This page updated on: 25 June 2014
Sank 5th May 1945 - Raised 23rd August 1993 - Location: Woodside Ferry Terminal, Birkenhead, Merseyside
You can see more images of the U-534 on Page 2 - Her previous Home on Wallasey Docks
3rd page added - images of visits to the new home at Woodside Ferry Terminal Birkenhead
U534 was sitting silently on the Danish seabed a few miles from the castle of Elsinor when it received Admiral Doenitz's order that all German submarines should surrender by 0800 hours on May 5th 1945. Alongside U534 on the seabed were three Type XXI's, the brand new boats that had only become operational in the previous month. Ever since he had become the commander of the new German submarine services in 1936 Doenitz had dreamed of developing a long-range submarine that 'could travel almost as fast under the water as it could on the surface. The development of the Type XXI was a giant step in that direction, but it had come too late. The decision on whether or not to obey Admiral Doenitz's surrender order rested with Herbert Nollau, the captain of U534. He was only twenty-six but he had been in command of U534 since she was first commissioned two days before Christmas 1942. Young Captain Nollau was not plagued with the indecision that had wracked Hamlet when he paced the ancient battlements of Elsinor. The four German submarines headed north towards Norway without flying the surrender flag. The departure of the German U-boats was quickly reported and a flight of three RAF Coastal Command Liberators from 86 Squadron took off from Tain in Scotland. The four U-boats had powerful anti-aircraft armament. U534 had one 37mm Bofors gun as well as twin 20mm guns. One of the Liberators (E for Edward) was the first casualty in the last major engagement of the Battle of the Atlantic. With their high underwater speeds the three Type XXI's now submerged, leaving U534 alone on the surface where she was attacked by Liberator G for George. The first stick of six depth charges seemed to miss, although an air gunner reported that a depth charge had got caught on the deck just behind the conning tower. There was no mistake on the second low level attack. Neville Baker, the bombardier, had set the depth charge to explode at a depth of 10 feet. The explosion cracked but did not smash the hull. Sea water flooded in. U54 was mortally wounded.
Fortunately, she sank so slowly that 47 of the 52 crew members were able to jump overboard. Five more were trapped in the forward torpedo room. It seemed certain that these five men were doomed. But the senior submariner in the group, Karl Gernhardt, managed to find the survival equipment in the dark and to open the torpedo loading hatch when the internal pressure was equalised. Four of the five men survived the ascent to the surface. It was an epic escape. Two other members of the crew died before the survivors were landed atthe Danish port of Aarhus. Although the crew of U534 were young - their 26 year old captain was the oldest man onboard - the submarine itself was one of the oldest in the German Navy. Most of the U-boats that took part in the Battle of the Atlantic were Type VII's which were noted for their toughness and reliability. U534 was a Type IXCI 40. She was somewhat less manoeuvrable than the type VII's and had a longer range -16800 nautical miles at a speed of 10 knots. At times Type IX's did play an important combat role - Type IX's wreaked havoc with American shipping off the East Coast of the United States at the beginning of 1942 after America entered the war - one of the most successful of all submarine campaigns. The Type IX's long range meant that they were often assigned to special missions rather than routine convoy hunting.
For the first fourteen months of' her life U534 had a comparatively safe existence as a weapons testing and training boat based at Stettin in the Baltic. Her operational life began on May 8, 1944 when she left the Norwegian port of Bergen for a weather reporting mission south of Greenland. As the invasion season neared, accurate weather prediction became increasingly important for both the Allies and the Germans. Reasonably accurate forecasting depended upon knowledge of meteorological conditions in the mid North Atlantic and here the Allies had a huge advantage with hundreds of surface ships and aircraft. There were regular but brief weather reports from U-boats on anti-convoy patrol but these messages contained little detail. The only accurate German weather information from this vital area came from U534 and two other German submarines. It was a crucial role at a crucial moment. Allied meteorological officers were able to advise General Eisenhower that the bad weather would hold off long enough to allow D Day to go ahead. German experts failed to spot the lull in the stormy weather. Weather reporting patrols were clearly safer than attacks on Allied shipping but life onboard U534 was just as uncomfortable as it was on J Type VII. There was a dreadful lack of space.
The Type IX's were 253 feet long, 23 feet wide and had a draft of 15 feet. Engines and batteries filled one third of the space and fifty two members of the crew had to share the remaining space with 214 tons of fuel, 22 torpedoes, the ballast tanks, navigation and signalling equipment, ammunition for the guns and the 18 tons of food and drink needed for a lengthy voyage. Many of the crew had to "hot bunk", which meant that two men had to share one bed and living space; one would try to sleep while his bunk-mate was on watch. Condensation was a continual problem. Cooking was difficult and unless the U-boat was more than 150 feet below the surface of the sea there was constant, wearying movement which meant that the working crew had to hold onto solid fixtures. But for many crew members the worst part of any tour was the smell. There were two lavatories, or "heads" for 52 crew members and neither could be used when the submarine was more than 80 feet below the surface. At the beginning of each voyage one of the heads was often used as a store house. Washing facilities were cramped and difficult to use. German submarine crews were regularly issued with bottles of scent ("4711" Kolnerwasser, or Cologne), but nothing could affect the all pervading smell.
