Category Archives: WWII

Dunkirk: how British newspapers helped to turn defeat into a miracle


Exhausted British troops on the quayside at Dover, May 31 1940.
Official War Office photographer, Imperial War Museum, CC BY-SA

Tim Luckhurst, Durham University

Modern Britons associate The Great Escape with the 1963 film of that name starring Steve McQueen, reffering to, of course, a mass escape by Allied prisoners during the second world war. But this title might more appropriately be applied to the rescue of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) from Dunkirk between May 27 and June 4 1940.

As the UK marks the 80th anniversary of that escape, we shall hear much of the author JB Priestley’s first “postscript” for BBC Radio on Wednesday June 5. That broadcast coined the phrase “Little Ships” and even acknowledged Priestley’s own part in shaping understanding of Dunkirk. He asked listeners: “Doesn’t it seem to you to have an inevitable air about it – as if we had turned a page in the history of Britain and seen a chapter headed ‘Dunkirk’?”

But there was nothing inevitable about it.

Before pledging to “fight them on the beaches”, Winston Churchill himself reminded the House of Commons in the same speech that “wars are not won by evacuations”. He acknowledged that the BEF had courted disaster before depicting its escape as “a miracle of deliverance”. That the British public regards it as a triumph owes much to the work of British newspaper journalists and the Royal Navy press officers who briefed them.

How the ‘miracle’ came about

Dunkirk was not reported in eyewitness accounts from the beaches. The few war correspondents who struggled back with the retreating armies had no means by which to communicate. Reports, such as Evelyn Montague’s The Miracle of the BEF’s Return for the Manchester Guardian of Saturday June 1 1940, were penned by journalists invited to witness the Royal Navy’s delivery of evacuated soldiers to the ports of south-east England. There, they were briefed with patriotic fervour and naval pride as well as facts.

The first sentence of Montague’s piece gives a flavour of the mood that was inspired:

In the grey chill dawn today in a south-eastern port, war correspondents watched with incredulous joy the happening of a miracle.

The reporter – a grandson of the famous Guardian editor and owner C.P. Scott – did not fail to give the Royal Navy credit. Having described a waterfront hotel in which “every armchair held its sleeping soldier or sailor, huddled beneath overcoat or ground sheet”, Montague turned to the scene in the port:

As the rising sun was turning the grey clouds to burnished copper the first destroyer of the day slid swiftly into the harbour, its silhouette bristling with the heads of the men who stood packed shoulder to shoulder on its decks.

Back in 1940, the Times did not award reporters bylines. Its report of the BEF’s return on June 1 was by “Our Special Correspondent”. He too witnessed the scenes in a south-eastern port (security censorship forbade more precise identification). The men, he wrote, were “weary but undaunted”. Protected by “the ceaseless patrol maintained by British warships and aeroplanes in the English Channel”, men who had displayed “steadiness under a cruel test” were “pouring onto the quays”.

‘Undaunted’: Allied servicemen arrive in London after evacuation from Dunkirk.
War Office official photographer, Imperial War Museum, CC BY

The Daily Mirror’s Bernard Gray, writing in its stablemate, the Sunday Pictorial, gave his verdict in a column on June 2 headlined simply “The Whole Magnificent Story”. “There have been many glorious episodes in the history of Britain”, he opined, “but, if that great English historian Macaulay were able to select from 2,000 years the most glorious week in the annals of the British Empire, this last seven days would surely be the week he would have chosen.”

Gray did not hesitate to offer comparisons:

Never mind the defeat of the Armada. Forget even the Battle of Waterloo, the epic of Trafalgar. For this week has seen the British Empire at its mightiest – in defeat.

Standing “in the streets of an English Channel Port”, G. Ward Price of the Daily Mail was similarly enthralled in his front-page piece, Rearguard Battles On, on June 1: “It is a picture of staggering heroism, fighting spirit and determination that never weakened in the face of overwhelming odds in men and material.”

