....... Chapter 3 ........
In the entire black
immensity of the sea, the only thing that attracted an observer’s
attention was a small amber light. It was mounted on the upper point of
the snorkel, close to the automatic sealing valve in case of flooding.
The two copper cables
that fed electricity into the bulb came from the general switch of the
emergency light panel. From the main bus, the #14 cables, one green and
one blue, ran for over 40 meters across the body of the submarine and
rose another 14 meters over the air input tube to the motor, the snorkel.
It wasn’t an important circuit: in the maintenance book it was
considered to be: a secondary emergency circuit, the snorkel tube.
It was supposed to be checked every six months. The last time it was
inspected was exactly five months and three weeks earlier. It was
supposed to be inspected in a week, almost the very moment that the ship
should have arrived at the pen of Haifa’s port.
Since the departure
from Israel, the cables were free. They came out of their rubber and
metal casing at some point in the Atlantic. No one paid any attention
to it. Now, the two cables, detached, were dancing in the wind and the
salty cold water of the Mediterranean, touching the tube’s broken piece
at regular intervals, making a monotonous regular sound.
Built in 1964
according to the basic design of the XXI series, it was the second lot
of 18 submarines assembled by Germany after the Second World War. The
first Series were 250 and 450 tons, armed by the ILK Shipyards. Of the
second lot of 24 of these boats, 18 were real submarines, not
submersibles: they were heavier and bigger than the first lot. One
part was designed with the number 206 and had better current technical
and technological advances. Three units were modified under English
license and designated Gall Class and sold to the Israeli Navy.
The basic technical specifications of the boat were: seventy meters
long, 14 meters high, 11500 miles of autonomy, 15.7 kt velocity on the
surface, 17.2 kt submerged, 180 meter operational depth, maximum 280
meters, six torpedo launchers, sixteen internal charges and two 20 mm
…The 1821 ton steel
submarine was at thirteen meters below sea level, at snorkel level. The
green light meant that the snorkel was active and it was OK to operate
the diesel motors. Velocity 1/3 ahead, propellers joined to the two
Dieselmotoren. Its submerged marine load, according to its German
operations manual which was revised by the English shipbuilders was
1,819 tons. On the surface its displacement was 1,621 tons.
It was on its return
trip having left the English naval base of Portsmouth towards the
Israeli port of Haifa.
Each motor had a set
of two lights. When the red button was lit it meant the batteries were
charging. When the light was green it meant the motor was being used
for propulsion. In the main control panel, for some strange reason, the
two diesel motors were on green, even though the batteries weren’t being
charged. The battery level was on red. The idea behind navigating with
the snorkel close to the surface, was to recharge the batteries with the
generators attached to the diesel motors.
If the submarine dove,
the snorkel shut automatically. The diesel motors shut themselves off
and everything should transfer over to the electrical system generated
by the internal batteries.
Last contact with the
base in Haifa was at noon on the 25th of January 1968.
When contact was made,
a coded message regarding the probable weather along the route was
FT 2501 11145Z
2501 TO 2601 100127 235527 15SCT C250
001Z C100 BKN. 17Z VFR
Once the message was
received from the base, it was deciphered and the following coded
radiogram was sent back:
Radiogram – code 13857
250168 / 1202Z GMT
For: Mate Tzolelot, Hail Hayam, Haifa
Nav. 12 kn, pos. Ac.
625 Km. from Haifa, southeast of Crete. 26.55 N 36.25 E All normal
onboard, no news. V12k const. W/o contact with submarines, of surface
The periscopes were
lowered. It was sailing at seven knots, driven by its two potent Diesel
engines. It was leaving behind a fine but continuous line of water
bubbles, which if there were enough light, could be seen for several
miles. The Diesel engines gave life to the boat and should have charged
the 140 cell bank of batteries that were used to navigate the 250
nautical miles of the previous day, in an attempt to elude the Egyptian
navy patrols. Its charge was at a critical level, at merely 15%.
The rough seas on the
surface contrasted with the noise from the engines. Fifty seven marines
out of a total of seventy two men on board were asleep, exhausted from
their daily chores. Normally, the crew consisted of sixty-nine people,
but the boat took on a team of three people in a night operation on the
southern coast of England. They came onboard silently, dressed in black
camouflaged clothing and carrying some heavy baggage. They didn’t
socialize with the crew. They slept and were together the entire time.
