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Ships 3

On Deck Of U-869

"U-Who" The Submarine That Sank Itself

By James Donahue

In 1991 the wreck of an unidentified German submarine from World War II was discovered in 240 feet of water off the New Jersey coast. Although its depth made it a dangerous dive, several divers visited the site in an attempt to identify the vessel. Yet it remained a mystery for years.

The wreck became jokingly tagged "U-Who" for lack of a true name.

A few years later divers recovered a torpedo aiming device and spare parts from the motor room engraved with serial and other numbers and specifically identified the submarine. It was the U-869, a vessel thought to have been lost somewhere off the coast of Africa.

The other mystery about U-Who involved the cause of its sinking. While a U.S. destroyer and a Coast Guard ship reportedly dropped explosives in a submarine attack in the area in February, 1945, there was no confirmation of a "kill." Since there was only one hole in the wreck, it was theorized that U-869 was a victim of its own torpedo.

It was during the war that torpedoes were being experimentally designed to turn and chase the sounds of a turning propeller if they miss their target. In some horrible cases these propelled bombs became what became known as "circle runners." In other words, they missed the target then turned back on the submarine that launched them. The damage found on the exterior of U-869 supported this theory.

Thus we have this strange case of Submarine commander Helmuth Neuerburg and his crew of 56 operating their submarine off the U. S. coast when the German submarine command thought they were somewhere off Africa, and then getting their vessel chased and blown up by their own torpedo.

U-869 was launched in October, 1943. It was 252 feet in length