this field since the 1936 Olympics where so much history was made – known and still to be learned. It was here that American Jesse Owens set world records and won gold for the USA. It was here that a beautiful young Swiss girl named Inga Aarvad sat next to Hitler himself as his personal guest. She was the mistress of the world’s wealthiest man, Swedish multi-millionaire Axel Wenner-Gren…..and later, she was the mistress and hot love of a young U.S. Navy Intelligence officer named John F. Kennedy. Wenner-Gren bought his yacht SOUTHERN CROSS from Howard Hughes for a million dollars and it was this yacht on the high seas that picked up survivors of SS ATHENIA on the first day of the war. He owned 5 million acres in Sweden, owned the Bofors Armament company, founded the Electrolux vacuum cleaner company and owned most of what is now Paradise Island in the Bahamas – his home base as it were, for his operations in South America and the Caribbean on behalf of Germany from about 1937 onward. It all began here.
After lunch, our bus took us down a road – a footpath really, buried deep in the pine forest outside Berlin, to the remains of the hardened command bunker of Großadmiral Karl Dönitz. The code name was Koralle which meant coral, and it was from here that Dönitz ran the daily operations of the Kriegsmarine. The foundations for the huge radio masts were still in the ground and it was from here that the Großadmiral maintained contact with his U-Boats on the high seas – including those at the end of the war that were on their way to …well, that’s another whole story.
|Not much of the bunker system “Koralle” is visible from the road,
but once we march through the underbrush…..
|Our Sharkhunters group is exploring.|
for even more photos…..
We toured the shattered remains of the bunker system, blown up by the Soviets many years after the end of WW II. They had used this facility but eventually destroyed it as unusable when the Soviet Union evaporated. We toured and climbed all over these walls, roofs, and open areas – then our guide showed us a secret entrance to the underground facility, after first making us promise not to get killed if we went in there. No problem! We were quick to promise, but only three accompanied the guide down the thirty-foot ladder on this portion of the trek – Harry Cooper, John Gestrich and Gary van Loon. The group carried two flashlights, one a heavy-duty torch, to light the interior for without flashlights, one would have quickly become disoriented and totally lost in the maze of rooms, corridors, stairwells and cells deep inside the earth. We toured room after room on two different levels of the bunker system and barely scratched the surface. The diesel engines and electrical generators are still there, as is the water purification system and the 6,000-liter storage tank. The wiring is pretty much complete throughout the bunker system and even the old fuse boxes are still mounted on the walls. This WAS a trip back into history! We were down in the ground about 20 minutes – or so it seemed. When we emerged and looked at our watches, we saw that we were in the ground for more than two hours. The time just flew past.
|Into the bunker ‘Koralle‘||The three-wheel Enigma!|
OFF TO POLAND!
With passports in hand, we board our bus for the drive to the Polish border. On the way, we stopped at the Museum about the Battle for Seeloh Heights, the high ground in the area which the Soviets needed and the Germans defended. It was a bloody battle and we saw a short film on the Soviet push through the area. This was a very informative film and contained battle scenes we had never before seen.
|The souvenir flag commemorating
the Seelowe Heights battle.
|At the entrance to the powder room
(ammunition storage depot).
|One lone bastion of ancient Küstrin is still standing
but with a Communist monument.
Next stop was at the ancient Fort Gorgast and we actually had our lunch brought in, and we ate in one of the chambers of the fortress!
As our bus took us along the highway in far eastern Germany, we saw huge mansions, army barracks and HQ buildings and other very large buildings that were once magnificent and beautiful – now standing deserted, empty and falling into disrepair. We are told that it is possible to buy one of these once magnificent manors, mansions and even castles, for a mere token price of one Euro – BUT (there’s always a catch, isn’t there?) you must first show proof that you have the money in reserve to completely renovate the building and maintain it…..and a new roof on a castle will cost a minimum of one million Euros. Okay, we all dreamt of owning a castle, and the bus rolled on.
The bus drove to about one kilometer of the Oder River and the border between Germany and Poland. To cut down on the paperwork, we walked this distance and the bus remained in Germany. After showing our passports to a Polish border guard who looked and acted as if he wished he were anywhere else in the world but there, we walked into Poland and the ancient city of Küstrin – or what was left of the city. If ever one wanted to see first-hand, of the devastation of war, Küstrin is such a place.
