U-1406 and U-1407. Were they Scuttled or did they Surrender?
by Derek Waller
U-1406 and U-1407 were two Type XVIIB advanced design hydrogen peroxide-powered U-Boats which, in late April 1945, were in Rensburg at the northern end of the Kiel Canal (west of Kiel). However, on 1 May they left Rensburg and moved (via the Kiel Canal) to Cuxhaven, where they arrived on 3 May.
Virtually all the published works concerning post-war U-Boat activities record that U-1406 and U-1407 were scuttled at Cuxhaven on either 2 May, 4 May, 5 May or 7 May 1945. However, none of them venture an opinion as to whether or not these two U-boats had actually surrendered to the Allies first.
The surrender of all German armed forces in northwest Germany, including those at Cuxhaven, to 21st Army Group was signed on 4 May, and it came into effect at 0800 hours on 5 May. It required all German forces in the area to lay down their arms and to surrender unconditionally, and it specifically covered all naval ships, including U-Boats.
On 5 May there were local discussions about the possibility of scuttling the U-Boats that were in Cuxhaven. However their COs were forbidden to scuttle or otherwise sabotage their U-Boats, being threatened with shooting in the event of any disobedience. This order was given by Captain Thoma at a first meeting, and it was repeated by Admiral Klaikampf at a second meeting later in the day. Such action was forbidden as being contrary to the 21st Army Group surrender agreement.
On 6 May, the then unmanned U-1406 and U-1407 were towed to the New Fishery Haven (Neuer Fischereihafen) in Cuxhaven port, where all the surrendered U-boats were left in the custody of two motor escort vessels, which had been designated as guard ships. The latter were moored alongside U-1406 and U-1407 in order to ensure that no unauthorized personnel should go on board the U-Boats.
On the night of 6/7 May, Oberleutnant Gerhard Grumpelt, who was not a member of the crew of either U-1406 or U-1407, but who was temporarily accommodated in one of the guard ships, went on board U-1406 and U-1407 and scuttled each of them by opening the main vents and other flooding valves, and leaving the conning tower hatches open.
As a result of this action, Grumpelt was court martialled and charged with committing a war crime, in that he "at Cuxhaven, north-west Germany, on the night of 6-7 May 1945, after the German Command had surrendered all naval ships in that place, in violation of the laws and usages of war, scuttled U-boats 1406 and 1407".
His defending Counsel admitted that the scuttling of the two U-boats was "without doubt" a violation of the laws and usages of war, but that there were mitigating circumstances. Grumpelt was nevertheless found guilty of the charge and, on 13 February 1946, the Court sentenced him to be imprisoned for seven years. The findings and sentence were confirmed on 8 March 1946, with a remission of two years.
U-1406 and U-1407 were in Cuxhaven at 0800 hours on 5 May where they surrendered. Their crews were removed, and the two unmanned U-Boats were towed to the Neuer Fischereihafen and placed in the charge of two guard ships.
At around midnight on the night of 6/7 May, when there were no crews on either of the two U-Boats, Oberleutnant Grumpelt boarded U-1406 and U- 1407 without authority and scuttled each one. He was court martialled for his actions, found guilty and sentenced to 5 years in prison.
The answer to the question in the heading of this note is therefore that U- 1406 and U-1407 were scuttled in Cuxhaven on 7 May, but only after they had first surrendered on 5 May.
As a result, U-1406 and U-1407 should be included in any list of the U- Boats which surrendered to the Allies at the end of the war in Europe in May 1945, and the circumstances of their subsequent illegal scuttling does not alter this fact.
Further details of this series of events can be found in the UK PRO files ADM 228/8, WO 235/632 and WO 235/64. Also, a detailed report about Grumpelt’s Court Martial can be found in "Law Reports of Trials of War Criminals, Vol, 1, English Edition", HMSO, 1947.
This article was published on 12 Oct 2010.