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Mr. Lynch is a freelance writer based in Monroeville, Pennsylvania. He chose the writing life after more than 40 years in broadcast journalism. He has written numerous articles on various facets of World War II.
U-853's Second Battle
Fifteen years after the U.S. Navy blasted apart U-853 on the bottom of the sea, a new fight broke out over one man's determined plan to raise the submarine. Throughout 1960, newspapers in Providence and Newport, Rhode Island, were filled with stories about more and more divers visiting the sub. Gruesome details included sightings of skeletons lying about the interior. In October, an idea to raise U-853 was advanced, and immediately a heated public discussion ensued.
Burton Mason, head of Submarine Research Associates in Trumbell, Connecticut, told anyone who would listen that despite criticism, he was going ahead with his controversial plan to raise the U-boat and prepare her for public display. In January 1961, the city council of Newport, with the backing of a group of clergymen from that city, proposed taking action to prevent what it called "desecration" of the sub and the remains of her 54 crewmen.
Incredibly, the summer before, Mason had removed the body of one crewman whose remains were buried with full military honors in the Island Cemetery Annex at Newport on 24 October 1960. In attendance at that unusual ceremony were Dr. Guenther Motz, German consul general in Boston; Commander Bertholdt Jung of the German Navy and his wife; Captain Charles Cook, chief of staff of the Newport Naval Base; and assorted other government and naval officials.
The state of Rhode Island warned Mason that although U-853 did appear to be in international waters, Rhode Island would fight any effort to violate what it called its "tidal Waters." However, Mason cited earlier rulings from the U.S. State Department and the Coast Guard that the sub "lies in the high seas and not in U.S. territorial waters" and declared salvage operations, with Swiss and German divers, would begin in April, with the raising to be completed in June or July.
At this point, the West German government in Bonn released a diplomatic preemptive strike. On 18 January 1961 it announced that U-853 "is still owned by Germany and any action to surface the vessel or bring anything up from it is illegal." The Bonn statement also declared that "raising the sub would be akin to piracy." Mason's reply was one of defiance. He blustered: "We're going right ahead! Whatever thunder they want to throw, let them throw it!"
However, spring and summer came and went, and no sub-raising flotilla materialized. Either a lack of financing or concern over triggering a real international battle, or both, may have been more than Burton Mason could handle. For whatever reason, no attempt has ever been made to remove U-853 from her watery grave.
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