Military history


Eighteen Type IXs sailed to the Americas in late summer, ten in July and eight in August. As related, three of the July group that went by northern routes ran into convoys or joined organized packs and remained in the North Atlantic. Of the fifteen Type IXs that reached American waters, twelve were on maiden patrols.

In the July group of seven, four patrolled east and southeast of Trinidad, where traffic to and from Freetown, Cape Town, and North and South America converged. The other three boats patrolled inside the Caribbean Sea. All seven encountered “heavy” air patrols.

The old hand Adolf-Cornelius Piening in U-155 crossed the Atlantic via the southern route in company with Karl Neitzel, age forty-one, in the new U-510. In late July they refueled from the new tanker, U-463, commanded by Leo Wolfbauer. After that the boats separated, Piening in U-155 to patrol east of Trinidad and south to Dutch Guiana (Surinam), and Neitzel in U-510 to patrol through the Windward Passage along the south coast of Cuba to the southern approaches of the Yucatan Channel.

Piening turned in another notable performance. In a two-week period, July 28 to August 10, he sank by torpedo and gun ten ships for 44,000 tons. These included the 8,100-ton British tanker San Emiliano and two 400-ton Dutch coasters. He captured several officers from two of the ships, the Norwegian Bill and the British Empire Arnold. Counting the sinkings and claims in his two prior patrols to American waters, Piening qualified for a Ritterkreuz, which was awarded while he was still in the operational area.*

After that, the patrol turned sour. While cruising off the coast of French Guiana near the infamous Devil’s Island, Brazil-based Allied aircraft harassed U-155. On August 18, an attack by a patrol plane killed one crewman and nearly sank the boat with depth charges, bombs, and machine-gun fire. Piening escaped, but the explosions severely damaged his batteries and restricted his ability to dive. Upon receiving this report, Kerneval told Piening to stand by where he was until another boat could provide him assistance.

En route to the Caribbean via the Windward Passage on August 2, Karl Neitzel in the new U-510 sighted a lighted ship, which appeared to be a neutral. Per standing orders, Neitzel radioed Kerneval for authority to shoot. The staff ruled that if the ship was not Argentine, Swiss, or Portuguese, he should sink it. He did and learned from the captain, whom he captured, that she was the 5,300-ton Uruguayan neutral Maldonaldo, en route to New York with corned beef. The sinking infuriated the Uruguayans and edged that little country closer to a declaration of war.

Two days later Neitzel’s hydrophones (passive sonar) failed. In view of the intensified ASW measures in the Caribbean and the inexperience of the boat, Kerneval canceled its Caribbean foray and redirected it to the supposedly safer open waters of the Atlantic, east of the Windward Islands. On August 10 Neitzel found and attacked the 8,000-ton British tanker Alexia, which mounted a spirited gun defense. Neitzel claimed she was a 14,000-tonner and that he had sunk her, but she was only damaged and later reached port.

Cruising south toward the northeast coast of South America, Neitzel suddenly encountered heavy ship traffic east of Trinidad. On August 18 he shot four torpedoes at a big fast freighter, but missed. The next day he sank a 5,000-ton British freighter, which he claimed to be 11,600 tons. That sinking drew a counterattack from Allied aircraft, one of which damaged U-510. Upon learning that Neitzel’s boat had also incurred damage, Kerneval directed him to rendezvous with Piening in the damaged U-155, who was marking time near Devil’s Island. Neitzel gave Piening some bridging cables for his batteries, but this was not sufficient. Kerneval therefore ordered both boats to return to France in company. An outbound boat was to give U-155 the necessary spare parts to repair the battery.

The Ritterkreuz holder Klaus Scholtz in the Type IXB U-108 traveled by the southern route directly to the area east of Trinidad. As related earlier, he was one of five inbound and outbound boats that responded on July 17 to the discovery of convoy Outbound South 34 by Linder in the inbound U-202. As also related, Scholtz had joined Suhren in U-564 in an attack on the convoy, and had fired a full salvo of six torpedoes (four bow, two stern) into the formation, all of which missed.

