Leutnant zur See d. R. Heinrich Garbers recieved the Knight's Cross on November 1, 1944 as "Kommandant Hilfskriegsschiff Passim und Führer von Sonderunternehmungen".
Heinrich Garbers received orders from the Abwehr in July/August of 1943 to "find" a suitable ship in France (Brest) for the purpose of transporting agents to South Africa and South America. Garbers found the Passim, a 16 meter long sailing yacht equipped with an emergency auxiliary engine. Garbers handpicked a crew of six, all old sailing friends of his, and on August 2, 1943 left France for South Africa.
After avoiding Allied convoy routes in the Atlantic, Garbers reached the Namibian (former Deutsch-Südwestafrika) desert-coastline on October 5. After putting two of the agents ashore (the heavily loaded ship's boat capsized near the shore and they lost their radio equipment), Garbers set sail for the Bay of Mossamedes over 1000 miles away to land the third agent. On the return journey to France, the Passim survived a violent hurricane but was damaged; having to be towed the last few miles to harbour in Bayonne which she reached on December 24, 1943.
After returning to Berlin, Leutnant Garbers received new orders. They required him to transport, and put ashore, two agents; a German and a Brazilian, in Cabo Frio, Brazil. After narrowly avoiding an allied convoy coming through the Straits of Gibraltar, the journey to Brazil took 49 days. The return journey took much longer, partly because of a two week period of calm weather. After five months at sea the Passim reached Arcachon in France without significant further incidents.
A third journey saw Garbers and the Passim sail to Argetina with two agents and a consignment of medicine for the Argentinians. The landing spot was at Punta Mogades south of Rio de la Plata. Whilst mid-Atlantic, Garbers and his crew learned of the D-Day landings in Normandy. After hitting a sandbank outside Punta Mogades and only just managing to get the yacht free, the agents and load were placed ashore and three agents were picked up for the return journey home. In November 1944, the Passim approached the Spanish port of Vigo under Argentinian flag, after dumping all traces of German military equipment overboard. After making contact with the German consulate in Vigo, Heinrich Garbers was flown back to Berlin in a Fw 200 Kondor and awarded his Knight's Cross as the 271th recipient of the Kriegsmarine.
By the end of the war, Heinrich Garbers had become the Kriegsmarine Kommandant with the longest overall accrued time at sea even though he had never actually been formally enlisted. His special missions amounted to some 545 days at sea and saw him sail 35,415 nautical miles (68.288,5 kilometers).
As an afternote, having arrived back in the Reich after D-Day, and after the assassination attempt on Hitler by von Stauffenberg on July 20, the Abwehr, and Admiral Canaris had been subsumed into the Reichssicherheitshauptamt (Reich Main Security Office or RSHA). Leutnant Gerbers was therefore greeted and decorated by SS-Obergruppenführer Ernst Kaltenbrunner, Head of the RSHA. He was also promoted to SS-Obersturmführer.
When captured in May of 1945, Heinrich Garbers was interrogated by the CIA who wanted to know which U-boats he had used on his various secret journeys transporting and landing Abwehr agents. When he explained that he had been the Captain of a sailing yacht, he was not believed! After three years in captivity, Heinrich Garbers was released and returned to Hamburg in West Germany.
Back at the family shipyard on the Elbe he built a number of yachts whose design benefitted from the extensive experience he had gained at sea on the Passim during the war. Acquiring a 'job-lot' of high quality nickel (or black) steel that had originally been destined for the construction of U Boats, gave him the material for the construction of individually designed ten steel yachts. At 50 feet overall, it is thought that Atlantis was one of the largest of his stable.
Garbers died in 1963.