How Hitler's 'invincible' wolves of the ocean were captured in secret on Scots sea l


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Oct 5, 2009
How Hitler's 'invincible' wolves of the ocean were captured in secret on Scots sea loch

THEY were Hilter's biggest threat to Britain. But the first time Scots naval officer John MacDonald set eyes on some of Germany's mighty U-boat fleet, they were just a vast, impotent armada.

John was one of the few witnesses to the enemy's "grey wolves" surrendering in a secret operation on the remote sea loch of Eriboll in Sutherland.

On May 20, 1945, he watched in amazement from an island mail boat as the Nazi submarines slowly surfaced in the 10-mile-long loch, their periscopes displaying black flags of submission.

Operation Daylight was one of the most unusual episodes at the end of World War Two and as, locals living along the shoreline were sworn to secrecy, the incident was dismissed by many as myth.

But the 65th anniversary of the event and the release of a new book has renewed interest.

Speaking for the first time, John, 84, said: "The memories of that day are vivid. I had been on leave in Stornoway and was using the mail boat to travel to the mainland, along with other passengers, when I saw the subs.

"It was early in the morning, around 7.30am and broad daylight when our boat was passing Loch Eriboll.

"I saw four U-boats in the water with their black flags up. I could not believe what I was seeing at first. It was so strange. Everyone on the mail boat was thinking 'This is great. We've had many a scary moment with them'.

"When we finally arrived and went ashore, we were told our train to Inverness would be delayed because extra carriages were needed to take the German prisoners. Then we saw them, all four crews under heavy armed guard.

"They must have travelled down. I sometimes wonder what happened to them, but it was the end of the war and I suppose they were sent back home to their wives. I carried on to Glasgow and rejoined my boat."

Although he was only 19, John had already survived the horrors of the D-Day landings in 1944. His oceangoing tug, HMS Samsonia, was used to tow sections of the temporary Mulberry harbours from the UK to France for use during the invasion.

In March 1944, the Samsonia sailed in convoy from Newfoundland, Canada, to Britain, to protect precious cargo from the German U-boats.

Another witness to the surrender was retired fisherman Walter Clarke, who was a 10-year-old walking the hills beside Loch Eriboll when he spotted the U-boats.

The 74-year-old said that, even as a child, the sight of the killer submarines entering the loch was menacing.

Walter, of Durness, Sutherland, said: "I was out with my dad James when we saw the boats coming in.

"As a child, it was quite an exciting sight. I knew there had been a war and that it had been dangerous but was over.

"I also knew that what I was witnessing was important.

"I later found out that what happened at Loch Eriboll that day signalled the end of the war at sea. One sub was carrying a whole cargo of alcohol.

"It was all dumped over the side into the loch and is probably just lying there on the bottom, along with ammo and weapons."

At their height, the grey wolves threatened to bring Britain to its knees by sinking supply ships, effectively starving the country of food, raw materials and equipment.

In 1942 alone, they sank 1160 Allied ships in the Atlantic.

Such was their power that Winston Churchill later wrote: "The only thing that ever really frightened me during the war was the U-boat peril."

The arrival of the submarine fleet at Eriboll marked an end to that terror.

The 360ft-deep loch was chosen because of its isolation, which limited any last shows of defiance from the Germans.

On May 10, 1945, the first of 33 U-boat commanders handed over their vessels to the Royal Navy in the 10-mile loch. Over the next 12 days, the whole fleet surrendered in Scottish waters.

Fifteen were brought under convoy from Norway by Canadian warships.

All were disarmed within hours before being rerouted to various locations, including Lochalsh, Wester Ross.

Between them, the Eriboll boats had sunk or damaged 59 merchant ships and 14 warships, more than 300,000 tons of Allied shipping.

One boat had served as the fleet's "offlicence" carrying wine. Another was carrying 50 torpedoes, many of which are believed to have been dumped in the loch. Details of the operation are revealed in a new book, The Grey Wolves Of Eriboll, written by former local government officer David Hird.

He said: "The disarming was quite amazing. Stuff was just dumped over the side. I am quite convinced that the loch's seabed to this day is littered with armaments.

"Each U-boat had between 30 and 50 crew. They were happy to surrender in Scotland. It was the Russians they were worried about. They just didn't want to give up to them."

David, of Sutherland, spent two years doing research for his book, which contains never-before-seen accounts from U-boat captains and Royal Navy crew who arrested the 1100 German submariners.

Hms Byron, of the 21st Escort Group, played a vital role in the surrender, escorting the subs into the loch.

Sailor Alan Hope recalled the moment the first German boat arrived, "flying a tattered black flag from its periscope as a sign it was ready to surrender".

Shipmate Cliff Greenwood wrote a letter to his family describing the scene.

He wrote: "We've known for a day or two that, after a certain prescribed hour, all U-boats have to surface, put all armaments out of commission - torpedoes, mines, everything - and sail to certain anchorages to surrender.

"Our old enemies have had to call it a day at last, have to admit defeat, the enemies we've been chasing and killing - four in one 10-day patrol - for months.

"Will they obey the order? We don't know. It's of no particular interest to us.

"It's sufficient for us to know that we've won the long, grim merciless battle - and it's been all that."

Meanwhile, on German U-boat U-764, there was talk of resistance.

Petty Officer Heinz Guske recalls in David's book: "On May 9, the CO called all the officers and NCOs together and, in secrecy from the rest of the crew behind closed doors in the PO's room, proclaimed his intention of ignoring his instructions to surrender.

"He would not consider handing over the boat or any of its torpedoes. Since there was insufficient fuel to reach Spain, and since he carried no current charts indicating the minefields in the Kattegat, which precluded a return to Germany, the boat would jettison all torpedoes and return to Bergen.

"But there was a developing resentment among senior crew.

"They argued that many were married and all had family responsibilities, the war was over and there was no point in continuing submerged and thereby risking attack as a potentially hostile vessel as it was known that hunter groups were still operating in northern oceans."

U-764 surfaced in Loch Eriboll on May 13 and surrendered.

But there was one final act of defiance from the Germans.

U-295 rammed Canadian escort ship HMCS Nene, punching a hole in the starboard side. The U-boat captain claimed it was an accident but the truth will never be known.

Newspaper reports later claimed that Nene has intercepted and translated a signal that U-278 tried to pass secretly to other Nazi vessels.

It read: "Comrades, nearing England, we have to carry out a mission and obey the law of these people. We have to obey the orders of our Fuhrer and take the bite of the sour apple."

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