When Scholtz in U-108 reached the area east of Trinidad, he had to strictly husband fuel and torpedoes. Nonetheless, he turned in another noteworthy performance. On August 3 he sank the 6,200-ton British tanker Tricula. A week later, he chased a “big” ocean liner in vain, but sank the 2,700-ton Norwegian freighter Brines. Off French Guiana in the three-day period from August 15 to August 17, he found several tankers sailing alone and sank one of them, the 8,600-ton American Louisiana. In retaliation, aircraft attacked U-108 with bombs and depth charges, but the boat survived. Damaged and low on fuel, Scholtz headed home. His claims and overclaims qualified him for Oak Leaves to his Ritterkreuz, awarded on September 10 when the boat arrived in France. Subsequently, Scholtz left the boat to command Combat Flotilla 12 at Bordeaux.*

The relentlessly aggressive forty-two-year-old Jürgen Wattenberg, former navigator of the Graf Spee, departed France for his third patrol in U-162 on July 7. Mechanical defects had compelled him to abort his first patrol to the Americas. On his second, east of Trinidad, he had sunk nine confirmed ships for 47,000 tons, including three tankers. Determined to duplicate or exceed his second patrol and win a Ritterkreuz, Wattenberg opted for those same waters east of Trinidad. On the way, he, too, had responded to U-202’s alert on convoy Outbound South 34, expending considerable fuel to no purpose, but no torpedoes.

Wattenberg arrived in the waters off Trinidad in early August. Harassed by ASW aircraft, he had no success for two weeks. As related, on August 18, he found a Trinidad-Aruba-Key West convoy, gave the alarm, tracked, and brought in Reinhard Suhren in the VII U-564. In this loosely coordinated convoy attack, Wattenberg sank a 5,700-ton American freighter. He continued tracking the convoy for several days, but was unable to make another attack and returned to waters east of Trinidad. There, in a one-week period, from August 24 to August 30, he sank two more big freighters and the 8,300-ton Norwegian tanker Thelma, bringing his score for the patrol to four confirmed ships sunk for 30,500 tons.

Late in the afternoon of September 3, when U-162 was about forty miles south of Barbados, Wattenberg spotted what he believed to be a single destroyer. He gave the order to attack submerged, but when he closed to shooting range, he saw there were not one but three destroyers! These were British warships en route to Trinidad to escort a convoy northward. Bravely or foolishly, Wattenberg continued the attack, firing a bow torpedo at the center ship, Pathfinder. However, the torpedo malfunctioned, broached, and headed directly for the left ship, Quentin, which maneuvered wildly to evade and did so, but just barely.

The three destroyers ran in and pounded U-162 with depth charges. Pathfinder dropped ten, Quentin six, and the other ship, Vimy, fourteen. The charges damaged U-162 severely but Wattenberg held her in control and lay doggo. Believing that the U-boat would eventually surface and try to escape to the east, the senior British commander told Vimy, which had Type 271 centimetric radar, to stay put, while Quentin and Pathfinder, which had meter-wavelength Type 286 radar, searched easterly. Not long after Quentin and Pathfinder departed, U-162 surfaced. Vimy immediately got her on radar at 2,800 yards.

Vimy recalled Quentin and Pathfinder and ran in at full speed to ram, firing her main battery. The second round hit U-162 and burst inside the pressure hull. Hopelessly outnumbered and outgunned, Wattenberg ordered his men to scuttle and abandon ship. As his men jumped overboard, he fired two red flares to mark the spot. Blinded by the flares and suspecting a ruse, Vimy attempted to abort the ramming, but her left screw crunched into U-162’s aft section, temporarily disabling the destroyer. As the ships entangled, Vimy threw over another shallow-set depth charge, which hastened U-162’s demise and injured many Germans in the water. The three destroyers rescued Wattenberg and forty-eight of his men and took them to Trinidad. Two Germans died in the sinking.

