Hitler desperately wanted to take the war to America but the Luftwaffe had failed him. The Nazi machine was unable to develop a transatlantic bomber before the end of the war and the rest of the air force was left in shambles. Very few planes survived and even fewer experienced pilots.
The jet age came too late to save the Third Reich. Though the German scientists were vastly ahead of their equivalents around the globe the technology did not have enough time for practical application.
But the Germans excelled in other areas too. They revolutionized underwater warfare with their weapons and tactics. This was short lived as the Allies antisubmarine technologies grew at exponential rates to combat them. Improved sonar, faster ships, the use of convoys, experienced Ally crews, improved depth charges, and most of all the cracking of the enigma code.
Some of the U-Boat commanders had deduced the Allies had cracked the code. It was too much of a coincidence that they had been so successful at the wars onset and then lost so many vessels. Commanders began skipping their regular radio transmissions, and when they did radio in they would send false coordinates, giving false headings, with false destinations.
December 5, 1945
1300 hours: The Frederick, or as the crew called her “die neue Fritz”, was returning from her daytime hiding spot on the abyssal plain to her hunting grounds off the American coast. After months of success the crew was becoming increasingly bold pushing their attacks closer to sunset and the coast. The Bahamian islands and shoals blended the massive sonar signature of the ship hiding her from the constant flow of marine and air traffic.
The Fritz used blitzkrieg attacks hitting their prey so suddenly they were unable to get out a SOS. Torpedoes fired from the ship or dropped from the planes would initiate the attack, then the radar homing rockets would finish the job.
Little San Salvador Island was a perfect location to quietly launch operations and letting the men go to shore for a few hours of R & R. The island is uninhabited and has a natural inlet that is perfect for launching and landing the seaplanes.
Today the planes would scout east over the Atlantic and the Fritz would head north looking for quarry. The planes with their limited fuel capacity would return to the island and wait for the Fritz or re-launch when refueled. Communications were restricted except for emergencies. For open communications the Fritz and the Me-262’s used a form of Morse code, alternating radio frequencies to prevent anyone from listening in. The planes only operated during twilight hours because their navigational equipment did not work in the vicinity of the Fritz. They had to use dead reckoning which was made easier because of the easily identifiable large islands of the Bahamas.
1410 hours: Flight 19 departs on its training mission 25 minutes after its scheduled time. On a heading of 91 degrees they flew to Hen and Chicken Shoals and practiced a mock bomb run.
1500 hours: Flight 19 finished the bombings and continued on their practice run. The Fritz was moving north just to the east of Eleuthra Island.
1600 hours: Flight 19 was lost. Flight leader, United States Naval Lieutenant Charles Taylor could be heard on open radio transmissions asking his students and others for help. Taylor believes Flight 19 is over the Florida Keys. In fact they are over the Abaco Islands similar looking to the Keys. Great Abaco and Little Abaco are the two largest islands of the group, with numerous smaller islands and cays. Flight 19’s radio transmissions are growing weaker to the mainland as they travel further northeast. Lieutenant Taylor was following what he believed was an accurate headings. Unbeknownst to Taylor and his students, they had ventured into the magnetic sphere of influence generated by the Fritz‘s mercury drive. The Germans had learned of the magnetic effect early on, how it skewed true magnetic north on compasses that encroached on the Fritz.
The Fritz continues northward, running on her dual propulsion system making her faster than any ship at sea even while submerged. The traditional system of a drive shaft and two massive screws, the second is a revolutionary design. The mercury drive serves a multi-functional purpose. It provides electricity to the ship, it powers the drive shaft and uses water to push itself along. At the very rear of the Fritz lies the mercury drive. Intakes in the hull allow water to be brought into the ship and given an electric charge. As the charged water moves past the mercury drive the magnetic field forces the water out the rear of the ship, the birth of magneto-hydrodynamics.
1620 hours: Emergency sirens are blaring inside the Fritz. Captain Albrecht stood up from the captain’s chair hanging off the ceiling on a gyroscope. “Turn off that siren.” He picked up the mic. “Status report.”
“Sir, officer’s mess. They have a fire in the galley and it has spread to the crew’s mess and launch bay one. They have a fire team working on it.”
The captain asked in an unwavering voice, “Casualties?”
The ensign came back, “Unknown sir.”
Captain Albrecht looked around the room. He had a skeleton crew running the largest submarine on the ocean. The biggest department on the ship was the kitchen, a crew of a cook, a baker, a steward and a mess hall attendant.
“All stop. Executive Officer, Quartermaster, go see if you can help and grab anyone you find along the way to bring with you.”
