Daily Event for January 27, 2012

SMS U-76 left Heligoland for a minelaying mission off Murmansk, but late on Jan. 21 or early Jan. 22, 1917 an unidentified steamer, perhaps a Russian trawler, rammed the ship abaft of the conning tower. The ship was running with no lights and was not sighted by the U-boat until it was too late because of a snowstorm. Kapitän-leutnant Waldemar Bender ordered a crash dive and a 30° turn to starboard, but as they were diving the ship ran her down. Bender stated that the ship made no attempt to stop and just continued on her way as if nothing had happened.

On the U-boat the situation was serious, the pressure hull was torn open and there was a lot of damage to the after part of the boat. There was no chance of submerging again and little chance of returning to Germany. The crew did everything they could to get the boat underway making repairs to almost everything in the after areas. They made a heroic effort, but the elements, damage and distance was just too great, and when the diesels failed they knew the boat would be lost. On January 27, 1917 using the last of his electric power, Bender laid a course for Sørøy Island, Norway in an attempt to save his men, his plan was to find a location where he could get the crew on land and scuttle the boat.

As they approached the island a Norwegian fishing boat was sighted nearby and Bender raised the international flag for a vessel in distress. The boat, Alia, came alongside and with some difficulty due to the heavy seas, managed to remove the whole crew except for three, Bender, the chief engineer and the chief machinist, they remained to scuttle U-76. They opened all the valves, flooded all the tanks and made their way out of the boat, but as they were going over to the Alia the chief engineer fell between the two vessels and was lost. The remaining survivors were taken to Hammerfest, Norway and interned..sort of.

They were housed in a union hall, where they were taken care of and Bender sent a telegram to the German ambassador requesting help in obtaining their release. The story told was that they had been in a gun battle with a British warship some fifty miles off the Norwegian coast and had been damaged. Before they could reach the coast the Alia responded to their distress signal and picked them up just before the boat sank. It was important to stress that they were in international waters and that the boat sank due to damage and was not scuttled, this made them shipwreck survivors and not a belligerents. Of course the tale was a ruse, but Bender got the Norwegian crew to sign statements to attest to the ruse by bribing them and the Norwegian government bought the story and released them. They returned to Germany by train and rejoined the war.
© 2012 Michael W. Pocock

Roll of Remembrance
Zum Gedenken an die Gefallenen des Unterseeboot SMS U-76
"In the memory of the fallen crewmen of submarine SMS U-76"

Hermann, Fritz
Marine Ingenieur

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