A defeat, however ‘glorious’

It took Hilaire Belloc, the Anglo-French author of Cautionary Tales for Children, to recognise in his column for the Sunday Times (The Evacuation and After, June 2) that the withdrawal from Belgium and the collapse of Britain’s key ally, France, constituted a “catastrophe”.

In his defining examination of the elements that comprise Britain’s “received story” of 1940, The Myth of the Blitz, Scottish historian and poet Angus Calder noted that elements of the way the story was reported were misleading. However, Calder agreed that “Dunkirk was indeed a great escape”.

I celebrate the work British newspapers did to stiffen resolve and sustain morale at this time of grave national peril. In a democracy fighting totalitarianism, newspapers must balance their obligation to hold power to account and their duty to the national cause. The newspapers surveyed here certainly colluded in the creation of myths about Dunkirk, but their readers might not have welcomed any efforts to report Dunkirk any other way.

After all, myths are not lies and this one was studded with harsh facts. In Bernard Gray’s words for the Sunday Pictorial, Dunkirk was glorious despite the truth that: “The British Army has not won a battle. The British Army has retreated. The British Army has had to leave the Battlefield.”

For me, David Low captured the prevailing mood in his famous “Very Well, Alone” cartoon for the Evening Standard just a few weeks later on June 18. It depicts a British soldier alone before a raging sea and gesturing with a raised fist towards the Nazi-occupied continent from which German troops were expected to arrive at any moment.The Conversation

Tim Luckhurst, Principal of South College, Durham University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Auschwitz: Women used different survival and sabotage strategies than men at Nazi death camp



Women prisoners at the Auschwitz train station around 1944.
ullstein bild via Getty Images

Judy Baumel-Schwartz, Bar-Ilan University

Nearly all the 1.3 million people sent to Auschwitz, the Nazi death camp in occupied Poland, were murdered – either sent to the gas chambers or worked to death. Life expectancy in many of these camps was between six weeks and three months.

Over a million of the Auschwitz dead were Jews, and scholars have concluded that more than half of them were women.

While male and female slave laborers in Auschwitz faced the same ultimate fate, my research on gender and the Holocaust finds that some of their behaviors and responses to captivity differed.

Methods of sabotage

Gender has been long overlooked in Holocaust research. Writing in the late 1970s and early 1980s, early scholars such as Joan Ringelheim and Sybil Milton had to fight for their legitimacy in a field that insisted that separating stories of Jewish men and women under the Nazi regime was a blow to their joint fate or to Jewish solidarity.

Today, however, the topic is being explored in depth, allowing us to better understand not only how Jews died during the Holocaust, but also how they lived.

Of 1.3 million men and women sent to the Nazi death camp Auschwitz, 1.1 million died.
API/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

During the late 1980s, I conducted a study of Jewish men and women who had been part of Auschwitz’s “Canada Commando,” the forced labor detail responsible for sorting through the possessions inmates had brought with them to the camp and preparing those items for reshipment back to Germany for civilian use.

Since the barracks were the only place in the camp where one could find almost unlimited food and clothing, this forced labor troop was named after Canada – a country seen as a symbol of wealth.

Examining the behavior of the men and women of the Canada Commando, I noted an interesting difference. Among the items of clothing sorted there were fur coats. While both male and female prisoners in the Canada Commando tried to sabotage this work, acts punishable by death, their methods differed.

Male prisoners would usually rip the lining and seams of the coat to shreds, keeping only the outer shell intact. At first use, the coat would come apart, leaving the German who wore it coatless in the winter.

The few surviving women in the commando whom I interviewed did not use this tactic. Rather, they told me, they decided together to insert handwritten notes into the coat’s pockets that read something along the lines of: “German women, know that you are wearing a coat that belonged to a woman who has been gassed to death in Auschwitz.”

The women, in other words, chose psychological sabotage. The men, physical.

Coping with hunger

One of the most central experiences of all camp prisoners during the Holocaust was hunger. While both men and women suffered from hunger during incarceration, male and female prisoners used disparate coping methods.