1630 hours: The radio crackled, “Sir, Exo. They have fought the fire back into the kitchen but it has spread across forward launch bays, it may have gotten some of the rocket fuel, they are having problems gaining access. The smoke is heavy and they are running low on oxygen tanks.”
“Keep at it, if it comes to desperate measures they will close all compartments and drown the fire.”
Five minutes later the fire was still burning and the smoke was beginning to fill the forward compartments. “Captain to mechanical.” He had to wait several seconds for a response from an out of breath sailor.
“Can the air filters handle the smoke?” This time the response was immediate.
“No sir, they are designed as scrubbers to remove carbon dioxide from normal breathing not to remove combustion byproducts.
“How bad is the air down there?”
On cue the sailor began coughing uncontrollably, “Sir, air quality is poor and worsening. Crew in the aft decks will be unconscious in another 10 minutes.”
Albrecht had heard enough, he switched the mic to speaker system. “All hands prepare for emergency blow.” He removed the safeties and then hit the three large red buttons simultaneously. Albrecht listened as the air pushed the water out of the ballast tanks and felt as the ship shot upwards. It broke the surface in an eruption of water.
Back on the mic Albrecht ordered all hatches closed and launch bay one opened. Smoke billowed out and ocean water fell back in. The next order came, “Get all the pumps up and running and get the radar antenna up.”
“Forward weapons load torpedo tubes one and two. Aft weapons ready rockets seven and eight.”
The executive officer came on the radio. “Sir is this the time to ready weapons?”
“I will not allow this ship to be completely vulnerable.”
“Sir, aye sir.”
The ocean was seething, a squall had blown in and was blotting out the fading sunlight. In the control room of the Fritz, Captain Albrecht was waiting for the next five minute status report when a voice shouted out. “RADAR MULTIPLE CONTACTS AT 270, 15 MILES OUT!”
Albrecht calmly asked, “What is their heading.”
The radar operator composed himself and responded, “5 contacts moving on a steady heading northeast.”
Still calm and cool the captain states, “They are just at the limit of their visibility. Watch them and make sure they keep the same heading.
1645 hours: Taylor radioed he was changing Flight 19’s course heading to 30 degrees. The radar operator on the Fritz watched on his screen as it happened. “Sir they are turning, heading of 90 degrees out to sea in a few minutes they will be out of radar range.” Albrecht checked over the radar operator’s shoulder, “Keep an eye out for them.”
1656 hours: Taylor radios that he is changing course again to 90 degrees due east. When the flight group turns they are actually heading southwest.
1716 hours: Taylor was heard setting another course of 270 degrees, “we will fly until we hit beach or run out of fuel.”
1800 hours: The first search plane was sent out along with a coast guard cutter, USCG Lewis Morris. When the call came in the well-oiled machine went into action. The captain gave the order and the Morris turned course and her twin screws beat the ocean furiously. Four minutes later Taylor’s barely audible transmissions were picked up all that was made out, “holding 270.”
Keeping the same heading would seal the fate of Flight 19. The changing position of the Fritz kept changing the compass direction. Flight 19 was north of the Bahamas flying in circles without knowing it.
They were out of range of the Fritz‘s radar for a few minutes. Then they appeared again. “SIR WE HAVE INBOUND. FIVE TARGETS FROM THE EAST CLOSING FAST!”
Albrecht moved with purpose. He watched as the radar swept over revealing the five encroaching targets. Flight 19 was heading straight at the Fritz. Albrecht grabbed the mic, “All hands prepare for emergency dive close all outer doors.”
The squaw rang, “Sir Exo, we are still fighting the fire and there are men on the deck fighting the fire in the launch bay.”
“Get them in, close the compartments off we will flood the fire out, run surface shallow.”
Before the Fritz could dive Flight 19 was above them. One of the officers out the top hatch had binoculars and looked up when he heard the propeller driven engines. A voice yelled from the bottom of the conning tower to get below. But Taylor and crew were focused on the horizon looking for the Florida peninsula. Even as big as the Fritz was her dark hull in twilight with driving rain, the altitude of Flight 19, and the angle of the planes made spotting the submarine nearly impossible.
As the Fritz dove they allowed the water to suffocate the fire and closed the outer doors. The pumps went to work immediately but it would take at least a few hours to pump all the water out. Albrecht was standing beside his radioman. “Jam their frequencies with static. And get the Swallows here to help them.”
As he finished the officer with the binoculars came running in. “Sir, they are American torpedo bombers, they had no bombs or torpedoes and there fifty caliber machine guns don’t pose much of a threat.”
