Klaus Bargsten

Klaus Bargsten

Klaus Bargsten (October 31 1911August 13 2000) was the captain and sole survivor of sunken U-521. He is also one of few U-boat veterans who survived World War II.

Biography

Early life

Bargsten was born on October 31, 1911 in Bad Oldesloe. His mother came from an aristocratic family, and his father was of peasant stock. His grandfather had made a fortune in farm machinery and banking. After completing his schooling, Bargsten attended a school for training merchant marine officers and was later employed by North German Lloyd Steamship Co. He served mostly on freighters but was also on the SS Europa for a time. He joined the Nazi party but received such adverse criticism from his family that he later resigned.

In 1935 Bargsten entered the naval academy. As a midshipman, he served for a time on the Admiralty Yacht, Grille. This ship was frequently used by Hitler and other Nazi party leaders but, being only a humble midshipman, Bargsten had little contact with them. He began his naval career in April 1936. Previous to this he had been in the merchant navy. When the war began, he was serving at the Bootschüll (training school) in Neustadt. After a short time on U-6, he applied to be transferred to U-99.

He was then posted to U-99 under Otto Kretschmer where he served as I.W.O. for several patrols. He was a highly capable officer and Kretschmer recommended him for Commander Training and ultimately, for command of his own boat. He left U-99 in January 1941 and in March commissioned U-563 on March 27 1941 and during battle against convoy HG-75, he sank a freighter, but unsuccessfully attacked a Royal Navy destroyer. On his second patrol he sank the British destroyer HMS Cossack. After the third patrol he left the boat on March 15 1942 and three months later commissioned U-521 on June 3 1942.

U-521

On June 2 1943 the US submarine intercepter PC-565 was east of Cape Hatteras escorting convoy NG-355 when it picked up a sound contact. They had successfully made contact with U-521. PC-565 set her depth charges to and a pattern of five charges were dropped in a harassment action.

The accuracy of the depth charges was devastating. Inside U-521, all instruments were shattered, all breakers blown, and the diving planes and rudder were disabled. Cold seawater was coming down the main hatch. Bargsten gave the order to dive for cover. After a few seconds, Oberleutnant Ing. Henning reported that they were sinking. She was already down to and dropping rapidly. Even though it did not make sense to Bargsten that the U-boat could plummet so quickly, he gave the order to blow all ballast. The main depth gauge must have been knocked out by the depth charges. Before he knew it, the U-boat broke the surface. Bargsten snapped open the conning tower hatch and rushed outside to assess the situation.

PC-565 interception

PC-565 was only a quarter mile away. She opened up with her 20 mm gun. Shells burst on and around the U-boat's conning tower. Realizing that U-521 was done for, Bargsten shouted down the conning tower to open the sea cocks and abandon ship. U-521 sank from under the Captain's feet with amazing speed. The last thing Bargsten saw as he looked down was a maelstrom of water pouring into the open hatch. U-521 was gone and Bargsten was left floating in the ocean alone.

"Some question the situation where Bargsten got out of U-521 just quick enough to see the rest of his crew drowned. The first act of abandonment in a U-boat is to secure the captain, and thus he was the first and last one out of the boat itself. Let it be noted that Bargsten has no acts of cowardice in his military record."

With professional conduct, PC-565 turned as U-521 sank under the surface. PC-565 dropped another depth charge. Huge bubbles of air rose to the surface. Oil and debris littered the surface, followed by large pieces of human remains. Bargsten rose to the surface and struggled swimming towards the nearest Allied ship.

Ray Lankheim, a machine gunner of PC-565 had his 20 mm trained on this lone survivor and the crew as Bargsten was swimming for his life. Lankheim was under orders to 'kill them all' but he could not bring himself to shoot this lone man in the cold water, and so Bargsten survived the war. He spent more than three years in Allied captivity before being released in 1946.

Interrogation of Klaus Bargsten

Kapitänleutnant Klaus Bargsten, Commanding Officer of U-521, has an extremely pleasant personality, is enthusiastic and carefree, and gives the impression of being an excellent officer. He was greatly admired by his crew for these qualities. Although he is an ardent patriot, Bargsten is in no way a typical Nazi and, in fact, hinted that he was not altogether in sympathy with the Nazi regime. He was security conscious to a certain degree but was always pleasant with his interrogators and talked freely on what he regarded as harmless subjects. He had a keen sense of humor and was an excellent raconteur.

PC-565 had transported Klaus Bargsten to Norfolk, Virginia for questioning. Bargsten told his interrogators many anecdotes about events and personalities in the German Navy.

