Heinrich Garbers: German naval officer and Knight's Cross recipients (1909 - 1963) | Biography, Facts, Information, Career, Wiki, Life
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Heinrich Garbers
German naval officer and Knight's Cross recipients

Heinrich Garbers

Heinrich Garbers
The basics

Quick Facts

Intro German naval officer and Knight's Cross recipients
Was Military officer Soldier Officer
From Germany
Field Military
Gender male
Birth 14 March 1909, Altona
Death 18 December 1963, Hamburg (aged 54 years)
Heinrich Garbers
The details (from wikipedia)


Heinrich Garbers (14 March 1909 – 18 December 1963) was a highly decorated Leutnant zur See of the Reserves in the Kriegsmarine and the special forces of the Abwehr "Ghost Sailors" (German: Geistersegler) during World War II. He was also a recipient of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross. The Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross was awarded to recognise extreme battlefield bravery or successful military leadership.


Heinrich Garbers, Leutnant zur See d. R. (code name "Matador"), accomplished missions during WW II carrying out orders from the intelligence services Amt Ausland/Abwehr (OKW) and, afterwards, Sicherheitsdienst-SD (SS- RSHA).

H. Garbers crossed the Atlantic Ocean at sail before the hostilities and later became part of a group of regatta winners that were selected to transport secret agents in the most unsuspicious way, it seems that following an idea of Adolf Hitler himself, to be able to assign more U-boats to war commitments. So, “phantom sailing ships” arose.

During the 1942–44 period he broke through the Atlantic for 6 times, bound for Africa and South America. This way continuing in 20th century the European navigations at sail.

At first he was appointed as a suitable Kommandant for the Kyloe by Christian Nissen (who at the end became its captain) and finally he was recruited by him as his steersman for the "Operation Weissdorn". That way he made in 1941 a first “phantom” voyage (departing from France and arriving in Villa Cisneros, Río de Oro, Spanish Sahara) which accomplished the success drop of Robbey Leibrant in South Africa, despite the troublesome behaviour of this former Boer boxing champion who´s task was to unleash a sequence of activities against the Anglo-Saxons in order to tilt the country to the axis side. For this service he deserved the Iron Cross second class (August 22, 1941; May 13, 1941).

He also received the Blockade Runner Badge (February 2, 1942).

First journey

In the summer of 1942 he received direct orders to get a suitable ship for transporting agents, finding in France´s Bretagne (Brest) the Passim, a 30 tons and 16 meter length, equipped with an emergency engine. He handpicked a crew of six, all old sailing friends of him, and on August 2, 1942, he left France for Austral Africa.

Being already under English spies' stare, he departed from Arcachon harbour, near Bordeaux, tricking seaplane Sunderland, that raid the area, by secretly getting blue painting. He left at night and ordered everyone (even the agents) to paint the yacht. The hydroplane looked for a white shipboard so the boat evaded its control (and it would do it again in the next traverses), since they also pretended to be a fishing boat and raised the Portuguese flag.

After passing real tuna vessels' curiosity and keeping away from the Allied convoy routes in the Atlantic, Garbers reached the desert-coastline of Namibia (former Deutsch-Südwestafrika that passed along Great Britain´s control in 1918) on October 5.

The two agents were disembarked (the heavily loaded dinghy capsized near the shore and they probably lost their radio equipment) facing a 300 km desert; never again anyone heard a word about them. The Passim set then sail to go 1300 kilometres to the Bay of Mossamedes to land the third agent, who was arrested and ended the war in a concentration camp.

On the return journey to France, the Passim went through a violent hurricane that lashed it for days. After a snow storm, to avoid eternizing the come-back, they asked to be towed the last stretch to the harbour in Bayonne, which was reached by the end of the year.

Having gone through 14,000 miles spending 140 days without any fare-stage or external aid, the crew had difficulties in keeping their balance over a static surface.

Second journey

After a one-month lave, convinced about sailing ship´s superiority over U-Boat regarding this kind of missions and having had the sails and hull repaired, Capitain Garbers received new commands. He had to transport and put ashore two agents, a German and a Brazilian, in Cabo Frio, Brazil.

After the departure at the beginning of 1943, 40 miles ahead the Azores they appeared at daybreak among an allied convoy coming through Gibraltar, overcoming with terror the control of one destroyer that escorted it.

The traverse to Brazil took 49 days and the agents did not know each other´s existence until they were drop off, one north, the second south, so mutual ignorance in relation to enterprises to be carried out made impossible that one´s adversity could compromise the other one. They suffered big inconveniences in doing this because they used the rubber dinghies to leave the agents, so they had to row to get back to their vessel against the waves, whose strength was unbeatable on their several attempts, even camouflaging one of the watercrafts for joining both crews to gain boost. Once again Garbers knowledge showed up when he desperately remembered a physical phenomenon that takes place shortly before sunrise and sunset which is used to purvey lighthouses. They waited all night hidden on land to avoid patrols and just at the expected time they took the dinghies and began to raw taking advantage of the calm that occurs, indeed, just in such a while. Saving future missions this way, not being discovered.

