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Hitler's Lost Sub

Martin Horenburg's knife, which provided the first clue about U-869's identity.
Sole Survivor
Part 2 | Back to Part 1

NOVA: When you heard that divers had found a knife with Horenburg's name on it, how did you react?

Guschewski: The name Horenburg isn't common, so when I heard that—the name Horenburg—I knew it had to have been Martin Horenburg. Only then did I believe that U-869 was found off the American coast and not in Casablanca. [It had been thought since the war that U-869 sank off Casablanca, Morocco.]

NOVA: U-869 was thought to have never received its final orders and simply proceeded to the American coast. As a radio mate yourself, what do you think happened?

Guschewski: If there had been a radio message missing that would have called the boat back to Casablanca but the boat didn't get it, the commander would have been fully responsible to [Commander Karl] Dönitz [head of the U-boat service] to get the message no matter how. [Radio operators at Dönitz's headquarters numbered their messages consecutively and sent them repeatedly throughout the day and even at night to ensure their intended recipients received them.] It could have been crucial for the boat. It could have announced a single operating battleship or aircraft carrier, which could be very dangerous to submarines in the middle of the Atlantic.

Karl Donitz
It was every U-boat commander's responsibility to get and respond to messages from U-boat service head Karl Dönitz, here shown with Adolf Hitler.

So that missing message, Number 3, was extremely important. Each boat had to retrieve every missing message. All messages were repeated at night by an automatic transmitter on the longest wavelengths. You didn't even have to surface to receive them; you could receive them at a depth of up to 30 meters (100 feet). And they were repeated over and over.

NOVA: Then, according to you, what happened?

Guschewski: U-869 had already sunk. That's why the crew didn't answer or come back to Casablanca.

NOVA: So you don't think they refused to obey and kept going?

Guschewski: No. A refusal? Not a possibility. Horenburg would never have done that. That never occurred in the Navy.

NOVA: Could there have been a technical defect in the radio transmitters or receivers?

Guschewski: No, that was never the case. Even in high pursuit, we always fixed the radio transmitters. We had everything with us, the tubes and spare parts. And Horenburg was just the guy to always put the tubes back in and continue on. I don't have another solution. The boat must have sunk before it got the message to return to Casablanca.

NOVA: Now that you know about the boat, what do you think happened to sink it?

Guschewski: There was talk about a misguided torpedo, but that happened once in 100 boats, if ever. I could only figure this out if the divers would discover if any torpedo chutes are open and any torpedoes are missing.

NOVA: What did you think when you heard that the boat lies somewhere completely different than you'd always thought?

Spare Parts Box
Proof of U-869's identity came with the recovery of this rusted box of spare parts, which supplied the U-boat's number and manufacturer.
Guschewski: I couldn't believe it. I just couldn't believe it. For 55 years, I thought the boat was off Casablanca, off Morocco. Then I got a call from Commander Jürgen Weber of the U-Boat Veterans Association in Munich, and he asked if I had seen this film the night before. I said no, and he said that it wasn't true that my boat was off Casablanca, but that it was off New Jersey instead. I doubted that and couldn't believe it. I was convinced only after many sleepless nights and countless discussions with people who knew the situation, when they pulled up the box of spare parts and cleaned the brass plate, and it said U-869, built by Deschimag in Bremen. Only then did I believe that it was U-869.

NOVA: Did it change things for you?

Guschewski: Knowing it's in a different location doesn't really change anything. But since I saw this film, I've been very moved. I feel all stirred up inside, I've had nightmares. It's all come back to me—the war, all we went through, all we had to endure, for no reason.

Continue: Remembering lost comrades

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