In the waters of the Java Sea off Indonesia, World War II left traces, some of which have now been found. Fishermen discovered the remains of a German submarine, Nazi insignia, and the bones of 17 soldiers. Perhaps the grave of the U-168.

History of the wreck

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On August 15,194o the U-168 was ordered by the German Kriegsmarine from the Seebeck shipyard in Geestemünde . The keel was laid at  Deutsche Schiff- und Maschinenbau AG in Bremen on 15 March 1941 for the 76.76-meter-long and 6.86-meter-wide submarine with a draft of 4.67 meters. After launching on 05 March 1942, the submarine was equipped with two 2200hp MAN diesel engines, 2 550hp SSM electric motors, and 6 torpedo tubes. At its commissioning on 10.09.1942, KptLT. Helmuth Pich took command of the new submarine and its crew.

From Sept. 10, 1942, to Feb. 28, 1943, the submarine and its crew belonged to the 4th U-flotilla in Szczecin as a training boat.

From 01 March 1943 to 30 September 1944, the submarine belonged to the second U-flotilla in Lorient as a frontline boat.
His first enemy voyage began with

the U-168 on 09.03.1943 at 08:30h in Kiel. The operational area was the Baltic Sea, North Sea, North Atlantic, Gönland, and Iceland. During this time the U-168 participated successively in the submarine groups Löwenherz, Lerche, Specht, and Fink. During this time the U-168 was refueled by the submarine supply boat U-487 on 18.04.1943 and was again supplied by the supply boat U-459 in the North Atlantic on 06.05.1943 before the boat arrived in Lorient on 18.05.1943 at 15:00h  before the return march. During the first enemy voyage, the U-168 failed to sink or damage any ships but was attacked by aircraft on 08 April 1943 and 15 May 1943, but without being hit or damaged.

From 01 March 1943 to 30 September 1943, the boat belonged to the 2nd U-flotilla in Lorient as a front-line boat.

From 01.10.1943 until its sinking, the boat belonged to the 33rd U-flotilla in Flensburg and was a part of the submarine group Monsun.

The boat began the second enemy journey on 03.07.1943 at 21:00h  by leaving Lorient in France. The boat’s route took it through the Bay of Biscay, the North Atlantic, and into the Mid-Atlantic, where it was supplied with 35m³ of fuel by the supply boat U-155 on 22.07.1943. Its march took it past South Africa with the Cape of Good Hope and was supplied with fuel and provisions by the supply ship “Brake” in the Indian Ocean on 12.09.1943. On 01.10.1943 the U-168 sank three simple regional cargo sailing ships, called Dhau, by artillery fire and ramming on the way to Bombay. The British steamer “Hatching” was 2,183 gross tons from Calcutta to Karachi and was sunk by the U-168 180 nautical miles west-southwest of Bombay present-day Mumbai on 02.10.1943 by a torpedo. The “Hatching” sank in the tide with 12 dead and 58 survivors. Another three dhows were reported sunk by the boat on the same day by artillery and ramming. On 11 November 1943, the U-168 and its crew entered Penang, ending the second enemy campaign.
The third enemy campaign was very short. On 28. January 1944 the boat left the harbor of Penang, but on 01.02.1944 it had to break off its hostile voyage because the 1st officer of the watch had fallen ill. Thus the third enemy cruise ended on 03.02.1944 again in Penang without any fine contact.
The fourth enemy cruise led the U-168 on 07.February 1944 from Penang into the Indian Ocean. First contact with other ships took place on 14.02.1944 with the British workshop ship “Salviking” (1,440 BRT). The “Salviking” was sunk with two torpedo hits on the way between Colombo and the Addu Atoll / Maldives. There were 28 survivors and 27 dead. On February 15, 1944, the U-168 encountered the Greek steamer “Epaminondas C. Embiricos” of 4,385 gross tons at the southern end of the Maldives. The boat also sank this steamer with two torpedoes. In the process 4 sailors were killed, and 42 sailors could save themselves. On 21 February 1943, the U-168 damaged the Norwegian tanker “Fenris”  (9,804 GRT) on its voyage from Port Pirie to Abadan with a torpedo. However, the ship was able to continue its voyage. Whether there were any casualties or deaths is unknown. Continuing on patrol in the Indian Ocean, the submarine took on fuel from the supply ship “Brake” on 12.03.1944. The planned second meeting with the “Brake” took place a few hours later in an unexpected form: the “Brake” had been sunk in the meantime by the British destroyer “HMS Roebuck”. Instead of taking on provisions, the U-168 now took on the crew of the “Brake” and ended her 4th enemy voyage by entering Djarkarta on 24.03.1944.
The transfer voyage began on 05.10.1944 from Djarkarta to Surabaja, where the boat was to be prepared for the next enemy voyage off the Australian coast. Unfortunately for KptLt. Pich and his crew, the boat was sighted by the Dutch submarine  Zwaardvisch at a distance of 850m. Corvette Captain H.A.W. Goosens on the Dutch submarine was abeam in perfect firing position and fired six torpedoes at 95° to the target’s course line, 3 of which hit, but only one torpedo exploded. The U-168 sank over the bow onto a wet grave at a depth of 35m. On the U-168 23 soldiers died, and 27 managed to save themselves to the surface with and without diving rescuers. This included Commander Pich, the staff surgeon, the 1st watch officer, and LI. These four German soldiers were picked up along with an injured sailor. The remaining survivors of the U-168 were spotted by a cruising fishing trawler but left to their fate. They swam ashore on the island of Java.

Following indications from fishermen,  an expedition was conducted from 04/11 – 17/11/2013 on behalf of the National Archeology Center, the Yogyakarta Archeology Center with local dive centers about 100km away from Karimunjawa Island. A submarine, which can be suspected to be the U-168, was found. The archeological team found evidence in the form of Nazi insignia, tableware, and other items that were on board the wreck. Seventeen mortal remains were also discovered. It is not excluded that there are more inside the wreck. The condition of the wreck is about 40% preserved.

Diving into the wreck

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U-168, if it is, is a war grave and strictly speaking the property of the Federal Republic of Germany. As with all other war graves, diving is absolutely prohibited.

Recommendation: open

Sources and links about the wreck

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Wreck type:Submarine IX C 40Year built:1942
min. Dive depth:30 mLoss date:06.10.1944 at 01:30h
max. dive depth:35 mLoss reason:Torpedo from HrMs Zwaardvisch
(Dutch submarine)
GPS data:06.20′ S
111. 28′ E
Site Country:Indonesia
Condition of Wreck:40% preservedSite Region:North Java Island off Samarang
Dive Site: Personally dived? No