The ‘Monsun Gruppe’
Before continuing my attempt to reconstruct what I believe to be the fate of the crew of U-196 after they reached New Zealand, it might be useful to give readers an overview of the events surrounding U-196 at that time. Beginning in December 1942, the German navy had been requested to make a series of U-boat sailings to Japan, carrying highranking Japanese diplomats and technical information. The Japanese capture of the Malay Peninsula and Indonesian archipelago gave them bases at Jakarta (then called Batavia) and Penang, which greatly increased the operational areas available to their submarines. The 33rd Submarine Flotilla, based at Flensburg, detached a small squadron to these bases, beginning in 1943. They were to combine raiding, with re-supply operations, into the Indian Ocean region under the code name Operation Monsun (Monsoon). While there were eventually two waves of U-boats assigned to the operation, it was the second wave, beginning in 1944, in which U-196 was despatched. To give some idea of the cargo these boats carried we must return to U-234, which had surrendered to the Americans on May 15, 1945. This boat was assigned to Gruppe Monsun and had been in transit to Kobe, Japan, when the war ended. It carried 75 tons of lead, 26 tons of mercury, 12 tons of steel, 7 tons of optical glass, 43 tons of aircraft parts and plans, 560kg of uranium oxide and a disassembled Me262 jet fighter. How was it possible to house a disassembled Me262 in the restricted space within any submarine? Presumably the boat carried only core engine parts and instruments for the Me262. It also carried two Japanese nuclear scientists, who committed suicide rather than face capture by the Americans. On September 23, 1944, another Gruppe Monsun boat, U-859, also a Type IXD2, was sunk in the Malacca Straits by the Allied submarine HMS Trenchant. She was carrying 31 tons of mercury for the Japanese munitions industry and allegedly a quantity of uranium oxide. In 1972, a salvage team recovered 12 tons of mercury for the West German government. However, no mention was made of any uranium oxide recovery from the wreck. It is clear from the above the Japanese were receiving advanced weapons technology from Germany and the Gruppe Monsun U-boats were a key link in that programme. If the Allies had not been able to penetrate the German Enigma codes using ULTRA, these U-boats may well have succeeded in reaching Japan with their uranium oxide cargoes. U-196 sailed from Jakarta on November 11, 1944 and according to Martin Brice, Axis Blockade Runners of World War II (1981), was allegedly lost on November 30, 1944, while traversing an Allied minefield. That’s 19 days after she sailed, well within the time required to reach North Korea and the Japanese nuclear research facility. Fuel oil became a major difficulty for U-boats after the Brake, a 10,000-ton fleet oiler, was sunk on March 15, 1944, by a Royal Navy destroyer, near Mauritius in the Indian Ocean. This meant unrefined oil from Brunei became the only available fuel. Thus, U-196 was likely to have sailed north from Jakarta to refuel before proceeding on the next stage of the journey. Realising the war was coming to an end, and Allied success against the U-boats was dramatically increasing, Gruppe Monsun was ordered back to Germany, carrying vital strategic supplies. Operation Monsun effectively came to an end in late 1944. However, as U-234 and possibly U-859 were to demonstrate, the technical aid being supplied to Japan did not stop with Monsun. But how would the Japanese deliver a nuclear bomb, and against what target? It’s considered that it would have been by balloon against Iwo Jima or Okinawa. The Japanese had already launched a number of incendiary balloon attacks against the western United States, in an attempt to destroy the northern Californian timber forests. The bombcarrying balloon, lofted from Manchuria or western Honshu, would have lifted into the very high jet streams travelling east towards the intended target. Once the balloon was in the jet stream it would have been beyond the altitude of Allied aircraft to intercept it. Even a relatively small atomic bomb could have severely damaged most of the US fleet anchored off Okinawa. Such an entirely unexpected blow could have extended the war into 1946, resulting in an armistice or worse, a stalemate, giving the Japanese time to regroup.
It’s believed that the surrender of U-234 was a pre-arranged event, just as it’s suspected that the U-196 arrival off Northland was similarly pre-arranged. With the arrival of U-234, the Allies suddenly realised they were in a deadly race against the Japanese to deploy the ultimate warwinning weapon. The key was to remove the scientific and technical support the Germans were supplying the Japanese. There is one key component to bomb making that proved to be a challenging problem: fusing. When ‘Enola Gay’ dropped the first bomb on Hiroshima, the fuse unit was manually inserted into the bomb case by a technical officer minutes before the bomb was dropped. It required great care in handling to ensure it worked correctly. German research was well advanced in fuse design and as such, a critical part of the Japanese bomb project.
