Dönitz reconstituted the Center Group near Rockall Bank on August 23. Two ducks, U-141 and U-143, reconnoitered close to North Channel to alert the group to outbound convoys; seven oceangoing boats lay in wait offshore. The weather was foul; a gale had whipped up huge seas. Even so, Coastal Command aircraft were out hunting, forcing every boat to dive several times a day.
One of the boats was the VIIC U-69, commanded by Jost Metzler, who had won a Ritterkreuz in July for his long and adventurous patrol to the Gulf of Guinea. Several days into the patrol, Metzler felt “very unwell.” He “refused to give in” and “stayed on the bridge day and night as usual,” but finally he could “go on no longer.” Struck down by a kidney infection, Metzler reported his condition to Dönitz, who ordered the boat to return at once to France. The first watch officer assumed command and took the boat into St. Nazaire. After a lengthy hospitalization—and recovery—Metzler was assigned to command a new boat under construction.
Another boat of this group was U-557, commanded by Ottokar Paulshen, making his second patrol. On the evening of August 26, in heavy weather, Paulshen discovered—and reported—convoy Outbound South 4, en route to Sierra Leone. It was escorted by three destroyers, a sloop, two ex-Coast Guard cutters, and two trawlers. Upon receiving Paulshen’s report, Kerneval set in train a complicated movement of the U-boats. Seven boats were to join U-557 for the attack on Outbound South 4. Seven others, patrolling in Greenland or Iceland waters, were to speed southeast and south to form a new Center Group in case another Outbound South convoy was coming behind OS 4.
All eight boats in pursuit of Outbound South 4 were experienced. The U-95, commanded by Gerd Schreiber, was on its fifth Atlantic patrol. The other seven were on second patrols. But the gale-whipped seas made convoy tracking difficult to impossible. In view of the weather conditions, Dönitz authorized Paulshen in U-557 and all other boats to attack when or if they could. In the early hours of August 27, Paulshen closed and sank four big freighters for 20,400 tons and possibly damaged another of 5,000 tons. Only one other skipper got in: Günther Krech in U-558, who sank a 10,300-ton British freighter.
During this chase, B-dienst reported an inbound convoy passing close to the southern coast of Iceland. By then, Iceland was teeming with British and American air and naval forces. Coastal Command aircraft were mounting thirty to fifty missions a day. Moreover, Hitler’s order prohibiting attacks in that area on warships smaller than a cruiser and American warships of any kind was still in force. Although Dönitz still regarded Icelandic waters as dangerous, he decided to mount an all-out effort to intercept this convoy.
Yet another complicated shift of the U-boats ensued. The seven boats that were headed southeast and south to reconstitute the Center Group were turned around and sent to Icelandic waters. Nine boats of the large Greenland group were detached and directed to search eastward and northeastward. These redispositions put sixteen U-boats, about half on maiden patrols, in pursuit of the convoy.
Unknown to the Germans, there were then three eastbound convoys comprising over 100 ships passing south of Iceland, all closely bunched. Leading the line was Halifax 144. Next came Slow Convoy 40, about 150 miles astern. Last came Halifax 145, about 150 miles behind Slow Convoy 40. Reading the decrypted Enigma signals to the U-boats, Rodger Winn in the U-boat Tracking Room advised Derby House to divert and reroute all three convoys. According to the official naval historian, Stephen Roskill, all three convoys “passed well to the south of the U-boat patrol lines.”
Coastal Command mounted an all-out air escort. On August 25, a Catalina of 209 Squadron, based on Iceland, caught the new U-452, commanded by Jürgen March, age twenty-seven, on the surface. Commissioned on May 29, U-452 had rushed through workup in about eighty days and had only just reached the Atlantic. Attacking “low on the deck,” the Catalina accurately dropped a stick of four 450-pound depth charges set to detonate shallow, per Professor Blackett’s recommendation. Two charges closely straddled U-452’s bow, blowing her out of the water stern first. Responding to the alarm, the armed trawler Vascama came up to find the Catalina strafing an exposed conning tower. Vascama attacked, dropping twenty depth charges, which brought up “pieces of wood.” Nothing more was ever heard from U-452. The Admiralty gave the Catalina and Vascama equal credit for the kill, but doubtless the Catalina, piloted by Edward A. Jewiss, deserved the lion’s share. Four months later Jewiss died in an airplane crash.
Ninety miles to the northwest another new boat, the VIIC U-570, hunted for the convoy. She was commanded by thirty-two-year-old Hans Rahmlow, crew of 1928, a recent recruit to the U-boat arm who had commanded the school duck U-58 for five months before going to U-570. Commissioned on May 15, this boat also had been rushed through workup, completing Agru Front in Norway, where the boat bottomed and incurred some damage while diving to escape a British aircraft. Only four of the forty-three-man crew—the engineer, Erick Mensel, two petty officers, and one seaman—had previously made war patrols. The first watch officer, Bernhard Berndt, crew of 1935, had served in the Navy six years, but he also was new to U-boats. The second watch officer, Walter Christiansen, a former midshipman, had been commissioned in the spring.
After a rousing farewell party in Trondheim, where much beer and wine had been consumed, U-570 sailed at 0800 hours on August 24. She was not shipshape: The diesels were not properly tuned, the air compressor was on the blink, some batteries were not properly strapped down, the four spare torpedoes in the bow compartment were not securely stowed, one bow torpedo tube leaked. The hydrophones, knocked out when the boat bottomed, had not been repaired because no one in Norway knew how.
