Leigh Bishop and the "Deep Image" projects, U-767
(See the article: U-767 Lost and Found)
(See sole survivor, Walter Schmietenknop's story)
I have a a site listed below, I joined the Royal Australian Naval College at age 13 in 1936, then spent the war of 1939-1945 at sea. I was sunk in HMAS Canberra at the Battle of Savo Island in August 0f 1942, being her Officer of the Watch when it all started. Post was I qualified in RN schools as a Torpedo Anti-Submarine specialist.
The Battle of the Atlantic has always been of prime interest having spent part of 1940/41 in HMAS Australia in that struggle. On my site,my work Under Water Warfare The Struggle Against the Submarine Menace 1939-1945, is reproduced.
May I reproduce some of your images of U-767 on my site please, I would like to write about that wreck and your work there.
Thanks for your mail my friend sorry for the delay I've
been away to the wreck of the Titanic for 2 weeks. We were on site
aboard the Russian ship Keldysh recently seen in James Cameron's
Bismarck documentary that was aired on Discovery
Tank on the bottom off Antrim in Ireland
Thank you for your gracious response, and for you going to add a link to Ahoy.
This site is a team effort between my friend Terry Kearns in Atlanta Georgia, and myself. I do the writing and Terry uses his expertise to get it all up on the web, without all his help, I would be lost, and the site nonexistent.
We will certainly link to Deep Image Co UK .
All your diving must give you immense satifaction, it was interesting to see you recently visited the Wilhelm Gustloff site, what a fascinating story that one is, I became aware of that tragedy when researching for my Underwater Warfare book, and was suprised that so little was known or published about the whole saga of the German withdrawal from the east when the Russians were driving madly towards Berlin.
Recently I was contacted by a woman from New York Erica Sachin, who is producing a two hour film for the National Geographic Channel on the Gustloff and other ships involved in that evacuation of refugees etc, so more interest is being shown these days, and I would judge that your recent dive with your colleagues would only add further stimulation to that interest.
Leigh, thank you for your encouragement, Terry and I get a lot of satisfaction when people such as yourself respond as you have done.
Kindest regards from both America and Australia.
Mackenzie. ( Mac for short )
In researching the sinking of U-767 by Fame, Inconstant and Havelock on the 18th. of June 1944, I was using Clay Blair's Hitler's U-Boat War The Hunted, 1942-1945, Random House Inc, New York, 1998. He states the sole survivor was a stoker Walter Schmietenknop, who escaped through a torpedo tube. I noted you had not found this survivor's name and thought you may like to have a record of it.
I am copying you with this E-Mail I just received from Canada, the sole survivor from U-767 Walter Schmietemknop is alive and well in Canada, this is from his Father in law, thought you would be pleased with this info, I will respond, thanking Dave, and suggest that you will be in touch, as he has offered to provide more information.
This is amazing, that in combination we have found your last survivor from the German Boat you found with your team, and my interest in U-Boats caused me to first write to you. As a result we turned up the survivors name, and in far off Canada between both our countries, his Father in Law finds me, and gets in touch.
The absolute power of the internet never ceases to amaze me.
I will BCC you with my response to Dave.
All the best,
I was delighted to learn your father in law Walter, the only survivor from U-767 is alive and well in Canada, and thank you for taking the trouble to tell me.
I am quite suprised that you did not gain a reponse from the U-Boat net when you gave them this information, I believe it is an important piece of U-Boat history, and I will certainly pass it on again to their web master with whom I have in the past had some correspondence.
I have sent your message to Leigh Bishop in England, it was Leigh who was part of the team that found U-767 dived on her, and published photographs that were of interest to me. On his site he mentioned that he did not know the name of the only survivor, I was able to give him that from my research, and now you have given us the great news that Walter is alive and well in Canada, and is your father-in- law.
I am sure that Leigh will be in touch with you to take up your offer of more information about Walter.
I am amazed how the internet may bring people together, and also solve long mysteries, this is an historic moment for me, and I am sure for Leigh too, thank you so much for all your effort..
Best wishes to both Walter and yourself from faraway Australia.
I don't think I got one of your messages but I will definitely ask Walter if he is willing to share his story on your web site. As I mentioned, he loves to tell it. Unfortunately he doesn't have email but I'll get back to you as soon as I can on this.
Walter actually spent some time with one of his nephews putting together a book about his adventure but as I'm sure you know, it's very difficult to get these things published. We only just discovered a few days ago that the U-767 had been found and this may create some renewed interest in his story.
