The Madman Across the Water


Rare color photo taken by the U.S. Navy of the capture of the U-234 at the end of World War Two

Kapitänleutnant Johann-Heinrich Fehler commanding the U-234 had been convinced by Luftwaffe General Ulrich Kessler and the two high-ranking Japanese passengers that the radio message to all U-boats from Admiral Karl Dönitz ordering them to surrender to the Allies was a fake. Dönitz was supposedly now German Head of State following the death of Adolf Hitler and the Soviets were reported to have captured Berlin. The orders commanded all U-boats to surface, hoist a black flag, and to surrender to Allied forces.

Fehler was not terribly fond of the two Japanese, respectively a naval architect and an aircraft specialist, but Kessler’s loyalty to the Reich was without question. The General kept emphasizing how their mission to deliver Germany’s remaining cache of 1,200 pounds of uranium oxide to the Japanese occupied harbor at Konan in Korea was vital.

Of course only the two Japanese officers and Kay Nieschling, a Naval Fleet Judge Advocate who was assigned to rid the German diplomatic corps in Japan of the Richard Sorge spy ring, knew Kessler was actually Gestapo and under direct orders from Hermann Göring to deliver the atomic fuel at all costs. These orders included Kessler sabotaging the radio to prevent contact with the U-873 whose Captain would have confirmed Dönitz’s order.

They were now surfaced at a secure dock at Konan and the Japanese were offloading the uranium. The German effort to develop a nuclear weapon ahead of the Americans was now dead due to mismanagement and sabotage, but their allies still had a chance. Supposedly, the Japanese were close to testing a prototype and only lacked the uranium which was now being delivered.

Fehler and Kessler were on deck watching their cargo being offloaded and both having a smoke. Since receiving the radio message on May 10th, the U-boat had been traveling underwater at snorkel depth anticipating an attack by American destroyers. Fortunately, none were sighted, but Fehler had been disturbed by their last-minute change of destination from Osaka to Konan. Two days later on the 12th, they arrived at the Korean port city.

“You are sure, General.”

“You have trusted me this far, Fehler. Why express doubt now?”

“Because we are allowing the Japanese access to a terrible weapon. How do you know they won’t turn it against us?”

The General took a last drag on his smoke and then tossed the butt into the harbor. He exhaled lamenting that he could buy no better quality tobacco here than he could back in Berlin. “Because they will be too busy with the Americans and the Soviets.”

“This is true,” Fehler muttered as he too savored the last of his German cigarettes. “If the Japanese do not complete their project here soon, the Soviets will overrun them. As for the Americans…”

“The Japanese Navy will succeed, Kapitänleutnant. When they do, then the Allies will be forced to divert their resources away from Germany to combat this new threat. They will save the war for us.”

The containers of uranium oxide were nearly offloaded. Fehler wished he could give his crew even a brief shore leave, but their mission was top-secret and the fewer who knew that a German U-boat had visited a Japanese held port, the greater the chance of success. Their next stop would be Osaka where Kessler, Nieschiling, the two Japanese officers, and the two other German engineers were to assume various duties. Once the mission to Japan was over, the U-234 would make its long journey home to Germany, or so thought Fehler.

Kessler’s orders were quite different from what Fehler and the others believed. Once the U-boat was in the Sea of Japan, General Kessler was to sabotage and sink the U-234 to prevent any knowledge of their mission from being revealed. Adolf Hitler was dead and the Third Reich along with him. It was the General’s duty to make sure that Herr Führer would achieve his victory from beyond the grave. The “madman across the water” as the two Japanese on board called him covertly, would deliver one last blow for the Master Race.

I wrote this for the Song Lyric Sunday Theme for 1/7/18 hosted by Helen Vahdati. The idea is to take the theme, which this week is madness, look up the lyrics to a related song, and then post both the lyrics and a video of the chart being performed.

I’m a little different. I like to write stories. So I selected Madman Across the Water written by Elton John and Bernie Taupin in 1971 for John’s album of the same name. The above-link will take you to those lyrics.

