The U-Boats that Surrendered - U-Boats at Lisahally in Lough Foyle, near Londonderry, N. Ireland 1945 to 1949

by Derek Waller


1. In May 1945 the Royal Naval port at Lisahally, in Lough Foyle near Londonderry in Northern Ireland became a centre of activity for the receipt, processing and ultimate disposal of many of the German U-Boats that had surrendered elsewhere in Europe at the end of the war. The base at Lisahally had previously been used by the Americans during the war, but they had moved out in the autumn of 1944 and it had then been closed. However, in view of the need to accommodate the surrendered German U-Boats, the base was temporarily re-commissioned in May 1945 as HMS Ferret IV. The first Captain (Submarines), Lisahally was Captain R M G Gambier, RN, and he and his staff arrived on 9 and 10 May. The main office and Wardroom were located in Lisahally House, and the ratings were accommodated in the nearby old American camp. There were two jetties available for the U-Boats: the Admiralty Jetty and the American Jetty, and the first eight U-Boats arrived on 14 May. From then until February 1946, Lisahally was a hive of U-Boat-related activity before, after the sinking of 30 of the U-Boats off Malin Head, and the disposal of others to Russia, America and France, there were just six remaining. These six U-Boats had been allocated to the Royal Navy for experimental and technical purposes, but all the necessary trials had finished by the end of January 1946, and the six remained in the vicinity of Lisahally until early 1949, when they were declared as surplus to requirements and towed away to various ship-breakers yards in the UK for disposal as scrap later in the year.

Planning for German Naval Disarmament

2. UK plans for German naval disarmament were initially formulated in 1942 and 1943, and one of the prime objectives was to ensure the total elimination of the Kriegsmarine at the end of the war. It was assumed that Britain would occupy the north west zone in any division of Germany, and that the Royal Navy would become responsible for the main German naval bases. Thus the RN intended that, at the cessation of hostilities, all surviving German U-Boats would quickly be moved to the UK prior to their disposal. However, Allied agreement was necessary before any final decisions were taken.

3. Despite this, the RN pressed ahead in the first half of 1944 with detailed planning for the post-war transfer of all the surviving German U-Boats to British ports. It was intended that the U-Boats would be moved temporarily to the naval port at Lisahally and to the naval anchorage in Loch Ryan in south west Scotland, whilst the UK sought Allied agreement for the wholesale scrapping or sinking of the U-Boats as early as possible after hostilities ended.

The Surrender Process

4. On 4 May 1945 the Kriegsmarine ordered all U-Boats to cease operations and return to Norwegian ports. Thereafter, the surrender of the U-Boats took place in two phases. First, there was the surrender of all German armed forces in Holland, Denmark and north west Germany, which came into effect on 5 May. Then there was the general German surrender which came into effect on 9 May. This led to the Allied order that all U-Boats, including those in Norwegian ports, were to surrender. Those at sea were to head for one of a number of designated reception ports, the prime one of which was Loch Eriboll in north west Scotland.

5. Whilst 156 U-Boats surrendered to the Allies on both sides of the Atlantic at the end of the war in Europe, initial interest was focussed on those that were still at sea, and eventually 49 U-Boats put into Allied harbours or surrendered to Allied forces at sea on both sides of the Atlantic.

Operation Pledge

6. The Royal Navy’s Operation Pledge covered the transfer of the U-Boats which had surrendered in Europe in May 1945, either from sea or in port, to the anchorages at Lisahally and Loch Ryan. The first U-Boat to surrender from sea, the type VIIC (U-1009), arrived in Loch Eriboll on 10 May and, between then and 18 May, a further 17 U-Boats arrived there. However, none of them spent long in Loch Eriboll. They were moved quickly to Loch Alsh on the west coast of Scotland, where the majority of the German crews were taken into captivity, and from there the U-Boats were moved to Lisahally to await final disposal.

7. There was one exception to this process. U-532 which had surrendered from sea at Loch Eriboll on 13 May, and which was then taken to Loch Alsh, was moved to Liverpool for its cargo to be unloaded rather than being moved directly to Lisahally. However, this did not prove possible, and U-532 was sailed to Barrow for unloading prior to its transfer to Lisahally. Whilst in Liverpool, the U-Boat was inspected by Admiral Sir Max Horton in the Gladstone Dock on 17 May amid considerable publicity - thus giving rise to the oft-repeated, but erroneous, story that it had surrendered there.

