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Bernard O'Connor

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About Bernard O'Connor

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    Near Cambridge, UK
  1. U-boat Spy EKI and EKII

    Icelandic Spies’ Journeys by U-Boat. Extracts from Magnus Gudbjornsson and Sverrir Matthiasson’s interrogation reports in the National Archives in Kew, London. The original plan was for GUDBJORNSSON to go to Iceland by motor-boat. When they got to Bergen on 13 April 1944, however, FRANZ told them that he had not received the expected message from Kiel about arrangements for the motor boat. FRANZ was very angry about this, and told them that if it was not possible for them to go by motor boat to Iceland, he would take them back to Copenhagen with him. Later they were told that they could not go by motor boat but would have to go by U-boat. GUDBJORNSSON accordingly left Bergen with MATTHIASSON by U-boat on the 15 April 1944. He did not know the number of the U-boat but thinks it was U.955. The only numbers of the crew whom he knew were engineer BERKEN and the 2nd Officer SILINSKY. As accommodation was very limited in the U-boat, GUDBJORNSSON and MATTHIASSON ate with the crew and slept in the same quarters. They only held conversation with the officers, and GUDBJORNSSON thought that the crew had been instructed not to question them. The captain told GUDBJORNSSON and MATTHIASSON to tell the crew, if they questioned them, to mind their own business. GUDBJORNSSON was under the impression that the officers knew that they were working for the G.S.S. While it was light the U-boat submerged and travelled at about 1 knot. During the hours of darkness – only about 3 hours - they came to the surface and travelled at about 16 to 17 knots. The journey was without incident, and they reached Langanes in Iceland on 25.4.44. it was not quite dark when GUDBJORNSSON and MATTHIASSON were dropped from the U-boat. Their orders were that on landing they were to bury their wireless sets, deflate their rubber boat and throw it away into the sea. [Matthiasson’s subsequent account of the journey is worth including as it provided more details of the journey. On boarding, we were to greet the Captain with “Sailor THORMATT reporting on board” and “Sailor RUFU reporting on board”. Having greeted the Captain in this manner, we were taken below by the First Engineer named BECKER, with whom we had supper. For GUDBJORNSSON and myself, it was a strange feeling to be on a U-boat. We had never been on one before, but we were comparatively easy in our minds that the trip to Iceland would go well as both FRANZ and the Commandant ashore had assured us that the U-boat was forbidden to carry out any attacks during the voyage. The Captain had received orders to take us to Iceland. This was later confirmed by the first mate. We were now shown bunks and were given those of the third mate and second engineer. At about 11 o’clock, the U-boat dived to a depth of 70 metres, not surfacing for another 25 hours. Under water, during the last few hours, the air became very bad and we were gasping. I think that extra oxygen was added to the air. Everyone complained about the lack of oxygen in the air. Under water, we were all told to keep very still in the boat and all unnecessary noise and movement was forbidden. The U-boat under water went at a slow speed and during the first 25 hours, had only done approximately 80 sea miles. This was told us by the first mate. The second day on the U-boat, from 12 mid-night until 4 o’clock in the morning, we were sailing at half speed on the surface. Orders were now given to change night to day and we ate during the night when the boat was on the surface, so that cooking was done with power obtained from the Diesel motors and in order that the oxygen consumption and noise under water should be reduced to a minimum. We lay nearly the whole time in our bunks, as there was little room for moving about. We only got up when we had to eat or drink tea or coffee. Each day as we travelled North, it became colder and colder in the boat and the air was damp so that it was most unpleasant. Nights became shorter as we travelled North, so that the boat no longer remained four hours surfaced but only 3/3½ hours. On the surface we did 14 sea miles per hour and under water about 1/ 1½ sea miles per hour. On 24 April, we were told that we might reach Langanes the next night and that we should be prepared to land. We were given extra provisions – a bottle of rum and a bottle of Algerian wine and some chocolate, which we packed in a sea bag and waited for zero hour. During the time I was in the U-boat I learned that the Captain was an ex-mercantile marine seaman but he had been a mat and never a Captain in the mercantile marine. He had been trained at the Naval College as a U-boat captain. He had made seven trips with this U-boat. The crew consisted of 50 men in all and most of them had never been in action. It was their first long trip. They had been in training in German waters and were all young – about 20/27 years of age – and all bored with U-boat life. The Captain was the only one who had received the Iron Cross, 1st Class. For what, I do not know. We were told that the boat was 4/500 gross tons. I do not know if this is correct. Room on board was very limited. The air after 20 hours’ sailing under water was very bad. The boat was probably launched in 1942. One could see that it was not completely new from