In early November Dönitz commenced the relocation of U-boat headquarters from Paris to Lorient. The official opening date was not without significance: November 11, Armistice Day. He established living and working quarters in a large chateau in adjacent Kerneval, overlooking the Scorff River, the main waterway into Lorient. His personal staff remained unusually small: Eberhard Godt, chief of staff; Viktor Oehrn, first staff officer; Hans Meckel, from the duck U-19, communications officer; and a few others—so few that visitors from Berlin invariably expressed astonishment.
At about this same time the Todt Organization, which had built Germany’s autobahns, commenced work on massive submarine “bunkers” or “pens” at Brest, Lorient, St. Nazaire, and La Pallice. Designed to provide a bombproof shelter for refitting and overhauling the U-boats, those huge structures were built of steel-reinforced concrete, and had walls and roofs twelve feet thick. The four pens could accommodate a total of about eighty U-boats. Some of the slips in the bunkers had locks so they could be pumped out, to provide dry-docking.
RAF reconnaissance aircraft took photographs of the foundations of the first bunkers at Lorient and La Pallice. Thus the British had fair warning, but they did not take advantage of the knowledge. RAF Bomber Command gave priority to targets in Germany. The U-boat bunkers were never high on the RAF target list in 1940 and 1941 and the construction proceeded with only sporadic and ineffective interference from Bomber Command, a serious lapse the British were to regret and one the Americans could never fathom.
By November, Dönitz had every reason to expect increased assistance from the Luftwaffe in locating convoys. But it was not forthcoming. The Luftwaffe air gruppes in France designated for this purpose were still scandalously ill-equipped. On November 16 Dönitz logged that one gruppe could provide no help because “one aircraft crashed.” Another gruppe reported that all planes were grounded for two months with “mechanical defects.” A gruppe based in Bordeaux, equipped with the long-range, four-engine Focke-Wulf 200 Condor, the military version of a civilian airliner, which flew between France and Norway, could provide only one aircraft daily. But the few Condor crews were no help. On the rare occasions when they spotted a convoy, they invariably gave erroneous position reports and attacked the convoys, forcing them to divert to new courses (or even scatter) before Dönitz could assemble the available boats for a pack attack.
Fourteen oceangoing U-boats sailed to attack the North Atlantic convoy routes in November, four from Germany, ten from France. The Italians added nine boats from Bordeaux. All Axis submarine operations during the month were hampered by foul, cold weather and by the temporary suspension of Allied convoys caused by the Atlantic sortie of the “pocket” battleship Admiral Scheer, which sailed from Kiel undetected by the British in late October.
The heroes Otto Kretschmer in U-99 and Günther Prien in U-47 were the first two skippers to leave from France. Both carried journalists (or propagandists) whose job it was to glorify the skippers and crews—and the U-boat arm—in words and pictures in order to stimulate a flow of volunteers to the submarine school. Prien welcomed his passenger, Wolfgang Frank*; Kretschmer, who disdained publicity (he was known as “Silent Otto”), did not.
Going up the west side of Ireland to North Channel on the afternoon of November 3, Kretschmer sighted the smoke of a lone inbound, zigzagging British freighter, the 5,400-ton Casanare. After dark he closed on the surface and sank her with a single torpedo. During the attack Kretschmer spotted another lone ship which turned out to be the 18,700-ton British liner Laurentic, converted to an armed merchant cruiser for the Northern Patrol. Swinging around, Kretschmer fired a single torpedo at Laurentic. It hit with a solid thwack, but the ship did not sink. Closing to point-blank range (580 meters), Kretschmer fired another torpedo, which missed, and yet another, which hit, but, Kretschmer logged, the third torpedo had “no particular effect.”
In the midst of this attack, yet another big ship appeared on the scene: the 11,300-ton armed merchant cruiser Patroclus. She had unwisely come up to rescue survivors of Casanare and Laurentic. Closing her, Kretschmer fired two torpedoes from 1,200 meters. Both hit but with “no particular effect.” Easing in to 850 meters, Kretschmer fired a third torpedo, then, to save torpedoes, attacked Patroclus with his deck gun. But when Patroclus fired back “with accurate time-fuse shells,” Kretschmer hauled out of range and shot yet another torpedo, which hit, but again “with no particular effect.”
Although both Laurentic and Patroclus were badly holed and doomed, Kretschmer was determined to hasten their end. While the torpedomen reloaded the tubes, he cruised about until a Sunderland appeared and drove him down. An hour and a half later he surfaced to resume the shooting, only to find two fleet destroyers, Achates and Hesperus, racing into the area. Dodging them, Kretschmer hit Laurentic with one torpedo and Patroclus with two. Both ships then sank quickly.
Hauling off into the darkness, Kretschmer broke radio silence to accurately report sinking three ships for 35,414 tons and three internal torpedoes remaining. An exultant Dönitz (“another great success”) ordered Kretschmer to return to Lorient. Since Kretschmer’s credited score totaled 217,198 tons—the second skipper after Prien to be credited 200,000 tons or more—Hitler awarded Kretschmer Oak Leaves to his Ritterkreuz and Berlin propagandists rushed out the news. En route to Lorient on November 5, Kretschmer ran across convoy Halifax 83 and sank the 7,000-ton British tanker Scottish Maiden with his last torpedoes, elevating his total for the patrol to four ships for 42,400 tons.* Hitler invited Kretschmer to Berlin for presentation of the Oak Leaves and asked him to stay for lunch at the Reichs Chancellery. When the Fuhrer asked what he could do to help the U-boat arm, Kretschmer was blunt: Give us many more U-boats and Luftwaffe reconnaissance.
