U-33 was detected while on mine laying duties in the Firth of Clyde during World War II. Attacked by depth charges, the submarine was eventually scuttled in the waters to the south of Arran. Significantly, the crew failed to destroy previously unknown rotors for the Enigma machine, and these were captured.
There is a story circulating in the folklore of Dunoon that a U-Boat was depth charged and sunk outside the Cloch boom that ran between the town and the Cloch Lighthouse, and became the Skelmorlie U-Boat. While research has cast some doubt on this particular story, it has unearthed an equally interesting story regarding the sinking of U-33.
In early February 1940, U-33 was despatched to lay a minefield in the Firth of Clyde. As this was considered to be a dangerous mission in enemy waters, the Enigma coding machine which would normally be being carried on board was to be left behind, but this additional requirement was overlooked in the midst of all the other preparations for the mission.
In the early hours of February 12, 1940, U-33 was cruising slowly up the firth, on the surface. Through the darkness, the U-Boat's lookouts spotted a ship passing them in the opposite direction - this was the minesweeper HMS Gleaner, captained by Lt Commander Hugh Price. The lookouts thought they had gone undetected, but the ASDIC operator on Gleaner had picked up the sound of their diesel engines, and the minesweeper came about to investigate. The lookouts spotted Gleaner's approach at full speed, and the U-Boat crash dived, but the water was shallow and the vessel hit the seabed. Over a period of several hours U-33 survived two depth charge attacks, but had become stuck in the muddy seabed. The only way to break free was to blow all tanks and surface. Unknown to the crew of the trapped U-Boat, the last depth charge attack had damaged Gleaner's ASDIC, and they could have remained submerged and made their escape later. Unaware of Gleaner's problem U-33's captain, Lt Hans Wilhelm Von Dresky, decided to surrender, and charges were set to scuttle the boat after it had been abandoned.
Of the U-33 crew, 17 survived, but 25 died. They were buried in a communal grave in Greenock cemetery, the coffins covered in a swastika flag. Later, in the 1960s, they were disinterred and taken to the newly created German War Cemetery in Cannock Chase and reburied.
U-33 sank in waters to the south of Arran, reportedly at 55° 25'N - 5° 07' W.
Discrepancy in survivor numbers
Although official records say that 17 survived from the crew of the U-33, John D Drummod gives the following list of survivors - totalling 18 - in his book, A River Runs to War.
Friedrich Schilling Kapitanleutnant (the records show (Kptlt Hans-Wilhelm von Dresky) Karl Vietor Oberleutnant zur Zee Heinz Rittman Oberleutnant Johannes Becker Leutnant zur Zee
All went to the London cage for interrogation by MI5 before being sent to Grizedale Hall No1 PoW Camp in the Lake District.
Fritz Kumf Paul Galilea Ernst Masanek Heinz Marticke Wener Siegert Robert Puchta Heinz Krink Heinrich Weber Peter Lingsheidt Ernst Scherer Hans Joachim Ehrhardt Manfred Krampe Max Schiller
Sent to an unknown camp for other ranks until all were reunited in 1942 at Bowmanville Camp in Canada.
Max Schiller story
Max Schiller came from Hollebend, a village in what was to become East Germany. 18 years old at the time of the sinking, his name appeared on the markers at the communal grave in Greenock Cemetery. However, after the surrender, he was brought back from Canada and sent to Hallmuir Camp in Dumfries-shire, where he went to work at Barrasgate Farm near Cumertrees. He was described as a good worker in his job there, and went on to marry a housemaid at the farm, and the family had two children.
When U-33 had been sunk, he had been rescued by a trawler called Bohemian Girl after spending over three hours in the water. Later, in the shelter of Lamlash Harbour, he was transferred to HMS Gleaner along with the other survivors. They were offered cigarettes, but Max did not smoke, and a seaman gave him some chocolate and asked for a souvenir. Max took off his identity tag and gave it to him. It is understood that that the ship's crew was required to surrender any such souvenirs, and the appearance of the identity tag explains how Max Schiller's name came to appear on a marker at Greenock.
Enigma code wheels
It was the job of three crew members to take the code wheels from the Enigma machine and jettison them from the submarine. One crew member became confused and failed to jettison wheels VI, VII and VIII. These were found on him and sent on to Bletchley Park, where they subsequently allowed all German naval messages to be decrypted.
The Kriegsmarine (German Navy) used a more complex Enigma procedure than the Army or Air Force, eventually providing eight rotors from which the three would be used at any time. The German Army and Air Force used only five. U-Boat traffic increased the complexity/security further by introducing a fourth rotor. The three wheels recovered included two of the extra wheels, VI and VII, providing valuable new information to the codebreakers as their wiring had previously been unknown.
- U-33 - German U-boats of WWII - uboat.net Retrieved February 13, 2011.
- Cannock Chase, German Military Cemetery
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