The Golfo Nuevo Submarine Mysteries, 1958 and 1960

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    Geoffrey Brooks


    Golfo Nuevo is an almost enclosed body of water within the Valdez Peninsula at 43ºS. It is a roundish bay no more than 35 miles. and no less than 25 miles. in diameter at any point, and from coastal shallows it shelves deeply to 515 feet at its centre. The entrace faces south-east and is nine miles wide. The surface waters of the gulf are relatively calm. Whales are present during the breeding season from September to December.

    The town and naval base of Puerto Madryn, which lacks any facilituies for submarines, is located well inshore on the southern side. For the most part the coast has a dune landscape, the soil being layers of bivalve and crustacean fossils, volvanic ash and a clayish sand with gravel. The single paved road into Valdez Peninsula ends at Punta Pirámide on the northern coast, there is only scanty population and few ranches.

    One or two submarines of unknown flag intruded into the sovereign Argentine territory of Golfo Nuevo in the years 1958 and 1960. After having proved their apparent invulnerability, they left of their own accord after a stay of about three weeks. It was so difficult to account for these intrusions that initially the reports of the occurrence were laughed to scorn, then were classified as UFOs, or as a show by the Argentine Navy to obtain naval budget increases.

    The matter has still not been satisfactorily explained to date. I would like to present the known facts in as brief a manner as possible showing the aspects of it which appeared to me odd, and of course I shall be happy to receive input. I open by quoting my sources which, apart from newspaper quotes of the time, are these two books:

    (Book 1) Cosentino, Capt.Benjamin O. (Arg Navy, ret’d) Testimonios de Tiempos Difíciles 1955-1979, Ed. Dunken, Buenos Aires, 2011, Chapter 3, p.47-106.

    At the time of the major 1960 intrusion, Captain Cosentino was anti-submarine warfare adviser to the Officer in Tactical Command, Commander Sea Fleet, Destroyer Force, flagship frigate Hércules. At the completion of the operation he was seconded to the School of Naval Warfare to write the final report for forwarding to the Naval General Staff. Cosentino was under no illusions about the Argentine Navy’s abilities with regard to anti-submarine warfare, having been seconded to Great Britain a period to study Royal Navy methods, which he estimated as twenty years ahead of Argentina.

    Mr Cosentino granted me an interview at the Naval Club, Buenos Aires at Easter 2013. I am the author of one book in collaboration with a U-boat NCO, and the translator of several books written by U-boat men, and armed with that knowledge I had certain problems with explanations he made in his own book. All the pertinent questions I put to him were carefully side-stepped. This increased my feelings that the Argentine Navy knows more about these intruder submarines than they have ever been prepared to let on.

    (Book 2) Schwarz, Capt. Jorge F. (Arg Navy ret’d): Operación Golfo Nuevo – una ficción inspirada en hechos reales, Instituto de Publicaciones Navales, Buenos Aires, 2002.

    At the time of the 1960 intrusion, Captain Schwarz, a former commander of the State Yacht and other surface warships, was attached to the Naval General Secretariat which allowed him the opportunity to gather the basic material necessary to reconstruct events and interview naval and air force crews. His fictional account based on the true events finishes at 14 February 1960 before the introduction of advanced weaponry by the United States “for reasons of secrecy and national security”. Although his fictional account uses a hypothetical Soviet submarine as the 1960 intruder, Schwarz states that the identity of its flag or operators remains a mystery.

    I refer to this book because some of the events confirm statements made by Cosentino as to the operating methods of the hunter force and the intruder submarines.

    Geoffrey Brooks


    During a Press conference at Government House on 23 May 1958, Argentine Frondizi made the following surprise announcement:

    “On Wednesday 21 May 1958 a squadron of our destroyers carrying out a routine exrecise north-west of Cracker Point just inside Golfo Nuevo detected by their hydrophones a submerged submarine. It is assumed that this submarine is capable of high speed underwater. As is the practice in these cases, being in waters of our national jurisdiction, the destroyers carried out four depth charge patterns. After the attacks, patches of oil were found floating at the surface, which often happens when a submarine suffers damage. Later our Navy carried out successive searches until the evening of 22 May, but these had no result. It is therefore assumed that the submarine though damaged has eluded its pursuers, or has been sunk.”

