Only four intact German U-boats remain in the world, but U-534 almost didn’t make it into that historic quartet after laying at the bottom of the sea for decades and only being dredged up after its final actions in service led treasure hunters to believe it may have carried Nazi riches.
At the tail end of World War II, the final U-boat to set out from Germany, U-534, was alerted that the war was over and that they should surrender, but for some reason the submarine refused to turn back. Instead the vessel put speed towards Norway along with a duo of faster subs. Unfortunately for the crew, British aircraft quickly caught up with the boats and handily sunk U-534. 44 of the 59 crew members on board the sub were able to escape, with a handful of them even wriggling out via the torpedo tubes like living missiles. Most of the crew survived, but the question of why they did not surrender is still unanswered.
Theories ranging from a rogue captain to secret experimental weapons were posited as the remains of the ship rusted away at the bottom of the ocean, but no answers were forthcoming. Soon rumors began circulating that the ship was trying to smuggle Nazi treasure out of Germany before it was retaken by Allied forces, and nothing spurs on a project like the promise of gold. In 1993 the U-534 was raised to the surface to the disappointed sighs of treasure hunters who found no such booty, and the excited squeals of historians who discovered countless documents and artifacts from the war, not the least of which being the ship itself.
The boat was eventually split into sections and sent to its current location in Birkenhead where it is the centerpiece of the U-boat Story exhibit. Each section of the vessel can now be viewed and the story of the sub can be explored in depth, although none of the guests to the exhibit have been able to solve the mystery of why the sub just wouldn’t say die.