View Full Version : German sub menaces North Sea 61 years after sinking

01-11-2007, 01:20 PM
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German sub menaces North Sea 61 years after sinking
Norway weighs how to neutralize lethal World War II cargo

By Alan Cowell and Walter Gibbs
Published: January 10, 2007

Kristoffer Karlsen of Fedje, Norway, was 12 when he witnessed the explosion of a German submarine some way out to sea. ( Helge Hansen for The New York Times)

FEDJE, Norway: World War II was edging to a close as Kristoffer Karlsen peered from this rocky outcrop off Norway's coast and saw what he took to be a huge explosion some way out to sea.

Twelve-years-old at the time, he could hardly have realized that he had witnessed a remarkable moment that revealed something of Adolf Hitler's intentions toward America in the closing stages of the war, and presaged a potential ecological disaster 61 years later.

"I knew it was a submarine," said Karlsen, a 73-year-old retired ship's pilot, gesturing across the choppy gray expanse of the North Sea toward the site of the blast on Feb. 9, 1945.

On that day, he said in an interview, he was out gathering peat with his grandmother on this island, then, like the rest of Norway, under Nazi occupation. "It was a big explosion but soon after it was calm and there was nothing to see," he said. "But in the German garrison there was a lot of activity."

That is hardly surprising. The plume of water and debris, rising 60 meters, or 200 feet, into the air, was the result of a torpedo fired from a prowling British submarine, the Venturer, that struck the German sub U-864 amidships at the very start of a clandestine voyage to Japan.

As the German vessel sank in two parts into more than 120 meters of water, it took with it not only the 73 men on board, but also 65 tons of mercury for the Japanese munitions industry and, some historical accounts say, a newly developed German jet-fighter engine ? technology that was supposed to give the Axis powers an edge in the closing stages of the war. Much later there were rumors ? and they remained just that ? that the vessel was carrying fabled Nazi gold or even Hitler's last will and testament.

In 2005, a study published in Britain by Mark Felton, a naval historian, said there had been a long-standing submarine trade between Japan and Germany in aircraft and missile parts, and in information related to the development of an atomic bomb.

Eric Grove, a naval historian at the University of Salford in northwest England who has studied the submarine wreck, said: "The idea was to keep the Americans tied down in the East" to draw forces away from the campaign in Europe. "Hitler was getting increasingly desperate."

The long saga of U-864, however, is far from over. Many of the canisters containing the liquid mercury are corroding. Small amounts of mercury have seeped out and Norwegian government tests around the wreck have detected slightly raised amounts of the metal in crabs and fish ? the country's second biggest export after oil and gas.

Kristian Hall, an environmental consultant with a Norwegian engineering firm, said the corroding canisters could produce a threat comparable to the disaster at Minamata, Japan, where 27 tons of industrial mercury compounds were released into a local bay from 1932 to 1968, causing nerve and brain damage to hundreds of townspeople whose main diet consisted of local seafood.

"If it is not taken care of properly," Hall said in an interview, "it could develop into a catastrophe, with corroding canisters beginning to fail one after the other."

Last month, the authorities in Norway proposed entombing the submarine in a sarcophagus, as has been done with other underwater hazards elsewhere.

But, Lisbeth Stuberg, an environmental protection officer who is one of the 630 people who live here all year, said many of the islanders want the wreck removed altogether and are planning a torchlight procession on Thursday to protest the government plan.

"There are so many questions and no answers," Stuberg said in an interview on this damp outpost north of Bergen, where the local newspaper has been printing a front-page tally of consecutive days of rain ? 73 by Monday. "If you cover it you do not know the consequences. You are only postponing the problem."

While islanders like Karlsen knew all along where the wreck lay, the authorities seem to have paid it little heed until a German engineer and amateur historian, Wolfgang Lauenstein, discovered details of its cargo in the late 1990s and the Norwegian Coast Guard pinned down its precise coordinates in 2003.

Officials in Norway believe that up to a third of the 1,857 flasks of mercury carefully stowed along the keel of the submarine now lie strewn over the seabed, many of them buried in mud, their condition unknown.

