The submarine U-122 was a type IXB U-Boat of Nazi Germany’s Kriegsmarine, active during the early years of World War 2. She was launched on the 20th of December 1939 and commissioned roughly three months later under her first and only commander, one Korvettenkapitän Hans-Günther Looff.
In June of 1940, she disappeared without trace.
Her last reported location was approximately 56.00N, 10.30W, apparently returning to her operational base just west of Cape Finisterre in Spain. Historians speculate that she may have been sunk by a collision with the British steam tanker the San Filipe on the 22nd of June, or by depth charges launched from the HMS Arabis on the 23rd.
Either way, U-122 was declared lost with all hands.
In 1978, 33 years after the end of the war, nearly five thousand pages of translated U-Boat logs and diaries were released by the United States Office of Naval Intelligence. These documents were seized by Allied forces in the April of 1945 at Castle Tambach in Coburg. They consist of a daily narrative detailing operations, intelligence reports, claimed successes and losses, organisational matters, and discussions of tactical and strategic issues.
I must confess, I was not planning to peruse them: naval operations are not my primary interest. However, a few weeks ago, a colleague of mine at the Royal Navy sent me a package. Within this package were excerpts from these logs. Several passages that my colleague believed I would find interesting were highlighted. I shall reproduce these highlighted passages below:
16th June 1940
[12.40] Korevettenkapitän Looff reports that the Halo has been successfully retrieved and secured. U-122 is homeward bound via the Jormungand route. Expected date of return, June 30th. Radio traffic to be kept at a minimum during this voyage.
19th June 1940
[21.10] Korevettenkapitän Looff has broken radio silence to report that the crew of U-122 are experiencing ‘strange effects’. The crew are blaming the Halo. Looff is concerned about morale and is requesting passing the Halo on to another vessel on the Jormungand route to complete its journey.
[22.20] REQUEST DENIED.
20th June 1940
[03.00] Reports of U-112 engaging and sinking enemy cargo ship.
[03.15] Korevettenkapitän Looff is reminded that the safety of the Halo is NOT to be compromised under ANY circumstances.
[22.20] Multiple attempts to contact U-112 have been unsuccessful.
22nd June 1940
[00.45] Garbled transmission received from U-122. Several voices talking all at once. Dive alarm heard sounding erratically in the background. Transmission ends abruptly. No further contact.
[23.59] UNACCEPTABLE. CONTACT WITH U-122 MUST BE RE-ESTABLISHED IMMEDIATELY.
1st July 1940
[12.00] U-122 declared lost along with all on-board. Fate of the Halo unknown.
I have acquired the complete records, and, having read through them, I can find no further mention of the ship U-122 after this point, nor her mysterious cargo, the item rather ambiguously titled ‘the Halo.’
But the sinking of a submarine during war-time and allusions to its peculiar burden are, in and of themselves, no sign of the paranormal.
However, within the package from my colleague was a further document; the contact details of a gentleman named Eustace Hayes.
4th February 1996
Eustace Hayes is a tall man, in his early sixties, with arms like tree trunks and skin stained by many a year out in the sun. I meet him in the bar he currently owns in Hue Province, central Vietnam. He was stationed here as a Technical Sergeant for the United States Air Force during the Vietnam War, and became part of the small contingent of American serviceman who stayed on after the conflict was over.
Back in the May of 1959 he was stationed at Wheelus Air Base in Tripoli, on the coast of Libya.
He invites me to sit on a small plastic stool by a low table topped by a sticky sheet of plastic. A young waitress brings us a crate of bottled beer and a bucket of ice, and in a slow but booming voice that seems to push through the humid air between us, Mr Hayes shares his story.
“The previous year, I think it was November, a group of surveyors for BP reported seeing a downed aircraft out in the desert, miles from anywhere. Top brass didn’t take them seriously at first. Why would they? There had never been any reports of missing US airplanes in the area. I think they assumed it was either a mirage or a classic bit of British leg-pulling.”
“But as the months went by, more and more people began to mention it. Apparently the location of the wreckage was now being marked on maps for the next batch of oil surveyors.”
“Well even the CO couldn’t ignore that.”
“I was an Airman at the time, and I got sent out with the first search team. And we found it, right where they said it would be. It turned out to be the wreck of the Lady Be Good.”
The Lady Be Good was an American Heavy Bomber. Following a raid on Napels in April of 1943, she disappeared on her return to Soluch Field in Libya. She was assumed lost in the depths of the Mediterranean Sea.
Mr Hayes continues:
“It was amazing. She was split in two, but apart from that she was in almost perfect condition. You would think that fifteen or so years of just sitting there in the desert would’ve fucked her up. But the machine guns still worked, as did the radio. There was even a flask of tea on-board. It seemed drinkable too, not that we tried it.”
