28 July 2011 by Chris Marais

Calling all U-Boat Shoppers!

Of course I’ve heard of the infamous U-Boats that used to stop off in old Mozambique during World War II. Their exploits at the Polana Hotel on the hill were legendary.

But I only recently found out at during the war, German U-boats were thick and fast along the South African coastline as well.

Down in the southern Cape, I picked up a story about German submariners who parked their U-Boats offshore and made their way up the Breede River in rubber dinghies.

Presumably dressed as tourists in bright floral shirts and plus-fours, they would go shopping for essentials like beer and chocolate in the village of Port Beaufort.

Much of South Africa was divided as to whom to support in the war, so there were shop owners who didn’t mind a bit of German commerce occasionally. And, by all accounts, the submariners paid quite well.

I read this in an old document I found in a local guest house:

“Pypie, a local shepherd, witnessed a German U-Boat sending men ashore and was sworn to silence. Terrified that his family would be killed, he kept the secret for at least 30 years.”

These lovely shopping sprees came to an end when the Smuts (pro-Allies) government heard the rumours and sent in government agents, also dressed as tourists. The records end here, but one’s imagination plunders forth. Was there a love interest? Did this mean a double-boom for shopkeepers? Were any unterzeeboot fellows captured?

But perhaps the most poignant legend about these unscheduled visits from the U-Boats comes in the form of a German officer, whose body was discovered nearby, washed up on the beach. He had two unused tickets to a play at Cape Town’s Alhambra Theatre. It seems he missed the show…

Category: Culture & History

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