Cana­dian Of­fi­cer Took U-968 Sur­ren­der

Cana­dian Of­fi­cer Took U-968 Sur­ren­der

RCN News - - Contents - by John M. MacFar­lane 2013

U–968 sur­ren­der­ing in com­pany with another U-boat and es­cort

Af­ter the pub­li­ca­tion in 2013 of the ar­ti­cle on U-boat skip­pers by Com­man­der Fraser McKee I re­called some im­ages I had seen in the col­lec­tion of the Coates fam­ily. My friend Brent Coates was as­sem­bling a bi­og­ra­phy of his late un­cle, Lieu­tenant–Com­man­der John J. Coates RCN. Among his un­cle’s pa­pers were pho­to­graphs from the Sec­ond World War that caught my eye in­volv­ing the sur­ren­der of a U–boat. It turned out that Coates had been in charge of the board­ing party that took the sur­ren­der of the U–968 at the end of the Sec­ond World War.

Board­ing the Grille

On May 17th, 1945 at 0555 Lieu­tenant Coates RCNVR boarded the Ger­man naval ship Grille (Hitler’s for­mer yacht) with a board­ing party from HMCS Matane ac­com­pa­nied by Petty Of­fi­cer E. Massey RCNVR and Sig­nal­man W. Parish (RCNVR). He was met on the quar­ter­deck by the Cap­tain (who Coates noted "had lim­ited knowl­edge of the English lan­guage".) Coates was taken to the bridge where he met the Se­nior Ger­man Of­fi­cer of the con­voy (Cap­tain Rhein­hard Suhren). Suhren stated that he was the Se­nior Of­fi­cer Arc­tic and Bar­ents Sea and that this was his last com­mand. He fur­ther stated that un­der or­ders from the Ger­man High Com­mand he was with­draw­ing his Com­mand from Narvik, Nor­way and pro­ceed­ing to Trond­heim, Nor­way.

The words in the re­port of Lieu­tenant Coates tell the de­tails elo­quently:

"The Board­ing Of­fi­cer [Coates] asked if the Se­nior Of­fi­cer had read and un­der­stood the terms of sur­ren­der and if his U–boat com­man­ders also un­der­stood these terms. The Se­nior Of­fi­cer [Suhren] upon ques­tion­ing stated that all am­mu­ni­tion had been landed, no mines were car­ried, pis­tols were re­moved from all tor­pe­does and that the Com­mand­ing Of­fi­cers of U–boats un­der­stood and would com­ply with the terms of sur­ren­der. He was then or­dered to in­form his U–boats that if they at­tempted to scut­tle or sub­merge, the boat would be de­stroyed and no mercy would be shown to the crew."

"The Board­ing Of­fi­cer re­quested a fuel re­port from all U– boats and the high­est speed at which they could pro­ceed to Scot­land, ap­prox­i­mately 500 miles."

"While await­ing the fuel re­port the Se­nior Of­fi­cer was in­formed that the [5] sur­face ves­sels would be pro­ceed­ing in­de­pen­dently to Trond­heim [Nor­way]. The [15] U–boats would be es­corted by the Al­lied forces to Scot­land. They were to be formed up in two col­umns four ca­bles apart ships in line ahead two ca­bles apart. The se­nior U–boat was U–278 and lead­ing ship of the port col­umn. He was to hoist a yel­low flag and keep it fly­ing to in­di­cate Se­nior Ship."

"The se­nior Of­fi­cer was re­luc­tant to carry out these or­ders and ques­tioned the au­thor­ity of the Board­ing Of­fi­cer. He ex­plained that his re­luc­tance was due to the fact that he was pro­ceed­ing to Trond­heim un­der Ger­man High Com­mand or­ders in Co–op­er­a­tion with the Al­lied High Com­mand. He was em­phat­i­cally in­formed by the Board­ing Of­fi­cer that he was to com­ply with all or­ders given by the Board­ing Of­fi­cer. His High Com­mand would be in­formed, if nec­es­sary, by the Al­lied High Com­mand. The Se­nior Of­fi­cer wanted to know the rank and the name of the Se­nior Of­fi­cer of Es­cort Group 9. This was re­fused by the Board­ing Of­fi­cer [Coates] and he was given only the pen­nant num­bers of HMCS Matane which he had al­ready noted. At that he sur­ren­dered his Com­mand of the U–boats and or­dered U–278 to as­sume com­mand un­der Se­nior Of­fi­cer E.G. 9, form­ing up and pro­ceed­ing in ac­cor­dance with the board­ing Of­fi­cer’s in­struc­tions."

