Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Japanese Medical Advice


No, I didn't write this, but it certainly made me smile. As someone who struggles with a weight problem day in, day out, I can't totally agree with everything said in this web-based piece, and the Japanese doctor's name eludes me. But I had to laugh. 

Q: Doctor, I've heard that cardiovascular exercise can prolong life. Is this true?
A: Heart only good for so many beats, and that it... Don't waste on exercise. Everything wear out eventually. Speeding up heart not make you live longer; it like saying you extend life of car by driving faster. Want to live longer? Take nap.
Q: Should I reduce my alcohol intake?
A: Oh no. Wine made from fruit. Fruit very good. Brandy distilled wine, that mean they take water out of fruity bit so you get even more of goodness that way. Beer also made of grain. Grain good too. Bottom up!
Q: What are some of the advantages of participating in a regular exercise program?
A: Can't think of one, sorry. My philosophy: No pain...good!
Q: Aren't fried foods bad for you?
A: YOU NOT LISTENING! Food fried in vegetable oil. How getting more vegetable be bad?
Q: Is chocolate bad for me?
A: You crazy?!? HEL-LO-O!! Cocoa bean! Another vegetable! It best feel-good food around!
Q: Is swimming good for your figure?
A: If swimming good for figure, explain whale to me.
Q: Is getting in shape important for my lifestyle?
A: Hey! 'Round' is shape!
Well... I hope this has cleared up any misconceptions you may have had about food and diets.
And remember:
Life should NOT be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive and well-preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways - Chardonnay in one hand - chocolate in the other - body thoroughly used up, totally worn out and screaming "WOO-HOO, what a ride!!"
For those of you who watch what you eat, here's the final word on nutrition and health. It's a relief to know the truth after all those conflicting nutritional studies.
1. The Japanese eat very little fat and suffer fewer heart attacks than Brits.
2. The Mexicans eat a lot of fat and suffer fewer heart attacks than Brits.
3. The Chinese drink very little red wine and suffer fewer heart attacks than Brits.
4. The Italians drink a lot of red wine and suffer fewer heart attacks than Brits.
5. The Germans drink a lot of beer and eat lots of sausages and fats and suffer fewer heart attacks than Brits.
CONCLUSION: Eat and drink what you like. Speaking English is apparently what kills you.

Wednesday, 18 February 2015


Russian Railette

I love Russia. I first went to Leningrad, as it was then, in 1959. When I returned as a writer in 2002 and again in 2005 to St. Petersburg, everything had changed. The Russians (well, some of them) had got what they wanted; a Thatcher-inspired market economy. My trip in 2002 was exciting for many reasons. I had been commissioned to write the biography of a forgotten British naval hero and submariner, Captain Francis Cromie CB DSO RN (1882-1918). The ten day research trip had been financed by Saga magazine, who had also commissioned a serialisation of Cromie’s life. My travelling companion was my good friend photographer Graham Harrison, and we had been booked into St. Petersburg’s Baltiskaya Hotel. (BELOW)

    In 1915 Churchill had sent the Royal Navy to fight alongside the Imperial Russian Navy to harass German shipping in the Baltic. Cromie was a teetotal, non-smoking raconteur, musician, mediator, watercolour artist and great orator, loved by his crews and respected by the Russians. He soon made his mark, on one mission destroying 6 enemy ships in one day. He was decorated by Tsar Nicholas with the Order of St. George, the Tsarist version of the VC. Cromie was also a romantic. Although married back home in Portsmouth, he conducted an adulterous affair with a Russian socialite, Sophie Gagarin, and was a regular companion to Baroness Moura Budberg, (Liberal Leader Nick Clegg’s Great Aunt) who later became H.G. Wells’s mistress. What Cromie and the Admiralty hadn’t reckoned with, however, was the Bolshevik Revolution. When Trotsky and Lenin pulled Russia out of the war in 1917, his erstwhile allies, the Russian Navy, mutinied. Cromie eventually sent his 200 men home via Murmansk, after scuttling his flotilla of submarines in the Gulf of Finland. Deeply in love with Sophie Gagarin, he stayed behind as naval attaché in the almost deserted Petrograd British Embassy. During 1918, out of his depth, he became embroiled in an MI5 plot led by the so-called ‘Ace of Spies’ Sidney Reilly, to bring down Lenin’s government. When Red Guards raided the Embassy on August 31 1918, Cromie defended the building in a gun battle, and lost his life. He is buried in St. Petersburg.
    In order to cover all the locations in Cromie’s Russian adventure, I needed to travel south to Tallin in Estonia, where the good Captain had initially been based with his submarines. My colleague Graham decided to stay on at the Baltiskaya Hotel, and I had planned a round trip. It would include a train journey on the overnight sleeper to Tallin. After a day’s research in Tallin, I was to catch a ferry to Helsinki, where I would meet my brother Alexander, who has lived in Finland since 1982. I was looking forward to this, as we hadn’t met for 20 years. I would spend a day with Alex, then catch a train back to St. Petersburg, and continue my booking at the Baltiskaya.
    At this point in the new Russia’s economic history the Rouble was virtually worthless. With our wallets full of US Dollars, Graham and I felt like millionaires. The first class sleeper ticket for the trip to Tallin was an amazing £26. As I boarded the train at 9 pm, I realised that I was the sole occupant of the sleeper carriage. Apparently, no Russian travellers could afford this luxury. I was ushered on board by two stout, headscarf-wearing middle-aged babushkas in pristine white aprons. It was late June, and in St. Petersburg this meant ‘white nights’, when the sun would not go down until after midnight. The babushkas eyed me suspiciously as they presented me with towels and soap. My compartment, with its neat bed and table, was a delight. I settled in, and sat dreamily with my notebook as the lowering sun streamed through the window. Ah, the joys of the writing life … the pen moved across the pages, spilling thoughtful memories as the train moved through the Russian countryside. This was a thrilling night. I waited until the sun finally sank, pulled down the blinds, stripped off and turned in.

