Did you know that only three U-boats from WWII still exist? One is in Germany, another in Chicago and the final one is in Birkenhead, Merseyside. I was fortunate enough to be in the area recently and went to pay it a visit.
U-534 is something of a mystery. Despite evidence that the sub had received the fleet-wide order from Admiral Dönitz to surrender, it refused to hoist its black flag and continued on its mission. Attacked by Liberator aircraft dropping depth-charges, U-534 was forced to give up the chase and all hands, bar two who perished in a lifeboat, surrendered to the Allies. The sub soon sank and lay at the bottom of the sea, north of Norway for 40 years.
Raised by treasure-seekers (they were disappointed), the wreckage was eventually saved and via a rather complicated route came to be aquired by Merseytravel, who turned the three pieces of the sub into a museum. It’s based at the Woodside ferry terminal and can be combined with the essential Liverpool experience of the “Ferry ‘cross the Mersey”.
The U-Boat itself is impressive. As it was cut into three pieces, they have taken advantage of this, lighting the insides so you can get a feel for the cramped and dangerous conditions they lived in. Photos above show the Siemens electric motor and the galley. You can also climb up the conning tower and even use the periscope.
The museum is in two sections; the U-Boat itself and a collection of salvaged items. My particular area of interest was the two Enigma machines found on board. One is in pretty poor condition but another is in one piece although badly corroded. They are of the later M4 variant, featuring the infamous ‘extra rotor’ that caused so many headaches for Bletchley Park. During the 10 month Enigma ‘blackout’ caused by the introduction of the M4, more allied shipping was lost in the Atlantic than the entirety of WWII combined.
I must commend The U-Boat Story on their presentation of the machines which includes a pair of great touchscreen Enigmas. These can be used to send messages to each other and provide a walkthrough of setting up the machine including rotors and plugboard.
It’s a rare thing to see and breathtaking in scale. If you find yourself in that part of the world, don’t miss it.