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Joseph M. Scalia. Germany's Last Mission to Japan: The Failed
Voyage of U-234. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2000. xxiv + 296
pp.  Photographs, appendix, notes, bibliography, index. $29.95
(cloth), ISBN 1-55750-811-9.
Reviewed for H-War by Charles C. Kolb <>, National
Endowment for the Humanities
[Disclaimer:  The opinions expressed herein are those of the
reviewer and not of his employer or any other federal agency.]
Fortuitous Failure -- The Mission of U-234 from Germany to Japan
Untersee boot U-234 was built between 1 October 1941 and 2 March
1944 at Kiel by F. Krupp Germaniawerft AG.  Originally designed in
1938, it was intended to be one of a total of eight Type XB
ocean-going mine-layers.  It was instead refitted as a transport
submarine and assigned to the perilous Germany-to-Japan run. This
was the largest type of German U-boat ever constructed at 1763 tons
displacement, 2710 tons submerged and fully loaded, and 89.9 meters
in overall length.  Under the command of Kapitanleutnant (Kptlt.,
e.g. Lt. Cdr.) Johann-Heinrich Fahler, U-234 was originally designed
to carry 66 SMA mines. It had only two stern torpedo tubes and
carried a maximum of fifteen torpedoes.[1]
A newly-designed breathing and exhaust mast, the Schnorchel,
permitted the U-234 to travel submerged for extraordinary distances.
U-234 departed Kiel on its maiden voyage on 25 March 1945, bound for
Kristiansand, Norway.  There it loaded important cargo and personnel
and departed on 15 April for a submerged voyage which was to take
them around the Cape of Good Hope, eventually concluding in Japan.
That transit was never completed.
Among the three hundred ton cargo was three complete Messerschmitt
aircraft, a Henschel HS-293 glider-bomb, extra Junkers jet engines,
and ten canisters containing 560 kg (1,235 lbs.) of uranium oxide
(U235).  The uranium oxide was to be used by the Japanese as a
catalyst for the production of synthetic methanol used for aviation
fuel.  Other cargo consisted of one ton of diplomatic mail and 6,615
pounds of technical material including drawings of ME 163 and ME 262
aircraft, plans for the building of aircraft factories, V-1 and V-2
weapons, naval ships (destroyers of classes 36C and Z51, and M and S
boats), and submarines (Types II, VII, IX, X, XI, XXI, and XXIII).
German fire-control computers, Lorenz 7H2 bombsights, Lufte 7D
bombsight computers, FUG 200 Hohehtweil airborne radars and bomb
fuses were also included in the manifest along with other military
equipment and personal luggage.
Previous examinations of the voyage of U-234 have centered on the
cargo carried by the vessel. The presence of the uranium oxide, for
example, has generated much interest and conjecture. Scalia,
however, shifts this focus, and argues that the submarine's greatest
value lay not in her cargo, but in the individuals who were
accompanying the material to Japan.
The twelve passengers included a German general and his staff, four
German naval officers, civilian engineers and scientists, and two
Japanese naval officers.  The latter were Lt. Cdr. Tomanaga Hideo, a
naval aviator and submarine specialist who had come to Germany by
Japanese submarine I-29 in 1943, and Lt. Shoji Genzo, an aircraft
specialist and former naval attach in several European countries.
Luftwaffe General (General der Flieger) Ulrich Kessler, a
Prussian-born diplomat and military strategist, was originally a
naval officer, but resigned his commission in 1933 and became
commander of Luftwaffe Stuka squadrons operating in Poland, Norway,
and France.  He was disliked by Goering and rumored to have been
involved in anti-Hitler activities, including the infamous
assassination plot.  Kessler was being sent to assist the Japanese
in combat tactics using squadrons of ME 262 and ME 163 aircraft
against Allied bombers.  Oberleutnant (1st Lt.) Erich Menzel, a
Luftwaffe navigator and bombardier who was an aeronautical
communications and radar expert, also had combat experience against
the British, Americans, and Russians. Oberstleutnant (Lt. Col.)
Fritz von Sandrart, a FLAK antiaircraft defense strategist, was
assigned to enhance Japanese defense systems.
There were four naval officers, each with different
responsibilities.  Fregattenkapitan (Lt. Cdr.) Gerhard Falcke, a
naval architect and construction engineer who spoke fluent Japanese,
was to use German naval blueprints to initiate new shipbuilding.
Kptlt. (Lt. Cdr.) Richard Bulla, who had the unique distinction of
serving as an officer in both the Luftwaffe and Kreigsmarine
simultaneously, was an expert on armaments, new weapons, and
carrier-based aviation. Oberleutnant Heinrich Hellendorn, a
shipboard FLAK artillery officer, served as a German observer, while
Kay Niescheling, an ardent National Socialist who was a naval
judicial and investigative officer, was being sent to rid the German
diplomatic corps in Japan of remnants of the Richard Sorge spy ring.
