The Type IX C40 U-534 was a long-range submarine used by the German Navy from 1942 – 1945. Commissioned in Hamburg, it was used chiefly as a platform to test weapons.
It also operated as a weather ship in the North Atlantic. In the summer of 1942, it left the huge submarine pens at Bordeaux, France, and sailed to Kiel in Germany. There it remained until May 1945.
On the 4th of that month, all German forces surrendered to the Allies. The day after, a Royal Air Force Liberator bomber sank U 534 near Anholt, a Danish island.
Most of the crew managed to escape but five were trapped and were dragged down with the boat. Amazingly they freed themselves. One died trying to reach the surface. Two others drowned awaiting rescue.
Now the war was over. So what was the U-boat doing?
U-534 had been ordered to leave Germany by Admiral Karl Doenitz, Hitler’s successor, on May 2, just before the German surrender. It had taken on special provisions and was sent towards Kristiansand in Norway, commanded by Captain Herbert Nollau.
When Doenitz ordered the surrender of all submarines, U-534 continued on its course. It is not known if Nollau failed to receive the order or refused to accept it.
Speculation arose that Nollau was carrying a leading Nazi figure or Nazi treasure. U-534 had a range of 1100 miles. So could Nollau have been going to South America?
One of the crews that perished was indeed an Argentine wireless operator. Nollau himself refused to say where he was going.
As time went on rumors about treasure persisted, and inevitably, people attempted to find U-534. A diver named Aagae Jensen rediscovered it in 1986 and a Danish publisher, Karsten Ree began a salvage operation in August 1993. With the help of the Dutch Navy, the Dutch salvaging company Smit Tak removed 5 tons of explosives from the submarine.
It took it to Grenaa, and from there it went to Birkenhead, England in a huge barge. About two tons of documents were also found. Disappointingly there was no treasure.
The vessel itself was also taken to Birkenhead docks, where it was displayed in the Warship Preservation Trust. The salvage had taken more than four weeks.
On February 5, 2006, the Trust was closed. The Mersey Travel Transit Authority then acquired U-534 and displayed it from February 10, 2009, in four sections at the Woodside Ferry Terminal, where it remains to this day.
Each section weighs up to 240 tons. They were cut with a diamond wire cutter. Each was moved with a floating crane.
So why did U-534 ignore the surrender orders in 1945? A clue may be found in the three experimental T11 torpedoes found in the submarine’s aft section. Only 38 of these were ever constructed.
They had acoustic homing systems to counter the British Foxer decoy system. The T11 was unique.
Did Captain Nollau receive orders from Doenitz to prevent these weapons falling into the hands of the Allies? We may never know. Nollau committed suicide in 1968.