     It was about 1.30 am when I awoke. It was dark, and the train was stationary. I’d been aroused by a loud banging on the compartment door. Clad only in my underpants, I staggered to the door and opened it. I was faced with a trio of stern Russian border guards. Two tall, well-built men, both with Kalashnikovs, and a woman. She was straight out of Les Dawson; a squat, dumpy woman built like a wrestler with a face Les would have described as ‘like a bulldog chewing a wasp’. They pushed their way in. Their leader looked at my bed and my rucksack.
   “You … are Britishki?” I nodded.
   “Meester B-yanton. You have your visa?” I delved into my bag and produced the document and passport. They all examined these, muttering in Russian. The boss, half smiling, asked
  “What is business in Russia?” I explained I was a writer working on a biography. He nodded.
  “Where is your notebook?” I produced my leather-bound journal. He held it for a moment, then threw it onto the bed. “No. Where is your computer notebook?”
There were not many laptops around in 2002, but being from ‘the West’ they expected me to have one. When I told them I didn’t, they seemed incredulous.

   “You say you are rich man writer. Live in big house in London. But you have no computer notebook.” I explained that no, I didn’t live in a big house in London, and that I wasn’t rich I could not afford a ‘computer notebook’. They chatted among themselves again, and Les Dawson’s mother-in-law glared at me, then pointed to an A4 folder on the table. The boss stepped forward and picked up the folder. It contained several photographs of all the WW1 submarines Cromie had been in charge of. This new discovery saw all three gather around, staring wide-eyed as the pages were turned. They glanced back at me frequently as they babbled on in Russian. I could tell by the frosty atmosphere that I was now regarded as some kind of spy. The boss then grabbed my framed rucksack and began to empty it on the bed. Shirts, underwear, everything was scattered as they all delved among the laundry looking for more clues. Feeling stupid, standing there in my underpants, I explained as clearly as
I could that the submarines were British, from the first World War, and that I was researching history. They listened, and then went into another huddle. The boss faced me again and smiled sardonically.
    “You say you are big writer, live in big house in London but no computer notebook. You look at submarines. Where is your address in London?” Well, at least this time I’d gone from being a ‘rich’ writer to a big one. But the geography problem appeared persistent. I pointed at my passport, which the female bulldog still clutched to her ample bosom. She opened it and they examined the address.