Only the captain spoke to them.
In the engine room, a
lone mechanic was awake on his shift. He was watching the large diesel
engines, faithful copies of the German MAN, the RPM, fuel consumption,
oil pressure, the temperature of the cooling radiators, the voltage, and
the electrical tension of the generators. One of the engines was
attached to the electric turbine and the other to the hydraulic water
pumps. Through chains, each provided energy to a generator and to a
secondary hydraulic pump. It is not known for sure who was in command
of the routine night shift. Some subordinate officer aided by a
technical sergeant and eight sailors. It will never be known.
Mediterranean Sea |
The UC-175 was a U-boat
submarine specialized in mine launchers. Class UC-5 was armed with two
torpedo launchers, but its main weapon was the marine mine tube
launchers so feared by the freighters and ships of the Royal Navy.
At 6:00 AM on December
8, 1943, the patrol mission of the Mediterranean Sea was positioned
southeast of the Isle of Crete. The Levantine Basin zone was
marked on the war map of the Kriegsmarine on Grid CO61, 26.15 degrees
N., 36.45 degrees E. Maximum depth: 3,402 meters; a dangerous zone.
On the map, it was situated only 615 kilometers off the coast of
Palestine and at 350 kilometers off the coast of Egypt, full of British
patrol boats and destroyers.
The UC-175 operated
this time from the Italian sea base of Brindisi in the Adriatic Sea. It
had previously seen action in the La Mancha Canal Zone and in the Bay of
Biscayne, with its base in La Rochelle. On long patrols, it got all the
way to the American coasts on operational missions. It even got to see
New York’s city lights reflected in the night sky. It took the famous
nighttime photos of New York published in German newspapers. Its
participation in the New York and North Carolina raids was one of the
furthest and most daring actions of the Kriegsmarine. Another two
submarines which operated in the Gulf of Mexico did not return from
their missions and were presumed lost.
Korvettenkapitan Olaf Breizen was experienced. He was the student of
the youngest Capitan zur See (Captain) Paul Koning, the commander of the
Deutschland, Germany’s first submarine to make the trip to North
America in September of 1916. Today, Breizen was marking his position
on the map. He took a decision and gave the order. The crew took up
their interior battle station: 6 observers on the surface, the UZO was
mounted and managed by the navigation officer.
Change from white
lights to red lights. The sailors prepared the charges. The launching
tube was raised and one by one the 38 black matte spheres were raised
and launched in an irregular pattern from the northeast to the southeast.
They were prepared to float at a depth of 10 meters. Each was armed
with 10 external fuses, 6 approaching fuses and 4 contact ones. They
were armed with an invention by German scientists: a detonator which
was triggered by the magnetic field generated by any iron ship. With
their mortal horns, each mine had a macabre appearance.
At 08:30 AM, the
operation ended. Breizen, supervising his navigation officer, remarked
the position of the mined field on his maps. From the main radio of the
submarine, four letters were sent to the General command of the
Kriegsmarine in code, to signal that the mission was accomplished. He
made an entry in his logbook and gave the order to return to the Italian
base before the weather would go bad in case any British patrol,
destroyer or airplane could locate him on the surface. The danger of
being observed by any air patrol was enormous. The clash between a
submarine navigating on the surface and a plane armed with two 20 mm
machine guns, bombs and torpedoes could be mortal for as delicate a ship
as a U-boat. By the same token, he also felt that a storm was
approaching. The mines floated and the wind and marine currents were
dispersing them. Without much difficulty, they could hit a destroyer
patrolling the area or a military freighter sailing towards Cairo or
With all the entries
by water and air closed, the gray submarine submerged slowly to a depth
of fifty meters. The E-machines were attached and a velocity of
1/3 speed ahead was ordered (about 6-8knots). He set the course towards
its Italian destination leaving behind tiny air bubbles, blue waters and
the lethal marine mines.
In the Mediterranean
| January 1968
all started with a mechanical failure and ended in total tragedy. For
some unknown reason, the submarine dropped down. There are some sensors
and locking electrodes over the mouth of the snorkel which if exposed to
sea water for over 15 seconds, automatically trigger the air opening of
the snorkel to be hermetically sealed. When the cover tried to shut, it
tripped with the detached cables of the amber emergency light. With the
snorkel semi-ajar and taking in water, the Diesel motors first began to
function erratically and subsequently, after several agonizing seconds,
stopped. The openings to the stern and their cylinders filled up with
the sea’s corrosive salt water. Concurrently, the heavy propellers,
water pumps, electric generators, air and hydraulic compressors all
stopped turning. Without generators, all the energy was being supplied
by the electric batteries.