“They might not be able to directly harm us but if they give up our position we are good as dead.”
On board the Fritz the mood went from panicked to frenzy. She was running at top speed of forty knots. The Fritz couldn’t catch the American planes but the Messerschmitt’s would.
Albrecht gave the order, “Get the birds in the air now.” The radioman relayed the message but the response put a grim look on his face. “Sir they are fueling they will be in the air in 30.”
Albrecht snapped back, “Tell them they have 10 to get airborne.”
1820 hours: The last transmission of Flight 19 came in, “All planes close up tight . . .we’ll have to ditch unless landfall . . .when the first plane drops below 10 gallons, we all go down together.” The Messerschmitt’s were closing on the Fritz’s radio signal as Flight 19 made one last fatal turn.
Albrecht was coordinating the attack. “Swallow 1 and 2, marks have turned to heading 180, time to intercept four minutes.” He got back a simple, “roger.” The weather had worsened and visibility was down to a half mile.
Captain Albrecht was now sitting at the radar station. He was directing the Swallows in behind the American planes. Then he signaled the attack. The Messerschmitt’s dove in from higher altitude upon the Avengers. The Swallows strafed with four thirty-millimeter cannons on three of the trailing planes. One Avenger took fatal shots to the crew cabin, the second had most of its tail section blown away, and the third had more holes than a colander. As the Swallows broke off their attack Albrecht ordered the rockets launched. The Fritz used radar waves to direct the rockets on their targets. They closed in seconds and annihilated the planes.
As Albrecht watched the radar to confirm the kills he realized his ship was in peril. As one of the planes plummeted towards the ocean the Fritz was inadvertently in its path. Albrecht screamed, “SOUND COLLISION ALARM.” But there was no time. The Avenger slammed into the rear of the Fritz. It took out the radio and the radar antennas. It exploded in a fireball and fell into the ocean taking twisted metal with it. The entire attack took just 30 seconds. And just like that Flight 19 disappeared into history.
The circling Swallows tried desperately to radio the mother ship. Between the darkness, the rain and the ineffectiveness of the compasses they were blind, they had no way to find the Fritz or San Salvador Island. After ten minutes Henrik Brunnuer radioed his wingman, “I am going to pick a heading and we will fly until they find somewhere to land or run out of fuel.”
On board the Fritz it was pandemonium. The pumps were still working to clear the water from the flooded compartments when the men trapped in the aft sections radioed forward there was now a fire in launch bay two.
Captain Albrecht felt a knot develop in his stomach. He had two men in the air that were completely helpless now. He thought about sending a man up with a flare but he knew it would not help. The Swallows needed flat, calm water to land, if they ditched the planes speed would kill them on impact and if they bailed out over the ocean in these conditions they would never be found. They were best to fend for themselves.
Albrecht’s mind turned to the next possibility that his location had been revealed and an armada of ships and planes would be sent after them. Albrecht gave the order, “Turn her around we are going to Salvador.” The Fritz lethargically responded. It took her four times as long to turn.
“Sir steering is sluggish, I think we have lost a screw and we are not getting the thrust from the mercury drive.” The Fritz limped south for the next hour. The USCGC Morris was north of Grand Bahama. Captain Chosset was on the bridge scanning the sea with binoculars. His ship was cutting a serrated pattern into the ocean in their attempt to locate Flight 19.
1927 hours: PBM Mariner seaplane took off from Banana River Naval Air Station in search of Flight 19. A few minutes after takeoff they made a radio check in and were never heard from again.
2115 hours: The two wayward Messerschmitt’s crossed paths with the flying boat PBM Mariner. They came upon the Mariner so fast the plane had no time to react. Henrik Brunnuer lined up his plane and shot a volley of rockets. The Mariner was a hard target to miss at 80 feet long and 120 foot wing span. The Mariner erupted in flame that was seen by the SS Gaines Mills. The USS Solomons an escort carrier in the area confirmed the loss via radar.
Minutes later the call came into the Morris. The radio operator called across the room to Captain Chosset, “Sir they lost a plane out of Banana River. Solomons confirms, she dropped off radar.” Chosset only lowered his binoculars for a moment and then went back to scanning the sea. “Sir, weather report from command says it is only going to get worse until morning. They are suspending the search for the night.”
Chosset heard his sailor but gave no order. The radioman repeated himself, “Sir, they are suspending the search.”
Chosset erupted in fury, “Shall we tell the families of our fellow sailors we could not save them because the weather was bad? What if I throw you over the side, would your family want us to keep searching for you?” The radioman slumped in his chair at his defeat.
