Rudolph "Rudy" Plappert Nazi Submariner
Rudy Plappert – German Submariner – Built Dolphin Motel in Strathmere
By William Kelly
(Originally published in the Atlantic City Sun newspaper, May, 1981)
From the moment he first saw the soft white sands of Whale Beach in Strathmere, Rudolph Plappert knew he wanted to live there.
His first visit was during the lazy, expectant, early days of World War II. The beach, the salt air, the fresh fish, were all special things to a man at war.
And Plappert’s perspective was unique because his first view of Cape May’s coast was though the periscope of his submarine.
As a German U-boat officer assigned to patrol America’s east coast waterway, Plappert helped keep Allied cargo and war ships pinned into the harbors. In the early days of the war, the battle of the Atlantic was fierce, with U-Boats taking their toll and recording their victories in the amount of tonnage sunk.
But the tides of war changed, and the silent and swift U-Boats became vulnerable. Like the Africa Corps and the Luftewaffa before them, the wolfpacks became lone wolves. With the aid of radar, and the ultra secret code breakers, the hunter became the hunted, and the seawolves became hot, sweaty deathboxs.
For one last time the periscope broke the water’s surface off Sea Isle City. Plappert threw open the iron hatch and took a breath of fresh air. He climbed the bridge, and while other men scampered around the deck he scanned the horizon with binoculars.
A small fishing boat that bobbed up and down with swells drifted closer. The fishermen waved, and as they drew closer, one of them threw a bag of fresh lobsters onto the deck of the sub. Plappert waved, smiled and yelled a polite, “danka.” Although the Italian-American fishermen didn’t understand his German pledge, Plappert also promised that he would one day return.
Rudolph “Ruddy” Plappert arrived in Sea Isle City in 1958 with his wife Englebert. He purchased some beachfront property near the end of the island in Strathmere and built the Dolphin Motel on the beach. The storm of ’62 wiped them out temporarily, and they rebuilt the motel across the street from the beach where it stands today.
“Rudy,” as he became known to the townspeople, was a man about town. A very well-liked, easy going gentleman, who was involved in civic affairs, Rudy lived out his life in an unobtrusive manner.
Than a small newspaper item mentioned that a former U-Boat commander who had patrolled the Jersey coast was living in Sea Isle. Ann and Charles Manolou, who purchased the Dolphin Motel from Rudy in 1976, began to receive phone calls from inquisitive reporters, including one from the National Enquirer. They all wanted to know about Rudy.
Today (1981), Charles is getting the Dolphin ready for the summer season, planting bushes by the driveway and doing the yearly repair work. “There’s not much to go on,” he said. “Rudy died of a heart attack shortly after we purchased the place and his wife is now living in Florida.”
“He was a very tall, broad shouldered fellow. A very husky strong man, who loved sailing his catamaran off the beach. Both him and his wife were quiet people who shunned publicity, but he was well known in town, and used to stop in Braca’s Café occasionally for a drink.”
Down at Braca’s Kim Giberson is also preparing for the oncoming season, loading up his stockroom. Although his Uncle Lou Braca knew Rudy better, Kim remembered the tall man who drank at the bar and talked in a deep and distinct German accent.
“He even looked German,” Kim said, “and used to run his two doberman pincher dogs along the beach.”
The bar is different now that when Plappert haunted the place. The giant mirror is still on the wall, but it doesn’t reflect the old seedy, shot and beer joint it used to. Kim cleaned up the place, and made it a refined restaurant.
Plappert would sit at the bar with a few of his friends, including Mayor Dominic Raffa and Commissioner Bill Kehner. Raffa, who was recently reelected to office, recalls Rudy drinking vodka on the rocks, but only infrequently did he tell about his war-time escapades.
“He said he liked the pretty beaches, and decided during the war that this is where he wanted to live,” recalled Raffa.
Kim recalls that besides the view, Plappert liked the people.
“When he surfaced off shore, he’d occasionally come across some rum runners and fishermen who’d wave at him like the fighter pilots of World War I. Near the end of the war some of the fishermen even gave him lobsters as a token of friendship. I think that’s really why he came back here,” he said.
Plappert’s gone now but the things that attracted him to the small seaside village are still there – the salt air, the sandy beach, the fresh fish and the friendly people, some of whom will always remember the U-Boat officer, their one-time enemy who became their neighbor and friend.