Operation Osprey Nest (chapter four)


Four months earlier:   Château de Pignerolle, remote Western France                                 


At half past four in the afternoon, a type G4 Mercedes-Benz W31 accelerated with ease out of each turn on the slick country road.   Wet snow and sleet lashed the wipers and pelted the soft top. The driver worked the four speed manual gears of the three axle Benz with fluid efficient control and he spoke not a word at the wheel.   This was welcomed and important to the man seated behind on the plush leather bench, near the rear right window. The vehicle could accommodate five but he sat high in his black leather coat and rode this late afternoon, alone.  


His name was Gunther De Werth.   Son of a decorated and deceased war hero from the great war and orphaned a year later upon his mother’s death due to illness.   He was forty one years of age and one of the highest ranking active agents of the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (OKW), the Führer’s personal Military intelligence service.   Two days ago, he had returned from a covert operation and concluded his debrief in Tirpitz Ufer, Berlin.   The mood at headquarters was as tense as Gunther had ever seen. Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, director of the recently abolished Abwehr, had been replaced by SS chief Walter Friedrich Schellenberg.   It was upon his direct orders, from the Führer himself, that Gunther re-pack and be flown immediately to France to meet with Oberbefehlshaber der Kriegsmarine (Commander-in-Chief of the Navy), Karl Dönitz, to learn of an urgent top secret mission. 


Karl Dönitz also served as Großadmiral (Grand Admiral of the naval high command) having just replaced Erich Raeder the previous year.   Gunther knew Karl Dönitz well and was not surprised by his ascention up through the ranks. Though Karl was eleven years older than Gunther, their paths had crossed many times over the past ten to fifteen years on both social and professional occasions.   


As the Benz now pushed aside the rising ground fog along cold flat roads leading towards the Châeau de Pignerolle, Gunther looked out to the darkened French countryside of Saint-Barthélemy-d’Anjou and reflected upon what urgency awaited him.   Over these past five or so years of troubled times, Gunther had seen Karl with much more frequency. On many occasions, they had shared the levity and laughter associated with the good times along with the stress and weight of the challenging times.   He now suspected, having just left Tirpitz, that he would be greeted with the latter. He was quite eager to get to the Château, for he looked up to Karl Dönitz as a friend and trusted mentor.    


Arriving at the four column 18th century Châeau, the driver halted to a stop on the damp gravel and Gunther didn’t wait for his door to be opened.   His stride was swift as the rain poured down and he bounded up the steps as he was eight minutes late. Seconds meant everything, to the Oberbefehlshaber der Kriegsmarine.    


Karl Dönitz, in full uniform, wearing the Knights Cross of the Iron Cross was there to greet him.   At his side sat two alert and very large Rottweilers , his loved and ever loyal full time guards:   “Heil Hitler!, mein Freund

To which Gunther returned the salute:Heil Hitler und immer mein Freund    

They then warmly embraced and preceded to the parlor, lit by a roaring fire. The Rottweilers followed with a fluid unrestricted trot that disguised their energy, taking separate positions by the fire.     

You look well Gunther, got some sun on the beaches of North Africa, Tripoli or shall I assume the Italian Alps?”

“You can conclude the latter, operational necessity.”  

“Still fighting this war from the slopes, fancy galas and backroom card games. . . I am envious.”

“I go where the fight takes me.” Gunther was quick to reply.   On impulse, he followed with a slight verbal jab of his own so as not to lose any edge: “You’re looking sir, now that you mention it, a bit fatigued yourself. So with all do respect, why don’t we just get down to the urgency of my visit.”

Dönitz smiled pouring them both a Cointreau: “Always impatient as myself, yet with a calmer demeanor, I have always admired that.”  Handing Gunther his glass, he continued: “I have asked my deputy, now in charge of our daily U-boot operations, Helgason Godt, to join us.   Before he gets here, however, let us sit and I will fill you in on the overall picture.”

