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   U-boat U-434, Kapitänleutnant Wolfgang Heyda

 

Silent Runner - Wolfgang Heyda, U-boat Commander 

by  Rodney J. Martin

ISBN 0-9740651-0-2        Hard Cover Edition 

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elmtree55@sbcglobal.net 

 

Wolfgang Heyda's naval career is tied to one of the greatest naval tragedies of the 20th century, the first strike by the British at the opening moments of WWII, the rise into history of one of the greatest British naval commanders, the most successful U-boat commander of WWII, a future Canadian admiral and a bold escape attempt that rivals the great escape of American POWs.

 

 

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Reviews:

 

KpLt. Horst Elfe

 

Horst Elfe, Commander of U-93, wrote: "... I must say you did a very great work. Your book is not only a historical picture but also a credit to Wolfgang Heyda as a U-Boot commander and naval officer. This book has for me a special value remembering in particular the years which Wolfgang and I spent together in Canada."

 

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Uboat.net review: "This book is highly recommended."   http://uboat.net/books/reviews.html/title/2203

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For an article about Wolfgang Heyda that was published in Lighthouse Digest see:

http://www.lhdigest.com/Digest/StoryPage.cfm?StoryKey=1917

http://www.lhdigest.com/Digest/StoryPage.cfm?StoryKey=1918

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Any questions, please send an email to elmtree55@sbcglobal.net  

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Brief Overview of

Silent Runner - Wolfgang Heyda, U-boat Commander

 

The story of Kapitänleutnant Wolfgang Heyda’s life was sometimes stranger than fiction.  His naval career was tied to one of the greatest peacetime naval tragedies, the sinking of the Reichsmarine Marineschule sailing ship Niobe, where over half the cadet class of 1932 was killed. The story of this great tragedy is virtually unknown outside of Western Europe.

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Forces beyond Heyda's control would shape his destiny. Enigma communications deciphered by the British would hinder his military success and later be instrumental in the sinking of his U-boat, U-434, on 18 December 1941 by forces under the command of Commander Fredric John Walker, during the HG-76 Convoy battle.  

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Operation Kiebitz, a plan to have Korvettenkapitän Otto Kretschmer escape from the Bowmanville, Ontario POW camp and picked up by a U-boat, was developed in 1942. The successful escape of Kretschmer, the top U-boat ace of WWII, would be sensational. When Kretschmer could not make his escape, it was Heyda who made a daring escape, and attempted to make the rendezvous on Chaleur Bay in New Brunswick. The escape attempt rivaled that of the Great Escape by the Americans.

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Heyda, who was just a few hundred meters from the Maisonnette Point lighthouse, was on the beach searching the bay for the U-boat. U-536 had the lighthouse in view when a Morse signal was received, Something was not right, and the commander of U-536 Rolf Schauenburg was becoming suspicious.

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The Niobe, the sailing school ship of the Reichsmarine, sank 26 July 1932 killing sixty nine. Thirty-six young men from Crew 32 were killed. Twenty-seven sea cadets, two NCO officer candidates and seven medical officer candidates drowned. The story of the sinking of the Niobe is virtually unknown outside of Western Europe. A substantial account of the sinking of the Niobe is given. The chapter includes the personal stories of several cadets never printed in English before

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Because twenty-seven of the forty-nine sea cadets were lost, the naval academy accepted additional men into Crew 32. Wolfgang Heyda who had been on the replacement waiting list was one of the cadets who arrived at Danholm on 15 August 1932. From November 1932 to February 1934 Crew 32 engaged in a training cruise aboard the Kreuzer Köln. After the completion of studies at Marineschule at Mürwik, Heyda returned to the Köln, then served aboard the Panzerschiff Admiral Scheer at the start of the war and comanded U-120 in 1940.

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Kapitänleutnant Wolfgang Heyda was assigned to U-434 20 January 1941 when U-434 was laid down and took command on 21 June 1941. U-434 began its first war patrol 11 November 1941 assigned to Group Steuben patrolling off the coast of Newfoundland. Encountering no convoy traffic after several weeks of patrol U-434 was ordered to make its way to Spain. U-434 then encountered a convoy near the Azores but would have to break off contact because it was low on fuel and food. After replenishing stocks and refueling at Vigo, Spain U-434 was then assigned to Group Seeräuber patrolling near Gibraltar. There Heyda would become involved in a great convoy battle.

