The Temple of Dagon

“Not dust nor the light weight of a stone, but all the
sea of the Western Approaches shall be his tomb”.

Eulogy for U-Boat ‘hunter’ Captain F. J. Walker RN
Given at his funeral by Admiral Max Horton 1944.

‘Of course, the idea that Dagon was a fish god is a complete misapprehension, would you not agree?’ the SS interrogator, remarked, imparting a tiny twist to the brandy glass in his right hand and letting the liquid swirl.

It made me feel sick to watch it.

The dehydration was affecting me badly, and I dearly wanted a drink even though alcohol would have been worse than useless. He was testing me, even as he abused me.

‘I know nothing about it,’ I rasped, my torn and peeling lips shredding the words.

‘No? You are a Professor of Semitic Languages are you not, a scholar of such matters. And I think you should reflect most profoundly on where you are. It is greatly in your interest to co-operate with our salvage efforts.’ His hand laid the brandy glass down on the ebony desk, and brushed, ever so slightly, the yellow star, where it rested, worn at the edges as from much use, against the dark wood.

The threat was obvious. I had been allowed, more or less, to retain my own clothes, if not my full dignity, so far, but once marked with that sign, and herded into the trains to the camps ; it would not be long before I lost everything. The honour my professorship had once brought me among Berlin’s academic circles I would happily abandon. But beyond that was the fear of losing my beloved home, my family, and clearly, eventually, my life . That I was not, merely as a point of fact, Jewish, was an irrelevance. Once marked as juden, any otherness would be suspect enough, and who – if subject to scrutiny by the paranoid and the mad, would not show some signs of the taint. It was already suspicious enough that I had deemed them worthy of study.

Every culture, disdains beyond all measure the action of a traitor, how could I help these.people. Even to think of them as kin to me was painful, and yet what they were asking so far was not, in itself, dangerous, and the spectre of the camps, inland and so far away from my beloved was before me like a dark cloud on the horizon of a calm sea. ‘Father’, I prayed, in the security of my own skull, ‘protect me from the barbarians of these days.’

‘Not, so necessarily,’ I responded, determined to preserve myself at the least cost in help. ‘The derivation has in recent years been said to have been from the Hebrew, dagan, meaning corn, and to imply a deity fundamentally agricultural in aspect, and the Philistines were not predominantly a sea-faring or fishing-tribe, despite the coastal location of their lands and yet.’

‘And yet legends persist.’

I nodded, ‘Legends of a god whose name followed the Hebrew word dag, ‘fish’ and whose aspect was of a giant merman or triton. About his worship little is known, he does not appear to have demanded the sacrifices of a Baal or an Astarte both of whom were also worshipped in the Philistine cities of Ashdod, Gaza, Gath, Askelon and Ekron, and yet he is equally reviled in Hebrew scripture.’

There was a pause, in which, heart in mouth, I could only wonder how much this Nazi knew, and in what his interest, ultimately, lay. A word from his threats that had escaped me swam back before my mind’s eye ‘salvage’.

He too seemed to be wrestling with doubtful thoughts, and I wondered what fears he might have, he whose dark-uniformed kind had conquered all of Europe. Perhaps he feared what lay ultimately beyond Europe’s boundaries; all that was free and un-enslaved. Perhaps he had, ultimately, more to fear than I did.

He was pacing now, like a beast caged, and the cage I realised was in the man’s own thoughts.

‘So, can you offer me any explanation, Herr Professor, as to why on the 27th of February last a U-Boat operating under the personal instructions of Admiral Doenitz should break radio silence – despite Walker’s verdamnt hunters – to inform German High Command, in tones which I do not associate with the stoicism of the Germanic spirit, that, ‘Dagon is real’.

‘Can you not ask them what they meant? I asked, softly, without antagonism. ‘That was a month past.’

‘Hardly,’ he sneered, ‘the U-boat was lost with all hands thereafter, under an Atlantic as smooth and unrippled as a children’s paddling pool.’

