Home Found for “Enigmatic” WW II U-boat Relic

Story Number: NNS030404-07Release Date: 4/5/2003 10:20:00 AM
A  A  A   Email this story to a friend   Print this story
By Miles Hadley, Naval Historical Center

WASHINGTON (NNS) -- With help from the Naval Historical Center (NHC), a World War II German Enigma decoding machine recovered two years ago from a sunken U-boat will find a new home in a North Carolina museum.

The Enigma machine was recovered by two private divers from the wreck of U-85, a German submarine sunk 15 miles off Bodie Island, N.C., in 1942.

However, the divers did not know the recovery of the machine was highly questionable.

Technically, the wreck and its artifacts are still the property of the German government. This is because, although sunk by the U.S. Navy, the sub had not surrendered beforehand.

The fact that the wreck still contains some remains of deceased crew members also makes it a war grave. Any removal of artifacts without proper authority is considered a violation of the sanctity of such status.

Both the U.S. and German governments take a hard line with regard to private salvage of their naval equipment regardless of how long it has been under the sea. Therefore, the retrieval of the Enigma machine by the private divers was illegal without proper authorization from the German government to do so.

The German government asked the U.S. government to intercede on its behalf in this matter. As the Navy's authority for its underwater archeology program, the NHC stepped in to try to resolve the problem.

While keeping title to the machine, the German government will allow it to be on indefinite exhibit at the Atlantic Graveyard Museum, in Hatteras, N.C.

"The gift of the four-wheel Enigma machine and associated material from U-85 represented an innovative partnership between wreck divers, a non-profit museum, and the Federal Republic of Germany," said Joseph K. Schwarzer II, museum executive director and chief executive officer. "We thank the German government and people for their generosity."

The Enigma encoding machine was one of the most closely guarded German secrets of World War II. It enabled the crew to send and receive encrypted information and instructions to and from their headquarters back in Germany.

Unbeknownst to the Germans, however, the British government had broken the original Enigma code early in the war. The first machines had three encoding wheels, but in 1942, an improved four-wheeled model, like the one recovered from U-85, was introduced.

The new machine's code, nicknamed the "Shark" by British intelligence, was not broken until some months later. This problem was the subject of the 2001 motion picture "Enigma," starring Kate Winslet.

Schwarzer says that he intends to have the machine on display while it is being conserved. This will enable visitors to view the ongoing conservation process. The museum also hopes to employ a conservation student from East Carolina University to monitor the machines conservation as it progresses.

U-85 was a Type VIIB U-boat commissioned June 7, 1941, by the German Navy for action in the Atlantic. During its 10-month lifetime, it only participated in four patrols. Nevertheless, it covered more than 30,000 miles before it became the first U-boat sank off the U.S. East Coast April 10, 1942.

The 216 foot-long U-boat had unsuccessfully attacked the Norwegian freighter Christine Knudsen, when the destroyer USS Jesse Roper (DD 147) intercepted it.

Cruising on the surface, U-85 was spotted by Roper searchlights and then hit by a shell from one of the destroyer's four-inch guns. The sub went down fast, and Roper dropped several depth charges for good measure.

None of the crew of 46 survived.

For related news, visit the Naval Historical Center Navy NewsStand page at www.news.navy.mil/local/navhist.

Navy Social Media
Sign up for email updates To sign up for updates or to access your subscriber preferences, please click on the envelope icon in the page header above or click Subscribe to Navy News Service.