Winston Churchill urged the Allied governments to occupy Norway to shut off the wintertime flow of Swedish iron ore from Narvik to Germany, to gain air and naval bases to attack Germany and bottle up the Kriegsmarine in the North Sea, and to deny this strategic area to Germany and/or the Soviet Union. After March 12, when the gallant Finns were finally crushed by Soviet forces, Neville Chamberlain and the new French Prime Minister, Paul Reynaud, approved a plan to occupy Norway, and by way of preparation, the Royal Navy’s Home Fleet returned to Scapa Flow.
By that time Hitler had completed his plan for the occupation of Norway. It was daring and intricate. Small groups of airborne and seaborne shock troops were to simultaneously seize five key Norwegian seaports in a surprise assault. The Kriegsmarine was to play the major role in the campaign. Its ships were to dash out under cover of darkness, deliver the seaborne troops, then dash back to Germany before the superior Home Fleet or the RAF had time to react.
The Germans were aware of the Allied plans to occupy Norway and therefore realized they were engaged in a race. But owing to the heavy ice in the Baltic Sea, and Raeder’s insistence that the operation be carried out when the moon was “new” (or dimmest) and to other factors, D day had to be put off to April 9. Meanwhile, to thwart an Allied occupation of Norway before the Germans could get there, Hitler directed the Luftwaffe to mount an all-out attack on the Home Fleet at Scapa Flow and the U-boat arm to patrol the North Sea, both offensively and defensively, concentrating its power against Allied warships and troopships.
This was the first time in history that an entire submarine force (however small) had been called upon to participate in a major military campaign involving close cooperation with air, sea, and ground forces. It was to be a radical—and risky—change in roles. Theretofore U-boats for the most part had patrolled alone in distant, deep, open seas with a fair degree of freedom, attacking mostly lone merchant ships with stealth and surprise and evading escorts and U-boat killers. During the Norway operation, they were to operate under very tight control in the confined waters of the North and Norwegian seas, aswarm with enemy aircraft and submarines, attacking Allied warships and troopships, which were certain to be on fullest alert for U-boats.
First and above all else, the U-boat arm had to thwart an Allied amphibious invasion of Norway. Receiving B-dienst intercepts indicating that such an invasion was imminent, on March 11 the OKM directed Dönitz to immediately deploy ten oceangoing boats off Norway and twelve ducks in the lower North Sea to repel the supposed invasion.
In the early stages of this deployment, two of the ten oceangoing boats were lost. On March 11, an RAF Blenheim bomber spotted the Type VII U-31, commanded by Johannes Habekost, on the surface, in home waters, near Wilhelmshaven. Skillfully using cloud cover, pilot Miles Villiers Delap eased in over U-31 and dropped four improved 250-pound bombs. The U-31 blew up and sank instantly in 102 feet of water, killing her entire crew as well as ten diesel-engine specialists and shipyard workers. She was the first U-boat to be sunk by an aircraft, but she was raised and salvaged. About two days later, probably on March 13, the outbound Type IX U-44, commanded by the promising new skipper, Ludwig Mathes, struck a mine in the Helgoland Bight and also went down instantly with all hands. Dönitz substituted another boat for U-31, but he was unaware of the loss of U-44 for many days.
The ten oceangoing boats were directed to patrol defensively off three major Norwegian ports:
Narvik, 1,000 miles distant. Four Type VIIBs were sent there: U-46 (Sohler), from retraining in torpedo shooting; U-47 (Prien), from ninety days in refit; U-49 (von Gossler), from ninety days of battle-damage repair; and U-51 (Knorr), which had made one prior (aborted) patrol to the Atlantic in January.
Trondheim, 750 miles distant. Two Type VIIs were sent there: U-30 (Lemp) and U-34 (Rollmann), both from refit following Atlantic minelaying missions.
Bergen, 450 miles distant. Four boats were sent there: one Type VIIB, the U-52, commanded by Otto Salmann, which had been sabotaged in December and, except for a brief, barren patrol in September under another skipper, had not seen any action, and three Type IXs: U-38 (Liebe), which had made a long, interesting but largely fruitless patrol to Murmansk; U-43 (Ambrosius), from ninety days of battle-damage repairs; and U-44 (Mathes), which, unknown to Dönitz, was already lost.
While these boats were moving into position, on the night of March 16 the Luftwaffe struck Scapa Flow. The raid was carried out by twenty-nine JU-88s and HE-111s, many dropping huge (2,200-pound) bombs. The Luftwaffe pilots reported great success: two direct hits on a battleship, one hit on another battleship or battle cruiser, one hit on a battle cruiser, one hit on a heavy cruiser, and near hits on other battleships. In fact, only the cruiser Norfolk was damaged.
Believing that all these supposedly damaged capital ships would limp to home ports for repairs, or that the entire Home Fleet might again abandon Scapa Flow, the OKM ordered Dönitz to form an “attack group” of oceangoing boats to intercept them. Accordingly, Dönitz diverted five such boats bound for Norway (including the lost U-44) to positions west of the Orkneys. The other five boats continued to Norway.
To avoid another Luftwaffe attack, the Home Fleet did in fact leave Scapa Flow on March 19. At dawn that day, Prien in U-47 spotted three battleships, escorted by destroyers. Prien was submerged; the battleships were about five miles off, running at high speed. Since the ships were beyond torpedo range, there was nothing Prien could do. Owing to the heavy enemy air, patrols in the Orkneys, he could not surface to report until dark. No other U-boats of the attack group saw these ships.
