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My wife and the U-boat secret

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Jim Humphreys can still vividly recall the summer of 1944 and the role his wife, Shirley, played in arguably the most pivotal moment of the Second World War.

The arrival of the German submarine, U-505, in Bermuda in June was top secret because its capture provided the Allies with unprecedented access to the German codebooks.

The press were prohibited from reporting the capture or the imprisonment of the crew at the former Naval Operating Base and anyone who knew about their presence was sworn to secrecy.

Mrs Humphreys, a Red Cross volunteer, was one such person.

She was tasked with caring for the U-boat's commander, Captain Harald Lange, for nine months while he was held in Bermuda.

Now, 70 years after one of the most significant moments in the Second World War and Bermuda's history, Mr Humphreys has spoken of his wife's unique friendship with the German captain and her efforts to keep in touch with him after the end of the war.

“My wife volunteered at the Naval Base and had been a volunteer with the US Red Cross,” the 97-year-old said:

“Because of that training and because she was American she was able to get into the base.

“In June, 1944, she was assigned to the captured German U-boat commander, Admiral Lange, because he had sustained serious injuries when the submarine was captured.

“She was driven down to the base and introduced to him. From then on she was taken to him in the US dispensary offices out on the Naval Operating Base every day.

“When they captured the U-boat Admiral Lange had tried to scuttle the ship, but when he did this the US Navy shot him in the legs and he surrendered.

“For the next nine months Shirley was his assigned nurse.

“At that time we were not married and Shirley had been told that she could not tell anyone because the Germans did not know the submarine had been captured and did not realise the Allies knew their code.

“But she told me what was going on and gave me clear instructions that I could not repeat it to anybody.”

The crew of U-505 remained at the Naval Base in Southampton for six weeks before they were secretly taken to a prisoner of war camp in Louisiana until the end of the war, while Captain Lange remained in Bermuda.

Mr Humphreys added: “Shirley got to know Captain Lange very well. She thought of him as a very considerate man and had great respect for him.

“Shirley recognised the importance of this moment in Bermuda's history and felt very honoured to do what she did.

“After the war Shirley tried to write to Captain Lange and even travelled to Germany to try and make contact with Captain Lange and his family. But she was never able to meet him again. She would have loved to have seen him again. They had become very close during the war.”

Mrs Humphreys kept her secret from all but her closest family until 1992 when she told her incredible story to Andy Bermingham and Brendan Hollis for an article in The Royal Gazette and a television programme.

She passed away in 1999, but Mr Humphreys still lives at the family home in Paget.

Mr Bermingham said: “There are so many remarkable elements to this story.

“This was one of the biggest intelligence coups in the Second World War and Bermuda was right in the middle of it.

“Shirley Humphrey's story is totally unique and gives this time in our history a new dimension.

“It is also remarkable that Harald Lange was Bermuda's last prisoner of war, and officially he never existed.

‘It is most definitely worthy of remembering some 70 years on.”

Bermuda National Museum Curator, Elena Strong, added: “The capture of the U-505 helped change the course of the Second World War. It put an end to a terrorising and destructive weapon attacking Atlantic Convoys and put two Enigma machines and top-secret Nazi code books in the hands of the Allies.

“Prowling in wolf packs the German U-boats or submarines sank hundreds of ships in the early years of the war, at a time when the Royal Navy did not have enough warships to protect their convoys.

“After America entered the war, the battle of the Atlantic began to improve for the Allies. Convoys were escorted by warship and planes, and hunter-killer task groups were organised to seek out and destroy U-boats.

“But Captain Daniel V Gallery USN had another idea: to capture a U-boat and bring it and its code secrets to the US intact.

“It was the first warship captured by the US Navy since 1815.”

The capture of German submarine U-505 as shown by a painting by Captain Stephen J Card. (Picture courtesy of the National Museum of Bermuda)
Captain Daniel V Gallery poses in the Conning Tower of U-505 in June, 1944. The US Navy photograph is signed by Captain Gallery himself. (Photo courtesy of the Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago)

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Published December 29, 2014 at 8:00 am (Updated December 30, 2014 at 9:52 am)

My wife and the U-boat secret

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