I was wondering where you came across his name and if there is any more information about his rescue and capture that might be available. He has just recently read the battle accounts posted on the web and is quite fascinated. As far as I can tell, this battle was completely unremarkable except for the fact
I think that Walter is also really happy to get some independent validation of his story. Sometimes I'm sure if he wondered if anyone really believed him or not. As mentioned, I'll talk to him as soon as I can and see what other information I can get for you.
Thank you for all of your efforts and I look forward to talking with you again soon.
I was delighted to hear from you, and am very excited about learning Walter's story, it deserves a wider audience, and by putting it up on my Web Site it would certainly get some more exposure. We have a lot of people visit.
I tracked down Walter's name after Leigh Bishop and his team had found the U-Boat, and published some photos and then I found it on Leigh's site. I asked if I might use Leigfh's photos which are naturally copy righted. He was quite gracious in agreeing, he had noted there was but one survivor but did not know his identity.
I set about locating that name, and found it in Clay Blair's Hitler's U-Boat War The Hunted 1942-1945. Random House, New York. 1998. It is the second volume that he published about U-Boats. At page 589 it has this reference:
Dave, that is the extent of the report by Clay Blair.
Of course the world awaits the personal story of Walter's remarkable escape, it has to be of interest, it is a vital piece in the jig saw of the Battle of the Atlantic.
I too, await to learn about it all from Walter, both Terry who produces my site from his home in Atlanta, Georgia, and I, here in Australia are anxious to give this remarkable escape nearly 60 years ago a new life on the internet.
Both fate, and chance, I have found are indeed remarkable things about the net, I see something of interest, eg Leigh Bishop finding and photographing U-767, I have never heard of him before then. I write an E-mail, ask questions, he responds, I now find out there is one survivor from U-767, who is he? no one knows. I look for him, and find Walter's name, I tell Leigh, he puts up the fact on his site, asking for his location, and hoping that Walter might still be alive.
You contact me with this great news, I am amazed at how it may all fall into place, so, Dave, I am sure you can see how and why I am excited by it all. Surely Sherlock Holmes would even be impressed.
Talk to you soon,
All the best from Australia,
Just got back home (been to photograph HMHS Britannic ) to read these fine emails of yours, this is great news and as you say the power of the internet is just magic. I am away this week once again to photograph shipwrecks in the North Atlantic once I get home I shall follow this contact up as well as adjust my files with credit to you and our request to search for this war hero.
I shall forward to you all and every mail I get from this fellow.
I now must get out to the wreck and make a better job of the photography, no doubt this man will wish to see our video footage of the wreck.
Sorry for not getting back to you sooner but there's not much to report in the way of Walter giving you a formal account of his story. Unfortunately he doesn't have email, and he's not much into writing letters.
Walter doesn't mind answering questions though, and he suggested that I tell you whatever you want to know. Unfortunately my knowledge of his experience is somewhat limited but after conversing with him I feel confident enough to give you some basic information about how he survived the sinking of U767.
Walter's primary function aboard the U767 was as an electrician working on the fuse panel in the engine room. A few days prior, they had destroyed at least 1, possibly 2 ships and had retreated to the safety of the French Coast to reload the torpedo tubes. When they came back out to the open sea again, they were detected by a British Battle group which was waiting for them in a well planned and executed trap. They tried to evade it but were quickly detected, fired upon and hit.
Immediately disabled, the boat began to fill with water an sink to the bottom. The water rose for an hour or so and he and rest of the engine room crew were trapped in the aft compartment. With all communication cut off to the forward sections, there was nothing they could do except calmly wait to die.
Apparently some of the men said their final words and someone suggested that they sing the national anthem, which they did. Eventually the air ran out and they were all unconscious. Miraculously Walter awoke when he heard a sound like the splash of water coming from the torpedo loading hatch. He was somehow coherent enough to realize this was an indication that the pressure had equalized and there was the possibility of escape through the hatch. Normally these hatches were very difficult to open because they were routinely tightened under pressure as the boat submerged.
Walter grabbed his breathing apparatus, made his way to the hatch and turned the handle. The hatch opened. After this he remembers very little about his ride to the surface other than his life passing in slow motion before his eyes. At some point he blacked out. Once on top he regained consciousness and spent some time in the water wondering why he had been spared from the depths, only to perish on the surface. At that time he promised God that if he survived, he would never forget Him and be in His service forever.
God answered Walter's prayers and he was and picked up by a British ship shortly after that. Walter remains active in his church to this day and remembers the commitment he made to share his faith in God and tell his story to all who will listen.
