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If Lieutenant Commander Roitman cannot obtain a copy of Vause’s Wolf the following excerpt from his book covers the Kusch affair. I’m afraid this is the sum total of my knowledge. I checked Peter Padtield’s The Last Fuhrer, and Kusch is not in the index.

“Donitz was an excellent leader, and it was probably his inspiration alone that kept the U-Bootwaffe going through the last two years of the war, but he wasn’t perfect, especially if one realizes that his celebrated leadership style once killed a man. The man was Oskar Kusch, the commander of U-154, who blithely dumped the Filhrer’s portrait into the trash one day. Kusch did not die in battle, in a training accident, or in a bombing raid. He was executed for sedition when his words and actions became too loud to ignore. Donitz could easily have prevented it-there is little doubt that he would have done so in 1940 or 1941-but he chose to do nothing, and in doing nothing he never looked less inspiring.

“The ‘Kusch affair’ captured perfectly the moral dilemma faced by every member of the U-Bootwaffe, from Donitz himself down to the least seaman and cook: the paradox of serving honorably a regime that was inherently dishonorable. Books too numerous to mention have been written about this dilemma and the mind-splitting problems it presented. Everyone handled it differently. Kusch, in confronting it, acquitted himself better than most, and it was odd that he did. Logically, he should have been enthusiastic about the Third Reich, for he was a product of the ‘new Germany.’ He grew up in Berlin, the seat of the new government. He was fourteen in 1933 when Adolf Hitler became chancellor. No doubt he heard the cheering; he may have seen the smoke rising from the Reichstag. The organization he joined as a boy, the Bundische Jugend, was soon swallowed up by the Hitler Youth. He was exposed to the deceits and subtle influences of the New Order in school, and when he left school he spent his mandatory year in the Reich Labor Service.

“But Kusch, like Oesten, was an early skeptic. In 1935 he left the Hitler Youth and soon came under investigation for disloyalty. It is possible that he entered the Kriegsmarine in 1937 to avoid arrest, although his service record does not show any sign of trouble and in fact offers the picture of an above-average officer with several talents. In June 1941, after initial U-boat training, Kusch was assigned to U-103 as a watch officer. During his time on board U-103 he served under three different commanders, each of whom graded him highly. ‘An excellent young officer, ‘wrote one. ‘He has matured in the war; his impeccable disposition, his fine attitude and quickness of mind make him a valuable aid to the commander … he will be very well qualified to be a U-boat commander.’ Oskar Kusch was an artist, a devout Christian, and a quiet man who kept to himself; to those who knew him he was pleasant, thoughtful, forthright in his views, and formidable in discussion.

“In February 1943, when Kusch first took command of U-154, the Battle of the Atlantic was approaching its end, and his fortunes as a commander reflected that decline. By the end of the year he had made two war patrols; during the first he sank one ship and damaged two others, but during the second he was unable even to approach the enemy, let alone attack. His skepticism increased and became vocal. He began to say what he thought, and he apparently did not care who in the boat heard him. He criticized the actions of the government and the high command and made rude jokes about the party. He began to complain about the boat, a type IXC built to a modified World War I design; she was out of date, obsolescent in the undersea war of 1943. He wondered out loud about the strategy he was trying to execute and even about the leaders he had to follow. He predicted Germany’s loss within the year. Ordinarily such criticisms would have gone no further, even if others who heard them did not agree with them. Loyalties within the boat and the service would have prevented anyone from taking the matter further. Kusch, however, had the misfortune of having a first watch officer, Oberleutnant zur See Ulrich Abel, who was disdainful of Kusch personally, consumed with bitterness at having to serve under a man whom he considered his intellectual inferior, and ardent in his enthusiasm for National Socialism. In January 1944, in a detailed report to the Second U-Flotilla commander, Ernst Kais, Abel formally charged his commander with sedition and cowardice.

The charges were ludicrous and should have been dealt with as such. ‘The crime he was accused of was committed by more less all of us,’ observed another commander, Eberhard Wallrodt, ‘listening to enemy radio stations and talking disparagingly about the bigwigs.’ Most accounts indicate that there was widespread dismay in the U-Bootwaffe officer corps that Abel had taken such a step. It was not the proper thing, and several officers tried to talk Abel into withdrawing the damning report. He refused, however, and Kais had no alternative but to initiate court-martial proceedings against Kusch. After preliminary investigations, during which the cowardice charge was thrown out, the trial began on 26 January 1944 in Kiel. Abel testified, as did three other officers in U-154; two backed his accusation, the third, a midshipman, was probably pushed into doing so. Kusch tried to put the best light on his actions, but he did not deny them, and he was convicted. Because of the nature of the charge, the president of the court had no choice but to sentence Kusch to death, and he did. At dawn on 12 May 1944 Oskar Kusch was taken from Kiel-Wik Naval Prison to a nearby rifle range. At 0632 he was shot by a firing squad. Two minutes later he was declared dead, and immediately after that he was placed in a plain service coffin for burial.