    “It say here … Mans-field. Mans-field is London?” I explained that it was not London, but Nottinghamshire, and that Mansfield was the ancient heart of Sherwood Forest. At this announcement the two men broke into broad grins whilst the female Mount Rushmore retained her granite dullness. The boss broke into a chuckle.
    “Robin Hood!” he cried. Then his comrade wailed, “Sherwood Forest! Kevin Costner!”
Then the boss; “You know Kevin Costner? Is Robin Hood. Sherwood Forest. You know him?”
I took a risk. “Yes, I know Kevin Costner. Big hero in my town. Robin Hood.” He smiled, then said
    “I tell Buddha woman this!” He turned to the bulldog and, as far as I could discern, explained to her that I was one of Robin Hood’s merry men. The fact seemed to inspire no merriment whatsoever on her despondent visage. I was intrigued that he had referred to her as ‘Buddha woman’, which
I thought was a neat bit of bi-lingual descriptive patois for my benefit. Yes, I could see her as a Buddha. Buddha woman then gave the boss my Russian visa. He handed me my passport, and stuffed my visa in his shirt pocket. I was tired, almost naked and confused, and by now wondering what was happening and why this train was stationary in the middle of the night. I asked if there was anything else I could help them with.
   “This train now will go into Estonia. This is frontier. Russia finish here. You OK now, Meester B-yanton. You say hello to Kevin Costner, huh? Tell him me, Aleksander Shialpin, is big fan, huh?”            I agreed I would. The trio left. I stood, dazed, and began stuffing everything back into my rucksack. Then it dawned on me - they had taken my visa! I needed that to exit Russia and re-enter from Finland. Still in my underpants, I raced along the corridor and found my trio of inquisitors about to step from the train. As other startled passengers stared at this pink, porcine near-naked foreigner remonstrating with their state guardians I eagerly requested the return of my visa. But Comrade Shialpin shook his head.
    “No. I keep. Is only exit visa. Not entry and exit visa. You now leave Russia, I keep visa.”
I explained that I had paid over £300 through the Russian Embassy in London for an entry and exit visa. As the document was in Russian, I’d no idea I’d been sold a pup.
   “Then in Tallin, Meester B-yanton, you must go to Russia embassy and apply for new visa.”
I asked how long that would take. “Maybe two, three weeks.” The train was about to leave. I was panicking. This was unreal. The three faces stared impassively back as I spluttered;
   “What if I stay in Russia, go back to St. Petersburg, don’t leave Russia?” He pondered, the three murmured to one another. “I have discuss this with Buddha woman. She say OK, but you must get off train now.” I nodded eagerly. He gave Buddha woman my visa, and from her pocket she produced a tiny tin and a small rubber stamp. She held the opened document against the open carriage door, stamped it, and still as grim-faced as ever, handed it back to me. Shialpin then barked;
   “Train go in thirty seconds. Get off train now!”  I ran along the corridor, found my gaping rucksack, pulled on my shoes and raced back. I fell from the carriage onto the gravel siding. Wherever we were in this stygian darkness, there was no platform. The two male guards laughed as I hastily began dressing as my comfortable departing dream sleeper rumbled along the rails away into the night. Buddha woman wandered off and disappeared into some undergrowth at the side of the track.             I imagined she lived in a secret cave somewhere. Aleksander Shialpin and his colleague stayed with me until I’d finished dressing.
    “I have idea now,” said Shialpin. “You come now with us to railway station. In morning is train to St. Petersburg. I organise for you special ticket. Do you have American dollars?“ I said I did.             
 I followed them along the siding as we approached a long, low brick building with tall windows. It was obviously an ancient railway station with a low, shallow concrete platform. Above this hung rusting lamps which creaked ominously in the warm breeze. They cast a sickly yellow light from dim, fly-blown bulbs. The big double doors hadn’t seen a lick of paint since Stalin grew his moustache. They burst open and a female guard clad in camouflage fatigues and highly polished boots rushed up to us. I had flashes of James Bond scenarios. She was young, blonde and despite the uniform, shapely. But she had the same mirthless expression of Buddha woman, although she did have a Kalashnikov. A hasty exchange in Russian ensued, and suddenly she stepped behind me and began propelling me through the doors by jamming the barrel of her gun in my back. I tumbled down three concrete steps into a darkened room. The doors slammed behind me and I heard the lock turn. Now feeling like Michael Caine in The Ipcress File, I shuffled around in the darkness. There was a tubular steel chair and nothing else. I felt along the wall for a light switch. I found one, but there was no result.
I slumped into the chair and waited.
I smoked back then. 20 Chesterfields in Russia cost about 60p. I lit one up. In the pale glow from my lighter I was able to discern that this was some kind of booking hall, with a small, semi-circular  service window at one end. An hour passed by. Then my blonde jailer opened the door, stepped in, shone a flashlight in my face and left. She was replaced by Aleksander Shialpin and his sidekick. They came and stood by me.
    “Have you cigarette?” he asked. I offered them both a cigarette. They lit up. I asked him where I was.
    “Small place called Kingisett, near Estonian Buddha.” It was then that I realised that the title ‘Buddha’ had nothing to do with the Dalai Lama; it was his pronunciation of ‘Border’.
Now it was clear; the official rank of that grim, cheerless matron was ‘the Border woman’.
My two visitors finished their cigarettes and left. I looked at my watch. It was 4.30 am. I tried dozing but the chair was too uncomfortable. At 20 minute intervals the doors would rattle open, then my blonde jailer would stare balefully at me and leave. Soon dawn broke and I looked through the cobwebbed window. I seemed to be in some kind of Fiddler on the Roof country. Small, ramshackle wooden bungalows, smoke winding from tin chimneys. The odd, faint grunt of pigs and an occasional cock crowing. There was another door which led outside into all this rustic splendour, but it too was locked. Then, as the sky brightened, at 6.45 am the doors opened again and an old woman entered carrying a large basket of bread rolls. I suddenly realised how hungry I was. She took them over to the small, Gothic-arched ticket window, behind which a light now shone. The window opened and another old lady took the bread basket inside. I was disregarded by both women. At 7 am, Shialpin returned, this time on his own.
   “Give to me twenty dollar. I get you good ticket for St. Petersburg.” I handed over the money. He went to the little window, and then returned with a train ticket. He was then joined by a man in a different uniform, who I took to be a railway porter. By this time I was in dire need of the toilet. I asked where it was. Shialpin pointed through the window at a clump of bushes opposite the building.
   “There is toilet.” The railwayman stepped forward and produced a key. He unlocked the door and ushered me out. It was already warm, even though the sun was still low. I shuffled across the dirt track and into the thicket to relieve myself. As I did so, I looked back over my shoulder and saw the two men standing in the open door, watching. This whole experience was now taking on the characteristics of a bizarre dream. I felt dirty, careworn and tired.
Now having avoided a burst bladder, back in the station Shialpin begged another cigarette then handed me my rucksack. I wondered if he ever went to bed, and where he spent his night time hours.
    “Come with me now. Train for St. Petersburg arrive five minutes.” It was a fine morning. Birds were singing, the hot sun was beating down as we stood at the end of the platform. I wondered where the blonde Bond girl had gone, and imagined Buddha woman crouched in her cave somewhere over a cauldron of boiling bats. The big, long train hissed and rattled to a halt at the platform. I looked at the ticket. It seemed to indicate a sleeper carriage. Shialpin took me by the elbow and guided me to the further carriage along.
    “Here is for you. You share in with Russian in sleep cabin. Have good trip, Meester B-yanton.” We shook hands. He grinned. I climbed on board and stood for a moment. The door closed and I watched him through the window. As the train began to move, he smiled, waved, then shouted
    “Kevin Costner! Robin Hood!” And he was gone.
And so I never got to see my estranged brother in Helsinki after all. Nor did I carry out any research in Tallin. I searched for the cabin number, and when I found it, there was none of the quaint intercontinental railway luxury of the night before. It was a four-berth cabin, with each bunk occupied by a Russian paratrooper, with their luggage piled up on the floor between the bunks. The young men looked at me, seemingly disinterested as I lay my rucksack down with theirs, then stretched out on the heap of army kitbags and fell into a deep sleep, filled with dreams of Les Dawson’s mother in law, a blonde female soldier with a gun, Topol singing If I Were a Rich Man, and Josef Stalin painting some railway station doors.
    It’s a strange country, Russia. But I still love it.

