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The U-853 German Submarine Shipwreck  New York and New Jersey's Wreck Valley
Historical and current New York and New Jersey Shipwreck Information and images for scuba divers and fisherman.
 
The U-853, which had been nick named by her crew  Der Seiltaenzer  Tightrope Walker, was a type IXC German U-Boat. Commissioned on June 25, 1943, she was 251.9 feet long, 22.5 feet wide and displaced 740 tons.

On May 1, 1945, Hamburg radio announced that Adolf Hitler was dead. Grand Admiral Doenitz took over as Der Fuehrer and immediately began to arrange a surrender. On May 4, 1945, with WW II quickly coming to an end, Admiral Karl Doenitz gave the following order All U-boats cease fire at once. Stop all hostile action against allied shipping. Doenitz. We are not sure if the U-853 received Donitz's transmission or simply refused to obey his orders. US naval experts at the time considered U-boat captains to be among the most fanatical members of the German military and predicted that some would continue to fight despite Doenitz's order.

On May 5, the U-853, which had been prowling the waters northeast of Block Island, torpedoed and sank the coiler Black Point, killing twelve men. Two minutes later, the SS Kamen, a Yugoslav freighter, radioed word of the sinking. Within an hour, the U.S. Navy Taskforce, which was in the area, began hunting the 853. The Atherton found her within three hours and the attack began. The Navy used Hedgehogs (rocket launched projectiles), depth charges, three ships and two blimps. After an assault with depth charges, various bits of debris floated to the surface including a pillow, a life jacket and the U-boat's captain's hat. This was only a trick as the Navy's sonar then caught the sub moving east. Again and again, resulting in a cat and mouse type game to the death, the Navy's sonar would locate theU-boat and the attacks would resume. The first attack started at 8:29 PM. The Navy continued its assault until 10:45 AM the next day. The U-853 was declared officially dead. The Navy vessels headed for port with brooms at masthead, the Navy's symbol for a clean sweep.

On May 6, 1945, Navy divers from the vessel Penguin dove on the 853 and attempted to penetrate the wreck in order to recover records from the captain's safe. These divers were using surface supplied air and couldn't easily fit through the tight hatches of the submarine. The next day, Ed Bockelman, the smallest diver on the Penguin, volunteered himself for the task. He was accompanied by Commander George Albin. Bockelman was able to squeeze through the conning towers hatch, but the floating lifeless bodies of German crewmen blocked further penetration.

For years after her sinking, rumors spread that the U-853 had a cargo of treasure on board. One story claimed that$500,000 in jewels and U.S. currency were hidden in 88 MM shell cases, sealed in wax. Another rumor was that there was $1,000,000 in hidden mercury on board, sealed in stainless steel flasks. These rumors have spurred many salvage attempts over the years, none of which, to the best of my knowledge, have been successful. Who knows, maybe a sport diver will get lucky.
 
 

Photos: Forward torpedo hatch. Looking deep inside the U-853. Photos by Bill Campbell

Today, the U-853 sits in 130 feet of water off Block Island. She is sitting upright and intact on a sand bottom. Penetration of the wreck is possible but should only be attempted by experienced wreck divers.

 

Photos: Capt. Steve Bielenda with artifacts from the U-853. Photo by Dan Berg

Diver Russ Lesterman recovered these tags while diving off the charter boat Sea Turtle.

Side scan sonar image of the U-853 courtesy Mark Munro, American Underwater Search and Survey.

 

 
 
 
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