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NOVA

Hitler's Lost Sub (#2712)

In 1991 a fishing boat snagged a net on an underwater object 60 miles off the coast of New Jersey. When divers went to investigate, they discovered a sunken German U-boat from World War II. The find was a grim reminder of the wartime slaughter of American ships by Nazi U-boats (named after the German word, Unterseeboot, for submarine). Oddly enough, a check of U.S. Navy and German War Patrol records showed that no clashes with subs occurred anywhere near the spot. If no one had attacked the sub, how did it sink? And which of the more than 1,100 German U-boats was it? As divers risked their lives to recover artifacts that might provide clues, the riddle only deepened. NOVA explores the strange saga of the mystery sub in a two-hour special, Hitler's Lost Sub, airing Tuesday, November 14 from 8 to 10pm on PBS (check local listings). The search leads from the wreck itself, at a perilous depth of 230 feet, to a U-boat archive in Germany, to the once super-secret intercepts of the Ultra code-breaking operation for the Allies. Along the way three members of the diving team tragically die, and a survivor of the mystery boat unexpectedly turns up. Leading the effort to identify the wreck are professional divers John Chatterton, Richard Kohler, and John Yurga. Six years go by before all the pieces of the puzzle fall together. Among the clues is a knife engraved with the name "Horenburg" and evidence of a massive rupture in the sub's hull_far more damage than would result from a typical depth charge attack. In addition to covering the sub saga, NOVA profiles the German submarine service, the most elite of all Nazi military units. With stunning "wolf pack" tactics they spread destruction throughout the Atlantic in the early years of the war. But later, the hunters became the hunted as successful Allied countermeasures made U-boat patrols virtual suicide missions. NOVA interviews surviving German submariners, including Erich Topp the commander of the boat that torpedoed the U.S. Navy destroyer Reuben James in October 1941, mistaking it for a British ship. Since the U.S. was neutral at the time, the incident could have catapulted America into war. But a few weeks later the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and Hitler's declaration of war on the U.S. made the issue moot. U-boats immediately began a massacre of merchant shipping along the U.S. east coast, called the "Happy Time" by German submariners. Gradually the U.S. Navy fought back_first with convoys escorted by warships and then with long-range air patrols equipped with radar to detect U-boats on the surface, where the subs had to spend most of their cruising time. U-boat radio transmissions also proved an Achilles' heel, both from "Huff-Duff," or high frequency direction finding, and Ultra, the celebrated decoding coup that allowed the Allies to read Nazi communications. These breakthroughs allowed sub hunters to pinpoint the positions of many U-boats and know their orders. By the time the mystery sub arrived at its station off New Jersey, probably in early 1945, the cards were heavily stacked against it. The irony is that no one ever detected its presence_until 1991. [116 minutes] Closed Captioning

This episode has not aired in the past few months on Iowa Public Television.

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Information For Teachers

Grade Levels
6-8, 9-12
Curricular Areas
Science & Technology
Series Length
403 episodes
Average Episode Length
61 minutes
Record Rights
Record and retain for 1 year from each broadcast. No duplication allowed.
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Series Description: PBS' premier science series helps viewers of all ages explore the science behind the headlines. Along the way, NOVA programs demystify science and technology and highlight the people involved in scientific pursuits.

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