Sights and sounds of WWII brought to life at Fort Miles

29 WAR jeep u-858 surrender

Under guard off American forces, crew members of U-858 are taken away during the re-enactment of the German U-boat’s surrender at Fort Miles in May of 1945. (Sussex County Post/Glenn Rolfe).

LEWES – One of first military vehicles greeting Delaware Goes to War spectators at the entrance to historic Fort Miles Saturday was a 1951 jeep produced six years after World War II ended.

It’s owned by Darrell and Heidi Dukes, a Milton couple who were dressed for war-time occasion as re-enactors. Ms. Dukes’ green Army attire has special sentimental value.

WAR summer and shawn 50 cal gun

Summer Long, 9, and Shawn Deshner, 9, both of Ocean View, man a 50-caliber machine in a jeep owned by re-enactor Michael Asplen of Sharptown at Delaware Goes to War. (Sussex County Post/Glenn Rolfe).

“This is my father’s,” she said.

“I was going down the road and this (jeep) was on the side of the road and it had my birth date on the windshield. So this jeep is actually two months older than I am,” said Mr. Dukes. “I called Heidi up and told her about it – and she didn’t talk me out of it. And here we are. I got into it (re-enacting) more than I ever thought I would. And I’ve learned a lot more than I ever thought I would.”

“I was the one who said, ‘Buy the jeep,’ to start with. I didn’t talk him out of it,” said Ms. Dukes.

The Dukes were among dozens of re-enactors — Allied and German – who brought WWII history to life through living history that featured encampments, tours of the fort’s massive bunker fortress, numerous military vehicles, weapon firing demonstrations, war-time music and the ceremonial staging of the surrender of U-858 in 1945 at what is now the fishing pier at Cape Henlopen State Park.

29 WAR mimlitsch machine gun MG 42

With blanks, German re-enactor Glenn Mimlitsch, right, fires away with his MG-42 machine gun during a demonstration at Delaware Goes to War. (Sussex County Post/Glenn Rolfe).

Making the trip from the New Jersey side of the Delaware River across from Philadelphia was Glenn Mimlitsch, a German re-enactor with Grossdeutschland Kompanie 7. He brought his WWII memorabilia, including an MG-42 – the much-feared German machine gun that cut down many Allied soldiers.

Mr. Mimlitsch has been re-enacting for 13 years. He, too, has family ties.

“My grandfather was in the first World War. He immigrated over here in 1923. He was German,” said Mr. Mimlitsch. “It’s heritage thing.”

“I was a World War II fanatic. My father didn’t actually serve in WWII but he was able to build airplanes … and I always had an interest,” said Michael Asplen, a re-enactor from Sharptown whose 1946 Willy’s Jeep armed with a 50-caliber machine drew plenty of attention. “And after I retired, I found that they wanted volunteers down here and I just fell in. After my first year I decided I wanted a jeep. So I found an old jeep and restored it. I bring it down here every year, and other events in the area.”

29 WAR 858 contriband

A U-858 crew member is checked for contraband during the staging of the German submarine’s surrender. (Sussex County Post/Glenn Rolfe).

The American/Allied Forces were portrayed in large part by the Harbor Defenses of the Delaware Living History Association – a unification of two components of Fort Miles: the 261st Coast Artillery and the 1252 Service Command Support Unit-Quartermaster Corps.

Although not one shot was ever fired from Fort Miles’ guns in hostility, the fort was built to protect allied shipping from German submarines and surface vessels prowling along America’s coast.

While chilly weather Saturday may have impacted event attendance, a huge crowd was on hand for the surrender of U-858 – the first German warship to surrender to U.S. forces.

In a prelude to the surrender, Fort Miles Chaplain Capt. Mike Hills noted that German warships sank more than 400 ships in U.S. coastal water during WWII, resulting in the loss of 200 million tons of cargo and approximately 5,000 sailors, mostly merchant marines.

U-858 was among a handful of German submarines that cast off in Operation Sea Wolf in the spring of 1945. Four subs were sunk in the Atlantic in the U.S. Navy’s Operation Teardrop, an operation geared to sink Nazi U-boats that were believed to be carrying the V-1 flying bombs.

After about six weeks on patrol, U-858 Kapitänleutnant (Captain) Thilo Bode received word that Germany had capitulated and all warships were ordered to immediately surrender.

U-858 actually surrendered three times: first to the U.S. Marine Corps, then to the U.S. Navy – and finally to Army forces at Fort Miles on May 14, 1945. That was because the Army did not recognize the surrender to the Navy.

29 WAR lunch to heidi dukes

German re-enactor Steve Logan of Grossdeutschland 7th Kompanie serves lunch to Heidi Dukes, a re-enactor with the 1252nd Service Command Support Unit Saturday at Delaware Goes to War.

In 2001, a member of U-858’s 55-man crew – Karl Heinz Bahr – returned to Fort Miles.

“His family contacted me and asked me if we’d give him a tour of where he surrounded,” said Fort Miles Historical Association President Dr. Gary Wray. “So I met him the (Lewes-Cape May) ferry terminal and took him all around, out to the fishing pier … he remembered the pier.”

Mr. Dukes remembers another chapter in Fort Miles’ history in which he had a role as a Cape Henlopen student.

“They actually wanted to demolished this area and develop it in I think it was 1969 or 1970. They allowed the high school students to come over here and stand on the dunes in front of the bulldozers to keep them from doing \that – and I was actually one of the high school students,” Mr. Dukes said.

Unfortunately to some, Fort Miles is a huge secret whose story needs to be experienced.

29 WAR mike corbin tim clark

Millsboro resident Mike Corbin, a member of the Allied Wing representing the Army Air Corps, shares information on the Corps’ parachute and harness with Tim Clark of Selbyville.

German re-enactor Geoff Pohanka, owner of “Anna” – a massive “German” infantry armored vehicle converted from a Czechoslovakian-made halftrack that drew plenty of attention and photo opts – said he can see Fort Miles’ round towers from his family house in Bethany Beach. “Everybody sees the round towers. Everybody knows they had something to do with World War II but a lot of people don’t know about Fort Miles,” Mr. Pohanka said.

“It’s all about education,” Mr. Mimlitsch added.

“Our biggest problem is getting locals to understand. I mean we’ve got guys coming in from all over – New Jersey, Pennsylvania and West Virginia – but locals don’t know about it,” said Dr. Wray. “The word has been getting out more. We’ve been on the CNN Morning News in 2005. The Pentagon Channel has been over here. So the word is getting out. It’s the ‘from little acorns big oaks grow’ kind of thing. But it is our fort – and we love it.”

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