While he was serving as a midshipman on the yacht, Grille, Bargsten had occasion to see many of the leading members of the Nazi party. Once, he said, when a group of these Olympians was aboard, an orchestra was playing for their entertainment, but the ship’s ventilators were making so much noise that the music could scarcely be heard. Joseph Goebbels complained to the captain in his usual high handed manner, ordering him to do something about it. The captain, while engaging Goebbels in conversation, managed to back him into position in front of one of the ventilators. When he gave the order for the ventilators to be shut off, the shutter gave Goebbles a resounding whack on the back side.

Bargsten also spoke somewhat heretically about the alcoholic habits of the Nazi great. Hitler, he said, objected strenuously to drinking and often gave his staff violent temperance lectures. Shortly after having been subjected to one such harangue on board the Grille, the staff gathered in the saloon to sooth their frayed nerves with a bottle of champagne. Suddenly Hitler appeared in the doorway and the bottle, which had just been opened, was discreetly hidden beneath a table. Hitler strode into the room, kicked the bottle, spilling its contents, turned on his heel, and walked out without uttering a word.

Several unusual accidents to U-boats were described by Bargsten. He related the well-known story of how U-43 commanded by Kapitänleutnant Wolfgang Lüth sank at the pier in Lorient in January 1941 because the men on watch failed to notice an open vent. At the time, Oberleutnant Hinrich-Oscar Bernbeck of the 1934 naval term was Executive Officer and Oberleutnant Erwin Witte of the 1935 naval term was Second Watch Officer. They were both held responsible for the accident by a board of inquiry in Berlin and were required to pay for the repairs to the boat. These repairs lasted five months and included the installation of new electric motors. Bernbeck was later assigned to an old U-boat, formerly Dutch, which now is serving as a school boat in the Baltic. Witte spent a year in Kiel, attached to the 5. Unterseebootsflottille. He was then sent to Flensburg where he was put in charge of clearing land which was to be the site of new barracks. Neither officer has been promoted since the accident although other members of the 1934 and 1935 naval terms are now Kapitänleutnant.

Another accident described by Bargsten was the collision of two U-boats in the Baltic Sea in August or September 1942, during their tactical exercises. One boat was commanded by Oberleutnant Ulrich Pietsch of the 1935 naval term. The other U-boat was commanded by an officer named Friedrichs. Bargsten was under the impression that the latter was U-195. (Note: U-195 has been reported as a 1200-ton U-boat. It has not been possible to identify Friedrichs with any certainty. There are three officers of this name in the German Naval List of 1940. Kapitänleutnant Adolf Friedrichs of the October 1937 naval term, has had a post in the coast artillery.)

The rudder of Pietsch’ boat became jammed, the two boats collided, and both were badly damaged. A second accident occurred to Pietsch’ boat during the working up trials. During torpedo firing exercises, while submerged, Pietsch heard propeller noises in an area in which no other ships were supposed to be present. Suddenly his boat was rammed. On surfacing, he discovered that the ship was none other than the Scharnhorst.

Bargsten said that in Danzig he had seen the Baltic Sea freighter, Morgenrot, lying on her side after being rammed by U-512 under command of Kapitänleutnant Wolfgang Schultze.

The prisoner recounted the story of an artillery duel in June 1942 between a destroyer and U-333 commanded by Kapitänleutnant Erich Cremer. He said that Cremer was so severely wounded that a plane was sent to take him from the U-boat and rush him to a hospital. (Note: This apparently happened in the Bay of Biscay, probably on a patrol subsequent to the one in which he was rammed by a tanker (June 1942) and brought his U-boat to port completely battered.)

Bargsten told many anecdotes about his friends and acquaintances in the U-boat Service. His most intimate friend and classmate was Korvettenkapitän Reinhard Suhren. It was stated that Suhren, good looking and popular, could considerably lower the alcoholic stocks of any port in which he found himself. His personality was described as enthusiastic and carefree. Two incidents in which Suhren figured were recounted by Bargsten. On one occasion, Suhren met another U-boat at sea. Suhren and the captain of the other boat were on the bridge as they approached each other. An exchange of greetings and affectionate insults passed across the narrowing gap between the two boats. So immersed were the two captains in conversation that their boats collided, necessitating the return of both U-boats to their base for repairs. Despite his carelessness, Suhren was readily forgiven this peccadillo.

On another occasion, Suhren was stalking a convoy which he had previously reported to the Commander in Chief U-boats. In due course, he received an "inspirational" message from Dönitz telling him to "pursue relentlessly and attack fiercely". Upon returning from this cruise, which was highly successful, Suhren was summoned to the office of Dönitz to give his report. In the course of the interview, Suhren violated decorum by referring to the signal as unnecessary, if not insulting. Dönitz was taken aback for a moment by this impudence but recovered in time to seize Suhren by the neck, lay him across the table, and administer a sound spanking to the naughty boy.