Dönitz held the attack group in the Orkneys for about ten days. Two of the four boats found targets. Liebe in U-38 sank three Danish ships for 10,300 tons; Prien in U-47 sank a Dane for 1,146 tons. All the boats encountered foul weather and intense ASW measures—air patrols and destroyer hunter-killer groups. For the second time U-47 was depth charged, but she incurred no serious damage.
Believing the attack group was a “waste of time,” Dönitz urged the OKM to replace it with ducks. The OKM agreed to that but insisted that some oceangoing boats remain in the Orkneys area until the ducks arrived. Accordingly, Dönitz reshuffled the oceangoing boats. He recalled (the lost) U-44 (Mathes), U-47 (Prien), and U-49 (von Gossler) to Wilhelmshaven to replenish for Norway, left U-38 (Liebe) and U-43 (Ambrosius) in place, and brought U-52 (Salmann) from Bergen. Liebe sank a Norwegian freighter, but neither U-43 or U-52 found targets. When the ducks arrived on about April 1, Dönitz recalled these three oceangoing boats to Wilhelmshaven.
The four boats assigned to patrol defensively off Norway were restricted to sinking enemy warships, submarines, and troopships. Off Trondheim, Lemp in U-30 found and attacked a British submarine, but his torpedoes missed or malfunctioned. None of the other boats found any permissible targets. Dönitz left U-46 (Sohler) and U-51 (Knorr) off Norway but recalled U-30 and U-34 for replenishment. The U-46 remained at Narvik; the U-51 went south to replace U-30 and U-34 at Trondheim. Inbound, U-30 (Lemp) rescued a Luftwaffe air crew that had ditched. The two recalled boats were hurriedly made ready to help repel the invasion.
Fourteen ducks deployed into the North Sea in March. Two of these, replacing the oceangoing attack group in the Orkneys, found targets. Joachim Schepke in U-19 sank four small Danish freighters for 5,500 tons. Claus Korth in U-57 sank two ships for 7,000 tons, including the 5,700-ton British tanker Daghestan, which had been damaged by the Luftwaffe. No other ducks sank ships. Two ducks were lost: U-21, commanded by Wolf Stiebler, which ran aground off Norway and was later salvaged, and U-22, commanded by Karl-Heinrich Jenisch, which disappeared off northeast Scotland with the loss of all hands, probably the victim of a British mine. The twelve surviving ducks returned to Germany to prepare for the invasion.
In total, twenty-four U-boats had deployed in March to thwart the supposed Allied invasion. But it was all a waste of time. For various political and military reasons, the Allies had also been forced to postpone Norway operations. Liebe, Prien, Schepke, and Korth had sunk twelve small freighters for 28,000 tons. Against that inconsequential score, four boats had been lost: the oceangoing U-31 (salvaged) and U-44, and two ducks, U-21 (salvaged) and U-22. The crews of the other twenty boats, poised for the greatest challenge the U-boat arm had yet faced, were exhausted from these nerve-racking patrols, but they had no time to rest and recuperate.
On the eve of the German invasion of Norway, April 1, the U-boat arm had shrunk to forty-eight commissioned boats, nine fewer than the day the war began. Dönitz deployed thirty-two of the forty-eight for the invasion: fourteen of the twenty-two oceangoing boats and eighteen of the twenty-six ducks. At the insistence of the OKM, two of the fourteen oceangoing boats first had to carry out special missions: temporary escort service for the outbound merchant-ship “raiders,” Atlantis and Orion* The other twelve oceangoing boats, including the VIIBs U-47 and U-52, still on patrol, were assigned to waiting positions in the most distant waters, north of Bergen. The eighteen ducks were assigned to waiting positions south of Bergen and in the lower North Sea.
The Germans invaded Norway and Denmark on the morning of April 9. By nightfall, German forces held all the key cities in both nations! Outwitted, the Allies were shocked by the swiftness and efficiency of the operation. They hastily geared up for air, sea, and land counterattacks in Norway.
The Kriegsmarine incurred grievous losses. British naval forces trapped ten fleet destroyers at Narvik. Norwegian shore batteries sank the heavy cruiser Blücher at Oslo. British aircraft, flying from the Orkneys, sank the light cruiser Königsberg at Bergen. A British submarine, Truant, fatally holed the light cruiser Karlsruhe at Kristiansand. British submarines and the Polish submarine Orzel sank six or more merchant ships in the supply train. British and/or Norwegian forces slightly damaged the Gneisenau and Scharnhorst, the “pocket” battleship Deutschland (renamed Lützow), the new heavy cruiser Hipper, the light cruiser Emden, and an old training cruiser, Bremse.
The gravest setback for the Germans on D day occurred in Narvik, where British naval forces trapped the ten fleet destroyers. A picture-postcard town nestled at the foot of majestic snow-covered mountains, Narvik is about 120 miles north of the Arctic Circle on the latitude of northernmost Alaska, yet owing to the warm sea wash from the Gulf Stream, it is ice-free year around. To mariners it is both spellbinding and challenging. To reach it they must transit nearly sixty miles of twisting narrow fjords, first Vest, then Ofot, mindful of the 11½-foot tidal changes that occur four times daily, creating swift, swirling currents.