"The Se­nior Of­fi­cer begged per­mis­sion to send the fol­low­ing mes­sage to his U–boats. "Farewell my U–boats, we have worked well to­gether don’t be down­hearted, Good–bye. Yours Suhren." Per­mis­sion was granted by the Board­ing Of­fi­cer and the mes­sage was sent."

"The Board­ing Of­fi­cer was then or­dered to re­turn to HMCS Matane and he left the Grille at ap­prox­i­mately 0702 and re­turned on board by whaler. When clear of the Grille she pro­ceeded unescorted with the four Ger­man sur­face ves­sels to Trond­heim."

"While on board Grille the Board­ing Of­fi­cer and Party was treated with ex­treme cour­tesy, but no show of friend­li­ness was given in re­turn. Sev­eral of the Se­nior [Ger­man] Of­fi­cer’s staff spoke the English lan­guage well. Our own sig­nal equip­ment was taken but it was not used. Sig­nal­man Parish kept the Se­nior Of­fi­cer of E.G.9 in­formed of all progress by us­ing the Ger­man equip­ment. All or­ders passed by the Se­nior Of­fi­cer to his U–boats were passed by wire­less to ex­pe­dite the mes­sages. In ac­cor­dance with A.Z.78 NOTH­ING, ei­ther equip­ment or triv­ial per­sonal sou­venirs, was re­moved from the Ger­man ship Grille or her per­son­nel."

The Ger­man fleet taken into cus­tody that day in­cluded:

Grille (Hitler’s for­mer yacht) Huas­caran (Sub­ma­rine de­pot ship) Kamerun (Minelayer)

Stella Po­laris (Ac­co­mo­da­tion ves­sel) Karn­ten (Naval tanker)

These ships were ac­com­pa­nied by U-boats:

U–278 (Com­mand­ing Of­fi­cer Franze) U–294 (Com­mand­ing Of­fi­cer Schutt) U–295 (Com­mand­ing Of­fi­cer Wieboldt) U–312 (Com­mand­ing Of­fi­cer V. Gazen) U–313 (Com­mand­ing Of­fi­cer Sch­weiger) U–318 (Com­mand­ing Of­fi­cer Will) U–363 (Com­mand­ing Of­fi­cer Nees) U–427 (Com­mand­ing Of­fi­cer Gu­de­nus) U–481 (Com­mand­ing Of­fi­cer An­der­sen) U–668 (Com­mand­ing Of­fi­cer Hen­ning) U–716 (Com­mand­ing Of­fi­cer Thimme) U–968 (Com­mand­ing Of­fi­cer West­phalen) U–992 (Com­mand­ing Of­fi­cer Falke) U–997 (Com­mand­ing Of­fi­cer Lehmann) U–1165 (Com­mand­ing Of­fi­cer Ho­man)

Board­ing the U–968

Lieu­tenant Coates led another Board­ing Party on May 20th, 1945. It in­cluded:

A/PO Ed­win Massey RCNVR ERA.4 R. Ry­mal RCNVR Lead­ing-Sea­man F. McLean RCNVR Lead­ing-Sea­man H. Hinkel RCNVR Sig­nal­man D. McGurk RCNVR Or­di­nary Sea­man W. Green RCNVR A/Able-Sea­man T. Kelly RCNVR Stoker 1/c A. Taplin RCNVR

"The Party was armed with pis­tols and Sten guns and took their own pro­vi­sions and wa­ter. They boarded U–968 at Loch Erib­all [Scot­land], Satur­day at ap­prox­i­mately 2100. U–968 se­cured on the star­board side of HMS Ru­pert and an RN Board­ing Party was re­lieved. Com­mand­ing Of­fi­cer of the U–boat was found to be OBLtN.z.S. West­phalen."