Sitting to the left of the fire, with the Rottweilers at his feet:  “The war is not going well as you likely surmised in Tirpitz Ufer.  We have mounting losses in the Baltics and the Eastern front is a quagmire, total mess.  For now, I have convinced our Führer to suspend payments to the shipyards, for our finances are being strangled by the blocades.  Additionally, by way of your valuable intelligence, corroborated by other sources, we are confident that an allied invasion will be upon us by this Summer.   A year from now, we may not be sitting here in this very room.” Gunther listened and pulled a long swallow.  “Further worsening the situation, is our recent U-Boot losses in the North Atlantic.”   As Karl paused and lit himself a French cigarette, Gunther refilled both their tumblers.  “Each month Gunther, I send on average, seventy encrypted messages to my thirty or so active subs at sea.  This month, I have only received eighteen replies. This morning I have instructed Helgason to conduct a full investigation into our enigma code vulnerabilities.   We shall be switching immediately, to our new four rotor enigma machines. We will be the only branch in the Deutsches Militär to have use of it.  This I can control, for operational security is paramount on your lebenswichtige (vital) mission ahead.”

With that Helgason Godt walked through the mahogany double doors to the parlor.  He looked smaller than Gunther remembered and his face was weary and worn in the fire’s light.    All saluted and Helgason refused a Cointreau. He had brought a thick file stamped ‘Streng geheim’ and slid it across the table to Gunther while Karl Dönitz leaned back, puffed his cigarette and let Helgason deliver the mission orders.

“You are going on holiday in America, Gunther.”   Godt feigned a smile without looking up.   “You are to leave in three weeks time from Kristiansand, Norway aboard U-boot 1230, a new IXC/40 type submarine.”    

Karl Dönitz looked sharply to the ceiling, immediately impatient with insignificant details and interrupted his deputy:  “You are to be inserted behind enemy lines Gunther, somewhere on the Northeast coast of America by mid Springtime.  I have had Kapitanleutnant Otto Von Bulow recalled back from U-404 in the Baltics to command your passage across the North Atlantic.  He is one of our very best.” Pausing for effect while tossing his cigarette into the fire, he leaned forward and continued, “it is all in the folder before you and you have one week here to memorize the details before joining the crew and meeting Von Bulow . . . the file stays here.  Once safely on enemy shores, in short, your primary mission will be to ascertain the American progress and intent, of their Atomic bomb initiative, the Manhattan Project.  As your briefing file spells out in full detail, we shall provide sufficient wherewithal for your duration, points of reference and most importantly, the highest access to our deep cover operatives in New York, Boston and Washington, DC.  This will not be a mission of sabotage, but instead a mission of intelligence gathering. Of overriding importance is to assess, for our Führer, the likelihood of such a bomb being dropped upon unsere Deutsche heimat (our German homeland).  There are secondary requirements to the mission that shall run concurrent with this primary one, as we shall discuss.”     

A long silence enveloped the room as the Oberbefehlshaber der Kriegsmarine lit another cigarette.  Deputy Helgason Godt sitting erect and silent, stared at the coffee table, while Gunther stood and poured Karl another Cointreau.  Then, to break the silence, Gunther asked with an English accent: “any objections if I switch to a highlands scotch?”  Karl laughed and accepted his glass with a smile while Gunther took a seat in an adjacent chair.  

Helgason taking his cue, suggested his need to attend to other fleet matters and excused himself, leaving the file with Gunther.
“Gunther,” Karl Dönitz began “this will be a most dangerous mission, let us not elude that reality.   The crossing of the North Atlantic will be very perilous and should Otto successfully deliver you, your duration on enemy soil may be open ended until the objective is achieved.” 

Gunther began to speak but Karl raised his hand and continued: “You are our perfect man for this mission.  Your gift for languages is unparalleled, you are of the right age with a craft and experience to blend in with the most sophisticated of diplomats.  Beyond that, you are as strong and observant as these two Rottweiler Metzgerhunds at my feet.  Your father would be most proud of you Gunther.” 

A table was then set up behind them, not by local French servants but by Dornitz’s Leutnant zur See.   Over the next few days, I have many appointments, so it is unlikely I will see you during that time.”  Karl continued, “You will stay on the third floor with a back staircase so that you may come and go without interruption, to exercise on the grounds.   Tonight I would like us to relax, dine and discuss your mission in more detail.” The Leutnant zur See served up a feast and placed a freshly decanted 1929 Château Mouton Rothschild on the table.   Leaving the room,  he closed the mahogany doors behind him, allowing Gunther and Karl to speak in privacy.

