U-511 under Freidrich Steinhoff Bermuda patrol August 1942

U-511          Steinhoff      9-Aug-1942 6 days

KapitänleutnantFreidrich Steinhoff of U-511 was a talented former merchant marine officer, in command of U-511. Entering the area south of Bermuda on the 9th of August he motored west for four days until the 12th. Then the sub jogged east until the 13th in order to rendezvous with U-463 for fuel. By the 14thof August 1942 U-511 was on its way for a busy patrol in the Caribbean. It headed for the Caicos Passage and the Windward Passage, transiting the former south of Inagua on the 18th, and the latter on the 19th and 20th. Steinhoff is buried in a military cemetery in Fort Devens, Massachusetts, on a US government facility that also houses notorious criminals and terrosists today.

Though he made no kills whilst in the immediate area, in the Windward Passage Steinhoff dispatched the San Fabian, Esso Aruba, and Rotterdam– the same ship which had rescued the survivors of the Daytonian some five months before. They were all sailing in Convoy TAW 15 from Trinidad to Aruba and Key West via Guantanamo, Cuba and were caught off the southwest tip of Haiti – Point Gravois.

After this tactical convoy attack on the 27th, U-511 headed southeast and out of the Caribbean Sea by a different channel. Though it, too was on its first (of four) patrols direct from Kiel Germany, U-511 was heading back to Lorient and the Tenth Flotilla there. On the way back the submarine made an inquisitive detour back into the region when, on the 8th of September it steamed northwest above Anegada briefly before resuming a northeast trajectory back “to the barnyard”.

This patrol was the first for U-511 and began on the 16th of July. On the way out U-511 was vectored towards convoy ON 115 south of Greenland. Then the boat took part in the patrol line Pirat on the 1st of August – others included U-164, U-210, U-217 and U-553. On the 16th of August while north of Puerto Rico U-511 was sighted by a Hudson aircraft under Flight Sargeant Henderson. Even though the aft end of the submarine stuck out of the ocean, making a seemingly easy target, the boat managed to escape. The sub refueled from U-460 southwest of the Azores in mid-September and arrived at her new base in Lorient on the 29th of September 1942 (Wynn, Vol. 2, p.3).

Steinhoff would end the war by surrendering his U-boat, as he was ordered to, in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. His treatment as a Prisoner of War by the Americans was so shabby that he killed himself in the common goal at Charles Street jail in Boston on May 19th May 1945. He is buried in Fort Devens, Massachusetts with two dozen or so other German and Italian dead POWs.
KapitänleutnantSteinhoff was a member of the Crew of 1934 and was 33 years of age at the time of this patrol. His brother researched the latest rocket technology at Peenemünde and therefore U-511 and Steinhoff were involved in highly secretive tests sending rockets from submarines.

Steinhoff commissioned U-873 later in the war, in March 1944. Over his career he sank two ships of 21,999 tons and another damaged for 8,773 tons – all from his action in the Windward Passage on this patrol. He was awarded the U-boat War Badge 1939.
As mentioned, after the captain and crew surrendered according to the rules of war on the 16th of May 1945, the Geneva Conventions were overlooked by their captors. Instead of being placed in the ample brig at Portsmouth, the officers and crew were dumped in the common goal at Charles Street Jail, downtown Boston where “stories that some crew members were mistreated are often told” according to Uboat.net.

It would be hard to imagine that the crew was not mistreated in the euphoria following Victory in Europe (VE) Day in the US and by criminals with nothing to lose. It is equally hard to believe that his captors could not have anticipated his violent treatment. Apparently Steinhoff used the glass from his sunglasses to open his arteries, and even the ship’s doctor, Karl Steinke, could not revive him. The author has visited Steinhoff’s grave, which is open to the public.

SOURCES: Gudmundur Helgason, Rainer Kolbicz, www.uboat.net, 2013, Kenneth Wynn, U-boat Operations of the Second World War, Volume 1 and Volume 2, 1997, R. Busch, and H.-J. Röll, German U-boat Commanders of World War II, 1988, Franz Kurowski, Knights Cross Holders of the U-boat Service