WWII German U-boat wreck with skeleton crew found off coast of Indonesia

WWII Nazi U-boat wreck with skeleton crew found off coast of Indonesia

Photo story (Clockwise from top left): (1) Wreckage of WWII Nazi U-boat U-168 found by Indonesian divers off the coast of Indonesia on 9th November 2013 (2) A skull out of the 17 skeletons found with the U-boat wreck (3) German Captain Lieutenant Helmuth Pich, commander of the U-168 was captured along with 26 of his men from the sinking U-168 (4) Swastika printed dinner plates were also recovered from the wreck (5) Small teacups with 5cm diameter were also among the recovered artifacts (6) A similar German type IX C U-boat, U-505 at the Chicago Museum of Science & Industry in October 2005.  

The Nazi German term for any submarine is ‘Unterseeboot’ or ‘under sea boat’ in English. It is shortened to U-Boot. ‘U-boat’ is the anglicized version of the German word. The English term U-boats refer to the military submarines operated by Nazi Germany in WWI & WWII. Submarines of Italy in WWII and those of Austria-Hungary in WWI were also known as U-boats. Nazi U-boats were most efficiently used in disrupting Allied supply by attacking merchant shipping and also by carrying out efficient fleet attacks occasionally. Their primary targets were the merchant fleet bringing vital supplies from British Empire, Canada and the United States to the islands of the United Kingdom, other Allied countries and Soviet Union in the Mediterranean.

Germany used total 382 U-boats in WWI, 2 of which were captured ones from the Allied forces, to sink 12,850,814 tons of Allied and Neutral shipping in the 52 months. On an average, 247,131 tons of shipping had been sunk by Germany each month. Out of the total German U-boats in WWI, 46.60% or 178 were sunk in battle, 10.21% or 39 were lost due to other reasons and 5,000 men were lost in the U-boats.

Germany used 1172 U-boats in WWII, out of the total 1250 commissioned, 16 of which were captured ones from the Allied forces. To defeat the Allied forces, the Nazi Germany required mounting an extensive blockade of UK. The Nazi U-boats had to sink 300,000 tons of Allied shipping each month to achieve victory. Out of the first 27 months of WWII, the Nazi U-boats managed to achieve their target in the first four months. After U.S. marine & merchant ships joined Britain since December 1941, the tonnage sinking target for the Nazis effectively doubled. Axis U-boats required sinking 700,000 tons of Allied shipping per month. This target was accomplished in only one month, November 1942. The average sinking of Allied shipping by Nazi U-boats dropped to one tenth of the target figure after May 1943.

During the WWII, Nazi U-boats sank 6,000 Allied ships with a total of 21,000,000 tons. But the Allies had managed to build over 38 million tons of new shipping by the end of the war. 68.89% or 784 of the total German U-boats were lost at the sea and approximately 75% or 30,000 of the total 40,000 sailors of the German U-boat fleet were killed. Some 19 U-boats could never be deployed. Germany had 36 U-boats in the post WWII period as the country was allowed to have a small navy.

Mail Online, the web edition of Britain’s prominent news paper The Daily Mail, reported that divers of the Indonesian coast had discovered a Nazi U-boat wreckage of WWII with at least 17 skeletons of its lost crew aboard on 9th November 2013. According to the initial findings, it is the U-168, the German type IX C/40 U-boat commissioned on 10th September 1942 and was commanded by Captain Helmuth Pich.

U-168 sank 3 Allied ships totaling 8,008 tons and damaged another ship of 9,804 tons. In its second patrol, on 2nd October 1943, the ship had moved into the Indian Ocean and sank SS Haiching, a British steam merchant ship. U-168 was attacked by a Canadian amphibian aircraft Consolidated PBY Catalina, but the attack was unsuccessful.  In its third patrol, the U-boat sank British salvage ship HMS Salviking south of Sri Lanka on 14th February 1944. U-168 also sank Greek ship, Epaminondas C Embiricos near the Maldives on the next day.

The WWII Nazi U-boat also damaged Norwegian ship Fenris near Maldives on 21st February 1944. The ammo-less U-168 then went to Japanese occupied Batavia, Dutch East Indies. It is now known as Jakarta, Indonesia. U-168 was hit and sank by a torpedo fired by Dutch submarine HrMs Zwaardvisch on 5th October 1944. Twenty three men were killed & drowned with the submarine and a further twenty seven were captured including Captain Helmuth.

Head of the research team of Indonesian National Archaeology Center that found the U-168, Bambang Budi Utomo said that it was the first time they had found a foreign submarine in Indonesian waters. He also said that the discovery would provide useful information about the warfare in Java Sea during WWII. Along with the skeletons of the lost crew, other things like swastika printed dinner plates, binoculars, a bottle of hair oil and batteries were pulled from the U-boat wreck. The wreck was found 100 km or 60 miles northeast of Karimunjawa Island. Bambang also said that the lifting of the wreck would take time due to its huge size and costs involved.

14 WWII Nazi U-boats were stationed in the Far East and only four of those managed to return back to Europe.
Video story: 2 hour 34 minutes long documentary on WWII Nazi U-boat submarines

Mohammad Rafi Saad

Mohammad Rafi Saad is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE