Operation Kiebitz

Operation Kiebitz

Operation Kiebitz was a failed Kriegsmarine operation during World War II in 1943 to organize an escape of four skilled German U-boat commanders from a Canadian POW camp (Camp 30 in Bowmanville, Ontario). Its counterattack by the Royal Canadian Navy, Operation Pointe Maisonnette in Chaleur Bay became a key operation in the Battle of the St. Lawrence.


Prisoner escape plan

The Kriegsmarine developed a plan to have Horst Elfe (captain of U-93), Hans Ey (captain of U-433), Otto Kretschmer (captain of U-99) and Hans Joachim Knebel-Döberitz (executive officer from U-99 and former adjutant of Karl Dönitz) escape from Camp 30 and make their way 1,400 kilometres (870 mi) through eastern Canada to northern New Brunswick where they would rendezvous with a U-boat off Pointe de Maisonnette, New Brunswick on Chaleur Bay.

This plan was developed in 1942 by and was to be executed in September 1943. Knebel-Döberitz was the former adjutant of Admiral Karl Dönitz and along with Kretschmer (a top U-boat ace), were thought to be the primary reason behind this risky operation. Had it been successful, it would have been sensational propaganda material for the German war machine.

Coded messages were sent by mail through the International Committee of the Red Cross to the German prisoners at Camp 30 in Bowmanville, east of Toronto. These messages were intercepted by Canadian military intelligence and Canadian police who were screening all prisoner communications. The Canadian authorities did not tip off the prisoners that their plans were detected as the RCN was hoping to get a rare chance to seize a German U-boat in Canadian waters; a feat that would have been an intelligence coup for the Allied navies.


The military, Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and camp guards monitored the German POWs as they began to secretly dig several tunnels, at least one of which would eventually lead outside the camp boundaries. The POW tunnellers created a crude railway that could haul the soil out of the tunnel, allowing the work to proceed more quickly and efficiently. At one point the excavated dirt from one of the tunnels collapsed part of the ceiling in a camp building where it was being hidden, however the camp guards, aware of the ruse, did not stop the project.

As the date of the escape attempt drew closer, the RCMP and military guards moved in and seized the POWs as they sought to implement their plan and collapsed the tunnel. In desperation, one of the Kriegsmarine officers, Wolfgang Heyda, managed to escape over the camp walls using a crude zip-wire on electrical cables. Heyda eluded search parties and the massive police response and somehow made his way on Canadian National Railways passenger trains from southern Ontario to Pointe de Maisonnette in northern New Brunswick on Chaleur Bay. Heyda arrived at the location at the appointed time only to be arrested by RCMP and RCN personnel who were waiting to co-ordinate a surface task force that would attempt to attack and/or seize the U-boat.

The RCN implemented Operation Pointe Maisonnette to attack and/or seize the U-boat. This involved RCN and Canadian Army personnel on shore at the Pointe de Maisonnette lighthouse where a portable surface radar array was established, along with a task force of several warships centred on HMCS Rimouski (K121) that was hidden nearby. Rimouski was outfitted with an experimental diffuse lighting system that was considered revolutionary at the time.

U-536, which had been tasked with picking up the escaping naval officers, arrived off Pointe de Maisonnette at the appointed time in September 1943. The RCN and Canadian Army personnel on shore signaled with a light that the escapees were to have used, however the U-boat commander was suspicious, particularly after his hydrophones picked up the sound of vessels (the RCN task group) nearby. He opted to remain submerged and began to evade the RCN warships which searched throughout the night and attempted unsuccessfully to attack U-536 with depth charges.

Despite evading the RCN's trap in Chaleur Bay that September, U-536 was sunk the following month before it returned to its German homeport.

See also


External links


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