Some information in english (german language next pages / deutscher Text auf den nächsten Seiten):
It was in the winter of 1993 when my mother gave me the service record book of my grandfather who had died at sea in World War II – in order to enable me to take care of that document.
Up to that day I have had relatively little interest in marine affairs and the history behind. But my personal attitude completely changed when I was reading the last entry: "Died on 22nd October 1943 on a escort vessel in the Mediterranean Sea near Porto Santo Stefano."
Many, many questions came into my mind: What had happened on that day? What was the name of the vessel on which my grandfather lost his life so young? And how did the boat look like? Deeply moved I decided to look for the answers to the questions above.
My investigation was rather complicated, because I did not know the amount of the existing literature about sea warfare and I falsely concentrated only on the so called escort vessels.
But I did not give up and so in summer 1994 I was successful finding out that the ship I had been looking for was the minelayer JUMINDA, that had been attacked by american torpedo boats and then sank northwest of the peninsula Monte Argentario.
I was also successful in finding out two of the sixteen crew-members, who had survived. They described the last voyage of the JUMINDA and gave me some photos of the ship. When I was looking at those pictures and imagined how the massive mediterranean waves must have brought down this small vessel and most of its crew including my grandfather, I shed tears.
When confronted with this incident my emotions caused the promise to collect more information about the naval war in the Mediterranean Sea to be able to get a better knowledge of that historic event. Thus I contacted various archives at home and abroad, analysed various war-diaries and got into contact with many former marines. After a few years I had collected so much information, that a famous german publisher for maritime literature was interested in the project and so I was enabled to publish a book of my own. In this book I expressed that one day I would come to Italy in order to honour my grandfather and his comrades. Therefore I felt great pleasure to be in this beautiful country in September 2005 and that is why I want to say thank you to my friend Alessandro Dondoli, to the German and Italian Navy federation and the Italian Navy including the crew of the destroyer ARDITO – they all played an important part in fullfilling this ceremony.
Now let me tell something about the ship and its crew.
The JUMINDA, built in Genova by Cantieri Navali Odero in 1928 and launched as ELBANO GASPERI was not a huge vessel. In peacetime the 59 m long ship was a kind of ferry between Elba and mainland Italy. In World War II the 742 gross register tons vessel was temporary used as auxilliary minelayer by the Italian Navy. After armistice between Italy and the allies it was among the ships which came under German Navy command. Captured in Portoferraio, the former ELBANO GASPERI was taken to La Spezia and became part of the Third Escort Flotilla on September 27th, 1943.
Three days later the ship was named JUMINDA. The change of name was done in remembrance of the JUMINDA-mine barrier in the Baltic Sea which caused great losses for the Russians.
Korvettenkapitän Dr. Karl Friedrich Brill, born 1898 in Stolzenau, had been responsible for that operation and had therefore been rewarded with the German Cross in Gold and with the Knight´s Cross.
In 1915, when he was 17 years old, he entered into the German Imperial Navy. On board of His Majesty Ship THÜRINGEN he took part in the battle of the Skagerrak. After World War I he studied engeneering and afterwards he was a inventor and industrialist. After the outbreak of World War II he got very important posts in the German Kriegsmarine. As commander of the auxilliary minelayers ROLAND, COBRA and BRUMMER he was very successful in the Northsea and the Baltic Sea. Under his leading several thousands of mines were laid, among them Germanys most successful mine-barrier during World War II – the JUMINDA-barrier. The Russians lost about 40 ships with 130.000 tons during the so called mine-battle of Reval.
In July 1943 Brill was ordered to the Mediterranean, where he should build up the minelayer-group WESTITALY. On 21st September 1943 he survived the loss of the BRANDENBURG, which was torpedoed by an british submarine. And now, six days after, on 27. September 1943 he took over the command of the former italian ferry ELBANO GASPERI and set it into german Kriegsmarine Service.
The situation was serious: The last German troops had just left Corsica and JUMINDA now had to mine the line of enemy-supply southeast of Bastia as soon as possible.
The crew knew that for fullfilling that task they had to be very lucky, because the JUMINDA was a slow ship that was only temporarily equipped concerning artillery, navigation and radio – a ship that would have big problems of getting away if discovered by the enemy.
After the ship had reached its position and laid the mines 14 out of 62 exploded. It seemed like a wonder that the noise that could be heard very clear did not alert the enemy.
The next missions should follow. The danger of another landing on Italian mainland became bigger every day and therefore a lot of new mine barriers were necessary.
Though fullfilling its task at the west coast of Italy, it was only a question of time when the catastrophy would come.
And indeed the tragedy came very soon when JUMINDA had left La Spezia harbour on October 21st, 1943. 16 minutes after midnight JUMINDA and the escorting German vessels appeared on the radar screens of the US Torpedo boats 206, 212 and 216, that had left their base in Maddalena in order to patrol between the isles of Giglio and Corsica. Chief commander DuBose let attack the largest boat – JUMINDA.
The range was closed to 900 yards just abaft the convoy´s starboard beam. The 206 and 216 each fired two torpedoes, and as the 212, third boat in formation, was getting its sights lined up for a shot, one of the 206´s torpedoes, running wild, porpoised alongside it. The commander of PT 212, Lieutenant Sinclair, swung his boat hard right as the torpedo passed, and then came back to firing course. DuBose, impatient, asked Sinclair by radio: „How many have you fired?"
„None yet", Sinclair replied, „I´m too damned busy dodging yours!"
Sinclair finally managed to get off two torpedoes and joined the other boats in a slow retirement.
When the first torpedo hit the JUMINDA, the ship began to sink with stern first. Korvettenkapitän Dr.Brill knew that JUMINDA was due to go down very soon and cried loudly that everybody should leave via starboard.
Brill and some other soldiers jumped into the water on the right side. In that very moment another torpedo hit the ship at starboard and thus killed the soldiers in the water. Just when the vessel began to go down, the siren was starting to whimper, then to tone louder and finally to hoot wildly until the JUMINDA was completely under water.
The minesweepers came nearer and slowly went through the mines, that were turning around in circles on the water. The boats rescued 16 mostly heavily injured survivors, who all had jumped into the sea shortly before the second torpedo hit the ship.
Korvettenkapitän Dr. Brill, Germanys most successful minelayer-commander in World War II, was among the 63 crew-members who died in that night. In November 1943 he posthumous was rewarded with the Oak Leaves to the Knights Cross.
While Brills corpse was salvaged two days after JUMINDAs loss and then was buried ashore, most shipmates found their last resting place on the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea.
The precise position of that place has remained undiscovered for 59 years. In the year 2002 the Italian Claudio Amerini succeeded in locating the wreck of the JUMINDA. He was the first person who dived to the JUMINDA in a depth of about 100 meter.
The mortal remains of my grandfather Karl-Heinz Waack lay in the wreck of the ship. He died when he was only 26.
As somebody who was born after World War II I unfortunately did not get to know him. But I believe that there where something comes to an end also something new will begin. And so I hope that some day we will meet somewhere.