Dönitz had deployed three oceangoing boats in Vest Fjord, the outer approach to Narvik: Sohler’s U-47, Knorr’s U-51, and the unsteady, big U-25 (Schütze). The VIIBs U-47 and U-51 had been on patrol since March 11, almost a full month. Both boats were low on fuel; the crews were tired and tense. The U-25 was fresh from Germany.
Narvik was a difficult area for submarines. The Arctic “nights” in April were only four or five hours long. To remain concealed, the boats had to run submerged for nineteen or twenty hours a day. This prolonged submergence badly fouled the interior air, made breathing difficult, dulled alertness, and drained the storage batteries. The “nights” were barely long enough to fully charge the batteries. To do so the boats either had to make a long, time-consuming, and risky run to open water, hide in a snowstorm or fog, or creep into small, uncharted fjords branching off the main fjords. The water in the fjords was shallow in places and there was little room to evade and escape a depth-charge attack.
On D day the Admiralty ordered five destroyers to investigate rumors of a German landing at Narvik. Patrolling the outer Vest Fjord, Knorr in U-51 saw the inbound destroyers. He mounted two separate attacks, but scored no hits. Later he surfaced and flashed a warning report intended for the German destroyers in Narvik, but his message was ambiguous and when the British destroyers reached Narvik, the Germans were not prepared. In the savage battle that ensued, the British destroyers sank two German destroyers and severely damaged four others; the Germans rallied to sink two British destroyers and damage a third.
The three U-boats in Vest Fjord were waiting to intercept the three withdrawing British destroyers. The U-46 (Sohler) did not see them but U-25 (Schütze) and U-51 (Knorr) did, and each attacked with electric torpedoes with magnetic pistols. But something went drastically wrong. Schütze, who fired two torpedoes, reported no observed results. Knorr, who fired four torpedoes at close range, reported two premature explosions and two misses.
Fearing a disastrous reversal at Narvik, Hitler directed every available oceangoing U-boat to converge there, both to repel follow-up Royal Navy attacks and to transport supplies to the 2,000 German shock troops that had landed there. In response, Dönitz ordered six more oceangoing boats to Narvik, including the Atlantis escort, U-37. However, owing to a shortage of lube oil, Hartmann in U-37 could not comply. Upon learning that, Dönitz directed Hartmann to substitute for U-64, which was escorting Orion, and although the brand-new U-64 was merely a few days into its first patrol, he sent it to Narvik in place of U-37, along with her equally green sister ship, U-65. At the same time, Dönitz directed four boats in German ports to load army supplies and take them to Narvik: U-26 (Scheringer), U-29 (Schuhart), U-43 (Ambrosius), and the duck U-61 (Oesten). These orders committed twelve oceangoing boats to Narvik: nine in attack roles, three in supply roles.
Rushing to Narvik on April 11, Herbert Schultze in U-48 ran across big ships of the Home Fleet that were out looking for Gneisenau and Scharnhorst: three battleships, several heavy cruisers, a light cruiser and five destroyers. He boldly mounted two separate submerged attacks against three heavy cruisers, firing a total of six torpedoes with magnetic pistols. Four of the six torpedoes prematured; none hit. Later Schultze surfaced to report the task force and the torpedo failures.
Dönitz was gravely concerned. Three boats (U-25, U-48, U-51) had shot a total of twelve torpedoes, and six to eight torpedoes had prematured or malfunctioned, a failure rate of 50 to 66 percent. What was causing this latest torpedo calamity? The weakening of the earth’s magnetic field in extreme northern latitudes? The iron content in the Norwegian mountains? Something else?
The new chief of the Torpedo Directorate, Oskar Kummetz, was away on detached duty, commanding the Oslo invasion forces. In his absence, Dönitz conferred by telephone with the “Torpedo Dictator,” Dr. Cornelius, and other technicians. They expressed doubt that the earth’s magnetic field or the iron ore in Norwegian soil could be causing the failures, but they could offer no help or advice.
What to do? Dönitz believed that he should order all boats to deactivate magnetic pistols and rely only on impact (or contact) pistols. However, owing to the deep-running defect (not yet fixed), this order would rule out shooting at shallow-draft ships, such as destroyers, an unthinkable restriction. It was finally decided—and ordered—that boats operating north of 62 degrees latitude were to adopt a mixture of magnetic and impact pistols. They were to load the four forward tubes with three torpedoes fitted with impact pistols and one with a magnetic pistol. When shooting at deep-draft ships (cruisers and larger), only contact pistols were to be used. When shooting at shallow-draft ships (destroyers, etc.), two torpedoes were to be fired, one with an impact pistol and the other with a magnetic pistol. To avoid the possibility that a premature in the magnetic pistol might detonate the torpedo with the contact pistol, an interval of eight seconds between torpedoes was to be observed.
By April 12, there were nine oceangoing attack boats in or converging on Narvik. These included four big, unwieldy boats, entirely unsuitable for these confined waters: the Type I U-25, the Type IX U-38, and two brand-new Type IXBs, U-64 and U-65. Some of these boats refueled from the disabled German destroyers or merchant ships at Narvik. Even though operating in very shallow and dangerous waters, all boats carried Enigmas with naval rotors in order to keep in touch with Dönitz and one another.