“But that wasn’t the strangest we saw out there.”
I ask him what else they found as he knocks back his beer and opens another on the edge of the table.
“Well, one of our crew noticed that there was something else on the horizon. Something glinting just over the dunes.”
“Now, remember that I told you that the wreck was being marked on maps, right? Because it was a landmark, visible from the air, yes?”
“Following that line of thinking, if there was something bigger out there, also made of metal, then logically that too would have been noticed.”
“So, we travelled about 20 miles to the north-northwest, towards whatever this thing glinting in the sand was. I don’t think any of us were prepared for what we found.”
“It was a submarine, just sitting there on her side. A German U-Boat to be precise. I recognised the insignia on her hull. And she looked to be in pristine condition. She even had her number stamped on the conning tower: U-122.”
Mr Hayes goes on to tell me how he and his crew circled the submarine, taking photographs and making notes. It’s hatch was open, but there were no signs of life, except for a set of bones about half a mile away, wrapped up in the remains of a Nazi captain’s uniform.
“It was really bizarre. It looked like whoever this man was, he’d climbed out and was crawling away across the sand. But maybe it was just the way the body had fallen.”
“As I was looking over the skeleton, Sergeant Caine climbed into the sub, through the hatch. He was only in there for a minute or two, but when he came out he was trembling, and his face was as white as a sheet.”
“I’d known the Sarge for a few years, and he was as tough as shoe leather. I knew he’d seen some pretty nasty shit back in the Pacific. But whatever he saw in that sub must’ve really, what’s the expression you Brits use? ‘Knocked him for six’, yeah, that’s it.”
“He was mumbling under his breath. Muttering about strange things, things that didn’t make any sense.”
“He was a mess. So we decided to pack up our gear and return to the base.”
“The Sarge was shaking all the way home. And he was ice cold. Bear in mind that we’re in the middle of the desert, in May.”
Mr Hayes opens a third beer.
“I know what you’re gonna ask me. You’re gonna ask where the photos are that I took.”
I must confess, that was one of the questions on my mind.
“Two days later some ‘agency’ types turned up. Serious men in black suits wildly inappropriate for the climate, just like you now.”
He smiles and winks at me.
“These fellas took everything; our photos, our notes, the lot. The made us sign something saying we would never talk about that damn submarine, or they’d throw us in jail without a trial.”
“I’m not too bothered by their threats now. Hell, I’m an old man. What are they gonna do? I suspect they thought that no-one would believe us anyway.”
“It was never mentioned again on the base. I went out there again a few weeks later. There was no sign of the submarine. Or that she’d ever even been there in the first place.”
“And I never saw the Sarge again. Do you know what the top brass said when I asked about him? They said ‘don’t ask.'”
To say this is a frustrating end to this case would be an understatement. But as I decide to wrap things up with Mr Hayes, he goes off upstairs and brings back a crumpled and yellowing piece of thin card.
“I’ve never shown this to anyone before. Hell, I’ve never even told anyone about it. I took it out of the uniform the body was wearing. Do an old guy a favour; don’t look at it here.”
We spoke for a little while longer as we finished our beers. As I was saying my goodbyes to Mr Hayes and thanking him for his hospitality, he shared something else with me about that day in the desert.
“As we were packing up our stuff, I noticed someone had written something in red paint on the side of the sub’s hull, in foot tall letters. At least I hope it was paint.”
“It was in English. It said: ‘stop toying with things you do not understand’.”
With this final piece of information occupying my thoughts, I returned to my hotel, where I duly unfolded the document the former Technical Sergeant had given to me.
It was Kriegsmarine identity card. The name stamped on it was Korvettenkapitän Hans-Günther Looff.
This case poses many questions: Was that really U-122 that Mr Hayes and his colleagues found in the desert? If so, who or what on Earth could possibly possess the kind of power required to move her to the middle of the desert? And why did she go unnoticed for so long, indeed, if she was even there for all that time? Who were the ‘agency men’ who appeared so soon after it’s sighting? What, if anything, was the nature of U-122’s cargo, the mysterious ‘Halo’? Could the ‘strange effects’ experienced by her crew, and possibly Sergeant Caine as well, have been some kind of radiation poisoning? And who was the intended recipient of the curious message daubed on the craft’s hull?
Finally, where did this misplaced U-Boat go? Surely moving almost a thousand tonnes of submarine during peacetime would be substantially more difficult than during the chaos of World War 2, which in itself would be a Herculean feat.
Sadly, without further information, it seems the fate of the U-122 will have to remain an enigma.
Dr Thomas Gotobed