When the boat reached open seas, a large proportion of the crew became desperately seasick. Since only one or two sick men could be accommodated on the bridge at a time, and not for long, most men had to vomit in buckets belowdecks. The retching and the revolting odors inside the confined pressure hull touched off an epidemic of seasickness. Many men were not capable of standing watches; many of those who did were disoriented, unalert, and unwilling or unable to correct even the simplest deficiencies. Some of the improperly stowed bow torpedoes worked loose and rammed against the torpedo-tube inner doors; the untuned diesels labored inefficiently.
Directed to intercept the inbound convoy, on the morning of August 27, seventy-two hours out of Trondheim, U-570 took up a waiting position about eighty miles off the south coast of Iceland. Because the hydrophones were out of commission, Rahmlow had to conduct a visual search for the convoy, remaining on the surface in mounting seas in an area patrolled by Coastal Command, which that day mounted thirty-six missions from Iceland.
In order to give the seasick men a brief respite, at 0800 hours Rahmlow dived to ninety feet and remained there, virtually motionless, for about two and a half hours. At 10:50, he brought the boat to periscope depth and looked around for surface traffic, but neglected to search the skies for hostile aircraft. He surfaced, threw open the hatch, and climbed to the dripping bridge. Before the diesels lit off, Rahmlow heard the engines of an aircraft and immediately crash-dived.
The plane was a twin-engine Lockheed Hudson of Coastal Command’s 269 Squadron, based at Kaldadarnes, Iceland. Piloted by thirty-one-year-old James H. Thompson, it had only just embarked on a search-and-destroy mission. When U-570 surfaced, the Hudson crew picked her up on ASV radar. Reflexively throttling back into a shallow dive, Thompson reached U-570 before she got under and dropped a stick of four 250-pound depth charges set to detonate at fifty feet, per the new procedure. The copilot and navigator, John O. Coleman, saw two charges straddle the bow.
The impact of the explosions inside U-570 was terrific. The boat heaved violently and rolled almost completely over. The lights went out. Dials and depth gauges in the control room shattered. Mindless panic swept through the green, seasick crew. A rumor spread that saltwater flooding aft had entered the battery, creating chlorine gas. All men aft rushed wildly forward to the control room. Others slammed shut the control-room hatch and closed down the ventilation system, isolating the aft half of the boat. In an attempt to dive, Rahmlow called for full speed on the electric motors and hard down-angle on the bow planes, but nothing happened. The impact of the explosion had disengaged or broken the electric busses and fuses and there was no one in the aft room to reset or fix them, a simple task.
There was now only small danger to U-570 from above. The Hudson had dropped its full load of depth charges; it had nothing left to shoot except machine guns. An experienced, well-trained U-boat crew could have coped and escaped, but Rahmlow lost control. Assuming the rumors of chlorine gas to be true, he ordered the crew to don escape apparatus and go to the conning tower and bridge, prepared to scuttle and abandon ship.
It was one matter to abandon ship and scuttle in rough seas with a ship—even a hostile ship—nearby to offer rescue, quite another to leap into the water with nothing in sight except a circling twin-engine, land-based aircraft. As required, Rahmlow and his crew threw the Enigma and other secret papers over the side, but balked at leaping into the hostile and empty seas. Believing the crowd of Germans on the bridge had come up to man the deck gun and machine guns, Thompson made several strafing runs. On the fourth pass, to his utter astonishment, Thompson saw one of the Germans holding aloft a white shirt and another a white-painted board, obvious gestures of surrender. “Hold fire!” he shouted.
Puzzling over this unprecedented development, Thompson pulled up and circled warily. While the gunners, Fredrick J. Drake and Douglas Strode, kept their machine guns trained on U-570’s bridge, Thompson radioed an alarm and requested help. Another Hudson of 269 Squadron, piloted by Hugh Eccles, en route from Scotland to Iceland, heard the call and homed on Thompson, as did a Catalina of Coastal Command’s 209 Squadron, piloted by Edward Jewiss, who had sunk U-452 two days earlier. Eccles took photographs and served as a radio-relay station; Jewiss, fully armed with depth charges, circled, prepared to attack U-570 at the slightest sign that she was diving.
Believing chlorine gas made diving impossible, Rahmlow had only one means of salvation: rescue by another U-boat after the aircraft ran low on fuel and had to leave, or after dark when they were blind. He therefore rushed off a plain-language radio message to Dönitz: “Am not able to dive. Being attacked by aircraft.” He gave his position and said he was unable to receive radio transmissions. In response, Dönitz ordered any and all boats in the vicinity to render assistance. The closest was another new VIIC, U-82, commanded by Siegfried Rollmann, age twenty-six. He attempted to close U-570 to rescue the crew, but was unable to do so, he told Dönitz, because of the heavy enemy air patrols.
When Derby House watch-standers received the radio reports from Coastal Command—and the interception of Rahmlow’s plain-language message to Dönitz—they were electrified. Here was another opportunity to capture a U-boat intact and perhaps its Enigma and other secret gear and papers as well. Assuming personal command of the operation, Admiral Percy Noble ordered a small armada of surface vessels to race to U-570: two four-stack ex-American destroyers; the British Burwell and the Canadian Niagara; and four British trawlers, Kingston Agathe, Northern Chief, Wastwater, and Windermere. The nearest vessel was the trawler Northern Chief, about sixty miles to the southeast, an eight- or nine-hour run in the heavy seas. Derby House’s orders to Northern Chief: “Prevent the U-boat from scuttling by any means.”
