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Was it a U-boat? Search continues for sunken mystery ship in North Cape

Oliver Engel, left, with his son Lars, in front of the recently installed information panels describing the myth of the sunken German U-boat off the coast of North Cape.
Oliver Engel, left, with his son Lars, in front of the recently installed information panels describing the myth of the sunken German U-boat off the coast of North Cape.

SUMMERSIDE, P.E.I. - Myth or reality? What happened off the coast of North Cape, P.E.I. on May 7, 1943, is still a question for naval historians and hobbyists like Oliver Engel.

There were rumours of German submarines as well as Canadian and American forces in the area’s waters. But there didn’t seem to be a definite answer.

Engel started his search for answers in 2006.

“I was in Charlottetown and happened to come across a map of sunken ships off the coastline of the Island. But there was also a submarine with a question mark,” explained the German national who holidays in P.E.I. with his family every summer.

He learned the submarine was possibly a German U-boat.

Upon returning to Germany, after his holiday in 2006, Engel began to look for answers on the internet and through German resources.

“There is a department in the Northern part of Germany. They were very helpful. They gave me a lot of information including photos of the submarine and an original crew list,” said Engel.

He also learned about a secret mission involving a German ship, prisoners of war and an escape plan called Operation Elster (Magpie).

“There was a prisoner camp in Fredericton, N.B. At the time, German forces planned to hide in the waters off North Cape while the prisoners were supposed to escape. When they did, they would travel to that area of the Island, get on the ship, and return home.”

On his next holiday on the Island, Engel continued his search. He studied literature about the war, the Island and diving.

He began to think maybe there really was something deep in the waters of North Cape.

Eventually he made contact with an Ottawa man who had previously tried his hand at locating the sunken ship. He spoke of a naval exercise involving Canadian and American forces on May 7, 1943.

From there, Engel worked on building a list of local contacts that might be able to help in the search.

One fisherman from the Tignish area showed him an original book from a lighthouse keeper with an entry on May 7; a Canadian Corvette sank a German submarine.

That information solidified Engels’ desire to find out if there was indeed something there.

And so, in 2012, Engel decided to look into the matter himself. He rented a 4125P side-scan, a portable 12-kilogram, high frequency sonar system that is dragged behind a boat. It can produce an image of the ocean floor in the area and what might be located where.

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Engel then enlisted the help of Alden Gaudet, a Tignish fisherman, who owned a boat and was willing to go out onto the waters.

They searched the area in 2012 and 2013, but were unable to locate the ship.

“The area is very big and it’s not so easy to find something right away.”

Engel says there is about two to three days work of searching still to be completed before the entire area, where the ship is believed to be, will be covered.

Engel put together a brochure about his search in hopes of spreading the word about the mystery. Now tourists and Islanders who come to North Cape can see large panels of the brochures put together that were recently installed.

Engel hopes he will be able to pick up the search for the submarine over the next few years.

“The issue is you need a side-scan. It’s a very expensive piece of equipment. But at the same time you need a boat, you need good weather, and more time.”

“Maybe next year I’ll be able to continue this search. It’s a hobby of mine, but an interesting one.”

 

millicent.mckay@journalpioneer.com

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