WWII Enemies Now Allies With Aid of Internet, Time

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    WWII Enemies Now Allies With Aid of Internet, Time

    Post by Battalion Colours on Mon Dec 27, 2010 8:57 pm

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    Carlos Avila Gonzalez / The Chronicle
    Frank Arsenault, shown as a 19-year-old sailor, helped sink a German sub in 1943.


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    Two old enemies, separated by time and the bitterness of war, have been reunited by the Internet.

    They had encountered each other only once, on a winter's day in the Mediterranean during World War II. Wolf Danckworth was an officer on a German U-boat attacking an allied convoy, while Frank Arsenault was a sailor aboard a Canadian corvette trying to prevent the attack. Arsenault's ship rammed and sank the German submarine. Danckworth was the only survivor.

    The battle between the U-boat and the corvette was swift and deadly. It happened a lifetime ago, on Jan. 13, 1943.

    So Arsenault, who is now 86 and living in Santa Cruz, was astonished last summer when he got a letter he never expected. It was from former Leutnant zur See Danckworth, once first lieutenant aboard the submarine U-224, now 93 and living in near Hannover in Germany.

    Danckworth had seen a 2009 Santa Cruz Sentinel interview with Arsenault that turned up on the Internet. In it, Arsenault talked about his wartime experiences aboard the Canadian ship Ville de Quebec and how the ship had rammed a German U-boat. Arsenault described how he had seen a single survivor of the submarine swimming for his life.

    Danckworth wrote to say that he was that man and that he was still alive.

    Ex-rival 'wonderful human'

    It was the beginning of an unlikely friendship. The two men have been writing back and forth by mail and the Internet. They have exchanged stories about what happened the day Arsenault's ship sank the submarine and talked about their lives since.

    Arsenault considers the German a friend. "He must be a wonderful human," Arsenault says. "At one time we were bitter enemies."

    Arsenault was an 18-year-old sailor in the Royal Canadian Navy in 1943, assigned to a corvette on anti-submarine patrol. His ship had experience with U-boats - on a previous voyage they had picked up 172 survivors of ships torpedoed in the Atlantic. Like other allied sailors, they had strong feelings about Germans and their submarines. "I had a lot of bitterness," he says.

    The ship was deployed to the Mediterranean. On Jan. 13, 1943, Arsenault had just gotten off watch when the ship's general alarm sounded. They had a submarine contact.

    Arsenault ran to his battle station on the stern, where the depth charges were kept. They dropped the depth charges - the Germans called them wasserbomben - and at least one of them hit the sub, which was badly damaged.

    "It took only 90 seconds and then that sub came to the surface," Arsenault says. The sub was very close, so the Canadian skipper made a quick decision. "The captain called out, 'Stand by to ram!' " Arsenault remembers.

    In the meantime, the sub's captain had sent Danckworth, who was the first officer, up to the conning tower to assess damage. He looked up and saw the warship bearing down on his crippled submarine. The corvette rammed the sub; Danckworth was thrown clear and made his way to the surface, swimming for his life.

    A treat from the enemy

    The submarine sank under him. All 57 aboard died.

    "I saw that poor guy swimming," Arsenault says. "I felt sorry for him."

    Another Canadian Navy ship picked Danckworth up, exhausted and shivering. He is still grateful years later for his treatment at the hands of the Canadians.

    "I want to express my deepest thanks," he wrote in an account of his rescue. His most vivid memory was of a small act of kindness: He asked for a rare wintertime treat, an orange, and the Canadians found one for the enemy officer. "The orange still tastes deliciously in my memory," Danckworth wrote in an e-mail.

    Danckworth spent the rest of the war as a prisoner. He was taken to North Africa, then to England and Canada before being repatriated to Germany after the war. He had a long postwar career in business and visited the United States.

    The years went by and the bitterness faded, but the memory of the war and that encounter in the Mediterranean was always there. The Internet made it possible to do research on wartime topics, with one site specializing in German navy records and reports, ubootwaffe.net.

    Arsenault's account of his life aboard the corvette turned up on the Web, and one of Danckworth's relatives found it.

    Danckworth looked up Arsenault, who after the war had a long career as a contractor in California, and contacted him.

    The German's explanation was simple: "The only reason to write, to send the letter to California, was to tell the sailor who saw me in the waters that I'm still alive," he wrote in a recent e-mail.

    Bringing war to its end

    The two men have exchanged letters and e-mail for months, sometimes daily. Danckworth told the story of his life in the German navy and described his last patrol. Arsenault talked about his wartime voyages with the Canadian navy.

    Then they talked about their lives: one in Germany, the other in California. There was a lot to write about, almost 68 years.

    In a way, it is the end of the war for both men. "I think it was closure for him," Arsenault says.

    Arsenault's wife, Jeri, who has the computer expertise that her old sailor husband lacks, has come to know the two men's stories and watched the growing respect between them. "We can put aside animosities and become friends," she says. "That's our message."

    E-mail Carl Nolte at [You must be registered and logged in to see this link.].

    This article appeared on page C - 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle



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    Frank Arsenault recalls the attack on the German submarine in 1943. One man survived.
    Photo: Carlos Avila Gonzalez / The Chronicle


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