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German submarine U-853
U-853 and crew
U-853 and crew
Name: U-853
Ordered: 5 June 1941
Builder: AG Weser, Bremen
Yard number: 1059
Laid down: 21 August 1942
Launched: 11 March 1943
Commissioned: 25 June 1943
Fate: Sunk, 6 May 1945
General characteristics
Type: Type IXC/40 submarine
Displacement: 1,120 t (1,100 long tons) surfaced
1,232 t (1,213 long tons) submerged
Length: 76.8 m (252 ft 0 in) o/a
58.7 m (192 ft 7 in) pressure hull
Beam: 6.9 m (22 ft 8 in) o/a
4.4 m (14 ft 5 in) pressure hull
Height: 9.6 m (31 ft 6 in)
Draft: 4.7 m (15 ft 5 in)
Propulsion: 2 × MAN M9V40/46 supercharged 9-cylinder diesel engines, 4,400 hp (3,281 kW)
2 × SSW GU345/34 double-acting electric motors, 1,000 hp (746 kW)
Speed: 19 knots (35 km/h) surfaced
7.3 knots (13.5 km/h) submerged
Range: 25,620 nmi (47,450 km) at 10 knots (19 km/h) surfaced
117 nmi (217 km) at 4 kn (7.4 km/h) submerged
Test depth: 230 m (750 ft)
Complement: 48 to 56
Armament: • 6 × torpedo tubes (4 bow, 2 stern)
• 22 × 533 mm (21 in) torpedoes
• 1 × Utof 105 mm/45 deck gun (110 rounds)
• AA guns
Service record[1][2]
Part of: 4th U-boat Flotilla
(25 June 1943 – 31 March 1944)
10th U-boat Flotilla
(1 April–1 October 1944)
33rd U-boat Flotilla
(1 October 1944 – 6 May 1945)
Commanders: Kptlt. Helmut Sommer
(25 June 1943 – 9 July 1944)
Oblt. Helmut Frömsdorf (acting)
(18 June–9 July 1944)
Oblt. Otto Wermuth
(10 July–31 August 1944)
KrvKpt. Günter Kuhnke
(24 August–15 October 1944)
Oblt. Helmut Frömsdorf
(1 September 1944 – 6 May 1945)
Operations: 1st patrol: 29 April–4 July 1944
2nd patrol: 27 August–14 October 1944
3rd patrol: 23 February–6 May 1945
Victories: 1 commercial ship sunk (5,353 GRT)
1 warship sunk (430 GRT)

German submarine U-853 was a German Type IXC/40 U-boat of the Kriegsmarine during World War II. Her keel was laid down on 21 August 1942 by AG Weser of Bremen. She was commissioned on 25 June 1943 with Kapitänleutnant Helmut Sommer in command. U-853 saw action during the Battle of the Atlantic in World War II. She conducted three patrols, sinking two ships totalling 5,783 tons.

On her final patrol, U-853 was sent to harass United States coastal shipping. She destroyed USS Eagle 56 (PE-56) near Portland, Maine. Just days before Germany's surrender, U-853 torpedoed and sank the collier Black Point during the Battle of Point Judith. American warships quickly found U-853 and sank her 7 miles (11 km) east of Block Island, Rhode Island, resulting in the loss of her entire crew.

U-853 is a popular deep sea diving site. She rests in 121 feet (37 m) of water. Holes in the hull permit access to the interior of the submarine, though it is a war grave with most of the 55 crew bodies remaining inside.

Construction and crew

U-853 was a German Type IXC/40 submarine built by AG Weser of Bremen. Ordered on 5 June 1941, her keel was laid on 21 August 1942 and she was commissioned on 25 June 1943.[1] She was one of 87 submarines of her type. The Type IXC/40 was a large ocean-going submarine designed for sustained operations far from the home support facilities. U-853 carried a crew of 55. The Germans nicknamed the U-boat der Seiltänzer ("the Tightrope Walker"), and her crew painted an emblem of a yellow shield with a red horse on her sail.[3]

First patrol

On her first patrol from May to June 1944, U-853 was assigned to weather-watching duty under the command of Kapitänleutnant Helmut Sommer. This was his first war patrol.[4] German intelligence believed that weather conditions in the Atlantic could be used to help predict the timing of an Allied invasion of Europe.[5] On 25 May 1944 U-853 spotted the Queen Mary, loaded with American troops and supplies. The U-boat submerged to attack, but was outrun by the much larger and faster ship.[6] As she surfaced in the Queen Mary's wake U-853 was attacked by Fairey Swordfish aircraft from British merchant aircraft carriers MV Ancylus and MV Empire MacKendrick.[7] The U-boat took no significant damage and returned fire, hitting all three aircraft. The planes were able to return to their carrier, but after recovery one was deemed a total loss and jettisoned.