There were two important Enigma messages from Dönitz that day. The first contained the new—and very complicated—orders for torpedo shooting: impact pistols only against large ships, a combination of impact and magnetic pistols against destroyers. The second message ordered a redeployment. Based on B-dienst intercepts, an Allied landing was expected at the next large fjord to the north, Vaags. Four of the nine Atlantic boats assigned to Narvik—U-38 (Liebe), U-47 (Prien), U-49 (von Gossler), and the LXB U-65—were to shift north to Vaags Fjord to interdict the landing. The five boats left at Narvik were positioned as follows: U-25 (Schütze) and U-51 (Knorr) in the outer Vest Fjord; U-46 (Sohler), U-48 (Schultze), and IXB U-64 in the inner Ofot Fjord.
To soften up Narvik for the Allied landing and to wipe out the remaining German destroyers, on the morning of April 13 the Admiralty sent the old but modernized battleship Warspite and nine destroyers into Vest and Ofot fjords.
En route to Vaags Fjord, the new U-65, commanded by Hans-Gerrit von Stock-hausen, age thirty-two, ran, across this task force, which was reported as “ten destroyers.” Although U-65 had not completed her workups and torpedo practices, and had been at sea merely five days on her first war patrol, von Stockhausen unhesitatingly attacked two destroyers. As prescribed, he fired two torpedoes (one magnetic pistol, one contact pistol) spaced at eight-second intervals at each destroyer. The destroyers pounced on U-65, hurling depth charges, which damaged the boat. In the noise, von Stockhausen was not able to tell if his torpedoes hit or not. None did.
Unharmed, the British task force entered Vest Fjord, where the U-25 (Schütze) and U-51 (Knorr) patrolled. Schütze in U-25 saw the task force coming in and closed to attack. Like von Stockhausen, he chose two near destroyers for his targets, firing the prescribed mixture of torpedoes with magnetic and contact pistols. Nothing happened. No hits. As the British task force nosed deeper into the fjords, the commander catapulted an aged Swordfish floatplane from Warspite to scout ahead. The air crew radioed back valuable information on German destroyer dispositions. Then, astonishingly, the airmen reported a U-boat on the surface at anchor in the north end of Herjangs Fjord, a tributary of Ofot Fjord, close to the town of Narvik.
This was the other newly arrived IXB, U-64, commanded by Georg-Wilhelm Schulz, age thirty-four, from the duck U-10. Commissioned in December 1939, the U-64 had been icebound at a pier in Kiel and, like her sister ship U-65, had not completed workup. Schulz, like Prien, was a onetime merchant marine captain and a crack seaman, but the Swordfish caught Schulz unalert and unprepared.
The Swordfish dived at U-64 and dropped two 100-pound ASW bombs. One hit U-64’s bow, opening a great gash in the hull. U-64 sank almost instantly in 114 feet of water—the second U-boat (after U-31) to be sunk by an aircraft. Unassisted by surface ships, Schulz and about a dozen others who were topside floundered into the icy water. Another thirty-odd men got out of the sunken boat using the often rehearsed escape procedures. German soldiers putting out from shore in small boats rescued the shocked and freezing survivors, all of whom eventually returned to Germany by train and ship. Eight men of U-64 died in the sinking.
The battleship Warspite and nine destroyers reached Ofot Fjord in the early afternoon of April 13, supported by ten Swordfish from the carrier Furious, standing well offshore. Warned by the Swordfish that had sunk U-64 to expect other U-boats, the destroyers were on full alert and itching for kills.
Yet another close and savage naval battle erupted in the tight confines of Ofot Fjord that afternoon. The powerful British force confronting eight German destroyers in various stages of readiness inflicted a perfect slaughter, sinking all. Out-manned and outgunned, the Germans fought valiantly to the bitter end. They severely damaged three British destroyers but the three escaped to fight again.
Two VIIBs patrolled inside Ofot Fjord that afternoon: U-46 (Sohler) and U-48 (Schultze). With nine destroyers in the narrow fjords and what appeared to be an endless stream of aircraft overhead, it was a nightmarish time. Sohler in U-46 maneuvered beneath the destroyer screen and set up on Warspite. As he was ready to shoot, the boat hit and rode up on an uncharted rock, exposing the entire length of the bow. Fortunately for Sohler and his men, all the British ships were intent on sinking the German destroyers and did not see this mishap. Later in the day, however, the destroyers found and depth charged U-46 so severely that Sohler believed the boat could not survive and he ordered that the Enigma and all secret papers be destroyed. Schultze in U-48 surfaced to exchange information with what he believed to be a German destroyer but which turned out to be British. He crash-dived to escape, but the destroyer pounded U-48 with thirteen depth charges, all close. In the narrow fjord the explosions seemed to be magnified; they were deafening and nerve-shattering, but not fatal.
The U-48 closed on Warspite and at point-blank range shot a full bow salvo—three torpedoes with impact pistols, one with a magnetic pistol. Nothing happened. Schultze then mounted attacks on two destroyers. No hits. A crewman in U-48, Horst Hofman, remembered these times as “unmitigated hell.” He went on:
Every day and every hour of every day we were attacking destroyers or finding ourselves trapped in the destroyers’ clutches. Day in, day out, night after night … we scurried up and down and round and round the fjord, submerged. And the nights were short, far too short to allow us to charge our batteries and to maintain the boat ready for action. Sleep was out of the question—we hardly found time to get something to eat…. We used up the air in our oxygen flasks to the very last drop…. One after another we fired all our magnetic [sic] torpedoes. Not one of them exploded…. Try as we would all our efforts remained completely fruitless….
