Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Historian traces U-boat gunner's Valley voyage


The News Leader
By Joel Banner Baird
August 29, 2006

STUARTS DRAFT — Karl Baumann's odyssey begins in Nazi Germany and ends in Stuarts Draft. He endured the Battle of the Atlantic from the fragile perspective of a U-boat gunner and the decline of the Third Reich behind the barbed wire of a POW camp in Lyndhurst.

Harrisonburg historian Gregory L. Owen documents Baumann's journey in his new book, "The Longest Patrol." Even after its June publication, the two men meet to mull over re-discovered letters and archives. The research continues.

"Karl went over every page, every detail of the manuscript, making corrections," Owen said. "It's Karl's story; I wanted this book to be true to his memory."

Memories continue to tangle. A crewmember of a Canadian escort ship recently told Owen that he believed his depth charges destroyed U-953. Karl Baumann, aboard the German submarine, shared his comrade's conviction that a torpedo had flattened the Allied corvette on June 8, 1944.
Both had the story wrong.

"With all the ordnance that was expended, neither sank the other — and now they both are grateful they didn't," Owen said.

Survivors of Germany's prestigious U-boat fleet had the greater cause for celebration. After July 1943, the Allies were able to intercept messages to and from the devastating "wolfpacks," thanks to the breaking of the Enigma code. Troop and supply convoys gave the subs a wide berth while destroyers and long-distance bombers, equipped with ever-more-accurate radar and sonar, methodically scattered and sank the once-vaunted hunters.

"U-953 was typical in its ineffectiveness," Owen said. "It was atypical in that it actually survived the war. Of the 40,000 men in the U-boat arm, 30,000 died. It was the greatest loss of manpower, percentage-wise, of any other arm of any of the armed services during the war."

Owen's book also documents a love story that outlasted the global conflict. Baumann's childhood friend, Anneliese Samhuber, became a pen pal and then a tender love interest.

The letters stopped when a freak explosion of a 20mm deck gun riddled Baumann's side with shrapnel, but the connection outlasted the gunner's confinement in a military hospital on the occupied French coast, the Allied invasion and Baumann's subsequent transfer to Camp Lyndhurst near Sherando.

A work detail on Galen Heatwole's farm introduced the young sailor to the greater Mennonite community — and an America that would eventually welcome Kurt and Anneliese Baumann home.

"Heatwole treated me like a human being," Baumann said Monday. "That's why I came back."

As with all sagas, Baumann's is ongoing. Owen said only another edition would do the story justice.


Monday, August 21, 2006

Iowa Plans Submarine Memorial At Statehouse


August 21, 2006

DES MOINES, Iowa -- The Iowa Statehouse will be home to a new military memorial.

A state commission has approved a monument on the grounds of the Capitol honoring submarines and their crews in World War I. The project is part of a nationwide effort to have each state establish a memorial for one of the 52 submarines lost during the war.

The submarine assigned to Iowa was the S-36. While the sub survived an enemy destroyer's attack, its crew had to abandon the vessel after it ran aground on a reef in January 1942.

The Iowa monument will include art work depicting a World War II submarine and a nuclear submarine. Money is being raised privately to cover the project's estimated cost of about $6,000.


Saturday, August 19, 2006

Russians find wreckage of U.S. submarine


August 17, 2006

MOSCOW - Russian divers have spotted the wreckage of a legendary U.S. submarine that was lost in the Pacific in 1943, a Russian news agency reported Thursday.

The ITAR-Tass news agency said that a diving team from the Far Eastern State Technological University in Vladivostok found the USS Wahoo in the La Perouse Strait and took pictures of it during a recent expedition. It didn't give further details.

Under the command of Dudley "Mush" Morton, the Wahoo became one of the most famous U.S. submarines of World War II. With 19 Japanese ships sunk, Morton was ranked as one of the war's top three sub skippers.