This explanation of the lyrics is illuminating:

A very dark song with a Leon Russell influence, Bernie Taupin made up the story about a lunatic ranting on visiting day at the asylum. Predictably, it wasn’t chartworthy, but it did provide the album title as well as plenty of speculation that Elton was singing about United States president Richard Nixon. Taupin says that wasn’t the case, although he was quite amused by the interpretation. He says the lunatic in the song wasn’t based on anyone in particular.

I suppose given the current political climate, I could have written about President Donald Trump casting him in the role of the “madman,” but then again everyone is doing that, and even though I occasionally pick low hanging fruit, I’d rather have a greater challenge.

Nazi Germany’s nuclear weapons program during World War Two is well-known and used as a common science fiction trope, but not to many people are aware that the Japanese were also developing “the bomb.” By some reports the Japanese effort was more advanced than the Germans and the only thing stopping them was lack of refined uranium. You can read about the Japanese atomic program at:

You may also want to read about the secret mission of U-234.

In real life, in May 1945 the U-234 was carrying the remaining Nazi supply of uranium oxide to the Japanese and those people I’ve mentioned in my story were all on board the U-boat. However, to the best of my knowledge, General Kessler was only attached to the Luftwaffe and had no involvement with the Gestapo.

On 10 May 1945, the U-boat received a radio message from Admiral Karl Dönitz informing them of Hitler’s death and ordering all U-boats to surrender, but Fehler thought it was a fake. He was finally convinced by the captain of the U-873 who he managed to contact, that the orders were authentic.

Although it was Fehler’s intention to surrender to the Canadians, his U-boat was captured by two American destroyers and escorted to the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, where U-805, U-873, and U-1228 had already surrendered. The Americans used the captured German uranium to develop our first four atomic bombs, two of which were dropped on Japan, specifically Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Historical documentation suggests that both the Germans and Japanese would have used the atomic bomb in the war had they managed to develop it, which should give pause to critics of the United States for being the only nation to ever use nuclear weapons in combat.

Now here are the lyrics to the aforementioned song and it being performed by Elton John on YouTube:

I can see very well
There’s a boat on the reef with a broken back
And I can see it very well
There’s a joke and I know it very well
It’s one of those that I told you long ago
Take my word I’m a madman don’t you know

Once a fool had a good part in the play
If it’s so would I still be here today
It’s quite peculiar in a funny sort of way
They think it’s very funny everything I say
Get a load of him, he’s so insane
You better get your coat dear
It looks like rain

We’ll come again next Thursday afternoon
The In-laws hope they’ll see you very soon
But is it in your conscience that you’re after
Another glimpse of the madman across the water

I can see very well
There’s a boat on the reef with a broken back
And I can see it very well
There’s a joke and I know it very well
It’s one of those that I told you long ago
Take my word I’m a madman don’t you know

The ground’s a long way down but I need more
Is the nightmare black
or are the windows painted
Will they come again next week
Can my mind really take it

Oh, 10 May 1945 was a Thursday, so the mention of that day of the week in the lyrics above could be considered related. Also submarines are referred to as “boats” rather than “ships.”

5 thoughts on “The Madman Across the Water

  1. Well, that’s interesting historical data, offering substantive justification for the use of nuclear weapons against Japanese cities rather than merely demonstrating their power over water a bit farther away. Some have suggested the later would have been sufficient to convince the Japanese leaders to surrender; but if those cities housed research centers for nuclear weapons, then it would have been necessary actually to destroy any possibility of completing their development program — lest they would have resumed hostilities soon afterward with a full-blown nuclear-exchange vendetta. Since they did not succeed to develop nuclear technology, and considering the evidence that they had such a development program in progress, one must infer that its facilities were, in fact, destroyed.

    But my first suspicion was that you might have been pointing this story at the North Korean dictator, despite the current political tendency to insinuate against Pres.Trump.


    • Apparently Japanese researchers had completed a thermal diffusion device that would have allowed extraction of uranium 235 as early as 1944, but U.S. bombings destroyed their secret facilities. So unwittingly, the Americans did delay the Japanese development of the bomb. Imagine what would have happened if the Japanese had developed it first.


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