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Lucky Lucifer


Should that foul weakness,
Religion, ever swamp this mind
Then I would find some credence
Almost some relief, in this stark belief:
That I’d been correct to throw away all hope,
Outlined by Alexander Pope:
"But Satan now is wiser than of yore,
and tempts by making rich,
not making poor."
As secular as I am,
Pope’s words possess some holy rhythm
In this unequal landscape,
This heartless schism,
Where all the power has gone
from aphorisms such as
‘The greedy rich
Are the poorest of the poor’
Yes, Satan rules,
And those still so naïve,
You who believe this insinuates
A moral revolution in the making,
Take a good look at yourself,
Put your Bible on the shelf;
We’re the fools they call ‘hard working’
Whilst they do all the easy taking.

Saturday, 14 February 2015

One for you, Russell.


Speak up. I am listening.
I appreciate the energy
The thrust of your young voice.
But if you offer enmity,
To condemn my seniority,
then deafness is my choice.

I cannot help when I was born
And likewise, nor can you.
I am sorry I’m too old to work
But biology has burned me out
My pension isn’t paid for shirking
My bus pass helps me get about.

You give the ballot box a miss
We vote, to honour sacrifice
By those who’ve gone before;
Pushing for our polling rights
To bring us hope, some progress, light,
To make the rich respect the poor.

I cannot help my ancient state
In these, my autumn years
I understand your restlessness
With my contentment and old age
So make your cross within the box
And give voice to your rage.

Monday, 9 February 2015

The Rich Rule: Official.