Among the civilian scientists was Dr. Heinz Schlicke, a radar,
infrared, and countermeasures specialist who was the director of the
Naval Test Fields in Kiel.  His task was to aid the Japanese in
developing and manufacturing electronic devices and instruments. Two
"men from Messerschmitt," August Bringewalde, Willi Messerschmitt's
"right-hand man"  who was in charge of ME 262 production, and Franz
Ruf, an industrial machinery specialist who designed machines and
appliances to manufacture aircraft components, were also among the
notable passengers.
The Tripartite Pact of 27 September 1940 for military and technical
cooperation between Germany, Italy, and Japan required reciprocal
exchanges of raw materials, equipment, and personnel.  Germany and
Japan encountered difficulties in their attempts to carry out this
exchange, though.  Axis blockade running vessels were being sunk
with increasing frequency thanks to MAGIC intercepts and decrypts.
When Germany invaded Russia in June 1941, shipping war material and
personnel via the Trans-Siberian Railway ceased abruptly as Russia
became an Anglo-American ally.[2] The fragile Japanese-Russian
non-aggression pact forced a maritime exchange, although there was
an alternative plan to fly the precious cargo and personnel across
Russia to Japan in three Junkers aircraft.
Between December 1940 and June 1941, five German merchant vessels
departed Japan, with three arriving in Bordeaux.  By February 1942,
nine German and three Italian vessels had made the voyage, but three
were sunk en route.  Fifteen Axis blockade runners departed the Far
East in the winter of 1942-1943, but only seven reached Europe,
while in 1944 only one of five ships departing Japan reached
Nazi-occupied Europe.  In 1942, a Japanese submarine cruiser
completed a mission from Japan to France and back but fell victim to
a mine in Singapore harbor.[3]
Hence, by July 1943, Axis submarines were pressed into transport
service.  Allied antisubmarine countermeasures resulted in severe
losses, however.  Three of seven reconfigured Italian submarines
reached Japan from Bordeaux, but only one of four Japanese
submarines sent to Europe completed the round trip. Because it was
too late to build new transport submarines, other large U-boats were
refitted.  One reached Japan and was commissioned into the Japanese
Navy, five boats out of eleven arrived at Penang, Malaya, and only
six of eighteen Type IXD/2 boats that departed Penang from 1943 to
1945 ever reached Europe.  (Roskill and Niestl provide additional
documentation of these events [4, 5].)  U-boats made the trip from
the Nazi-held ports of Kiel, Bordeaux, and Kristiansand to Kobe,
Japan via the Cape of Good Hope.  On 9 February 1945, the U-864,
which carried similar cargo and personnel to that of the U-234, was
torpedoed and sunk with the loss of all hands off Bergen, Norway by
the British submarine HMS Venturer.  Raw rubber, molybdenum,
tungsten, tin, zinc, opium, and quinine were typical cargoes
destined for Germany.
On 8 May, during the final days of the Third Reich, U-234 was
ordered to either return to Bergen or continue to Japan, but when
the European war ended, the Japanese severed relations with defeated
Nazi Germany.  On 10 May the Allies ordered all U-boats to
surrender.  Because U-234 had two Japanese nationals aboard and
Japan had already bought and paid for the uranium oxide, Kptlt.
Fahler faced a dilemma.  He conferred with General Kessler and the
two Japanese officers.  The latter had the knowledge to scuttle
U-234, but had been deeply affected by German comradeship and
goodwill.  Fahler decided to bypass the Canadian Navy and Halifax
where he had been ordered, and chose instead to surrender to the
Americans.  The Japanese committed suicide by ingesting lethal
amounts of Luminal and were buried at sea with full military honors
along with their secret papers and Tomanaga's samurai sword.
Fahler jettisoned all of the new acoustic torpedoes and microfilms
of sensitive documents to prevent the Americans from obtaining them,
but failed to dispose of secret war documents or the U-234's war
diary (Kriegstagebuch), which was later recovered by the U.S. Navy.
The USS Sutton (DE-771) stationed at Argentia, Newfoundland, was
on antisubmarine warfare patrol and intercepted U-234 on 15 May.
Four days later the Sutton turned the U-234 over to the USCG
Cutter Argo which escorted her to Portsmouth, New Hampshire, which
also was the port of surrender for U-805, U-873, and U-1228.
Because of the intelligence potential of U-234's cargo and
passengers, the surrender of this boat was classified, but
information leaks caused press sensationalism and media frenzy.  The
Navy spent two years disassembling and recording in detail the
technical equipment aboard U-234.
