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Canadian Naval Officer Took Surrender of the German Submarine U-968
by John M. MacFarlane 2013
German Navy submarine U–968 surrendering in company with another U-boat and escort ships. (Photograph from Coates Family collection.)
After the publication in 2013 of the article on U-boat skippers by Commander Fraser McKee I recalled some images I had seen in the collection of the Coates family. My friend Brent Coates was assembling a biography of his late uncle, Lieutenant–Commander John J. Coates RCN. Among his uncle’s papers were photographs from the Second World War that caught my eye involving the surrender of a U–boat. It turned out that Coates had been in charge of the boarding party that took the surrender of the U–968 at the end of the Second World War.
Boarding the Grille
On May 17th, 1945 at 0555 Lieutenant Coates RCNVR boarded the German naval ship Grille (Hitler’s former yacht) with a boarding party from HMCS Matane accompanied by Petty Officer E. Massey RCNVR and Signalman W. Parish (RCNVR). He was met on the quarterdeck by the Captain (who Coates noted "had limited knowledge of the English language".) Coates was taken to the bridge where he met the Senior German Officer of the convoy (Captain Rheinhard Suhren). Suhren stated that he was the Senior Officer Arctic and Barents Sea and that this was his last command. He further stated that under orders from the German High Command he was withdrawing his Command from Narvik, Norway and proceeding to Trondheim, Norway.
The words in the report of Lieutenant Coates tell the details eloquently:
"The Boarding Officer [Coates] asked if the Senior Officer had read and understood the terms of surrender and if his U–boat commanders also understood these terms. The Senior Officer [Suhren] upon questioning stated that all ammunition had been landed, no mines were carried, pistols were removed from all torpedoes and that the Commanding Officers of U–boats understood and would comply with the terms of surrender. He was then ordered to inform his U–boats that if they attempted to scuttle or submerge, the boat would be destroyed and no mercy would be shown to the crew."
"The Boarding Officer requested a fuel report from all U–boats and the highest speed at which they could proceed to Scotland, approximately 500 miles."
"While awaiting the fuel report the Senior Officer was informed that the  surface vessels would be proceeding independently to Trondheim [Norway]. The  U–boats would be escorted by the Allied forces to Scotland. They were to be formed up in two columns four cables apart ships in line ahead two cables apart. The senior U–boat was U–278 and leading ship of the port column. He was to hoist a yellow flag and keep it flying to indicate Senior Ship."
"The senior Officer was reluctant to carry out these orders and questioned the authority of the Boarding Officer. He explained that his reluctance was due to the fact that he was proceeding to Trondheim under German High Command orders in Co–operation with the Allied High Command. He was emphatically informed by the Boarding Officer that he was to comply with all orders given by the Boarding Officer. His High Command would be informed, if necessary, by the Allied High Command. The Senior Officer wanted to know the rank and the name of the Senior Officer of Escort Group 9. This was refused by the Boarding Officer [Coates] and he was given only the pennant numbers of HMCS Matane which he had already noted. At that he surrendered his Command of the U–boats and ordered U–278 to assume command under Senior Officer E.G. 9, forming up and proceeding in accordance with the boarding Officer’s instructions."
"The Senior Officer begged permission to send the following message to his U–boats. "Farewell my U–boats, we have worked well together don’t be downhearted, Good–bye. Yours Suhren." Permission was granted by the Boarding Officer and the message was sent."
"The Boarding Officer was then ordered to return to HMCS Matane and he left the Grille at approximately 0702 and returned on board by whaler. When clear of the Grille she proceeded unescorted with the four German surface vessels to Trondheim."
"While on board Grille the Boarding Officer and Party was treated with extreme courtesy, but no show of friendliness was given in return. Several of the Senior [German] Officer’s staff spoke the English language well. Our own signal equipment was taken but it was not used. Signalman Parish kept the Senior Officer of E.G.9 informed of all progress by using the German equipment. All orders passed by the Senior Officer to his U–boats were passed by wireless to expedite the messages. In accordance with A.Z.78 NOTHING, either equipment or trivial personal souvenirs, was removed from the German ship Grille or her personnel."