Back when Henry Ford was building his automobile empire, he said
“It is well enough that people do not understand our banking and monetary system, for if they did, I believe there would be a revolution before tomorrow morning.” 
Almost a century on, fortunately for today’s hedge fund managers, most people still don’t understand banking.
We may not be as badly off as the Greeks or the Spanish, but like us in the UK, they are being punished with austerity for financial misdemeanours they did not commit. The poorer we get, the richer the bankers become, and despite timid governmental attempts to make them behave, we have a big new scandal. Although knowing what it was doing was wrong, HSBC has been helping Britain’s richest evade tax on an unprecedented scale, using offshore accounts in Switzerland. A former employee has been sacked for speaking out after seeing that HSBC was still engaging in huge tax evasion schemes. For those of us ‘hard working tax payers’ who have just had to cough up their self-assessment tax bill by January 31st, or be heavily fined for each overdue day, the immoral privileges of the super-rich make a stark contrast which goes right to the heart of what kind of country we live in.

Much of the austerity the hapless public is suffering was caused by a peculiar branch of banking called the Hedge Fund. A hedge fund is an investment partnership set up by a money manager. It can be a limited company or a limited partnership. So, if the company goes bankrupt, the creditors can't chase investors for more money than they've put into the hedge fund. Hedge fund managers have quite a nice pay arrangement. It’s called the 2 and 20 formula. This ensures hedge fund managers receive 2% of assets and 20% of profits each year. That means that even if they lose money, they are at least guaranteed the 2% return. £1 billion in investments might make the manager £20 million even if the company simply left the money parked in the bank.
   On February 9th the Conservative Party held its annual Black and White Ball in London’s glitzy Grosvenor House to raise £26m to fund their election campaign. One of the stars of the Hedge Fund world, Andrew Law, CEO of Caxton Associates, was there. Of course, whilst David Cameron will welcome whatever donation Law makes, it will be convenient to forget that Caxton is registered in the tax-free haven of Delaware. One of its managers earned £97.1m in 2013. It is estimated that the 500+ guests at the ball are worth collectively over £22 billion. So presumably, there’ll be no nurses, labourers, bus drivers or window cleaners present. They’ll all be too busy struggling to pay their tax bills.
    It becomes no exaggeration to say that the rich and corporate elite now ‘own’ what we thought was a democracy. They have built a world run solely for their benefit - the rest of us are merely ants in their golden dung hill. It’s time the people of Britain became angry enough to draw a line and say ‘no more’.

Wednesday, 4 February 2015


In the annals of maritime mysteries, some yarns remain far more potent than others. Forget the Mary Celeste. Drifting vessel+ no crew= a century of wild speculation. The Flying Dutchman? Impervious to real research. Ditto the missing lighthouse men of Eilean Mor.
Of all the many bizarre stories I’ve collected, just two retain their original chill factor. One is the mystery of the Ourang Medan, (now solved) and the other is the ‘Haunted U-Boat’ -  UB-65. Up periscope; her come the ghosts.

In their excellent and informative book, Lost At Sea (1994), Michael Goss and George Behe devote over thirty analytical pages to what is arguably one of the most chilling ghost stories of the sea, a true classic because this is a multifaceted enigma covering not only the paranormal, but hints at espionage and propaganda, with a fascinating character in its sinister shadow pulling the strings. With the advent of the First World War, death at sea, always a grim possibility in peacetime, became far more likely when the conflict took to the ocean. There are several spooky submarine yarns from both world wars and later, but none are as celebrated or weird as the story of the ill-fated German submarine UB-65. According to the meticulous and reliable www.uboat.net her details are as follows.
She was built by Vulcan, Hamburg, launched 26 June 1917, commissioned 18 August 1917, and had just one commander during her short career from 18 August 1917–14 July 1918, Kapitanleutnant Martin Schelle. On her six patrols she sank seven allied ships and damaged a further six. She was one of a class of twenty-four submarines especially designed to operate out of the ports of occupied Belgium. It was during construction that bad fortune began to dog this particular boat.

If we are to accept the legend, then the crew of UB-65 were less terrified of confronting enemy forces at sea than they were of the ghost that haunted their ship. As with most of these yarns, this one has had its fair share of embellishment over the years. The initial “authority” who launched the spectre was one Hector Charles Bywater (1884–1940), a brilliant naval journalist and strategist, a multilingual spy whose ability to speak German passed him off as a native. Bywater is as much of a conundrum as UB-65 itself. As will be seen, other writers have added layers of spurious “authenticity” to his original exposition. Bywater bases his telling of the saga on a pamphlet published after the war by “the distinguished psychologist Professor Dr Hecht”, and a “first-hand account” by an unnamed petty officer who was lucky enough to leave the boat before she sank.