‘And you think a Philistine God of the Harvest struck them down?’

***

‘I think this reference to ‘Dagon’ is a code, a way of describing some secret weapon, or device of the enemies of the Reich. Nor do I trust Doenitz’s ‘personal instructions’, he is too much of the Old Navy. I think something happened there in the Atlantic swell, and I intend to find out what. You see, more than a U-Boat was lost that day, my father and brother were on board that submarine.’ A look of pathos, fundamentally at odds with all I had ever imagined about his kind, passed over his gaunt, drawn, face. ‘Nor was that last message, all that they sent out into the night to mark their end’.

He signalled to one of the impassive guards at the door who like a pair of grave guardians, rough-hewn from unspeaking stone, had shown throughout my interrogation no sign of interest or regard. ‘This was recovered by the crew of the Destroyer Scharnhost in the same area shortly afterwards. I take the presence of the Destroyer to be another sign that the High Command’s interest in the site goes far beyond merely harrying British food convoys. The item was ejected from the U-Boat’s torpedo tubes, shortly before the final radio message, wrapped in oilskin within an emptied fuel canister, pressurised to provide buoyancy.’ Grunting slightly at the weight, their only sign of not having had their vocal chords severed, the guards rolled out on the floor, much as I would imagine, Cleopatra was rolled out before Julius, a statue in a green-veined marble, ancient, venerable, and beautiful. The image of a beautiful woman. Or at least, for I have been trained to consider my words carefully, the image of a woman who while not conventionally beautiful never the less spoke in her every line and curve of power, or grace, and of the unbounded ocean. Unbidden and foolishly I let a word slip past my lips, ‘Hydrae’.

***

‘Ah, I knew you were the man for me, Professor. There is Greek writing on the base of the statue, yes? It reads, in translation: ‘Venerable Mother Goddess Hydrae Bring Forth The Seed Of Father’ and the final word, while curiously weathered might well be ‘Dagon’.’

‘You have consulted other experts, then.’

‘Indeed, I have, and you should consider well, that they quite evidently failed me. For they are not here, and you are.’

I took a rattling breath, and asked – not for the first time for water. This time at least his mind was not on tormenting me but away in reverie, perhaps under the surface of the Atlantic waves where his father and brother strove in the dark to eject – to reject, or to preserve I wondered? – the image of Mother Hydrae from the oil-reeking tomb their vessel had become, and he nodded in assent to his uniformed thugs.

‘But this is not a secret weapon, but a statue out of antiquity,’ I reasoned, toning my voice to be as reassuring as I could in my parched condition. ‘Some spoil of war, smuggled aboard by a foolish sailor from an Adriatic port, and ejected as hunter-fooling debris, or as mere dead-weight. It can not represent the reason for the demise of your father’s vessel.’ ‘No? And what if I were to tell you that, Admiral Doenitz believes absolutely that he has discovered a weapon or a cache of weapons, capable of overpowering any submarine whether German or that of the enemy. Weapons old and mysterious, hinted at in myth and legend long past. Weapons of whose existence this statue and the final message of my father’s craft are supporting evidence.’

‘You are saying, what?’ I floundered, anxious not to stir the man to rash action and yet all too certain, and fearful of what he seemed to be implying. ‘I am saying that my father’s craft had discovered in the deep sea bottoms of the Atlantic Ocean, the relics of that high Aryan civilisation, Atlantis, and that to conceal this fact from the Fuhrer, Doenitz and his allies, after marking the place for the further investigation of their own trusted aides, sacrificed my father, my brother and all the crew of that loyal and trusting vessel, to whatever evil weapon from the depths they had foolishly discovered. I shuddered. The man was paranoid, there could be no such ‘weapons’ and yet. Clearly the U-Boat had discovered something, had taken from somewhere the statue, and had suffered, perhaps for that theft, perhaps for some trespass, the loss of their lives. It was dangerous to speculate about such matters.