8. Additionally, Admiral Sir Max Horton arranged a public ceremony at Lisahally on 14 May, where he accepted the formal, but staged, surrender of the eight U-Boats which had been the first to surrender from sea in Loch Eriboll, and which were being transferred to Lisahally via Loch Alsh (U-293, U-802, U-826, U-1009, U-1058, U-1105, U-1109 and U-1305). These eight U-Boats were manned by skeleton German crews under the supervision of RN personnel and, as they sailed into Lough Foyle, they were escorted by warships from the Royal Navy (HMS Hesperus), the Royal Canadian Navy (HMCS Thetford Mines) and the US Navy (USS Robert I Paine) in recognition of their joint contribution to the Battle of the Atlantic.

9. When the U-Boats arrived at Lisahally their senior officers, led by Oberleutnant Klaus Hilgendorf who had commanded U-1009, made a formal surrender to Admiral Horton on behalf of the German U-Boat fleet. As well as Admiral Horton, the official party at Lisahally included representatives of the Canadian and US Navies, and personnel from HMS Ferret, RNAS Eglinton (HMS Gannet), RNAS Maydown (HMS Shrike), the Army and RAF Ballykelly. There was also a representative of the Irish Defence Forces, Colonel Dan Bryan. His presence was an acknowledgement of the assistance given by the Irish government in the Battle of the Atlantic. This ceremony, which was given extensive press coverage, has been responsible for the long-held, but nevertheless incorrect belief that some of the U-Boats actually surrendered directly in Lough Foyle.

10. On 16 May, a further 15 U-Boats were sighted off the north Norwegian coast whilst being moved to Trondheim from Narvik where they had surrendered on 9 and 10 May. The group was intercepted on 17 May, it was directed to Loch Eriboll, arriving on 19 May, and by midnight on 21 May, all of these U-Boats had sailed for Loch Alsh for onward movement to Lisahally.

11. Once these U-Boats had been processed at Loch Eriboll, the reception organisation was moved to Scapa Flow in the Orkney Islands in order to process the remaining U-Boats that had surrendered and thus needed to be moved to either Lisahally or Loch Ryan. The process was given added impetus because by mid-May the Norwegian ports in particular were over-crowded with surrendered U-Boats. There was therefore an urgent need to clear the Norwegian and German ports and on 24 May the Admiralty, without telling the Russians, but with the support of the Americans, ordered that all seaworthy U-Boats should be moved to the UK as soon as possible.

12. The first group of 12 U-Boats arrived at Scapa Flow on 30 May and, after processing, were sent to either Lisahally or Loch Ryan. Between then and 5 June, a further 52 U-Boats arrived from Norway at Scapa Flow, from where they too were transferred to either Lisahally or Loch Ryan. The 64 U-Boats which were processed at Scapa Flow remained there for a very short time, and they were then moved directly to either Lisahally (14) or Loch Ryan (50).

13. After 5 June there were still 35 seaworthy surrendered U-Boats in Norwegian and German ports, and these were transferred directly to either Lisahally or Loch Ryan during June 1945. Finally, the two U-Boats that had surrendered from sea in Gibraltar and the three that had surrendered from sea in Portland were transferred to either Loch Ryan or Lisahally. Thus, by the end of July 1945, 137 seaworthy U-Boats had been transferred to Lisahally and Loch Ryan, one of which had been returned to the Dutch Navy. Also, a U-Boat that had been interned in Spain since September 1943 had been moved to Loch Ryan.

The Potsdam Agreement

14. After the German surrender in May 1945, discussions continued between the Allies concerning the final disposal of all the surviving German naval vessels, and it was decided that only 30 U-Boats would be retained, to be divided equally between Britain, America and Russia. This was the result of high-level political discussions between Marshal Stalin, President Truman and Prime Ministers Churchill and (later) Attlee at Potsdam near Berlin between 17 July and 2 August 1945. In respect of the U-Boats, it was also agreed to set up a Tripartite Naval Commission (TNC) to recommend the specific allocations to each country.

The Tripartite Naval Commission

15. The TNC began its work on 15 August 1945, and this included a review of the U-Boats moored in Loch Ryan and at Lisahally. The TNC’s staff visited Lisahally between 29 August and 3 September and, on 10 October, after inspecting the surrendered U-Boats there, as well as those in Loch Ryan, announced which 10 U-Boats were to be allocated to each of the UK, the USA and Russia. As a result, of the 135 U-Boats in the UK, eight were allocated to the UK, one to the USA and 10 to Russia. This therefore left 116 unallocated U-Boats in Loch Ryan and at Lisahally awaiting final disposal by the Royal Navy and, in respect of these, the TNC decided that they were to be destroyed by not later than 15 February 1946.

16. In view of the onset of winter and the prospects of stormy seas in the North Atlantic, a number of prompt executive actions were necessary to implement these decisions, especially the transfer from Lisahally of the 10 U-Boats to Russia, and the disposal by sinking of the 116 unallocated U-Boats, 30 of which were moored at Lisahally.