. . . To Be Continued

Operation Osprey Nest (chapter three)


 Five days earlier, three hundred meters off Frenchman’s Bay, Maine.   

Upon reaching their initial destination point, Kapitanleutnant Von Bulow had taken him aside and over a dimly lit chart, opened the wax sealed final mission orders.   He read it twice, nodded and then shared it. Speaking softly in English to which the crew neither understood nor could overhear, together they digested the orders. ‘From the highest levels of command, Kapitanleutnant Von Bulow was to deliver the agent to the Western banks of Frenchman’s Bay where he would then rendezvous with an elderly local caretaker named Reinardt, who would then ferry him further west across a shallow inlet to a farmhouse in Brooklin Maine.   There, on property acquired during the latter years of the Vorläufige Reichsmarine before the Wehrmacht(1935), he would remain for a few days before continuing on to Portland; Boston and New York City’.   

However, the seas turned out to be too rough off Frenchman’s Bay and the Kapitanleutnant, given full discretion, discussed selecting another landing spot.   They quietly examined four alternates: 1) south of Eastport Maine; 2) areas near Plymouth, Massachusetts; 3) the north side of Newport, Rhode Island or 4) further west: Quonochontaug or Weekapaug Rhode Island.   The quiet man in civilian clothes remembered being delighted when Kapitanleutnant Von Bulow placed his affirmative finger on the chart just off the coast of where he now sat by a warm fire.  Less overland travel time meant less chances of suspicion late in the evening from the local town folks.   Besides, the north side of Newport was likely mined by now and convoy traffic near Plymouth would complicate a landing in even the best weather conditions. A barren beach further West, while tactically more dangerous given its proximity to the choke point of Long Island sound and Block Island sound, could be achieved and in Von Bulow’s words, ‘would likely lift the crews moral’.   As the man lit his second and last cigarette while poking the fire, he could hear Von Bulow’s energetic words speaking with pride of a fellow ‘Kapitanleutnant Hardegen (U-123)’, with an animated envy: ‘he sunk the Cyclops in ‘42 off Cape Cod, then the Norness off Newport, before sailing far west down L.I. sound and sinking a British tanker in New York harbor!   He met no response from the Americans. . . no planes, no coast guard cutter, nothing. He then sailed away without even submerging with the New York skyline all lit up!’  

Von Bulow, the man now thought as he gazed at the waning fire, would get his tonnage on his return trip, of this he was certain.   The only question was, would he wait until reaching the shelf before attacking the convoys and exposing himself.  He did trust that Von Bulow would follow orders and keep his word.   Sinking a vessel in proximity to these shores would surely complicate his mission in America, for it was 1944. With the rain now lashing at the windows and the surf clearly up, he would sleep well now.  Tomorrow he would assess his surroundings and plan out his next important steps.

Operation Osprey Nest (Chapter two)



Twenty minutes later the raft slid softly onto an upward sloping beach being licked by the smallest of waves.   The tide was a high ebb and they stepped easily onto the soft sand.   Both sailors wore side arms that remained clipped to their chests while the Erster Offizier, in full uniform, had his clipped in a holster.   Hefting the duffel over his shoulder, the man smiled in the darkness as the two young sailors hastily stuffed dry sand into their pockets – ‘sand from the shores of the enemy!’

Not a word was spoken as they rowed away into the darkness.

Alone again in all its completeness, upon a hostile shore, a feeling of calm at once enveloped him.  The first few times in Poland and Norway, inserted prior to the invasions, he recalled being nervous and at times besieged with fear.   Infiltrating France shortly thereafter, far less so and now here in America, not at all. Over the many years of clandestine operations, it became clear to him that one who travels alone, travels faster and far safer.

Unarmed with nothing but the cash in his satchel, diamonds sewn into lining of his leather jacket and his experience, he assured himself in that most solitude of moments, that he would prevail in this mission, for everything counted upon it.   It would be here in America, that he would spend his 42nd birthday.  

 Now looking West through the hanging mist, with the dim lights of the Inn barely visible, he turned slowly East towards the breach way a mile away.

It was 2:38 am, Tuesday the third day of June.