The British force withdrew through Vest Fjord, where U-25 (Schütze) and U-51 (Knorr) were patrolling. Schütze got in two attacks, one on Warspite, one on a destroyer. Nothing happened. There were no hits in either attack.
At the Admiralty, First Lord Churchill urged that the Allied invasion force land directly at shattered Narvik on the evening of April 13. But as B-dienst had learned, the British Army commander preferred an indirect attack, to be staged from Vaags Fjord, the next inlet north of Narvik.
On the morning of April 15, the main British assault force for Narvik approached Vaags Fjord. That morning four boats were off Vaags Fjord: U-38 (Liebe), U-47 (Prien), U-49 (von Gossler), and U-65 (von Stockhausen). Liebe, Prien, and von Gossler had not yet fired any torpedoes.
The Type IX boats, U-38 and the damaged, green U-65, positioned at the entrance to the fjord, got in the first licks. Liebe in U-38 boldly attacked the battleship Valiant and the cruiser Southampton. Not one of Liebe’s torpedoes hit. Next in line, von Stockhausen in U-65, attacked a big Polish liner, Batory, which had been pressed into service as a troopship. No hits.
Two VIIBs, U-47 (Prien) and U-49 (von Gossler), were inside Vaags Fjord, submerged. Earlier in the day some Norwegians had seen U-49 on the surface just north of the island of Andorja and reported the sighting to the British. When the convoy entered Vaags Fjord, the British sent two destroyers, Fearless and Brazen, directly to the reported position of U-49. Fearless got a good sonar contact and attacked, dropping five depth charges set for 150, 250, and 350 feet. One charge exploded close to the conning tower, causing the boat to “leap.” The lights went out; the boat began to flood. One other charge exploded close on the stern.
The previous November U-49 had sustained one of the worst depth-charge attacks of the war and escaped. Perhaps the memories of that terrible experience still haunted her captain. According to a British after-action report, von Gossler “seemed to have lost his head.” He apparently panicked and blew ballast tanks. Almost instantly after the first salvo of depth charges, the U-49 popped to the surface, close to Fearless and Brazen. German crewmen ran on deck apparently to man the gun, but Fearless and Brazendiscouraged this by firing a “few rounds,” one of which hit the conning tower. Von Gossler gave orders to scuttle and all of U-49’s crew except von Gossler and a petty officer leaped into the calm but frigid water, “screaming wildly and crying for help,” the British reported.
Still on the bridge of the scuttled boat, von Gossler and the petty officer were feverishly stuffing confidential papers into a bag. Seeing this, Fearless opened fire with machine guns, driving both Germans into the water, where they lost the bag, which had not yet been weighted. By then, both Fearless and Brazen had launched boats to fish out the survivors. British sailors in one of the boats grabbed the bag before it sank. Others pulled forty-one of forty-two survivors from the water, including one wounded, then finally the body of one man who had been killed by gunfire. The bag contained German secret grid charts showing the deployment of the U-boats assigned to Norway and other documents, but to the great disappointment of the naval codebreakers at Bletchley Park, who were still struggling fruitlessly with naval Enigma, there was nothing in the bag to help them.
Prien in U-47 was nearby in Vaags Fjord when U-49 was sunk. Recently Dönitz had notified him that his wife had had a second daughter.* Probing the waterways that evening, he ventured stealthily into a tributary, Bygden Fjord, leading to the town of Elvenes, the objective of the main British ground forces. There he saw a heart-stopping sight: “Three large transports, each of 30,000 tons and three more, slightly smaller, escorted by two cruisers.” All eight ships were lying at anchor in the narrow south end of Bygden Fjord, disembarking troops into fishing boats. The ships, Prien logged, were “just clear of each other and in some cases, slightly overlapping.”
Here was an opportunity for Prien to eclipse his triumph at Scapa Flow: sink in a single blow at least 150,000 tons of enemy shipping, including two heavy cruisers, and thwart the British counterattack on Narvik. He and his first watch officer, Engelbert Endrass, huddled to plan the attack with exacting care. They decided to fire four bow torpedoes (as prescribed by Dönitz, three with impact pistols, one with a magnetic pistol) from a submerged position at four different ships, reload the forward tubes during the ensuing chaos, surface so they could escape at maximum speed, then fire the four bow tubes again at the other four ships.
At 2242 Prien, manning the periscope, commenced the attack. The stationary enemy ships, he logged, “stretched in a solid wall before me.” He fired the four bow torpedoes at eight-second intervals, set to run at twelve and fifteen feet. The chosen targets, left to right, were: cruiser, large transport, large transport, cruiser. The ranges were short: 750 to 1,500 yards. The crew waited tensely, counting off the seconds. But nothing happened. No explosions. The torpedoes had either run under the targets or the pistols had failed. “Result nil,” Prien logged bitterly.
Fortunately for Prien, there was no indication that the enemy had been alerted. Therefore a second attack was possible. Prien ordered the four bow tubes reloaded. Per instructions, three torpedoes were fitted with contact pistols, one with a magnetic pistol. Prien, Endrass, and the torpedomen carefully checked all the torpedoes; Prien and Endrass reviewed the firing data. Just after midnight Prien surfaced, prepared to shoot again and run.
