Werner Lott replied to Lord Mountbatten on 9 September 1974:
I am very grateful for your letter of July 25 and want first of all to apologize for the delay in my answer caused by a mixture of illness, holiday and the visit of my grandchildren who came over from America. I hope you can forgive me for my discourtesy.
Now to your questions. My recollection of our conversation in the Tower of London is almost exactly like yours with only minor variations. E.g. I think I did not live in the captain's cabin, but in the cabin of an officer on leave. And I remember that you told me about a visit to Germany in general and to Laboe in particular which you had just made shortly before the outbreak of war.
Otherwise I can only marvel at your good memory - and again become very pensive about what we were then misled and misleading, for I felt and feel responsible for my crew. But this cannot be explained in a short letter. How right you were then and how times have changed!
When I was in Canada last year at the invitation of some crew members who emigrated after the war and have settled down very well as Canadian citizens, I bought your biography at a bookstall, read it and passed it on to my friend Stamer. I shall try to buy it again because I want it in my own bookshelf. I think it is wonderfully written and I feel great admiration for the man giving his life’s story as a rare example of selfless, but singularly successful service to his country and the world. I could not see your TV films because of absence from Germany, but I understand they will be repeated.
As you seem interested in historical developments I would like to relate one event around August 20,1939. On that day we had held exercises with all our U-boats in the deeper waters of the Central Baltic Sea for a manoeuvre that Hitler had ordered to show off to the king of Italy on his state visit August 24-28, 1939, if I remember the dates correctly. Hitler had been impressed on his state visit to Italy May 1939 by a rather static display of submerged power in Naples Bay and now Hitler wanted to impress him with daring and very mobile manoeuvres. All went well on this exercise around Hitler's aviso Grille and thereafter we all entered Swinemünde Harbour. There the U-boat captains were invited to lunch with him onboard Grille where CinC Raeder presided and Dönitz was also present. After lunch a most unusual thing happened: Raeder rose, made a few complimentary remarks and then said "Have you any questions?" I knew him personally well and shot without a second's hesitation the question at him: "We cannot help feeling that we are drifting towards war - is that really unavoidable?" And he also answered without hesitation: "Hitler has so far achieved so much in his six years in power that I do not think he will risk all the positive achievements in a hazardous war." Well, that was in 1939.
Our experiences with HMS Kingston and Kashmir were extraordinarily good after our boat had gone down. I was picked up as the last but one and as my life saver had been damaged when the U-boat sank under my feet I was already completely exhausted and stiff from the cold water. Somerville made a perfect manoeuvre and they threw me a rope which I could not hold in my stiff fingers. To my amazement they lowered a boat, hauled me into it and threw me like a bag onto the destroyer's deck because I had become too weak to jump on my own in the heavy sea. Under a doctor's supervision I was put into a hot bath and a bottle of Scotch held to my mouth which altogether gave all of us an astonishingly quick recovery.
On board we were told that we would be decently treated provided we gave no reason for trouble. We all got comfortable quarters yet were carefully guarded which went without difficulty. In Greenock we were handed over to a Scottish battalion guarding us under the command of a Major. In the night train to London Dec 2/3 39 all in our carriage were alarmed around midnight when Stamer had somehow organised a bottle of beer for everybody for then my birthday began. The Scottish guards taught us "happy birthday" - a most extraordinary story in the early war. In the Tower I was put into a prison cell. What happened after your visit I have already described in my letter of July 10.
Now to Commander or rather Captain Halahan RN ret. I think his initials are F.C. Of F for Frederick I am sure. After the war he was sent to Hongkong, which he did not like. Therefore he was prepared to accept the British Government's offer to be one of the volunteer farmers breaking the ground for the fertilisation of the high plain in Central Kenya. This met with a huge success, also for Halahan who came from a farming family in England. And I as one who grew up as a boy in the then German colony of East Africa, who has followed colonial history with great interest and who has had in 1962 and 1963 a chance to talk with the emerging new African leaders (most of whom are still in office) on the white man's achievement in Africa am willing to confirm that these large British farms were a magnificent achievement of a bunch of hard-working British experts. They all had become prosperous farmers when the end of the British Empire came and they felt deserted by the British Government in London. When I saw Halahan and his wife in November 1963 they were very pessimistic about the outlook. They doubted whether they could sell the farm and were thinking of going to South Africa. I have written three times in 1964 without any reaction, but I am sure that postal services were no longer up to standards and the Halahan farm was remotely situated on the slopes of Mount Elgin. "If the worst comes to the worst", said Halahan, "I have at least a naval captain's pension to fall back on". The Halahans had 2 boys about 10 and 11 years old in 63.
I hope that you will find my letter worth reading and feel quite honoured that such a distinguished personality has kept in contact with us over so many years.
With best wishes and respectful greetings
I remain, Sir,
|Thank you so much, for your letter of the 9th September which I have
read with the greatest interest.
It is kind of you to have taken so much trouble to confirm my memory of our conversation in the Tower of London which is splendid and most encouraging to me.
I was very interested to bear the account of your meeting Hitler just before the war. I was also interested to hear about my old friend, Halahan, whom I haven’t seen for a long while and as he did not come to our 60th anniversary dinner of our Term which entered the Royal Naval College, Osborne, in May 1913, I rather fear be may not be alive.
Your letter will have an honoured place in my archives.
Courtesy of the Mountbatten Archives, Hartley Library, University of Southampton.