U-Boat Activity at Lisahally between May 1945 and February 1946

17. Whilst the original transfer of the surrendered German U-Boats to Loch Ryan and Lisahally was supposed to be simply a means of ensuring their safe-keeping pending Allied decisions about their future, the U-Boats at Lisahally were nevertheless subject to considerable activity between their arrival and the implementation of the Potsdam Agreement in August and the subsequent TNC decisions in October.

18. After the arrival of the eight U-Boats for Admiral Horton’s formal surrender ceremony on 14 May, other U-Boats continued to arrive in threes and fours practically every other day until, by 31 May, there were 37 at Lisahally. Also, during the latter half of the month, U-1009, which was one of those which arrived on 14 May, was sailed up the River Foyle to Londonderry where it was open for visitors.

19. The other significant event at Lisahally in May was the arrival of the US Navy’s Submarine Mission to Europe (SubMisEu), the specific purpose of which was to locate and take to the United States some of the high-technology German U-Boats that had been identified by US Naval Intelligence. To this end, a small team was formed in the USA in March 1945, and its particular target was the German’s newly-developed, 1600 ton, high-speed, ocean-going, type XXI U-Boat.

20. After VE Day, SubMisEu was rapidly expanded from its initial small cadre, and the Mission, which was commanded by Captain George A Sharp USN, comprised some 150-200 US officers and men. It was formed at the US Navy Submarine Base in New London, Connecticut, and then flown to England. Initially it was based near Plymouth, before being flown to RNAS Maydown near Londonderry in late May 1945. The Mission was assigned a group of huts at Lisahally for both living quarters and administrative use, although the four most senior officers were allocated a large house in Clooney Park West in Londonderry.

21. As no type XXI U-Boats had surrendered from sea in America, it was clear that if the US Navy was to obtain the two type XXI U-Boats that it required, they would have to be selected from the 12 examples that had surrendered and which were in Royal Navy custody at Lisahally. However, the agreed allocation process was unlikely to be completed before the end of 1945 and, as a result, the US Navy, with the full support of the Royal Navy, decided to take urgent, covert and unilateral action to transfer two of the type XXI U-Boats across the Atlantic without informing the Russians.

22. When the SubMisEu arrived at Lisahally at the end of May there were no type XXI U-boats available for immediate hand-over to the US Naval party and so, for training purposes, they were given early access to a type VIIC U-Boat, as well as to a type IXC U-Boat (U-802). However, a number of type XXI U-Boats arrived at Lisahally in early June, and one of these (U-2513) was quickly transferred to US Navy control. Then, during June further type XXI U-Boats arrived from Norway, as did U-3008, which had sailed from Germany on 21 June and which arrived at Lisahally on 27 June. After that, the US Navy returned the type VIIC U-Boat to Royal Navy control, and took over U-2506 and U-3008. SubMisEu then decided that the latter, along with U-2513, would be the two U-Boats to be moved to the USA, and that U-2506 would be used simply as a source of spares.

23. June also saw much U-Boat activity at Lisahally, with more arriving from Norway, and some being transferred to Loch Ryan, and by the end of the month there were 58 U-Boats at Lisahally. At the same time, the Royal Navy was preparing to conduct trials with a number of the U-Boats, again without the knowledge or prior approval of the Russians. To this end, the Royal Navy’s Admiral (Submarines) held a meeting in London on 25 June to discuss the Royal Navy’s plans for early (and covert) Trials to be carried out in, and with, U-Boats and, as a result, the first two U-Boats involved - the type VIICs U-1105 and U-1171 - were sailed to Holy Loch in Scotland on 29 June. Additionally, the large transport U-Boat, U-861, was moved to Pembroke Dock near Milford Haven on 10 June for the removal of 110 tones of tin, 30 tons of wolfram and 40 tons of rubber which it had been transporting from Japan to Germany before it had surrendered.

24. On 5 July Captain P Q Roberts took over command as Captain (Submarines), Lisahally, and the month continued as a busy time for the U-Boats. No more surrendered U-Boats arrived, and by 31 July there were 51 U-Boats under British control and four under American control. Major events included the transfer of U-2326 and U-2502 to Holy Loch for Royal Navy trials on 6 July, and the return of the Dutch submarine (U-Boat) UD-5 to Dutch Navy control. It was re-named O.27 (which was its original designation before being captured by the Germans in 1940) and, under the command of Lt De Beer RNN, it sailed from Lisahally with a Dutch crew on 24 July.

