The Doggerbank (Speybank) as a German minelayer
An earlier article described how the SPEYBANK under Captain Morrow was captured by the notorious German raider ATLANTIS. After conversion in Bordeaux she laid mines around the Cape of Good Hope, and then was despatched to Japan to load vital war supplies for the Axis forces before being sunk in error in the Atlantic by U-43. What followed was a tragedy of epic proportions…….
When the DOGGERBANK was 1000 miles west west of the Canary Islands, disaster struck and she was hit by 3 torpedoes from U-43 on her own side in the war. The U-boat commander called Schwandtke mistook her for a ‘ Dunedin Star ‘ type of vessel. U-43 had observed five life boats being launched by the ship and attempted to make contact with the survivors, but failed to get close enough because of the darkness. Unaware of the ship’s sinking as it had been unable to send a distress call, the German admiralty took days to realise the ship had been lost. Only 15 men out of the huge total on-board made it onto a life-raft but there was no food or water. There had been 108 crew and 257 others, mainly Allied prisoners being transferred to Germany.
A book, titled, “ Survivor” tells Kurt’s story in great detail. The desperate boat voyage without food was a long drawn out agony. Fifteen men plus a dog started the journey, Schneidewind controlling the route and in command. He steered by the stars and headed for the S. American coast to take advantage of the prevailing winds and the slow move towards a warmer climate. Water fortunately came with sudden rain showers, but inevitably their health suffered and then they were overturned in a storm. Only seven men remained to climb back on board the dinghy, the dog and the remainder of the men swimming off, or drowning. Fritz Kürt, who was the Bosun on the DOGGERBANK, carved notches in the gunwale to mark the passage of the days. In desperation, he even chewed the wood removed when making the notches. Finally, Schneidewind began to lose hope and explained to his fellow sufferers that the situation was hopeless. He produced a gun from an oiled pouch he had been carrying. The remaining men tried to dissuade him, but when they saw he was determined to end his own life some asked to be shot first. This was then carried out, followed by Schneidewind who so arranged himself on the gunwale during his suicide that he would topple back into the water when shot. Finally, two men remained, Fritz and an old sailor called Boywitt. Despite warnings Boywitt drank seawater and eventually died leaving Fritz Kürt alone. Kürt was eventually picked up by the Spanish motor tanker Campoamor on 29 March and taken to Aruba. He had been 26 days adrift.
The German submarine U-43 was sunk on 30 July 1943 without survivors.
Fritz Kürt was exchanged in a prisoner-of-war swap in 1944. He reported back to the German Admiralty to attend an enquiry. It was only then that he received confirmation that had been a German U-boat that torpedoed the DOGGERBANK, something which visually angered him. The survivors had surmised that it was a U-boat from their own side when discussing the sinking, but could not be sure. The German high command chose to remove the relevant pages from the log of U-43, and Kurt hid for the remainder of the war after hearing he was about to be arrested.