"Rounds of the boat was car­ried out and the boat thor­oughly searched by the Board­ing Of­fi­cer. All al­co­hol and firearms had been re­moved. It was found to have two mi­nor leaks in the hull around where the schnorkel was fit­ted and the air com­pres­sor was stripped down. The Com­mand­ing Of­fi­cer and Engi­neer Of­fi­cer pro­duced a de­fect list that had been ap­proved by the Flotilla Engi­neer in Narvik [Nor­way]. The boat was to have gone into re­fit on V.E. Day but this had been can­celled. The Com­mand­ing Of­fi­cer stated that his boat was un­able to dive. The Board­ing Of­fi­cer con­sid­ered from what he had seen of the boat that this state­ment was cor­rect. No tor­pe­does, de­mo­li­tion charges or am­mu­ni­tion was car­ried. The crew were or­dered to stay be­low in their messes. The of­fi­cers re­mained in the ward­room."

"Watches were set on deck and be­low by the board­ing party. One Ger­man rat­ing kept watch on deck at the C.O.’s re­quest to tend the lines. At ap­prox­i­mately 0300 Sun­day, 20th May 1945, HMS Ru­pert re­ported that she was rapidly drag­ging her an­chor. The Board­ing Of­fi­cer roused the Com­mand­ing Of­fi­cer. Or­dered spe­cial sea du­ty­men to be closed up. Ru­pert’s an­chor dragged un­til the sub­ma­rine crashed into HMS Conn ap­prox­i­mately 0330, 20th May 1945. All the S/M’s wires then parted. Mo­tors were started and the S/M [sub­ma­rine] cleared away from the other ships."

"Matane was sig­naled and per­mis­sion asked to pro­ceed along­side. This re­quest was granted. U–968 ma­noeu­vered in the Loch un­til Matane sig­naled her readi­ness to sup­ply lines and take the U– along her star­board side. By ap­prox­i­mately 0430 U–968 was se­cured on Matane. The [Ger­man] Com­mand­ing Of­fi­cer showed con­sid­er­able abil­ity as a sea­man in com­plet­ing this with no dam­age. Matane twice dur­ing the morn­ing cleared her an­chor and shifted an­chor­age. At 0655 U–968 slipped and pro­ceeded clear of Matane un­til she shifted to a more pro­tected an­chor­age. U–968 then pro­ceeded back along­side."

"Dur­ing the Sun­day the Board­ing Party ate all their meals aboard Matane. The U–boat crew spent the day ei­ther sun­ning on deck or sleep­ing be­low. At 1942 Sun­day U–968 slipped and pro­ceeded to form up in a line ahead in com­pany with four other U–boats. Four ships of E.G.9 es­corted the boats to Loch Alsh [Isle of Skye, Scot­land]. This pas­sage was with­out event. The U–boat Com­man­der was most co–op­er­a­tive in all ways. On ar­riv­ing at Loch Alsh at ap­prox­i­mately 0800 Mon­day the U–968 was berthed along­side a de­pot ship. The Board­ing Of­fi­cer was or­dered to es­cort the Com­mand­ing Of­fi­cer to Se­nior Of­fi­cer E.G.9. This was com­plied with."

"The Board­ing Of­fi­cer was rep­ri­manded by Com­man­der Tay­lor RN for frat­er­niz­ing with the pris­oner. The board­ing Of­fi­cer was merely ex­plain­ing what was re­quired of the Com­mand­ing Of­fi­cer as he was con­fused be­cause or­ders from Loch Erib­all and Loch Alsh were dif­fer­ent."

"On re­turn­ing to U–968 the Board­ing Of­fi­cer found a Royal Navy Armed Party un­der a Royal Navy Lieu­tenant and a Royal Naval Vol­un­teer Re­serve Sub-Lieu­tenant had taken charge on board the boat. The boat was fast be­ing stripped of all valu­ables by the Royal Naval Party. In the opin­ion of the Board­ing Of­fi­cer they were un­nec­es­sar­ily bul­ly­ing the Ger­man crew and act­ing in a way un­be­com­ing a Bri­tish Naval Of­fi­cer. The Board­ing Of­fi­cer in­formed them that he did not agree with their be­hav­iour but was in­formed that they had taken the boat over. At this the Board­ing Of­fi­cer im­me­di­ately re­turned to Matane turn­ing over all re­spon­si­bil­ity to the RN Of­fi­cer and vacating U–968."

The Ger­man Sub­ma­rine U–968

The sub­ma­rine U–968 was laid down 14 May 1942 at Blohm & Voss, in Ham­burg. She sur­ren­dered on May 9th, 1945 at Narvik, Nor­way. In Op­er­a­tion Dead­light (post–war Al­lied op­er­a­tion), she was de­lib­er­ately sunk on 29 Novem­ber, 1945 in po­si­tion 55.24N, 06.22W [North Sea off the coast of Den­mark].