Thompson circled over U-570 in his Hudson as long as his fuel permitted, then returned to the 269 Squadron base at Kaldadarnes. As he banked around to land, he saw that the entire squadron had turned out on the field to welcome him and his crew. But the ceremony went awry. While the Hudson was on its final approach, it ran into a violent gust of wind and crashed nose-first into a swamp. Thompson and his crew were not seriously injured, but the plane was a wreck. Later, at Buckingham Palace, King George awarded Thompson and his copilot-navigator, Coleman, the Distinguished Flying Cross.
The trawler Northern Chief, commanded by N. L. Knight, arrived at the scene about 10:00 P.M. It was raining; darkness was falling; visibility was poor. Jewiss’ Catalina and several Hudsons were circling the U-boat and firing flares to guide the trawler. In compliance with the orders from Derby House to prevent scuttling “by any means,” when Knight found U-570 he signaled the Germans by lamp, in English, to show a “small white light” and said: “If you make any attempt to scuttle, I will not save anyone and will fire on your rafts and floats.” Rahmlow replied: “I cannot scuttle or abandon. Save us tomorrow please.”
During the night the weather worsened; strong winds, rough seas, and heavy swells. The seasick Germans spent an unspeakably miserable night on the U-570, rolling and plunging. By radio signals and searchlight, the Northern Chief homed the trawlers Kingston Agathe, Wastwater, and Windermere and the four-stack destroyers Burwell and Niagara to the scene. Having been airborne about sixteen hours (about thirteen of them circling U-570), Jewiss’s Catalina departed for Iceland.
The senior naval officer, S.R.J. Woods, skipper of the British destroyer Burwell, assumed command of all forces, weighed the situation, and formulated a plan. For reasons unknown, the U-570 obviously could not dive or operate her diesel engines; otherwise she could have escaped from the aircraft and the trawler Northern Chief. Obviously, too, these Germans were not the fearless warriors of fable. They had not attempted to fight either the aircraft or Northern Chief. They had surrendered and they wished, above all, to be rescued. But they could not be trusted. If Woods took them off the boat they were certain to scuttle. His plan—endorsed by Derby House—was to hold the Germans hostage on U-570 while he towed the boat to Iceland, denying them rescue and threatening harsher measures if they scuttled.
Woods put his plan into action after daybreak. While the other vessels circled, maintaining a sonar watch for other U-boats, Woods opened a dialogue with Rahmlow by signal lamp. Insisting that the boat was sinking, Rahmlow requested immediate rescue. Although U-570 was low in the water and down by the bow, Woods disbelieved Rahmlow and said: “Send half the crew below and blow ballast tanks. Do not destroy or throw overboard any papers or books. Do not scuttle or you will not be picked up.” Woods then attempted to pass a towline to the U-boat, but the seas were too rough and he got no cooperation from the Germans.
As Woods was working out his next step, a single-engine Northrop float plane suddenly appeared overhead and, notwithstanding the presence of six Allied warships, dropped two small bombs near U-570, then mistakenly attacked the Northern Chief, which returned fire. Manned by a Norwegian crew of Squadron 330 thirsting for a kill, the plane had come from Iceland. Woods, establishing contact with the Norwegians by radio, calmly explained the situation and refused their request to make a second attack on U-570.
The inadvertent attack by the Norwegians greatly upset the Germans. Although Rahmlow continued to insist the boat was sinking and repeatedly requested immediate rescue, he suddenly appeared to be more cooperative and agreed to assist in attaching a towline. Woods successfully passed a hemp messenger line to the Germans, but when they attempted to pull a steel cable across, the hemp line parted. Suspecting that the Germans had possibly sabotaged the line, Woods concluded that another application of force was in order and directed a machine gunner to fire a burst over the heads of the Germans. “Unfortunately,” as a British after-action report put it, “owing to the laboring of the two vessels, some of the bullets hit the conning tower, wounding five of the [U-boat] crew. It did, however, have the desired effect.” The Germans began to cooperate in earnest. Most of the crew went belowdecks. Rahmlow blew ballast and fuel tanks, raising the boat to maximum surface buoyancy. The fuel dumping helped diminish the fury of the seas.
Rahmlow then signaled Woods: “Would you take off my wounded?” Woods replied “Yes.” He attempted to do so by twice floating a tethered raft to U-570, but owing to the heavy seas, both attempts failed, notwithstanding the oil from U-570 and additional oil released by the trawlers Wastwater and Windermere. Since a trawler had superior maneuverability in heavy seas, Woods directed Kingston Agathe, commanded by H. O. L’Estrange, to make another attempt.
Not unimpressed with the great importance of these orders, L’Estrange turned to with a will. He assembled a four-man boarding party, led by H. B. Campbell, and maneuvered close to U-570. The boarding party climbed into a tethered raft and drifted across the water, hauling a hawser. With help from the Germans, the party landed on U-570. The Germans stressed to Campbell that the aft section of the boat was filled with chlorine gas and flooding, and that the boat was sinking. While other members of the party prepared to attach the hawser to the stern of U-570, Campbell rushed below to search for the Enigma and other intelligence documents. Finding nothing of value, Campbell carefully opened the aft control-room hatch. He saw water up to the floor plates in the engine room, apparently smelled chlorine gas, and, influenced by what the Germans told him, signaled L’Estrange that the boat was indeed sinking.
