Purpose of this blog

Dmitry Yudo aka Overlord, jack of all trades
David Lister aka Listy, Freelancer and Volunteer

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Courage or Desperation

The crew of U-570 were in an odd mood. First they had the overwhelming belief that they would soon be home with a German victory, but they were also surprised at the amount and range of food available in the UK. They had been lead to believe that the German submarine blockade was so overwhelming, and was choking the UK to her knees. In addition they were glad to be off the U-570. Life on board had never shaped up to the life they were promised by the recruiting propaganda. Equally they were out from under the thumb of their officers. One in particular had been seen as a problem, the 2nd in command of the U-boat, 25 year old  Lieutenant Bernhard Berndt.
Lt Berndt's brief command
An appraisal of him by British intelligence found him arrogant, uninteresting and "a difficult and nagging superior, but neither efficient nor knowledgeable." He unfortunately reflected the crew of the boat, with nearly all being inexperienced. Lt Berndt had joined the Kriegsmarine in 1935. He had served on destroyers until joining the submarines, and after training went directly to U-570. Some sources say it was Lt Berndt whom was responsible for surrendering U-570 when her Captain was incapacitated by gas during her capture.
Grizedale Hall POW camp
After their capture the crew of U-570 were held in London and interrogated by the British after which they were split up and sent to various camps. The officers, not including Cpt Rahmlow, were sent to No1 Camp (Officers) at Grizedale Hall. This was also known as U-boat Hotel, due to the large number of U-boat men imprisoned there. As the story of U-570 had been widely reported by the British press the members of the camp had heard the story by the time the three U-570 men arrived. There was a general air of hostility to the newcomers, and eventually a secret, illegal trial was arranged by the senior members of the camp, despite the British forbidding such activities. The court was presided over by U-boat ace Otto Kretschmer. They added Cpt Rahmlow to the charge sheet, despite him not being present.
Otto Kretschmer
Lt Berndt tried to defend himself, arguing the circumstances and the utter inexperience of the crew lead to the capture, not cowardice. However both he and Cpt Rahmlow were found guilty. The British were aware of such goings on, and took measures to keep the Officers of U-570 safe. Including a three man detail escorting Lt Berndt about the camp during times such as visiting the shower blocks where he might be vulnerable. In a coded letter to Admiral Donitz, Kretschmer informed him of the outcome assuming that after the Germans won the war Cpt Rahmlow and Lt Berndt would be found, tried and executed.

Things took a fateful turn when British newspapers reported that U-570 had arrived at Barrow-in-Furness, a mere 30 odd miles from Grizedale Hall. Lt Berndt proposed a plan to regain his honour. He would escape, make his way to the U-570 and destroy her. Kretschmer was also in charge of the German escape committee, and passed the plan. A number of items were manufactured by the Germans including a uniform of some sort.
The camp at Grizedale Hall was a double line of wire fencing with a few guard towers and a collection of huts for the Germans. On the night of 18th October 1941 Lt Berndt crawled out to the wire and used a pair of homemade wire cutters to make a hole big enough for him to crawl to freedom.

However the camp commander was aware of the escape almost immediately. Had Lt Berndt been spotted by a sentry? Or had someone in the camp informed on his escape? Either way the local Home Guard was alerted and they began patrolling the area. In the morning of the 19th a patrol searching a nearby farm raised the corner of a tarpaulin and looked underneath it, they found a shivering Lt Berndt in hiding. After his arrest the Home Guards started to lead him back to Grizedale Hall, upon realising his fate was to be returned to that hostile environment Lt Berndt broke away from his guards and fled across the fields. The Home Guards fired a volley of warning shots, which Lt Berndt ignored, the next volley was not aimed to miss.

He was buried locally, with full honours at the insistence of Kretschmer. However due to an error and the locals unfamiliarity with German ranks and names, the last part of Lt Berndts German rank of "Oberleutnant zur See" was mistranslated as his first name. This meant that his burial record read "Lee Bernhard Berndt". It's curious to note that despite the thousands of men involved in the entire story of U-570, including several exchanges of fire Lt Berndts is the only death involved with the submarine, including with its three war patrols under Royal Navy Service.

Image credits:
s.hswstatic.com and www.newsandstar.co.uk