Kretschmer had scarcely got off his radio report to Dönitz on November 5 when the “pocket” battleship Admiral Scheer, passing unseen in the Denmark Strait between Iceland and Greenland, found and attacked the thirty-eight-ship convoy Halifax 84 near 32 degrees west longitude. This was the first time in fourteen months of war that any German surface warship had found and attacked a North Atlantic convoy. Admiral Scheer sank the lone convoy escort, the 14,000-ton armed merchant cruiser Jervis Bay, then five other ships, for a total of 47,300 tons, and damaged two others.
Caught utterly unawares by this attack, the Admiralty went to full battle stations. The Home Fleet (Nelson, Rodney, Repulse, Hood, etc.) deployed into the Atlantic to intercept Admiral Scheer, should she turn about for Germany or head for a French Atlantic port. All in vain; Scheer slipped away to the South Atlantic. In the meantime, the Admiralty aborted three inbound convoys from Halifax; the normal convoy cycle did not resume until November 17, with the sailing of Halifax 89. “The loss of imports,” the Admiralty historian wrote, “caused to this country by the pocket-battleship’s sudden appearance on our principal convoy route was, therefore, far greater than the cargoes actually sunk by her.”
The suspension of North Atlantic convoys during the period November 5 to about November 17 frustrated the U-boats. None sank a ship between November 5 and November 21, the longest “dry spell” of the war to then. During it, only a duck returning to Germany via North Channel and two Italian boats had any luck. In a well-executed night surface attack against a homebound Gibraltar convoy, Herbert Wohlfarth in the duck U-137 sank four ships for 13,300 tons.† The Italian boat Marconi sank a 2,700-ton ship from Halifax 84, Vingaland, which had been damaged by a Condor after Scheer’s attack. The Baracca sank a 4,900-ton British freighter.
• • •
Prien, the Bull of Scapa Flow, had a frustrating patrol. He stopped a small Portuguese neutral with his deck gun, the propagandist Wolfgang Frank wrote, and after inspecting her papers, he let her pass. For the next ten days he saw not a single ship. Unaware that Admiral Scheer had caused a temporary halt to the convoys, Prien and his first watch officer, Amelung von Varendorff, age twenty-six, concluded that the Admiralty had rerouted convoys away from the Rockall Bank area. Prien thought the convoys were going far to the north; von Varendorff thought they were going far to the south. “Our tempers were getting frayed,” Frank wrote.
When the Admiralty resumed convoys on November 18, Wohlfarth in the home-bound duck U-137 spotted Outbound 244 near North Channel. In response to Wohlfarth’s alarm, Dönitz directed five Lorient boats to converge on U-137. Prien found the convoy and attacked, firing five torpedoes. None hit the target: three missed, one misfired and “ran hot” in the torpedo tube, and one broached. Viktor Schütze in U-103 sank two ships for 10,900 tons. When one ship turned to ram U-103, Schütze fired a “down the throat” shot at her, but the torpedo glanced off the ship’s side and did not explode. Maneuvering wildly, Schütze barely managed to escape.
Coming up last, Karl-Heinz Moehle in the IXB U-123 made contact with the convoy in the early hours of November 22. In a remarkably dogged and aggressive series of attacks over the next thirty hours, Moehle sank six ships for 28,000 tons. In the last action, while firing a finishing shot submerged, Moehle collided with “an unknown object,” damaging the conning tower and both periscopes, and was forced to abort to Lorient after merely fifteen days at sea. It was to take fifty days to repair U-123; the crew returned to Germany for leave, which extended through Christmas.
In vain pursuit of the convoy Outbound 244, on November 23 Joachim Schepke in U-100 happened upon inbound Slow Convoy 11. He gave the alarm, which brought up Klaus Korth in the VIIC U-93. Korth had no luck, but Schepke pursued and attacked relentlessly over twenty hours, reporting seven ships sunk for 41,400 tons, equaling his dazzling performance on his prior patrol. Postwar analysis confirmed seven ships sunk but reduced the tonnage to 24,601.
A knotty problem arose over Schepke’s sinking claims. According to his reckoning, he had sunk eleven ships for 36,372 tons on the ducks U-3 and U-19, and twenty-six ships for 176,938 tons on U-100, for a total of thirty-seven ships for 213,310 tons. If true, that made Schepke the third skipper to sink over 200,000 tons and to qualify for Oak Leaves to his Ritterkreuz. But Dönitz knew from B-dienst and other sources that Schepke was a notorious tonnage overclaimer; in fact, his claims were ridiculed throughout the U-boat arm as “Schepke-tonnage.” And yet there was no denying that Schepke had positively sunk thirty-four ships—twenty-three of them in a mere ninety days on U-100—to rank first in number of ships sunk, a feat deserving of an extraordinary award. Accordingly, Dönitz recommended Schepke for Oak Leaves to his Ritterkreuz even though, by Dönitz’s count, he had not yet sunk 200,000 tons.
