U-boat surrenders brought to an end a terrifying battle

News Letter editorial
News Letter editorial

The surrender of German U-boats in the Foyle 70 years ago today brought to an end a particularly grisly battle of the Second World War.

The deadly vessels surrendered in drips and drabs at numerous locations in Britain and western Europe in the days after VE Day.

The delay was often due to the fact that it took them some time to get to port.

The Battle of the Atlantic had been marked by a special sort of terror, even for those sailors who did not see much enemy action. At all times at sea on a military ship, there was the risk of a sudden torpedo attack that would kill everyone on board.

Many of the veterans of the Arctic Convoys remembered clearly until the day they died this ever present sense of fear and dread.

As they sailed back and forth with supplies, or protecting supply ships, the sailors were acutely aware of stories of boats being blown apart within sight of the safety of port. Then they would have to sail back, and so on, back and forth for weeks and months and years.

Winston Churchill later said that “the only thing that really frightened me during the war was the U-boat peril”.

The vast German U-boat fleet under Admiral Karl Dönitz, the dedicated Nazi who succeeded Hitler as head of state in the final days of the war, wreaked havoc with Allied shipping. Life was miserable for the German U-boat sailors, most of whom met an appalling death at sea – over 80 per cent of them died, a higher fatality rate than the horror-filled eastern front.

Much of this drama played out in the seas to the north and west of Ireland, hence Londonderry’s crucial role in the war.

In this newspaper today, Muriel Nevin from Armagh recalls extraordinary stories such as bumping into a cheerful German U-boat commander in Co Donegal where he had stopped to refuel.

This anniversary is another time to give thanks for those who endured terror and death so that we could live in peace.