London Ministry of Health
— May 8, 1945, VE Day —
IT WAS VE Day, May 8, 1945. Exuberance filled the air as thousands of celebrants flooded the streets, hurrying to the London Ministry of Health. Mothers scurried their children along. Fathers carried the little ones, and the grandparents were not far behind—if either was still alive.
Pressing in from every side, British and American victory flags swayed in jubilation.
All eyes were transfixed on the London Ministry of Health’s balcony as cigar-smoking Winston Churchill, surrounded by cabinet officials, stepped forward and waved his two-fingered signature of determination—the “V” for victory.
The throng squeezed in tighter from every corner, alleyway, and street, erupting into thunderous cheering.
Churchill took the last puff, dropped his cigar to the floor, and stepped forward to the microphone. With his booming voice, he began, “My dear friends, this is your hour . . . a victory of the great British nation as a whole.”
He thrust his finger, shaking it. “We were the first in this ancient island to draw the sword against tyranny. Left alone against the most tremendous military power that has ever been seen. Did we give in?”
His voice echoed throughout the streets, and the flags waved enthusiastically.
The crowd yelled, “No!”
Churchill continued, “Were we downhearted?”
The crowd boisterously repeated, “No!”
Winston extended his arms in a grand gesture of relief. “The lights went out, and the bombs came down—”
These Brits knew what hell looked like; they’d passed through it with all of its anguishing fire and torment. Winston would never forget; over 2,300 rockets struck London. Well over five thousand deaths. Not to mention the injuries. He cringed at the devastation, the misery his country had endured—the thousands of pilots and soldiers who had died.
“We came back after long months from the jaws of death,” he continued. “Out of the mouth of hell!”
Winston smiled broadly as the crowd hollered in exultation: “Hip hip hooray! Hip hip hooray!”
If they only knew how close I came to surrender, he remembered. Churchill’s lips touched the microphone as he thrust his arms into the air. “When shall the reputation and faith of this generation fail?”
“Never . . . never!” They cheered with exhilaration pent up through years of suppressed fear and anguish.
At the same time that London was in the throes of unbridled celebration, a German U-boat escaped from the Port of Vigo, Spain. She clandestinely marked 17.7 knots atop the churning waters of the Atlantic. Twenty-five minutes later, she disappeared beneath the wind-swept seas.
Ross Sea, Antarctica
— May 28, 1945 —
ON MAY 28, 1945, the hatch of U-865 twisted and screeched open. It had been a grueling twenty-seven days from the Port of Vigo, Spain, to Antarctica’s Ross Sea. Over 9,400 miles. They’d passed through at least two torrential storms that kept them submerged for thirty-two hours.
The lanky commander climbed up the ladder and stepped out onto the conning tower. Unusually tall for a U-boat commander, he took a moment to stretch and then looked about at the dimly lit sky. Lifting his binoculars to his eyes, his view of the glassy cobalt sea met an endless, icy-white coastline. He settled his focus on a strategic passageway into the wall of white. He’d been here before. Overhead, a Nazi escort plane dipped its wings and flew off.
The commander raised his arm in a Nazi salute, “Heil, Hitler!” Stepping to the voice pipe, he bellowed, “Vorbereiten zum tauchen.”
Underwater, the U-boat navigated iceberg tails through the crystalline water. Activating sonar, she entered a perfectly etched tunnel, broad enough for two U-boats to pass one another.
Bubbles rose as U-865 surfaced within the high ceilings of one of three Nazi Antarctic submarine bases. A crackling echo shattered the quiet as the ocean cascaded off her deck.
One by one, seven scientists climbed up the ladder and onto the gun deck. Before them stood an alien citadel, unlike anything, they had ever seen before. An icy world. The scientists pointed and whispered at the otherworldly sight, both wondrous and terrifying. There was fear. Along the frozen shore stood timeless statues. Lofty, muscular men—ancient-looking, weapons in hand, with elongated skulls. Men of war.
The U-boat crew scrambled to heave the seven matching suitcases ashore. Two powerfully built German soldiers stepped forward, awaiting the passengers. One of the soldiers restrained a young black-and-silver German Shepherd. At the end of a taut leash, the Shepherd barked harshly as the scientists disembarked—five males and two females.
Ashore, the two women stopped and looked back as the commander descended back into his U-boat. Already they were leaving, not staying an hour—not for even a moment. The male scientists, heads down, maneuvered around the women, following one of the waiting soldiers up the path, where they disappeared into the citadel.
The U-boat’s hatch slammed shut with a loud clang, followed by a screeching twist. U-865 submerged. Bubbles rippled as the women, downcast, turned away and followed the path up and into the citadel, escorted by the remaining soldier and his restive German Shepherd.