In the second attack, Prien shot the four bow tubes at the same stationary targets (cruiser-transport-transport-cruiser) with the same depth settings and at the same ranges. But again there were no results—no hits on the targets. One torpedo swerved off course, struck a distant cliff and exploded. Prien thought that explosion would alert the enemy and bring a counterattack, but there was no reaction.
Prien and his crew were dismayed and outraged. Eight torpedoes (six contact, two magnetic) had failed against sitting ducks. He still had one torpedo in his stern tube and prepared to fire it as they commenced a run on the surface. But this plan could not be carried out. Heading toward Vaags Fjord at full speed, U-47 ran aground and stuck fast on an uncharted sand bar well within range of the cruisers’ guns.
All efforts were then directed toward refloating U-47. Prien backed the diesel engines at emergency turns and blew the forward ballast tanks dry. When that failed to get the boat off the bar, he ordered all available men topside to “sally ship.” They ran madly back and forth on the deck, rocking the boat. Finally U-47 broke free. But at that instant, the starboard diesel cracked from the strain of emergency turns. Shifting that shaft to electric power, Prien sent the men below and raced toward Vaags Fjord. When he reached deep water he dived and crept out to sea. Later that night he surfaced and got off a brief report to Dönitz on the torpedo failures and the engine failure. The engine could not be repaired; Prien was compelled to abort the patrol.
Upon receiving Prien’s report, Dönitz was also dismayed and outraged. “To have missed these ships, lying motionless and overlapping each other, would have been quite impossible,” he wrote. “Either, therefore, the torpedoes must have been [running] at a far greater depth than that anticipated by the technical personnel, or the pistols had failed to function. And so we found ourselves with a torpedo which refused to function in northern waters either with contact or with magnetic pistols…. To all intents and purposes, then, the U-boats were without a weapon.”
That same day—April 16—Dönitz put through an urgent telephone call to Admiral Raeder. The submarine torpedo situation, Dönitz declaimed, was scandalous. There could be no question of crew failure. The top aces and Ritterkreuz holders, Prien and Schultze, shooting in highly favorable conditions, had been denied major targets (a battleship, heavy cruisers, large transports). The torpedoes obviously did not work at all in northern latitudes and they failed too often in southern latitudes. It was criminal—or worse—to send U-boats to sea with these torpedoes. Emergency measures were required to correct the faults. Raeder hastened to agree. He would again appoint a technical committee to reexamine the torpedoes from top to bottom.
Notwithstanding an order from Hitler to fight to the death for Narvik, Dönitz insisted that all U-boats be withdrawn from Vest, Ofot, and Vaags fjords. Raeder agreed to that as well. Accordingly, that night Dönitz ordered the four Narvik boats to withdraw. U-46 (Sohler), and U-51 (Knorr), on patrol since March 11, and U-48 (Schultze), out of torpedoes, were to return to Germany. The U-25 (Schütze), which still had ample fuel and torpedoes, was to patrol well offshore. Three boats were to remain off the entrance to Vaags Fjord: U-38 (Liebe), U-49 (von Gossler), and U-65 (von Stockhausen). But unknown to Dönitz, U-49 was lost, leaving only two boats at Vaags Fjord.
Relying on magnetic pistols, the boats in the Narvik area experienced further torpedo failures on April 18 and 19. Von Stockhausen in U-65 fired three torpedoes at a light cruiser coming out of Vaags Fjord. The torpedoes prematured after a run of twenty-two seconds. Liebe in U-38 shot at a light cruiser. No success. Knorr in U-51 fired at a heavy cruiser. No hits. Homebound, Prien in U-47 came upon the battleship Warspite, escorted by two destroyers. He shot two torpedoes with magnetic pistols at Warspite from 900 yards. Neither hit. One exploded at the end of its run, alerting the destroyers, which pounced on U-47, Prien logged, “from all directions,” creating an “awkward predicament.”
Still homebound, April 19, Prien came upon a big convoy composed of ten transports and numerous destroyers. He still had four torpedoes left, but he had so little faith in them that he refused to attack. Later, explaining his refusal, he told Dönitz that he “could hardly be expected to fight with a dummy rifle.” Notwithstanding his engine problem, Prien doggedly and expertly shadowed the convoy, radioing position reports. The three boats in the area responded to Prien’s signals: U-25 (Schütze), U-38 (Liebe), and U-65(von Stockhausen). All attacked the convoy in heavy weather. None got a hit. Unable to keep up with only one engine, Prien broke off and headed home, as did Liebe in U-38, who was low on lube oil.
These departures left but two boats in far northern waters: U-25 (Schütze) and U-65 (von Stockhausen). Believing their remaining torpedoes might function in more southerly latitudes and to remove them from the intense Allied ASW measures in Norway, Dönitz directed both boats to patrol west of the Shetlands and Orkneys. The U-65 (von Stockhausen) encountered a battleship and heavy cruiser but she was not able to gain a shooting position. The U-25 (Schütze) found no targets. In due course, both returned to Germany, U-25 unexpectedly early with yet more mechanical problems. The four U-boats en route to Narvik with supplies were diverted to other Norwegian ports.