To float and navigate
a submarine, amongst other important things, has many important
requirements, several of which are: compressed air and electricity
generated by batteries.
The crew, alerted by
the entry of water and by the internal alarm, started moving nervously
to their stations. The orders started flying through the body of the
submarine in the same manner as an immense human body begins to wake up…
60 seconds after the snorkel filled up with water, the diesel motors
stopped and the ship was in a slow but certain descent. The captain and
the entire crew were awake and fighting to save the submarine and their
Normally, the sonar
should detect any metal object in the water. The sonar did detect an
object in the starboard bow of the ship at a depth of 18 meters. But
the noise made by the crew in the crisis to detect and contain the
ship’s emergencies, the red light and the sound of the warning bells of
the sonar went unnoticed and no one paid it the attention it deserved.
At the same time,
there was an explosion at the ships prow which ran at the speed of sound
through the body of the ship. The water began to enter through the lock
of tube #3 of the torpedo launchers. Had someone been outside the
submarine and the ship were in a dry repair shop, he could see the
gaping hole measuring about 80 centimeters long by 60 centimeters wide
in the lower part of the opening of the torpedo launcher produced by the
sea mine, something almost impossible to plug on the high seas with the
means the crew had on hand.
Since its return from
London, the boat was heavier than its nominal level of 1819 tons. It
was at the limit of its capacity, but the captain believed that as the
engine fuel was being consumed, the load would be compensated during the
voyage. At this precise moment, the submarine was overweight by
precisely three tons. Add to this its abnormal rhythm, and the water
that immediately inundated the hull of the ship as a result of the
rupture created by the impact near tube #3. Immediately, and with
great effort, the crew closed and hermetically sealed the prow
compartment and the torpedo room, which were already over 80% full of
water. Two lifeless bodies floated inside. The water that entered and
filled this space added an extraordinary weight and acted like lead,
making the ship’s prow angle at 15 degrees towards the deep. This angle
was intensifying with each passing moment.
immediately given to make the ballast tanks with compressed air fly, but
the submarine only shook with the sound of the outflow of water and the
inflow of compressed air. Nothing changed its behavior or its fatal
descent. The indicators on the large depth dial facing the captain
indicated 76 meters.
The machine room, now
filled to the max with personnel standing in water up to their waists,
were at their battle stations trying to restart the diesel engines which
had been turned off by the water, when they received another order to
modify the plans to 15 degrees positive and to attach the E-machinen
(electric motors). When the electric motors started turning, due to
the batteries having been discharged, the yellow light dimmed again in
intensity indicating that the batteries’ charge was low.
The black needles on
the ampere meters which measure the electric current of the batteries
turned to the left in a zone marked red and stopped at zero. They
turned back to the right, still on the red zone and indicated 10% power.
There is a white range of 0 to 50%, a yellow range of 50 to 75% and a
red one of 75 to 100% discharge. From 0 to 75% represents life. Below
90% represents death.
The ship was moving
forward by the revolutions of its two propellers, which were turning
evermore slowly. With the prow totally inundated and heavier, the ship
was hopelessly sinking into the depth of the sea. Practically the
entire crew was ordered to take positions in the machine room located at
the ship’s stern in an attempt to compensate for the load of water at
the prow and to compensate its position. The needles of the ampere
meters were again moving leftwards towards zero. Seeing this, one
could feel death approaching.
The situation was
hopelessly desperate. Panic was rapidly overtaking the submarine’s
sailors, whose darkest fears were precisely sparked by situations such
as being left without power, being overweight, left without compressed
air, or without batteries, where they are indicating negative charge,
and with taking on water that couldn’t be stopped at a depth of 100
meters. Regardless of how well they were trained, no crew could
overcome this situation.
At a couple of hundred
meters from the place where only five minutes earlier there was an amber
light, it was now marked by small air bubbles bursting on the sea’s
surface that were coming out of the submarine. Each air bubble coming
out was like the very life coming out from the ship’s body.
Little by little, the
ship filled with water. Now, the electric engines, with their
propellers still moving, pushed the ship not towards the surface, but
towards the deep, as a result of the enormous weight of the water, the
ship’s load and the prow’s position.