25. As far as the Americans were concerned, there were two significant events in the month. First, on 1 July, an American seaman almost lost his life when a fire broke out whilst he was removing an electrical switch from U-2506 for use in U-2513. He was however saved by a German petty officer who volunteered to rescue him from the smoke-filled compartment. The second event was the formation of a society called "The Forgotten Submarine Bastards of Ireland" (FSBI). Many of the Americans were homesick and frustrated by what they saw as unnecessary delays in returning home with their two U-Boats, and this was a way of easing the tension. Membership cards were printed, and the initiation ceremony involved being rubber stamped on the right buttock with a design of shamrocks and the letters "FSBI". Indeed, some even went as far as having it tattooed on, and very proud of it they were too.

26. However, the main event of the month was the Royal Visit on 19 July, when their Majesties the King and Queen and HRH Princess Elizabeth passed through Lisahally en route to Londonderry. The Royal party arrived by car at the American Jetty, where the Lisahally ship’s company and officers were lined up, together with a US Navy Honor Guard. After being introduced to Captain Roberts, their Majesties walked past the type XXI U-Boats, but did not go onboard. They then talked to a number of the officers and men from both the British and the American crews, before embarking in the yacht Hiniesta and continuing up river to Londonderry.

27. August was another busy month for the U-Boats at Lisahally, with the type XXI U-Boat U-2502 (commanded by the famous Lt J S (Jimmy) Launders DSO*, DSC*, RN), being returned from Birkenhead with a burnt out main motor which had prevented it being used for the planned RN trials. In its place, U-3017 sailed for Barrow on 8 August. Also, the two type VIIC U-Boats, U-1105 and U-1171, which were already being used for RN trials paid short visits, and on 25 August the large cargo-carrying type IXD U-Boat, U-875, was sailed to Birkenhead for the removal of its cargo of optical glass and mercury carried in its keel.

28. The main event of the month was the departure of the US SubMisEu with their two type XXI U-boats, U-2513 and U-3008, which sailed to the USA on 6 August escorted by the US Navy submarine rescue vessel USS Brant, which had arrived from Bremerhaven in Germany loaded with type XXI spares. However, this was not before the Mission had returned U-802 and U-2506 to Royal Navy control, and a cocktail party to say farewell to Captain Sharp and his officers had been held in the Wardroom at Lisahally House on 4 August. The last significant event in the month occurred on 29 August, when the TNC party arrived to begin its 6-day inspection of the U-Boats, an activity that was conducted under a certain amount of tension, but which was eventually completed in a shorter time than had at first seemed possible. At the end of the month, there were 53 U-Boats remaining at Lisahally.

29. September was notable for the transfer of 15 type VIIC U-Boats from Lisahally to Loch Ryan in order to ease the congestion in Lough Foyle. This was effected by means of a daily shuttle service, with the U-Boats sailing, under escort, each morning, and the escort returning each evening with the U-Boat crews. On 12 September U-875 returned from Birkenhead having been unloaded, but on 19 September it’s sister U-Boat, U-874, was sailed to Birkenhead for dry docking and the removal of it’s keel cargo. There was a visit to Lisahally on 22 September by the Governor of Northern Ireland, the Earl of Granville, and his wife, the Countess of Granville, and they were accompanied by Flag Officer, Northern Ireland who inspected the accommodation to ensure its acceptability for the coming winter. Finally, on 30 September there were just 38 surrendered U-Boats remaining at Lisahally.

30. Once the TNC allocations had been announced on 10 October, the main activity at Lisahally in the month was the work necessary to make the 10 U-Boats that had been allocated to the Russian Navy ready for their transfer. Additionally, on 15 October the type XXIII U-Boat, U-2326, was returned from Holy Loch, having completed its planned trials, and on 21 October the type XXI U-Boat, U-3017, was returned from Barrow after an on-board explosion and fire, which caused the Royal Navy to cancel all further trials with any of the type XXI U-Boats. On 22 October U-874 returned from Birkenhead, having unloaded its cargo, providing a little bit of light relief in the process when (to quote Captain Roberts) while coming up river it made a spirited attempt to demolish the Longfield Light Pylon, owing to a failure of steering gear. Luckily, U-874 just managed to avoid the pylon, but instead succeeded in going aground alongside it at the top of the spring tide. However, after a day on the mud, the U-Boat was refloated on the evening tide without having sustained any damage. At the end of the month there were 40 surrendered U-Boats at Lisahally.

31. On 1 November four more U-Boats arrived from Loch Ryan. Three of these were due to be transferred to Russia, and the fourth to the USA (although that transfer was subsequently cancelled). However, the principal activities of Captain (Submarines), Lisahally and his staff concerned the arrangements for the transfer of the U-Boats to Russia in Operation Cabal, which began on 23 November.