The nine attack boats deployed to Narvik had in no way alleviated the crisis. Not one boat sank any enemy ship of any kind. Two of the nine boats (U-49, U-64) were lost. The British forces, staging from Vaags Fjord, slogged south in hip-deep snow and, in due course, forced the German troops, reinforced by the Kriegsmarine destroyer survivors, out of Narvik; but the victory was only temporary.
Farther south, Allied forces landed north and south of Trondheim, intending to envelop the Germans at Trondheim in a pincer. Dönitz deployed four oceangoing boats to interdict the Allied landings: U-30 (Lemp) and U-50 (Bauer) in Namsos Fjord, north of Trondheim; U-34 (Rollmann) and U-52 (Salmann) in Romsdals Fjord, south of Trondheim. En route to Namsos Fjord on April 10, Bauer’s U-50 was found and sunk by the British destroyer hero, with the loss of all hands, leaving only Lemp in U-30 to repel the Allies. All three boats at Namsos and Romsdals fjords found targets and attacked, but ASW measures were intense and the torpedoes malfunctioned. Only one boat got a hit: Rollmann in U-34, who torpedoed the beached Norwegian minelayer Fröya.
Dönitz ordered two homebound boats, U-46 (Sohler) and U-51 (Knorr), to temporarily reinforce the boats at Namsos and Romsdals fjords. Sohler shot at the French super-destroyer Albatros. No hits. Knorr attacked a British heavy cruiser. No hits. Rollmann in U-34 attacked a destroyer and a cruiser. No hits. Upon learning of these torpedo failures, Dönitz withdrew all the boats from the Trondheim area as well, ordering U-46 and U-51 home and U-30, U-34, and U-52 to patrol the Orkneys and Shetlands.* There Rollmann intercepted the 20,000-ton ocean liner Franconia, but he again experienced torpedo failure.
Thereafter, Dönitz restricted the oceangoing U-boats to resupply missions. The first three supply boats (U-26, U-29, and U-43), which set out for Narvik, diverted to Trondheim (and the duck U-61 to Bergen). Three other oceangoing boats rushed aviation gasoline to Trondheim: the U-cruiser U-A, the U-32, and the brand-new VIIB, U-101.† En route, leaking gasoline fumes very nearly incapacitated the crew of U-32. As a result, Dönitz canceled plans for any more “gasoline” missions. On the return trip to Germany, U-26 (Scheringer) torpedoed and sank the 5,200-ton British freighter Cedarbank, loaded with supplies for British troops in Romsdals Fjord. Cedarbank was the only Allied ship sunk by any of the thirteen† oceangoing boats committed to the Norwegian invasion.
Four additional ducks were committed to Norway operations, bringing the total number engaged to twenty-two. Most patrolled in the waters of southern Norway or the lower North Sea, but some patrolled off northeast Scotland and the Orkneys. The twenty-two ducks sank three enemy vessels for 8,100 tons. One of these was the 1,100-ton British submarine Thistle, sunk with the loss of all hands off Stavanger by U-4, commanded by Hans-Peter Hinsch, age twenty-five. Thistle was the first Allied submarine confirmed as sunk by a U-boat and the only enemy warship sunk by U-boats during the Norwegian campaign. One duck was lost with all hands: U-1, commanded by Jürgen Deecke, age twenty-seven. Initially the kill was credited to the British submarine Porpoise, but after further analysis, the Admiralty concluded U-1 hit a mine.
On April 26, while the land battles still raged near Narvik and Trondheim, the OKM released the U-boat arm from Norway operations owing to the torpedo failures. Including the six supply missions, twenty of the twenty-three commissioned oceangoing boats had participated* and twenty-two of the twenty-six commissioned ducks. The forty-two U-boats sank, in total, eight ships for 32,522 tons in April—over half the tonnage by Hartmann in U-37, who was well out of the invasion zones. Against that meager return, another four boats had been lost: two VIIBs, U-49 and U-50, the IXB U-64, and the duck U-1. Thus the first commitment of an entire submarine force to a major combined air-sea-land operation was an utter failure.
Dönitz and his submariners angrily blamed the U-boat failure on defective torpedoes. They had ample justification to do so, but the furor over the torpedo failures obscured a larger doctrinal point. The role change from merchant-ship killer to warship killer had not worked. Submarines were not very effective against heavily armored and armed warships, escorted by aircraft and sonar-equipped destroyers, primed to expect submarine attacks. This was especially true in the case of submarines operating in confined and shallow waters and in Arctic latitudes in the months when the nights were short. The decision to halt the war on commerce in order to commit the U-boat arm to support the conquest of Norway was thus a mistake, but since it was partially obscured by the torpedo furor, it was not fully grasped in Berlin and it was to be repeated.
* Dönitz had no way of knowing it, but torpedo failures had led to the detection and destruction of both U-27 and U-39 of the September group.
* Weighted hulks, which were sunk to the bottom and held in place by cables anchored on land.
* The Home Fleet aircraft carriers Ark Royal and the old Hermes, together with the battleship Renown, had been detached for convoy escort or to chase down the “pocket” battleship Admiral Graf Spee in the South Atlantic, leaving only one aircraft carrier, the Furious, sister ship of the Courageous, in the Home Fleet.
* The British recovered one or more of these intact electrics with magnetic pistols.
† Upon investigation, it was learned that another blockship to close the gap in Kirk Sound had been delayed. It arrived in Scapa Flow the next day, October 15.
