In the final days of World War II, Nazi U-boats were all but sitting ducks for Allied planes and ships: many German submarines, making a last, desperate gamble to take out enemy shipping, never got far beyond the European coast before being located and sunk.
One of those doomed U-boats, U-486, was discovered Monday off the west coast of Norway.
The U-486, a Type VIIC U-boat, was torpedoed and broken in two by the British submarine HMS Tapir on April 12, 1945, shortly after leaving the western Norwegian town of Bergen, according to Arild Maroey Hansen of the Bergen maritime museum.
All 48 men onboard were killed.
Launched in 1944, the U-486 sank three ships and crippled a fourth during her short career. However, one of the vessels it sent to the bottom was the former Belgian liner SS Leopoldville, which had been converted into an American troop transport.
On Christmas Eve 1944, the U-486 sent a torpedo into the Leopoldville, which was in the English Channel approximately five miles from the coast of Cherbourg, France.
The ship was carrying more than 2,200 American servicemen who were en route to serve as reinforcements for US troops involved in the Battle of the Bulge.
Everything that could go wrong that night did for the men of the Leopoldville. Calls for assistance were mishandled, rescue craft were respond and weather conditions were difficult.
The ship sank in 2-1/2 hours, taking more than 800 lives.
Details of the disaster were classified for decades, with files finally being opened in 1996.
The bodies of nearly 500 men onboard the Leopoldville were never recovered.
As for the U-486, it perished three months after departing on another mission from its base at Bergen, Norway.
Lying at a depth of more than 800 feet, the submarine was found recently when Norwegian oil company Statoil was scouting the area as a possible location to lay an oil pipeline, according to Agence France-Presse.
The submarine’s destruction came despite efforts by the Germans to camouflage its existence.
The U-486 was one of a handful of U-boats fitted with an experimental synthetic rubber skin of anechoic tiles, designed to reduce the submarines’ radar signals.
The U-486 lies a little more than a mile from another German submarine, the U-864, which was sunk in February 1945 with dozens of tons of mercury on board.
The U-864 was returning to Norway from a voyage to Japan to repair a misfiring engine when it was detected and sunk by the British submarine HMS Venturer.
It is believed to be the only instance in the history of naval warfare where one submarine intentionally sank another while both were submerged.
(Above: Schematic of Type VIIC U-Boat.)