Far to the south, off Freetown, von Stockhausen in the IXB U-65 conducted a one-boat submarine war. His primary task was to interdict cargo ships taking supplies via the Cape of Good Hope to the Army of the Nile in Egypt. On November 11, he reported to Dönitz that he had refueled from the Nordmark (serving as a supply ship for Admiral Scheer), but in the twenty-eight days since leaving Lorient he had not yet sunk a ship.
This negative news was keenly disappointing. It led Dönitz to again protest to the OKM the “diversion” of U-boats to South Atlantic waters. But the OKM insisted on sending yet another boat to that area. Reluctantly, Dönitz assigned the mission to the aging Type IX U-37, commanded by a new skipper, Nikolaus Clausen, age twenty-nine, from the duck U-142. He sailed on November 28 and was to refuel from a German supply ship in the Spanish Canary Islands.
Dönitz was on the point of recalling U-65 when von Stockhausen spoke up to report “heavy traffic” and the sinking of four independent ships for 21,000 tons between November 15 and 18. These included two tankers, the 7,600-ton Norwegian Havbür and the 5,000-ton British Congonian. This promising report persuaded Dönitz to leave U-65 in the Freetown area, refueling from Nordmark a second time later in the month. But the British, who were aware of U-65’s presence from the sinkings and from DFing, gave her a wide berth and intensified the air patrols. Von Stockhausen carried out the second refueling on November 28 (handing over a survivor of one sinking) and yet another on December 7, but he sighted no enemy ships for four full weeks, leading Dönitz to again doubt the wisdom of sending boats to this distant area.
In the waning days of November, four boats from Lorient remained on patrol in the stormy, forbidding North Atlantic: the old IX U-43, with a new skipper, Wolfgang Lüth, who had twice aborted with mechanical difficulties before reaching the hunting grounds; the U-47 (Prien); the U-93 (Korth); and the IXB U-103 (Schütze). Only one of the four had any luck: Viktor Schütze in U-103, who sank three ships for 13,000 tons. Korth in the first VIIC to reach combat, U-93, who had burned up a lot of fuel to no purpose, was forced to return to France prematurely, earning the dubious distinction of being the first boat to return to Lorient without having sunk a single ship. Adding another dubious first, U-93 was hit at dockside by a rarely seen RAF bomber. The damage was slight, but it delayed U-93’s readiness to January 1941.
Seven other U-boats sailed in November, raising the number in the hunting grounds to ten. Five came from Germany; two from Lorient. Three of the boats from Germany were new. Almost immediately upon entering the combat zone, two of them, U-95 and U-104, tangled with enemy ships, both sinking one and damaging one. Thereafter, the IXB U-104, commanded by Harald Jürst, age twenty-seven, from the duck U-59, disappeared without a trace, perhaps the victim of crew error.* The duck U-140, commanded by Hans-Peter Hinsch, age twenty-six, sank three ships for 13,200 tons in North Channel and returned to the submarine school.
On the last day of November, eight oceangoing boats remained in the hunting grounds, including Prien, who was low on fuel—and patience—and had set a course for Lorient. One boat, the VIIB U-101, fresh from Lorient with a new skipper, Ernst Mengersen, age twenty-eight, from the duck U-18, sank a ship; all others reported “no traffic.”
Believing the British had shifted convoy routes to the south, Dönitz ordered about half of the boats, including Prien’s homebound U-47, to search in that direction. It was a shrewd guess. Just after dark on December 1, Mengersen in U-101 spoke up to report contact with a big inbound convoy, Halifax 90.
Dönitz ordered Mengersen to shadow the convoy and delay any attack until other boats could converge. Mengersen tracked and broadcast beacon signals but could not resist the temptation to shoot, and he tore into the convoy, firing all twelve of his torpedoes. He claimed sinking four ships for 33,000 tons and damaging two for 11,000 tons. His confirmed victims included the 8,800-ton British tanker Appalachee. Prien in U-47 attacked next, in the early hours of December 2, claiming one ship of 10,000 tons sunk and damage to the 8,400-ton British tanker Conch. He then attacked an unidentified ship with his deck gun until escorts chased him off. Otto Kretschmer in U-99, fresh from Lorient, arrived next and shot five torpedoes to sink the 16,400-ton auxiliary cruiser Forfar, which was in the process of shifting over to escort convoy Outbound 251. Forfar was the third big auxiliary cruiser to be sunk by Kretschmer within a month.
One of the new boats from Germany, the VIIC U-95, commanded by Gerd Schreiber, age twenty-eight, from the duck U-3, came up and found the tanker Conch, which Prien had damaged. Schreiber fired three torpedoes at her. Two glanced off with only slight effect, but one hit solidly. Believing Conch was going under, Schreiber broke off the attack to seek other victims. But the Conch stubbornly refused to sink.