‘Therefore,’ he smiled grimly, ‘we will be going on a little voyage’.

We flew, in a transport plane to an airfield at the coast, and from there, after a brief trip by lorry, embarked in a grey gun-metal submarine which carried no U insignia.

‘Experimental,’ the SS captain said, ‘it can travel under water at higher speeds than any U-boat hitherto deployed, up to 16 knots. When these are commonly in use we will smash the Allied fleets to flinders. It can travel faster below the surface than the convoy protection boats can above. It can also take on air from the surface without emerging, and most importantly for us, it can dive more deeply and more reliably.’

I recognised that he was talking mainly to himself, reassuring himself perhaps that this submarine was not a mere tin coffin, like so many others. Like the one that had carried his family into the abyss. He had no need to impress a Semitic scholar, nor seemingly had he any need to guard his words in front of me. An arid prospect that for it implied that I was perhaps already as good as dead.

Of course, if that were so I had little to lose by risk taking.

‘You see well supplied with naval support,’ I ventured, ‘for one who distrusts the Navy so much.’ ‘Himmler shares my concerns. The SS is a knighthood that will bear the greatest burdens when the world is under the Thousand Year Reich. The legacy of Aryan Atlantis is ours to claim. He has given me unlimited support.’

‘Indeed?’ I mused under my breath. The infighting of the National Socialists for all it might affect my own personal future was of less concern to me than his mystical bent.

I knew of many scholars who considered Atlantis a mere myth. It was a view I had always put my voice behind. Cut from the whole cloth by Plato to make a point about the mechanics of government, that Atlantis was as fictional as Thomas Moore’s Utopia. Others considered it a reference to the fall of the ancient civilisations of Crete. I wondered if any, other than I, had ever made the connection that the ancestors of the Philistines who had settled in Canaan during the reign of Rameses III, three thousand years ago, had come from Caphtor (Kptar in Egyptian) a land often identified as Crete. In a sense, then, whatever fate awaited this obsessed Nazi, his pseudohistory was at least partly correct. For Dagon could be said to be the god of Atlantis, carried from the ruins of Crete, to the Temple at Ashdod and Gaza. Worshipped there long after his own people had gone under the waves.

***

The submarine carried us efficiently into the mid Atlantic. I was given considerable freedom onboard, there was after all nowhere to escape to but the ocean bottom, and I did not yet feel driven to attempt so desperate an expedient. The common sailors treated me with a rough contempt, probably adopted at least in part as an aping of the attitude of the vessel’s Captain. The Captain, had indulged in a fit of Nazi hysteria on being asked to carry a Jew Scholar (he seemed to find the term oxymoronic) on board his vessel, a prospect I gathered as unlucky as carrying Jonah away from his Jehovah ordained task, and had only been persuaded by the repeated showing of certain sigils or Nazi amulets which I presume carried as if by dark enchantment, the whiff of Himmler’s own authority.

Twice we ran silent, as aircraft flew overhead, hoping that they could not detect our shadow in the water. It was unclear to which side the ‘planes belonged, but the destruction of U-boats and American submarines by their own side in error was not unknown. Once we scattered a convoy of British bound food-ships and them left them milling like startled sheep in anticipation of an attack. The Captain fumed and raged that he was unable to attend to their slaughter.

Eventually we arrived at the latitude and longitude, the SS had identified as the source of the last transmission from the lost U-Boat. Here the Atlantic sea-bed dipped into one of the great clefts or canyons that some have seen as a proof of the theory of plate tectonics. Deep under Homer’s wine-dark sea, the land was folded and pressed by the forces of time and driven into the fires of Hades. A pretty conceit if inaccurate with regard to the Greek picture of an afterlife. I shivered to recall that to them, Hades was not a place of fire, but an abode of husks and half-spirits, of empty lifeless expanses, of Tantalus who strain as he might could never reach the life-giving fluid he craved.