the wear and paint work; it had two Diesel motors, each of 1400 horse power. On board, we lay most of the time in our bunks or slept. I had the third mate’s bunk and borrowed a book from him which was called “Die Metallen”. In this book I observed, either written or printed with a rubber stamp “Gehert Bucherei U 955”, from which can possibly be deduced that this was the boat’s number. A couple of hours before we surfaced to approach Langanes, the Captain called us and informed us that we were approaching. He showed us a rubber boat and instructed us to cut it to pieces and either sink it or bury it. The oars, which were of aluminium, were so made that they would float. He therefore gave the order that holes should be made in them so that they could be sunk. On a sea chart, he showed us the route which had been followed to Iceland. An attempt is here made to show how the voyage went. Matthiasson’s sketch showing the U-boat’s route from Bergen to Iceland, (TNA KV2/127) Extracts from Ernst Fresenius, Sigurdur Juliusson and Hjaldi Bjornsson’s interrogation reports in the National Archives in Kew, London. JOURNEY TO ICELAND FROM BERGEN. Departure from Bergen About 18.00 hours FRESENIUS, BJORNSSON and JULIUSSON were collected by car by the man who had met them at the station two days previously. They had been given working clothes and caps similar to those worn by German sailors. They had also been given a small bag to make it appear that they had work to do on board. On reaching what was referred to as the U-boat harbour, they were met by a First Officer (Lieutenant), who drove with them to a small jetty and waited till the U-boat, which was lying on the other side of the harbour, had left the quay and sailed out from Bergen. The First Officer gave orders to four sailors to man a small motor boat which was standing on the jetty. In this they went out to the U-boat, and were on board in about twenty minutes. Life on the U-boat. They were put under military discipline. Their wireless sets and other bagge were already on board, having been sent on ahead – except for their rucksacks which they were carrying. The U-boat appeared to be of the 500 ton class (the number as stated by BJORNSSON as ebing 287 or 289(. The crew consisted of the following officers and ratings: Kapitanleutnant (name given by FRESENIUS as HELDWIG), 1st, 2nd, 3rd Officers (Leutnant) Engineer Officer (Leutnant) 2nd Engineer (Oberfeldwebel) 3rd Engineer (Feldwebel) In addition, there were four signallers, the total crew numbering about 40-45, mostly very young. FRESENIUS had his meals with the officers, but there was not room for BJORNSSON and JULIUSSON, who therefore messed with two engineers. They all slept in the engineers’ cabin. At dusk each day the U-boat surfaced to give the crew some fresh air and charge the accumulators. By baylight they travelled submerged. After surfacing, FRESENIUS, BJORNSSON and JULIUSSON were allowed on deck. There were usually the captain and two officers there as well as the gunners. There were one 3.7 gun and to Vierlings. The times for surfacing varied in accordance with the hors of darkness. At first this period covered between 5 and 6 hours, but on approaching Iceland it was reduced to about 3 hours. When submerged the U-boat sailed mostly at half speed, but on the surface at full speed. As stated by JULIUSSON, the surface speed was 15-17 knots, and submerged about 8 knots, although capable of doing 11 knots. First Attempt to Land. On the 26 April they sighted Iceland. On the night of the 27th between midnight and 01.00 hours, they tried to land at Bjarfjord, but were prevented by bad weather. Second Attempt to Land They remained submerged all day and again tried to land at Njardvik, also at about midnight with the same lack of success. The next day was spent in the same way as the previous one. During the day a ship was sighted and the torpedoes were made ready for action. JULIUSSON was asked by the Captain if it was an Icelandic vessel, and replied that it was the coastal boat “Eoja”, upon which the Captain remarked that he would have torpedoes it, without this information. He would then have been in trouble with the German High Command and would probably have been dismissed from his ship. Landing at Selvoganes On the night of the 29/30 April they made their third attempt to land. The U-boat lay about 150/200 metres from the shore at Selvoganes. They were taken ashore in a small rubber dinghy by the First officer and a sailor. Three journeys in all were made. First FRESENIUS and JULIUSSON went ashore with their personal baggage. Then BJORNSSON was fetched with the two wireless sets with the bicycle attachment, and some of the tinned food. On the final trip the remainder of the food and baggage was brought ashore. On the return of the officer and sailor, the U-boat sailed about 02.00 hours (Mid-European Time) The landing operations had taken about 1½ hours in all. (TNA KV2/3009)
  2. U-boat Spy EKI and EKII

    Dear Hinrik, I'm researching Iceland's WW2 spies and found this correspondence about Cobweb. Even though his autobiography is in Icelandic, could you send me the title, publisher, etc? (fquirk202@aol.com) as want to include it in my bibliography. Have you any idea what the lb or lb Riis means? In your interviews with him, did he suggests what two significant contributions he made that deserved the medals? My book, when it eventually comes out, is provisionally called, 'The Spies who came back to the Cold'. Regards Bernard