U 4 7 9, instruction
Start with the wall straight ahead to the left. Then move counterclockwise around the room.
The map shows the location of the remains, and the box contains short facts about it.
Facts about the find
FIND: The German submarine U 4 7 9.
PERIOD: November 1944, World War II.
LOCATION: Gulf of Finland, outside Odensholm, Estonia.
EVENT: The wreck shows traces of a powerful explosion, probably caused by a mine. The entire crew, 51 men, perished with the ship.
War beneath the surface
At the end of World War II, the Baltic Sea was dominated by two opponents: Germany and the Soviet Union. Whoever controlled the sea could provide their own forces with weapons, food and fuel – and hinder the opponent’s transports. The coastlines of the Baltic Sea border many nations, so controlling the area was critical.
A highly effective weapon in this power struggle was submarines, which could move stealthily and make sneak attacks. The German submarine fleet was notorious. In 1944, the Germans laid out new mines in the Gulf of Finland to contain the Soviet fleet. The area was already cluttered with mine lines from different countries.
In November of that year, the German submarine U 4 7 9 disappeared without a trace in the Gulf of Finland. Only 70 years later was the disappearance explained.
Laying anti-submarine nets
The footage shows German crew members laying anti-submarine nets in the Gulf of Finland in 1943. The nets were intended to stop enemy submarines. Some submarines were equipped with saw-like net cutters in their bows, allowing them to penetrate an obstructive net.
The film contains no sound.
Buoy for an anti-submarine net
This buoy belonged to an anti-submarine net located in the Gulf of Finland during World War II. Sometimes the buoys were shot at from airplanes. The nets then sank, and their own submarines could pass.
Anti-submarine nets and naval mining. Map and text next to the buoy.
Submarines can move around unseen – but they’re not invulnerable. During World War II, mines were laid extensively in the Gulf of Finland. In addition, there were already plenty of mines from previous periods of unrest and conflict, some of them from the 19th century.
Anti-submarine nets made of metal could stop enemy submarines. They were held in place by buoys on the water’s surface, and between the nets were gaps that only to friendly forces knew of.
The commander of U 4 7 9 made several notes in the submarine’s war diary about clashes on the surface, with torpedo boats and aircrafts and even occasional shelling from land-based troops. The crew had also managed to torpedo floating mines.
Table with interaction and text
War diary from the U 4 7 9
This diary was written between 27 October 1943 and 23 September 1944 by the commander on board. The diary for the following period probably remains in the wreck, and what we know about that time comes from radio reports.
Quote from the diary
17 September 1944
08.20: In AO2822, a steamer, course SW, speed 15 nautical miles is sighted. We are moving toward it at high speed. It is established that it is the Swedish steamer Aeolus.
09.02: We approach the other ship and establish that it is a Finnish submarine destroyer under the naval flag. We let him pass. As we pass each other, he aims at me with his guns, and I at him with a T5 torpedo.
The Baltic Sea, 1944
Civilians were also affected by the war in the Baltic Sea. Both passenger ships and cargo ships were sunk by enemy ships and submarines to prevent refugees or raw materials for the war industry from reaching their destinations. Mines were an ever-present threat in the shipping lanes.
The war had caused a mass exodus across the sea from the occupied Baltic states. In 1944, thousands of children from Finland were shipped to the safer Nordic countries on ships, including the Swedish passenger ship Aeolus.
In 1944, the U 4 7 9 mainly carried out reconnaissance missions to map the enemy’s movements in the Baltic Sea. In August, the submarine is ordered to stop Estonians fleeing to Sweden.
The passenger ship SS Aeolus
On 17 September, the submarine crew takes sight of the Aeolus en route to Sweden. But the submarine does not stop the ship to search for refugees, not this time. Perhaps the Aeolus was escorted by the Finnish warship mentioned in the war log note – take a look at the display behind you.
Quote on wall over bench
Prevent Estonians from escaping to Sweden in motorboats and sailboats.
From radio message from 9th Security Division, 9 August 1944, 14:52.
Voices from 1944. Bench with audiostation.
Naval vessels were not the only ships affected by the war in the Baltic Sea – civilian vessels were also the objects of attack and control. In 1944, tens of thousands of people fled the Baltic across the Baltic Sea to safer countries, and many Finnish war children were shipped off to Sweden to escape the war.
Here you can listen to three personal stories, three voices, from the Baltic Sea in 1944.
Film on room divider
Film from the wreck. The film contains no sound.
Life onboard. Right of room divider.
The U 4 7 9 was a Type VIIC U-boat, common in the German navy. While surfaced, it was powered by diesel engines which also charged the batteries used when it was submerged. The submarine had to surface at regular intervals. Radio communication could take place only from the surface.
The submarine measured 4 metres (15 ft.) at its widest point. Machinery, weapons, food supplies and equipment were the most important cargo. The crew shared the space that was left. Most of them shared the sleeping quarters and took turns sleeping.
Food and relaxation were priorities on the crowded submarines. A German submariner could always count on plenty of bread, potatoes, meat and vegetables. Entertainment such as books, records and games helped keeping the spirits up.
Displays, drawing and bunk
The film on the right consists of archive material compiled to show life on board a submarine.
Above the film is a drawing of a VIIC submarine.
On the floor, the size of a bunk bed is marked out.
To the left you can take a virtual tour of U 9 9 5, a submarine of the same type as U 4 7 9. U 9 9 5 is a museum ship at the Laboe Naval Memorial, north of Kiel in Germany.
A visit aboard. Short wall, film contains no sound
On 27 June 1944, the U 4 7 9 was paid a visit by Norwegian writer Knut Hamsun, Nobel laureates in literature and a devout Nazi. The visit was filmed in order to be part of a propaganda film. We see officers and men receiving Hamsun on deck. This is likely the same crew who later went under with the submarine.
The crew. Inside of room divider.
The 51-man-strong crew of the U-479 was inexperienced. The year was 1944, the Germans’ fortunes in the war had taken a turn for the worse, with many losses. There was a glaring shortage of experienced submarine crews.
The commander, Friedrich-Wilhelm Sons, conducted his first submarine voyage this year. During the summer, the crew tried to sink several enemy ships without success. The U-479 survived many attacks but did not actually sink a single ship.
The last radio contact with the crew was at 17:28 on 15 November. They reported that two patrol boats were seen nearby. After that, all communication was cut off. Everyone on board was pronounced dead less than a month later.
Work and leisure
Pictures of submariners aboard German submarines during World War II. Life on board contained both work and leisure.
The last position
The Gulf of Finland was the most densely mined area of the Baltic Sea. The U-479 likely hit a floating mine, like ones that the crew had sighted several times during the summer of 1944.
In 2013, the wreck was found at a depth of 92 metres (nearly 302 ft.) off the Estonian island of Osmussaar. It rests on its starboard side. The conning tower shows traces of a powerful explosion, but the wreck is otherwise in good condition. All the hatches are still closed. The entire crew was most likely left on board. The interior of the wreck has not been examined.
The fuel tanks still contain diesel. This is why the U 4 7 9 is part of an Estonian project that monitors environmentally hazardous wrecks.
The U 4 7 9 shipwreck is currently located at a 90-degree list and a depth of 92 metres in the Gulf of Finland. It is partially covered in sediment. The image shows significant damage to the hull at the conning tower, a gap, and boards from the wooden deck.
The U 4 7 9 sank after an explosion, probably caused by a floating mine. Although mine clearance has been underway since the First World War, tens of thousands of mines still remain in the Baltic Sea.