The walk to the East end of the beach took a bit longer than he anticipated as his legs were fatigued by their inactivity during the crossing.   When he had last visited this area briefly before the war under the cover as a marine engineer consultant  (Berater für Schiffsingenieure), there existed a fishing cabin at the far eastern end of this beach.   While surely destroyed by the ‘38 hurricane, he gambled that it would have been rebuilt by now. The shack had stood up in the dunes and abutted an inlet separating Weekapaug from Quonochontaug.   It was an epic fishing spot where bait was sucked into the salt pond and flushed out to the abundant waiting morone saxatilis. Being a Tuesday in early June, he further reckoned, that it would be vacant.  

Approaching with care and stealth under a lightly falling mist he observed jeep tracks in the sand leading to the darkened shack but saw no vehicles and smelled no smoke from the chimney.   Lighting a match, he carefully inspected the sand near the cabin’s only door. He saw remnants of footprints blown over with sand and concluded on this windless night, that they were days old.    He knocked, just the same, with a prepared story that he was a guest of the Inn hoping to fish the first light. Three times he knocked and waited, even tapping on the window twice. With the door locked, he check each shingle around the door and found the key, under the fifth to the right.   The cabin was indeed empty with the ashes of the fireplace cold. He lit an oil lamp, built a small fire, found a can of beans and sat down and ate.    

It was half past three am.

The cabin was well provisioned with supplies and it looked to have been stocked recently.   Where the walls were not populated by mounted fish, there displayed pictures of older men with their catch.   On the low rafters hung rods of all sizes, from bamboo fly rods to long heavy surf rods. Handmade lures and flies littered almost all of the empty wall space.   

To the patter of rain against the window to his left, he he lit a cigarette and stepped outside.   The wind had clocked from the East and the sound of the surf carried Westward with the smoke from the chimney.   Stepping inside, he threw another log onto the fire and reflected on his fortunate landing and those recent tense days aboard U-1230.   

To Be Con’t . . .

Osprey Nest




           Early June, 1944


With the air rapidly dissipating, most inhaled another’s exhale and the only sound to be heard was an occasional suppressed cough, met by quick stern looks from the other crew members, in those tight quarters.  Instinctively, most look upward to the ceiling of the boat, the fate that buffets the dense ocean fathoms from the fresh surface air.  With each drop of sweat falling to the steel floor of the hull, the exhausted crew of U-1230 maintains a taught discipline – if there are prayers, they are silent.  For over two hours they have sat on the seabed, 400 meters south-southwest of Quonochontaug breachway, off the coast of Rhode Island.   For the past day and a half they have sailed submerged, silent on batteries.  They have crept west along the coast undetected from Frenchman’s Bay Maine, past Boston and Newport to this very mark on the chart, without any ventilation from their schnorchel.

Now, they were at their limit.  Moral was touching a low point.   All the milk had soured days after leaving Kristiansand naval base and at least a half a dozen merchant vessels were spotted in the crossing, yet not a torpedo was fired.   Strict orders were to avoid any risk of detection until the primary mission objective was attained.  Echo soundings by U-1230’s navigator now determined they were approximately northeast of Montauk, due North of Block Island and West of Pt. Judith.   They had heard no propeller propulsion from any vessels since passing south of Pt. Judith, five hours ago.

It was one thirty in the morning.

 It was time.

Stepping left of the navigator into the center of the bridge, Kapitanleutnant Otto Von Bulow, distinguished recipient of the Knight Cross with Oak Leaves for sinking the USS Ranger a year earlier while commanding U-404, gave the order:  “Periskoptiefe” (Periscope depth).   

The tension of the crew rose another level and the focus of those operating the controls, was absolute.   Three times since reaching their initial objective of Frenchman’s Bay, they had gone to periscope depth to surveil the situation and each time the seas were either too rough or convoy traffic too high.

Kapitanleutnant Von Bulow swung the periscope slowly a full seven hundred and twenty degrees, pausing only to whisper: “223 Grad nach Montauk Licht … 176 Grad Block Island und 259 Grad von Pt. Judith. Ruhige See, kein Verkehr”

Then in English for effect, to the one man on board not in uniform, standing near but in the shadows: “calm seas, no traffic.  This will be your spot.”

To the young sailors on the planes: ”Oberfläche leise, nur Turm verbinden” (surface silent, just conning tower).   His calm and determined demeanor once spoken brought smiles and nods of comfort.