Cleaning up the mess is a tricky matter. "You can't just go down and pick up the wreck with all the mercury and deposit it safely ashore," said Gunnar Gjellan, a senior official in Norway's Coastal Administration. "At least 20 to 30 percent of the mercury would remain on the bottom regardless."

In an interview at the Coastal Administration's headquarters in Horten, in southern Norway, Gjellan said other options ? such as raising the wreck or removing the mercury using a remote- controlled mini-sub ? would be too risky because they could simply spread mercury contamination.

So the plan is to pour up to 300,000 tons of sand down a vertical chute to create a burial mound.

The mound would rise about 10 meters feet above the surrounding sea floor, enough to cover the highest points of the wrecked vessel.

The sand would then be covered by a half-meter-thick layer of rocks to prevent erosion.

"There is nothing temporary about such a solution," Gjellan asserted. "We have been told it would last forever, with zero leakage."

Ane Eide Kjaeraas, another official of the Coastal Administration, said the authorities sympathized with the desire of islanders to remove the wreck completely.

"But encapsulation is actually the best way to secure those things," Kjaeraas said, "even if lifting the vessel might seem better from a psychological or emotional point of view."

[URL=http://www.iht.com/articles/2007/01/10/news/norway.php<div class="ev_tpc_signature">

-Christian W.


01-11-2007, 08:29 PM
My wife is in the environmental field and she says a lot of times the best thing to do is encapsulate the problem area. If you start digging you could spread the problem and make it much worse.<div class="ev_tpc_signature">


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01-12-2007, 03:32 AM
65 tons of mercury!? Poor Norwegians, this could be extremely dangerous. Plus that "newly developed jet engine"... Could this be the BMW 003 that never reached Japan, forcing them to build it from scratch, using blueprints only?<div class="ev_tpc_signature">

Freude am fahren!

01-12-2007, 04:54 AM
send bill for 1 who caused it to remain there<div class="ev_tpc_signature">

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be something nearby the machine that is causing this problem for you. You may
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AKA LeOs.K_Anak

01-12-2007, 04:57 AM
The pictures of the sub shows that the stern half of the sub raises at an angle from the seabed, thus indicating that the thing is still watertight and filled with air. So there is a chance the cargo is still in good shape.
I've read that the cargo is supposed to consist of both jet engines and parts of a Me-163 Comet.

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01-12-2007, 05:10 AM
Originally posted by AnaK774:
send bill for 1 who caused it to remain there

I was reading about the Apollo moon missions recently. One of the astronauts sent in a travel claim for mileage that came to $80,000. In return he received a claim from NASA for one fully fueled, launch ready, Saturn V moon rocket. $80 million.

Mwuahhahhahaha.<div class="ev_tpc_signature">

Dum spiro, spero

01-12-2007, 05:31 AM
'Timewatch', BBC2, covered the whole voyage and sinking of this particular sub last week. A very good programme if you can see past the poor use of film clips and script errors - RAF Lancasters dropping Tallyboy bombs on Bergen U-boat pens (cue pictures of Blenheims and B-17s), and HMS Venturer apparently sinking HMS Barham http://forums.ubi.com/groupee_common/emoticons/icon_redface.gif (you know the clip; battleship turns turtle then boom! horrendous explosion rips her apart).

What the text in the initial post doesn't mention is that this is still the ONLY known instance of a sub-to-sub kill while underwater.

As for Anak774: please go away and play with some other cretins.

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Will the pubs never close, will the glass never drain?'

01-12-2007, 08:40 AM
Originally posted by Dunkelgrun:
and HMS Venturer apparently sinking HMS Barham http://forums.ubi.com/groupee_common/emoticons/icon_redface.gif (you know the clip; battleship turns turtle then boom! horrendous explosion rips her apart).

Using that as a piece of stock footage really irritates me.

Whenever a WW1/2 documentary mentions something being sunk (even merchant vessels) you can almost guarantee the poor old Barham will be shown in complete ignorance.<div class="ev_tpc_signature">