Military Wiki
German submarine U-859
Career (Nazi Germany)
Name: U-859
Ordered: 5 June 1941
Builder: AG Weser, Bremen
Laid down: 15 May 1942
Launched: 2 March 1943
Commissioned: 8 July 1943
Fate: Sunk 23 September 1944 by HMS Trenchant, near Penang
General characteristics
Class & type: Type IXD2 U-boat
Displacement: Surfaced 1,616 tons tons
submerged 1,804 tons
Length: Overall 87.6 m (287 ft)
pressure hull 68.5 m (225 ft)
Beam: Overall 7.5 m (25 ft)
pressure hull 4.4 m (14 ft)
Draught: 5.4 m (18 ft)
Propulsion: Surfaced: 4,400 hp
Submerged: 1,000 hp
Speed: Surfaced 19.2 kn (35.6 km/h; 22.1 mph)
submerged 6.9 kn (12.8 km/h; 7.9 mph)
Range: Surfaced: 18,450 mi at 10 knot
submerged: 93 mi at 4 knot
Test depth: Calculated crush depth: 230 m (750 ft)
Complement: 55–63 officers & ratings
  • 4 x bow torpedo tubes, 2 stern (24 torpedoes) and 48 TMA mines
  • 1 x 105/45 deck gun with 150 rounds
Service record[1][2]
Part of: 4th U-boat Flotilla
(8 July 1943 – 31 March 1944)
12th U-boat Flotilla
(1 April – 23 September 1944)
Commanders: Kptlt. Johann Jebsen
(8 July 1943 – 23 September 1944)
Operations: 1st patrol: 8 April – 23 September 1944
Victories: 3 commercial ships sunk (20,853 GRT)

German submarine U-859 was a German Type IXD2 U-boat built during World War II. She was one of a select number of U-boats to join the Monsun Gruppe or Monsoon Group, which operated in the Far East alongside the Imperial Japanese Navy.


U-859 was built in Bremen during 1942 and 1943, and was heavily adapted following her completion in July 1943, with the addition of a Snorkel to enable her to stay underwater for longer during the hazardous passage to Penang in Malaya. Thus she was not ready for war service until the spring of 1944, when following her working up period and modifications she departed Kiel for the East.

Service history

Although U-859 only had a single war patrol from which she never returned, her six month career was highly eventful and carried her halfway across the world and into an entirely different theatre of conflict.

Commanded by Kapitänleutnant Johann Jebsen, U-859 sailed from Kiel for Penang on 4 April 1944, carrying 31 tons of mercury in metal flasks destined for use in the Japanese munitions industry, and (according to some sources) uranium oxide also destined for Japan. She avoided shipping lanes and during her time in the North Atlantic, remained submerged for 23 hours every day, running on her schnorkel, surfacing for just one hour per day at 23:00, later reduced to 15 minutes. Three weeks into her voyage, Jebsen saw a target he could not refuse. The MV Colin, formerly an Italian freighter taken over by American authorities and registered in Panama, was slowly steaming unescorted in the North Atlantic following engine failure. Three torpedoes sank her before the U-859 went on her way southwards.[3]

The boat's voyage continued smoothly for the next two months, and she rounded the Cape of Good Hope and entered the Indian Ocean without further trouble. On 5 July she was spotted by a Lockheed Ventura aircraft, which swooped down on the boat only to be brought down by the anti aircraft guns. There were no survivors from the aircraft's crew. One rating of the U859 was killed and one officer seriously injured. (Other sources say the attacking plane was a Catalina anti-submarine-plane).[4]

Her second victim was her most famous, and became one of the most famous treasure shipwrecks of the Twentieth Century. The unescorted Liberty ship SS John Barry was transporting a cargo of 3 million silver one-riyal coins from Aden to Ras Tanura in the Persian Gulf as part of an American government agreement with the Saudi royal family; the silver coins had been minted in America for Saudi monarch King Abdul Aziz Al-Saud and were stacked in huge boxes in the hold, and went down with the ship when she was torpedoed at 15°10′N 55°18′E / 15.167°N 55.3°E / 15.167; 55.3 (John Barry/U-859), about 100 miles south of the entrance to the Arabian Sea. A massive salvage operation in 1994 succeeded in retrieving many of the lost coins.[5]

Three days later another unescorted merchant, the British SS Troilus was also sunk,[6] with six hands drowned.


On 23 September U-859 was running on the surface, within 23 mi (37 km) of Penang and the end of her voyage, when she was intercepted in the Malacca Straits by the British submarine HMS Trenchant, which had been forewarned of her arrival date and route by decrypted German signals.[7] In difficult conditions with a heavy swell running and a second U-boat thought to be lurking, Trenchant's commander Arthur Hezlet carried out a snap attack using his stern torpedo tubes, hitting U-859 amidships. The U-boat sank immediately in 50 m (160 ft) of water with several compartments flooded, and 47 men drowned, including her commander.

Twenty of the crew did manage to escape however, opening the hatch in the relatively shallow sea and struggling to the calm surface. Eleven of the survivors were picked up by HMS Trenchant immediately following the sinking, and the remaining 9 were picked up by the Japanese after being adrift for 24 hours and were taken ashore to await repatriation.[8]


In 1972 a total of 12 tons of mercury were recovered from the U-859 and brought into Singapore. The West German Embassy claimed ownership of the mercury. The Receiver of Wreck took possession of the mercury, and the High Court of Singapore ruled that "the German state has never ceased to exist despite Germany's unconditional surrender in 1945 and whatever was the property of the German State, unless it was captured and taken away by one of the Allied Powers, still remains the property of the German State..."[9]

Raiding career

Date Ship Nationality Tonnage Fate
26 April 1944 MV Colin Panamanian 6,255 Sunk
28 August 1944 SS John Barry American 7,176 Sunk
1 September 1944 SS Troilus British 7,422 Sunk

See also


  1. "The Type IXD2 boat U-859 - German U-boats of WWII -". Retrieved 9 March 2010. 
  2. "War Patrols by German U-boat U-859 - Boats -". Retrieved 9 March 2010. 
  3. – Allied Ships hit by U-boats – Colin (Motor merchant)
  4. Stalin's Silver, p. 96. John Beasant, 1995, ISBN 0747527741
  5. – Allied Ships hit by U-boats – John Barry (Steam merchant)
  6. – Allied Ships hit by U-boats – Troilus (Steam merchant)
  7. Hinsley, Francis Harry; E. E. Thomas, C. A. G. Simkins, and C. F. G. Ransom. Its Influence on Strategy and Operations. British Intelligence in the Second World War. 3 Part 2. HMSO. p. 488. ISBN 978-0-521-35196-6. 
  8. "Interview with U-859 survivor Arthur Baudzus". Riverdale Electronic Books. Archived from the original on 14 February 2005.  (via Internet Archive)
  9. Greenwood, C.J. (1980). International Law Reports: v.56. Cambridge University Press. pp. 40–47. ISBN 0-521-46401-3. 

Coordinates: 5°46′01″N 100°04′01″E / 5.767°N 100.067°E / 5.767; 100.067

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