Military history

WITHDRAWAL FROM THE CARIBBEAN

Eight Type IXs sailed to the Americas in August. In view of the intense Allied ASW air patrols and the extension of the convoy network to all sectors of the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean, none was directed to those waters. Three IXs carried out a special mission in Canadian waters; the other five patrolled the target-rich area east of Trinidad in the Atlantic.

German codebreakers in B-dienst provided Dönitz with a great flow of information on North Atlantic convoys. Nonetheless, the U-boats in that sector had difficulty in locating the eastbound Halifax and Slow Convoys. Believing that these convoys might be departing Canada via Belle Isle Strait and going far to the north, Dönitz assigned three Type IXs of the August group to reconnoiter the strait and the seas to the north of its mouth.*

The three boats sailed from Kiel on August 7 and 8 and arrived off the mouth of Belle Isle Strait about three weeks later. On August 27-28, two of the boats, U-517 and U-165, found a small military convoy en route from Sydney, Nova Scotia, to Greenland via Belle Isle Strait. It consisted of a half dozen ships sailing in two sections. The first section was made up of the 5,600-ton American passenger-cargo vessel Chatham, with 562 troops and crew on board, escorted by the 240-foot Coast Guard cutter Mojave. The second section, comprising several other ships, was escorted by two 165-foot Coast Guard cutters, Algonquin and Mohawk.

Both U-boats closed and attacked. Paul Hartwig in U-517 sank the Chatham, which fortunately went down slowly. Her escort, Mojave, rescued 293 men. Later, the American four-stack destroyer Bernadou and the Canadian corvette Trail rescued another 256 men.* Eberhard Hoffmann in the U-165 hit and damaged two ships in the second section, the old (1921) 7,300-ton U.S. Navy tanker Laramie and the 3,300-ton freighter Arlyn. The Laramie was loaded with 361,000 gallons of aviation gas, 55,000 gallons of oil, and general cargo, which included depth charges. The torpedo hit killed four men and blew a huge hole in her port bow, but her captain, Peter M. Moncy, skillfully and bravely saved the ship and returned it to Sydney, escorted by the Mohawk. Hartwig in U-517 put a finishing shot into Arlyn.

After clearing with Kerneval, Hoffmann and Hartwig boldly took their big IXs south down the shallow, fifteen-mile-wide Belle Isle Strait. Hartwig in U-517 poked his nose into a supposed convoy-assembly area, Forteau Bay, but it was empty. While still in the strait in darkness on September 3, he met two small convoys passing on opposite courses and sank the 1,800-ton Canadian laker Donald Stewart. Three Canadian corvettes and a minesweeper pounced on U-517, but the attacks failed or were not persistent and Hartwig, who had greater speed, easily escaped on the surface into the wide, fogbound waters of the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

Hoffmann in U-165 entered the Gulf of St. Lawrence first. He cruised south to the east coast of Cape Breton Island, where he botched an attack on a 1,900-ton Canadian coaster. He then sailed northwest to the tip of the Gaspé Peninsula, rounded it, and proceeded west up the St. Lawrence River to a point opposite Matane. There he met convoy Quebec-Sydney 33, comprised of eight big ships, escorted by a corvette, a minesweeper, two motor torpedo boats, and the armed yacht Raccoon. In a dogged series of attacks over the next twenty-four hours, Hoffmann claimed hits on three ships for 19,000 tons. Postwar records confirmed two sinkings: the 4,700-ton Greek freighter Aeas and the 358-ton Raccoon.

Responding to Hoffmann’s signals and beacons, Hartwig in U-517 sailed across the gulf to intercept the same convoy as it rounded the Gaspé Peninsula southbound. Late on the afternoon of September 7, Hartwig attacked and sank three ships: Greek freighters of 5,700 and 3,300 tons, and a 1,700-ton Canadian coaster. The four surviving escorts, reinforced by another minesweeper, were apparently too dumbstruck (or ill-trained) to mount an effective counterattack. A Hudson of the Canadian 113 Squadron caught Hartwig on the surface and claimed a “probable” kill, but the pilot botched the attack and U-517 sailed on untouched.