We walked along the remains of the road that had once ran from Berlin deep into Poland – now just an unused ribbon of crumbling concrete, overgrown in some areas with grass. It was along this very road that Soviet and German troops, with much armor, were heavily engaged in April of 1945. We were taken into an ‘OFF LIMITS‘ area, but Sharkhunters goes where no other groups can go, and soon we saw what war does. All that remained of the town of Küstrin were basements! Above the basements, not one stone stood on top of another. Every house was gone, the stores were gone, the marketplace is gone, the medieval cathedral was gone – even the ancient castle where a young Friedrich the Great and his friend were held and sentenced to death was heavily damaged. As a young man of about 25, he and his friend decided that they didn’t like the military life and they more or less deserted. The king found them and held the trial here – both were found guilty and sentenced to death. The king had enough compassion that he set aside the sentence of death for his son, but not for the friend. Apparently, mercy had short limits back then. There is a plaque on the spot where young Friedrich’s friend was beheaded.
We are the first Americans EVER deep into the underground Bastion
Phillip and also the King’s Bastion, where bats still fly overhead.
There was a large bazaar or flea market nearby and so we all headed there for Polish souvenirs. Unlike in the new European Union, prices in Poland were quite friendly and we all bought a lot of very nice handcrafted items to take back to America and believe it not, we spotted the famed ‘Golden Arches‘ near the border and naturally, had to sit down for a Coke in the McDonald’s in Poland. The Germans laughingly refer to McDonald’s as the “Americanischer Botschaft” or American Embassy.
Back in the center of Berlin, we stopped for a moment on the bridge that was the final obstacle for the Soviet troops to cross in their push for the Reich Chancellery, only a few dozen meters away. Once this bridge fell, the HQ of the Reich laid naked before them – and we were there.
|the Remains of the Führerbunker are beneath where we are standing.||the Reichstag|
After a rather rigorous security screening, we entered the Reichstag building and our guide took us on a special tour of this newly renovated building. In the closing days if the war, the building was badly damaged by bombing, shellfire and the normal ravages of war. There was a fierce armored battle right on the grounds of the Reichstag and so the interior was heavily damaged. It is now a very modern building, and the new German Eagle (?) hangs for all to see. According to our guide, a local attorney, the German Government didn’t want to appear aggressive or threatening in the least, so the former fierce-looking black German Eagle is now transformed into a docile-looking, overfed white Eagle which the members of Parliament call the ‘Fat Chicken‘. Much of the Soviet graffiti still remains on the walls as a remembrance of – who knows what?
|Soviet Graffiti on the walls||“Mr. Gorbachev – tear down this wall!”
It happened right here!
We learned that this Soviet graffiti on the walls is protected by German law! It cannot be removed. Somewhere there has to be a logical explanation why graffiti of an army that devastated this nation should be protected rather than scrubbed off. Who knows?
We went high into the new crystal dome overlooking the city and had hot dogs high in the air. No, we did not have “American” food – hot dogs were originally known as ‘Frankfurters‘ and they originated in Germany, so we had a local meal although slightly Americanized. We walked along the famous streets of the center of this city, past the former Luftfahrtministereum (Air Force Ministry) of Hermann Göring, past Göring’s home and over the foundation of the former Berlin Wall. Naturally, we had to stand with one foot on either side of this line, one in the former East Germany and one in the former West Germany.
We were at the Brandenburg Gate and were on the very spot where President Ronald Reagan said:
“Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”
We also passed the Hotel Adlon where famous people stay – and where Michael Jackson made world headlines when he dangled his son over the balcony railing right here. We were by the bunker of Josef Göbbels, the place where the Führerbunker is still deep under a parking lot, by the HQ of the SS, SD and Gestapo which is now a museum showing many photos and still remaining cells and a still-standing section of the Berlin Wall.
Dr. David West had these comments on this time with us:
“I had a really great time and my best memories of the tour were the bomb shelters of Berlin.”
