U-boat rendezvous 1915, Great Orme

Link to French translationU-boat rendezvous 1915, Great Orme

Close to this point, on three consecutive nights in August 1915, a submarine waited to collect three German prisoners of war who had escaped from a camp for German officers in an old mansion in Llansannan, near Abergele. 

On the evening of 13 August 1915, Lieut-Comm Hermann Tholens, Capt Heinrich von Hennig and Capt Hans von Heldorf forced their way through the barred windows of the 18th-century mansion and walked the 32km (20 miles) to Llandudno. Confident they wouldn’t be missed until the camp’s morning roll call, they enjoyed a meal in a café before hiding for the day on the Great Orme.

At dusk, they left their hideout and tried to scramble down the cliffs below the Great Orme lighthouse. In the waters below, a submarine moved towards them, waiting for a signal which never came as the officers failed to find their way down to the beach.  All was not lost for the three, however, as the plan was for the U-boat to rendezvous at the same position for three consecutive nights.

The following night the three made it to the foot of the cliffs but failed to make contact with the submarine and assumed, wrongly, that it was not coming. It was just a few hundred yards away, but their view of each other was blocked by a limestone buttress.

Dejected, cold and hungry, the Germans decided to walk into Llandudno, split up, and try to take a train to London. Tholens was arrested by a local policeman as he left a café in Mostyn Street after drinking a cup of coffee. That evening, von Hennig and von Heldorf flagged down a taxi near the pier and asked to be taken “to the colonel”. The driver took them to the headquarters of the London Welsh battalion billeted in Llandudno during the war.

The following day all three were returned to the camp in Llansannan by a London Welsh ambulance. Each served three months in Chelmsford jail for the attempted escape.

With thanks to Adrian Hughes, of the Home Front museum

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