Throughout most of the War the U-boat crews were manned by volunteers. As losses mounted in 1943 and 1944 some ordinary German seamen were drafted into the submarine service but virtually the entire crew of U534 were volunteers and virtually all of them had been schoolboys when war broke out in 1939. At a time when most of the future crew of U534 were doing their sums at school desks, submarine captains and their crews were the greatest heroes in Germany. Just as the Battle of Britain inspired many British schoolboys to join the Royal Air Force so the exploits of such legendary U-boat captains as Prien and Kretschmer filled many German schoolboys with a burning ambition to serve under the sea.
It was a deadly ambition. In all during World War II, 1,162 U-boats were built and 790 were sunk by enemy action. Out of 40,000 officers and men who successfully passed through U-boat training schools between 1934 and the end of the War no less than 30,246 were killed or died of wounds. A further 5,338 crew members (including those on U534) were rescued from sinking U-boats and became prisoners of war. Many historians believe that this is the highest casualty rate suffered by any single service in the history of warfare. Routine wartime censorship would have prevented most U534 crew members from knowing the full extent of the U-boat losses; and in the winter and early spring of 1945 there were no easy options for German servicemen. A final voyage on U534 would certainly be uncomfortable and might well end in death; but serving in a battalion on the Eastern Front as the Russian Army ground on towards Berlin was hardly a comfortable alternative. In the early days of the War the squalor and discomfort of life on board a U-boat had been at least partly balanced by the gala celebrations at the end of successful cruises. There were no celebrations, however, when U534 entered Bordeaux on August 13, 1944. The success of the Allied invasion meant that the sort of weather reports provided by U534 were no longer of much importance, while it was clear that the German U-boat bases in France would soon be captured. For a few days after her return to Bordeaux there was talk of scrapping U-534 but in June, July and August 1944 no less than 84 U Boats had been sunk and it was decided to equip U-534 with a snorkel. This was a hinged air arm which could be raised above the surface to allow the diesel engines to suck in air and expel exhaust gases under the water. This enabled the U boats to recharge their batteries under water. Snorkels had first been fitted to operational submarines early in 1944.
The snorkel fitting in Bordeaux was not done well. When the first test of the new equipment was carried out after U534 left Bordeaux for Kristiansand in Norway the submarine began to fill with gas. U534 was forced to the surface and was quickly spotted by a Wellington bomber of Coastal Command. In the summer of 1944 British and American aircraft had taken a huge toll of German submarines but this time the anti-aircraft gunners of U534 won the duel and the Wellington crashed. After a brief stop at Kristiansand U534 returned to the dockyard at Stettin where she had spent so much of her early life. As the Russian Army approached U534 moved to the main German Naval dockyard at Kiel. For seven months - from October 1944 to May 1945 first in Stettin and then in Kiel U534 was protected and refitted, at least as well as any German submarine. On May 3,1945 U534 was the last boat to leave Germany.
The time of U534's departure from Kiel has been recorded. Her ultimate destination continues to be a matter for some speculation. Was U 534 heading back to Kristiansand or some other Norwegian port? That seems probable as German military resistance crumbled it made strategic sense to concentrate the surviving U·boats in Norwegian ports where they could be a bargaining chip in surrender negotiations. Did Captain Nollau have further secret orders? Was U534 ultimately headed for Argentina or some other destination in South America carrying a Nazi leader or a consignment of gold and diamonds to support the Nazis who were already escaping? U5;34 certainly had the range to reach any destination in South America and one of the radio operators onboard was an Argentinian from a German family., When U534 left Kiel, however, her fuel tanks were more than half-empty. On the way to Elsinor U534 filled up her fuel tanks with diesel oil from another German submarine. Even if due allowance is made for the chaos in the Kiel dockyard during the first week of May 1945, it is difficult to believe that U534's fuel tanks would not have been full if she already had a precious cargo onboard. The one man who could provide an answer was Captain Herbert Nollau but he committed suicide a few years after his boat was sunk.