These eight sinkings plus severe damage to the tanker Laramie within a period of twelve days caused yet another uproar in the Canadian government. Rolf Rüggeberg in the third boat, U-513, who remained “outside” in the Atlantic, added greatly to the uproar with a daring feat. Taking advantage of foul weather during the night of September 4, he edged U-513 into Conception Bay (on the north tip of the Avalon Peninsula) on the surface, submerged in a convoy-assembly area, Wabana Roads, and the next day sank two big loaded freighters at anchor: the 5,400-ton British Saganaug and the 7,300-ton Canadian Lord Strathcona. In the ensuing chaos a fleeing freighter unknowingly rammed U-513, severely damaging her conning tower and putting a damper on Ruggeberg’s dare-deviltry.

Notwithstanding the mounting uproar and the ASW response, the three IXs continued the hunt. Hartwig in U-517 sank the Canadian corvette Charlottetown and two more freighters for 4,900 tons, raising his score to nine confirmed ships for 27,283 tons sunk. Hoffmann in U-165 sank another 3,700-ton freighter and damaged two more, raising his score to three ships sunk for 8,754 tons and four damaged for 21,751 tons. Rüggeberg in U-513, who remained in the Atlantic off Conception Bay and St. John’s, made only one other attack, during which he hit and damaged the 7,200-ton American-built British Liberty ship Ocean Vagabond.

Berlin and Kerneval were jubilant at the outcome of this foray in Canadian waters and praised Hartwig and Hoffmann highly. To Hartwig’s claim of 44,000 tons sunk, Dönitz arbitrarily added 8,000 tons for a ship Hartwig shot at on September 15 but did not claim. This gave Hartwig a propaganda total of ten ships for 52,000 tons, with which Berlin happily bludgeoned the Canadians. But there was a third act. Approaching Lorient on September 29, Hoffmann in U-165 struck a British mine and the boat blew up and sank with the loss of all hands.

The easy success of Hartwig and Hoffmann inside the Gulf of St. Lawrence—and the highly favorable propaganda they generated—persuaded Dönitz to continue what came to be known in Canadian history as “the Battle of the St. Lawrence.” Several of the IXs sailing from Germany or France in September were assigned to proceed independently to the gulf.

In the meantime, the two Type VIIs that had been ordered to plant TMB (magnetic) minefields in United States waters were pressed into the battle in Canada. After planting his field off the entrance to the Chesapeake Bay on September 10, Ulrich Gräf in U-69headed for the Cabot Strait. After planting his field off Charleston, South Carolina, Hans-Heinrich Giessler in U-455 went north to patrol off St. John’s, Newfoundland, replacing Rüggeberg in U-513.*

Upon entering the Gulf of St. Lawrence, Gräf in U-69 proceeded directly to the mouth of the St. Lawrence River. He then cruised upriver to Matane and beyond, penetrating deeper than any other U-boat skipper, including the pioneer Vogelsang. On October 10, Gräf met a convoy of seven ships and three escorts headed up-stream to Quebec City, 173 miles distant. Coolly Gräf set up on and sank the 2,400-ton Canadian freighter Carolus, then ran downstream before Allied ASW forces could collect their wits.

Returning to safer waters at the Cabot Strait, on October 14 Gräf found and sank a 2,200-ton Canadian railway ferry, Caribou, escorted by the minesweeper Grandmère. There were 237 persons on board Caribou, including 118 military personnel. Spotting U-69, Grandmère attempted to ram, but missed. She then dropped eighteen depth charges. Reinforced by other air and surface escorts at dawn, which held Gräf on the bottom for sixteen hours, Grandmère rescued 103 of the 237 persons on Caribou. The other 136, including many women and children, died in the blast or in the water.

Having gone upriver farther and killed more civilians than any other U-boat skipper, Gräf, too, caused an enormous uproar in Ottawa. Homebound on October 20, he attacked a convoy near Argentia and hit the 7,800-ton British freighter Rose Castle, but the torpedo malfunctioned, sparing the ship. Upon his return to France, Gräf received a “well done.”

Giessler in U-455 arrived off St. John’s, Newfoundland, on about October 1 and patrolled foggy waters close to shore for nearly two weeks. He saw only two ships, both beyond reach. On October 14 he reported his gyro compass had failed and that he was aborting. When he arrived in France after sixty-eight days at sea—and no sinkings—it was noted that in four patrols Giessler had sunk only two ships (both tankers) for 13,900 tons, and he left the boat for other duty.

The five Type IXs of the August group that were assigned to patrol the area east of Trinidad sailed from Kiel on August 12 to August 15. Three of the boats, U-175, U-512, and U-514, commissioned in November and December 1941, had been icebound in the Baltic for three or four months. Another, U-515, commissioned in February 1942, had also been delayed by ice. The last, U-516, commissioned on March 10,1942, was not seriously delayed by the ice but her workups and final fitting out took five full months.