The German fleet taken into custody that day included:
- Grille (Hitler’s former yacht)
- Huascaran (Submarine depot ship)
- Kamerun (Minelayer)
- Stella Polaris (Accommodation vessel)
- Karnten (Naval tanker)
These ships were accompanied by U-boats:
- U–278 (Commanding Officer Franze)
- U–294 (Commanding Officer Schutt)
- U–295 (Commanding Officer Wieboldt)
- U–312 (Commanding Officer V. Gazen)
- U–313 (Commanding Officer Schweiger)
- U–318 (Commanding Officer Will)
- U–363 (Commanding Officer Nees)
- U–427 (Commanding Officer Gudenus)
- U–481 (Commanding Officer Andersen)
- U–668 (Commanding Officer Henning)
- U–716 (Commanding Officer Thimme)
- U–968 (Commanding Officer Westphalen)
- U–992 (Commanding Officer Falke)
- U–997 (Commanding Officer Lehmann)
- U–1165 (Commanding Officer Homan)
Boarding the U–968
Lieutenant Coates led another Boarding Party on May 20th, 1945. It included:
- – A/PO Edwin Massey RCNVR
- – ERA.4 R. Rymal RCNVR
- – Leading-Seaman F. McLean RCNVR
- – Leading-Seaman H. Hinkel RCNVR
- – Signalman D. McGurk RCNVR
- – Ordinary Seaman W. Green RCNVR
- – A/Able-Seaman T. Kelly RCNVR
- – Stoker 1/c A. Taplin RCNVR
"The Party was armed with pistols and Sten guns and took their own provisions and water. They boarded U–968 at Loch Eriball [Scotland], Saturday at approximately 2100. U–968 secured on the starboard side of HMS Rupert and an RN Boarding Party was relieved. Commanding Officer of the U–boat was found to be OBLtN.z.S. Westphalen."
"Rounds of the boat was carried out and the boat thoroughly searched by the Boarding Officer. All alcohol and firearms had been removed. It was found to have two minor leaks in the hull around where the schnorkel was fitted and the air compressor was stripped down. The Commanding Officer and Engineer Officer produced a defect list that had been approved by the Flotilla Engineer in Narvik [Norway]. The boat was to have gone into refit on V.E. Day but this had been cancelled. The Commanding Officer stated that his boat was unable to dive. The Boarding Officer considered from what he had seen of the boat that this statement was correct. No torpedoes, demolition charges or ammunition was carried. The crew were ordered to stay below in their messes. The officers remained in the wardroom."
"Watches were set on deck and below by the boarding party. One German rating kept watch on deck at the C.O.’s request to tend the lines. At approximately 0300 Sunday, 20th May 1945, HMS Rupert reported that she was rapidly dragging her anchor. The Boarding Officer roused the Commanding Officer. Ordered special sea dutymen to be closed up. Rupert’s anchor dragged until the submarine crashed into HMS Conn approximately 0330, 20th May 1945. All the S/M’s wires then parted. Motors were started and the S/M [submarine] cleared away from the other ships."
"Matane was signalled and permission asked to proceed alongside. This request was granted. U–968 manoeuvered in the Loch until Matane signalled her readiness to supply lines and take the U– along her starboard side. By approximately 0430 U–968 was secured on Matane. The [German] Commanding Officer showed considerable ability as a seaman in completing this with no damage. Matane twice during the morning cleared her anchor and shifted anchorage. At 0655 U–968 slipped and proceeded clear of Matane until she shifted to a more protected anchorage. U–968 then proceeded back alongside."
"During the Sunday the Boarding Party ate all their meals aboard Matane. The U–boat crew spent the day either sunning on deck or sleeping below. At 1942 Sunday U–968 slipped and proceeded to form up in a line ahead in company with four other U–boats. Four ships of E.G.9 escorted the boats to Loch Alsh [Isle of Skye, Scotland]. This passage was without event. The U–boat Commander was most co–operative in all ways. On arriving at Loch Alsh at approximately 0800 Monday the U–968 was berthed alongside a depot ship. The Boarding Officer was ordered to escort the Commanding Officer to Senior Officer E.G.9. This was complied with."