Two other boats hurried to the scene: the U-52 (Salmann), returning to the Atlantic after overhaul in Germany, and the cranky U-43 (Lüth) from Lorient. On the morning of December 2, Salmann sank two British freighters for 7,000 tons and damaged another. Lüth’s approach course took him right into the path of convoy Outbound 251. He attacked and sank two ships for 19,400 tons, including, the 12,200-ton British tanker Victor Ross.
Two destroyers, the Canadian St. Laurent and the British Viscount, responded to the convoy distress calls. When daylight came they spotted a U-boat on the surface and drove it under. St. Laurent obtained a sonar contact and commenced attacking with depth charges. Viscount soon joined. In all, the two destroyers made thirteen separate attacks over four hours, dropping a total of eighty-one depth charges variously set at 150,” 250, 350, and 500 feet. They did not sink a U-boat (as believed), but their presence—and attacks—held all the boats down and the convoy slipped away.
When Dönitz learned that the convoy was getting away, he fumed and fretted. Never enough boats! Too little time to concentrate for a mass attack! No help from the Luftwajfel He plotted the probable course of the convoy, exhorted the boats to pursue, and called on the Luftwaffe for assistance. It dispatched three aircraft—a record, all-out effort—but none of the planes found the convoy.
Later that afternoon, December 2, the U-94, another new VIIC from Germany, commanded by Herbert Kuppisch, age thirty-one, from the duck U-58, overtook and reported the convoy. When he received the- contact report, Dönitz directed all skippers, including Mengersen in U-101, who had no torpedoes, to close the enemy formation. Still tracking, after dark that day Kuppisch moved in on the surface and attacked, sinking two British freighters for 12,700 tons. Attempting to rejoin, Kretschmer in U-99 torpedoed and sank a 4,300-ton Norwegian straggler and, later, the abandoned British tanker Conch. No other boats found the convoy on the second day.
Upon receiving flash reports from the six boats that had attacked the convoy, Dönitz believed they had achieved another sensational victory. He calculated that the boats had sunk a total of eighteen ships for 120,698 tons, not counting unreported tonnage from Salmann in U-52. Jürgen Rohwer’s postwar analysis reduced the victory considerably. The comparison:
* Shared credit for tanker Conch with U-95 and U-99.
After an analysis of the flash reports and other data, Dönitz reduced the total U-boat sinkings in Halifax 90 from eighteen to sixteen. Eager to exploit the victory, on December 3 Berlin propagandists lumped in Lüth’s two kills in Outbound Convoy 251 and boasted that U-boats had sunk eighteen ships for 148,000 tons within the previous twenty-four hours. Including Conch, not sunk until December 3, the confirmed figures from the two convoys were thirteen ships for 92,855 tons. Ernst Mengersen, who had first spotted Halifax 90 and pulled in the other five boats, was cited by name and credited with sinking five ships for 41,000 tons.
Three of the six boats in these actions returned to Lorient. Prien and his crew and the propagandist Wolfgang Frank in U-47 were not a happy lot. In thirty-four days of patrolling in foul weather, they had sunk but one confirmed ship, the 7,555-ton Belgian freighter Ville d’Arlon (plus damage to the tanker Conch). But Dönitz offered good news: U-47 was to be overhauled at Lorient; all hands were granted home leave extending through Christmas.
Assigned to weather reporting, Otto Kretschmer in U-99 sank one 5,200-ton freighter, then aborted to Lorient with an engine breakdown. Crediting Kretschmer with sinking four ships for 34,935 tons on this sixteen-day patrol, Berlin propagandists gleefully pronounced that having sunk a total of 252,100 tons, Kretschmer was the new king of the U-boat aces, as indeed he was.†
Of the Lorient boats remaining on patrol, only Viktor Schütze in the IXB U-103 had any luck. He sank two more ships, then returned to Lorient, also having been out for thirty-four grueling days. Credited with sinking eight ships for 46,000 tons on this patrol, his total claims (on U-25 and U-103) were twenty ships for 109,317 tons.* He was awarded a Ritterkreuz and home leave extending through Christmas.
Close by the scene of the battle with Halifax 90, on December 1 the Italian submarine Argo, commanded by Alberto Crepas, came upon another inbound convoy, Home Gibraltar 47. As Crepas shot torpedoes, the Canadian destroyer Saguenay, commanded by F. H. Davidson, spotted Argo and turned to ram. A torpedo hit Saguenay on the port side forward, blowing off sixty feet of her bow and killing twenty-one men. The British destroyer Highlander raced up to assist Saguenay and took off ninety men, including eighteen wounded. Remarkably, a skeleton crew of Canadians put out fires and saved Saguenay, which was towed into England by British tugs. Credited with preventing attacks on the merchant ships of Home-bound Gibraltar 47, Saguenay remained under repair for many months.
This near-fatal attack on an enemy destroyer was the highlight of the Italian submarine effort in the fall of 1940. To then, nine of the twenty-seven Italian boats had sunk twelve ships, including five (!) neutrals.† In return, one Italian boat, Faá di Bruno, had been lost. This first kill of an Italian boat in the Atlantic was the result of a dogged twenty-hour hunt on November 6/7 by the Canadian destroyer Ottawa, commanded by Edmond R. Mainguy, and the British destroyer Harvester, commanded by M. Thornton. There were no survivors.†
During December, five of the Italian submarines, including Argo, sank five more Allied freighters, two of them stragglers from Slow Convoy 15 and two stragglers from convoys Outbound 252 and 260. In return, a second Italian boat was lost. She was the Tarantini, torpedoed off Bordeaux by the British submarine Thunderbolt. There were no survivors of this boat either.