    The exercise was being performed by three cruisers, four destroyers, a workshop ship, an oceanographic survey ship, and a tug supported by three Catalina aircraft, five bombers, a DC-4 and twelve Corsairs.

    According to the official report on the website, the submarine was detected by sonar aboard the destroyer Buenos Aires at 1035 hrs, and the first depth charges were dropped at 1051 hrs. At 1803 hrs the same destroyer saw a persicope, copper in colour, and “possibly a snorkel” at 220 metres. A radar contact was reported at 1822 hrs at 2400 metres. At 1015 hrs the following morning the destroyers Misiones and Santa Cruz, and five aircraft attacked a contact withour result.

    Late the following week, Navy Secretary Rear=Admiral Clement stated that the Navy was continuing its search operationm in Golfo Nuevo in accordance with a plan drawn up for such emergencies, and with the same intensity as in the opening days of the hunt.

    Military sources quoted by the Press stated that the submarine had a speed submerged of between eight and twelve knots, and despite the numerous reports identifying it as one of a type used by Germnany in the Second World War, “the impression amongst naval chiefs is that these submarines are very much more modern.” The use of the plural “these submarines” when supposedly only one was present in Golfo Nuevo arouses suspicion that the Argentine Navy knew more about “these submarines” than it pretended. Furthermore, no photograph of any of “these submarines” has ever been published from either the 1958 nor the 1960 intrusions. From this one infers that the last thing the Argentine Navy wished to do was identify the type of submarine, and possibly its operator.

    By 10 June 1958, nearly three weeks after the operation commenced, the special correspondents sent to Puerto Madryn had reported that the intruder submarine was thought to have escaped through the blockade at the entrance to Golfo Nuevo on 7 June. The only factor of which the Argentine Navy was sure was that “the intruder submarine had a much higher speed at the end than during the previous seventeen days of its imprisonment inside the Gulf.”

    Geoffrey Brooks


    At 0910 hrs on 30 January 1960 in Golfo Nuevo, the corvettes Murature and King were engaged in routine cadet training exercises under the supervision of the destroyer Cervantes when a submerged submarine was detected. Having received no reply to their challenge, a chase ensued in which the submarine showed its superior speed and manouevrability submerged. The pursuiit was abandoned once the submarine left Argentine territorial waters.

    That same evening near Puerto Madryn inside Golfo Nuevo a fresh contact was made. Because this submarine seemed noisier and slower than the first (10 knots as opposed to 17) it was thought to be a second intruder.

    Over the 36 hours from the first contact until 2150 hrs on 31 January, only forty sonar bleeps or hydrophone contacts were recorded. “The basic element required to plot the course of the submarine automatically was always absent” (Cosentino, p.59). Naval aircraft dropped a number of random depth charges and bombs along the coastal shallows.

    The “hunt” and “hue and cry” for these submarines involved huge numbers of warships and aircraft patrolling and searching night and day over the next three weeks, and after 15 February using advanced US Navy anti-submarine weaponry. The mysterious fact emerges, however, that the corvettes Murature and King were the only naval vessels to make contact and attack an intruder submarine, and always close inshore within sight of the meseta.

    They are sister ships (I have seem them both at the Buenos Aires naval arsenal this year 2015) still in service for training purposes. They were designed and built in 1944 as minesweepers but later converted for anti-submarine work. Details in 1960:

    Builder: Rio Santiago Naval Shipyard, BsAs province, Argentina.
    Dimensions: 76.8 x 8.84 x 4.17 metres
    Armament: 3 x 105 mm, 2 x 40 mm guns
    Anti-submarine armament: 4 x depth charge mortars, 2 ramps on poop for 2 charges each, SQSA sonar, and hydrophone installation.
    Machinery: 2 x Werkspoor diesels, 2-shaft, top speed 15 knots.
    Crew: 130

    On 2 February 1960 the national daily La Nación reported “The Navy has sent a number of units in search of a submerged object detected last Saturday in waters of Argentina jurisdiction” and the following day Navy Secretary Clement confirmed, as before in 1958, “there are two boats present in Golfo Nuevo, we know this because this type of boat usually operates in pairs.”

