Thinly stretched in every theater, the Royal Navy was not prepared physically or mentally to fight U-boats in equatorial West African waters. Reginald (“Bob”) Whinney, a career officer who had specialized in ASW, was appalled by what he found when he arrived in Freetown to train the local escort force. The senior officer, Admiral Algernon Willis, Whinney wrote in his memoir, was “severe, unbending, and very thin, ashen, unhappy-looking, possibly operationally tired, possibly not fit. What a choice where the crying need was for driving, but essentially benign, encouraging leadership.” Summing up the situation, Whinney continued:
With few exceptions, the officers at Freetown were then the unhappiest collection I had ever met or was to meet in my whole Service career. There were several reasons for this. Certainly the climate was one of them. It was very debilitating due to the heat, the humidity and the prevalence of malaria. The living conditions were appalling; recreation was almost nil and social life did not exist. To cap this, it appeared that it was to Freetown, where the drink was duty-free—gin two pence a glass—that a number of officers who had been in recent trouble, including over drink, were sent. In many cases, these poor chaps had not enough to do. (Let it hastily be added that I was not in such a category.) Finally, Freetown was not an area of hot war and so got little priority from the Admiralty; and to cap the lot again, there was no inspiring lead from the top.
By early May five large boats patrolled in South Atlantic waters. One, Oesten’s U-106, escorted the blockade-runner Lech from Brazil, a mission that took her to 50 degrees west longitude, the deepest penetration of the Western Hemisphere by any U-boat to then. At the insistence of the OKM, U-106 remained in Brazilian waters to escort a second blockade runner, Windhuk, but the sailing of that ship was delayed indefinitely. When the OKM finally released U-106 on May 7, Oesten was low on fuel and had engine problems and had to rendezvous with the supply ship Egerland, which had been prepositioned in the South Atlantic to support Bismarck.
The other four boats patrolled off the African coast, resupplying from Egerland and another supply ship, Nordmark. Schewe in U-105 and Hessler in U-107 were the last boats to refuel from Nordmark. While they were doing so, on May 3 and 4, the new arrivals, Heinrich Liebe in U-38 and Viktor Schütze in U-103, patrolled off Freetown, picking off unescorted ships with little fear of ASW measures. Liebe sank two for 10,200 tons; Schütze sank six for 28,800 tons.
These four boats then switched places. After replenishing,- Schewe’s U-105 and Hessler’s U-107 closed on Freetown, while Liebe’s U-38 and Schütze’s U-103 hauled off to mid-Atlantic to find Egerland. Schewe sank four ships for 28,400 tons, including the 11,800-ton British freighter Rodney Star; Hessler sank two ships for 16,300 tons. Counting past overclaims, Schewe’s victories earned a Ritterkreuz* While Schewe was sinking the fourth ship on May 16, a torpedo misfired and a crewman was seriously injured. On instructions from Dönitz, Schewe hauled out and transferred the injured man to Egerland, then refueled and set course for Lorient.
Three boats rendezvoused with Egerland from May 13 to May 17, then set off for Freetown waters to join Hessler in U-107. After they departed, on May 18, Egerland reported she had only six torpedoes left. Another Bismarck supply ship, Gedania, was therefore ordered to relieve Egerland. Two other boats sailed from Lorient for African waters in May: Eckermann’s U-A and Jost Metzler’s U-69, the first Type VII to attempt a very long-range cruise.
During his service in the merchant marine, Metzler had often called at West African ports, as had his leading seaman, Bade, “an old sea dog.” Metzler and Bade got the idea that two ports on the African Gold Coast in the Gulf of Guinea—Takoradi and Lagos—could be mined by a medium-sized U-boat. When Metzler proposed the scheme to Dönitz, it was approved, and U-69 sailed on May 5, crammed with sixteen TMB mines and eight torpedoes—the mines and six torpedoes below and two torpedoes in topside canisters.
To conserve fuel, Metzler inched south on one diesel, rigged to turn the other motor. It was a long, slow, monotonous trip during which they saw not a single ship worth a torpedo. When they reached the equatorial latitudes, Metzler wrote, “the moist heat was almost unbearable,” even at night. Two weeks later, on May 19, Metzler rendezvoused with Egerland. He refueled in a mere three hours, turned over his Enigma and all secret papers (as required of boats on a mining mission), and set a course for the Gold Coast.