The escort carrier USS Croatan (CVE-14) had been hunting weather boats for nearly a month and had already sunk U-488 and U-490. Intercepted radio transmissions led Croatan and six destroyers to search for U-853.[8] The U-853 proved so elusive that Croatan's crew nicknamed their prey "Moby Dick."[6] After ten days of hunting, on 17 June Huff-Duff (HF/DF, high frequency direction finding) picked up a weather report from the U-853 only 30 miles (48 km) away.[6] Within minutes two FM-1 Wildcat fighters strafed the submarine,[6] killing 2 men and wounding 12 others. Sommer suffered 28 shrapnel and bullet wounds yet still managed to give the order to submerge. In all likelihood Sommer saved his submarine from being destroyed by allied bombers.[6]

Three weeks of pursuit from 25 May until 17 June placed an enormous strain on U-853's crew. Twenty-three-year-old Oberleutnant zur See Helmut Frömsdorf took command of the boat on 18 June (his first command)[9] and returned to Lorient. Sommer and a large number of the crew was declared unfit for duty. On 10 July Sommer was formally relieved by Oberlutenant Otto Wermuth.

Second patrol

The boat remained in port until 27 August. Decorated veteran Korvettenkapitän Günter Kuhnke, Commander of the 10th U-boat Flotilla, took command for her second patrol.[10] U-853 operated this time in the Western Approaches off the British Isles, but in a period of seven weeks scored no successes. On completion she did not return to Lorient, but continued to Flensburg, arriving 14 October. [11] Kuhnke assumed command of the 33rd U-boat Flotilla upon arriving at Flensburg. He relinquished command of U-853 back to Frömsdorf, who took the U-boat on her third and final patrol. Before departure U-853 was fitted with a Schnorchel, a retractable air intake and exhaust that allowed the ship to remain submerged while running her diesel engines.[6] The Schnorchel reduced the need to spend dangerous periods on the surface recharging batteries.[6]

Last patrol

On 23 February 1945 Germany sent U-853 on her third war patrol to harass US coastal shipping. Under the command of Oberleutnant zur See Helmut Frömsdorf, U-853 did not sink any targets during the first weeks of her patrol. Her crossing of the Atlantic was slow because she used her Schnorchel to remain submerged to avoid being spotted by Allied aircraft.[8] On 1 April 1945 U-853 was ordered to the Gulf of Maine.[12] On 23 April she fatally torpedoed USS Eagle Boat 56 (PE-56) near Portland, Maine.[13] The next day USS Muskegon (PF-24) made sonar contact and attacked U-853, but failed to destroy her.[12]

Eagle Boat 56, a World War I-era patrol boat, was towing targets for a United States Navy dive-bomber training exercise 3 miles (4.8 km) off Cape Elizabeth when she exploded amidships and sank. Only 13 of the 67 crew survived. Although several survivors claimed to have seen a submarine sail with yellow and red insignia, a Navy inquiry attributed the sinking to a boiler explosion. The Navy reversed its findings in 2001 to acknowledge that the sinking was due to hostile fire and awarded Purple Hearts to the survivors and next-of-kin of the deceased.[14]

Battle of Point Judith

USS Moberly launches a hedgehog weapon against U-853

Hedgehog charges detonate on the ocean floor

On 5 May 1945, President (Reichspräsident) of Nazi Germany Karl Dönitz ordered all U-boats to cease offensive operations and return to their bases. U-853 was lying in wait off Point Judith, Rhode Island at the time. According to the US Coast Guard, U-853 did not receive that order, or less likely, ignored it.[13] Soon after, her torpedo blew off the stern of SS Black Point, a 368-foot (112 m) collier underway from New York to Boston. Within 15 minutes Black Point had sunk in 100 feet (30 m) of water less than 4 miles (6.4 km) south of Point Judith.[15] She was the last US-flagged merchant ship lost in World War II. Twelve men died, while 34 crew members were rescued. One of the rescuing ships, Yugoslav freighter SS Kamen, sent a report of the torpedoing to authorities. The US Navy organized a "hunter-killer" group that included four American warships: Ericsson (DD-440), Amick (DE-168), Atherton  (DE-169), and Moberly (PF-63).[16]

