Digest>Archives> April 2004

Rendezvous at the Maisonnette Point Lighthouse

By Rodney J. Martin


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U-Boat photo courtesy of Rodney J. Martin

A lone figure stood looking out onto Chaleur Bay, searching for the U-boat that had been sent to pick him up. Four days earlier Wolfgang Heyda, a German POW, had made a daring escape via electric wires that ran above the barbed wire fenced that encircled the Bowmanville, Ontario POW camp.

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Kapitanleutnant Wolfgang Heyda. Photo taken at ...

After his escape, he calmly walked into the Bowmanville train station and ordered a ticket to Montreal. In Montreal, he then caught another train to Bathurst. At Grande-Anse, he was stopped and questioned by a Canadian Army cordon. His identity and transit papers were checked. His papers were in order, and an officer at the cordon told him not to walk on the beach late in the evening. Smiling, Heyda said goodbye to the patrol.

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Former keeper, Jean Godin was called back to ...

Heyda hid in a shed, a mere 200 meters from the Maisonnette Point Lighthouse. It became dusk, and, as soon as it was dark enough, Heyda twice gave the prearranged signal with the blue-light from his signal lamp. No U-boat appeared, and no signal from Chaleur Bay was seen. Heyda thought to himself, “Had not the U-boat been sent?”

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Maisonnette Light, built in 1915 was hit by ...

A plan had been conceived for four submariners to be picked up by a U-boat on Maisonnette Point in New Brunswick on the Chaleur Bay. During submarine training, the officers had to memorize the Ireland Code. Thus buried in POW letters, a coded message was sent to Germany requesting that a U-boat be sent to Maisonnette Point in late September or early October of 1943. The escape plan became known as Operation Kiebitz.

Kapitänleutnant Rolf Schauenburg, commander of U-536, had orders to arrive in Chaleur Bay and pick up four escaped prisoners including the top U-boat ace of WWII, Otto Kretschmer. Schauenburg waited in the middle of the bay for two and a half days. Conveniently, the cone of light from the Maisonnette Point Lighthouse was quite visible. U-536 surfaced to ventilate the boat and cruised along the coast using its electric motors. It was a perfect night, with good visibility. The moon was very bright in the clear, starry sky. All seemed quiet, and Schauenburg did not suspect anything.

The Germans did not know that the Allied intelligence agency had broken the Ireland Code. The Allies had allowed a substantial amount of low-level intelligence to reach Germany in the hope that something big would eventually happen. It did and the welcoming party for U-536 was massive.

Lieutenant Commander Desmond Piers (Admiral retired) of the Canadian Navy who was in charge of the operation had arranged for a shore party to be waiting at Maisonnette Point to capture the escaped prisoner and for some “ships nearby around the corner and a few miles away.” The taskforce was massive. Ten warships sealed off the bay.

At the lighthouse, Piers received a phone call from sentries posted on the beach that they were detaining a man who claimed to be a tourist. Piers said, “Bring him to me and be sure to guard him well.”

Piers had been informed that one prisoner had escaped from Bowmanville. When Heyda arrived at the lighthouse, Piers patiently listened to Heyda’s story that he was a tourist whose vacation had been disrupted.

Heyda showed Piers a letter indicating that he had been discharged from the Canadian Army Corps of Engineers. Heyda also produced a letter from the chief of staff of the navy, Admiral Percy. Piers was familiar with Percy’s signature and noted that the Germans had not matched the admiral’s oversize signature.

Heyda said that they had taken him to the upper room of the lighthouse where a naval officer greeted him like a long lost friend. “There you are, Lieutenant Commander Heyda, welcome to Maisonnette Point... We even re-lighted this lighthouse as in good old peace time so that your comrade-commander would find his way.”

Jean Godin, the former lighthouse keeper, who was on active duty with the Le Régiment de la Chaudière, had been transferred to Maisonnette Point to run the lighthouse for the operation.

Schauenburg scanned the dark beach with his binoculars, looking for a signal light, and continued up the coast. He carefully avoided the beam of light that came from the Maisonnette Point Lighthouse. Suddenly, a radio signal was heard, and from below, “Captain, a call for us! A call!” A radio signal, “Komm, komm!” was picked up by U-536 but not repeated. Then a light from the beach signaled “Komm.”

Suddenly the northern lights lit up the night sky. “Alarm! Dive!” Just as the U-boat submerged the sound of depth charges were heard.

The task force hunted all night, but their attempts to locate the U-boat were unsuccessful. The next day at dawn, the bay was empty. No trace of the U-boat had been found.

U-536 evaded the depth charges and after two days managed to escape from the bay. Once safely at sea, Schauenburg sent the following message, “Kiebitz verpfiffen.” Six weeks later the Canadian corvettes HMCS Snowberry, HMCS Calgary, and the frigate HMS Nene sank U-536 with Schauenburg being among the survivors. Schauenburg was then sent to a POW camp in Canada.

This story appeared in the April 2004 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.

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