The prow was sealed so
that the water couldn’t flood the rest of the submarine. This decision
was taken by the commander, after he received the report of the ship’s
damage from his chief petty officer, who explained that currently, the
entry of water could not be stopped. This also precluded the
possibility that the crew could exit through the torpedo tubes, since
these were already inundated.
Their only hope was to
stabilize the descent and stop the ship at a depth, above the maximum
its metal structure could withstand, so that some charge in the
batteries could be reestablished and water could be forced from the
anterior compartments into the ballast tanks and from there out, using
what little air under pressure still remained.
The ship’s descent was
unstoppable. No force known to man could intervene to change its fate.
Once 150 meters was
exceeded, the ship was condemned and its fate terminally sealed. No
force could save it. The laws of nature ruled this place. Every object
heavier than the volume of water it dislocated sinks. Lethal gravity
Seven minutes after
the last twinkle of the amber light on the surface, the water filled the
prow and the center of the submarine completely.
At a depth of 205
meters, the pressure screws and nuts began to give way and fly with the
strength of machine gun bullets through the body of the boat, injuring
and killing several sailors already cornered in the engine room.
At 300 meters, the
immense pressure of the sea sealed for ever the fate of the Tz-77 and
its crew. No force in the universe could save it now. The metal of the
pressure rafters and of the body of the submarine began to twist like a
beer can, generating a hair-raising sound among the few surviving
crewmen who only awaited the final outcome of this tragic situation.
The steel gave in under the enormous water pressure and the water was
inundating the body of the Tz-77 everywhere. The hypothermia caused by
the entering cold water made the crews delirious. They sought refuge in
the stern. The total end was very near.
At a depth of 400
meters, the water pressure twisted and broke the parts of the ship that
still had air pockets.
At 450 meters there
were no more air pockets in the ship and everything was flooded. The
pressure equalized. Life ceased to exist.
The twisted black and
lifeless ship touched a rocky bottom of the sea. There it broke into
three pieces and the remains fell in a radius about 200 meters.
Silently, each piece touched bottom, sending a cloud of sand into the
water, like a bomb in the desert. Afterwards, imperceptibly, in slow
motion, like someone who had taken a bullet, injured and who had lost
his balance, it started to turn, until it came totally to rest upon the
portside. It raised a small cloud of sand from the bottom.
The sand settled back
on the sea’s bottom before the last air bubble left the body of the
submarine and arrived to the surface. It took 10 minutes to get to the
surface. It could have been a breath of one of the crew as a farewell.
The life of the Dakar was closed with its incorporation to the gaseous
atmosphere of the surface of the sea.
At 2900 meters from
the surface, upon a submarine hill, at a depth of over 3200 meters,
before the last air bubble would reach the surface, the amber light went
This air bubble, like
the last breath of a large fatally wounded animal, took over twenty
minutes to rise and reincorporate itself to the atmosphere.
Its emergency beacon
would be located days later on a deserted beach of Khan Younis, on the
fringe of Gaza close to the border with Egypt.
On March 6, 1968
General Moshe Dayan, the hero of the Six Days War, with a sad voice,
gave a speech at his Tel Aviv headquarters announcing the loss of the
Dakar submarine Tz-77 and its 69 man crew.
As usual, a day of
official mourning was declared. The 69 names of the sailors, officers
and their commander, Corvette Captain Jacob Raana, were engraved on a
stone made out of limestone in the Military cemetery of Mount Hertzl.
of the ancient hull of the Tz-77 recoverd by the Israeli Navy.
For over thirty years, they restlessly
searched for its carcass. On the night of May 28, 1999, practically at
the end of the XX th Century, the boat appeared on radar screens in the
same position, black and silent as on the night it touched this deep
The silhouette of the
submarine appeared from the magnetometer of protons towed by an American
search boat joined by technicians of the Israeli Navy. Its position on
the military maps was secretly noted.
In Israel, families of
the crew were advised of the special news. For weeks discussions and
disputes surrounding the fate and causes of the sinking of the Tz-77
again filled the spaces of newspapers, radio and television.
Due to the depth, the
cost of equipment and the required technology, it was concluded that
rescuing the remains of the Tz-77 and of its load was impossible.
Officially, never and
no one ever mentioned anything about the three extra passengers of the
Dakar, their mission, their transportation manifest and the nature of
their secret cargo.