Kapitänleutnant Bruno Hansmann's U-127 was sunk with all hands lost by the Australian destroyer HMAS Nestor on 15 December, 1941. The Nestor had been part of a task force sent out from Gibraltar to clear the way for convoy HG-76.

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After departing from Gibraltar Commander Frederic John Walker's escort group would encounter a German wolf pack two days later. On 17 December Korvettenkapitän Arend Bauman's U-131 surfaced after being damaged by depth charges from the HMS Penstemon. U-131 then came under fire from the HMS Blankney, HMS Exmoor II, HMS Penstemon, HMS Stanley and HMS Stork. After abandoning their U-boat all of the crew were rescued. On 18 December the Blankney, Exmoor II and Stanley after several rounds of depth charges forced  Kapitänleutnant Wolfgang Heyda's U-434 to the surface. U-434 was abandoned and scuttled by its crew. All of the crew except two were taken prisoners aboard the Blankney. One officer and one enlisted man were reported missing. The Blankney and Exmoor II low on fuel returned to Gibraltar with their prisoners from U-131 and U-434. The next day the Stanley was sunk by Oberleutnant z.S. Dietrich Gegelbach's U-574 with almost all hands lost. Stork (commanded by Commander Frederic Walker) in a merry go round chase finally rammed U-574, flipping the U-boat over. Twenty-five survivors from the Stanley and 16 from U-574 were rescued. Twenty eight of the crew including the commander of U-574 were killed.  Kapitänleutnant Gehard Bigalk's U-751 sank the aircraft carrier HMS Empire Audacity the next day. On 21 December the HMS Deptford sank Kapitänleutnant Engelbert Endraß's U-567 with all hands lost. 

 

Commander Frederic John (Johnny) Walker, c.b. D.S.O., the commander of the 36th Escort Group protecting convoy HG-76, received the D.S.O. for sinking U-131, U-434, U-574 and U-567. Walker became the most successful U-boat hunter of WWII receiving the D.S.O. three more times. Escort groups under his command would sink a total of twenty-one U-boats, the most for any escort commander of WWII.

Heyda was eventually sent to a POW camp at Bowmanville Ontario near Toronto. At Bowmanville in October, 1942 for three days an insurrection of the prisoners protesting their being shackled took place. The insurrection became known as the Battle of Bowmanville. Korvettenkapitän Otto Kretschmer was involved in the insurrection having punched a guard then taking him prisoner.

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Operation Kiebitz, a plan to have Otto Kretschmer (U-99), Horst Elfe (U-93), Hans Ey (U-433) and Hans Joachim Knebel-Döberitz (IWO U-99) escape from the Bowmanville, Ontario POW Camp and picked up by a U-boat was developed in 1942 and executed in September 1943. The successful escape of Otto Kretschmer, the top U-boat ace of WWII, would be sensational. However, the plan was foiled when the tunnels were discovered just days before the planed mass escape. Elfe and Knebel-Döberitz then conceived a daring plan for an escape. Wolfgang Heyda was selected and made an escape via the electric wires over the barbed wire fence with a trolley and a bosun's chair. He then traveled 1400 km to Maisonnette Point, New Brunswick on the Chaleur Bay where he was to be picked up by a U-boat. Heyda would have little trouble making his way across Canada, as his forged papers were impeccable. He also spoke excellent English, having studied English Literature at the University of Exeter in England prior to joining the Reichsmarine. Heyda was captured on the beach and the Canadians were waiting for U-536 with one destroyer, four corvettes, five Bangor minesweepers and a task force of Fairmiles. Heyda was taken to the Maisonnette Point lighthouse where Lieutenant Commander Desmond Piers of the Canadian navy commanded the operation. The commander of U-536, Kapitänleutnant Rolf Schauenburg, evaded the attacking ships and made it safely into the Atlantic. Heyda was sent back to the Bowmanville POW camp where he served 28 days detention for his escape. U-536 was sunk by  the Canadian ships HMCS Snowberry, HMCS Calgary, and the frigate HMS Nene on 20 November 1943 and Schauenburg one of 17 survivors of a crew of 55 was sent to a POW camp in Canada. 

- All contents copyright © 1995 - 2010 by Rodney J. Martin. No story, photograph, or any other item on this website may be reprinted or reproduced without the express permission .

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