Then a surprise – our bus took us to a huge above-ground bunker over a railway station, and the sign there boldly stated ‘EINGANG VERBOTEN‘ which we all know, means ‘Sharkhunters Welcome Here’! Harry Cooper, John Gestrich and David Savadyga made it inside and with the aid of John’s flashlight, spent about half an hour in this eerie place.
#1 Hannelore Holldorff
#2 Günther Holldorff, Engineering Officer trainee on U-416
#3 Commander John Holt, post-war Skipper of USS SENNET
#4 Rolf Rosellen – in U-Boat training when the war ended.
Later, we were joined by Günther Holldorff and his wife Hannelore. He was Engineering Officer trainee on U-416 in the closing moments of the war. We were given a specially guided tour through the underground air raid shelter tunnels and bunkers that ran for miles beneath Berlin, and in every room, there are artifacts and memories of those days in the shelters. These areas are not open to the public – only a special tour for our group. The frequent rumbling of subway trains overhead is an eerie reminder of the droning of the hundreds of Allied bombers overhead some 60 years ago.
Barry Monroe wrote this about his time on our tour:
“I had a fantastic time and here’s what I liked best – I had never been to Germany or Europe before, and this has been a dream come true. Every day held something new and different, and Berlin was the topper on this tour. My best memories of this tour was meeting all the veterans, including the American veterans who traveled with us. It finally occurred to me why Sharkhunters go on a lot of ‘Patrols’. Your statement – ‘Who will be there next year’ has deep feelings. I found Sharkhunters some years ago and wanted to learn more about submarines. What I found was more. Anyone who attends one or more ‘Patrols’ has a life-changing experience.”
From the bowels of the earth to a tower in the sky – we climbed a huge Flakturm (flak tower) nearby which had some 88mm guns, 37mm and 20mm anti-aircraft guns mounted during the war years, and the intricate workings inside the massive tower had rooms for storage, repairs and deep down in the bottom were the armory chambers that held the ammunition.
|Günther and Hannelore Holldorff with Cooper||Hannelore Holldorff and Gerhard Krems|
Then to dinner in a nice Italian restaurant where our group was joined by Gerhard Krems, a Luftwaffe pilot who flew a Heinkel He 111 bomber through most of the war. Naturally, after dinner, Krems and Holldorff were kept busy signing autographs. All these veterans are super people. They join our groups and make the history of the war come alive for us as they tell their memories of the war, and everyone in our groups always have great memories – and photos – to keep forever.
We board our deluxe bus and head down the autobahn and after a stop for lunch, we arrive in the town of Laatzen, where we are privileged to be the only guests in the beautiful Luftfahrt Museum founded and operated by our friend Günther Leonhard. Here is the complete history of aviation from the Montgolfier Brothers hot air balloon to modern day jet fighter aircraft. Günther’s prized displays are a beautifully restored Bf-109 and an FW-190…..and he took down the barriers and we were allowed up to the cockpit for photos!
From the Museum, our motorcoach took us to Bremen where we checked in at our four-star hotel.
We met at the Hannover Rathaus (city hall) where LIFE Member Tilman Hess showed us the four dioramas that portrayed Hannover from the early days to the devastation after World War II to the modern city it is today. Several veterans were with us including Tilman’s father, Dr. (Jur.) Hans-Georg Hess, LIFE Member and youngest combat submarine Skipper of WW II (Knights Cross) and also Dr. (Jur.) Christian Reauleaux, cruiser officer in World War II. We saw many historic places and buildings, and thanks to Tilman’s girlfriend Gabby, we all received a CD of the dozens and dozens of photos she shot for us this day. Thanks, Gabby.
|Reuleaux and Hess||H-G Hess, Cooper and Tilman Hess||Hess, Gabby and Reuleaux|
We all got together in a huge mall which featured food courts and restaurants of all kinds. There we had the time to talk about whatever we wanted, and there were some girls of a theater group who came by and chatted with us.
|John Gestrich, Barry Monroe and Captain Hans-Georg Hess||John Gestrich and the girls|
Here is the castle in Westphalia where Heinrich Himmler planned to resurrect the Knights of the Teutonic Order of the middle-ages. The main tower was modified and a chamber below was made suitable for the young SS officers to swear their oaths in the eerie grey light of an early dawn. There was a place in the middle of the room where your slightest whisper comes thundering to all portions of the chamber. It was impressive. Our guide was very knowledgeable about this castle and about the Third Reich in general.
|The ‘mystical‘ chamber||Former SS officers day room|
We went to lunch at the centuries-old Gasthaus that served as the ‘day room‘ for the SS officers in the area, and for the first time, we were allowed to roam at will – the manager even took us places we never would have thought to go – such as the “Hitler Jugend Kellar“, which was a special room where the HJ held meetings and it is unchanged from that time until today – and it is in THIS ROOM where we will have our luncheon in 2004. Will YOU be with us for this time in history?