Otto West­phalen (born 12 March 1920 in Ham­burg – died 9 Jan­uary 2008 in Ham­burg) be­gan his naval ca­reer in Oc­to­ber 1938. In 1939 he took part in the Pol­ish Cam­paign serv­ing in the school ship Sch­le­sien. Later he served six months on the tor­pedo boat Kon­dor be­fore join­ing the U–boat ser­vice in Oc­to­ber 1940. In 1941 he made four pa­trols as an of­fi­cer of the watch in U–566, (two in the Arc­tic Sea and two in the North At­lantic – the last one to Cana­dian Wa­ters dur­ing Jan­uary – March 1942). In May 1942 he took com­mand of the train­ing boat U–121. In March 1943 he com­mis­sioned the Type VIIC U–boat U –968, which was then de­tached to the 13th (Arc­tic Sea) Flotilla. He sank two Bri­tish war­ships: the naval sloops HMS Lark and HMS Lap­wing. He sur­ren­dered in May 1945 in Narvik Nor­way to HMCS Matane.

West­phalen sat on the court mar­tial that found KL Oskar– Heinz Kusch, Com­mand­ing Of­fi­cer of U–154 guilty of "de­featist talk". Kusch had been de­nounced by his 1st W.O. OL Ul­rich Abel, an ar­dent Na­tional So­cial­ist, to the Flotilla com­man­der for de­featist talk in the ward­room and even to one of his crew­men on his sec­ond war pa­trol. He was found guilty of "mak­ing deroga­tory re­marks about Hitler and the Nazi Party" on Jan­uary 26, 1944 in Kiel. Kusch was con­demned to death by the court mar­tial and was ex­e­cuted at a ri­fle range out­side Kiel Ger­many on May 12, 1944. Af­ter the war West­phalen fee­bly tried to de­fend his ac­tions in the Kusch case by stat­ing that Kusch’s po­lit­i­cal views had some­how made his U-boat less ef­fec­tive in the war ef­fort. From the Ger­man per­spec­tive West­phalen might have been viewed as a war hero but his ac­tions in the Kusch case show that he was def­i­nitely lack­ing in moral stand­ing.

Coates con­tacted West­phalen by mail some time af­ter the end of the Sec­ond World War. Mem­bers of the Coates fam­ily re­call that West­phalen’s let­ter re­sponses came across in old age in a "mel­low tone" per­haps tem­pered by age and re­flec­tion.

John Jef­fery Coates joined the navy as an Or­di­nary Sea­man RCNVR in Au­gust 1938. He served in the Toronto Di­vi­sion of the RCNVR in 1938. He was ap­pointed as an Able–Sea­man RCNVR 1938. He served in HMS Dundee 1938 and in HMCS An­dre Dupree 1939. He served in HMCS Aca­dia 1939–40 as well as HMCS Cham­bly. He was pro­moted to A/Petty Of­fi­cer RCNVR in 1940. He served in HMCS St. Lau­rent 1940. He was com­mis­sioned from the ranks and ap­pointed as a Pro­ba­tion­ary Sub–Lieu­tenant RCNVR (With se­nior­ity dated 27/04/1942). He served in the Royal Cana­dian Naval Col­lege (Royal Roads 5th Class) for train­ing in 1942. He served in HMCS Beaver for Sea Train­ing 1942. He was ap­pointed as a Sub– Lieu­tenant (Temp.) RCNVR (With se­nior­ity dated 27/04/1942). He served in HMCS Stada­cona for the Anti–Sub­ma­rine Course 1942 and was qual­i­fied as an Anti–Sub­ma­rine Spe­cial­ist. He served in HMCS Digby and in HMCS Corn­wal­lis 1943. He was ap­pointed as a Lieu­tenant (Temp.) RCNVR (With se­nior­ity dated 27/04/1943). He served in HMCS Haida 1943–1944. [He was present at the D–Day land­ings in HMCS Haida]. He served in HMCS Matane as Ex­ec­u­tive Of­fi­cer and In Tem­po­rary Com­mand 1944–1945. [End of the Sec­ond World War]. (Trans­ferred to RCN 1945).