It was a disgraceful episode in the short history of the UBootwaffe, and it reflected badly on almost everyone involved. Only Kusch himself rose above the tawdry mess. Aside from Abel, who is generally considered a reptile for having filed the charge, the worst loser was Karl Donitz. His widely advertised bond with his men seems to have failed completely the day Kusch was accused. He accepted the charges against Kusch as truthful without investigating Abel, his motives, or his veracity. He approved the sentence of death and against the advice of several other officers, including former U-103 commander Werner Winter, declined to commute it. Gustav-Adolf Janssen, Kusch’s last commanding officer in U-103, found himself traveling with Donitz at that time from Lorient to Berlin by automobile; in a macabre replay of the 1940 Christmas encounter between Donitz and Otto Kretschmer. he spent the entire journey trying in vain to persuade Donitz to spare Kusch’s life. Most puzzling, Donitz, who was supposed to be so accessible and so solicitous, never met with Kusch from the day he was accused until the day he died. It is incomprehensible that he would abandon one of his own in such a way. ‘Whatever the political environment may have been,’ wrote Erich Topp,’ it would still have been in place here for Donitz to speak to his commander at least once and to stand by him. Or was he so naive that he did not know what people were saying in the U-boat messes?’

“Most U-Bootwaffe officers did not know the details of the Kusch case while it was going on or even after Kusch was executed. For several reasons it was not widely reported. Those who are now familiar with it fall into predictable camps. Kusch was determined to bring about his own execution, wrote KarlFriedrich Merten, and not even his best friends could talk him out of it. ‘I have experienced types like him, He could not be considered as normal.’ If he was not able to comply with the normal standards of a naval officer he could have found reasons to abandon [his position]. But he felt he must try the decisive point!’ Erich Topp, not surprisingly, takes the opposite view: ‘If we comprehend tradition as being in touch with and continuing lofty intellectual currents, then Sub-Lieutenant Kusch undoubtedly fits into this pattern, whereas Admiral of the Fleet Donitz does not.” For Topp, Oskar Kusch is a true hero of Germany. After the war, as a senior officer in the Bundesmarine, he tried and failed to have Kusch memorialized in the fashion of Stauffenberg or Bonhoeffer. It is a measure of how far Topp himself came, for when asked whether he could have done what Kusch did, he replied with admirable candor that he could not.

“‘Our fathers and ourselves sowed dragon’s teeth.’ When Oskar Kusch was shot, his father received a terse notification of his son’s death, along with a warning not to publish a death notice. It is hard to know exactly how he felt, but ironically Karl Donitz, the man who had done so little for Kusch’s son, did know. Two days after Kusch’s execution, a German Schne/boot was attacked and sunk in the English Channel. Among the dead who later washed ashore on the coast of France was Oberleutnant zur see Klaus Donitz, who had been on board as a guest of the captain. ”

Dick Boyle

I am the Commanding Officer of the Military Sealift Command Office in Panama, and an 1120 Lieutenant. We are located at USNA VSTA Panama Canal, at Rodman, at the Pacific end of the Canal.

As you may know, the U.S. will turn over the Panama Canal and all DOD bases in the former Canal Zone to the government of Panama on 31 December 1999.

What you may not know is that Rodman, Panama was a huge and strategically important submarine base during WWII. Honestly, I do not have all the info as to why Rodman was such an important sub base, but I suspect the following reasons:

1. Protect the canal from either Japanese or German attempts to sink a ship in the Canal and blocking the E-W supply route.

2. Protection of convoys heading from East Coast U.S. to the South Pacific via the Canal.

3. A convenient supply base due to the huge tank farm at Arrijan up the hill from Rodman. This tank farm supplied all convoy ships. Each tank is buried so that it can take a direct hit from a 1000 pound bomb. Not surprisingly, the fine engineering and construction has allowed the tank farm to continue full operations today and for the foreseeable future.

The story of Rodman, the WWII submarine base may be of interest to your readers. Unfortunately, my resources (mainly of time) are too limited to write a good story. However, if you have contact with a submarine historian, I would love to co-author an article. I could contribute local research and interviews.

Please let me know if you have any contacts/interest in this story.

On a separate issue, there are some submarine historical artifacts around here. Primarily, all the streets at Rodman are named after famous WWII subs: HARDER, WAHOO, SEA WOLF TANG-the list goes on. If the Naval Historical Society doesn’t take all of the street signs, an appropriate Submarine History Society, like the NAUTILUS Museum in Connecticut or the museums in Keyport, Washington or Hawaii should take them. There is probably other stuff too, that I just don’t know about.

Please feel free to give me a call or e-mail me at any time.

lieutenant Charlie Maher, USN
CO, MSCO Panama
Unit 6111
FPO AA 34061

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