As we departed the area, we stopped to pay our respects at a soldier’s cemetery where, according to the dates on the tombstones, the fallen were either kids of about 15 and 16 or older men in their middle 50’s and older. These were the men who fell during the fierce battle in nearby Paderborn.
Our first stop on this busy day was Steinhuder Meer, a lake outside Hannover where we boarded our boat for the 20-minute cruise to the island fortress Wilhelmstein, where the first submarine was designed. We toured this well maintained old fortress, with more veterans (Members of Sharkhunters) including Hans-George Hess again and this time with his wife Heilwig, also cruiser veteran Walter Tegtmeier and naturally our friend Luftwaffe Major Hannes Esken (who arranged this day) then stopped at our friend Sigfried’s special shop where all who were interested, bought Third Reich militaria items.
From here, we drove to Bordenau where we were welcomed by the descendants of General Scharnhorst who was born and raised here. We were also welcomed by Herr Kortmann, the President of the Scharnhorst Society. We saw the famous chair in which the Crown Prince once sat as did Göring and von Ribbentrop…..and we saw the tiny high chair that was for Scharnhorst himself when he was but an infant. This is PURE HISTORY! Naturally, we enjoyed that thick, rich pea soup we love so much here.
|Harry Cooper and Herr Kortmann||The actual high chair that General Scharnhorst used as an infant.|
|Hannes Esken and Kay Cooper
in front of Scharnhorst’s home
|Captain Hans-Georg Hess and wife Heilwig with the emblem of
his boat, U-995, made by Phil Braun on a piece of carpet.
Our last stop this day was the museum that houses a beautifully restored JU 52, or as they were known to the German troops, ‘alte tante JU‘ which means ‘old aunt Junkers‘. Everyone took advantage of the low priced souvenirs here at this museum.
|German Air Cadets with Sean Cooper
at the JU-52 Museum
|“Alte Tante JU” herself – rescued from the
bottom of a frozen Norwegian lake
We arrived at the U-Boot-Archiv where we were greeted by Sharkhunters Member Horst Bredow, founder of the Archiv, and with his wife and a few volunteers, gave us the grand tour of this archive. It was here last year that Horst described that website (DOT NET) as “nonsense makers” and said that Sharkhunters and his Archiv were the only ones who told the history of the U-Bootwaffe accurately and honestly.
Barry Monroe photo
At the Archiv, Matt Hall (l) listens as U-Boat veteran Rolf Rosellen explains something to Horst Bredow (U-Boat officer, founder and director of the Archiv) and Harry Cooper (Sharkhunters founder and President) as one of the Archiv volunteers looks on.
|We toured this beautiful Type XXI “Electro-Boot”
the only one left in the world.
|Arriving at the bunker Valentin|
Member Chaz Pityk has been with us on three previous “Patrols” and he said this:
“One guy where I work was in Germany with the US Army and he’s knowledgeable in our area of history, and I brought some pictures to work and all he could say was stuff like:
‘Did you really meet these people?’
Like I said before, there just ain’t no other place or group that can do what Sharkhunters can orchestrate!”
Then we drove to Bremerhaven where we toured on board the only Type XXI ‘Electro-boot’ left in the world, as well as on board an S-Boat and several others.
Gary van Loon wrote this about his time on our tour:
“I had a really great time and what I liked best about this trip was the great history I saw and walked as well as the great people I met. Of all the places we visited, I liked the Submarine Memorial the best. My best memories are the friends I made and the history I saw.”
(NOTE – Sharkhunters has already sent more than 12,000 German Marks to this beautiful Memorial and continues to send money routinely.)