Inbound to Africa to lay the mines, on the evening of May 21 the watch spotted a lighted southbound ship. The lights indicated she was a neutral, but Metzler believed she might be a disguised U-boat hunter. He cautiously approached her and asked for identification by signal light. When she replied “Robin Moor,” Metzler’s suspicions intensified because he could find no such ship in Lloyd’s Register. Moreover, when daylight came, Metzler saw the name Exmoor on her stern, listed in Lloyd’s as a 5,000-ton American ship. Was she Robin Moor, Exmoor, or a disguised hunter?
The captain came across to U-69 in a whaler, bringing his ship’s papers and cargo manifest. He explained that the ship had only just been bought by Americans and that as a consequence, her name had been changed from Exmoor to Robin Moor. Metzler claimed he saw “radio apparatus” and “guns” on the manifest and that the ship was therefore “a neutral carrying contraband” and thus fair game under the prize rules. Despite the explicit orders from Hitler, the OKM, and Dönitz to avoid any contact with American ships, Metzler decided to sink her. After the crew had abandoned ship in lifeboats, Metzler put her under with one torpedo and thirty rounds from his deck gun. Robin Moor was the first American ship to be sunk by a U-boat in the war.
Metzler wrote that he then extended every effort to assure the safety of the survivors, according to the prize rules. He rounded up all the lifeboats, stocked them with “food, bread, butter, brandy and medical supplies.” He then towed them toward Africa “for several hours,” to a “spot where in a few days they would be driven by the gentle current on to the African shore.” In fact, the currents took the survivors, including a woman and a two-year-old child, the other way (toward South America). They spent about two weeks in the open boats—a terrible ordeal—before reaching shore.
By coincidence, Churchill had chosen this moment to further stir up Americans—and draw them closer to war—with another Lusitania or Athenia incident. The Admiralty announced that the Germans had sunk the Egyptian passenger liner Zamzam, en route from New York to Egypt, with “196 American passengers” on board, all of whom were presumed to be lost. To heighten the impact of this “atrocity,” the Admiralty spokesman stressed that the lost Americans were volunteer ambulance drivers; hence, in journalese, Zamzam became a “mercy ship.”
As intended, the story was shocking. The New York World-Telegram carried it with a double-bank front-page banner headline:
196 AMERICANS FEARED LOST WITH EGYPTIAN MERCY SHIP
The Zamzam had been sunk on April 16 by the merchant raider Atlantis, but only after all 340 passengers (138 Americans) and all their baggage had been brought on board Atlantis. Subsequently, all the passengers—and the baggage—had been transferred to the German freighter Dresden, which in due course landed them safely in France.* Berlin propagandists trumped London propagandists by immediately revealing the humanity and consideration shown the Zamzam passengers, but the news of the sinking of Robin Moor pushed the Berlin version of the Zamzam story off the front pages, leaving the casual American reader with the impression that the Germans had “killed 196” Americans on the “mercy ship” Zamzam and had callously sunk the Robin Moor as well; all within a matter of days. Thanks to Metzler, London won the propaganda battle after all.
When Dönitz heard the news of the Robin Moor sinking, he was Furious. Metzler remembered that Dönitz sent “rocket after rocket to me, bombarding me with questions about the details and the reasons for the sinking.” No explanation seemed to satisfy Dönitz. “The Admiral’s tone conjured up a picture for me of a court-martial on my return,” Metzler wrote.
• • •
The hunting off Freetown remained good.
• After refueling from Egerland, Heinrich Liebe in U-38 sank five ships for 29,400 tons, bringing his total to seven.
• Jost Metzler in U-69 bravely laid his TMB mines in the harbors of Takoradi on May 27, and Lagos on May 29. Later, Metzler lightheartedly described these extremely hazardous missions as “crazy exploits,” but they were successful. The British were forced to close both harbors. One mine damaged a 5,400-ton freighter in Takoradi; another sank a 2,900-ton freighter in Lagos.
• Viktor Schütze in U-103 sank four ships for 22,500 tons, including the 6,900-ton tanker British Grenadier, bringing his total to eleven.