The former Auschwitz Nazi extermination camp, in occupied Poland, now a public museum.
Peter Toth/Pixabay, CC BY-SA

While men would regale each other with tales of the fantastic meals they would enjoy once liberated, women would often discuss how they had cooked they various dishes they loved before the war, from baking fluffy cakes to preparing traditional Jewish blintzes. Cara de Silva’s 1996 book, “In Memory’s Kitchen,” movingly documents how this phenomenon played out among women prisoners in the Terezin camp.

The differences between men’s and women’s coping methods may have derived from the gendered behavior in their lives before the war, in which men ate and women cooked – at least in the middle and lower classes.

In the case of women, this may also have been a female socialization process meant to solve two dilemmas simultaneously: the psychological need to engage – at least verbally – with food, and the educational need to prepare the young girls in the camp for culinary and household tasks after the war.

Under normal circumstances, mothers would have taught their daughters by example – not story.

Motherhood under Nazi rule

Various historical studies make mention of motherly sacrifices during the Holocaust, such as women who chose to accompany their children to death so that they would not be alone during their last moments on Earth.

Jewish women and children, some wearing the yellow Star of David patch on their chests, undergoing ‘selections’ at Auschwitz circa 1943.
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Some mothers, however, acted otherwise, as documented by the Polish non-Jewish Auschwitz survivor Tadeusz Borowsky in his book “This Way to the Gas Ladies and Gentlemen.”

During the “selections” at Auschwitz – when prisoners were sent either to live or die – prisoners arriving were usually divided by sex, with the elderly, mothers and small children being separated from men and older boys. The mothers with small children, along with the elderly, were automatically sent to death.

Borowsky writes about a number of young mothers who hid from their children during the selection, in an attempt to buy themselves a few additional days or possible hours of life.

If a German soldier found a small child alone at a “selection,” Borowsky writes, he would take the child up and down the rows of prisoners while screaming, “This is how a mother abandons her child?” until he tracked down the hapless woman and condemned them both to the gas chambers.

At first, the female Auschwitz survivors I’ve interviewed said they’d never heard of any such thing. Eventually, however, after I returned to the question several times via different topics, a few women admitted to hearing that a handful mothers who arrived in Auschwitz with small children did indeed try to hide to save their own lives.

Historians are not judges. I do not mention the actions made in mortal fear to condemn these women but rather to contribute, 75 years later, to our understanding of Jewish life and death under Nazi terror. Doing requires relinquishing preconceived notions about both men and women, mapping out a broader canvas of the grim reality at Auschwitz.

[You’re smart and curious about the world. So are The Conversation’s authors and editors. You can get our highlights each weekend.]The Conversation

Judy Baumel-Schwartz, Director, the Finkler Institute of Holocaust Research, Bar-Ilan University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Russia and Kaliningrad/Konigsberg



WWII: Appeasement



Austria: The Anschluss



The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact



WWII: Germany Invades Denmark



When science is put in the service of evil



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Nazi leadership saw medical and pharmaceutical research as a front-line tool to contribute to the war effort.
Akanbatt / Pixabay

Francisco López-Muñoz, Universidad Camilo José Cela

The Holocaust is one of the worst collective crimes in the history of humanity – and medical science was complicit in the horrors.

After World War II, evidence was given at the Nuremberg Trials of reprehensible research carried out on humans. This includes subjects being frozen, infected with tuberculosis, or having limbs amputated.

There was also specific research into pharmacology that is less well-known, as can be seen from the articles we have published over the past 15 years.




Read more:
Is it ethical to use data from Nazi medical experiments?


The prestige of German medicine

German pharmacology and chemistry enjoyed great international prestige from the second half of the 19th century.

This golden age ended with the Nazi Party’s rise to power in 1933 and was replaced with institutionalised criminal behaviour in public health and human research.

At the beginning of World War II, Nazi leadership saw medical and pharmaceutical research as a front-line tool to contribute to the war effort and reduce the impact of injury, disease and epidemics on troops.

Nazi leaders believed concentration camps were a source of “inferior beings” and “degenerates” who could (and should) be used as research subjects.