In the late afternoon, we had a real treat – VALENTIN! This is the massive bunker complex that was designed and built to assemble the incoming sections of the Type XXI boats, weld the eight sections together, add the conning tower and send them into combat. There was a raised section of the roof to accommodate testing the raising of the periscope and snorkel, and another chamber to test dive the boat to check for leaks. It was a well-designed and well thought-out plan – but the war ended before it could be put into use. This bunker is NOT open to tourists or to the public. It is an operating material storage facility for today’s Federal German Navy – but Sharkhunters are welcome here, and we appreciate our friend opening all the doors for us.
|the Bunker “Valentin!”||Compare the size of this bunker with the parked cars.|
Our bus took us to the little Gasthaus where our dear friend and longtime Member Captain Gerd Thäter was waiting with his friends, Captain Bergmann, and Petty Officer Grille. Thäter was Skipper of U-466 and later on of U-3506 which is one of the three Type XXI boats the government entombed in the bunker Elbe II in Hamburg. The petty officer served aboard U-24 in the Black Sea and later aboard U-3022.
|At the lunch – from left, Harry Cooper, Captain Gerd
Thäter (U-466 and U-3506) and his wife Gila.
|The group at lunch with the veterans|
We visited the famed Seaman’s Church then toured a 205 Class coastal submarine, a minesweeper and some other smaller craft than to the Wilhelmshaven Navy Base where we toured along the docks and alongside various frigates dockside there. Then it was back to meet with Thäter, his wife Gila and his friends for dinner. There was plenty of fellowship to go around and a lot of autographs got signed. Captain Thäter had hand-signed photos of himself for all in the group.
At our Farewell Dinner, the words of Hans-Georg Hess, Skipper of U-995, youngest combat submarine Skipper of World War II, Knights Cross holder and LIFE Member of Sharkhunters.
With me speaks my son Tilman as we did some years ago in San Francisco and during some ‘patrols’ in Germany. We call you friends – I mean, this is allowed. We, the Sharkhunters and the ‘Hessen’ and many German Mariners know each other since 1987 (the first meeting in Key Largo) and we see us since that time every year, once in the USA or in Germany/Austria. We became acquainted with one another, we have a high opinion of one another and respect each other. We are a great family (you can also say we are a crew of a large U-Boat). During the war Americans and Germans spoke of comradeship on the warships. Everybody under water and above had to rely on everybody of his comrades and to do his duty as a seaman or captain.
After the war, we got to be friends. The old comrades, the veterans in the Navy and in the Kriegsmarine are no longer enemies. They became friends – you remember the words ‘Yesterday’s Enemies are Today’s Friends”?
We like to remember the many meetings in USA and Germany, many thanks to Harry Cooper (with his family helping him) in preparation and realization of – I think, 15 meetings here and there. But our ‘Thank You’ is also for all Sharkhunters having met in Germany in the past years. Let us continue our relationship over the ocean – where we have had the heaviest battle in history in World War II, and now times have changed and we have the bridge between friends from there to here, and vice versa.
Now we will fight, struggle, for peace, more peace in the world. The politicians are not able to bring us to peace and freedom. Every person only is requested to care for peace in his family, in his neighborhood, in his community and everywhere.
Let us finish – I like to present this book for you, Harry and your Sharkhunters. This book is one of the best about the U-Boat Krieg and it was written with the help from Commanding Officer of U-333, Ali Cremer. My/our best wishes for the future of all people and friends here in the hotel, for your families and for the United States of America and for Deutschland.”
All too soon it was time to leave and head back to the hotel. There were some sad faces on the bus, as we all know that today is our last day here in Germany, that tomorrow will see us all on the airport and heading back to our various homes. But tonight however, we had one last time together and that was our ‘Farewell Dinner‘ at hour hotel. Tilman Hess and his girlfriend Gabby were with us, and she gave a CD of all her photos to each Member and she had the photos showing on her laptop – it was wonderful! Tilman made a speech on behalf of his father, Hans-Georg Hess, who was unable to join us. Then all too soon, it was over. Members were saying goodbye to friends they had met, there were hugs and a few tears, then the dining room was closed and we turned in in preparation to our departure early the next morning for the airport and our homes.