U-boat murder leads to last mass execution in U.S.

The sinking of U-118 in June 1943. LTJG Fryatt's depth bombs straddle U-118.  Splashes from his turret guns can be seen as the Avenger pulls away after the attack. Two crewmen can be seen seeking shelter behind the conning tower.  U-118 is trailing oil after previous attacks by LTJG Stearns and LTJG Fowler.

The sinking of U-118 in June 1943 when U-118 was caught on the surface by planes from USS Bogue. LTJG Fryatt’s depth bombs straddle U-118. Splashes from his turret guns can be seen as the Avenger pulls away after the attack. Two crewmen can be seen seeking shelter behind the conning tower. U-118 is trailing oil after previous attacks by LTJG Stearns and LTJG Fowler.

Werner Drechsler, recovering from a bullet wound to his right knee, disembarks USS Osmond Ingram assisted by Hermann Polowzyk

Werner Drechsler, recovering from a bullet wound to his right knee, disembarks USS Osmond Ingram assisted by Hermann Polowzyk

On the 12th June 1943 planes from the USS Bogue had attacked U-118 and sunk her. There was a particularly good photographic record of the attack , and a number of survivors were picked up which helped document exactly what happened. Both the Royal Navy and the USN were assiduous in their interrogation of captured U-boat crews and were able to gain intelligence on a wide range of issues, not just relating to technical matters and operating procedures but also to the general morale of the crews, and the morale in Germany. At this stage of the war there were quite a few disaffected individuals who were prepared to be very forthcoming.

Amongst the crew of U-118 Werner Drechsler proved to be especially forthcoming. In Nazi Germany saying anything negative about the regime was likely to mean a concentration camp sentence or worse. Werner Drechsler presumably felt he was safe in the hands of the US Navy, and by this time everyone could see which way the war was going. He agreed to go even further and under assumed identities spent time POW camps spying on his former colleagues, reporting back at the Joint Interrogation Center located at Fort Hunt., Virginia (just outside Washington, D.C.).

Unfortunately for Drechsler the US procedures were not as safe as he might reasonably expect. After the Navy had finished with him they sent him on to Army custody, responsible for detaining POWs. The Navy stipulated that he should not go to a camp with other Kriegsmarine prisoners. Somehow that instruction got lost and he was sent to Papago Park, Arizona, which housed a number of his former inmates, who had by now put two and two together. Within hours of arriving on 12th March 1944 Werner Drechsler was beaten and murdered. He was found hanging in the showers the next day:

Reference is made to the murder of Werner Drechsler at Prisoner of War Camp, Papago Park, Arizona, for which seven prisoners of war have recently been charged. The investigation in that case indicated that Drechsler had been used as an informant by G-2 or ONI to assist in the interrogation and processing of prisoners at Meade or some other installation in this vicinity. After his usefulness had been exhausted Drechsler was shipped to Papago Park for imprisonment. He was a submarine man, and Papago Park detains numerous Navy prisoners. Drechsler was recognized as a traitor to Germany and was murdered. This result could or should have been foreseen, to put it mildly.

It is recommended that some arrangement be made between this office and G-2 and ONI so that we will be alerted when prisoners who have assisted the American authorities are transferred to normal imprisonment. Under the present system, the responsible officers who are transferring such prisoners without taking any steps to provide for their safety are bringing about their deaths more rapidly and efficiently than our courts-martial are trying their murderers.

R. E. Guggenheim,
2nd Lt., CMP

In this case there was a court martial – for the seven U-boat men who killed Drechsler. They were convicted and later executed by hanging on July 28, 1945 at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. It was the last mass execution in the U.S.

For the original documents see U-boat archive.

Front of Werner Drechsler's POW Personnel Record card - POWs were photographed fingerprinted, assigned their POW number, and asked to provide the information on the card as part of their initial processing

Front of Werner Drechsler’s POW Personnel Record card – POWs were photographed fingerprinted, assigned their POW number, and asked to provide the information on the card as part of their initial processing

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