According to an official American intelligence report, at this point the hostage plan conceived by Woods began to unravel. “The first persons to leave the submarine,” the Americans wrote with underlined emphasis, “were its officers and not the wounded.” That is: Rahmlow, the first watch officer, Bernhard Berndt, and the engineer Erick Mensel, but not the junior officer Walter Christiansen. The latter later told the British, the American report stated, that “The crew were resentful at the Commanding Officer and the other officers of the boat going on board the Kingston Agathe before and without them.” The five wounded, the Americans wrote, went across to the trawler on the raft later. Altogether, Kingston Agathe took aboard twelve Germans.
It is not known why Rahmlow and the other two officers were taken off first. Perhaps a mix-up in signals occurred or Kingston Agathe did not understand the hostage scheme. The Americans wrote that Woods “had not planned nor did he desire to remove any of the crew other than the wounded from the submarine until he had forced them to place the ship in as stable and seaworthy a condition as possible,” and that the “enthusiastic, but somewhat untimely interference” of Kingston Agathe “resulted in loss of control of the situation” by Woods and “very nearly resulted in the loss of the submarine” because the three men with the authority to assure the seaworthiness of U-570 were removed from the boat.
Acting with or without orders from Woods—the records are not clear—the Canadian destroyer Niagara, commanded by T.P.E. Ryan, then took center stage. Niagara came up astern of U-570 and shot lines to the Germans, who “very willingly” pulled a raft to the boat. Ryan signaled the Germans to commence evacuating the boat via the raft but as Ryan logged it, the Germans “did not want to come over to us as they had been previously ordered to remain on board” by Woods on Burwell. However, when a German-speaking chief petty officer insisted in no uncertain terms that they get on the raft, the Germans complied. Shuttling the raft back and forth, Niagara brought aboard the remaining thirty-one men, including the junior officer, Christiansen. The Canadians stripped the prisoners of clothing and papers, gave them dry clothing, coffee, and rum, and later a full meal, then placed them under heavy guard in a stokehold.
By that time the men of the boarding party from Kingston Agathe had attached the towline to U-570, closed the conning-tower hatches, and returned to their ship. Based on the reports of “flooding,” no one believed the boat could survive the trip to Iceland. Nevertheless, the attempt had to be made. Woods released the trawlers Wastwater and Windermere for other duties, and the remaining four ships, Burwell, Niagara, Northern Chief, and Kingston Agathe, covered by Coastal Command aircraft, set off for Iceland. Several hours later, when the formation increased speed, the tow cable broke. Northern Chief then took over the tow; Kingston Agathe proceeded to Iceland with the German prisoners. Woods signaled Knight on Northern Chief: “If tow parts during the night, sink [U-570] with depth charges.”
That night the weather cleared. At dawn on August 29 the U-570 was still down by the bow, but not sinking. Knight logged: “Slight sea and swell. U-boat towing well astern at 6 knots.” Since the weather looked to remain “fine and clear,” Knight believed they could reach Reykjavik. But Woods was doubtful and he ordered Knight to head for the closest protected harbor, Thorlakshafn, near the town of Eyrarbakki. At about 7:00 P.M., August 29, U-570 grounded gently on the beach, stern first, then turned sideways and settled. Two salvage tugs arrived four hours later from Reykjavik to help moor the boat firmly in place.
The capture of U-570 had not gone according to plan and the British were lucky to get her to a safe anchorage. As reflected in the American intelligence report, her various captors did not part on the best of terms. But thanks to some impressive seamanship under difficult and trying conditions, the job got done. Since hundreds of men, including scores of Americans in Iceland, knew about the cap- ture, and the British doubted that the Americans could keep the capture secret, and since the capture put the German submarine force in a very poor light, London not only released the news of her surrender but also made every effort to exploit the feat with newspaper stories and radio broadcasts.
Over the next several days, British salvage, intelligence, and submarine officers boarded U-570. They found the interior awash in a revolting mixture of vomit, excrement, fruit, bread, flour, diesel oil, and salt water. The Germans had smashed the torpedo-data computer, the gyro compass, and the hydrophone console; about one-third of the sixty-two batteries were cracked. However, except for a few minor hull and tank defects, the boat was structurally sound. The experts concluded there had never been any danger of the boat flooding and sinking and strongly doubted that chlorine gas had developed in the aft section. Following the initial attack by Thompson’s Hudson, a well-trained crew could have safely dived the boat, repaired the damage, and escaped.
A British submarine captain, George R. Colvin, and a small crew went out to Iceland and assumed “command” of U-570. After some minor repairs had been made, Colvin took her under heavy escort to Barrow-in-Furness, on the northwest coast of England. Subsequently the British put her through a rigorous testing regime which enabled engineers to chart her performance characteristics (crash-diving time, turning circle, submerged speed, depth limits, etc.) down to the finest detail. Although there were few surprises, this exact information was quite useful to Allied ASW forces.
The British and Americans were much impressed with some features of the Type VII. The most striking one, they proclaimed, was the rotating “bicycle”-type seat on the attack periscope in the conning tower, “a submarine captain’s dream.”* Other laudable features: the bridge fire-control system (UZO), the hydrophones (six times more efficient than British hydrophones),† the pressure-hull thickness (7/8” amidships, 11/16” at bow and stern), and the expertness of the welding. The only real faults found were the appalling neglect of crew habitability or comfort (overcrowding, and shortage of bunks, fresh water, food storage, and eating areas, etc.) and the inadequate provisions for storing distilled water for the batteries.
