Daily Event for April 6

Operation Elster, a daring if not impossible mission to recover U-boat officers who were being held prisoner
at Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada and return them to Germany cost the Kriegsmarine one U-boat and
her entire crew.

Two boats were dispatched from La Pallice (near La Rochelle), France on the mission, U-262 departed Mar. 27, 1943 however due to a failure in the air ventilation system she had to return and did not sail again until Apr. 7, She was the back up boat for the operation and at the time of her sailing her captain did not know about his secret orders, the return to base had no effect on the mission.

U-376, the primary boat for the operation, sailed on Apr. 6, 1943 with 47 officers and men, she was supposed
to send a signal letting the High Command know that she had cleared the Bay of Biscay, but no such signal was ever sent, after leaving port she was never heard from again. An attack by an RAF Wellington on Apr. 10 at position 46.48N - 09.00W was thought to have been against the U-376, however it is likely the boat attacked was U-465, this boat was damaged by aircraft on that date in that area and returned to St. Nazaire on Apr. 14.

What happened to the U-376 is still a mystery to this day, Canadian reports suggest that a U-boat was attacked
and sunk near the North Cape of Prince Edward Island on May 7, 1943, however no evidence has thus far
surfaced to indicate the presence of a wreck in the area, it is doubtful that U-376 ever made it to Canada, but
it is not impossible, the lack of radio contact was not an uncommon occurrence as radios frequently broke down.

It is known that the Canadians were aware that an operation was underway in the area, Ultra decrypts had
been clear about it so they were on the look out for submarines, the U-262 was in the area from May 2 to May
6, but was never successfully attacked. On May 7 the Royal Canadian Navy was witnessed off the North Cape
dropping depth charges in what looked like an anti-submarine attack, some even reported seeing a submarine
surface and sink stern first, however no RCN report of such an attack has been found to date, it is possible the
ships were involved in a training exercise.

Even though the U-262 made it to the rendezvous point, there was nobody to pick up, the prisoners failed to keep up their end of the mission. One can hardly blame them for not escaping as ordered and the Canadians were not about to just let them walk out of the camp. Even if they had been able to escape it is doubtful they could have made it to the pick up point.

Just getting from Fredericton to Cape Tormentine, where they were supposed to cross the strait, is 135 miles
in a straight line, this area was wilderness back in 1943 and even today is sparsely populated. They then were
to cross the 9 mile strait between New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island by some means, this was up to
them to accomplish. Even with the best Canadian accent asking someone "Bitte nehmen Sie uns auf Prince Edward Island" might give their identity away, so they presumably would have had to commandeer some type
of vessel. Then just another 75 miles, on foot, without being detected, to the North Cape and freedom. All they
had to do was get out to the U-boat that was waiting in the ice field and they were home free.

The plan from the start was full of flaws and highly doubtful, but the two U-boat crews were under orders,
which they carried out, one to the bitter end.

© 2009 Michael W. Pocock

Map showing route the escaping U-boat men were to take.


Map showing the position where U-376 was thought to have been attacked on Apr. 10.


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