The U-512 was commanded by Wolfgang Schultze, age thirty-one, one of two sons of a Kriegsmarine admiral. According to his peers, he was a vain, temperamental, spoiled brat who drank heavily, even on board ship. During the boat’s belated Baltic workup, Schultze rammed and capsized a small freighter (Morgenrot) and was himself rammed by another U-boat. These and other mishaps further delayed U-512 and gave the impression that Schultze was not only reckless but incompetent.

En route to Trinidad Schultze met Bruno Vowe’s tanker, U-462, and replenished. Thereafter, on about September 8, he encountered a big, lone, fast freighter which he estimated at 12,000 tons. In two separate surface attacks he fired four bow torpedoes. None hit or exploded, leading Schultze to conclude, probably wrongly, that the freighter had streamed antitorpedo nets. Four days later he came upon the fully loaded 10,900-ton American tanker Patrick J. Hurley. He fired two torpedoes at her but both missed. He then attacked with his 4.1” deck gun, his new 37mm flak gun, and other weapons. The Hurley crew returned a few rounds from her stern gun but quickly conceded the contest and abandoned ship, allowing Hurley to sink in a ball of fire.

A few days later, on September 19, Schultze spotted a lone freighter about fifty miles east of Martinique. She was the 3,700-ton Spanish neutral Monte Gorbea, sailing under her own colors. Brashly assuming she was a British ship in disguise—or so he told Dönitz—Schultze torpedoed and sank her. When B-dienst picked up her distress calls and informed the OKM, Berlin was furious. Admiral Raeder issued orders through Dönitz that when Schultze returned to France he was to be court-martialed. Dönitz informed “all boats” of the error and impending court-martial and passed along a stern reminder from Raeder that all skippers were to “comply exactly” with orders concerning the safe treatment of neutrals.

In the meantime, two other IXs of this group arrived east of Trinidad: U-514, commanded by Hans-Jürgen Auffermann, and U-515, commanded by Werner Henke. A onetime naval pilot, the twenty-seven-year-old Auffermann had served as first watch officer on U-69 on her pioneering patrol to Freetown for which Jost Metzler had won a Ritterkreuz. A longtime prewar merchant marine sailor, the thirty-four-year-old Henke had served as second and first watch officer on the U-124 when Georg-Wilhelm Schulz won his Ritterkreuz.

Patrolling the Windward Islands on September 11, Auffermann in U-514 scouted the most easterly of the islands, Barbados. Its capital, Bridgetown, was situated in a spacious harbor, Carlisle Bay, which had recently been sealed by an antisubmarine net, supported by a floating boom. Spotting two freighters moored at the Bridgetown waterfront, Auffermann fired a series of torpedoes, which broke through the net and hit one of the ships, the 5,500-ton Canadian Cornwallis. He claimed sinking Cornwallis and another ship of 4,500 tons, but the second could not be confirmed. The torpedo blasts stupefied the citizens of peaceful Bridgetown, who rushed to the waterfront to see Cornwallis settle heavily in the mud. Later the ship was patched up and returned to service, only to be sunk later in the war by another U-boat.

Patrolling the area directly east of Trinidad in a ten-day period from September 12 to September 23, Henke in U-515 turned in a spectacular first patrol. He sank by gun or torpedo eight confirmed ships for 42,000 tons and damaged two others for 10,700 tons. Among his victims was the British freighter Ocean Vanguard, which, in the fall of 1941, had been the first of the sixty American-built Liberty-type cargo vessels to enter British service, and two tankers: the 10,000-ton Panamanian Stanvac Melbourne and the 4,700-ton Dutch Woensdrecht. This nearly perfect performance was marred by a single setback. On September 15, while attacking the 5,600-ton American freighter Mae, Henke’s deck gun misfired and killed one of his men. Overcredited with sinking ten ships for 54,000 tons, Henke returned speedily to France, where he and his men were showered with praise and medals.

The last ship Henke torpedoed was the 6,000-ton American freighter Antinous. After her crew had abandoned ship in lifeboats, Schultze in U-512 came upon the hulk on September 24 and sank it with a single torpedo. This raised Schultze’s total bag to three ships for 20,600 tons, including the Spanish neutral, for which he was to face a court-martial.