In the ink black cold spring waters, at a position 223 degrees to Montauk Light, 176 degrees to Block Island and 079 degrees from Pt. Judith, the German submarine U-1230 , an IXC/40 type U-boat (Unterseeboot) of the Kriegsmarine, slid to the surface and opened its darkened hatches.   

The rush of the cool Atlantic air sucked deep into the silent hull and if the crew could have sprung to the deck and cheered and sung, they would have – but they did not.

In the next minutes, a raft was brought topside and inflated by way of a small silent compressor.   Kapitanleutnant Von Bulow swept his field glasses North along a barren beach a hundred meters away.   Beyond the beach, across a salt pond, there were several lone lights emanating from a large structure.  Von Bulow handed the glasses to the quiet man in civilian clothes and asked: ’what are those lights?’  To which the man looked on and replied in a soft English accent:  “that must be the new Weekapaug Inn.  It used to stand on this beach before the ’38 hurricane struck – they must have rebuilt it across the pond.   This will do indeed.   Thank you captain.”

Von Bulow turned then in the darkness and spoke in a soft curt tone to the faint shadow before him:  “These two men and Erster Offizier Haslau (First officer), will row you in and return at once.  We will then immediately sail to the East and as per my orders, not attack any vessels in this area.   This shall ensure that we not compromise all that we have achieved here.”  Seeing the shadow’s confirming nod, he continued:  “Beyond the shelf to the East however, I will be unleashed, relentless and shall deliver to my crew their tonnage, that I can assure you.”

To this the man in civilian clothes turned towards him and they exchanged powerful grips and saluted in the darkness. Lastly, the Kapitanleutnant offered: “Make this work, Viel Glück.”


TO BE CON’T . . .


Going Home




A sound so loud, it can only be best described as hushed silence.

All along the platform, a collective breath has inhaled in cascading unison and like falling dominoes, it is quickly quiet.

The soft cool breeze that has gently tapped each shoulder has delivered an entrance.

At the doors of the station, stand six tall Marines and in their six strong hands, holds one of ours.

They walk at a glacial pace with purpose and no one speaks; shifts or shuffles.   The entire station is silent and staring at track eight, the 177 to Washington, DC. 

A father, a few back from me, finds the hand of his young son and squeezes gently as his eyes fill with moist. 

The door to the baggage car is ceremoniously opened, officers stand erect, canines sit and there is not a hat on in the entire yard.   The coffin is raised to eye level and three carrying with their left, salute smartly before entering.


So Blessed we are.



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The Storm





I had just closed the cabin door with a chosen deference to those already asleep, though I wanted to slam it.

The crew, my life blood, tether and pulse, had given their all and beyond in effort.

Sadly, it was not enough.

The squalls came first and the sky appeared to look down upon us in disdain, before the storm was unleashed.

Eight long hours of horrific anguish, one soul overboard and now in the calm, drifting with only one mast . . . a despondent and sullen crew.

We were by the stars, some 270 miles off course and being pulled by an insidious ocean tide not found on any chart.




Witnessed on a trip not too long ago: 


Conductor walks by and somewhat cheerfully says:  ‘found another cell phone on an empty seat – if it’s not soon claimed, well then, it’s going all the way down Washington, DC to forever lie in a bin full of other lost phones – ha ha.’

Guy sitting across from me (a professor I think) speaks without looking up: “ask SIRI whose it is”

The conductor, perhaps not accustomed to being addressed, holds it up and smugly says: ‘its locked…’ (dummy).

Professor, now slowly looking up: “doesn’t matter, try: ‘whose iPhone does this belong to?’”

Then, as if suddenly holding a live bird, the conductor nervously hands the phone over to the professor: ‘you do it’ . . . and steps quickly back.
Sure enough, SIRI: ‘Michael Kansan’


Another conductor now appears out of nowhere and checks his list to confirm . . .
(the level of drama has risen noticeably in the recent seconds) . . .
and exclaims, that Mr. Kansan is getting off at the next stop and is right now standing by the door, two cars back!
With urgency and the a nod of:  ’I knew that’, the 1st conductor moves past him with a good deed in hand. 

The professor just rolls his eyes towards me and returns to his reading.  



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© All rights reserved 2018