RAF hero, 95, reveals how he sunk a Nazi U-Boat 75 years ago – before becoming FRIENDS with its German commander five decades on
- Flight Lieutenant Des Curtis was a navigator in a Mosquito during World War II
- He attacked a submarine while evading anti-aircraft fire from minesweepers
- 50 years later, he became friends with its commander who lived in Germany
- Kommandant Raimond Teisler described him as ‘the brother he never had’
An RAF hero has revealed how he became close friends with the commander of a German U-Boat he sunk 75-years-ago.
Flight Lieutenant Des Curtis took part in the daring attack when he was just 20-years-old and had been the navigator in a Mosquito armed with a six-pounder gun.
The attack on U-976, south west of St Nazaire on the Atlantic coast of France on March 25, 1944, took out the submarine while evading anti-aircraft fire from minesweepers and shelling from the shore batteries.
Despite this, Flt Lt Curtis has been described by his German foe Kommandant Raimond Teisler as ‘the younger brother he never had’.
Flight Lieutenant Des Curtis (left) became pen pals with Raimond Teisler (pictured right), 50 years after the attack on the submarine
Tse-tse’ were mounted with a massive 57mm anti tank gun to take on the U-Boats
The image above shows the wreckage of the U-976 in the bay of Biscay, south of the Celtic Sea
The two struck up an unlikely relationship 50 years after the attack, when Flt Lt Curtis became pen pals with the U-976’s commander.
Motivated by curiosity, Flt Lt Curtis wrote to a U-Boat archivist in Germany to ask if he could provide any information about the crew of the U-976.
The archivist replied that he was in fact a friend of the commander who was still alive and he would be willing to pass on a letter to him.
They eventually met up in Germany, with Raimond also visiting Flt Lt Curtis in England before his death five years ago.
Flt Lt Curtis, 95, who lives in Bournemouth, Dorset, flew in a staggering 70 sorties with his trusted pilot Doug Turner during the war, earning a Distinguished Flying Cross for his ‘exceptional’ navigation skills.
Four of the U-Boat’s 53 man crew were killed in the attack which was later immortalised on the front page of the boy’s own adventure magazine ‘Victor’.
He is believed to be the last surviving member of 618 Squadron, who were closely linked to the legendary 617 ‘Dambusters’ Squadron.
Reliving the raid, he said: ‘Flying Mosquitos, our task was to seek out German U-boats as they entered or left their heavily protected bases on the French Atlantic coast.
‘We were given precise times and locations of U-boats from intercepted German naval signals.
‘The manoeuvrability and speed of the Mosquito gave us a sporting chance of success measured against the heavier, slower aircraft that were searching the deeper waters.’
A Mosquito in its D-Day markings (pictured above) similar to what Flight Lieutenant Des Curtis would have been navigating
He said the team set off at the precise time of 9.05am, as there had been a window of 30-40 minutes where they knew the U-Boat would not be fully submerged in water.
‘Approaching the target we flew at only 40ft above the sea to avoid detection from the German radar then climbed up to 1,500ft before the message went out ‘tally ho, target ahead’.
‘Then we dove down to 300ft and the gun allowed us five shots at the U-Boat which had seen us and was starting to weave.
‘We didn’t aim for the submarine itself, we aimed for the sea just near to the ballast tank, so when the shell hit the water it would change direction into the surface of the vessel.’
Flt Lt Curtis (pictured above) said he had been pleased to have taken the submarine out of action at the time
Flt Lt Curtis told of how the aircraft was able to silence the U-Boat guns, but that the flanking minesweepers were still firing at them as they had been in view of land and shore.
‘It was a very dangerous place to be so we sped away, avoiding their fire and we made it safely back to our base.
‘It was only later that we learned we had sunk the U-976, which we were told went down in 20 minutes.
‘Sadly, they lost four men but we were pleased to have taken the submarine out of action.’
The aircraft was able to silence the U-Boat guns, but that the flanking minesweepers were still firing at them as they had been in view of land and shore
For a whole month, FLt Lt Curtis said he didn’t know what to write to the commander, as he did not want to come across as disrespectful to the man whose submarine he sunk.
Des Curtis in 1944 as a young commander in his official RAF uniform
He said: ‘I asked myself, how do you write a letter to a chap and say years ago I tried to kill you?
‘It took me a month to write it, but I eventually got a reply saying he would like to meet me when he had recovered from hip surgery.
‘We arranged for my wife and I to come over to Germany and we met for the first time in his home in Herdecke.
‘It was very emotional. Our wives kept their distance because they didn’t know how we’d reconcile our differences.’
He said that he walked into his garden and said ‘I’m looking for Herr Raimond Teisler, before a voice called back to him saying: ‘I’m Here’.
‘He stood up, walked over to me and without saying a word we hugged. We then stood apart and he said in very good English ‘I like what I see’.
‘That was the start of a very close friendship. The next day he took us to the Mohne Dam which flooded his village when it burst after the 617 Squadron raid.
‘Yet he felt no resentment towards me for that or the U-Boat. We knew we were two soldiers on different sides with a job to do.’
He said he had been happy to take his U-Boat out of service, but was ‘glad he survived’.
Commandant Raimond Teisler (centre) during the war, he can be seen wearing binoculars around his neck
‘He once told me ‘why did I have to wait so long to find a younger brother?’ It just shows you the futility of war.’
The son of a soldier, Flt Lt Curtis was born in Caterham, Surrey, in 1923. He worked as a bank clerk before enlisting in the RAF as an 18 year old in 1941.
After undertaking navigator training in Canada, he was posted to 235 Squadron, flying 11 sorties to the Norwegian coast to do reconnaissance work and escort torpedo bombers attacking shipping convoys.
Subsequently, he was selected for the newly formed 618 Squadron, training alongside the ‘Dambusters’ at RAF Skitten in north Scotland.
His DFC citation reads: ‘Flt Lt Curtis has taken part in many sorties where an exceptionally high standard of accurate navigation has been required and he has invariably located his objective, frequently in the face of very bad weather and darkness over the first two hours of many sorties.’
Following the war, Flt Lt Curtis trained as an accountant and worked in the petroleum industry, also getting involved in fundraising for the armed forced charity SAAFA.
He is a widower and has two children, Peter and Shiela, and two grandchildren, Laura and Ben.
He said: ‘As far as I’m aware I’m the last living member of 618 Squadron.
‘I still have vivid memories of the war. There is sadness at the friends who were killed and the fact you become hardened to loss, but also a great sense of achievement at having done my bit for my country.
‘When you were about to take off for a mission, I defy anyone to have not felt a sense of fear, but you had to hide it.
‘I knew we were flying over open water and if we went down our bodies would probably never be recovered.
‘I was one of the lucky ones because I survived – and I’m somehow still here today!’
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