Shadow Divers: The True Adventure of Two Americans Who Risked Everything to Solve One of the Last Mysteries of World War II
Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub
In the tradition of Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air and Sebastian Junger’s The Perfect Storm comes a true tale of riveting adventure in which two weekend scuba divers risk everything to solve a great historical mystery–and make history themselves.
For John Chatterton and Richie Kohler, deep wreck diving was more than a sport. Testing themselves against treacherous currents, braving depths that induced hallucinatory effects, navigating through wreckage as perilous as a minefield, they pushed themselves to their limits and beyond, brushing against death more than once in the rusting hulks of sunken ships.
But in the fall of 1991, not even these courageous divers were prepared for what they found 230 feet below the surface, in the frigid Atlantic waters sixty miles off the coast of New Jersey: a World War II German U-boat, its ruined interior a macabre wasteland of twisted metal, tangled wires, and human bones–all buried under decades of accumulated sediment.
No identifying marks were visible on the submarine or the few artifacts brought to the surface. No historian, expert, or government had a clue as to which U-boat the men had found. In fact, the official records all agreed that there simply could not be a sunken U-boat and crew at that location.
Over the next six years, an elite team of divers embarked on a quest to solve the mystery. Some of them would not live to see its end. Chatterton and Kohler, at first bitter rivals, would be drawn into a friendship that deepened to an almost mystical sense of brotherhood with each other and with the drowned U-boat sailors–former enemies of their country. As the men’s marriages frayed under the pressure of a shared obsession, their dives grew more daring, and each realized that he was hunting more than the identities of a lost U-boat and its nameless crew.
Author Robert Kurson’s account of this quest is at once thrilling and emotionally complex, and it is written with a vivid sense of what divers actually experience when they meet the dangers of the ocean’s underworld. The story of Shadow Divers often seems too amazing to be true, but it all happened, two hundred thirty feet down, in the deep blue sea.
From the Hardcover edition.
of the heroic and invincible U-boat commander, a man for whom anything was possible. Here, in the form of twenty-six-year-old commander Helmuth Neuerburg, that image had come to life. The men climbed aboard the submarine and fell into rows of three on its stern deck, their hands at their sides, standing at attention. Commander Neuerburg looked over his men, over the water, and over Germany. By now, the men knew this to be Neuerburg’s maiden command; some even whispered that he had been a
honor at the liveliest nightclubs, desired dance partners for the area’s prettiest ladies. Now U-869’s crew found many of the bars and nightclubs shuttered. Few felt like dancing, anyway. Only beer was available to numb the men’s worries. When the crew happened upon a band playing in a café, they sat quietly in their uniforms and listened. That summer, First Officer Brandt took a short leave to visit his family in Zinten. He played with his thirteen-year-old brother, Hans-Georg, then enjoyed his
intelligence officer for the Atlantic Fleet airships during World War II, and benefited greatly from his book, Blimps & U-Boats: U.S. Navy Airships in the Battle of the Atlantic, published by Naval Institute Press. The personal letters of U-boat ace Karl-Friedrich Merten, written to Chatterton in the early stages of the divers’ research, helped me understand that officer’s opinion about the mystery wreck. Most newspaper accounts cited in the book were saved by Chatterton and Kohler and kept in
crewmen like the navigator, chief machinist, and senior radioman slept. Chatterton remembered from Chicago that there might be dishes and other artifacts in the compartment. He scanned the debris and sediment piled on the port-side floor area for the familiar white of china. He saw the white. He inched closer. This was a different white. He moved still closer, until the white became a round shape with eye sockets and cheekbones and a nasal cavity and an upper jaw. This was a skull. Chatterton
face mask into a deadly missile or suck up a sleeping bag into its rotors and crash. On the horizon, the divers could see the orange-and-white Coast Guard chopper speeding toward them. All but Chatterton, Kohler, and Lander ran into the salon to stay out of its way. As the chopper lowered its shoulder and swooped toward the Seeker, the whine of its jet engines blanketed the sky and its rotors made an upside-down rainstorm of the water still sloshing on the deck. The chopper settled to a hover