In Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon (spoilers):

Is there any reference in the modern-day plot to explain what happened to Gunter Bischoff after he escaped from the V-Million towards the end of the WWII plot?


2 Answers 2


He died of decompression sickness, suffering agonizing pain and probably losing consciousness within a few minutes of reaching the surface.

In-canon there is no specific mention of Bischoff after his escape from the submarine but we can make some reasonable assumptions from the text;

  • The internal bulkheads are described as failing after experiencing external water pressure of "five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten atmospheres of pressure". We can deduce that the boat has reached a depth of at least 300+ feet below the surface of the water.

  • The air has become a "safe cozy bubble of compressed air" as the rest of the boat is crushed.

  • Bischoff uses a "life preserver" to do an uncontrolled ascent to the surface.

  • As he ascends, he begins to suffer the early onset of decompression sickness. His "knees begin to hurt".

Although there are real-world examples of people surviving an ascent from a submarine at 300 feet, these are incredibly rare and never when breathing compressed air beforehand.

Postwar, submariner Walter F. Schlech, Jr., among others, examined submerged escape without breathing devices and discovered ascent was possible from as deep as 300 ft (91 m):

  • All the points above are true, but this is a novel. Gunter was a larger than life character. Surviving such an ordeal in real life is possible, so in a novel it is probable. It would have been amusing if a minor character that Randy encounters as a result of his interactions with Enoch Root would have given us another clue as to Gunter's fate. If Enoch the Red can survive for 300 years, then Gunter Bischoff survive for 50. Cheers!
    – user44783
    Apr 24, 2015 at 21:50
  • @BanyardiSchmardi - Since your answer was an attempt to comment on my answer, I've converted it into a comment...
    – Valorum
    Apr 24, 2015 at 21:54
  • Given how much time devoted to talking about decompression sickness and the writing style of the author, Bischoff did likely die
    – Navneet
    Mar 22, 2022 at 15:54

German U-Boat captains tended to be very, very unpopular after the war, being seen as war criminals for targeting civilian convoys and causing civilian suffering (starvation, etc.) Those in British custody at the end of the war (and their fates) generally went unreported.

So... there's a character that dies in the story in 1944 (Enoch Root), but mysteriously shows up alive a couple of generations later. I thought it likely that Bischoff simply assumed this identity after the war to launder his past.

  • 1
    I take it you've not read the Baroque Cycle, which contains an explanation for Enoch's survival.
    – Mike Scott
    Jul 26, 2017 at 5:49
  • This theory is invalidated within Cryptonomicon itself as they cover the activities of the group after defecting from Germany. Root is present at those points and so is Bischoff. Hence, Root didn’t they die earlier - they just staged it
    – Navneet
    Mar 22, 2022 at 15:50

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