German pharmacology and medicine lost all dignity. As Louis Falstein pointed out:

the Nazis prostituted law, perverted education and corrupted the civil service, but they made killers out of physicians.

The rise of eugenics in central Europe at the beginning of the 20th century paved the way for the Nazi government to implement a disastrous policy of “racial hygiene”.

The Aktion T4 Programme

The Nazi ideology promoted the persecution of those who were considered “abnormal”, as part of the Aktion T4 program.

September 1, 1939 – the date of the start of World War II – marked the beginning of the mass extermination of patients with “deficiencies” or mental conditions, who were deemed to be “empty human shells”.

Aktion 4 patients getting on a bus, 1941.
Wikimedia Commons

At first, the crimes were carried out via carbon monoxide poisoning.

In 1941, a second phase was launched: so-called “discrete euthanasia” via a lethal injection of drugs such as opiates and scopolamine (anti-neausea medication), or the use of low-doses of barbiturates to cause terminal pneumonia.

These techniques were combined with food rations and turning off the hospital heating during winter.

These euthanasia programmes led to what amounted to psychiatric genocide, with the murder of more than 250,000 patients. This is possibly the most heinous criminal act in the history of medicine.

Experimenting with healthy subjects

Medical experimentation became another tool of political power and social control, over both sick people from the T4 Program, as well as healthy people.

Those in good health were recruited in the concentration camps of ostracised ethnic or social groups such as Jews, Gypsies, Slavs and homosexuals.

A number of experiments were undertaken, including the study of:

  • the effect of sulfonamides (antibiotics) on induced gas gangrene (Ravensbrück)
  • the use of the toxic chemical formalin for female sterilisation (Auschwitz-Birkenau)
  • the use of vaccines and other drugs to prevent or treat people intentionally infected with malaria (Dachau)
  • the effects of methamphetamine in extreme exercise (Sachsenhausen)
  • the anaesthetic properties of hexobarbital (a barbiturate derivative) and chloral hydrate (a sedative) in amputations (Buchenwald)
  • the use of barbiturates and high doses of mescaline (a hallucinogenic drug) in “brainwashing” studies (Auschwitz and Dachau).
Block 10 of the Auschwitz concentration camp, where medical experiments with prisoners were carried out.
Francisco López Muñoz

Faced with all this evidence, how it is possible that up to 45% of German doctors joined the Nazi party? No other profession reached these figures of political affiliation.

What were the reasons and circumstances that led to these perverse abuses?

The banality of evil in medicine

The answer is difficult. Many doctors argued that regulations were designed for the benefit of the nation and not the patient. They invoked such misleading concepts as “force majeure” or “sacred mission”.




Read more:
Two steps forward, one step back: how World War II changed how we do human research


Some believed everything was justified by science, even the inhumane experiments carried out in the camps, while others considered themselves patriots and their actions were justified by the needs of wartime.

Some were followers of the perverse Nazi ethos and others, the more ambitious, became involved in these activities as a means of promoting their professional and academic careers.

Lastly, avoiding association with the Nazi apparatus may have been difficult in a health sector where fear had become a system of social pressure and control.

A monument by Richard Serra in Berlin honouring of the victims of the Aktion 4 programme.
Wikimedia Commons

Arturo Pérez-Reverte, in his book Purity of Blood, defines this type of motivation very well:

… although all men are capable of good and evil, the worst are always those who, when they administer evil, do so on the authority of others or on the pretext of carrying out orders.

However, as has happened in many moments of history, sometimes tragedies bring positive posthumous effects.

After the trial of the Nazi doctors, the first international code of ethics for research with human beings was enacted, the Nuremberg Code, under the Hippocratic precept “primun non nocere”. This code has had immense influence on human rights and bioethics.




Read more:
Two steps forward, one step back: how World War II changed how we do human research


The Conversation


Francisco López-Muñoz, Profesor Titular de Farmacología y Director de la Escuela Internacional de Doctorado, Universidad Camilo José Cela

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


World politics explainer: The Holocaust



File 20180824 149472 yloajn.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
The horrific incarceration of European Jews during WWII should never be forgotten, particularly when we need to solve contemporary genocide and forced migration issues.
Shutterstock

Daniella Doron, Monash University

This article is part of our series of explainers on key moments in the past 100 years of world political history. In it, our authors examine how and why an event unfolded, its impact at the time, and its relevance to politics today.