The misfortunes of UB-65 began whilst she was still on the slipway. A heavy metal girder slipped from the crane tackle as it was being lowered into position to be welded into the hull, instantly killing a German workman and injuring another, who died in hospital a few days later. Before launching, poisonous fumes in the engine room took the lives of three more workers. So before UB-65 had even put to sea, five men had died building her.

Once out at sea on her trial run, a sailor was sent forward on the deck to inspect the hatches. He was swept overboard and lost. Her first test dive was almost fatal. She should have levelled out at thirty feet (9 m), but a forward ballast tank ruptured and the sub plummeted to the seabed. She remained stuck there for twelve hours, and during this frightening period floodwater seeped into the batteries. The resulting toxic fumes spread among the crew. When, with some relief, the boat finally managed to surface, everyone was violently ill, so much so that two men died in hospital. Could things get worse? Without a doubt, and here the illegitimate elements of this oft-repeated story begin to rear up. Some writers relate that she was commissioned not in August but in February 1917, with the U-65 placed under the command of Oberleutuant Karl Honig. Unfortunately, you will not find a commander of this name listed; the records show Kapitanleutnant Martin Schelle as sole commander during the boat’s brief life. But back to the story. While torpedoes were being loaded for UB-65’s first patrol, a warhead exploded, killing the Second Officer and eight seamen. Nine other sailors were seriously wounded. By this time anyone being assigned to this particular submarine would have something to worry about and, on top of it all, the first ghost makes an entry. As she was under tow back to dry dock for repair, a hysterical sailor reported that he had seen the ghost of the Second Officer, his arms folded, standing on the prow. The haunting had begun.

 Although Bywater was the first to bring all this to attention in his 1932 book, Their Secret Purposes, most of the crew names don’t crop up until an article on the sub written by Peter King in Fate magazine in 1974. The story gathered more trimmings in Raymond Lamont Brown’s Phantoms of the Sea (1972) and a further Fate article by King in 1977. Bywater’s source is a “Professor Dr Hecht” and, from somewhere, King pulls a first name out of the bag – now he’s “Max” Hecht. This revelation is followed by a previously unidentified sailor who becomes “Petersen”, claiming that he also saw the ghost. Petersen wisely decides to jump ship the day before the U-65 was to embark on her first patrol. Several men on that initial patrol reported seeing the ghost of that Second Officer. One night the duty officer was found sobbing on the bridge, claiming to have seen the ghostly figure, arms folded, standing on the ship’s prow. A torpedo man named Eberhard goes berserk and rants about being pursued by the ghost. According to Bywater, he’s given a shot of morphine but, despite its relaxing qualities, eventually makes it up on to the deck where he promptly jumps overboard and sinks like a stone. Whilst under attack from depth charges, Lohmann, UB-65’s coxswain, is thrown to the deck, cracks three ribs and dies from internal injuries a week later. “Oberleutnant Karl Honig” was next on the hit list. After patrolling the Dover Straits in February 1918, UB-65 docked in Bruges just as British aircraft began a bombing raid. Honig is said to have been decapitated by flying shrapnel as he stepped down the gangplank, his headless body propelled backwards on to the deck. His corpse was laid there for a while, covered with a canvas shroud, and that same night an officer and eight crewmen said they saw the Second Officer’s ghost again, standing by the cadaver. Now the entire crew of UB-65 apply for a transfer. Well, you would, wouldn’t you?
The German Navy is very concerned, and yet another new name enters the story; he is “a German Naval Lutheran minister, the Rev. Franz Weber”, who conducts an exorcism of the ship. A Commodore arrives and investigates. The anonymous chronicler, the petty officer, tells Max Hecht that he missed a trip on the boat due to rheumatism, and the day before she sails he is visited by another crewman called Wernicke, who bids him a somewhat ominous farewell. New names, including “Richter”, keep attaching themselves like limpets to this story and the 1974 Fate article identifies the Commodore as “Michelson” (Lamont Brown has him as “Admiral Schroeder”). We’ll examine the potential origins of these names later on.
By midsummer 1918, Germany was losing the war. U-boat losses were such that none could be unnecessarily laid up, so UB-65 was put back into service. On 30 June she set out on what was to be her last patrol. The story goes that while patrolling off the coast of Ireland, the US submarine L-2, operating as part of an American flotilla based at Bantry Bay, was travelling at periscope depth when she spotted UB-65. The American skipper, Lt Foster (or Forster) got into position and was about to fire torpedoes at the enemy ship. What followed adds another phenomenal twist to the story. Before L-2 could act, her Captain was amazed as U-65 blew up before their eyes and sank. The American submarine never fired a shot. Was that the end of it all? Not quite.