32. December was mostly taken up with the preparations for Lisahally’s part in Operation Deadlight, which began at the very end of the month. The other significant events were the sailing of the last (delayed) U-Boat to Russia, U-3515, which departed on 6 December under tow by HMS Icarus, and the arrival on 31 December of three U-Boats from Loch Ryan (U-712, U-953 and U-2348), all of which had been allocated to the UK by the TNC for trials purposes, albeit that all the planned trials had then been completed, and that the Royal Navy had no further use for these U-Boats.

33. January 1946 saw the completion of the main part of Operation Deadlight, with the sinking of 28 out for the 30 U-Boats planned for destruction being completed by 8 January and, by the end of the month, there were just 10 U-Boats remaining at Lisahally. Two of these were destined to be sunk in the final phase of Operation Deadlight, two were destined to be transferred to France in Operation Thankful, and six had been allocated to the Royal Navy for trials, but were no longer required.

34. The busy work at Lisahally over the previous eight months in connection with the surrendered German U-Boats essentially came to an end in February 1946. The two U-Boats destined for France, U-2326 and U-2518, departed from Lisahally on 6 February, and the final two Deadlight U-Boats, U-975 and U-3514, were sunk on 10 and 12 February respectively. The six remaining U-Boats, U-712, U-953, U-1108, U-1171, U-2348 and U-3017, all of which had been formally allocated to the UK, were therefore left on the moorings at Lisahally awaiting Admiralty decisions about their future.

Operation Cabal

35. The move of the 10 U-Boats that had been allocated to Russia from Lisahally to the Russian-controlled port of Libau in Latvia was a major undertaking for the Royal Naval authorities in Lisahally. It involved seven of the U-Boats which were moored at Lisahally (U-1058, U-1231, U-1305, U-2529, U-3035, U-3041 and U-3515), and three which had been held in Loch Ryan, but which were transferred to Lough Foyle on 31 October (U-1057, U-1064 and U-2353), three weeks before they were due to leave for Russia. However, owing to congestion on the moorings at Lisahally and lack of accommodation, these three U-Boats were berthed at Londonderry instead.

36. Operation Cabal, which was the code name for the move, and which was commanded by Captain P Q Roberts, Captain (Submarines) Lisahally, involved eight RN escort vessels, and each of the 10 U-Boats had a Royal Navy CO and crew. The escort vessels arrived in Lough Foyle on 18 and 19 November, and the 10 Russian naval officers who were to embark as observers, one in each U-Boat, arrived on 19 November. The original intention was that the 10 U-Boats should sail to Libau under their own power but, in the event, only five of the U-Boats were deemed to be capable of proceeding the whole way unaided, and it was decided to tow the remaining five.

37. The transfer began on 23 November when four of the U-Boats that were to be towed (by HMS Riou, HMS Zephyr, HMS Tremadoc Bay and HMS Narborough) were moved down river to Moville where they were anchored for the night before sailing the following morning. On 24 November the five under power (escorted by HMS Garth, HMS Eglinton and HMS Zetland) sailed from Lisahally, though their departure was delayed until the afternoon by dense fog in the Lough. The tenth U-Boat was a late substitute because of a last-minute accident, and it did not sail (under tow by HMS Icarus) until 6 December.

38. The five U-Boats which sailed under their own power had a relatively trouble-free journey to Libau. However, it was a different matter for those that were under tow. The four which set out on 24 November experienced considerable bad weather en route, including Force 10 gales, and all had problems with their towing gear. Indeed, only seven of the U-Boats arrived at Libau on 4 December. The remaining three had all suffered considerable delays due to a combination of poor weather, technical defects and towing problems, with the last one (together with HMS Icarus) not arriving in Libau until 2 February 1946.

Operation Deadlight

39. The Royal Navy’s Operation Deadlight was the executive action which led to the sinking of 116 German U-Boats off Northern Ireland between 27 November 1945 and 12 February 1946. Because the imminent onset of winter and its associated rough seas in the area to the north west of Loch Ryan and Lisahally would make the towing and sinking of the U-Boats a hazardous task, it was decided that the action should be initiated without delay. The formal order for Operation Deadlight, which was issued on 14 November, involved just 30 U-Boats from Lisahally. The Operation itself started on 25 November, but Phase 1 was concerned with the U-Boats from Loch Ryan. Phase 2 started on 29 December 1945 and, despite the relatively small number of U-Boats from Lisahally (only 26% of the total sunk), it was a major exercise which involved more Royal Navy and other vessels than the number of U-Boats themselves.