Just over thirty years later, in August 1986, a Danish diver, Aage Jensen, found a U-boat on the seabed twelve miles North East of the Danish island of Anholt. The' submarine was soon identified as U534 and as she was not a classified war grave - because no members of her crew had died onboard - it was legally possible to raise her - even though the German authorities opposed the operation. There were of course immense technical political, legal and organisational problems but Karsten Ree, the Danish publisher and businessman, provided the necessary leadership and financial support. At the beginning of August 1993, the Dutch salvage company, Smit Tak, began work and a giant steel sling was slipped under the wrecked U-boat. On Monday, August 23 1993, U534 was lifted to the surface watched by eight members of the U-boat crew and four of the airmen from the Liberator, G for George, who were guests of Karsten Ree. Once Karsten Ree's, team had enjoyed the excitement of seeing U534 emerging from the sea there was difficult and dangerous work to be done. After forty-eight years on the seabed the h"ull was filled with tons of silt mixed with quantities of unstable ammunition. 'Thirteen torpedoes and 450 rounds of anti-aircraft ammunition were carefully removed and blown up, while three acoustic guided torpedoes were taken away by the Danish Navy. Presume these are for study as nothing has been heard of them since!
As the German U Boat missed a golden opportunity to do irreparable damage to the Royal Navy and British shipping in 1940 and early 1941 because of defective torpedoes, it was ironic that the three T11 Zaunkonig's carried by U534 should be the most advanced torpedoes produced anywhere during World War II. The submarine was carried by barge to a dry dock on the mainland and the complex task of conservation began. A quick search failed to find the store of gold and diamonds which the salvagers quietly hoped would be onboard but a combination of mud and water-tight compartments had left uniforms, binoculars, documents, maps and bottles of wine in surprisingly good condition. The question then was where U534 should be preserved? Once again Karsten Ree found an imaginative answer. After the capture of Norway and France in 1940 Merseyside was the main British port for he rest of the War. Merseyside became the British anchor during the Battle of the Atlantic. For five years a convoy entered or left the Mersey almost every day and the protection of these essential convoys was directed by the Headquarters of Western Approaches in Liverpool. Karsten Ree decided that Merseyside would be the right home for U534. After discussions with Metropolitan Borough of Wirral and the Warship Preservation Trust, Karsten Ree moved U534 to Birkenhead where she rests just a few hundred yards from the place where the world's first mechanically propelled submarine, Resurgam, was built and tested. One of U534's survivors went on board after she had been raised and found his Schnapps bottle still beneath his pillow - alas, he discovered that a member of his crew had drank the contents!
That was back in 1996. The U 534 rested ashore at the Warship Preservation Trusts site on Birkenhead Dock. Between then and 2008 no effort was made to preserve her hull from the ravages of the weather and she began to corrode. As I regularly visited her I could see the degeneration over the period of time.
On Wednesday August 24th 2000, along with a workmate, I went up to Merseyside to see the U 534 for the first time. It was a trip well worth it. This sub was not a war grave, therefore it was all right to raise it from the seabed. A massive dent in the keel is visible clearly near the stern. The depth charge that caught this u-boat was set at 10 feet. Below are various images that I have taken of the submarine over time. Since then, in Jan 2006, the Warship Preservation Trust is no more, due to developers and greed. The fate of the U-534 has been in the balance ever since, with speculation growing monthly that Merseyside might even lose her altogether. In June 2007 it was made public that Merseytravel were intending to cut her into three sections and move her to Woodside Ferry Terminal. I last visited the site in May 2008 to find she had gone, moved to her new home. Sadly I did not have time, on this particular trip, to go to Woodside to see for myself, but I will, soon. She is now in three pieces as I caught the workers cutting her up in February. I also noted that she has finally been coated in some sort of silver paint, hopefully preserving her hull. See image below. you can also see the markings for the cutting forward and aft of the conning tower. She is now, of course, at 'home' on Woodside Ferry Terminal.
The notice that appeared heralding
the end of the Trust in their sell out to developers
The U 534 was not the last U Boat to be sunk by enemy action at the end of the war; 10 more U Boats were sunk, mainly by aircraft.
Woodside Ferry to be new home for rescued U-boat
Jun 27 2007 by Liam Murphy, Liverpool Daily Post
A GERMAN U-boat which was part of Wirral’s historic warship collection is to be moved to Woodside Ferry terminal as a spectacular new visitor attraction.
Merseytravel announced plans to rescue the stricken U534 which has lain on Birkenhead docks since the warships museum closed last year. The U-boat, which was launched in February 1942, will be re-sited at the Woodside Ferry Terminal, and plans submitted to Wirral Council include a visitor exhibition centre, which will also house artefacts from the submarine. The boat will be cut into three sections for transportation to its new site by water, using a floating crane.
When it arrives at Woodside, huge, high-quality glazed panels installed over the end of each section will allow visitors to see inside the submarine from specially-built viewing platforms. Neil Scales, chief executive and director general of Merseytravel, which owns and operates the Mersey Ferries, said the plan to create the attraction at Woodside would reaffirm the position of the ferries as the region’s most popular paid-for attraction. Mr Scales said: “We are still in negotiations with specialists about moving U534, but work can start as soon as we receive planning permission which, we anticipate, will be in September.”