The Wahoo was sunk by the Japanese navy as it returned from its seventh patrol on Oct. 11, 1943. All 79 crewmen died.


Sunday, August 06, 2006

Nazi-era U-boat drama postponed in Germany


Jewish Theatre
August 06, 2006

HAMBURG - A German theatre's plans to stage a Nazi-era play about ill-fated U-boat missions were postponed Wednesday evening, but officials said the play would go ahead once they come up with "suitable anti-Nazi" programmes to accompany the play.

The compromise came after weeks of heated debate among theatre purists in Germany and Holocaust survivors, with the purists saying this play offers insights into a theatrical lost art and Holocaust survivors calling it nothing more than an attempt to resurrect Nazi propaganda.

City officials in the eastern German city of Erlangen, in announcing the compromise, said the play would be staged at a later time with "discussion podiums" to enable dissent.

The compromise came after Holocaust survivors and local politicians called for the play to be banned, but also after esteemed drama historian Guenther Ruehle issued an appeal for it to be staged so that modern German audiences could get a feel for what he said was "very subtle" dissidence in Nazi Germany.

Ruehle said the play represented the "undercurrent of defeatism" that was rife in the closing days of World War II and he said it demonstrated the courage of a playwright and a theatrical troupe to risk death by firing squad to produce such a play in the Third Reich.

The play, not performed on the German stage since the height of World War II, had been scheduled to be performed at the taxpayer- financed Erlangen State Theatre later this month in what was billed as "the discovery of an all-but-forgotten" playwright.

The playwright was the card-carrying Nazi Party member Hans Rehberg, whose other main claim to fame is having penned an ode in honour of Adolf Hitler's 50th birthday entitled "Der Fuehrer".

The play, entitled "Wolves" (Die Woelfe) is a paean to a good German's love for his Fatherland over his love for his wife.

Holocaust survivors and town politicians have expressed outraged over the production.

"I fear this play will bring only embarrassment and ridicule to our city," says Erlangen Mayor Siegfried Balleis, who spearheaded efforts to close the theatre.

"I don't see how we can permit this egregious lapse of good taste to go ahead," Balleis told Deutsche Presse-Agentur

The small theatre, which normally attracts little attention outside a local radius, has prompted headlines nationwide. And it is sharing the spotlight with stories warning that neo-Nazism is on the rise, particularly in eastern Germany.

"Staging this particular drama at this particular time is hardly a move aimed at reconciliation and healing of wounds," says Ralf Giordano, one of Germany's most prominent Jewish Holocaust survivors.

"If it's reconciliation, then it is reconciliation being carried out on the backs of the victims," says Giordano, a journalist whose true-life account of how non-Jewish neighbours hid him from the Nazis while his family was exterminated became a best-selling book in Germany.

In an open letter to Erlangen theatre head Sabine Dhein, Giordano calls the Erlangen theatre staging "an unforgivable resurrection" of Nazi propaganda and condemns playwright as "a Hitler hanger-on who quite deservedly sank into obscurity".

Dhein responded to the letter saying that, while she "respects and admires" Giordano and understands his sentiments, she has no plans to cancel the play, which had been scheduled to premiere on October 23.

Dhein said Wednesday evening she was satisfied with the compromise to stage the play at a later date, though she would have preferred for it to go ahead in late October.

Rehberg, who died in 1963, wrote his U-boat drama in 1943 - just after the German surrender of Stalingrad, now Volgograd, and just as the battle in the Atlantic was turning against the German U-boats.

By the time the play was staged a year later in Breslau, now Wroclaw, Poland, the war was all but lost for the Germans. Red Army troops were rapidly advancing on Wroclaw as the reich's eastern front collapsed.

The plot involves three German U-boat crewmen and their wives back home. The men live in constant fear of death, and the wives live in war-time deprivation and in constant fear of their husband's death. And when the sub crewmen do indeed die, their ghosts continue to haunt their wives.