• Homebound to Lorient, Georg Schewe in U-105 sank another ship, bringing his confirmed total to twelve for 70,500 tons.
• Jürgen Oesten in U-106, who had been sidetracked on escort missions for almost seven weeks, sank two ships for 13,200 tons, bringing his total to seven, plus the hit on the battleship Malaya.
• Günther Hessler in U-107 sank three more ships for 14,500 tons, bringing his total to eleven, including a second tanker, the 8,000-ton Dutch Marisa.*
• After refueling from Egerland on May 29, Hans Eckermann in U-A, conducting an exceedingly cautious patrol, sank no ships.
• The Italian submarine Tazzoli sank the 8,800-ton Norwegian tanker Alfred Olsen.
By the first day of June, Günther Hessler had sunk fifteen confirmed ships for 101,000 tons, counting the four sunk in his first patrol in the North Atlantic. That day, he came upon a lone British freighter, the 5,000-ton Alfred Jones, off Freetown. There was something about the way this ship looked and behaved that aroused Hessler’s suspicions, leading him to conclude she might be a disguised U-boat killer. He therefore approached her with extreme caution and attacked with two torpedoes. Both hit, severely damaging the ship, and the crew appeared to abandon in lifeboats. Still wary, Hessler approached submerged, resisting the temptation to surface for a gun attack and to offer assistance to the survivors. Upon closing, he saw dozens of sailors hiding on her tilting deck, prepared to leap to a half dozen 4” to 6” guns, depth-charge chutes, and other weapons, which were camouflaged by wood crates. He pulled back and fired a third torpedo, which put her under.†
This sinking raised Hessler’s score on U-107 to sixteen ships for 106,000 tons—twelve sunk in the South Atlantic, to tie Georg Schewe’s memorable patrol in U-105. By custom, Hessler should have received a Ritterkreuz, but there was no word from Kerneval. The reason, Dönitz wrote later, was that “I found it a little difficult to recommend him because he was my son-in-law.” When Admiral Raeder learned of the delay, Dönitz continued, Raeder said that “if I did not recommend Hessler at once, he would.” But still Dönitz held back.
The aggregate sinkings of the boats in the South Atlantic in May were more than sufficiently impressive to justify the “diversion” of these boats from the North Atlantic. The sinkings served another purpose as well: They compelled the British to drastically curb the unescorted ship traffic in that area, to increase convoying from Freetown, and to draw a substantial number of surface escorts from the North Atlantic to the South Atlantic. Accordingly, Dönitz directed two more IXBs, U-66 and U-123, to sail to West Africa in June.
Thanks to the priceless intelligence haul from Lemp’s U-110, British codebreakers could read naval Enigma fluently and currently throughout the month of June.* The torrent of information, which the British called Most Secret Ultra (shortened to Ultra), gave a select few in the Admiralty an astounding view of the Kriegsmarine’s innermost secrets, including everything about U-boat operations. Rodger Winn’s assistant in the U-boat Tracking Room, Patrick Beesly, remembered: “We rapidly learned the exact number of U-boats at sea, and not only the contents of their own signals but, even more important, the instructions constantly being pumped out to them by Dönitz from his headquarters in Lorient.”
The radio traffic between Dönitz and his skippers also revealed to the Admiralty day-by-day positions of nearly all the U-boats. Hence the Admiralty had an opportunity to organize task forces and “pounce” these boats by surface ship and aircraft and destroy them, putting an end to the U-boat menace in one simultaneous operation. But to attack twenty-odd U-boats in diverse locations simultaneously, the Admiralty believed, would tip off the Germans that Enigma had been broken and lead them to take corrective measures, such as changing the keys, or perhaps even introducing a new code machine.
Rather than attack the U-boats frontally, the Admiralty elected to impede their operations in indirect ways. These were principally two: by routing convoys away from the known U-boat positions and by thwarting the plan to use Bismarck’s supply ships for refueling U-boats at sea.