40. The surface fleet, which included 19 destroyers and frigates - of which three belonged to the Polish Navy - and which was under the overall command of Captain St.J A Micklethwait, DSO**, RN, (Captain (D) 17th Flotilla) - was moored at Moville near the mouth of Lough Foyle. The arrangements were that each day during the operation, small groups of U-Boats would be brought down river from Lisahally by skeleton German crews, who would handover each U-boat to one of the surface vessels, disembark, and then be ferried back to Lisahally. The aim was that the U-Boats should then be towed (unmanned) to a designated position 130 miles to the north west of Lough Foyle, where they would be sunk. The prime method was to be by the use of demolition charges, however if weather conditions allowed, three were to be sunk by torpedo from the submarine HMS Templar. If any of these methods of disposal failed, then the U-Boats were to be sunk by gunfire.

41. As expected, the weather was particularly bad in December 1945 and January 1946, and the planned disposal arrangements did not work on the vast majority of occasions, especially as far as the plans for sinking the U-Boats with demolition charges were concerned. There were also major problems with the towing of the unmanned U-Boats by vessels which were not suited to such activity. Comparison of the planned disposal arrangements for the 30 U-Boats from Lisahally with what actually happened shows the scale of disruption to the plans. Not a single one of the U-Boats were sunk by demolition charges, and only one was sunk by torpedo. Of the remaining 29, three foundered under tow and 24 were sunk by gunfire before they ever reached the designated scuttling area. The remaining two were sunk by gunfire in the scuttling area, as it was far too dangerous to follow the pre-planned demolition procedure.

42. Of the U-Boats from Lisahally sunk in Operation Deadlight, 28 were sunk between 29 December 1945 and 8 January 1946, and the remaining two, U-975 and U-3514, were sunk on 10 and 12 February 1946 respectively. The 30 U-Boats concerned were:

U-244, U-278, U-294, U-363, U-516, U-541, U-668, U-764, U-802, U-825, U-861, U-874, U-875, U-883, U-901, U-930, U-975, U-1010, U-1022, U-1023, U-1109, U-1165, U-2336, U-2341, U-2351, U-2356, U-2502, U-2506, U-2511 and U-3514.

43. Finally, during the course of Operation Deadlight local newspaper reporters were invited to view the proceedings, and on 30 December Mr A O’Doherty of the Derry Journal, Mr D J Ruddock of the Derry Standard and Mr M Cannon of the Irish News boarded HMS Zealous to witness the day’s events. There were however reporting restrictions in place, and the reporters were forbidden to publish any stories without first obtaining Admiralty approval.

Operation Thankful

44. Operation Thankful involved the transfer of the type XXIII U-Boat, U-2326, and the type XXI U-Boat, U-2518, from the Royal Navy to the French Navy in February 1946. At the end of the war, France had been keen to be allocated a number of the U-Boats that had surrendered, but though Britain had considerable sympathy with the proposal, it was vetoed by Russia. However, by the time the British share of the surrendered U-Boats was decided in late 1945, almost all the planned Royal Navy trials had been completed, and there was no further requirement for nine out of the 10 that had been allocated to the UK. The 10th (U-190) had surrendered in Canada, and had already been given to the Royal Canadian Navy.

45. The Royal Navy had conducted trials on U-2326, but these had been completed in October, after which the U-Boat had been returned to Lisahally, and U-2518 had never been used following its transfer to Lisahally from Norway. The Royal Navy therefore decided that these two U-Boats, for which they had no further use, should be handed-over to the French Navy on long-term loan.

46. Thus, almost the final episode of the story of the U-Boats at Lisahally began on 5 February 1946 when HMS Tremadoc Bay (Lt Cdr F D Cole) and HM Tug Bustler sailed from Lisahally for Molville at the mouth of Lough Foyle to await the arrival of the two U-Boats the following day. On 6 February they sailed for Cherbourg in France, with Tremadoc Bay towing U-2326 and Bustler towing U-2518. Both U-Boats were crewed by RN personnel. However, heavy weather in the Irish Sea, towing problems and defects caused a diversion into Dublin Bay on 7 February for three days. The transfer resumed on 10 February, and the group finally arrived in Cherbourg on 13 February where the two U-boats were handed over to the French Navy.

The Russian Connection

47. Lisahally played host to Russian naval officers on two occasions during 1945. The first was in August when the Russian delegation from the TNC arrived to inspect the surrendered U-Boats prior to decisions about their ultimate fate. The second was in November when a party of Russians arrived to assist with the transfer of 10 of the U-Boats to Russia in Operation Cabal. However, whilst personal relations between the naval officers of the three Allies in the TNC were surprisingly cordial, the same cannot be said of the experiences at Lisahally.

48. By the time the war in Europe ended, the Royal Navy’s First Sea Lord, Admiral of the Fleet Sir Andrew Cunningham, and the other members of the Navy Board had become very suspicious of the Russians. Indeed, this attitude was illustrated in the Admiralty’s Directive to the British Representatives on the TNC, which included such unequivocal statements as:

It is, generally speaking, HMG’s policy not to give the Russians technical or other information except on the basis of strict reciprocity, owing to the almost complete failure of the Russians heretofore to make information available to the UK.