In the three-month period September 2 to December 2, 1940, the second phase of the “Happy Time,” German U-boats inflicted yet another appalling slaughter on British-controlled shipping. The twenty-four oceangoing boats sailing to the North Atlantic in this period sank 140 ships for about 760,000 tons. In eleven patrols (three from Germany or Norway; eight from Lorient) the ducks sank another seventeen ships (including two tankers) for about 89,000 tons, making the total 157 ships for about 847,000 tons, of which seventeen for about 140,000 tons were tankers.*Remarkably, in the same period only three U-boats (the marginal VIIs U-31 and U-32, and the new IXB U-104) had been lost, making the “exchange rate” of lost ships to lost U-boats about fifty to one!
Numerous factors had contributed to the slaughter: intelligent and intuitive deployment of the few U-boats available, leading to the pack attacks on seven different convoys; boldness, skill, and confidence on the part of two dozen skippers; excellent torpedo performance in night surface attacks; inadequate and inept convoy-escort and ASW measures; and, lastly, not a little luck. “In all cases,” Dönitz logged, “first contact” with the convoys “was a matter of chance. The convoy approached a U-boat.”
The British had reason for concern. In the six months of “Happy Time,” mid-May 1940, when the U-boats returned to the Atlantic, to December 2, they had sunk an impressive total of 298 ships for more than 1.6 million tons, almost all of them in the Northwest Approaches. The total included thirty-seven tankers, of which twenty-seven were British-owned.
Eighteen U-boat skippers were mainly responsible for the slaughter in this “Happy Time.” All were enshrined forever in the pantheon of German naval heroes. Their confirmed successes:
† U-137 and U-138 were Type IID ducks.
The Americans continued to observe the slaughter of this “Happy Time” with awe and concealed contempt. The U-boat successes in the pitched convoy battles of the fall reinforced their belief that a poorly escorted convoy was worse than no convoy at all, inasmuch as it presented the German packs a convenient mass of targets—too many eggs in one very vulnerable basket. The absence of surface-ship escorts to protect the convoys also reinforced the American view that Churchill’s Mediterranean strategy, which drained off substantial British naval assets from the home waters, was a foolish diversion at a most critical time. Above all, the Americans faulted the British authorities for failing to direct Bomber Command to mount a maximum effort to prevent the construction of the U-boat pens in the French Atlantic ports.
Prime Minister Churchill was keenly alive to the looming shipping crisis. He wrote in his war memoir:
Amid the torrent of violent events, one anxiety reigned supreme. Battles might be won or lost, enterprises might succeed or miscarry, territories might be gained or quitted, but dominating all our power to carry on the war, or even keep ourselves alive, lay our mastery of the ocean routes and the free approach and entry to our ports…. How willingly would I have exchanged a full-scale [German] attempt at invasion [of the British Isles] for this shapeless, measureless [u-boat] peril, expressed in charts, curves and statistics….
Apart from the measures taken in late 1940 to obtain new merchant ships in the United States and Canada, Churchill directed the Admiralty to drastically improve its handling of convoys and fast independent ships. As one measure, the Admiralty rerouted all transatlantic convoys farther northward to outdistance the supposedly efficient German convoy-spotter planes. As another, it released ships that could cruise at 13 knots or faster from the obligation to sail in convoy.*
In addition, the British took steps to beef up the protection of the poorly escorted transatlantic convoys. With the threat of a German invasion reduced to nil by the victory of the RAF over the Luftwaffe and the onset of foul winter weather, the Admiralty released a number of fleet and other destroyers from anti-invasion duties and assigned them to convoy escort. Even so, there remained an acute shortage of escort destroyers, caused in part by the heavy destroyer battle losses and damage, and by the failure of the first twenty-three new, small Hunt-class vessels to measure up for duty in the North Atlantic, and by the delays in the arrival or readiness of the fifty four-stack destroyers from the U.S. Navy. In November, Churchill vented his frustrations in a memo to the Admiralty:
Action This Day. What is disconcerting is that out of 151 destroyers, only 84 are available for service and out of 60 for [convoy escort and ASW in] Northwest Approaches only 33 [are available]. More than a month ago, the Admiral [at Northwest Approaches] was found with only 24 available…. I cannot understand why such an immense proportion of destroyers are laid up from one cause or another.
In order to increase the availability of convoy escorts, the Admiralty initiated several other changes. On the western end, the transatlantic convoy sailings from America were “opened out” or delayed. Rather than every four days, about half of the important Halifax convoys sailed every six days. Rather than every eight days, all the Sydney (or Slow) convoys sailed (from Halifax after ice closed Sydney) every ten days. On the eastern end, the Admiralty shifted convoy destroyer bases from Bristol and Liverpool to Loch Ewe in North Scotland and Belfast in Northern Ireland. These changes enabled more escorts to remain with the convoys farther out to sea on both ends of the routes.