The book has chapters devoted to most of the principal characters,
providing mini-biographies that emphasize the efforts of these men
during the war, their cooperation with the Office of Naval
Intelligence and Office of Naval Research, and subsequent
repatriation to Germany in 1946.  Project Paperclip also came into
play. Many of the repatriated had lived in what became
Soviet-occupied Germany and, therefore, chose to return to the
United States.  Schlicke, for example, had worked on sound and
electrical absorption materials (early stealth technology) for
submarines, and infrared detectors and homing devices.  After 1946
he continued these efforts at the U.S. Office of Naval Research and
later in the private sector. Bringewald and Ruf also returned from
Germany to America.  The former had assembled the ME 262, which flew
at Wright Field in Dayton, Ohio in May 1945, and became significant
to the American effort to develop jet-powered aircraft.  Bringewald
became the project manager for the American F-105 Thunderchief.
Likewise, the HS-293 glider bomb and V-weapons were indispensable to
the American effort to develop guided missiles.
The fate of the U-234 was less glorious.  After dismantling, the
hull was taken to a location forty miles east of Provincetown,
Massachusetts where, on 19 November 1947, she was struck by two
torpedoes from the USS Greenfish (SS-351), and sank to the ocean
floor six miles below.  The story of the fate of the uranium oxide
has never been clarified. Scalia notes that one rumor holds that it
was used in American atomic research at Oak Ridge, while another
contends that it was sent to a warehouse in Brooklyn or a storage
facility in Kansas (one has visions of the "Ark of the Covenant"
being stored at the climax of Spielberg's Raiders of the Lost
Scalia provides some very new and exciting facts, observing that the
primary records themselves differ as to when the containers were
unloaded, where they were sent, and even if the supposedly
gold-lined containers held refined uranium oxide ore or fissile
material, or as Scalia conjectures, a radium compound or cadmium
alloy which would have required such lined containers.  We are still
uncertain, although transfer to Oak Ridge seems likely, though
likely too late to process into components for the atomic weapons
used against Japan in August 1945.
The story of U-234 has been told before by a crew member,
Oberfunkmeister (Chief Radioman) Wolfgang Hirschfeld in German and
English-language editions , and by former Royal Canadian Navy
corvette commander James Lamb [6, 7]. Also available is a biography
of Kptlt. Fehler by Arthur Sellwood, and a summary of the story by
Busch and Roll [8, 9].  A 1990s television documentary, "The Last
U-boat" (co-produced by ABC in the United States, NHK in Japan, and
ZDG in Germany) provides a distorted popularization of the event.
However, Scalia's new volume adds immeasurably in fact and clarity
to these important treatments.
Scalia, a former USNR SeaBee construction diver (1989-1997), holds
undergraduate and graduate degrees in history from Louisiana Tech
University.  This book derives from his 1997 Master's thesis
entitled "The Failed Voyage of U-234: The Intelligence Value of
Germany's Final Technical and Diplomatic Mission to Japan, 1945".
He has consulted an astonishing number and variety of sources and
corresponded with a number of the principles including Schlicke,
Menzel and Hirschfeld.  The breadth of his research includes
documents in the German Bundesarchiv-Militararchiv in Freiberg, the
U-Boot Archiv in Cuxhaven-Altenbruch, the National Archives and
Records Administration [NARA] microfilm and text collections in
College Park, MD, Waltham, MA, and New York City, and collections in
the Naval Historical Center in Washington, DC.  His primary sources
include eighteen books and sixteen articles (mostly newspaper
accounts), while secondary sources incorporate 94 books and fourteen
articles published through February 1999.  Much of the original
research is drawn from NARA Record Groups 38, 165, and 181.  The
volume contains a total of 804 endnotes and 25 black-and-white
photographs, most never before published.
In spite of the voluminous print and electronic literature on
U-boats (for example, the web site U-boat Net [10] contains profiles
of 1,168 boats and 1,411 commanders) and the irreplaceable original
materials in the U-boot Archiv (complete records of all the German
1,171 WW II U-boats [11]), Scalia adds to an under-researched topic
covered by neither or Nihon Kaigun: Imperial Japanese
Navy [12].  Scalia does not, unfortunately, mention volumes written
by David Jenkins or David Stevens [13] telling of the voyage of
U-862 to Australia.  The story of the Monsun boats (U-boats in the
Indian Ocean and in the Far East) is barely mentioned (p.  17).
There were at least 98 different U-boats at one time or another, and
Japanese I-boat voyages to Germany (I-29 and I-30, among others) are
research topics that Scalia or another investigator may wish to
undertake.  The story of the transfer of German and Italian boats to
the Japanese would, itself, make a splendid topic for research. As
an example, RO-501 under the command of a Japanese officer, Kptlt.
Norita from 15 February to 13 May 1944, was sunk in the mid-Atlantic
near the Cape Verde Islands.
