U-BOOTS’ ESCAPE TO SOUTH AMERICA: SECRET OF THE GRAY WOLVES

Reviewed by: Richard Sharpe

Senior members of Hitler’s Third Reich fleeing by U-boat to South America in 1945, then living in comfort on the proceeds of the rape of Europe in the Second World War. It all seems like rather a long time ago and a bit like a Frederick Forsyth novel, but the horrors of Nazi Germany live on in people’s minds. It is one thing to be killed in war by remote rifle fire or air dropped bombs, quite another to be dragged from your home with your family and then tortured, starved and brutally executed. It is therefore not surprising that even after 70 years there should still be people from those communities most affected by this barbaric regime, who remain dedicated to uncovering what happened to the Nazis that got away, of which the most dramatic method was to be evacuated by U-boat to South America.

Submarines must rate as the most ill-designed passenger ferries, and none more so than the diesel-electric types of World War II. Life support systems including food, fresh water, clean air and sanitation which were barely adequate for a ships’ company of 20-year-olds, and accommodation that was primitive by prison standards. Even after the introduction of the snort mast, most transits were made on the surface. With a very small reserve of buoyancy these were unpleasant sea-boats. Also, by armistice day 1945, how many U-boats were still capable of long ocean passages? Particularly memorable is the comment by a German Submarine CO in the context of one report ‘these are the conclusions of someone whose idea of U- boats is like that of an Eskimo about Central America’.

This attempt by a Polish naval journalist and a compatriot underwater archaeologist (both born in the 1960s) to separate fact from fiction in the massive lexicon of documents still leaking from hitherto unpublished sources, is only partially successful. Their determination to debunk anything which cannot be proven beyond all doubt, makes for sometimes laboured reading. It is also irritating that there are frequent errors in syntax and translation.

It is reasonable to wonder why South America, and particularly Argentina under Peron were keen to offer a safe haven to the Germans? It seems probable that apart from money, they wanted the expertise in weaponry and technology which was mostly grasped by the Americans and Soviet Union. Recommended reading for WWII historians, and those interested in the final activities and destruction of the U-boat fleet. But heavy going for the rest of us, whose families were not subjected to the Nazi death camps.