You are accordingly to interpret narrowly the rights of inspection when applying it to the USSR.

In general, you should be aware that the Admiralty and other Departments of HMG have learnt by bitter experience that it is useless to negotiate with the Russians in a spirit of reasonable compromise.

49. It was therefore hardly surprising that the visits by Russian naval officers to Lisahally in August and November 1945 did not go as smoothly as might have been wished. It was clear before the TNC visit to Lisahally, which was scheduled to take place between 29 August and 3 September that, whereas the Russians desired to make a slow, thorough and meticulous inspection of each U-Boat, the Royal Navy preferred to see short and quick inspections. There were some 150 German naval vessels, including U-Boats, in the UK and the RN wished to see the whole inspection exercise completed in 11 days, whereas the Russian proposals could take several months. In the end, the Lisahally inspection did not exceed its planned 6 days, but there were some tense moments, particularly as Captain Roberts was not a man to be crossed. Nevertheless, after the inspection there were formal complaints by the Admiral who headed the Russian delegation to the TNC, including complaints about the hotel accommodation in Lisahally, the rudeness of certain Royal Navy officers, and the fact that much of the radio and radar equipment had been removed from a number of the U-Boats. Needless to say, these complaints were given short shift by the Admirals who were in the British delegation to the TNC.

50. Similar problems arose in relation to the arrival in Lisahally of the Russian naval officers who were to accompany the 10 U-Boats to Libau. The Russians were determined to insist on a meticulous examination of each U-Boat, and proposed that all defects, however small, should be made good before sailing, even if this required any U-Boat to be docked. Again, however, these difficulties and delaying tactics, which included two requests for the transfer to be delayed, were given no credence by Captain Roberts, who also refused to delay the sailings. This resulted in a formal complaint from the Russian Naval Attaché in London, but again to no avail. The Royal Navy was not inclined to take instructions from the Russians.

The German Connection

51. There is no doubt that the U-Boat-related activities at Lisahally could not have been completed without the support and active participation of the German Navy POWs, most of whom co-operated actively, though there were some who were not so keen to assist. Almost all the U-Boats which arrived at Lisahally had some German crew members on board, both officers and other ranks, and to illustrate the size of the German POW contingent, the minutes of a meeting held in London on 25 June 1945, chaired by Admiral (Submarines), includes the statement that:

Rear Admiral Creasy emphasised that …at the moment [June 1945] there were between 400 and 500 [Royal Navy] officers and men employed in looking after and maintaining the U-Boats [in Loch Ryan and Lisahally], together with about 1,200 German personnel.

52. The prime task of the German POWs at Lisahally was the maintenance of the surrendered U-Boats pending decisions about their disposal or retention, and the Monthly Reports written by Captain (Submarines), Lisahally between June and December 1945 invariably included comments about the POWs. Each group of five U-Boats had a German maintenance party comprising an Executive Officer, and Engineering Officer and about 30 men, and these lived in one of the U-Boats in each group. The Captain’s June Report, for instance, records that:

So far the German maintenance crews have behaved reasonably well, though there are signs at times that they are getting somewhat restive, especially being cooped up in such a confined space.

53. In July, he reported that:

The German crews continue to behave reasonably well although there have been one or two cases of German officers being unable to maintain proper discipline amongst their men. It is expected to move the German crews into camp accommodation early in August. While this should improve the cleanliness, it may react unfavourably on discipline when the ratings are accommodated together.

54. In contrast to the very "proper" attitude that the Royal Navy adopted in relation to its German POWs, the US Navy SubMisEu took a slightly more relaxed approach. It was clear from the start that the US Navy would need assistance to ensure that their two type XXI U-boats were fit for their Atlantic crossing, and the Mission wished to include German crew members for the crossing itself. To help with the task of getting all the U-Boat systems’ working, the Intellegence staff at Lisahally therefore selected a group of non-Nazi prisoners who were willing to co-operate with the Americans. The group comprised four officers and about 25 petty officers, all of whom have served in Type VII or type IX U-Boats, although only a few had served any time in the type XXIs. However, as reported by Lt Cdr Ira Dye, USN, who would become the CO of U-2513 for its Atlantic crossing:

They proved useful to the point of being indispensable. A couple of the cleaner Type VII U-Boats were moved to our pier near U-2513 and U-3008 to serve as living quarters for them, and everyone, American and German, pitched in to get the two type XXIs ready for their trip to New London.