There are some minor points in Scalia's work that require
clarification.  The amount of cargo is reported variously as 300 or
162 tons (p. 35, 185), "Bruce," (p. xi) should be "Brice," "Isoraku"
(p. 215) is "Isoroku, and U-234 is listed as 1600 tons on the dust
jacket and 1763 tons in the narrative.  Some of Scalia's statistics
don't match those of other sources.
For example, Scalia states the sinking of U-234 as occurring on 19
November, but the archives give the date as 20 November [10, 11].
Scalia, I believe, is correct.
The role of Japan's Ambassador Oshima in Germany is mentioned but
underrated (p. 9). Readers seeking fuller accounts should see Boyd
[14] and Meskill's assessment of Axis diplomatic-military
activities.[15] Robert Wilcox has written about Japan's atomic
energy research and attempts to develop weapons and raises the
question of whether the uranium oxide was actually destined for use
as a catalyst for the production of synthetic methanol or, perhaps,
for other purposes known only to the Japanese themselves [16].
Scalia does not mention these sources.  In addition, the reader is
not informed about the reactions of the British Admiralty and our
Canadian allies regarding the American "coup" in capturing the
U-234, its cargo, crew, and personnel, since the Americans had been
responsible for jamming Canadian radio traffic in order to mislead
the Canadian Navy and allow the USS Sutton to intercept U-234.
Lamb has a few words on this topic [7].
Nonetheless, the U-234 episode is a remarkable story very well told
-- how proud military and civilian personnel coped with defeat as
the U-boat failed in its mission to Japan.  The crates of
"aeronautical marvels"  would prove to be indispensable to American
military and space research in the post-war era, hence, a
"fortuitous failure" had untold positive impacts and benefits to
America and her allies during the incipient Cold War (p.  73).
Joseph Scalia tells a splendid tale eloquently. He has evaluated a
wealth of materials, and in his well-written and highly-recommended
treatise he demonstrates that there are wonderful stories yet to be
revealed about submarines in World War II.
References Cited
[1]. Groner, Erich. German Warships, 1815-1945.  Vol. 2: U-Boats
and Mine Warfare. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1991.
[2]. Brice, Martin H. Axis Blockade Runners of World War II.
Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1981.
[3]. Boyd, Carl and Akihiko Yoshida. The Japanese Submarine Force
and World War II.  Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1995.
[4]. Roskill, Stephen W. The War at Sea: 1939-1945. 3 vols.
London:  H.M. Stationery Office, United Kingdom Military Series,
History of the Second World War, 1954-1961.
[5]. Niestl, Axel. German U-boat Losses During World War II.
Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1998.
[6]. Hirschfeld, Wolfgang. Das letzte Boot [The Last Boat].
Munchen: Universitas Verlag, 1989; Feindfahrten. Das Logbuch eines
U- Boot Funkers [War Patrols: The Logbook of a U-Boat Radioman].
Seiten:  Gebundene Ausgabe, 1991; and Hirschfeld: The Story of a
U-Boat NCO, 1940-1946.  Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1996.
[7]. Lamb, James. On the Triangle Run. Toronto: Macmillan of
Canada, 1986.
[8]. Sellwood, Arthur V. Dynamite for Hire: The Story of Hein
Fehler.  London. W. Laurie, 1956.
[9]. Busch, Rainer, and Hans-Joachim Roll. German U-boat Commanders
of World War II: A Biographical Dictionary. Annapolis: Naval
Institute Press, 1999.  (Translation of Der U-Bootkrieg 1939-1945:
Die Kommandanten.  Berlin: Mittler und Sohn Verlag, 1996.)
[10]. U-boat Net. Owned and maintained by Gudmundur
Helgason (5,500 pages).
[11]. U-Boot-Archiv. Cuxhaven-Altenbruch, Germany.  Owned and
maintained by Horst Bredow.
[12]. Nihon Kaigun: Imperial Japanese Navy Page. Owned and maintained
by John B. Parshall.
[13]. Jenkins, David. Battle Surface!: Japan's Submarine War
Against Australia, 1942-44.  Milsons Point and London: Random
House, 1992;  Stevens, David. U-Boat Far from Home: The Epic Voyage
of U-862 to Australia and New Zealand.  St Leonards, NSW,
Australia: Allen and Unwin, 1997.
[14]. Boyd, Carl.  Hitler's Japanese Confidant: General Oshima
Hiroshi and MAGIC Intelligence, 1941-1945.  Lawrence: University
Press of Kansas, Modern War Studies, 1993.
[15]. Meskill, Johanna Menzel. Hitler & Japan: The Hollow
Alliance.  New York:  Atherton Press., 1966, pp. 140-142, 150-155.
[16]. Wilcox, Robert K. Japan's Secret War: Japan's Race Against
Time to Build Its Own Atomic Bomb.  New York: Marlowe, 1995.
Document compiled by Dr S D Stein
Last update 06/06/2000
S D Stein

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