Coates was ap­pointed as a Lieu­tenant RCN (With se­nior­ity dated 31/10/1945). He served in HMCS Stada­cona [Hal­i­fax] for the Nav­i­ga­tion Course 1946. He served in HMCS Nootka for Nav­i­ga­tion Du­ties 1947. He served in NHQ. He served in HMCS Stada­cona for the Ju­nior Of­fi­cer Lead­er­ship and Tech­ni­cal Cour­ses 1949. He was ap­pointed as a Lieu­tenant–Com­man­der RCN (With se­nior­ity dated 27/04/1951). He served in HMCS Stada­cona as Staff Of­fi­cer Trade and In­tel­li­gence 1951. He served in HMCS Bytown for NHQ as Deputy Di­rec­tor (Mine War­fare) 1953. He served in HMCS James Bay (In com­mand) 1955–1958. He served in HMCS Stada­cona in RCN De­pot as Pro­mo­tion Mon­i­tor 1959–1960. He served in HMCS Stada­cona on staff of Flag Of­fi­cer At­lantic Coast as Com­man­der Op­er­a­tional Eval­u­a­tion 1960–1964. (He was re­tired 01/12/1964.) (He was qual­i­fied as a Tor­pedo Anti–Sub­ma­rine (TAS) Of­fi­cer). (He was Men­tioned–in– Despatches for his role in the sink­ing the sub­ma­rine U–971.) Lieu­tenant–Com­man­der Coates passed away at Hal­i­fax Nova Sco­tia May 3, 2010. His ashes were buried at sea by the RCN on Oc­to­ber 16, 2010.

HMCS Matane was com­mis­sioned at Mon­treal, QC on Oc­to­ber 22nd, 1943. In April 1944 she joined Es­cort Group 9, Lon­don­derry North­ern Ire­land as Se­nior Of­fi­cer’s ship, serv­ing on es­cort and pa­trol duty in UK wa­ters. She was present on D–Day. On July 20 she was hit by a Ger­man glider bomb off Brest [France] and towed, badly dam­aged, to Ply­mouth UK. Af­ter ex­ten­sive re­pairs she joined con­voy es­cort duty for JW.67 to North Rus­sia. She was de­tached from this duty on May 16th to es­cort Ger­man U–boats from Trond­heim, Nor­way to Loch Eri­boll, Scot­land. She de­parted Lon­don­derry, North­ern Ire­land, for Esquimalt, Bri­tish Columbia via Hal­i­fax, Nova Sco­tia and ar­rived in Bri­tish Columbia, paid off into the strate­gic re­serve there in 1946. In 1948 she was sunk as part of the break­wa­ter at Oys­ter Bay BC.


– MacPher­son, Ken and John Burgess (1981) The Ships of Canada’s Naval Forces 1910-1981: A com­plete pic­to­rial history of Cana­dian war­ships. Toronto ON: Collins – McKee, Fraser M. (2013) Ger­man U-Boat Com­mand­ing Of­fi­cers Who Died by ‘Other Means’. Nau­t­i­ca­pe­ 2013. (http://nau­t­i­ca­pe­­ti­cles/U-Boat.php) – RCN File MA–17–1 (May 17, 1945) Re­port of Board­ing of Armed Ger­man Ship Grille (Lt. J.J. Coates) – RCN File MA–17–1 (May 30, 1945) Re­port on Board­ing of U– 968 (Lt. J.J. Coates) – Per­sonal com­mu­ni­ca­tion with Brent Coates (nephew) in Ot­tawa On­tario 2013 – Per­sonal com­mu­ni­ca­tion with Coates Fam­ily records (Jef­fery

ships. (Pho­to­graph from Coates Fam­ily col­lec­tion.)

Lieu­tenant–Com­man­der John J. Coates RCN Lieu­tenant–Com­man­der John Jef­fery Coates RCN (Pho­to­graph from Coates Fam­ily col­lec­tion.)

Ober­leut­nant zur See Otto West­phalen Lieu­tenant John Coates RCNVR (left) Ober­leut­nant zur See Otto West­phalen (cen­tre in white cap) (Pho­to­graph from Coates Fam­ily col­lec­tion.)

Soviet Medal for Mur­mansk Ser­vice 1944-1945 Awarded to Lieu­tenant –Com­man­der John Jef­fery Coates RCN (Pho­to­graph from Coates Fam­ily col­lec­tion.)

HMCS Matane (Pho­to­graph from Coates Fam­ily col­lec­tion.)

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