The return journey took much longer, partly because of a two-week period of calm weather they suffered as a result of following a book's advice, having to navigate without enough gas oil between Africa and the Canary Islands and not east from them as in previous occasions. After five months at sea and 11,000 miles, the Maria Luisa (Passim) reached at sail Arcachon (France) in on May without more incidents.

Third journey

Having been summoned to Berlin to receive orders, the next goal for Garbers and his craft ship was Argentina, carrying two agents, a load of medicine difficult to obtain (with whose sale to help the spies settled there) and a secret metal chest that appeared sealed without any lock, proceeding from the Reich Chancellery.

After a quiet traverse, the landing spot was Punta Mogades, south of Rio de la Plata (11-VII-44). So as to avoid an incident like the one that occurred in Brasil, they approached the coast too much, this time hitting a sandbank and narrowly managing to set the yacht free taking advantage from the waves´ strength and the tide's rise.

The agents and the load were placed ashore, they got provisions supplied from the net of spies that operated on the pro Germanic country and three more men, whose situation had become difficult, were picked up for their repatriation (when they realized there was no U-boat waiting in the Ocean they wanted to come back to the coast as they thought impossible to reach Europe sailing in such conditions). They were two secret agents and a passenger ship Windhuk crew member.

Following the coast line until finding a way out to open sea, the only incident in the return were the Morse signals from a destroyer that indicated them they were touching the “South limit” of a certain zone. Garbers ordered to veer and the warship didn't bother them.

The crew had been acquainted with the D-Day Normandy Landings which made unsafe the return to French harbours. The men refused reaching Kiel sailing round Iceland and Scotland on winter, as untamed Garbers proposed. So, following in fact the orders received by radio, the Passim approached the Spanish port of Vigo after getting ashore the agents to avoid that the Brit spies could discover their role. They dumped all traces of German documentation and military equipment overboard, rising Argentinian flag and simulating they were German citizens coming back to their country sailing on a Mar del Plata Sailing Club´s ship due to the disappearance of regular lines. This way Galicia played again a role as World War II scenery.

The commands were to come back to Germany by diplomat means, so after a battle between the German consulate (that played the masquerade) and the British one (which assured that the crew served the Kriegsmarine) the men were allowed to go to Madrid, where Garbers knew he had been awarded the Knight´s Cross of the Iron Cross.

Knight's Cross presentation

He was flown back from Madrid to Berlin in a FW 200 Kondor and "Kommandant Hilfskriegsschiff Passim und Führer von Sonderunternehmungen" received his Knight's Cross as the 271th recipient of the Kriegsmarine (1-XI-1944). SS-Obergruppenführer Ernst Kaltenbrunner presented him the award in Fürstenwalde together with the Brigadeführer Walter Schellenberg, the new Chef des Amtes Mil. (Ausland/Abwehr) im RSHA since July 1944 after the assassination attempt on Hitler by von Stauffenberg, when RSHA engrossed Admiral Canaris´ Abwehr.

Lt. Garbers was not only greeted and decorated but also promoted to SS-Obersturmführer!

End of the war

After a one-month furlough he was confided the mission of transporting more agents, this time to the mouth of the Orinoco. To achieve this, he was arranging the Prinz Adalbert pilot boat in Rendsburg, but a telegram cancelled such an order and Admiralty commended him supplying the besieged Dunkerke from Hoek Van Holland using a peniche that he set up in Amsterdam. This command was voided as well due to its impossibility.

When captured in May 1945, Heinrich Garbers was interrogated by the MI16, who wanted to know which U-boat Garbers had used on his different secret journeys transporting and landing secret agents. When he told that he had been the captain of a sailing yacht, they didn't believe him as they judged impossible that a 30-ton could have tricked Allied controls sailing in addition 6 months without any stopover.

After enduring captivity and interrogatories in Great Britain, Heinrich Garbers was released and he returned to Hamburg, RFA.

This is a little story of H. Garbers who had as main naval education navigating itself. He crossed the ocean due to his mariner nature more than as a result of his affinity to National Socialism. He never served directly in the German Navy. Nevertheless, he became Sonderführer (Z) / Leutnant zur See due to the seamanship skills and cold calculating it took to avoid allied vessels (and aircraft) on extremely long sailing journeys up and down the Atlantic Ocean in war years, landing on hostile shores.

His special missions took 545 days at sea and he sailed 53,415 nautical / sea miles (68,288.5 kilometres) making him Kriegsmarine´s Kommendant with the longest period at sea of WW II.

Awards and decorations

  • Iron Cross (1939)
    • 2nd Class (1941)
    • 1st Class (12 January 1943)
  • Blockade Runner Badge (2 February 1942).
  • German Cross in Gold (9 November 1943)
  • Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross (1 November 1944) as Leutnant zur See of the Reserves and commander of Hilfskriegsschiff "Passim" and leader of special assignments
  • Fellgiebel 2000, p. 159.

The contents of this page are sourced from Wikipedia article. The contents are available under the CC BY-SA 4.0 license.
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