2200 hours: Henrik Brunnuer looked down and could see the scattered lights of towns and cities. He knew he and his wingman were above the American coastline. They had no choice but to find a safe place to put down.
They passed over a few bodies of water but they were all surrounded by lights. Brunnuer hoped they could put down safely preserve their aircraft and avoid capture. They flew deeper into the mainland and the lights became less and less frequent. It was a moonless night and the Swallows took turns diving with their lights on to try and find a lake or river. They were eventually successful and Brunnuer took the lead. He set his plane down but underestimated the distance to the end of the body of water. His plane went crashing into the trees, smashing into the bank, the fuselage bending back pinning his legs. Moments later the second plane touched down. Roudrik Zeller made a safe landing and found his wingman.
Zeller and Brunnuer both knew the latter’s injuries were mortal. There was no way to extract him from the mangled wreckage. Zeller took his friends hand and squeezed it tightly. From his jacket pocket Brunnuer produced his Luger pistol. Zeller released his hand collected some essentials and headed off into the swamp. As he walked away he could hear Brunnuer reciting Bible verse, moments later he heard the gunshot.
2205 hours: The Morris was still searching. Chosset refused to give up on Flight 19. In the heart of the storm a lightning bolt came crashing down upon the ship. It traveled down the radio antenna and fried the equipment. The radioman Chosset had scolded received a good jolt of electricity.
“Are you alright son? The radioman gave a nod. “Do you think you can fix it?”
“I think so but it’s going to take time. I need to replace everything, the boards and wires are all fried.”
Chosset nodded as he was called away. “Sir, sonar contact five miles out.”
“What is it?”
The sonar operator was hesitant, “I think it’s an aircraft carrier but I’m not sure. Radar can you confirm.”
“Nothing on radar, Sir.”
Chosset walked over to the sonar screen.
“It has to be an aircraft carrier or a bulk carrier.”
Chosset glanced at the radar screen. “With no radar contact I don’t think so.”
Someone chimed in, “Sir, at that size could it be a sand bank or shoal?”
Chosset checked the navigational charts, there was nothing.
“Sir, it is moving slowly, bearing 180.”
Chosset grabbed his binoculars again and ordered, “Get us there.”
The Fritz picked up the Morris at the same time; they had been limping along on the surface. Albrecht gave the order he gave earlier in the day, to seal the compartments, dive the ship and flood the fire out.
Before the Fritz could break through the waves, the Morris got close enough to give Captain Chosset a glimpse. He could see waves breaking on a massive dark hull. Even through the rain and darkness Chosset could make out the silhouette. He had seen dozens of submarines during the war his keen eyes able to pick them off the horizon.
He had never seen anything like this. This sub was hundreds of feet longer than anything he had encountered. The conning tower was placed forward instead of aft. Chosset could see they were attempting to dive. “BATTLE STATIONS!” The two big 5 inch guns could only lower to 35 degrees the Morris was too close to its target. “Get the 40’s and 20’s on target and fire!”
Chosset looked out across the deck as the weapons took aim across the bow. They opened fire a moment later but the giant phantom had disappeared below the waves. The sonar operator called out, “Sir we are moving right on top of it, depth of 150 feet, turning a heading of due south, speed, 12 knots.”
Below the surface Albrecht was trying to maintain order. The Executive Officer came running back to the control room. “Sir the pumps are having trouble keeping up and we still have smoke in aft compartments, we think the fire is still burning.”
As the Executive Officer finished his sentence the lights flickered and dimmed. Then the ships forward motioned ceased. A call came in, “Sir, debris has blocked the main pipe leading to the thrusters. Without the water flow they have no propulsion.”
Albrecht wiped the sweat from his forehead and sat back in his chair. “How long will the batteries last?”
“On minimal use six to eight hours. If we use it to power the screws maybe three or four.”
Albrecht pondered his options. “Power only to essential stations and compartments, make sure the firefighters have light. Sonar where is that contact?”
“Right on top of us, sir.”
The storms current began pulling the metal titan southwest. All her crew could do was steer her into it.
On the surface Captain Chosset was hanging over his sonar technician’s shoulder. “If it moves you tell the helmsman.” He walked over to the helmsman, he stood in front of him and the ships wheel. “You are to follow the sonar techs command.” Then he announced, “Lieutenant Purver has the watch, I am going to the forward magazine.”
Below decks Chosset made his way to the ammo storage. A single seaman was checking the inventory when Chosset arrived. The sailor snapped to attention saluting, Chosset ignored him for several seconds. “Go to the engine room, have them fill four empty oil drums halfway with scrap metal then bring them here.” The sailor took off as fast as he could tripping as he went through the hatch nearly falling flat on his face.
