WWII Stories: When the “Kriegsmarine” Unknowingly Came to NZ Waters

Unknown to most, the Kriegsmarine – the German navy – entered New Zealand waters on a boat sinking mission during the Second World War some seventy years ago. Here is the story.

There was only one meter of water under its hull but the Kriegsmarine U-boat U-862 took all the risks just so it could search for ships to sink in New Zealand waters. It went undetected but its mission was unsuccessful. Nevertheless, the story remained unknown until recently.

At exactly midnight of January 15, 1945, the Kriegsmarine U-boat risked running aground and being in tight space as it entered New Zealand’s Grisborne Harbor in part because it was hiding from the Australian navy and air force which were seeking for revenge and the other part was to look for more merchant ships which it could destroy.

The Kriegsmarine U-boat just came from Jakarta, then known as Batavia of the Netherlands East Indies which now is obviously Indonesia, and went straight to Australian waters. Reaching Sydney’s offshore, it attacked and sank a US Liberty boat Christmas of 1944.

With the Australian troops on the lookout for the Kriegsmarine U-boat to extract revenge for the onslaught, the German vessel’s commander, Heinrich Timm, maneuvered it to New Zealand waters to escape and find more ships to ravage.

On January 15, the U-862 spent the daylight hours peering through its periscope looking for passing sea crafts which were worth destroying after traveling through New Zealand’s east coast. When it couldn’t find a target, the Kriegsmarine U-boat went on ship hunting at Grisborne Harbor. But to its dismay, there were no berthed vessels worth attacking.

Because of this, German commander Timm thought about sinking the harbor dredge A.C. but decided against it in the end. An attack could give the Kriegsmarine U-boat’s location away making him vulnerable to those out seeking for its blood.

So, the Kriegsmarine, instead, proceeded to Hawkes Bay. Turning empty-handed, the German vessel’s crew was contemplating on attacking Wellington harbor when they were called back to the Far East and had to abandon their initial plan.

Thus, the mission to stage attacks inside New Zealand’s territory was abandoned.


Because the Kriegsmarine was not able to push through with their planned attacks, the U-boat’s presence in the country’s waters went undetected until 1992. That year, first watch officer Gunther Reiffenstuhl decided to publish and publicize his personal war diaries.

And Gisborne native Gerald Shone was able to get hold of the amazing war account and took interest in the story. In 1997, he was able to travel to Austria and was invited in the reunion of the U-boat’s crew. It was during this time that he was able to personally interview Mr. Reiffenstuhl.

According to crew’s personal accounts, they came inside Gisborne Harbor with only one meter of water under their vessel. The German captain had no idea how shallow the water was. Lucky for them, their U-boat did not run aground. If they did, they would have been the only military POWs captured by New Zealand right on home soil.

Shone had written a book about the interviews he conducted. He hopes his writing, entitled U-boat in New Zealand Waters, would get published this year.

Heziel Pitogo

Heziel Pitogo is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE