On May 8th, 1945 the brand new (and very much provisional) German leader Grossadmiral Karl Dönitz ordered all operational U-boats to surrender unconditionally to the Allied forces.
However, at least two submarines (U-530 and U-977) did not surrender. Instead, their captains decided… to go to Argentina (of all places) – ostensibly to surrender to its Navy. Which they did – roughly one month apart at Mar del Plata Naval Base.
The larger U-530 surrendered on July 10th and the smaller U-977 – on August 17th. The captain of U-530 – Oberleutnant zur See Otto Wermuth – did not explain why on Earth he decided to ignore the order to surrender, why it had taken him more than two months to reach Mar del Plata, why his submarine had jettisoned its deck gun, why its crew carried no identification, or (most importantly) what the hell had happened to the ship’s log which was nowhere to be found.
The captain of U-977 – Oberleutnant zur See Heinz Schäffer – did give the explanation why… which sounded quite bizarre (to put it mildly). He claimed that his main reason was a German propaganda broadcast by Goebbels, which claimed that the Allies’ Morgenthau Plan would turn Germany into a “goat pasture” and that all German men would be “enslaved and sterilized”.
Now a U-boat captain that still believed Goebbels in May of 1945… that was far less probably than an alien from outer space.
Other factors were remembrances of the poor conditions and long delays that German POWs suffered through, in being repatriated at the end of World War I, and the hope of better living conditions in Argentina, which had a large German community.
Schäffer offered the married crewmen the option of going ashore in Europe (or so he said). Sixteen chose to do so and were landed from dinghies on Holsnøy Island near Bergen on 10 May. Incidentally, there was no proof whatsoever that anything like that ever happened.
The crews of both subs were predictably interned by the Argentinian authorities. The latter had no desire to have anything to do with these “hot potatoes” so they promptly transferred both the crews and the boats to the United States.
All crewmembers had to endure long and intense interrogations and faced the charges that (1) they had landed Nazi leaders in Argentina before surrendering; and (2) they have sunk the Brazilian cruiser Bahia as the last act of the Battle of the Atlantic. Obviously, the crew members of both U-boats vehemently denied both charges.
Both charges were based on… well, rumors and having had failed to obtain any evidence of either crime, the US investigators had to let the submariners go. It was later found that the cruiser (believed it or not) sunk itself during anti-aircraft target practice.
In 1947, crews were released from POW facilities and the boats (seized by the US Navy) were used as targets for torpedoes and unceremoniously sunk.
IMHO, explanations provided by captains of both boats as to why did they decide to sail to Argentina are totally and completely bogus. For a very simple reason – the journey from Europe to Argentina was such a risky adventure that both captains had to have far more compelling reasons (such as an order from the very top) to undertake it.
In May of 1945 the Atlantic Ocean was saturated with Allied ships and its skies – with Allied aircraft. Both (rightfully) considered any U-boat that refused to follow orders and to surrender as a pirate ship that had to be dealt with only in one fashion – sunk on the spot without warning.
And, of course, disobeying an order to surrender issued by the Supreme Commander of German Armed Forces made any U-boat captain a criminal – and gave his XO the right to arrest him on the spot (and even shoot the bastard right then and there).
So I believe that the reality was very different from what both captain told their interrogators. It is a well-established fact that Grossadmiral Karl Dönitz (formerly the commander of the submarine forces of the Kriegsmarine) firmly believed that even one U-boat surrendered to the Allies is one too many.
So he ordered Operation Regenbogen (“Rainbow”); in other words, ordered all German U-boats to be scuttled rather than surrendered to the enemy. The order was partially carried out which resulted in about 200 U-boats (most of which were not operational) and about 150 surrendered.
Consequently, it would be fair to conclude that if someone (even Heinrich Himmler) approached Dönitz on one of the first days of May 1945 and asked him to order two subs to sail to Argentina rather that surrender to the Allies, he would have cooperated enthusiastically.
As the result, right after receiving the order to surrender to the Allies on May 8th, 1945, captains of both U-530 and U-977 received another – top secret – order. Do not surrender; pick up passengers and cargo at the designated place and time, deliver them to Argentina and only then surrender (to the Argentinians) keeping dead silence about the whole thing.
The nature of the cargo is obvious – some liquid financial assets (gold, precious stones, foreign currency, etc.) that the ODESSA wanted to transfer to South America rather than to neutral European nations or the Vatican.
Looks like these guys knew that the key to reducing risks was diversification. And the passengers were most likely Nazi financiers with extensive contacts in global financial community and (of course) the security guys from the SS.
The choice of U-530 for this job was especially telling. It was a Type IXC/40 boat – a large ocean-going submarine for sustained operations far from the home support facilities (and could take on board a lot of cargo).
U-boats were built much like cars – assembled from prefabricated sections. That’s how Germans managed to build over 1,250 of submarines immediately before and during World War II.