The group discovered U-853 bottomed in 18 fathoms (108 ft; 33 m), and dropped depth charges and hedgehogs during a 16 hour attack. At first the U-boat attempted to flee, and then tried to hide by lying still. Both times it was found by sonar.[17] The morning of 6 May 1945 two K-Class blimps from Lakehurst, New Jersey, K-16 and K-58, joined the attack, locating oil slicks and marking suspected locations with smoke and dye markers. K-16 also attacked with 7.2-inch rocket bombs. Numerous depth charge and hedgehog attacks from Atherton and Moberly resulted in planking, life rafts, a chart tabletop, clothing, and an officer's cap floating to the surface. With the loss of all 55 officers and men, U-853 was one of the last U-boats sunk during World War II.[17] and, with U-881, the last to be sunk in US waters. Atherton and Moberly received credit for the kill.[1]


U-853 lies seven miles east of Block Island in 130 feet (40 m) of water. The US Coast Guard pinpoints the location of the wreck at 41.13 N 71.27 W.[13] U-853 sits upright with her periscope rising to a depth of 100 feet (30 m).[15] Most of the 55 crew member bodies remain within the hull, which is a war grave.[18] It is one of the more popular dive sites in Southern New England. The hull has depth charge blast holes: one forward of the conning tower at the radio room and another in the starboard side of the engine room. Entering the wreck is dangerous due to debris, sharp metal edges, and confined spaces.[12]

On 6 and 7 May 1945, Navy divers attempted to enter the wreck to recover the captain's safe and the papers within, but failed.[15] Recreational divers first visited the site in 1953. In 1960 a recreational diver brought up a body from the wreck. This provoked former navy admirals and clergy to petition the US government for restrictions on disturbing the dead. The German crewman was buried with full military honors in Newport, Rhode Island.[12] At least two recreational divers have died from exploring the wreckage.[19] Renowned deep sea diver Stephen Hardick perished in 2005 while filming the U-boat. He surfaced unconscious and could not be revived.[20] Hardick, age 60, died as the result of saltwater drowning associated with poor health according to the Rhode Island Medical Examiner's office.[21]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 "The Type IXC/40 boat U-853 - German U-boats of WWII -". Retrieved 5 March 2010.  Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "uboatnet" defined multiple times with different content
  2. "War Patrols by German U-boat U-853 - Boats -". Retrieved 5 March 2010. 
  3. Puleo, Stephen (2005). Due to Enemy Action: The True World War II Story of the USS Eagle 56. Globe Pequot. pp. 15–17. ISBN 1-59228-739-5. 
  4. "Helmut Sommer". Retrieved 30 September 2007. 
  5. Puleo, Stephen (2005). Due to Enemy Action: The True World War II Story of the USS Eagle 56. Globe Pequot. p. 16. ISBN 1-59228-739-5. 
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 6.5 6.6 Underwood, Lamar (2005). The Greatest Submarine Stories Ever Told. Globe Pequot. pp. 184–185. ISBN 1-59228-733-6. 
  7. Drumm, Russell (2001). The Barque of Saviors. Houghton Mifflin Books. p. 9. ISBN 0-395-98367-3. 
  8. 8.0 8.1 Puleo, Stephen (2005). Due to Enemy Action: The True World War II Story of the USS Eagle 56. Globe Pequot. p. 17. ISBN 1-59228-739-5. 
  9. "Helmut Frömsdorf". Retrieved 30 September 2007. 
  10. "Günter Kuhnke". Retrieved 30 September 2007. 
  11. 2nd patrol retrieved 23.9.09
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 12.3 Peter Venoutsos. "U-853 Closes a Chapter of World War II". Retrieved 30 September 2008. 
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 "U-853". Retrieved 29 September 2008. 
  14. Puleo, Stephen (2005). Due to Enemy Action: The True World War II Story of the USS Eagle 56. Globe Pequot. p. 5. ISBN 1-59228-739-5. 
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 "U-853". Retrieved 30 September 2008. 
  16. "U-853". Retrieved 23 July 2007.  "U-853". Retrieved 2013-05-10. 
  17. 17.0 17.1 Robert M. Downie (1998). Block Island—The Sea. Book Nook Press. pp. 197–198. 
  18. "Dive into History US Waters". Retrieved 30 September 2008. 
  19. Robert M. Downie (1998). Block Island—The Sea. Book Nook Press. p. 194. 
  20. "Probe into scuba instructor death could take two months". Retrieved 23 July 2007. 
  21. Monroe, Luther (31 August 2005). "Poor health led to scuba instructor's death". Cyber Diver News Netwoek. Archived from the original on 27 February 2007. Retrieved 7 January 2012. 

External links

Coordinates: 41°13′01″N 71°27′00″W / 41.217°N 71.450°W / 41.217; -71.450

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