The refueling scheme was to be thwarted by directly confronting the supply ships and capturing or sinking them, as if the British had come upon them as a result of comprehensive and diligent blue-water patrolling. To be sure, there was a risk of arousing German suspicion, but less so in sinking big surface ships because the surface ships were easier to detect by radar than U-boats. The Admiralty knew, from breaking Enigma dispatches from Bismarck, that Lutjens had informed the OKM that British surface-ship radar was amazingly effective, capable of picking up a surface ship at a range of “at least 35,000 meters,” or about twenty miles.
The assault on Bismarck’s supply ships began on June 3 in the North Atlantic. The cruisers Aurora and Kenya attacked the 10,000-ton tanker Belchen, which was parked eighty miles southwest of Greenland. Belchen had refueled Kleinschmidt’s U-111 and Paulshen’s U-557, and when the cruisers struck, she was in the process of refueling Korth’s U-93. Belchen threw off the hoses and scuttled. Korth dived but he shied from attacking the cruisers.
Later that day, Korth surfaced and rescued all fifty survivors of Belchen. Dönitz instructed him to make for another Bismarck supply ship, Friedrich Breme, offload the survivors, refuel, and resume his patrol. But Korth demurred on the grounds that should that rendezvous fail, he did not have enough fuel to reach France. Halfway back to Lorient, on June 6, Korth spotted and reported a southbound convoy, but owing to his shortage of fuel and the presence on board of the fifty Belchen survivors, he did not attack or shadow it for the benefit of other boats. Although Korth had won his Ritterkreuz earlier on this patrol, when he arrived in Lorient, Dönitz upbraided him for not attacking and tracking the convoy, regardless of the presence of the Belchen survivors. Logging that Korth seemed to be losing his fighting edge, Dönitz decided to send him to West African waters on his next patrol.
The loss of Belchen was a stiff blow to Dönitz. She had been ideally situated to resupply the western patrol line, enabling those boats to double the time in the operating area. After Korth in U-93, Walter Kell, age twenty-seven, commanding the VIIC U-204 on his maiden patrol from Germany, had been next in line to refuel from Belchen. So that operation, and several others as well, had to be canceled.
In the two days following the destruction of Belchen, June 4 and 5, British naval forces struck at four other German supply ships in the North and South Atlantic. Aircraft from Victorious, the battleship Nelson, and the cruiser Neptune teamed up with the armed merchant ship Esperance Bay, forcing the 4,000-ton Gonzenheim to scuttle. In the same area, the destroyer Marsdale, trained for boarding, captured the 9,000-ton tanker Gedania before she could scuttle. In southern waters, the cruiser London and the destroyer Brilliant forced the 9,900-ton tanker Esso Hamburg and the 9,800-ton tanker Egerland to scuttle.
In the capture of Gedania, which was en route to relieve Egerland, the British and Germans fought a pitched battle, during which several Gedania crewmen were killed. After the victory the British found numerous secret papers, including Enigma materials and the operational orders issued to Gedania. These orders contained a wealth of new information: instructions for conducting a rendezvous with a U-boat (coded meeting points, communications procedures, recognition signals), precise (coded) routes to be followed by supply ships and blockade runners when approaching French ports,* and, not incidentally, the location of the North Atlantic weather-reporting trawler during June.
Dönitz learned of the loss of Egerland from Heinrich Liebe in U-38, who was approaching her to replenish when she was scuttled and who then searched unsuccessfully for survivors. It was another blow. Her loss and the loss of her relief, Gedania, meant that the highly rewarding U-boat operations off the West African coast were to be interrupted until a substitute resupply ship could be stationed in those waters. Dönitz therefore directed the five boats remaining in the Freetown area to replenish, if necessary, from another Bismarck supply ship, the 10,700-ton tanker Lothringen, which had parked farther north.
Continuing this secret campaign, the British had five more successes. On June 12 the cruiser Sheffield forced the 10,400-ton tanker Friedrich Breme to scuttle. On June 15 the carrier Eagle and the cruiser Dunedin captured the Lothringen, obtaining Enigma materials and wiping out the proposed resupply of the U-boats in the Freetown area. On June 21 the cruiser London forced the 4,400-ton Babitonga, a merchant-raider supply ship, to scuttle. On June 23 destroyers of the 8th Flotilla and the Marsdale teamed with aircraft and forced another merchant-raider supply ship, the 3,000-ton Alstertor, to scuttle.