The British turned over Wattenberg and his men to American intelligence officers in Trinidad. They found these Germans to be “extremely security-conscious” and as a result, they learned “little of intelligence value.” In due course the Americans were to discover that Wattenberg was an unyielding foe and troublemaking prisoner, who eventually conceived an elaborate scheme that enabled him and several other U-boat skippers to escape from an Arizona POW camp.

Three Type IXs of the July group which patrolled inside the Caribbean were new. Prior to her patrol, U-511, a Type IXC, commanded by Friedrich Steinhoff, age thirty-three, had been diverted to the Wehrmacht’s experimental rocket station at Peenemünde, where German scientists and engineers were developing the V-1 cruise and V-2 ballistic missiles. The German rocket experts had developed a small ballistic missile designed to be fired from a submerged submarine. The U-511 had served briefly as a test platform, but the submarine-launched missile was not fully developed, nor was it to be by war’s end.

The U-511 and the new U-164, commanded by Otto Fechner, age thirty-six, sailed for the Caribbean by way of the North Atlantic routes. On July 29, both boats were drawn into the chase of convoy Outbound North 115, but U-164 had a diesel-engine failure and was forced to fall out, and U-511 became lost in fog. Following this fruitless diversion, the boats refueled from Leo Wolfbauer’s tanker U-463 and proceeded to the Caribbean.

Fechner in U-164 entered the Caribbean via the Mona Passage. Proceeding to the area near Aruba and Curaçao, he encountered “heavy” air patrols but very few ships. When Otto Ites in the Type VII U-94 reported the convoy Trinidad-Key West 15 south of the Windward Passage on August 25, Fechner in U-164 made contact and sank a 3,800-ton Dutch freighter. Remaining inside the Caribbean near Jamaica and the south coast of Cuba, he sank one other small freighter of 1,700 tons, then left the Caribbean in frustration to cruise the Atlantic east of Trinidad. There an ASW aircraft bombed him and ruptured a fuel tank, forcing him to return to France. In an arduous patrol of eighty-two days, he sank two ships for 5,500 tons.

Steinhoff in U-511 entered the Caribbean through the Windward Passage. On August 20 he found a convoy south of the passage, but a radar-equipped Catalina drove the boat under and held it there for hours. As related, when Otto Ites in U-94 found the main body of convoy Trinidad-Key West 15 in the same waters on August 27, Steinhoff responded, and while the convoy escorts and Catalina sank U-94, Steinhoff attacked the convoy and sank two tankers for 22,000 tons and damaged another of 7,800 tons, which limped into Guantánamo Bay. He cruised these heavily patrolled waters until September 8 but had no further luck.

The third and last Type IX of the July group to enter the Caribbean was the new U-163, commanded by Kurt-Eduard Engelmann, age thirty-nine. He was assigned to replace Neitzel in U-510, who had aborted his patrol to the Yucatan Channel, going via the Windward Passage and the south coast of Cuba. While approaching the Windward Passage on the night of August 12-13, Engelmann reported, he was attacked by Catalinas. When Karl Thurmann in U-553 found convoy Trinidad-Key West 13 on August 17, Engelmann responded, but he could not get around the escort to shoot, he said. Three days later he reported that his evaporators were out of commission, that he had very little drinking water, and that he was therefore forced to abort the patrol. He returned to France after fifty-eight days at sea, having sunk no ships of any kind.

Altogether the seven Type IXs that sailed to the Americas in July sank twenty-three ships (four tankers) for about 130,000 tons. This was a disappointing average of about 3.3 ships of about 18,500 tons sunk per boat per patrol, similar to the diminished returns of the Type IXs that sailed to the Americas in June. One Type IX, Wattenberg’s U-162, was lost.

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