Fact or Fiction - Did U-1197 Surrender in 1945?

by Derek Waller

Ever since the end of the war in Europe in 1945 there has been uncertainty surrounding the U-Boats that surrendered. Much of it relates to the surrender dates and locations, but some even relates to the question of whether or not a particular U-Boat surrendered in the first place. U-1197 is an example of the latter, and the purpose of this note is to illustrate how uncertainties can still be portrayed as fact even 65 years after the events took place.

The first reference that I ever found to the fate of U-1197 was in Groner (1954). He indicated that it surrendered in Wilhelmshaven, was transferred to the UK on 26 June 1945, and subsequently sunk in Operation Deadlight.

The UK Naval Historical Branch (NHB) told me in May 1963 that U-1197 had surrendered in Wilhelmshaven, but there were no details of its final disposal. Similarly, US Navy sources in 1963 indicated that U-1197 had surrendered in Wilhelmshaven on 24 June 1945.

Then, in January 1964, the NHB advised me that, whilst U-1197 had indeed surrendered in Wilhelmshaven, it had been taken to England and sunk in Operation Deadlight. This information was said to come from "German sources" (I suspect from Groner).

In November 1966 I analysed all the available public-domain records, and it was obvious that U-1197 had not been sunk in Operation Deadlight. I therefore concluded that the U-Boat had surrendered, but that: The final disposal of this U-Boat is still in slight doubt.

I then embarked on a complete analysis of all the U-boats that had surrendered, and wrote an article in 1969 - which was published in the INRO Journal in June 1970 - in which I said: U-1197, which surrendered in Wilhelmshaven, had been badly damaged in an air attack on Wesermunde on 25 April 1945, and was unfit for removal to the UK. She was, therefore, scrapped on site. And, that, until recently, is where I left the "story".

I have now revived my interest in the history of the U-Boats, particularly those which surrendered in 1945, and have found that much of the uncertainty of the 1950s and 1960s concerning U-1197 still survives. For instance, Peter Sharpe (1998) indicated that, whilst U-1197 had been damaged and decommissioned at Wesermunde in April 1945, it had nevertheless surrendered in Wilhelmshaven in May 1945, and then been moved to Loch Ryan in June 1945 for disposal in Operation Deadlight.

Similarly, Kenneth Wynn (1998) indicated that U-1197 was damaged by USAAF bombers at Wesermunde in April 1945, but that it had then been captured by the Allies and transferred to Wilhelmshaven. However, whilst he suggested that U-1197 was taken to the UK on 26 June, he also recorded that she was sunk in the N Sea by the US Navy in February 1946.

Also, Clay Blair (1998) said that U-1197 surrendered in Bremen.

Finally, my review highlighted Axel Niestlé's work (1998) which recorded that U-1197 was decommissioned on 24 April 1945 at Wesermunde following bomb damaged sustained in a USAAF air raid on Bremen on 30 March 1945. He went on to say that U-1197 was captured by British forces, and that it was sunk in February 1946 in the North Sea by the US Navy.

Is it therefore any wonder that there is still some confusion about the fate of U-1197? Axel Niestlé and I have therefore discussed this matter, and I have also obtained information from Herr Horst Bredow's U-Boat Archive in Cuxhaven.

As a result, I believe that the real story of U-1197's demise is as follows:

U 1197 arrived in Bremen from Kiel on 21 March 1945 for repairs and maintenance at the Deschimag-Weser AG shipyard. It was then severely damaged during a USAAF air raid on Bremen on 30 March and could not be repaired. However, U-1197's diesel generator was still working, and it was therefore used to provide a power supply for the Weser AG shipyard. When the Allies advanced into Bremen in late April, U-1197 moved down the Weser River, again for the purpose of providing power, this time to the Bremer-Vulkan shipyard at Vegesack.

Subsequently U-1197 moved further down the River to Wesermunde, again to provide a power supply for one of the dockyards. U-1197 was then decommissioned on 25 April at Wesermunde, when the majority of the crew were taken off to join the Naval Field Division for infantry combat duties. When the Wesermunde dockyard was evacuated on 30 April, U-1197 (with just a skeleton and non-operational crew) moved back up the Weser River, this time to the small port of Brake on the west side of the Weser, half way between Wesermunde and Bremen, once again to act as a floating power station. However, when U-1197 arrived at Brake the port was found to be under British control, and so the U-Boat returned to Wesermunde, where it was captured by US troops.

So, to correct any residual misapprehensions about U-1197’s demise:

  1. U-1197 did not surrender in May 1945.
  2. U-1197 was de-commissioned by the Kriegsmarine at Wesermunde on 25 April 1945, having been badly damaged in a USAAF bombing raid on Bremen on 30 March 1945.
  3. U-1197 was captured by US troops in May 1945, after it had first moved to Brake in the Weser Estuary, and then returned to Wesermunde.
  4. U-1197 did not surrender in Wilhelmshaven, it was not taken to the UK, and it was not sunk in Operation Deadlight.
  5. Finally, U-1197 was towed out into the North Sea and sunk by the US Navy in mid-February 1946 in position 57-43n, 06-13e in approx 150 fathoms of water.

U-1197’s final disposal was organised by the US Navy because, unlike all the other ports in north west Germany, Bremen, Bremerhaven and the Weser Estuary were retained as a US enclave in the British occupation zone. As U-1197 was afloat, even though it had not surrendered, the US authorities were required to sink it because it was one of the defined “unallocated” U-Boats which, according to the decisions of the Tripartite Naval Commission established by the Potsdam Agreement, had to be sunk in the open sea in a depth of not less that one hundred metres no later than 15 February 1946.

As a result of this research, I have now removed U-1197 from my list of the U-Boats which surrendered, and I hope that this will now be accepted as the definitive version of U-1197's demise. Also, it illustrates the difficulty of establishing and defining the facts concerning the fate of just one of the U-Boats which had not even been lost at sea during the war. However, if anyone knows anything to the contrary, or can add anything to the detailed story of U-1197's final weeks and days, such information would be a welcome addition to the history of this particular U-Boat.

This article was published on 18 Nov 2010.

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