The bombing of the Duff House Prisoner of War camp on 22nd July 1940 is well known – there are other stories on this website and a book by the Friends of Duff House, “Out of the Blue”; not least the joint British and German memorial outside Duff House close to where one of the bombs exploded.

There are however several so far unexplained mysteries around the whole matter of PoW Camp No5; ie Duff House.

Why were there so many regiments represented at Duff House in July 1940.  We know – mainly from the hospital records – that men from at least 8 regiments were stationed here. 

Secondly, although the British did a monthly report called “General Return of the Strength of the British Army”, Duff House is not listed as having any soldiers in July 1940  – although clearly there were!

Thirdly, is this tied in with why there is no MoD file on PoW Camp No5 ?  There is a file on 4 and 6, but no 5 – or at least not until 1944 when PoW Camp 5 was opened at Cookstown in Northern Ireland.  Yet there is a 1940 War Office letter referring to Duff House and PoW Camp No5, so there Is firm evidence!

Fourthly, what was the reason that the prisoners were housed inside Duff House itself, and the guards were in the Nissen huts to the east?  We know for sure the prisoners were inside, we even know which rooms some of them had, based on their own later correspondence.

But the biggest mystery of all might be just why was the whole crew, except the captain, of the U-26, were transported all the way from southern Ireland to the north of Scotland.  An admission from the submarine radio operator, to a Canadian radio station, a couple of years before he died in 2013 might provide a clue.  Previous reports had always implied that the Germans had sunk the submarine before the British, from HMS Rochester, had been able to get on board, even though every single German crew member was rescued.  But Paul Mengelberg amended this in his radio interview, and admitted that the British did board the submarine.

Black and white photo of a WW2 sloop
HMS Rochester

There is no evidence but one possible reason this had not become known earlier, and perhaps explaining why 40 Germans had been transported hundreds of miles to Banff, has to do with the code that the Germans were using, and the British were trying to break – the Enigma machine.  The official records show that the British were not able to read the german messages until at least March 1941.  But did they actually get their hands on an enigma machine in July 1940 – and needed to keep that quiet so the Germans would not know they were reading messages? 

It seems unlikely we’ll ever know, but it is intriguing that Duff House may have been part of such an important element in the war.

Greyscale image of U-boat, taken from starboard bow

It’s 30th June 1940.  Captain Heinz Scheringer had taken his vessel out to the southwest of Ireland, looking for cargo vessels to torpedo.  It had been quite a successful patrol – they had sunk three allied ships already.  That evening they sighted a convoy, and overtook it to set up a night attack.

At 01.18 on 1st July the U-26 fired a torpedo at, and hit, the Zarian; one of the ships in the convoy.

What Captain Scheringer hadn’t known was that he had been sighted the evening before, and HMS Gladiolus, the escort corvette, was already on full alert.  Just ten minutes later and the Gladiolus was dropping depth charges based on an Asdic contact – the U-26 at 80 metres depth.  The U-boat was badly damaged; one of the aft ballast tanks flooded uncontrollably and she sunk by the stern to 230m (it’s maximum rated depth was just 200m!).  6 hours later she was forced to the surface – but it was dark and luck was temporarily with the U-boat as she managed to avoid notice from the corvette.

At 08.15 a Royal Australian Air Force flying boat spotted the U-26 and forced it back to the surface by dropping some bombs.  HMS Rochester had joined the search and was quickly on the scene.  The U-26 was now out of luck; with his boat too damaged to dive Captain Scheringer ordered the crew into rafts, and scuttled his submarine.  All 48 of the crew on board were picked up by HMS Rochester and taken prisoner.

The official report is that the U-boat Chief Engineer was the last to leave as it sank by the stern.  However decades later one of the crew admitted that the British had boarded the submarine – creating speculation as to whether an Enigma machine had been obtained by the British several months before the official records of March 1941 !

And the link to Banff and Macduff ?   Well, except for the Captain, all 47 crew were sent by train to Banff Bridge Station, and marched across the river to Prisoner of War Camp Number 5 – Duff House.

“Our accommodation at Banff Scotland turned out to be to a small castle type building that had been converted into a POW camp.  There was one big wire fence.  I would say it was eight feet high.  Everything was so green: grass, pastures and so on.  A wonderful location.  There was nothing at all for us to there.  Our days consisted of a roll call in the morning followed by mutton for breakfast, lunch and supper (with lots of tea but hardly any bread) and a roll call in the evening.” 

Words by Karl Mengelberg, Electrician, U-26.

The tranquility of POW Camp No5 however only lasted another couple of weeks – when it was bombed on 22nd July 1940.   Hence the Memorial at Duff House sited close to where one of the bombs landed.

A book – “Out of the Blue” – with all known facts and photos about the bombing is available at Duff House, Banff Tourist Hub and on Ebay.