After over half a century at the bottom of the sea, a Nazi U-Boat called the Gut Holz has been rediscovered off the Galician coast in north-western Spain.
On 10th November 1943, in what local naval historian Yago Abilleira describes as a “skirmish”, a dozen British and US fighter planes intercepted the U-Boat giving rise to a two-day battle.
Crippled by Allied fire, the submarine was deliberately scuttled by the 25-year-old captain, Ekkehard Wolf, to avoid Nazi technology falling into Allied hands.
During the battle, a British Sunderland MK 111 Boat Patrol Bomber was also shot down. In total 14 German and British servicemen lost their lives.
Although immediately after the battle, parts of the submarine had been salvaged for scrap iron by Spanish Navy divers, the Gut Holz had largely been forgotten until divers from the Centre For Subaquatic Activities in the nearby town of Viveiro decided to search for the wreckage.
The starting point of their investigation was a large aluminium sheet which had been serving as the roof of the henhouse of a local farmer, and which is thought to have come from the fuselage of the Sunderland bomber which had broken in two and drifted up the Ria de Ortigueira.
Local testimonies soon helped the divers find the exact resting place of the submarine.
“The U-Boat was manned by a novice crew with a novice commander” says diver Anxo Gonzalez, “and had come under sustained Allied fire.” The 14 German and British dead were taken to German and British War Cemeteries in Caceres and Vizcaya provinces.
In what was ostensibly neutral Spain, the commander, Ekkehard Wolf, who survived, was declared dead and then smuggled back into Germany on false papers on a commercial airline.
He kept close links to the area after the war, and his son married a local woman. When Ekkehard Wolf eventually died in 1978, he requested that his ashes be spread off the Galician coast so that he could rejoin his comrades.
“Our best navy museum is the seabed” remarked Abilleira.