"The Boarding Officer was reprimanded by Commander Taylor RN for fraternizing with the prisoner. The boarding Officer was merely explaining what was required of the Commanding Officer as he was confused because orders from Loch Eriball and Loch Alsh were different."
"On returning to U–968 the Boarding Officer found a Royal Navy Armed Party under a Royal Navy Lieutenant and a Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve Sub-Lieutenant had taken charge on board the boat. The boat was fast being stripped of all valuables by the Royal Naval Party. In the opinion of the Boarding Officer they were unnecessarily bullying the German crew and acting in a way unbecoming a British Naval Officer. The Boarding Officer informed them that he did not agree with their behaviour but was informed that they had taken the boat over. At this the Boarding Officer immediately returned to Matane turning over all responsibility to the RN Officer and vacating U–968."
The German Submarine U–968
The submarine U–968 was laid down 14 May 1942 at Blohm & Voss, in Hamburg. She surrendered on May 9th, 1945 at Narvik, Norway. In Operation Deadlight (post–war Allied operation), she was deliberately sunk on 29 November, 1945 in position 55.24N, 06.22W [North Sea off the coast of Denmark].
Oberleutnant zur See Otto Westphalen
Lieutenant John Coates RCNVR (left) Oberleutnant zur See Otto Westphalen (centre in white cap) (Photograph from Coates Family collection.)
Otto Westphalen (born 12 March 1920 in Hamburg – died 9 January 2008 in Hamburg) began his naval career in October 1938. In 1939 he took part in the Polish Campaign serving in the school ship Schlesien. Later he served six months on the torpedo boat Kondor before joining the U–boat service in October 1940. In 1941 he made four patrols as an officer of the watch in U–566, (two in the Arctic Sea and two in the North Atlantic – the last one to Canadian Waters during January – March 1942). In May 1942 he took command of the training boat U–121. In March 1943 he commissioned the Type VIIC U–boat U–968, which was then detached to the 13th (Arctic Sea) Flotilla. He sank two British warships: the naval sloops HMS Lark and HMS Lapwing. He surrendered in May 1945 in Narvik Norway to HMCS Matane.
Westphalen sat on the court martial that found KL Oskar–Heinz Kusch, Commanding Officer of U–154 guilty of "defeatist talk". Kusch had been denounced by his 1st W.O. OL Ulrich Abel, an ardent National Socialist, to the Flotilla commander for defeatist talk in the wardroom and even to one of his crewmen on his second war patrol. He was found guilty of "making derogatory remarks about Hitler and the Nazi Party" on January 26, 1944 in Kiel. Kusch was condemned to death by the court martial and was executed at a rifle range outside Kiel Germany on May 12, 1944. After the war Westphalen feebly tried to defend his actions in the Kusch case by stating that Kusch’s political views had somehow made his U-boat less effective in the war effort. From the German perspective Westphalen might have been viewed as a war hero but his actions in the Kusch case show that he was definitely lacking in moral standing.
Coates contacted Westphalen by mail some time after the end of the Second World War. Members of the Coates family recall that Westphalen’s letter responses came across in old age in a "mellow tone" perhaps tempered by age and reflection.
Lieutenant–Commander John J. Coates RCN
Lieutenant–Commander John Jeffery Coates RCN (Photograph from Coates Family collection.)