By this time the 205-foot British and Canadian-built single-screw Flower-class corvettes had begun to enter service in substantial numbers.* Although they were intended originally only for inshore coastal-convoy duty, out of dire necessity the Admiralty was forced to employ them on both ends of the transatlantic routes. An Admiralty naval architect, David K. Brown, wrote recently:
The Flower-class … had many drawbacks in ocean work. They were short so that pitch and heave motions were severe, which led to a high incidence of [sea] sickness and, in all probability, of poor decision-making, while their standard of habitability was low. Inadequate bilge keels led to heavy rolling, and they were too slow either to keep up with a surfaced submarine or to return quickly to station…. The Flowers were not a good design…. The early short-forecastle Flowers were the worst. They had bunks in the forecastle, where the motion was worst. To reach the bridge or engine room meant crossing the open well deck, inevitably getting wet in bad weather. Worse still, the galley was aft and food had to be brought along the open upper deck to the mess, getting cold, if not spilt on the way.
Coastal Command, led by Frederick Bowhill, had matured considerably since the beginning of the war, but it was still a poor stepchild of the RAF. Its daylight aircraft patrols with Sunderlands and Hudsons had been useful in forcing down U-boats, but no aircraft of Coastal Command had yet sunk a German U-boat unassisted by a surface craft. From July 1940, when the U-boats shifted to night surface attacks, these Coastal Command air patrols had been virtually useless inasmuch as it was almost impossible to spot a U-boat at night by eye.
What was needed was ASW radar. At the beginning of 1940, the Air Ministry had provided a few 1.5-meter-wavelength ASV (airborne radar sets) for a handful of Coastal Command and Navy aircraft types (Hudson, Swordfish, Walrus) to be used to track big enemy surface ships. However, since these sets were not capable of detecting U-boats, Coastal Command and the Royal Navy had requested the “crash” production of 4,000 improved 1.5-meter-wavelength sets (ASV-II). “Unfortunately,” Admiralty historian J. David Brown wrote recently, “the Air Ministry bureaucracy failed to recognize the importance of the program” and pigeonholed the request, giving priority to Fighter Command for Air Interception (A-I) radar to help find enemy bombers. The upshot was that by the end of 1940, only forty-nine Coastal Command aircraft and a few experimental Navy Swordfish biplanes had the improved ASV-II radar sets, an appalling lapse second only to the British failure to prevent the building of U-boat pens in French Atlantic ports.
Even when properly calibrated and working at peak efficiency, the improved 1.5-meter-wavelength Mark II ASV radar in these Coastal Command aircraft was almost useless for killing a U-boat at night. For complicated electronic reasons apart from ground or sea “clutter,” the radar went “blind” when the aircraft got within a mile of the U-boat. An alert U-boat watch thus had time to maneuver left or right off the flight path of the “blind” aircraft, avoiding its bombs or depth charges.
What the aircrews needed was some means of “seeing” during that last mile to the U-boat. In late October 1940, an officer in Coastal Command headquarters, Humphrey de Verde Leigh, proposed one possible solution: a very powerful, steerable searchlight, mounted on a retractable bed in the underside of the fuselage. Bowhill enthusiastically endorsed the proposal and detached Leigh to work on it full time. But owing to technical problems, bureaucratic inertia, and indifference, it was to take Leigh a full eighteen months to work out the bugs, to gain full approval from the Air Ministry, and to get the searchlight into combat, yet another serious British lapse.
Radar for British escort ships was similarly slow in coming. It was not until June 19, 1940, that a British destroyer put to sea with a test ASW radar. She was Verity, fitted with a 1.5-meter-wavelength set, designated Type 286M. It had a “fixed” antenna, which could only “look ahead.” In order to search a wider path in the seas, it was necessary to swing the ship to port and to starboard. British engineers were at work on a rotating antenna and a cathode-ray display tube (Planned Position Indicator, or PPI), which presented the host vessel at the center and other vessels as “lingering blips” on a flat screen.
The 286M was useful for stationkeeping in convoys, but to detect U-boats the ships—no less than the aircraft—required a more powerful radar based on the Randall and Boot cavity magnetron. This was coming, but also slowly. On August 12, 1940, at Swanage Bay, British scientists carried out the first successful test of a 10-centimeter-wavelength radar against a submarine. However, as with the improved 1.5-meter-wavelength ASV-II radar, the Air Ministry gave highest priority for centimetric radar to Fighter Command to facilitate bomber interception. Six months passed before a naval vessel put to sea to test a (fixed-antenna) shipboard 10-centimeter radar designated Type 271M.
On the other side of the hill, it soon became apparent that the handful of German U-boats could not sustain the slaughter of the “Happy Time.” The captains and crews, worked to exhaustion, had to have R&R, and their vessels required refits and overhauls. The winter weather was ever more forbidding. It and the short winter days drastically reduced visibility and therefore the chance of spotting exhaust smoke from ships in convoy. Notwithstanding British beliefs to the contrary, meaningful assistance in convoy spotting from the Luftwaffe was still virtually nonexistent. Moreover, the shortage of U-boats had become even worse. All the old Type VIIs and all the ducks had been lost or withdrawn from the Atlantic to the Training Command. Several other oceangoing boats had returned to Germany for overhaul and upgrading. Many of the new U-boats in Baltic workup incurred delays owing to mechanical failures. The big Italian submarines at Bordeaux were less than useless.