Goss and Behe offer a tantalizing follow-up, which I have unfortunately not been able to track down, but it adds a nice spooky coda. They tell us that on 10 July 1968, almost exactly fifty years to the day (give or take three days, depending on which report of UB-65’s death is accurate), a man from Baltimore called Sven Morgens-Larsen and his wife June were enjoying a cruise on their yacht Grey Seal off the Irish coast close to Cape Clear. In the late afternoon they were approaching Fastnet Rock. At 6.30 p.m. they heard a muffled explosion. The sea, a few hundred feet from them, churned and up popped a submarine’s conning tower. As the rest of the craft emerged from the foam, they saw the number “65” on her side . . . and a stationary figure standing on her prow. The whole apparition, submarine, figure, everything, then dissolved and was gone. Apparently Morgens-Larsen knew nothing of the legend until he’d returned to Baltimore where he looked up the story in the archives at Johns Hopkins University. Fact or premeditated fancy? Who cares? Those pesky U-boat men just won’t stay down.

Yet even this peculiar report has a precedent. The large American nuclear submarine USS Thresher went down with all hands on a deep test-dive 220 miles (354 km) off Cape Cod on 9 April 1963. Her loss in peacetime, with 129 men, was a major maritime tragedy. Fast forward to the summer of 1967 when the Schulz family with their three children are enjoying a cruise on their yacht the Yorktown Clipper, again about 200 miles (322 km) off Cape Cod. Suddenly, to their amazement, to starboard, a massive submarine surfaces. She looks damaged, with a gash in her hull. There are two uniformed US Navy men, one standing on her walkway and one on her bows, staring back at the Yorktown Clipper through telescopes. This encounter lasted a few minutes, and climaxed dramatically as the sub reared up out of the water and broke apart amidships, then vanished beneath the waves. The two figures did not budge. As she went down, the Schulzes maintain that they saw the name “Thresher” on her side.
Perhaps in the watery hereafter, the spirits juggle around with earthbound officialdom because the real nuclear submarine would not have had her name written on her side, just her number, 593, from her official designation SSN-593. So, with the Thresher tragedy still painfully fresh to a seagoing family just four years after it occurred, was this some psychic hallucination triggered by a collective memory? The Schulzes were in the area where the tragedy had occurred. If one person had reported this vision, it could be questionable, but a married couple and their three children? Would a family conspire to make things up? We don’t know – but there’s a distinct possibility that Hector C. Bywater may have done so with UB-65.

Goss and Behe suggest the story of the jinxed sub may have been part of a British destabilizing propaganda drive to unnerve German sailors. On the other hand, Bywater’s Their Secret Purposes (1932), which includes the haunted U-boat, is ample evidence that this inventive, talented man liked spinning a meaty yarn. Bywater was no stranger to intelligence work and had worked behind enemy lines in Germany. He is also famous for his 1925 “faction” book, The Great Pacific War, written whilst he was naval correspondent for the Daily Telegraph.
It is a startling but true fact that Bywater prophesied in uncanny detail the Japanese Pacific campaign of the Second World War. He has been dubbed among some historians as “the man who invented Pearl Harbor”. His book opens with Japan’s seizure of Manchuria, Formosa and Korea. “But in thus pursuing a policy which aimed at the virtual enslavement of China, Japan had inevitably drawn upon herself the hostility of the Powers,” wrote Bywater. Much more so than Morgan Robertson’s eerie predictions in 1898 concerning the Titanic, Bywater’s book is replete with so many accurate predictions that it could well have been the handbook used for Pearl Harbor by the Japanese Imperial Navy. The Great Pacific War was published while Isoroku Yamamoto – the admiral who masterminded the Japanese naval strategy in the Second World War – was an attaché with the Japanese embassy in Washington, DC. It was featured in the New York Times’s popular book section in 1925, and although the Japanese embassy registered an official protest over the review, declaring it “provocative”, the book would have been essential reading for any Japanese naval officer. Yet despite all this, as a kind of Robert Harris of his day, Bywater was making it all up, but magnificently so, due to his thorough knowledge and grasp of naval affairs.