Churchill sought every possible avenue for exploiting the U-570 politically. His first thought was to send it to the United States for repairs. It would be a “peculiarly provocative thing” for the Americans to do, he wrote. The Americans were quite willing—even eager—to get their hands on U-570, but the Admiralty objected.†
The capture of U-570 provided one other highly classified ASW tool. For the purpose of instructing boarding parties in techniques for capturing other U-boats and Enigma materials, the British built three full-scale mockups of the Type VIIC control room and the wardroom and radio-room areas just forward where the Enigma and its keying materials were usually stored. The control room was equipped with a blow- and vent-valve manifold (with German and English lettering) so that the boarders could learn to thwart scuttlings by the ballast-tank flooding method.
British intelligence officers interrogated the disgruntled and dishonored crew of U-570 in London Cage, Kensington. The British were struck by the youth, the lack of experience and training, and the general “incompetence” of the men. Many prisoners had abandoned the boat carrying diaries, letters, and other personal papers, which provided additional valuable insights into the German submarine force.
Later, the four officers were transferred to an officers’ POW camp, Grizedale Hall, a country mansion in the Lake District of northwest England. Rahmlow was temporarily held in isolation, but the first watch officer, Bernhard Berndt, and the other two officers, Mensel and Christiansen, reported to the senior POW, Otto Kretschmer, who was aware from British newspapers and radio broadcasts that U-570 had “surrendered.” Kretschmer convened a “Council of Honor,” composed of senior U-boat prisoners, to “try” Berndt. The Council found him and Rahmlow (in absentia) guilty of “cowardice.” Kretschmer informed Dönitz of the proceedings and the verdicts in an encoded letter, which the British allowed to pass. The Council assumed that when the Germans had defeated and occupied England and recovered German POWs, a German military court would try Rahmlow and Berndt, find them guilty, and execute them.*
When the German POWs learned later that U-570 had been brought into Barrow-in-Furness, which was merely thirty miles away, the “convicted” Berndt proposed an extraordinary scheme to regain his personal honor. He would escape, make his way to the boat, and destroy it. The scheme appealed to Kretschmer. After he had approved it, other POWs assisted by providing forged identity papers, maps, and clothing.
Berndt escaped, per plan, but the camp commandant, James R. Veitch, either knew of the escape in advance or discovered it at once and alerted nearby Home Guard units. Mere hours after the escape, one unit found Berndt and, while attempting to capture him, shot him dead. At Kretschmer’s direction, the German POWs buried Berndt with full military honors. Veitch retained Rahmlow in isolation and later transferred him to a camp for Luftwaffe officers.
Dönitz first learned of the capture of U-570 (“a depressing event”) through British newspapers and radio broadcasts. He gained the impression from those sources, and perhaps from Kretschmer’s letter, that Rahmlow, suffering from “gas poisoning,” had been “temporarily unable to command” and that it was Berndt, temporarily commanding, who surrendered the boat. When he learned further that Berndt had been “shot while trying to escape,” Dönitz logged: “Probably the full significance of his behavior did not dawn upon him until he was a prisoner, when he preferred death while trying to escape to all else.”*
None of the sixteen boats deployed near Iceland found the three inbound convoys. Two boats had been lost, due principally to Coastal Command aircraft: U-452 and U-570. On the day after the capture of U-570, August 28, another Iceland-based aircraft severely depth-charged two other boats, the new IXC U-501 (for the second time) and the veteran U-73, commanded by Helmut Rosenbaum. The latter was so badly damaged that Rosenbaum was compelled to abort.
The return of U-boats to Icelandic waters was thus a costly failure: one boat lost, one captured, one knocked out and another nearly so, for no enemy tonnage sunk whatsoever. Moreover, many boats had exhausted fuel in fruitless chases and had to break off patrolling and return to France. The experience of August served to reconfirm the earlier belief that Icelandic waters were simply too dangerous for U-boat operations, especially for new boats with green crews. Dönitz accordingly withdrew the boats and sent those with adequate fuel, as well as the boats sailing fresh from Germany and France, back to distant Greenland waters, beyond reach of Coastal Command aircraft based in the British Isles and Iceland.
The U-boat war in the North Atlantic was further confused and diluted on August 22. In a meeting with Admiral Raeder, Hitler expressed gravest concern over the naval situation in the Mediterranean. British aircraft and naval forces (including submarines) had inflicted substantial losses on Axis ships attempting to supply Rommel’s Afrika Korps from Italy, imperiling the German and Italian forces in North Africa. In stark contrast, the British and Free French forces which were establishing or consolidating footholds in the Middle East were being freely resupplied by Allied shipping in the eastern Mediterranean. It had been expected that the Italian submarine force would ensure the safety of Axis ship-ping to North Africa and interdict Allied shipping in the eastern Mediterranean but, Hitler declared, “The Italians have achieved nothing with their submarines.” It was therefore “highly desirable,” Hitler stated, “to relieve [i.e., support] the Afrika Korps with a few German submarines.” A minimum of six U-boats (three groups of two boats), Hitler directed, should be sent to the Mediterranean as soon as possible.