Hard times lay ahead.
* The British salvaged U-13 and recovered a set of “standing orders” issued by Dönitz in which he explicitly prohibited the rescue of enemy survivors in the waters of the British Isles. (“Do not rescue any men; do not take them along; and do not take care of any boats of the ship.”) The prosecutors at Nuremberg introduced these orders to buttress the charge that Dönitz waged inhumane and illegal submarine warfare. Dönitz rebutted that this forceful and drastic order was necessary because too many of his skippers were wont to carry out humane rescues, which, in the heavily patrolled waters of the British Isles, risked “suicide for the U-boat.”
* Hartmann’s claimed sinkings had reached the requisite 100,000 tons for a Ritterkreuz. His confirmed tonnage was 78,500. Schuhart claimed about 65,000 tons, including Courageous. His confirmed score was seven ships for 53,300 tons. However, Schuhart’s record 41,905 tons sunk in a single patrol had not been topped.
* The prosecutors at the Nuremberg trials cited Oehrn’s refusal to assist the survivors of Sheaf Mead as another example of Nazi brutality at sea, charging that Oehrn behaved “in an exceptionally callous manner.” In rebuttal, Dönitz argued that Sheaf Mead was “probably no merchant ship but [rather] a submarine trap,” that in any case the ship was “heavily” armed, and that since Oehrn was under the impression that she was, at the least, an (armed) auxiliary cruiser, the sinking on sight was completely justified. Dönitz did not, however, condone Oehrn’s indifference to the survivors. Inasmuch as there was no apparent danger to the boat, Oehrn should have “helped,” he conceded.
* The Berlin-based American radio journalist William Shirer, and others, speculated that the Germans had intended to sink Washington clandestinely and blame it on a British submarine in order to poison Anglo-American relations. No documents have come to light supporting this improbable scenario.
* Four new and formidable 35,000-ton battleships were under construction. Two, Littorio and Vittorio Veneto, were nearly finished.
* Reinforced by the forthcoming German super-battleships Bismarck and Tirpitz, the five new King George V-class British battleships and the six British carriers under construction, the four new 35,000-ton Italian battleships, and the new French battleships Jean Bart and Richelieu.
* Walter Simon, who was caught and arrested within hours.
* A 6,700-ton Greek, the Estonian Merkur, and the Norwegian Belmoira, the latter two wrongly accredited to U-102.
* Clearton was wrongly credited to Lemp’s U-30.
* On September 27, 1940, Japan was to be formally welded into the Axis by the Tripartite Pact.
* According to postwar analysis, Kretschmer’s confirmed sinkings on the duck U-23 and U-99 to then were fifteen and a half ships for 70,740 tons.
* Berlin termed the relaxed U-boat rules to 20 degrees west longitude a “counterblockade” of Great Britain in reprisal for the British blockade of Germany.
† Later, First Sea Lord.
† General Sean Russell, Chief of Staff of the Irish Republican Army, who, von Stockhausen reported, died of a bleeding ulcer. Russell was buried at sea. The other agent, Frank Ryan, remained with the boat.
* Including Liebe’s two sinkings and one ship each sunk by the aborting U-37 and U-51, inbound to Lorient. U-51’s victim was the 5,700-ton British tanker Sylvafield.
* In five patrols under Herbert Schultze, including Norway, and two under Rösing, the U-48 had sunk thirty confirmed ships for 169,823 tons, putting her far ahead of all other boats.
* From February 12, 1940, HX convoys sailed from Halifax every four days at a fixed speed of 9 knots. Faster ships (15 knots plus) sailed alone. SC convoys sailed from Sydney every eight days.
* The U-A sank six other vessels for a total bag of seven for 40,706 tons.
* These unwisely included a dozen old O-, P-, and R- class fleet submarines, and minelayers, which because of their age and size were entirely unsuited for Mediterranean operations. Ill-equipped, ill-trained Italian ASW forces promptly sank seven of them, with heavy loss of life. In return, one British submarine, Parthian, sank the Italian submarine Diamante. warships were pressed into service to escort the convoys which went the long way to Egypt via the Cape of Good Hope and Indian Ocean.
* See Appendix 9.
† In 1940, the Maritime Commission produced fifty-four new ships, including sixteen tankers. Forty-one of these ships went to the Army and Navy and thirteen to the private sector.
† Henry J. Kaiser’s Todd-California company in Richmond, California, built thirty ships; his Todd-Maine company built the other thirty in Portland, Maine. The first American-built ship, Ocean Vanguard, was launched ten months later, August 17, 1941.
* The first American-built Liberty ship, Patrick Henry, was launched on September 27, 1941. She could carry 2,800 jeeps or 300 freight cars.
* In The Ultra-Magic Deals (1993).
* Commemorated as “Battle of Britain Day.”
* See Appendix 8.
