It was late at night when the Wolf Pack reached the base. Despite the late hour, the base was full of activities – some were preparing the U-Boat pens, some were bracing to receive the injured and the dead and the rest were simply wanted to look the Wolf Pack leader who lost 2 U-Boats under his care.
Captain Franz wished he had gone down with the fatal U-Boats – that would have been less painful. His journey back to the base was unbearable – his fear to face the families of the dead and the injured and his fear of answering his actions to his superiors especially the furious Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Hessler mounted as the U-Boat neared the base.
Captain Franz was feeling down but the gloomy feeling was not shared by his men and the men from the other U-Boats under his care. For them, Captain Franz was a brilliant leader who wanted to seize the opportunity to deliver devastating strike to the Allies. It was just unfortunate that the Allies had set a trap for them.
As the U-Boat sailed into their pens, Captain Franz was standing on the bridge when his second in command, Ernst stood next to him. Each of them did not say any words. Both were looking at the docking bay.
“Captain, it was not your fault. If I was in your shoes, I would have done the same thing, probably worst. At least you managed to get us out from the port area intact. Just image, if we could have done serious damage to the Allied ships, we could have ruled over the Atlantic for months”
Captain Franz turned around and had a long hard look at Ernst.
“I wish I could say the same thing to men who have died”
There was an escort waiting for Captain Franz at the docking bay. It was an armed escort – unusual in this base but given the circumstances, Captain Franz was not surprised.
The escort leader greeted Captain Franz and informed that his immediate presence is required at the Base Commander’s office. The Chief of Naval Operations had arrived this morning and is waiting to see him. Captain Franz was tired from his journey but knew that he need to face this one last task before he could be let to rest and take stock of what had happened. If he is lucky that is.
It was a short drive from the U-Boat pens to the Base Commander’s office. The escort leader offered Captain Franz cigarette and drink from a bottle of good wine, tucked away in the car, which the Captain smiled and took without much hesitation. Some luxury before the punishment, thought Captain Franz
When the Captain entered the Base Commander’s office, the commander greeted him with a hug and smiled. He was glad that one of his best U-Boat captains was back safely. He had feared for the worst. Captain Franz turned around and saw the Chief of Naval Operations was sitting on the far end of the office, he looked furious but managed to give a brief smile.
“Welcome back, Captain” said the Chief of Naval Operations before launching into details of the fatal operation.
“It’s true that we got a strong intelligence on the Allied Naval port in France and it would have been a sweet success if we had our Wolf Pack free to do their jobs”
“But several hours before the mission is to start, one of the SS commando squad had completed an ambush mission on the local resistance groups and found evidences of a trap for the Wolf Pack. The SS also managed to catch the leader of the resistance and in the hands of the Gestapo, were able to get the complete details of the trap”
“It took some time for this crucial information to be relayed back to the France field office and thereafter to the Naval Office but we did managed to get the abort order out in time but the good Captain here had screwed everything up”
Captain Franz felt the tense but managed to ask “Why then this information was not relayed to me on the spot?”
“Why?” shouted Hessler.
“A captain’s duty is to obey the order and not to question them” said the Chief further as he banged on the table.
There was an eerie silent thereafter.
“The information was not relayed in details because we did not want to compromise the information of the capture of the leader of the local resistance. If the word leaked out, the Allied may move their operation centre elsewhere. The SS is planning a major assault on it next month and we feared that the Allied might sense this from our communications”
“However…” the Chief stopped and looked at the dark corner of the office.
Captain Franz can make out a silhouette of a man sitting in the dark corner of the office. He could not see who is it but certainly the Chief was waiting for further instruction from this man.
“However Captain, your reckless actions came as a blessing in disguise” the man said but without revealing his identity, still sitting in the dark. The Chief step away and sat down.
The man continued “If not for your actions at the France, we would not have known about the Allied’s new U-Boat hunting class ships”
“What made it sweeter was the fact that we managed to get our hands on the one of the ship that was pursuing you. One of our destroyers managed to get nearer and forced the captain of that Allied ship to surrender. That ship has been towed to our Kriegsmarine research centre and our scientists are going through every inch of the ship right now. Of course the Allied forces do not know that – they are under the impression that their well kept secret has been sunken by German destroyers. At least that is what we are leaking to their spies in France”
“Of course, the capture of this ship and its crew came at a price but nonetheless it is a price that the Reich is willing pay for it even it means losing higher number of U-Boats and its crew”
Captain Franz was silent, digesting this new information when the man in the dark spoke.
“You can leave now, Captain Franz. Take a good rest – you had enough action for the day” was the final words from the man who was sitting in the dark.
Captain Franz hesitated – he wondered how he is being let off without heavy punishment. After all, he was directly responsible for the loss 2 U-Boats together with its crew. This guilt will surely haunt him forever.
“By the way, your service records will not include the fatal incident – we believe you will not repeat this same mistake of disobeying your orders” the man said as Captain Franz was about to leave.
Captain Franz looked at the Chief and left – he had learned his lessons and if not for the little twist of fate that felt on the submarine hunting ship that was captured, the fate that would have fallen on him would been much worse.
His base commander has joined in at the exit and put his hand on Captain Franz’s shoulder
“Whatever happened inside there, I just want you to know that I am glad you are back. I have ordered special meal for you and your men. Take a good rest tonight – we need to have detail briefing in the morning”
“Who was the man in the dark” asked Captain Franz
“I don’t know – he came together with the Chief of Naval Operations but the man was not in Kriegsmarine’s standard uniform”
“I don’t think so, you know how the Kriegsmarine hates Gestapo. I don’t think the Grand Admiral will let Gestapo meddle with U-Boat operations. No, the man was wearing a normal suit, aged but commanded respect and obedient by his actions and words. I sense he was or is still in the military. But the Admiral Hessler feared him”
“That’s explains why the Chief did not mince me to pieces in the office just now. You know how he hates people who disobeyed his orders. Remember Naval Academy 1920?”
The base commander laughed. Who can’t forget the Naval Academy of 1920?
Captain Franz took leave and called on his escort. His ride back to his living quarters was waiting for him when he came out from the Base Commander’s office. The mission has been eventful.
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