A hoard of historic treasures including two Enigma code machines, left in storage and untouched for almost 80 years, are set to go on public display at Western Approaches, a secret former underground WWII bunker based in Liverpool city centre.
The treasures are discoveries from the mysterious U-boat U534, the last U-boat to leave Germany before its surrender in May 1945. It was sunk by an RAF Liberator off the Danish Island of Anholt on 5 May 1945.
When the U-boat was raised in 1993, thousands of artefacts were immediately conserved but have not been analysed until now. The vessel is now on display at Woodside Ferry Terminal, Birkenhead.
Mysteries abound about the U-boat’s purpose and why it was fleeing despite the strict orders of surrendering Nazi leaders. Did it house Nazi gold or treasures? Did it hold Germany’s WWII nuclear secrets? Or was it helping a leading Nazi to escape? It is not known why U-534 did not surrender, as Kapitänleutnant Herbert Nollau took that secret to his grave when he committed suicide in 1968.
Now, Big Heritage historians are meticulously crawling through oceans of archival material and researching some of the lost items and the secrets the U-boat held. These include personal items, secret Nazi war documents and two Enigma machines – famous encryption devices used by the Germans during the war to transmit coded messages.
Some of the artefacts will be displayed at Western Approaches over the school summer holidays, with a new resident exhibition set to open at Western Approaches in September 2022.
To help families during the current cost of living crisis, Western Approaches has made entry for under 16s completely free, with adult tickets costing £13.50 and valid for free returns for up to 12 months (£11.50 concessions for under 21s, over 65s and ex-serving forces/emergency services).
“These new documents and objects open up a whole new world for us about the U-boat and the lives of the sailors on board,” said Dean Paton, Founder and Director of Big Heritage, Western Approach’s parent organisation. “These amazing findings from the wreckage are eye-opening.
“Not only did they have two Enigma machines onboard and thousands of Nazi documents, but they also had games, tropical uniforms, books on South America, torpedo timers, and a range of other mysterious objects. We can’t wait to share them with the world at our new display at Western Approaches while The U-Boat Story is currently being redeveloped. By making entry free for under 16s, we hope to give many more young people the chance to experience a genuine piece of history from a crucial snapshot in time.”
The objects are being analysed by Big Heritage after they took over custodianship of U-534 from former owner Merseytravel.
Since becoming the new owners and operators of ‘The U-Boat Story’ exhibition, which is currently closed and set to undergo a multi-million-pound transformation, the team has spent hours sifting through memorabilia and artefacts from the vessel, kept in storage and untouched for decades.
The hoard is now housed in a top-secret warehouse in Wirral.
For more information, people can visit https://liverpoolwarmuseum.co.uk/secrets-of-the-last-uboat-u534/
German submarine U-534 is a Type IXC/40 U-boat of Nazi Germany’s Kriegsmarine. Built in 1942, U-534 was launched on 23 September 1942 and commissioned on 23 December with Kapitänleutnant Herbert Nollau in command, primarily used for training exercises.
After Hitler committed suicide on 30 April 1945, his successor, and head of the Kriegsmarine Admiral Dönitz, ordered a partial surrender for German forces on 5 May 1945.
U-534 was informed that morning by the harbour master at Oresund Elsinore, Denmark that the ceasefire was in effect. However, for some reasons unknown, Nollau refused to surrender his boat. As a result of his refusal of surrender, U-534 was sunk by two RAF Liberators later that day. Of the 52 crew onboard when the U-boat sunk, 49 of them survived. None were left onboard.
U-534 was the last U-boat to be sunk during the Second World War. It was raised from the depths in 1993. On 27 June 2007, Merseytravel announced it had acquired the submarine to display at the Woodside Ferry Terminal as ‘The U-Boat Story’ until its closure in 2020.
In November 2021, Big Heritage acquired U-534 and began redeveloping The U-Boat Story to create a brand-new museum telling not only the story of the U-boat, but also the Battle of the Atlantic.