Newsweek Magazine, February 22, 1960

Was it a whale? Or an amphibious flying saucer? Or the Loch Ness monster gone astray? All last week, Buenos Aires was in a tizzy. People buttonholed each other in the bustling streets, exchanged rumors, then rushed home to listen to the latest radio reports. The press had a field day; whole front pages were given over to the fantastic story.

Seven hundred miles to the south, the Argentine Navy, with supporting planes, was beating the waters of the Golfo Nuevo to a white froth as it attacked what was officially only an "unidentified undersea object," but which most Argentines were convinced was a foreign submarine.

Gaping crowds of the curious on the shores of the 800-mile-square bay watched the navy ships, in fan-shaped formation, patrolling ceaselessly back and forth across the 8-mile-wide entrance. At intervals they could see columns of water rising toward the blue sky, as depth bombs and artillery thundered. Air-force planes zoomed overhead, loosing bombs.

What was it all about? Was there really a submarine there? The tight-lipped navy obviously thought so. Ships had picked up the "object" with sonar gear three weeks ago, had tracked it into the Golfo Nuevo. Now they were determined to bring it to the surface and get a good look at it.

The most fantastic speculation, in a case where nothing was too fantastic, was that it was a German submarine which had been cruising, like the Flying Dutchman, since the 1945 surrender, looking for a safe haven. Eager Argentine newsmen figured they'd have the story of the century, if the vessel docked and Hitler strolled down the gangplank with Eva Braun on his arm.

The navy didn't think the rumors were particularly funny. Officers took the hunt seriously. "The Argentine public can be sure that the intruding submarine exists," a congressman declared. At the end of the week, the navy decided there were two submarines in the bay; later, a third was reported lurking outside.

Patagonia would be a happy hunting ground for a hostile sub. Puerto Madryn, on Golfo Nuevo, is Argentina's main South Atlantic base. Its sheltered, deep-water anchorage could harbor the mightiest ships in all the world's navies. It commands shipping routes around the Horn which might become a desperate necessity in wartime if anything happened to the Panama Canal. It would be very much worthwhile for any future belligerent to have its own charts of these waters, perhaps even its own maps of the surrounding territory.

Rumors covered this, too. There were reports that a landing party had come ashore from the submarine before it was spotted. A young German skin diver told of finding strange steel rings, "possibly mooring devices." A food cache for 5,000 men was said to have been found in the care of a man and woman of Slavic origin. Naval intelligence added to the confusion by reporting that it had seized a clandestine radio transmitter "operated by a man with a British accent."

If it was a foreign sub, whose was it? The U.S. and Great Britain formally denied that any of their ships were in the neighborhood. Washington underscored the denial by rushing a stock of high-powered depth charges to Argentina.

Russia echoed the denials but found fewer takers. Many Argentines fully expected that, if the "object" was a sub and not a whale (or a flying saucer, or the Loch Ness monster), and if it was finally forced to surface, there would be a red star on the conning tower.