Nor was that all. On June 28 the cruiser Nigeria and three destroyers of the Home Fleet pounced on the 136-foot, 344-ton weather-reporting trawler Lauenburg, commanded by fifty-eight-year-old Hinrich Gewald. A boarding party from the destroyer Tartar, commanded by T. Hugh P. Wilson and advised by codebreaker Allon Bacon, captured the trawler and intelligence materials of “inestimable value” (as the Admiralty later put it), including the daily Enigma ring and plugboard keys for July. These enabled Bletchley Park to continue reading naval Enigma fluently and currently through that month.
All these sinkings again aroused deepest suspicion at Kerneval. As a consequence, on June 16, Dönitz introduced a complicated new system for disguising U-boat positions from outsiders. He issued the boats a set of fixed “reference points” (Franz, Oscar, Herbert, etc.) to use in directing them to new areas. In place of ordering a boat to go to the standard Kriegsmarine grid square BC-64 (for example), he ordered it to go to a grid square which lay (for example) 250 degrees, 150 miles and 050 degrees, 200 miles, respectively, from reference point “Franz.” To thwart British DFing, the boats were to respond to a change in position or an attack order by a simple “yes” or “no” (in Short Signal code), depending upon their ability to comply.
Both Bletchley Park and the U-boat skippers found this new system difficult to master. The official British historian wrote that the delays encountered in breaking the new system, “reduced during [the second half of] June the operational value of what was derived from reading Enigma currently,” but that by July, “the problem had largely been overcome.” The U-boat skippers criticized the system as “too cumbersome”; many made errors or miscalculations that took them to the wrong place.
Denied the services of the supply ships Egerland, Gedania, and Lothringen, which, as related, the British wiped out, and badly in need of refits or overhauls and rest for the crews, one by one the boats in West African waters returned to France. Georg Schewe in U-105 and Jürgen Oesten in U-106 arrived on June 13 and June 18, having been out for 112 and 110 days, respectively. Dönitz had high praise for both skippers. Schewe’s score of twelve ships for 70,500 tons established a new record for a single patrol.
Trailing U-105 homeward by about a week, Heinrich Liebe in U-38 sank his eighth ship, the 7,600-ton British freighter Kingston Hill. This sinking put Liebe over the 200,000-ton mark and he thus became the sixth skipper to earn Oak Leaves to his Ritterkreuz.* Having commanded U-38 since the outbreak of war, Liebe had been in continuous Atlantic combat longer than any other skipper. When he reached Lorient, Dönitz sent him to a job in the Training Command, but the weary U-38 was retained in the Atlantic.
While he was homebound, Günther Hessler in U-107 sank two more ships, his thirteenth and fourteenth. The last was the 5,000-ton Greek freighter Pandias. Despite his earlier close call with the Alfred Jones, Hessler remembered that he helped the Greeks square away the lifeboats and gave them food and water and instructions for reaching the African coast.†
With the sinking of Pandias, Dönitz finally authorized a Ritterkreuz for his son-in-law. The reckoning for this patrol was the most conservative of the war: fourteen ships (including two tankers) for 90,793 tons. Postwar accounting confirmed fourteen ships for 86,699 tons, which was to stand as the best single patrol of the war by any submarine of any nation. The announcement of the award by the German propagandists was also conservative. Berlin credited Hessler with eighteen ships for 111, 272 tons in two patrols, whereas his confirmed total was eighteen ships for 118,862 tons. Upon arrival in Lorient on July 2, after ninety-six days at sea, U-107, like the other “south boats,” went into the yards for a long overhaul.
Viktor Schütze in the homebound U-103 trailed U-107 by a week. Schütze sank two more ships, bringing his confirmed total for this patrol to thirteen ships (one tanker) for 65,172 tons. The last sinking, on June 29, proved to be an embarrassment. She was the 6,600-ton Italian blockade-runner Ernani, disguised as a Dutch vessel. After sinking her, Schütze was compelled to make a secret emergency refueling stop from the German tanker Corrientes, moored in the Spanish Canaries. Counting his earlier sinkings on U-25 and U-103, this patrol also put Schütze over the 200,000-ton mark, earning Oak Leaves to his Ritterkreuz.† Upon arrival in Lorient, July 12, Schütze was promoted to command a training flotilla in the Baltic.