† Developed between the wars, German acoustic mines were laid on the bottom in shallow water, like magnetic mines, but actuated by the “noise” of a ship’s propeller, rather than its magnetic field. They were immune to magnetic sweepers and could be set to “sleep” for many days, or to allow several ships to pass before exploding.
* Kretschmer rescued from a sinking raft a single survivor of the freighter, Joseph Byrne. After giving him food and medical assistance, Kretschmner turned him over to a lifeboat under sail. Since Kretschmer and Longobardo had chosen English as their common language, Byrne thought he had been rescued by a British submarine!
* Counting one half credit for the Elmbank, Prien’s confirmed score on this patrol was six and a half ships for 37,585 tons, bringing his confirmed total to twenty-two and a half ships for 151,652 tons. Schepke’s confirmed score for this patrol was seven ships for 50,300 tons, bringing his confirmed total to twenty-four ships (tying Rollmann) for 94,175 tons. Bleichrodt’s confirmed score for this patrol was eight ships for 34,588 tons. Kretschmer’s total confirmed score, counting one half credit for the Elmbank, was twenty-two ships for 110,683 tons.
† Counting one half credit for Corrientes, Jenisch had sunk seven and a half confirmed ships for 39,250 tons in seven days. Over credited with sinking 82,644 tons on this and his prior patrol, Jenisch now had a total credited score of 104,818 tons. His confirmed score was seventeen and a half ships for 76,290 tons.
* While commanding U-37, Hartmann and Oehrn had sunk forty-two and a half confirmed ships for 180,000 tons. This ranked the boat first in total number of ships sunk. But since total tonnage sunk counted for more, the U-48, which had sunk thirty-six confirmed ships for 204,411 tons under three skippers, was still regarded as the top boat, about 53,000 tons ahead of Prien’s U-47.
† Seven boats at sea; ten in Lorient or St. Nazaire undergoing refits; the new Type VIIC U-93 preparing to sail from Germany.
† Hitler was concerned that if Dönitz took direct control of the Italian submarines, the Italians might demand direct control of the Luftwaffe squadrons that had been sent to North Africa to support the Italian Army’s attack on Egypt.
* In the confusion of night actions, U-boat skippers often misidentified sloops, frigates, and corvettes as “destroyers.” For a British account of the battle see Lund and Ludlam, Night of the U-boats (1973).
† Prien’s confirmed total was twenty-six and a half ships for 173,552 tons. Bleichrodt’s score for the patrol was six and a half ships for 40,000 tons, raising his confirmed total to fourteen and a half ships for 74,682 tons.
* Kretschmer in U-99 argued similarly and successfully that his quartermaster, Heinrich Petersen, deserved a Ritterkreuz- Although the Ritterkreuz was normally awarded only to officers, Dönitz made an exception in this case.
† Pilot Maudsley was killed later in the war. Baudoux rose to the rank of wing commander in the RCAF.
* His confirmed total was eighteen and a half ships for 118,638 tons.
* Lüth’s confirmed score was thirteen ships for 57,192 tons.
* British air and surface forces had sunk another six Italian submarines in the Mediterranean area since June: Iride, Gondar, Berillo, Foca, Durbo, and Lafolé. Another, Gemma, was mistakenly sunk by another Italian submarine. A British boarding party recovered valuable intelligence documents from Durbo before she sank. Total Italian submarine losses in the first five months of combat: seventeen.
* In addition to his articles, Frank published a propaganda book in 1942 about Prien’s war patrols, Prien Attacks. In the 1950s, Frank also published an anecdotal history of the U-boat war, translated as The Sea Wolves, as well as other works.
* Making his confirmed total score thirty-two and a half ships for 182,032 tons.
† Berlin propagandists crowed that Wohlfarth had sunk a grand total of 61,500 tons in “small submarines” (the ducks U-14 and U-137). His confirmed total was a duck record of sixteen ships sunk, plus severe damage to the auxiliary cruiser Cheshire and another ship, but the total confirmed tonnage sunk was only 36,800.
* After U-102, she was the second new IXB to disappear without a trace on her first patrol.
† Kretschmer’s confirmed total was thirty-five and a fraction ships for 191,515 tons. to write a propaganda book (as had Prien and Werner Hartmann), but “Silent Otto” refused. When Dönitz granted him and his crew home leave extending through Christmas, Kretschmer took the whole crew on a skiing holiday.
* Schütze’s confirmed score for the patrol was seven ships for 38,465 tons; his confirmed total, nineteen and a half ships for 93,801 tons.
† Two Spanish, one Yugoslav, one Swede, and a Greek.
† At this time the Admiralty wrongly credited the British destroyer Havelock for this kill.
* Does not include two tankers and two freighters sunk by U-65, patrolling in West African waters.
* Theretofore only ships that could cruise at 15 knots or faster were permitted to sail outside the 9-knot Halifax convoys. The new and riskier procedure allowed scores of newer, faster, armed merchant ships such as tankers to sail alone, reducing the travel time.
* The first British-built Flower-class corvette, Gladiolus, was launched January 24, 1940. By the end of 1940, British yards had launched seventy-six. The first Canadian-built corvette, Dunvegan, was launched February 11, 1940. By the end of 1940, Canadian yards had launched forty-five. Total corvettes completed by the end of 1940: 121.