He added: “Our scheme will also complement the wider regeneration of the Woodside development, which is the subject of a master plan.” U534 was never involved in active combat during WWII but used for training and later meteorological purposes. On May 5, 1945, the U-boat was sailing in the Kattegat, northwest of Helsingor and ordered to surrender, but refused to do so. Without flying a flag of surrender, she was attacked and took heavy damage, with 49 of the 52 crew members surviving. David Ball, head of housing and regeneration at Wirral Council, said the authority was “supportive” of the plans, which he said could “do for Woodside what Spaceport has done for Seacombe”.
Thanks to Colin Davies for
the above information and who also provided me with some images on page 2.
June 29th 2007: Des Alcock of www.hylift.co.uk had been in touch with me to tell me about how, in 2006, his company was contracted to raise men onto the U534 for a study on how to dissect the submarine into 3 pieces. The company are the same one that raised the Kursk. Des sent me some images which include internal shots of the submarine. See page 2 for a collection of these images from Des.
Also Thanks to Colin Davies for this piece of news from the Liverpool Echo - 6th February 2008
A “GIANT wire cheese cutter” sliced into a piece of Merseyside’s naval history today. Work began this morning dividing the German submarine U-534 into four sections. Tourist officials hope it will become a major attraction at Mersey Ferries’ Woodside terminal. Engineers were using a state-of-the-art diamond wire cutter to cut up the 240 ton U-boat. It was sunk en-route to Norway by depth charges dropped by a Liberator aircraft from RAF 547 Squadron. The operation is expected to take up to one month. Each section will make a day-long journey by floating crane from Mortar Mill Quay to Woodside. Cuttings were designed with such precision the sub could be reassembled in one piece. But visitors at the new attraction will be able to walk around the hull parts on raised platforms. The first section to be removed will be a 23-metre length of the bow. Work so far has concentrated on painting the exterior and removing rotten timbers and steelwork from the top deck.
Due to open in summer, the exhibition area will include artefacts such as tools found on the sub and memorabilia portraying the history of undersea warfare. Fifteen thousand litres of diesel remained in the U-534’s storage tanks which had to be pumped out. Neil Scales, chief executive and director general of Merseytravel which owns and operates Mersey Ferries, said: “We’re now moving on to the next stage in what is an exciting project to boost tourism on Merseyside. More people than ever will be able to view the sub in its new location with superb viewing areas so that everyone will be able to see what it is like inside.”
History of a Relic
Launched in February 1942 U-534 was most probably a training boat in the Baltic. She never saw active combat and was used for meteorological purposes. In May 1944, U-534 was released for operational duty avoiding contact with the enemy to ensure regular weather reports. On May 5, 1945 while in the Kattegat, north-west of Helsingor, it refused Admiral Dönitz’s order for all U-boats to surrender. Heading north towards Norway, with no flag of surrender, she was attacked by a Liberator aircraft from RAF 547 Squadron which dropped depth charges. U-534 took heavy damage and began to sink, 49 of 52 crew members survived. It was discovered in 1986 and was thought to be carrying Nazi gold. It was given to Merseyside by Karsten Rae.
Wirral News - April 2011
WIRRAL'S U-Boat Story welcomed its latest addition, the new 'Conning Tower'. It was lifted into place by a crane at the £5m attraction in Woodside to give visitors the experience of being in a real submarine. U-534 was rescued from an uncertain future by Merseytravel after her previous home, the Historic Warships Museum in Birkenhead, went into voluntary liquidation. Merseytravel stepped in when the U-Boat was in danger of being sold for scrap. And since opening in 2009, the U Boat Story has attracted more than 75,000 people and achieved several prestigious awards. Due to high public demand, Merseytravel worked to create a massive replica of its original conning tower. Built in Salford, it will even feature a periscope to allow visitors look out over to Liverpool. Curator Chris Ince said: "It is a very exciting time for us and for the public. "Visitors wanted to be able to go up into the tower and that will now be possible. It is safely in place and looks great." U-534 was sunk after refusing to surrender in 1945. She had a crew of 52 men, all of whom escaped and 49 survived. The vessel lay on the sea bed for nearly 41 years until she was discovered and salvaged in 1986. Transported to Birkenhead in 1996, the sub formed part of the Warship Preservation Trust collection until the museum closed in 2006. In 2007, Merseytravel announced it had acquired the submarine to display at Woodside Ferry Terminal. For technical reasons and to help transportation to its new site, the vessel was cut into five sections, two of which were subsequently re-joined.
A towering new view at U-boat Story – opening Saturday 28th May 2011
See more than ever before and climb the NEW
conning tower complete with periscope for a captain’s eye view of World War II
German submarine U-534, opening Saturday 28th May.
http://u534.coolfreepages.com/ Salvage Members Page
http://uboat.net/gallery/articles/u534_visits.htm - Visiting the U534