55. When the time to sail arrived, a number of the German POWs volunteered to help get the two U-Boats back to the United States and successfully operating thereafter. Thus Lt Schmidt and about 12 German petty officers were integrated into the U-3008 crew, and Lt Backer and another 12 German petty officers joined Lt Cdr Dye’s U-2513 crew.

56. Captain Roberts was obviously keeping a very close eye on the situation with what he called The Prisoners, and his August Report said that:

On the whole the Germans have given little trouble and continue to work moderately well, with the standard of cleanliness in the U-Boats slowly improving. The officers gave some trouble towards the end of the month, becoming obstreperous and threatening to go on strike; the removal of the blackest Nazi, firm action and a direct order to return to work proved effective. On 28 August the Camp accommodation ashore at last became ready for occupation and the German crews moved in during the day. In some respects their new quarters are considerably better than those occupied by British submarine crews in Lisahally Camp.

57. He had nothing to say about the POWs in September, but his October Report records that:

There has been no trouble at all with the German rating prisoners, but certain of the officers have given further trouble and five of them have been removed to a proper POW camp to undergo various sentences of detention. They had always been trouble-makers and they will not return here.

58. Captain Roberts’ final words on the topic appear in his November Report:

German prisoners have given no trouble and appear to be quite pleased at the forthcoming scuttling of their ships. The presence of numbers of Russian officers at Lisahally produced marked reaction.

The End of the Lisahally U-Boat Story

59. After the transfer of the 10 U-Boats to Russia, the sinking of the 30 U-Boats in Operation Deadlight, and the transfer of the two U-Boats to France, only six U-Boats remained at Lisahally. Of these, one (U-3017) had been earmarked for trials, but had been returned to Lisahally after an on-board explosion in August 1945, one (U-1171) had been used for trials between June 1945 and January 1946 before being returned to Lisahally, and the other four (U-712, U-953, U-1108 and U-2348) had never been used by the Royal Navy nor was there any further interest in using any of them for trial purposes. By then, the reason for which HMS Ferret IV had been set up and the purpose for which the Captain (Submarines), Lisahally had been established had ended, and HMS Ferret IV was paid off to care and maintenance on 19 July 1946.

60. In September 1946 the Admiralty announced that these six U-Boats had been allocated to the Ship Target Trials Committee for use as target ships. However, even then they remained unused at Lisahally until 1947 when the Admiralty decided to re-commission the base as HMS Sea Eagle which would be a school for anti-submarine warfare training (the Joint Anti-Submarine School - JASS). At the same time the ex-Landing Ship-Tank (LST-3515), which had just been commissioned as HMS Stalker, was moved to Lisahally to act as the submarine support vessel for the Royal Navy submarines that were based there in support of the JASS. There was therefore a need to remove the six U-Boats from Lisahally, and so they were towed up the River Foyle for berthing at Londonderry. Each U-Boat was manned by a crew of three, including one officer, with one of them being commanded by Sub Lt Ron Cox, RNVR.

61. Subsequently, at a Meeting in London on 1 July 1948, the Chairman of the Ship Target Trials Committee stated that there were no proposals for using the six ex-German U-Boats. As a result, they were authorised for sale as scrap in early 1949 and transferred from Londonderry to various ship-breakers yards around the UK for disposal action later that year. Thus the story of Lisahally and the surrendered German U-Boats in Lough Foyle, which had begun in May 1945, finally came to an end some four years after it had started.


62. The Royal Naval port at Lisahally in Lough Foyle near Londonderry played a key part in the dispersal and disposal of the German U-Boats which surrendered at the end of the war, an activity which kept it’s Captain and his staff very busy from May 1945 until February 1946. The first U-Boats to arrive did so on 14 May 1945, and thereafter the moorings at Lisahally were host to large numbers of surrendered U-Boats throughout the year. There was a US Navy presence from May to August, which resulted in two U-Boats being covertly transferred to the USA, and Russian naval officers were in evidence at Lisahally in August and November. There was even a Royal Visit in July, followed by a visit from the Governor General in September. Lisahally then played the major role in the transfer of 10 of the surrendered U-Boats to Russia in November 1945, as well as making a significant contribution to Operation Deadlight, which was the sinking of all the surplus U-Boats in late 1945 and early 1946. Throughout this time, there were considerable numbers of German prisoners of war at Lisahally assisting with the maintenance of the U-Boats and, whilst there were a few who caused trouble and needed to be moved elsewhere, the majority co-operated in what was obviously a job well done by Captain P Q Roberts and his Royal Naval staff. Finally, by the end of February 1946 there were just six U-Boats remaining at Lisahally and, though these were then allocated to the Royal Navy’s Ship Target Trials Committee in mid-1946, they were never used as targets, being eventually broken-up for scrap in 1949.

This article was published on 4 Sep 2011.

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