So, what about all those names mentioned in the UB-65 story? Let’s deal first with the very foundation of Bywater’s version – the mysterious “pamphlet” of “Professor Dr Hecht”. The pamphlet does not exist. Checking online I find that there was a Max Hecht. He was born in 1857 and is listed as a “psycho-semasiologist”. He dealt with semantics and the study of language, and doesn’t seem to fit the bill as a renowned, well-known psychologist. Lamont Brown however, refers to him as such, and states that his “unpublicized” report on UB-65 exists in the Staatsbibliothek der Stiftung Preussicher Kulturbesitz in Marburg. Goss and Behe went to much trouble to have this document and supposed others dug out from the relevant German archives, yet found that they did not exist. They are left only with speculation as to whom Bywater based his mysterious “Professor Dr Hecht” upon. They hint that he might have been based on the journalist and screenwriter Ben Hecht (1894–1964), the first screenwriter to be awarded an Oscar. It seems unlikely. There was indeed a Submarine Commodore called Andreas Michelsen, who had commanded the light cruiser Rostock in the Battle of Jutland in 1916, and in June 1917 took over command of U-boats. With no crew list for UB-65 available, the names Lohmann and Eberhard evade us. Then we have the crewmen Petersen and Wernicke, the man who said goodbye to the unnamed petty officer. There’s nothing on Petersen, but there is a Fritz Wernicke (1885–1918), who commanded UB-42 and UB-66 (which is one number away from 65), but UB-66 went down with all hands, with Weinecke in command, on 18 January 1918 in the eastern Mediterranean. There are a couple of other names left hanging; some crewman called Richter and the exorcist, Lutheran Minister, Revd Franz Weber. These appear in versions of the story in the 1970s. Fate magazine became a magnet for these stories, and although in its later incarnation (prior to its demise in 2009), it wasn’t afraid debunking a subject, in earlier times many features didn’t have to be too academically inclined with sources and footnotes. We were also in the heyday of aliens and the UFO, subjects which could impregnate any other paranormal happening like a virus.

So who were Franz Weber and the mysterious Richter? If you were looking for some German names to slot into a U-boat story – how does Franz Weber-Richter sound? To discover who he was, we only have to look at an article in Der Spiegel dated 8 February 1961, entitled “Men from Another Planet”. He was Germany’s own George Adamski. Together with his interplanetary associate, Charles Mekis, Weber-Richter had managed to convince a growing army of followers that an invasion of earth by the Venusians was imminent. His leaflets and publications delivered an income, but living in South America provided an added opportunity to raise funds. It may have been tough convincing people that he had spent several months living with aliens on Mercury, but Franz Weber-Richter claimed to be Hitler’s son, an assertion just slightly more credible than “the Venusians are coming” but sufficient to gain sympathetic handouts from aging, fugitive Nazis. Der Führer would have been proud.
Whatever “the truth” is about the doomed UB-65, it doesn’t really matter, except for the fact that thirty-seven families in Germany lost their sons, husbands and fathers to an unimaginably horrible death. Time and our imagination have built this into an immortal story and we need such romance in our lives. The careful researchers at www.uboat.net mention nothing of her haunting. Her loss is reported thus: “14 Jul 1918 – Lost by accidental cause (marine casualty) off Padstow, Cornwall on or after July 14, 1918. 37 dead (all hands lost).” And she has now been found as the following report states on both Facebook and Wikipedia:
This feature is extracted from my
book The Mammoth Book of
Unexplaimed Phenomena

(UK: Constable & Robinson,
USA, Running Press Inc.)
An expedition mounted in 2004 as part of the Channel 4 Wreck Detectives underwater archaeological TV series to survey a previously unidentified U-boat wreck that had been located earlier at 50.611 °N 5.005 °W, during a routine survey by the Royal Navy, confirmed the identity of the boat as UB-65. Inspection of the wreck by nautical archaeologist Innes McCartney and U-boat historian Dr Axel Niestlé (through identification of design features such as the type of deck gun, and identification numbers that were stamped on one of her propellers) proved conclusively that the wreck was that of UB-65. A survey of the wreck showed no obvious indication of weapon attack being the cause of loss (although this could not be ruled out; shock damage from a depth charge attack could have caused loss through failure of internal seawater systems and hull penetrations that would not be obvious from an external examination). The aft hatches are open indicating a possible attempt by at least some of the crew to escape from the vessel. Consideration of the various observations of the wreck, along with historical observations regarding depth control and handling difficulties on diving experienced by other boats of the class, led to a conclusion that she was most likely lost through accidental causes on or after 14 July 1918, the date of the sinking of a Portuguese vessel in the Padstow area. All of her crew of 37 were listed as lost. Having been identified as UB-65 the wreck was given protected place status under the Protection of Military Remains Act 1986 on 1 November 2006.