The End of the War in Europe
Some time on or about May 1, 1945, the German High Command had issued a general warning that hostilities were about to cease. By May 5 hostilities had all but ceased as preparations were completed for the formal surrender on Lüneberg Heath on the 8th. Admiral Dönitz, ‘godfather’ of the U-boat arm and newly appointed head of state, authorised to sign the surrender document, was in an excellent position to direct any U-boat to undertake one last mission. U-196 would have been well informed of any developments. I believe the U-196 was ordered to collect German technical staff from the Japanese nuclear research facility in northern Korea and sail for southern waters before the official announcement of any surrender. Had the U-196 been in a Japanese port at the time of the German surrender, Japan would have seized the boat as a prize of war, as were those boats that remained in Jakarta after May 8, 1945. The movement of scientists would not have raised suspicions with the Japanese, given that technical specialists were regularly exchanged between Japan and Germany. Yet why was there a delay of three days before the Germans decided to agree to an unconditional surrender? There was no point, when they had already warned their forces an end to hostilities was imminent around May 1. The Nazi leadership would have been forewarned of this when the Oder-Neisse Line had collapsed in late April, bringing the Russians to within 50 miles of Berlin. With the crossing of the Rhine in March 1945, the Allies activated ‘Operation Paperclip’ to ensure they acquired German technology and experts, primarily in the aircraft and weapons development fields. Clearly there was contact, through neutral Switzerland, Spain and Sweden, between the Allied and German political leadership. And what better bargaining chip could the Germans have possessed than the most advanced weapons technology on the planet, safely hidden at sea in U-196?
There is a pervasive myth that New Zealand remained largely defenceless during the Second World War. This myth has been officially encouraged to the point where most accept it as fact. In fact by late 1942 there were at least four radar posts between Army Bay on Whangaparoa Peninsula and the outer Gulf Islands, with another two under construction. By 1944 there were so many it was decided to decommission several as being surplus to requirements. This was at a time when the Japanese were only beginning to add radar to their larger warships. The areas around Ninety Mile Beach and the associated airfields were particularly well covered. There was a radar unit west of Kaitaia, coupled to specialist radio listening posts, which allegedly guided U-196 into an isolated beach north of Dargaville. It was here a small detachment of army trucks met the crew as they landed. Rumours persist that there was ‘Nazi gold and looted treasure’ aboard U-196, and soon after landing a dispute arose over the division of these spoils that led to a shooting. This story is pure disinformation, designed to cover the real purpose of the landing. The sailing crew would have been separated from the scientific detail and probably isolated to prevent them being identified. U-boat crew members would have raised unwanted questions. But the scientific detachment, not being military, could easily have vanished, especially given the large number of Allied troops present in Northland. The scientific party would have been removed to a secluded location, probably Taupo Bay in Northland, and passed off as convalescing soldiers, of whom there were many spread throughout beachside communities. Allied interrogators, assisted by a small scientific staff, would have assessed the value of the Germans and their accompanying scientific material before any offer of employment or relocation was made. Their documents would need weeks of translation and explanation. It must be appreciated that, remote as we may have appeared to be from the centre of the world shaping events then taking place, Japan was still at war with the Allies and the Soviets had not made clear their intentions about Japan. Once the Allies came to realise the Japanese had a major nuclear facility in northern Korea, well within the grasp of the Soviets, secrecy was paramount. But of equal risk was the number of Marxist sympathisers, only too eager to serve Moscow. They infested the ports and transport systems, willing accomplices in gathering intelligence for their Soviet masters. If the Allies were to keep the presence of these people secret, they needed the help of trusted locals. The question remains: who were they? It’s been suggested the new arrivals were to be absorbed into the Northland community as Austrian refugees, a ploy that had worked in the past, albeit for the Abwehr! Austria, occupied by the Allies in 1945, gave Allied intelligence services complete access to the necessary Austrian documents for establishing a ‘legend’ covering undocumented foreign nationals, as required. There have also been persistent rumours these new arrivals were absorbed into the Dalmatian community, but this seems unlikely given the bitter anti-partisan war between Germany and Tito’s Serbia. While it’s possible some of the U-boat crew stayed on after the war, it would have been unlikely the nuclear specialists would have done so. They would have been offered positions at Cambridge in England, or Los Alamos in the United States where there was already a sizable community of German scientists. While the above story is based on informed speculation, elocal has seen the magnetic anomaly readings that confirm the presence of a large metallic object in the area that was sighted as U-196. As is the way with highly secret military operations, the ordinary crew would have been told nothing of the mission. All they would have known was they were transporting cargo and specialists from one side of the world to the other, and as hostilities ended were more than happy to land in New Zealand, where they were at last safe. The three senior officers would have known some of the specific details of the mission, but would have been given the final course to sail to reach Northland, and any required recognition codes, at the last possible minute. Apart from that they would have been told very little else. Had the U-196 crew been absorbed into the local population in 1945 there is now no reason to maintain secrecy after 66 years. The original crew will either be deceased or in their 80s, just too old to be the subject of any official interest. Their grandchildren will be New Zealand citizens and probably know little or nothing of what actually happened. Once the U-196 is finally relocated and entered, we might just find out more about what happened.
To be continued…
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