John Jeffery Coates joined the navy as an Ordinary Seaman RCNVR in August 1938. He served in the Toronto Division of the RCNVR in 1938. He was appointed as an Able–Seaman RCNVR 1938. He served in HMS Dundee 1938 and in HMCS Andre Dupree 1939. He served in HMCS Acadia 1939–40 as well as HMCS Chambly. He was promoted to A/Petty Officer RCNVR in 1940. He served in HMCS St. Laurent 1940. He was commissioned from the ranks and appointed as a Probationary Sub–Lieutenant RCNVR (With seniority dated 27/04/1942). He served in the Royal Canadian Naval College (Royal Roads 5th Class) for training in 1942. He served in HMCS Beaver for Sea Training 1942. He was appointed as a Sub–Lieutenant (Temp.) RCNVR (With seniority dated 27/04/1942). He served in HMCS Stadacona for the Anti–Submarine Course 1942 and was qualified as an Anti–Submarine Specialist. He served in HMCS Digby and in HMCS Cornwallis 1943. He was appointed as a Lieutenant (Temp.) RCNVR (With seniority dated 27/04/1943). He served in HMCS Haida 1943–1944. [He was present at the D–Day landings in HMCS Haida]. He served in HMCS Matane as Executive Officer and In Temporary Command 1944–1945. [End of the Second World War]. (Transferred to RCN 1945).
Soviet Medal for Murmansk Service 1944-1945 Awarded to Lieutenant–Commander John Jeffery Coates RCN (Photograph from Coates Family collection.)
Coates was appointed as a Lieutenant RCN (With seniority dated 31/10/1945). He served in HMCS Stadacona [Halifax] for the Navigation Course 1946. He served in HMCS Nootka for Navigation Duties 1947. He served in NHQ. He served in HMCS Stadacona for the Junior Officer Leadership and Technical Courses 1949. He was appointed as a Lieutenant–Commander RCN (With seniority dated 27/04/1951). He served in HMCS Stadacona as Staff Officer Trade and Intelligence 1951. He served in HMCS Bytown for NHQ as Deputy Director (Mine Warfare) 1953. He served in HMCS James Bay (In command) 1955–1958. He served in HMCS Stadacona in RCN Depot as Promotion Monitor 1959–1960. He served in HMCS Stadacona on staff of Flag Officer Atlantic Coast as Commander Operational Evaluation 1960–1964. (He was retired 01/12/1964.) (He was qualified as a Torpedo Anti–Submarine (TAS) Officer). (He was Mentioned–in–Despatches for his role in the sinking the submarine U–971.) Lieutenant–Commander Coates passed away at Halifax Nova Scotia May 3, 2010. His ashes were buried at sea by the RCN on October 16, 2010.
HMCS Matane (Photograph from Coates Family collection.)
HMCS Matane was commissioned at Montreal, QC on October 22nd, 1943. In April 1944 she joined Escort Group 9, Londonderry Northern Ireland as Senior Officer’s ship, serving on escort and patrol duty in UK waters. She was present on D–Day. On July 20 she was hit by a German glider bomb off Brest [France] and towed, badly damaged, to Plymouth UK. After extensive repairs she joined convoy escort duty for JW.67 to North Russia. She was detached from this duty on May 16th to escort German U–boats from Trondheim, Norway to Loch Eriboll, Scotland. She departed Londonderry, Northern Ireland, for Esquimalt, British Columbia via Halifax, Nova Scotia and arrived in British Columbia, paid off into the strategic reserve there in 1946. In 1948 she was sunk as part of the breakwater at Oyster Bay BC.
- – MacPherson, Ken and John Burgess (1981) The Ships of Canada’s Naval Forces 1910-1981: A complete pictorial history of Canadian warships. Toronto ON: Collins
- – McKee, Fraser M. (2013) German U-Boat Commanding Officers Who Died by ‘Other Means’. Nauticapedia.ca 2013. (http://nauticapedia.ca/Articles/U-Boat.php)
- – RCN File MA–17–1 (May 17, 1945) Report of Boarding of Armed German Ship Grille (Lt. J.J. Coates)
- – RCN File MA–17–1 (May 30, 1945) Report on Boarding of U–968 (Lt. J.J. Coates)
- – Personal communication with Brent Coates (nephew) in Ottawa Ontario 2013
- – Personal communication with Coates Family records (Jeffery Coates (son Halifax NS)) 2013
To quote from this article please cite:
MacFarlane, John M. (2013) Canadian Naval Officer Took Surrender of the German Submarine U-968. Nauticapedia.ca 2013. http://nauticapedia.ca/Articles/U-boat.php
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