For a while I tried to sleep as the submarine sank down, all vents open, towards the abyss. I dreamed that I heard the tin walls creak and groan under the pressure of the ocean outside. I dreamed that I heard the rupture of the pipes and the hiss of steam, the frantic scuttle of men forming a chain of buckets to try to shift incoming water to enable to seal a breached compartment. Even in my dream however, I knew that if the water were to strike inward at this depth no such chain, however heroic, would be possible. If the hull were breached, nothing human could survive the steel-driven pressure of the water. I did not sleep well.

My sleep was not permitted to come to a natural conclusion, however fitful, instead I was shaken awake by one of the sailors, a man whom I believed to be probably called Kurt or Hans, as he possessed for his life’s burden, a face so traditionally German in its lineaments and outlines as to be practically a platonic ideal of the Hun.

I confess therefore to being startled in my half-awake state to find him addressing me urgently in English.

‘Professor, I have to speak to you. You must tell me what this Mission hopes to achieve.’ The accent was that of the better British Universities, ‘Oxbridge’ as they are called, a fact I recognised from many happy hours spent in the libraries of that nation.

‘Nothing good for any free nations of mankind,’ I whispered, ‘what do you propose.’

‘That we take charge of this sub, and capture whatever weapon they are looking for, for the allies of course. Are you with me?’

I considered for a second. ‘Can I not persuade you that we should instead take this U-Boat to an allied port and surrender it. It is I understand, itself, of a new and improved design. Are there no weapons that humanity would not reach out its hand for in war, however dirty? Suppose that there was a power that at its height had sufficed to bring to ruin a great nation and to drown its cities, so that for ten thousand years its name would be linked inexorably with destruction and the fall, would you then seek to seize that power to win a game of conquerors?’

‘I fancy you mean conkers, Prof, and yes I jolly well would if the kid with the other conker was that house-painter from Berlin. Do you think I’ve risked my life getting aboard this sub to sketch its engines and its venting gear? We’ve had men in the shipyard photographing the plans while this prototype was still in the dry-dock. I’m after bigger game than that.’

I held my head in my hands. The presence of this well-meaning man was an added burden to me. He would never understand. His was the ethic of the fighting man, of the spy, of the patriot, and my ethics were less clear cut.

‘Very well,’ I said, ‘let it be so.’

We made our way towards the officers’ quarters, towards the state-room where the Captain and my SS tormentor made their displays of power. Once or twice, we passed other unterzeeboatmen who nodded to ‘Kurt’ and sniggered under their breath at me. I heard the word Sumpfbewohner used, no doubt some jest at my appearance, which is hardly that of a muscular, Aryan, archetype.

Arriving outside the hatchway leading to the room, I paused and listened pressing an ear to the metal surface. Through it by a process of conduction I could hear vaguely the voices of the Captain (habitually raised) and that of the master of the expedition (calmer and yet with that suppressed edge of nigh-ranting fervour that I associated with the SS).

‘What then do you expect to find, exactly?’

‘I have studied carefully not only the transmissions from my father’s U-boat but signals from and histories of other craft lost in this area during the sea-history of High Germany. I expect us to find, on the edge of this great chasm in the sea-bed, the last relics of lost Atlantis. A mount on the tip of the crack of doom, within which lies the treasure house and secret store room of the Gods of Old Atlantis. Astarte, Baal, but most of all Dagon, god of the sea, whose righteous fury it was that drowned and doomed the cities of that ancient time. On that mount lies his temple, and in that temple lies I believe, the mechanism by which Atlantis was toppled and brought to dust.’

‘Humph, we chase legends it seems.’ The Captain commented, sourly, ‘I like not such games. There are real foes to chase in these waters enough without this haunting of the deeps. I have no confidence in the new Tiefe Klage either, and I will not order a man to wear one. You will have to call for volunteers for all your orders from Himmler, and I hope no man on board my ship will heed you.’

‘When we return to port, Captain, we will see how the navy reads your insubordination to the letter of Himmler’s instructions. For now I have no doubt that there are plenty of men aboard this vessel who know their duty to the Reich.’