Five minutes later the sailor returned with several other seamen struggling to carry the drums. Only one drum could fit in the magazine store the others were clogging the corridor. The ship swayed as a large wave passed under the Morris. The drums clanged loudly as the men were tossed into them and the bulkheads.
“Gentleman, I need you to carefully and hastily open the .38 caliber rounds and pour them into the drums.” One man ran off and quickly returned with a pair of funnels from the galley. One round at a time they poured the Dunnite into the drums. Dozens of empty casings were tossed aside. Chosset looked on and when the men were done he called the wheelhouse.
“Sonar, what’s the submarines depth?”
“They are still holding at 150 feet, Sir.”
Chosset rigged the fuse in each drum. “Bring them topside.” The men followed carrying the burdensome loads. They stopped in the passageway just before the outer hatch. Chosset turned to the sailors, “You will have twenty seconds from when I arm each drum to get it in the water otherwise it will blow the ship to pieces. Any questions?” The men all shook their heads. Chosset leaned in and set the fuse.
Chosset picked up a nearby phone, “Get me sonar.” The first pair of sailors took the homemade depth charge to the rail and dropped it into the water. “Sonar, give me tracking on that drum.”
The sonar operator began calling out depths. “30 feet, 50 feet, 80 feet, 110 feet, sir we have detonation 120 feet.”
The sonar operator on the Fritz watched as the object descended towards the ship. “Sir we have incoming looks like a depth charge.”
Albrecht sounded the warning alarm. Albrecht picked up the communicator, “Give me forward propulsion, NOW!” The alarm wailed seven times. To the men of the Fritz it must have sounded like the trumpets of the apocalypse.
The screws began turning and the remaining lights dimmed. The Fritz inched forward. Then the explosion came. The Fritz shook but survived. “Sir, it detonated shallow.”
Chosset was still holding the phone, “Sir, the target is on the move.” The captain replied back, “Keep us on to top, just forward of mid ship.”
For ten minutes the Fritz struggled forward. The smoke began filling the ship again. “Sir, the batteries are draining faster than expected we can’t run the air filters and the remaining screw.” Albrecht hung his head then made a cutting motion across his throat.
The Fritz began drifting again. Albrecht called out, “Helmsman make your depth 1,200 feet.” The ballast tanks filled with water the giant machine dropped into the depths.
The Morris sonar operator tracked the Fritz and called the depth over the phone to Chosset. When the object settled, Chosset took the opportunity. He set the timer on the second drum and had the men drop it into the depths.
The Fritz’s sonar operator was watching and called out the object as it began plummeting towards them. Albrecht was hoping the depth would protect the ship but he was wrong. He hit the collision alarm and cut it off a moment later to give one final announcement.
“It has been his honor to serve with such fine men, and onboard such a magnificent vessel. It will be his greatest privilege to die for the Fatherland.” Albrecht blew the ballast tanks and the Fritz shot towards the surface. The depth charge struck harmlessly against the steel hull and fell away into the darkness, detonating too far away to cause damage.
The Morris’ sonar operator was screaming into the phone, “IT’S COMING UP RIGHT UNDERNEATH US! 800 FEET AND CLOSING FAST!”
Chosset snapped an order, “90 degrees starboard ahead full.”
Chosset scrambled to rig another charge. He had under a minute to try and save his vessel. After he set the charge he was pushing the sailors out the door. As they reached the rail a wave crashed into the ship. The men fell to the deck but were able to maintain their hold on the depth charge. But the wave had pushed the Morris back over the rising leviathan.
The Morris’ sailors dropped the charge over just as the Frederick broke the surface. The crashing metal hulls rang out like thunderclaps. The 330 foot coast guard cutter was hoisted into the air and then cast aside like a child’s toy. The Morris landed on her starboard, and was submerged in seconds, the crew had no chance of escaping.
Then the depth charge exploded in an eruption of water. The Fritz having sustained the damage of the fire, a plane crash, and the collision with the Morris could no longer preserve her integrity. The rear of the ship from the second launch bay back to the mercury drive and screws sheared off and dropped into the oceanic depths. The cataclysmic failure gave no time for her crew to escape. Men throughout the Fritz opened the hatches and emergency doors. They would rather suffer an immediate fate of drowning then endure an agonizing death of suffocation or being crushed by the incredible pressures.
The two ships began descending into the world of the dead. Thousands of feet below they came to rest at their eternal home at the bottom of the Great Abaco Canyon.
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