Of the boats returning from West African waters, the VIIC U-69, commanded by Jost Metzler, had the most difficult time. By mid-June Metzler was running out of food and fuel, and confronted problems with the fresh-water distillers. To augment the thin food supply, Metzler violated a maritime superstition and killed porpoises. The cook minced the porpoise meat and made fish cakes. At first the crew was reluctant to eat porpoise, but it finally gave in, pronouncing the cakes “delicious.” After Gedania and Lothringen were lost, Dönitz directed Metzler to refuel secretly from Corrientes, but Metzler had doubts that he could get to the Canaries before he ran out of fuel.
While inching along on one diesel, late on the afternoon of June 26, U-69 happened upon convoy Sierra Leone 76 northbound from Freetown. These were the first enemy ships U-69 had seen in almost a month and although Metzler had little fuel, he reported the convoy to Kerneval and closed on two diesels to make a night surface attack. Sneaking into the columns of ships, Metzler fired his last four torpedoes at four different ships. He claimed two ships for 17,500 tons sunk and one of 6,000 tons probably sunk, but postwar records confirmed only two British freighters sunk for 13,000 tons, the Empire Ability and the River Lugar. In the ensuing chaos, a couple of corvettes or sloops chased and fired guns at U-69, but Metzler hauled away with no damage. Dönitz instructed Metzler to shadow and report for the benefit of two southbound boats, the Type IXs U-123 and U-66, but owing to the lack of fuel, he could not comply.
The U-123, until recently under command of Karl-Heinz Moehle, was now in the hands of a new skipper, Reinhard Hardegen, age twenty-eight, from the duck U-147, which was sunk with the loss of all hands on June 2. A onetime naval aviator, Hardegen had incurred injuries in a plane crash (shortened right leg; bleeding stomach) that would have disqualified him from submarine duty. But he had concealed the injuries and got a berth as first watch officer on Georg-Wilhelm Schulz’s U-124, then command of U-147for one indoctrination patrol to North Channel before Dönitz, unaware of his disqualifying injuries, gave Hardegen command of U-123.
Southbound to Freetown on June 20, Hardegen came upon what appeared to be a lone British ship and attacked submerged, firing one torpedo. It missed. After a long submerged chase, Hardegen fired again. This time the torpedo hit and the crew abandoned ship, which, however, remained afloat. Closing, Hardegen gave her a “finishing shot,” a solid hit, but still the ship would not sink. Refusing to expend yet another torpedo, Hardegen surfaced for a gun action. He finally sank the ship with his 4.1” gun, but upon approaching the lifeboats, he discovered she was not a British ship, but rather the 4,333-ton Portuguese neutral Ganda. Later, when a diplomatic squall ensued, the Germans blamed the sinking on a British submarine and Dönitz ordered Hardegen—as he had Lemp in the Athenia incident—to alter his patrol report to conceal the sinking.
After secretly replenishing from the Corrientes in the dark, early hours of June 25, Hardegen left the Canaries and continued southbound, the crew wilting under the unfamiliar heat and humidity of the tropics. On the following day, Kerneval relayed Metzler’s contact on Sierra Leone Convoy 76 to Hardegen, who plotted a course to intercept and found it in the afternoon of June 27. But the convoy was then escorted by “several destroyers” and corvettes and a Sunderland. Hardegen tracked until dark, then surfaced to report the convoy (twenty-three ships) to Dönitz, who authorized Hardegen to attack, but also to track for the benefit of the southbound U-66.
Hardegen launched his attack shortly before midnight, shooting three torpedoes at three different ships. Two hit the intended targets, the third missed and may have hit a ship—or may not have. Hardegen claimed sinking a 10,000-ton tanker and two 5,000-ton freighters in this salvo, but Admiralty records show that only two freighters, a 5,600-ton Britisher and a 2,000-ton Dutchman, went down. The escorts hunted and found U-123 and attacked her with depth charges for eleven hours, but Hardegen escaped serious damage by diving to 654 feet, well below the maximum settings for British depth charges.