That seemed as good an entrance point as any, so I banged hard upon the hatch to signify our presence. The Captain, perhaps expecting a report from an orderly, spun the internal wheel and the hatch opened. We were able to enter unopposed, an old scholar, widely known as a member of a despised race, and the burly figure of an obviously loyal German posed no threat to two officers of the fatherland.

I waited until ‘Kurt’ was half-way through the portal, and then I threw myself sideways into him, knocking the pistol that he had concealed under his mariner’s jacket to one side. ‘This man is an English spy,’ I spat, ‘I suggest you use him to test the Depth Suits, before any Germans are put at risk.

‘It is an amusing situation is it not?’ the SS man, remarked as the orderlies strapped and fashioned the spy into the heavy layered plate of the Tiefe Klage: the ‘Depth Suit’. It make him resemble nothing so much as a great sea turtle, and his eyes, accusing and desperate, fixed upon me through its single cyclopean visor with an unspoken horror. ‘The depth suit, will keep you alive, but to preserve that life you will have to return to this submarine, for out there in the ocean deeps there is no other sanctuary of light and air; and to attempt to rise from these depths to the surface would leave you excruciated from the bubbles of nitrogen in the blood that English divers call ‘the bends’, and you would moreover be alone with no hope of rescue in mid ocean. So then, we are it seems your only salvation, and yet to win that salvation you must bring me back something, and in doing so you work against your country and your honour. For whether you bring me the treasure I seek or merely the proof that a German may be risked within this device, you will have served me, as surely as my right hand.’

His eyes were cold and pitiless; ‘this is why ultimately we must triumph, over you subhumans, for we understand that you can have no loyalties beyond the preservation of your animal flesh, and that in the final reckoning you will do anything to drag out your brute existences, just as an injured dog drags its shattered leg behind it as it crawls away from the path of the blitzkrieg.’ He half-turned to smiled at me, and I had never seen anything more inhuman. ‘You vindicate us, Professor. Not only have you offered up your own knowledge in the hope of buying one more miserable hour of breath upon the Earth, but you have given into my hands this man who wanted nothing but to help you.’

I stumbled forwards, and inclined my head, as if bowed down by the weight of his accusations, allowing my mouth to fall against the helmet of the Depth Suit. Through it as through the metal of the hatch earlier I knew my whispered words would be conducted. ‘Trust the mercy of the nymphs of the sea,’ I whispered, ‘for mankind has none.’

As I backed away, I could see puzzlement mix with the fear in the man’s eyes.

‘We, will listen to the Englishman’s experiences by means of the cables connecting his Depth Suit to the ship,’ the Captain said, avoiding the SS man’s gaze. ‘They serve the dual purpose of carrying a pressurised nitrogen/oxygen mixture to him, and carrying away his exhalations, but they also carry by inductance a signal to an earphone in the helmet and one from a microphone to speakers here.’

‘Most satisfactory, we can therefore be assured of a splendid show whatever the results. Is it true, do you think that at these depths a failure of the Suit would result in instantaneous death from pressure, or would there be time for the wearer to feel the inward rupture of his every organ? Have the orderlies bring us some wine from my cabin, we should make an occasion of this test.’

The Captain scowled, and despite his evident hatred of me, I felt for a moment that he hated the SS more. Perhaps in facing the terrors and fears of the deep which must cling to any mortal man reliant on the thin iron hull of a ship or submarine or the flimsier still fabric, armour, and rubber of the Depth Suits, was born a bond of shared experience that I (in his eyes a landsman) could never share, but to which ‘Kurt’ was to be admitted and which the SS mocked at their peril. I felt glad that for that moment, I could convince myself that not all of them were equally steeped in evil, and yet it only added to my guilt, for if I was correct in my beliefs only one human of all the U-Boat’s company or passengers had the least chance of escaping alive from the perils to be found in the sea-mounts of Atlantis.