By then a third IXC had arrived on the scene: the U-516, commanded by Gerhard Wiebe, age thirty-five. Wiebe had had a lively voyage to the Americas. South of Iceland on August 27, he had encountered the fast 9,700-ton British freighter Port Jackson, sailing alone. He had fired a full bow salvo at her, but all four torpedoes had missed. He had then opened fire with his deck gun, scoring two hits, but the ship had escaped in the fog. Acting on a sighting by another U-boat, on August 31 in the mid-Atlantic Wiebe had found the fast, 11,000-ton American tanker Jack Carnes, sailing in ballast. He had chased the ship for 270 miles (eighteen hours at 15 knots) and had finally sunk her with seven torpedoes. On September 6 he had met the aborting U-163 and received six torpedoes from her. Approaching the area east of Trinidad on September 19, Wiebe had sunk by torpedo the 6,200-ton American freighter Wichita.

In the latter days of September, Schultze in U-512 and Wiebe in U-516, working in loose cooperation, cruised southward off the coast of French Guiana. On September 28, Wiebe came upon the 1,200-ton Brazilian coaster Antonico. Since he was short of torpedoes, he sank her with his deck gun in an action that lasted only twenty minutes, he reported.* Two days later he sank by torpedo and gun the 5,300-ton British freighter Alipore.

Schultze in U-512 was close by but he found no targets. Although Allied aircraft had earlier attacked the boat and “slightly” wounded Schultze, he incautiously elected to remain on the surface in daylight. Near Devil’s Island on the morning of October 2, a radar-equipped Army Air Forces B-18 of Squadron 99, based at Trinidad, caught U-512 so disposed. The pilot ran in at an altitude of fifty feet and straddled the U-boat with two standard Mark XVII and two monster Mark XXIX experimental depth charges. The explosions smashed U-512 and drove her to the bottom in 138 feet of water. Apparently most of the compartments flooded instantly and drowned two-thirds of the crew, including Schultze.

The bow torpedo compartment sustained heavy damage but flooded gradually. Sixteen men were trapped there. Had they all had escape lungs they might have survived, but owing to improper stowage, the lungs had become wet with condensation and all but four had been taken to the engine room to dry out. As water and chlorine gas (saltwater mixing with electric-torpedo batteries) filled the compartment, four men strapped on the escape lungs. Others began to collapse from gas, rising air pressure, shock, and panic.

Two men, one wearing a lung, one not, attempted to organize an escape through the angled torpedo-loading hatch. They removed the hatch brace, undogged the hatch, and let seawater flow into the compartment until the pressure equalized and they could push the hatch fully open. They then swam out of the boat, but only the man with the escape lung reached the surface alive. He waved frantically to the plane circling overhead, and the aircrew dropped him a life belt and an inflatable raft. This lone survivor of U-512drifted in the raft for ten days, until on October 12 the American four-stack destroyer Ellis fished him from the sea. No sign of the other forty-eight men on U-512 was ever found.

The other two boats in this area, Auffermann’s U-514 and Wiebe’s U-516, found the hunting less and less rewarding. In pursuit of targets, Auffermann sailed south to the Equator. In the estuary of the Amazon River on September 28, he sank two Brazilian freighters for 8,200 tons. Returning northward via the waters off French Guiana on October 12, he sank a 5,700-ton American freighter not far from the area where U-512 had met her end. Wiebe in U-516 found no more targets off South America, but on the way home he sank a 5,800-ton British ship on October 23. Including a 167-ton sailing ship sunk by gun, Auffermann’s confirmed score in U-514 on this ninety-day patrol was five ships for 17,354 tons, plus heavy damage to the freighter Cornwallis in Barbados. Wiebe’s confirmed score on this ninety-five-day patrol, including the tanker Jack Carnes, was five ships for 28,400 tons sunk, plus damage to the 9,700-ton British freighter Port Jackson.

The last of the five IXs of the August group to patrol this area was Heinrich Bruns in U-175. Cruising the shallow waters off British Guiana, Bruns had very good luck. In a mere eighteen days, from September 18 to October 5, he sank by gun and torpedo nine confirmed freighters for 33,400 tons. He returned U-175 to France after seventy-four days at sea.

Altogether the five new Type IXs that patrolled east of Trinidad and south to French, Dutch, and British Guiana and the northern border of Brazil sank thirty confirmed ships for 143,000 tons. Henke in U-515 and Bruns in U-175 accounted for over half the total: seventeen ships for about 75,500 tons. One of the five IXs, U-512, was lost, taking down forty-eight of her forty-nine-man crew.

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