The next day Hardegen raced north to regain the convoy and reported his successes (“20,000 tons” sunk) to Kerneval. He made contact in the afternoon and reported, but a Sunderland drove him off. He continued pursuing northward through that night and the following day, June 29, by which time the other southbound boat, U-66, commanded by Richard Zapp, had made contact. That day and the next Zapp sank three stragglers, two Greeks and a Britisher, for 15,600 tons. Hardegen attacked the main body of the convoy that day, sinking the 4,000-ton British freighter Rio Azul, which he reported to be an auxiliary cruiser.
Upon learning that the convoy had been reinforced with air and surface escorts and that Hardegen had chased it about 400 miles to the north, on July 1 Dönitz ordered both Hardegen and Zapp to turn about and resume patrols toward Freetown. However, by the time the boats reached Freetown, the Admiralty had strengthened ASW measures and, apparently with Ultra help, had routed convoys and individual ships away from that area. As a result, Hardegen and Zapp sank only one more British freighter each before returning to Lorient. Except U-A, which sank no ships at all in a seventy-six-day patrol, these were the least productive patrols to Freetown that summer.
Meanwhile, Jost Metzler in the VIIC U-69, who had put Hardegen and Zapp onto convoy Sierra Leone 76, continued on to the Canaries to refuel from Corrientes. To Metzler’s amazement, Berlin Radio announced—by name—his claimed successes “off the coast of Africa”: 31,500 tons. That counted the results of the mining missions but not Robin Moor, Metzler noted. On the night of June 28-29, U-69 nosed alongside Corrientes, “with her last drops of fuel.” After the crew had gorged on food and the fuel tanks had been topped off, the U-69 proceeded onward to Lorient. On the way Metzler—who had no torpedoes—boldly attacked and sank the heavily armed 3,000-ton British freighter Robert L. Holt with his deck gun, a running artillery duel which Metzler described as the “craziest exploit” of this long and unusual patrol.
Metzler arrived in St. Nazaire on July 8, having been continuously at sea for sixty-four days, an extraordinary record-setting voyage for a Type VIIC. By that time the furor over the Robin Moor had been all but forgotten, obscured by the smashing successes of the Wehrmacht and Luftwaffe in the Russian campaign. Dönitz dutifully noted that “the sinking of the American ship S.S. Robin Moor was contrary to the orders given,” but the court-martial Metzler had feared did not materialize. To the contrary, Dönitz warmly praised Metzler for a “well-executed” patrol, citing especially the minelaying and the dogged gun attack on the Robert L. Holt. He credited U-69 with sinking six ships for 36,224 tons, including the British Sangara, which was salvaged, but not counting Robin Moor. Postwar records credited Metzler with sinking six ships for 28,400 tons, including Robin Moor and a ship sunk by a mine, plus the damage to Sangara. After Dönitz had learned all the details of this unusual and arduous patrol, he awarded Metzler a Ritterkreuz.
Excepting U-A, the eight boats that patrolled African waters from March to June achieved some of the most outstanding results of the U-boat war. All seven skippers earned a Ritterkreuz or Oak Leaves to the Ritterkreuz. The confirmed totals:
* Plus damage to the battleship Malaya.
These seventy-two sinkings, reported in May and June 1941, substantially raised the total U-boat successes for those months. The figures also tended to obscure the relatively thin hunting in the “decisive” North Atlantic area.
The depredations in the South Atlantic finally forced the Admiralty to intensify ASW measures in that area. One important step was the initiation of “end-to-end” escort for the Sierra Leone convoys. Under the new plan, approved on July 1, each Sierra Leone convoy was to be guarded from Freetown to Gibraltar waters by at least five corvettes. There the convoy was to merge with the Gibraltar convoys, inbound to the British Isles with another group of corvettes. The complete plan required sixty-six corvettes, thirty-six for the Freetown to Gibraltar leg, thirty for the Gibraltar to the British Isles leg. Since there were only ninety-nine corvettes in service,† the plan could not be fully implemented without drawing corvettes from the North Atlantic convoy routes. Hence the urgent need for the U.S. Navy to assume responsibility for escorting North Atlantic convoys from Canada to Iceland at the earliest possible time.