Corbis | Courtesy of National Geographic
U-boats were some of the deadliest weapons of World War II, sinking 400 ships and killing 4,000 people when they plied the waters from Nova Scotia to North Carolina.
updated 6/1/2004 5:57:32 PM ET 2004-06-01T21:57:32

The worst naval defeat in United States history is all but forgotten, even though 4,000 people lost their lives and 400 ships were destroyed. It was called “Operation Drumbeat,” and it was one of Germany’s greatest victories in World War II. 

Submarines known as U-Boats plied the waters from Nova Scotia to North Carolina, sinking ships with torpedo attacks. Inexplicably, even though the U.S. Navy was warned in detail about U-boat attacks, little offensive or defensive action was taken. 

Kapitanleutnant Reinhard Hardegen remembers gliding silently near New York Harbor just six weeks after Pearl Harbor. Hardegen, who was personally decorated by Hitler, commanded U-123 and was responsible for sinking 19 ships.

With the help of his recollections and archival footage from the war, EXPLORER pieces together the untold story of this massive Nazi nightmare inflicted on America’s East Coast.

Also on this hour: "If Hitler Had the Bomb"

Hiroshima and Nagasaki have borne witness to the destructive potential of atomic weapons. How would the course of history been affected had Hitler possessed the resources to create this dangerous weapon? 

In 1940, the Nazi Party’s march toward global domination was as ominous for the country of Norway as it was for all of Europe. On April 9, German warships penetrated Oslo Fjord. Within months, Norway was defeated and had succumbed to Nazi occupation.

Shortly after the invasion, Allied intelligence began worrying about a remote Norwegian hydroelectric plant. Their fear: What would Germany do with the plant’s supply of “heavy water” – an essential ingredient of atomic power? 

A handful of determined young Norwegians took on a daunting challenge. This diverse group of country boys, university students and professional soldiers joined the army of exiles gathering in Britain for specialized sabotage training.  Directed by the Special Operations Executive, they returned home for the precarious mission of destroying the Norsk Hydro Factory.

EXPLORER details a compelling chapter in World War II history, following the course of these fearless young men who endured extreme hardship in the effort to prevent Nazi possession of the ultimate weapon.

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