Warning: some of the following photos may be disturbing to readers.


The event traditionally defined as the Holocaust — by which I mean the systematic extermination of European Jewry between 1941 and 1945 — defies an overly simplified explanation.

With that being said, making sense of the who, what, where and when presents the somewhat easier task.

What happened?

The Jews of Europe have been traditionally understood by historians as the principal targets of annihilation by the Nazis. Though Germans were perpetrators of this genocidal act, so too were other complicit Europeans, who either directly participated in murder or looked the other way.

Onlookers watching as Jewish people are forced to scrub the pavement.
USHMM/Wikicommons

Eastern Europe housed the sites of mass death (ghettos, labour camps, and concentration and death camps) built by the Nazis to “eliminate” Europe of Jews. Scholars generally point to 1941 – 1945 as constituting the woeful years in which approximately 6 million European Jews were killed by the Nazis.

The question of why the Nazis murdered the Jews of Europe remains somewhat thornier and far more controversial amongst scholars.

When the Nazis rose to power in 1933, the issue of how to handle the so-called “Jewish problem” ranked high on their agenda. The Germans held a racialised view of antisemitism, which defined Jews as not only biologically distinct from Germans, but also a critical threat to the health of the German nation.

Given their view of Jews as parasites, sapping the strength of the national body, the German Nazis experimented with a series of mechanisms to “eliminate” Jews from German life. The notion of murdering the Jews of Europe, we should note, had not yet surfaced.

Rather, in the early years of the regime, the Nazis saw emigration as an acceptable solution to the Jewish problem.

Legislation that disenfranchised Jews, stripped them of their financial assets, and denied them their livelihoods sought to clarify to Jews their new degraded position within Germany. The days of their security, stability, and equality under the law had come to an end. It was time to make a new life elsewhere. But these measures failed to bring about the results desired by the Nazis.

By 1939, slightly more than half of German Jews had decided to chart a new course abroad. Unfortunately, the outbreak of war the same year only served to exacerbate the dilemma of eliminating Germany of Jews within its domain.

The extent of Nazi Germany’s spread across Europe by 1942.
Shutterstock

As Germany quickly and violently occupied large swaths of territory in eastern and western Europe, the number of Jews in its territory exploded. Whereas the population of Jews in Germany in 1933 stood at roughly half a million, approximately nine million Jews resided in Europe as a whole.

Emigration no longer seemed like a viable option. Which nation would be the new home to all those Jews? As it stood, the half a million Jews of Germany struggled to find nations willing to house them.

And it was soon decided that new solutions needed to be found.

The impact of the Holocaust

Scholars debate why and when and even who arrived at the new solution of mass murder to solve Europe’s so-called “Jewish problem.”

We know that in 1939, when war broke out in the East and Germany occupied Poland, the Nazis turned to the creation of ghettos in Poland, which served to concentrate and isolate Jews from the greater Polish non-Jewish population. In these ghettos, often surrounded by high walls and gates, Jews engaged in forced labour and succumbed in great numbers to starvation and disease.

We also know that in 1941, when war broke out with the Soviet Union, the Nazis turned to rounding up Jews in the towns and villages of eastern Europe and murdered them by bullets. At least 1.6 million eastern European Jews died in this fashion. But why this turn from “passive murder” in the ghettos to “active murder” in the killing fields and later the concentration and death camps of eastern Europe? Who proposed this radical solution?

Row of bodies found at a liberated concentration camp, 1945.
Shutterstock

These questions defy scholarly consensus. It may be that the earlier policies of emigration, isolation and concentration of Europe’s Jews were eventually perceived as insufficient; it may be that the murder of Europe’s Jews by starvation and later bullets proved too slow and costly. And perhaps it was not Hitler who first arrived at the idea of mass murder, but Nazi bureaucrats and functionaries working on the ground in eastern Europe, who first conceived and experimented with this genocidal policy.

