Silver and mercury. Covert operations of World War II

Silver and mercury. Covert operations of World War II

Thirty One Ton Mercury

In April 1944, a large ocean-going U-859 submarine (type IXD2) sailed from Kiel, carrying a secret cargo (31 tons of mercury in metal flasks) and heading to Penang occupied by the Japanese. Less than an hour before its destination, after six months and 22 miles of travel, the U-000 was sunk by the British submarine HMS Trenchant. Of the 859 crew members, only 67 people were able to rise to the surface from a 20-meter depth.

Large amounts of mercury were transported in submarines as part of the German-Japanese agreements on the exchange of materials and technologies necessary for military operations. Some of these submarines reached their destinations, others were sunk in transit (like U-864) or surrendered with cargo on board at the end of the U-234 war.

Boats of the IXD2 type had the largest sailing range in the German fleet. Autonomy was 23700 miles, at 12 knots, 57 miles at 4 knots under water. The maximum immersion depth is 230 m.

They were equipped with two powerful MAN supercharged diesel engines. Also installed are two additional diesel engines used for cruising in the freeboard position. To reduce the time of immersion, the superstructure in the bow was cut off. The U-859 was armed with six torpedo tubes (four on the bow and two at the stern), 24 torpedoes, one naval gun SK C / 32 10,5 cm, Flak M42 3,7 cm, and two 2 cm (C / 30 ) anti-aircraft guns. The U-859 was equipped with a snorkel.

On some submarines operating in the Monsun group (a group of German submarines operating in the Pacific and Indian oceans during World War II, organizationally part of the 33rd submarine flotilla), a small single folding Focke-Achgelis Fa-330 gyroplane was used Bachstelze "(" Wagtail "), capable of rising to a height of 120 m.

On April 4, 1944, the U-859 submarine, under the command of Lieutenant Commander Johann Jebsen, left Kiel, carrying 31 tons of mercury in metal flasks, as well as critical parts for radar installations and equally important technical information. After a short stop in the Norwegian Kristiansand, the boat continued sailing, passing between the Shetland Islands and Greenland, then leaving the Atlantic. Lieutenant Commander I. Jebsen also avoided shipping lanes during his stay in the North Atlantic. The boat remained under water 23 hours a day, moving under the snorkel, floating to the surface for only one hour at night.

Jebsen was a cautious and methodical person. He used the radio only for listening and did not report the location of the boat. He had strict instructions: the primary task was to secretly reach the destination of Penang and not to reveal himself in any way. Why, on April 26, Jebsen decided to attack the Panamanian cargo ship Colin, which was behind the SC-157 convoy as a result of a steering gear breakdown, one wonders.

Having sunk "Colin" with three torpedoes, U-859 continued its journey to the south. After two months, the submarine rounded the Cape of Good Hope and entered the Indian Ocean.

On April 5, U-859 was spotted and attacked by Lockheed Ventura (according to other sources, the attack plane was Catalina). And again, instead of diving, Jebsen decided that he could easily bring down a plane using the ones on board weapon.

- Flieralarm! He cried out, and the team took up their combat posts.

Both C / 30 anti-aircraft guns opened fire, but the 3,7-cm jammed. The plane flew over the submarine, shelling it with machine guns. Calculation Flak M42 tried to troubleshoot. The plane turned around and went on the attack again, shelling a submarine. Jebsen decided that he was no longer going to participate in this deadly contest, and ordered an emergency dive. When the U-859 slid under the water, five bombs fell nearby, shaking the boat. As a result of the attack, three crew members of the submarine were injured, one died, and the snorkel was seriously damaged.

The second victim of the U-859 was the "silver" John Barry, a Liberty series vessel. There are several versions about how much silver this ship carried. One of them: in addition to the three million silver Saudi riyals minted in Philadelphia at the request of Saudi Arabia, there was a significant amount of silver bullion intended for the USSR on board, worth $ 26 million, equivalent to about 1500 tons of silver at 1944 prices.

At sunset on August 28, U-859, as usual, surfaced to determine the coordinates and recharge the batteries. The following approximate coordinates were established: 15 ° 10` N and 55 ° 18`E And here the captain-lieutenant Jebsen was incredibly surprised and at the same time delighted: he saw an enemy merchant ship unaccompanied by an escort and sailing in an uneven zigzag course in an almost full blackout mode. Three torpedoes, and the John Barry descended with treasures to a depth of 2600 meters.

Three days later, another British ship, Troilus, with a load of tea, copra and coconut oil, was also sunk by U-859.

22000 miles behind. 20 left

At dawn on September 23, 1944, U-859 rose halfway between the islands of Langkawi and Botong from the waters of the warm Indian Ocean. The submarine covered 22 nautical miles, of which 000 are under water. She was on the road for five months, two weeks and five days.

Jebsen got in touch with Penang and was informed that due to the worsening weather conditions he would have to go to the harbor without escort and without protection. U-859 was located 20 nautical miles northwest of Penang in the Strait of Malacca, moving along the surface at a speed of about 14 knots.

German observers could not find the British submarine HMS "Trenchant" or the approaching torpedoes. HMS Trenchant Commander Arthur Hazlet launched a surprise attack using his stern torpedo tubes.

U-859 sank immediately, killing 47 people, including its commander.

Twenty crew members still managed to escape. Eleven of the survivors were picked up by HMS Trenchant immediately after flooding, the remaining nine were picked up by the Japanese after 24 hours of drift and delivered to shore.

(The most significant victory for HMS Trenchant was the sinking of the Japanese cruiser Asigara on June 8, 1945. It was the largest Japanese warship sunk by the Royal Navy during the war. Arthur Hezlett rose to the rank of vice admiral.)

Instead of an epilogue

In 1972, a total of 859 tons of mercury was picked up by commercial divers at the site of U-12 death and delivered to Singapore. Soon, representatives of the Malaysian Navy arrived at the site of the death of the submarine and banned further work.

The Supreme Court of Singapore ruled:

“... the German state never ceased to exist, despite the unconditional surrender of Germany in 1945, and what was the property of the German state, unless it was seized and seized by one of the allied powers, still remains the property of the German state ..."

(Reports on International Law. T. 56. Cambridge University Press, 1980. P. 40–47.)

Subsequently, the wreckage of the boat was destroyed by explosives by the German diving team.

In November 1989, Shoemaker, Fiondella, and two Washington attorneys won the right to investigate the John Barry vessel. In 1994, after four years of testing, which was preceded by many years of painstaking archival research, one and a half million Saudi riyals weighing 17 tons were lifted from the site of the death of John Barry.

Based on materials:,,
Articles from this series:
Operation Caesar. Beginning is the end
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