The SS officer drank red wine – ‘a passable Riesling’, the Captain took nothing. I asked again for water, but was ignored. I was of too little importance to pamper or rebuke.

Slowly and softly over the speakers came the breathing of ‘Kurt’ as weighted with lead he sank from the airlock of the submarine downward to the lip of the abyss.

I suspect that at first, he must have determined to remain silent, and to offer no satisfaction to his captors in any display of fear, nor yet in the provision of any needful information as to the functioning of the Suit, but human nature is essentially the gregariousness of apes, and he soon began to speak. His voice was clipped, calm, and yet there was strain there. But he spoke not as a man afraid, but as one moving from darkness into the light of awe. I envied him that new experience.

‘The sea-bottom is visible now in the light from my helmet, and not just in that light, for I can see beyond the light, into pools of shadow that nevertheless are themselves lit beyond the darker cliffs. This isn’t bare rock, but worked stone.

Ledge upon ledge of it stretching out in great paved thoroughfares which must once have felt the tread of a thousand people. There is little sea-life, just some growths like coral, stark and black against the edges of the pavements and curiously none encroaches upon the slabs as if it could know and respect the ages of antiquity that lie here.

Ahead the footing turns to massive steps, far larger than those needed by mortals: this must be a ceremonial path, upon which the Gods of the City were supposed to tread.

I can see in the walls that rise now on either side, the crab picked frescoes and Sea-weathered friezes that have withstood the centuries. They’re beautiful. Like the statues of Rome, they are brightly coloured, not the pale bone of museum-work, and they show the daily life of the city, through which this path, inviolate and empty runs, straight, and climbing to what must have been the Holy of Holies.’

‘The Temple Of Dagon,’ I breathed, knowing that they had ears only for Kurt’s account. But I knew what he would soon see. He would see the dark walled pinnacle itself, the spire that rose like a harpoon plunged from below through the living heart of the City. He would see the ghost lights that play forever about it, and the deeper depths of the chasm whose edge it now marks. He would see the white bulk of the God rising at the chants of its ghost-worshippers, and the dead sea-maidens reaching out for him. He would see the vast shape of Dagon himself, ignoring him as a whale might ignore a minnow, moving passed to seize and rend the petty iron can that humans had dared to send to violate his domain.

Of course Kurt could hardly have been expected to make that entirely clear, but I had the satisfaction of knowing the source of his sudden screams, before the great hands of the God shook the sub, and Captain, and orderlies, and crew and SS officers and all, were flung back and forth like rats in a trap. I hoped Kurt might survive. To be given over to the sea-maids was the only hope I could offer him. For the Captain, and my tormentors I had no hope to offer.

They had spat at me, and called me juden, but some at least with the lore of the sea, had sensed, however partly, the truth. Sumpfbewohner, they had called me: ‘Marsh-dweller’ – noting perhaps my broad and expressive mouth, the watery unblinking stare of my great eyes.

As the walls of the submarine burst and broke apart under the handling of the God, I gave thanks that only one human had any chance of escape, and I raised again the cry I had first made in the SS interrogation cell: ‘Father protect me from the barbarians of these days. Father Dagon protect me!’

Then the water was about me, and above me, and I could hear through the slow currents the call of my beloved family.


3 Responses to “The Temple of Dagon”

  1. luke S Wrote:

    as a concept, well worth the internet conection time! there were too many mistakes (destroyer-Scharnhorst? and state room on a sub!!) to stop it being a real good read. but thanks. occupied me for an hour.

  2. Simon Bucher-Jones Wrote:

    The ‘Scharnhorst’ was a German Destroyer according to my sources. I’ll grant that ‘state-rooms’ sounds a bit off, but remember the narrator isn’t a sea-man, except in a very fundemental sense.

  3. mortmere Wrote:

    riesling is a white wine rather than red, “Klage” means a suit at law rather than something you wear; ideally you’d need more character development to give us the Professor’s background but it is, as luke said, a pleasa,t way to kill some time.

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