Regardless, by 1942, Jews across Europe were rounded up — from their homes, their hiding places, and Nazi run ghettos and labour camps to be deported to killing centres and concentration camps, where the vast majority lost their lives.

Contemporary implications

The legacy of the Holocaust has loomed large for more than 70 years, and continues to inform our culture and politics. It has come to be seen as arguably one of, if not the, defining events of the 20th century.

The Holocaust is commonly perceived as a truly rupturing occurrence in which a modern state used the mechanisms of modernity — technology, scientific knowledge and bureaucracy – not for the benefit of humanity but to inflict suffering and death.

We are now well aware that modernity does not necessarily result in progress and an improved standard of living, but that it comes with a dark underbelly that can lead to the violent purging of segments of society perceived as undesirable.

In its aftermath, the Holocaust became paradigmatic for defining genocide. The murder of European Jewry inspired the term “genocide”, which was coined by the jurist Raphael Lemkin in 1944. It later prompted the Genocide Convention agreed to by the United Nations in 1948.

The 1948 Genocide Convention, the memory of the Holocaust, and the phrase “never again” are thereby routinely invoked in the face of atrocity. And yet these words ring hollow in the face of genocides in Rwanda, Cambodia, Bosnia, and the current genocide against the Rohingya in Myanmar.

Rohingya Muslims walking through a broken road in Bangladesh late last year.
Shutterstock

It happens again and again. Not to mention that the largest refugee crisis since the second world war is occurring this very moment as desperate Syrians undertake perilous journeys across the Aegean.

Approximately 80 years ago, Nazi persecution likewise culminated in an international refugee crisis. World leaders recognised the plight of Europe’s Jews during the 1930s and into the 1940s, even if they could not foretell their eventual genocidal fate.

International leaders even convened a conference (the Evian Conference) in which they debated how best to aid German Jews. Country after country expressed their sympathies with Jewish refugees but ultimately denied them refuge.

International news at the time closely followed the journey of the SS St Louis, as it sailed from port to port with 900 Jewish refugees unable to disembark because nations refused to grant asylum. We now know the future that befell many of these refugees.

These days, images of desperate Syrians undertaking perilous journeys across the Aegean, or the Rohingya fleeing their persecution in Myanmar, occupy our front pages. As we contemplate our responsibility towards these desperate individuals, the SS St Louis and the Evian Conference have been routinely invoked in our public discourse as a reminder of the devastating consequences of restrictive refugee and immigration policies.

We must remain haunted by our past failings. It is the legacy of the Holocaust that compels us to examine our responsibility to intervene and turn our attention to the plight of refugees. And we should consider whether that legacy has remained sufficient or whether we need a reminder of the dire consequences that comes with numbing ourselves to the suffering of others.The Conversation

Daniella Doron, Senior lecturer, Monash University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Sunken Nazi U-boat discovered: why archaeologists like me should leave it on the seabed



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Sea War Museum

Innes McCartney, Bournemouth University

The collapsing Nazi government ordered all U-boats in German ports to make their way to their bases in Norway on May 2, 1945. Two days later, the recently commissioned U-3523 joined the mission as one of the most advanced boats in the fleet. But to reach their destination, the submarines had to pass through the bottleneck of the Skagerrak – the strait between Norway and Denmark – and the UK’s Royal Air Force was waiting for them. Several U-boats were sunk and U-3523 was destroyed in an air attack by a Liberator bomber.

U-3523 lay undiscovered on the seabed for over 70 years until it was recently located by surveyors from the Sea War Museum in Denmark. Studying the vessel will be of immense interest to professional and amateur historians alike, not least as a way of finally putting to rest the conspiracy theory that the boat was ferrying prominent Nazis to Argentina. But sadly, recovering U-3523 is not a realistic proposition. The main challenges with such wrecks lie in accurately identifying them, assessing their status as naval graves and protecting them for the future.

