With over 900 prisoners of war held at Raikeswood Camp there would be several very interesting prisoners. Historian Alan Roberts takes a look

ONE of the strangest captors was that of young U-boat officer Baron Otto von Recum.

After his capture British naval intelligence described him as ‘a typical young Prussian’. He believed that no blame could be attached to Germany for torpedoing hospital ships as ammunition and military forces were undoubtedly being carried on board.

Von Recum’s U-boat was preparing to attack a convoy south of Flamborough Head when it was rammed by several ships including British destroyer HMS Fairy. All the crew was rescued and transferred to a British trawler. The submarine’s commander complained that the trawler did not show ‘sufficient zeal’ in rescuing his men and that two revolver shots were fired at them while they were still struggling in the water.

The U-boat war had turned full circle. The hunters had become the hunted. Local servicemen from the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment and from places like Carleton, Cowling and Bingley had been captured and sent to a prisoner-of-war camp at Dülmen in north-west Germany. One British prisoner was asked about the end of the war there. Mutinous sailors had set up machine guns at a local crossroads prepared to shoot any German officer who came within range. Men had been tempted to join the U-boats for large payments in cash and a fortnight’s leave. The mutineers claimed they never returned. All the U-boats were being sunk, they said, and that was why they had rebelled.

Von Recum’s contribution to the German memoir ‘Kriegsgefangen in Skipton’ consisted of less than 100 words. He explained that it was difficult to find dentists prepared to treat the German prisoners. Eventually the ‘best dentist’ in Skipton visited once a week on Sunday mornings. The cost of a filling was 12/6 and 5s for an extraction.

Von Recum’s mother Marie Howard had been born in Maryland in the USA. Her father had been a senior British diplomat in Washington. She had been raised in London and in the different countries where her father Sir Henry Howard had been posted. Her marriage to Baron Rudolf von Recum had been announced in St Petersburg. They married in Kensington. She gave birth to three sons – the oldest was Otto, the U-boat officer and Skipton prisoner.

Amazingly there was another U-boat officer in the camp with an America-born mother, but not at the same time. The story of Walter Burghagen who was captured on board a Norwegian steamship is definitely one for another day. An army officer from a very famous family also had an American father.

Von Recum had joined a notorious right-wing militia group when he returned home. When this was disbanded, he was offered a commission in the new German Navy where he was deployed on the research ship Triton. He later took part in an epic series of voyages aboard another research vessel the Meteor on the grandly-named ‘German Atlantic Expedition’ which crossed the South Atlantic Ocean no fewer than 14 times in the course of just over two years. The aim was to conduct important oceanographic and meteorological research and to study how the waters

in that part of the world circulated. Von Recum was in charge of measuring the depth of the ocean using the new technique of echo-sounding. Measurements were taken every 20 or 30 minutes, or every two to three nautical miles, and more often when necessary. Tens of thousands of measurements were recorded and processed without the aid of computers. Von Recum was extremely pleased with the accuracy and reliability of the technique and wrote extensively about his research.

His mother had been placed in protective custody in Germany when the First World War started. In the 1930s she left her aristocratic German husband to live in Gloucestershire with her unmarried sister. When the Second World War began, the British authorities had to decide whether to intern her as an enemy alien – she was after all still a German citizen. Baroness Marie Ernestine von Recum duly resolved to leave Britain aged 71 to start a new life in America where she lived in a fashionable apartment in Manhattan.

In the meantime Otto von Recum had left the Navy to work for the German branch of the Dunlop Rubber Company until the end of the Second World War. He then carried out important liaison work between the German authorities in Frankfurt and the occupying American Army. Von Recum’s role should not be underestimated. He was the perfect interpreter with his excellent command of both languages and his considerable powers of diplomacy. Relations with the Americans could be very difficult, and he was threatened with arrest on more than one occasion.

The once bullish young officer from Skipton had made a significant contribution to maintaining peaceful relations in post-war Germany as the New York Times was later to record.