Raeder protested. The decisive naval battleground was the North Atlantic. Except in cases of “great emergency,” he insisted, no U-boats should be diverted to the Mediterranean—or to the Arctic or to other tasks—until Dönitz had at least forty boats on patrol in the Atlantic at all times, which would require a total operational force of 120 or more oceangoing boats. But Hitler overruled Raeder. Everything possible must be done to assist Rommel as soon as possible. “The surrender of North Africa,” he declared, “would mean a great loss both to us and to the Italians.”
These orders caused consternation and anger at Kerneval. Berlin did not appear to understand the fundamentals of the naval war. Already Hitler had diverted U-boats to the Arctic and the OKM had assigned too many U-boats to special missions, such as escorting blockade runners in and out of France. These diversions depleted the Atlantic U-boat force, which had to fight the decisive naval battle. Six boats could not rescue Rommel, and it was not likely to end there. Further diversions to the Mediterranean could be expected.
There were other complications. The passage through the heavily defended Strait of Gibraltar was considered to be perilous, as were operations in the confined, heavily phosphorescent, and often clear waters of the Mediterra-nean. Only the medium Type VII boats, manned by the most experienced and dependable skippers and crews, could be detailed to the Mediterranean, robbing the Atlantic force of considerable cream. The Mediterranean boats would require bases—and a pipeline of supplies and spare parts—manned by scarce German submarine technicians. Logically, too, the Mediterranean boats should be commanded not by Kerneval but by a subordinate submarine headquarters in that theater of war.
Hitler’s decision to send U-boats to the Mediterranean in support of the Afrika Korps was a grave error, ranking alongside his failure to fully support mass production of U-boats at an earlier date. The hard-learned lesson of Norway—that U-boats were not appropriate weapons for supporting land forces—appeared to have been forgotten. As feared at Kerneval, the commitment of U-boats to the Mediterranean was to increase, diverting large numbers from the North Atlantic convoy routes during a critical period of the naval war.
As in July 1941, upwards of one thousand Allied merchant ships of about 5 million gross tons crossed the North Atlantic in east and west convoys unharmed by the enemy in August. Of these, 568 were loaded ships sailing from Canada to the British Isles in the Halifax and Sydney (or Slow) convoys.* In addition, 414 empty ships sailed in Outbound North convoys. The only ship to be sunk by the U-boats on the North Atlantic run in August was the corvette Picotee, escorting the Iceland-bound section of convoy Outbound North 5.
The U-boats fared better during August in the attacks on Gibraltar and Sierra Leone convoys. They sank eight ships and two escorts (destroyer Bath, corvette Zinnia) from convoy Outbound Gibraltar 71; five ships from convoy Outbound South 4; and five ships from convoy Sierra Leone 81, inbound to the British Isles. Total: twenty ships out of the 200 in these convoys.*
* Plus damage to the battleship Malaya.
* Lemp was the fifth Ritterkreuz holder to fall in combat, after Jenisch, Prien, Schepke, and Kretschmer. Lemp’s confirmed score on U-30 and U-110 was seventeen ships for 91,277 tons.
* Alan Osborne Long.
* En route to the Atlantic, Wohlfarth attacked by gun and sank the unarmed 166-ton Faeroe fishing schooner Emanual. His gunfire killed three of the eight fishermen. Later in a Berlin radio address, he described how he set the schooner ablaze: “a most beautiful sight to see.” The British characterized this attack as a “revolting incident” and cold-blooded “murder” but did not introduce the affair at Dönitz’s trial at Nuremberg.
† Kuppisch’s confirmed sinkings on the duck U-58 and on U-94 were seventeen ships for 87,282 tons. Wohlfarth’s confirmed sinkings on the ducks U-14 and U-137 and the VIIC U-556 were nineteen ships for 47,919 tons, including the fishing schooner Emanual.
† The crews of Bulldog, Broadway, and Aubrietia, as well as the rescued crew of Esmond on board Aubrietia, who had witnessed or participated in the boarding of U-110, in total some 400 men, were sworn to secrecy. Remarkably, no word of the boarding leaked. An account of it was not officially released by the Admiralty until 1959, when the official naval historian Stephen Roskill published a slim book, The Secret Capture.
§ The current Heimisch keys for May, printed on water-soluble paper, had apparently been destroyed by the Germans or possibly lost or ruined during the transfer to Bulldog. Hence it was not possible for Bletchley Park to read Heimisch currently until June. Duplicate Heimisch keys for June were obtained when, in a well-planned action, a British naval task force captured the 300-ton German weather-reporting trawler München on May 7.
* The British continued to work on Loewe to an extraordinary degree. Later, in April 1942, when he was transferred to a POW camp in Canada, the British arranged that he meet another U-110 survivor, who told him: “I know that two men saw the ship go down.” This prompted another encoded letter from Loewe to Dönitz amending the first: “U-E-O was sunk. It is possible that the enemy was aboard at one time.” Still later, in February 1944, the British arranged for Loewe to meet yet another U-110 crewman, who told him that the British boarded U-110 topside and rigged a towing hawser but did not get inside and the boat “sank vertically, stern first.” This prompted another message from Loewe to Dönitz in April 1944: “Submarine sunk. Enemy did not get inside submarine.” Having finally persuaded Loewe to accept the cover story by these artifices, the British let that message pass, and furthermore, they returned Loewe to Germany in a POW swap, so that he could tell Dönitz face-to-face that the U-110 had sunk, that the British did not get inside U-110, and that therefore, Enigma had not been compromised.