U-boat wrecks like these from the end of World War II are the hardest to match to historical records. The otherwise meticulous record keeping of the Kriegsmarine (Nazi navy) became progressively sparser, breaking down completely in the last few weeks of the war. But Allied records have helped determine that this newly discovered wreck is indeed U-3523. The sea where this U-boat was located was heavily targeted by the RAF because it knew newly-built boats would flee to Norway this way.

Identification

The detailed sonar scans of the wreck site show that it is without doubt a Type XXI U-boat, of which U-3523 was the only one lost in the Skagerrak and unaccounted for. These were new types of submarines that contained a number of innovations which had the potential to make them dangerous opponents. This was primarily due to enlarged batteries, coupled to a snorkel, which meant they could stay permanently underwater. Part of the RAF’s mission was to prevent any of these new vessels getting to sea to sink Allied ships, and it successfully prevented any Type XXI U-boats from doing so.

The Type XXI U-3008.
Wikipedia

With the U-boat’s identity correctly established, we now know that it is the grave site of its crew of 58 German servicemen. As such, the wreck should either be left in peace or, more implausibly, recovered and the men buried on land. Germany lost over 800 submarines at sea during the two world wars and many have been found in recent years. It is hopelessly impractical to recover them all, so leaving them where they are is the only real option.

Under international law all naval wrecks are termed “sovereign immune”, which means they will always be the property of the German state despite lying in Danish waters. But Denmark has a duty to protect the wreck, especially if Germany asks it to do so.

Protection

Hundreds of wartime wreck sites such as U-3523 are under threat around the world from metal thieves and grave robbers. The British cruiser HMS Exeter, which was sunk in the Java Sea on May 1, 1942, has been entirely removed from the seabed for scrap. And wrecks from the 1916 Battle of Jutland that also lie partly in Danish waters have seen industrial levels of metal theft. These examples serve as a warning that organised criminals will target shipwrecks of any age for the metals they contain.

Detailed sonar scans have been taken.
Sea War Museum

Germany and the UK are among a number of countries currently pioneering the use of satellite monitoring to detect suspicious activity on shipwrecks thought to be under threat. This kind of monitoring could be a cost-effective way to save underwater cultural heritage from criminal activity and its use is likely to become widespread in the next few years.

Recovery

The recovery cost is only a small fraction of the funds needed to preserve and display an iron object that has been immersed in the sea for many years. So bringing a wreck back to the surface should not be undertaken lightly. In nearly all cases of salvaged U-boats, the results have been financially ruinous. Lifting barges that can raise shipwrecks using large cranes cost tens of thousands of pounds a day to charter. Once recovered, the costs of conservation and presentation mount astronomically as the boat will rapidly start to rust.

The U-boat U-534 was also sunk by the RAF in 1945, close to where U-3523 now lies. Its crew all evacuated that boat, meaning that she was not a grave when recovered from the sea in 1993 by Danish businessman Karsten Ree, allegedly in the somewhat incredible belief that it carried Nazi treasure. At a reported cost of £3m, the operation is thought to have been unprofitable. The boat contained nothing special, just the usual mundane objects carried on a U-boat at war.

U-534 after the rescue.
Les Pickstock/Flickr, CC BY

Similar problems were experienced by the Royal Navy Submarine Museum in the UK when it raised the Holland 1 submarine in 1982. In that case, the costs of long-term preservation proved much greater than anticipated after the initial rust-prevention treatment failed to stop the boat corroding. It had to be placed in a sealed tank full of alkali sodium carbonate solution for four years until the corrosive chloride ions had been removed, and was then transferred to a purpose-built exhibition building to protect it further.

The ConversationThe expensive process of raising more sunken submarines will add little to our knowledge of life at sea during World War II. But each time a U-boat is found, it places one more jigsaw piece in its correct place, giving us a clearer picture of the history of the U-boat wars. This is the true purpose of archaeology.

Innes McCartney, Leverhulme Early Career Fellow, Department of Archaeology, Anthropology and Forensic Science, Bournemouth University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


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