    Geoffrey Brooks


    The first five encounters are remarkable for what was not fully explained.

    On 14 February 1960, the newspaper La Razón published a leading article under the heading Destruction of Enemy Submarines in Golfo Nuevo Imminent. The previous evening Navy Secretary Admiral Gaston Clement had made a statement that the two submarines present were “fitted with very advanced equipment. For example, when submarines of this type suspect that they are being tracked by radar, they use a special ray to destroy the precision of the instrumentation.”

    What he did not add was that they tended to appear to the eye suddenly: one moment the sea would be empty, and the next at 100 yards distance there would be a large submarine fully surfaced.

    No photograph of the intruder submarines, either from 1958 or 1960, has ever been published, or is known of. From this one assumes that the “special ray”, whatever it was, caused all and any photograph to turn out blurred or fuzzy and unusable. Learning from the previous 1958 experience, in 1960 the Argentine Navy issued sketch pads to the crews of the corvettes Murature and King. These sketches constitute the pictorial record of the encounters. The submarine(s) never responded with hostility to any attack.

    First sighting.
    4 February 2145 hrs. Punta Ambrosetti. Murature, positioned 3000 metres offshore.
    Submarine suddenly seen submerging 1000 metres off the point, depth 20 metres, facing setting sun. Officers reported that the upper part of the sail and a projection at the poop were of a “coppery colour” similar to that seen on the same kind of submarine at 1803 hrs on 21 May 1958.

    Second sighting
    5 February 0101 hrs (3 hrs 16 minutes later). Punta Loma. King.
    Submarine seen surfacing between ship and shore facing east. Opened fire with 40 mm cannon, no hits observed.

    Third sighting
    7 February 0326 hrs. Punta Conscriptos. King.
    Submarine suddenly seen between ship and shore. Opened fire 40 mm cannon. Various hits on sail “like shells exploding” but no damage seen, some “rebounds” and “misses long and short”

    Fourth sighting
    7 February 2137 hrs. Punta Ambrosetti/Loma. Murature.
    Against full moon, excellent visibility, sea state 1. Corvette adrift 100 metres offshore saw periscope or radar aerial 100 metres distant, instrument turning, submerged submarine apparently on a “course to ram”. Murature left scene.

    Fifth sighting
    11 February 1960 0807 hrs. Punta Ambrosetti. Murature.
    Submarine suddenly appeared surfaced. Engaged with 40 mm cannon. No hits reported. Sketches show projection which might be periscope or radar aerial, affixed to it was a parabolic-like aerial.

    On 13 Febraury La Nación quoted military sources as satying that the intruder submarine had the profile of a Type XXI German U-boat. The Spanish journal Las Provincias published a cable from its correspondent William Horsey mentioning that the submarine had been seen on the surface several times, never photographed but identified positively as a Type XXI U-boat.

    The same day Argentina received modern depth charges, flares, sonar buoys, homing torpedoes and other advanced equipment and weaponry from the Unites States. The depth charges had a “terrific destructive effect down to 200 metres” which was deeper than any point in Golfo Nuevo. The P2V aircraft would each carry two homing torpedoes below the wings and be equipped with MAD search equipment (which looks for changes in vertical magnetic component of waters produced by presence of a metal submergible).

    On 14 February as reported by the newspaper La Prensa two days later, the Argentine Foreign Ministry sent a Note to all nations known to operate submarines asking that “if the submarine of unknown flag in waters of our national jurisdiction at Golfo Nuevo is a submarine of your State”, would the naval attaché be so kind as to “ask your Government to issue instructions to the submarine in question to identify itself to the naval authority of the zone”, since the Argentine Government now considered itself “legitimately authorized to take those steps necessary to uphold the law with respect to the territorial sovereignty of the Republic.” There were no replies except from the Soviet naval attaché Kourin, and Soviet Vice-President Mikoyan, both denyinmg that the submarine was Russian, and they made no diplomatic moves subsequently over the next few days to allow the boat to go free, Mikoyan adding that despite all the weaponry becoming available, all they would kill was a large quantity of fish.

    The scene was now set for the final two extraordinary sightings.

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