* Moehle had sunk 1972 confirmed ships for 84,301 tons on the duck U-20 and the IXB U-123.
† Korth’s confirmed sinkings on the duck U-57 and the VII U-93 were 1672 ships for 76,782 tons.
* Undetected but bedeviled by engine problems, Prinz Eugen was forced to abort, reaching Brest on June 1 without having attacked any enemy ships.
† The IXC was identical in all respects to the IXB, except that the fuel tanks held forty-three more tons of oil: 208 versus 165.tons. This gave the IXC an added 2,300 miles range at 12 knots: 11,000 miles versus 8,700.
* The Germans assaulted Crete on May 20 with 20,000 paratroopers and infantry in gliders, in 600 air transports, supported by 630 bombers and fighters. Forewarned from breaks in Luftwaffe Enigma, the 40,000 British defenders slaughtered the Germans, killing 4,000 men. Nonetheless, the Germans finally prevailed, killing 2,000 Commonwealth troops and capturing 12,000. During the battle and evacuation, the Luftwaffe inflicted devastating losses on the Royal Navy: the cruisers Gloucester, Fiji, and Calcutta and six destroyers sunk; the battleships Warspite and Barham, the carrier Formidable, the cruisers Perth, Orion, Ajax, Carlisle, Naiad, and eight destroyers damaged.
* Hitler, who was angry that Lutjens had not sunk the Prince of Wales the morning he sank Hood and returned Bismarck and Prinz Eugen directly to Germany, replied coolly: “I thank you in the name of the German people.” Hitler appended a word to the Bismarck crew: “The whole of Germany is with you. What can still be done will be done. The performance of your duty will strengthen our people in the struggle for their existence.” In response to an earlier request from Lutjens in the same series of messages, Hitler awarded Bismarck’s gunnery officer, Adalbert Schneider, a Ritterkreuz for sinking Hood.
* Coming to rest on the sea bottom, standing perfectly upright on her keel, according to photographs obtained in 1989 by a remote-control deep submergence vehicle. Her upright posture appeared to confirm the assertion of several British and German naval historians that Bismarck’s captain, Ernst Lindemann, scuttled her.
* One Italian submarine, Otaria, sank the 4,700-ton British freighter Starcross from the northbound convoy Sierra Leone 73; another, Marconi, sank the 8,100-ton British tanker Cairndale off Spain.
* His confirmed score on the duck U-60 and U-105 was fifteen ships for 86,232 tons.
* A Life magazine photographer and a Fortune magazine writer were among the passengers on Zamzam. After the Germans released them, they collaborated on an article for Life, which included some surreptitious photographs of the affair.
* Hessler testified in defense of Dönitz at Nuremberg that he gave the survivors of one of these ships, the Greek Papalemos, water and precise instructions for reaching land.
† At Dönitz’s trial, he cited the Alfred Jones as another example of the perils confronting U-boat skippers who were tempted to offer assistance to survivors.
* An attempt in late May to capture Enigma keys for July from the weather-reporting trawlers August Wriedt and Heinrich Freese failed. Confronted by their attackers, the Germans jettisoned all Enigma materials.
* On June 6, aircraft from the carrier Eagle intercepted and bombed the inbound 9,200-ton blockade runner Elbe near the Azores, forcing her to scuttle.
* His total confirmed score—all on U-38—was thirty-one ships for 168,506 tons, ranking him ninth in the war.
† This second act of assistance to survivors on this patrol was also entered by Hessler in defense of Dönitz at the Nuremberg trials.
† Schütze’s confirmed score on U-25 and U-103 was 36 ships for 187,179 tons, ranking him fourth in the war.
† About six to eight new corvettes were commissioned each month. The Battle of the Atlantic Committee judged this production rate “not satisfactory,” especially since the first batches of corvettes were due for extensive overhauls, to be carried out under Lend-Lease in American shipyards.
* Probably acting on Enigma intelligence, on June 13 Coastal Command launched fourteen torpedo-carrying Beauforts at Lützow in Norwegian waters. One plane got a hit that knocked Lützow out of action for the next seven months.
* Schultze’s confirmed score—all on U-48—was twenty-eight ships for 183,435 tons, ranking him fifth among the German aces in the war. The U-48 remained the leading boat of the war, sinking fifty-four and a half ships for 320,429 tons under Schultze, Rösing, and Bleichrodt. Kretschmer’s U-99 ranked second.
† Endrass’s confirmed score—all on U-46—was twenty-four ships for 134,566 tons.
† In defense of Dönitz at Nuremberg, Scholtz’s first watch officer, Heinz-Konrad Fenn, submitted a document—and photographs—asserting that after Scholtz sank the 4,200-ton Greek freighter Dirphys on June 8, he gave the survivors in the lifeboats twenty loaves of bread, plenty of water, and instructions for sailing to land, and temporarily brought one of the survivors on board U-108 for medical treatment.
* Topp’s confirmed sinkings on the duck U-57 and on U-552 were fourteen and a half ships for 94,076 tons.
* Earlier, the aggressive Gladiolus also had been erroneously credited with sinking U-65:
* His total score on the ducks U-14 and U-137, and U-556 was 20 ships for 56,389 tons.
* An assertion by Herbert A. Werner, first watch officer of the new boat U-557, in his 1969 best-selling book Iron Coffins, that the boat attacked Halifax Convoy 133 on June 24 and sank 30,000 tons of shipping from it (and was forced to abort after a brutal depth-charge attack), is not substantiated in German records.