While on the subject of signals, Bargsten spoke of a message that Dönitz sent to Günther Prien on the occasion of the birth of Prien’s daughter. The message read, "Ein U-boot ohne Sehrohr ist heute angekommen" (A submarine without periscope arrived today).

Bargsten stated that listening to British broadcasts, while forbidden in Germany, was quite common. He said that severe penalties were dealt out, not for listening, but for spreading news. When Bargsten’s friend, Oberleutnant Hans Ey, Captain of U-433, was captured in November 1941, the news of his rescue was later broadcast on a British program. On the day of the broadcast, Ey’s wife received three anonymous telephone calls and on the following day, eight anonymous letters congratulating her on the good news.

In speaking of training and tactics, Bargsten said that the training of prospective U-boat commanders through a "Konfirmandenfahrt" (guest cruise) had been abandoned. He said that captains were now drawn from the ranks of watch officers and that the Agru Front (Active Service Training Group) was considered sufficient additional training. He did not hesitate to confirm this practice made the first cruise of a new U-boat captain even more perilous than heretofore.

Bargsten told of how officer candidates at U-boat school were required to pump out the heads of a U-boat at a depth of about 20 meters. After successfully performing this act, they were presented with a W.C. Schein (W.C. Certificate) which describes in a facetious way their great acts of heroism.

Bargsten stated that in his opinion, the greatest tactical aid in escape maneuvers was the S.B.T. He attributes his own escape in U-563 from a destroyer attack to this device and said that many other U-boats have been saved by its employment.

According to the prisoner, 250-ton U-boats are known as "Einbaume" (dugout canoes).

Bargsten spoke at some length on the Commando raid on St. Nazaire of March 1942. He said that the British soldiers, posing as Germans, would approach a sentry and ask: "Kamerad, hast du Feuer?" (Comrade, have you a light?). When the sentry would reach for a match, he would be attacked. It was stated that officers and crews of U-boats were forbidden to take part in the action, as they could easily have been captured in their white night shirts. They were transported from the danger area in automobiles. One famous U-boat captain, now the commanding officer of a flotilla, made the excuse of having to relieve himself and got out of the car. He later succeeded in returning to the scene of the fight and was wounded in the foot. He was placed under arrest for disobeying orders.

...After Bargsten's interrogation he was held in captivity until his release in 1946, the Kriegsmarine falsely reported the entire crew of U-521 as MIA (Missing in Action).

Post World War II

Through extensive research, Klaus Bargsten was found living in Bremen. He was invited to the reunion of PC-565. He accepted and the crew was there to greet him. Needless to say, the reunion was a huge success. Several PC-565 sailors were delighted to reunite with their German companion.

He died in August 2000 due to health complications, his death was only announced August 12, 2000, no exact date would be specified. From various sources, the estimated date of death is around August 10th-12th.

Ranks and Military Decorations

Ranks

The following is a list of dates for Kptlt. Bargsten's promotions during World War II.
Date Rank
1 Jul, 1936 Fähnrich zur See
1 Jan, 1938 Oberfähnrich zur See
1 Apr, 1938 Leutnant zur See
1 Oct, 1939 Oberleutnant zur See
1 Aug, 1942 Kapitänleutnant

Decorations

The following is a list of Kptlt. Bargsten's awards and decorations.
Date Decoration
23 Jul, 1940 Iron Cross 2nd Class
10 Aug, 1940 U-boat War Badge
25 Sep, 1940 Iron Cross 1st Class
30 Apr, 1943 Knight's Cross (number 164 of the Kriegsmarine)

Commands

The following is a list of Kptlt. Bargsten's commands in the Kriegsmarine navy.

U-Boat Command Length
U-563 27 Mar, 1941 - 15 Mar, 1942 2 patrols (69 days)
U-521 3 Jun, 1942 - 2 Jun, 1943 3 patrols (169 days)

References

  • Fellgiebel, Walther-Peer (2000). Die Träger des Ritterkreuzes des Eisernen Kreuzes 1939-1945. Friedburg, Germany: Podzun-Pallas. ISBN 3-7909-0284-5.
  • Kurowski, Franz (1995). Knight's Cross Holders of the U-Boat Service. Schiffer Publishing Ltd. ISBN 0-88740-748-X.
  • Range, Clemens (1974). Die Ritterkreuzträger der Kriegsmarine. Stuttgart, Germany: Motorbuch Verlag. ISBN 3-87943-355-0.

External links

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