* Nonetheless, Schuhart’s 41,950 tons sunk in a single patrol still stood as the record to beat. Royal Oak, at 30,000 tons, did not do it, but it elevated Prien’s total for two brief patrols to four ships for 38,000 tons.
* Newfoundland rejected incorporation into the Canadian confederation in 1869. Not until 1948 did it become a Canadian province.
* Outbound convoys designated OA and OG sailed directly to West African ports and Gibraltar, respectively. Convoys bound to the British Isles from ports in West Africa gathered at Freetown, Sierra Leone, and were designated SL. Those bound to the British Isles (or “Home”) from Gibraltar were designated Home Gibraltar or HG.
* In peacetime such tethered emergency buoys were standard equipment on submarines of all nations. The British were impressed with the quality of the buoy but surprised that the Germans had not removed it and the labels from the escape apparatus in order to conceal the identity of the U-boat.
* The sinking of U-45 was erroneously credited to the French destroyer Sirocco.
* The Submarine Protocol remained in force for neutral shipping that was not in convoy or not blacked out. If deemed to be carrying contraband, neutrals could be sunk, but the safety of the crew had to be assured. Ships of Germany’s friends or allies—Italy, Japan, Spain, Ireland, Russia—and the United States were not to be molested.
* Helped by this rare eyewitness testimony from the trawler survivors, the prosecutors at Nuremberg cited the Arne Kjöde as one example of a U-boat “atrocity.” Perhaps forgetting that Hitler had specifically loosened the rules on sinking neutral tankers, or not wishing to mention it, Dönitz, in his defense, stated the sinking had been “a mistake,” that Mügler had “confused” (i.e., misidentified) the ship as a British tanker inbound to England. “If one or two instances of mistakes are found in the course of five and one-half years of clean submarine warfare,” Dönitz testified, “it proves nothing.” Mügler’s rescue of the British trawler survivors, all on the same day, was entered in Dönitz’s defense, effectively offsetting this alleged “atrocity.”
* Far beyond normal air capacity. However, the air inside a U-boat could be crudely purified by blowing it through CO2 scrubbing devices employing caustic potash cartridges, located in each compartment. In addition, the boats were supplied with individual CO2-absorbing respirators with five-pound canisters of soda time, which the men could wear like gas masks. To conserve the air supply, men not on duty were required to lie in their bunks.
* As well as the Type VII, U-36, with the loss of all hands, on her second patrol in the North Sea. She was sunk by the British submarine Salmon, commanded by E. O. Bickford, who went on to severely damage the German light cruisers Leipzig and Nürnberg.
† For numbers of principal inbound convoys and losses, see Plate 10. For a list of confirmed sinkings by ducks, see Appendix 7.
* The sinking of these two small ships—the 57-ton tugboat in particular—were further indications that the mine settings were overly sensitive, but the Germans remained unaware.
* Including all ships sunk in later months.
* The origin of the name bomba is obscure. Some Poles say it was adopted because the idea for the machine occurred when Rejewski was eating an ice cream dessert: bomba loosely translates as ice cream. Others say it was adopted because the machine made a noise somewhat like the ticking of a bomb.
* Ernst Weber-Drohl, a sixty-one-year-old former acrobat, and Wilhelm Preetz, a former ship’s steward.
† Which took refuge in Montevideo, Uruguay, and was scuttled on December 17.
* Dönitz wrongly believed U-54 had reached the Atlantic and that she was sunk by the French destroyer Simoun.
* A total of five TMC fields, comprising forty mines, were laid by U-28, U-31, U-32, U-34, and U-48. Only one sinking—by U-34’s field at Falmouth—resulted. The mines were mislaid or planted too deep, or the pistols were faulty.
† The OKM had forbidden minelayers to carry Enigma. Why one was on board U-33 is not known.
* Owing to the acute shortage of escorts, and other factors, on February 12, the Admiralty discontinued “Fast” Halifax convoys (HX-F) and standardized the speed of Halifax convoys at 9 knots.
* See Appendix 17.
* These ships were the first of many German merchant raiders to sail. Each was powerfully armed with six 5.9” guns and four to six torpedo tubes, and each carried a supply of magnetic mines. Their mission was similar to that of Admiral Graf Spee: to raid enemy shipping in the South Atlantic, drawing off warships of the Royal Navy. The Type IX U-37 escorted Atlantis; the first of the new Type IXBs, U-64, escorted Orion.
* Dönitz playfully radioed: “Ein U-boot ohne Sohgrohr ist heute angekomman.” Roughly, “A submarine without a periscope arrived today.”
* On May 3, Lemp in U-30 aborted his patrol to rescue thirteen survivors of the Swedish neutral Hagar, which had hit a British mine. While she was approaching Trondheim, the heavy cruiser Hipper mistakenly shelled U-30.
† U-101 was originally numbered U-71. Her number (and those of sister ships) was inflated as part of a German scheme to disguise the glacial U-boat production rate.
† The other boat in the initial deployment, U-37 (Hartmann), assigned first to escort Atlantis, then Orion, did not get into Norway operations. After completing the escort service near the Faeroes and Shetlands, Hartmann missed a British heavy cruiser but sank three ships for 18,715 tons, including the 9,100-ton Swedish tanker Sveaborg. The shortage of lube oil forced Hartmann to abort.
* The Type VIIs U-28 and U-31 were in overhaul, and the Type IXB U-122, commissioned March 30, did not sail.