Miraculously Walter suffered none if the typical effects of coming up from a depth of 230'. He did however injure the tendons in his hands when he came through the narrow hatch which was not normally used by people. After he was picked up, he was interrogated and spent time as a POW in England where he was generally well treated. At some point he was transferred to a camp in Georgia where they were put to work in the fields. My understanding is that after the war ended conditions in the camps deteriorated and there were shortages of food until at last the prisoners were repatriated back to Germany.
I hope this information is helpful and provides a bit of insight into one man's story.
If you want me to pass any questions on to Walter, I'd be happy to do that and respond as time allows.
I am indeed grateful for your trouble in talking to Walter and giving me the gist of his escape. My thanks to you both, this is both a wonderful and unique story of survival, and I feel very priviliged to hear and record it.
You have kindly offered to pose questions I may have to Walter, and these are set out below. I should stress that if Walter does not feel comfortable about answering any of them I understand, and I should at first ensure that Walter gives me his consent to publish his story on my Ahoy web site, I do feel very strongly that it should have as wide an audience as possible, and we do get a lot of traffic visiting us and commenting on some of its content.
Here goes Dave:
1. When and where was Walter born? and his full name please.
2. Are there any brothers or sisters?
3. Names of his Mother and Father, when and where did they marry?
4. Walter's religion, which I can of course understand is very important to him.
5. Where did Walter go to school?
6. Did his Father serve in any of the armed services in WW1 or WW2?
7. When and where did Walter join the Navy?
8. Was he a volunteer or a conscript?
9. When and where did he join the U-Boat arm? did he volunteer? if yes, why?
10. Did the Navy train him as an electrician?
11. Did he serve in any other boats besides U767? When did he join her?
12. When Walter was aware he was alive on the surface, does he recall depth charges exploding around or close to him?
13. If so, did he suffer any damage to his ears?
13 ( a ) When aboard the British warship that picked him up, in his interrogation, what type of questions was he asked?
14. Post war, when and why did Walter move to Canada?
15. To whom was he married and when and where did he marry?
16. Names and ages of his children?
17. Where does Walter now live in Canada?
18. Does Walter have any personal comments to make about the war and his U-Boat service in particular?
19. Is there a photo of Walter in his Navy uniform and an up to date photo of him available please?
20. And finally, even at this distance, what is Walter's most vivid memory of his escape from U-767, and how did he feel about being the only survivor?
Thank you Dave, I do apologise for the number of my questions, but I am so excited by all of Walter's experience I don't really know when to stop. Having been sunk myself in WW2 in August of 1942 in the heavy cruiser HMAS Canberra at the Battle of Savo Island, I am aware of the trauma involved in losing both ship mates and one's ship.
My experiences fade into insignificance when compared with those of Walter, but there is a common bond amongst all sailors, especially those who suffered the loss of their ship, it matters not on which side we may have fought.
Please convey to Walter my special thanks and best wishes.
Quite a coincidence, no unfortunately I do not have any futher details of Johann, you might try the U-Boat Net, the huge site with the greatest detail on all German U-Boats on the net, but I would be suprised if you do find any further details of individuals who died in U-767 back in 1944.
Do you have video footage of your dive ( s ) on U767? if so would it be possible for me to get a copy of your film please? I would naturally defray any costs including airmailing to me in Australia.
Are you taking a break from all your diving over Christmas? we are driving from Melbourne to Sydney about 500 miles is involved to spent that time with Denise's 4 sons and the 6 grandchildren.
Your finding of, and photos of Vandal must have been rewarding.
Have a lovely Christmas, and best wishes for a very productive 2004.
We need to amend the details about the lone survivor from U-767 on your site.
Clay Blair in his Hitler's U Boat War The Hunted 1942-1945. Random House, New York, 1998. at page 589 reported that the only survivor of the 51 crew from U767 was a stoker Walter Schenietenknop, who escaped through a torpedo tube. That is what I gave to you and you added to your site.
I have been in correspondence with Walter's son in law in Vancouver Canada, and Dave has given me the bare bones of Walter's escape, who does not have E-Mail, and is not into writing letters.
Dave says that Walter was an electrician, whose main duty was at the fuse panel in the engine room of the boat, perhaps that is how Clay reported Walter to be a stoker.
He made his escape through a narrow torpedo loading hatch which he managed to unclip, wearing his escape apparatus he made his way from 230 feet where the U-Boat was sitting on the bottom to the surface.
Could you please set the record straight on your site now we have the true facts from the survivor himself.?
I have posed a number of questions to Walter through Dave amongst them: Do I have Walter's consent to publish his story on the web?
Should he answer my questions and give his OK, I will share it all with you, and will probably have enough to write a small piece about his amazing escape back in 1944.
Leigh, I wish you and your team the Season's Greetings and Good Hunting and Diving in 2004.