* Six large Type XIV supply boats were under construction. The first two, U-459 and U-460, were to be completed in November and December 1941, the other four in early 1942. A plan was under consideration to convert the big Type XB minelayers to supply boats. The first three of these, U-116, U-117, and U-118, were to be completed in July, October, and December of 1941. Allowing time for extensive acceptance trials, shakedowns, and workups, none of these supply boats could be expected to reach the Atlantic before the spring of 1942.
* In addition, U-boats off North Channel sank five ships for 29,200 tons, and near the Azores, U-553 sank two ships for 8,000 tons, including the Norwegian tanker Ranella. The Italian submarines in southern waters sank six ships for 24,700 tons, including the 8,000-ton British tanker Auris. British destroyer Wishart sank the Italian submarine Glauco, which was withdrawing from Bordeaux to Italy.
† See Plate 9. RAF aircraft in the Mediterranean had sunk two Italian submarines (Argonauta, Rubino) unassisted and shared credit for two others (Gondar, Durbo) with British surface ships.
* See Plate 8. Of these, 130 were American-built Catalinas (30) and Hudsons (100).
† In the war, American factories built 3,290 Catalinas.
* The Admiralty’s minimum depth-charge setting was fifty feet, to protect the launching vessel from backblast. Commencing in the summer of 1941, Coastal Command set aerial depth charges at fifty feet, pending the development of the twenty-five-foot hydrostatic fuse. The focus on this problem revealed that the fuses on the 250-pound aerial depth charges were unreliable, doubtless a contributing factor to the low kill rate. A high-priority R&D program soon provided reliable fuses.
† The Committee met weekly from March 19 to May 8, thereafter every fortnight, then less frequently. Altogether it held sixteen sessions in 1941, the last on October 22.
* Benson, Bernadou, Buck, Charles F. Hughes, Ellis, Gleaves, Hilary P. Jones, Lansdale, Lea, Mayo, Niblack, Plunkett, Upshur.
† A British destroyer came upon one of the two Ireland-bound lifeboats of Vigrid and rescued two more American nurses. The two other lifeboats were never found.
† With twice the engine power and twice the fuel capacity and about the same range, the Mariner could carry four times the bomb or depth-charge payload as the Catalina.
§ Anderson, Hammann, Hughes, Morris, Mustin, O’Brien, Russell, Sims, Walke.
* The Admiralty alerted the new battleship Prince of Wales, the battle cruiser Repulse, and the new carrier Indomitable (on shakedown in the Caribbean) for this task.
* The Finnish boats included the German duck prototype Vesikko, the German Type VII prototype Vetehinen, and two others.
* During the same three-week period, three Italian boats, Malaspina, Morosini, and Torelli, operating west of Gibraltar, sank five ships for 30,400 tons.
* Unlike the North Atlantic convoys, ships in Gibraltar convoys were usually quite small, misleading U-boat skippers into substantial overclaims.
* Berlin claimed that U-boats sank twenty-four ships for 140,500 tons, plus a destroyer and a corvette.
† Mützelburg in U-203, credited with sinking a total of five ships for 31,000 tons plus a “destroyer,” earned a propaganda interview on Berlin radio. His confirmed score was three small merchant ships for 4,305 tons. The Italian submarine Torelli sank the 8,900-ton Norwegian tanker Ida Knudsen.
* The United States maintained a small and aged naval force in the Far East, grandiosely designated the Asiatic Fleet. For years its principal striking force—designed to defend the Philippines from a Japanese naval assault—was a flotilla of six 800-ton World War I S-class submarines. In 1939 and 1940 the flotilla had been reinforced by eleven modern fleet submarines. Roosevelt’s order sent another twelve fleet submarines to Manila, increasing the total submarine force of the Asiatic Fleet to twenty-nine boats, twenty-three of them modern fleet boats. In event of hostilities, all were to be provided with super-secret magnetic torpedo pistols similar to the ill-designed German magnetic pistols.
* At this time nine newly arrived VIIs in the Atlantic force were also commanded by young skippers from the crews of 1934 and 1935: Horst Uphoff, age twenty-four, in U-84; Eberhard Greger, age twenty-five, in U-85; Fritz Meyer, age twenty-five, in U-207; Heinz-Otto Schultze, age twenty-five, in U-432; Hans Ey, age twenty-five, in U-433; Ottokar Paulshen, age twenty-five, in U-557; Reinhard Suhren, age twenty-five, in U-564; Johann Jebsen, age twenty-five, in U-565; Georg-Werner Fraatz, age twenty-four, in U-652.
* The American technicians who examined U-570 urged the Navy Department to copy the seat, but this was not done during the war.
† The Type VII acoustic gear: very sensitive multi-unit hydrophones, consisting of 48 sensors arrayed on the port and starboard bow section; underwater “telephones” for communication between U-boats; shallow and deep water fathometers; experimental mine-detecting gear with a range of about 500 yards, which, however, had been “sabotaged” by the Germans. There was no “active” or “search” sonar (“pinging gear”).
† The British gave the Americans one of the G7a “air” torpedoes from U-570, together with all technical information derived from the tests. crew, which had arrived in Alexandria, Egypt, in a boat unfit for further combat service. “I rather like the idea of the Yugoslavs working a captured German U-boat,” Churchill wrote. However, the Admiralty’s view was that, having declined to give the boat to the Americans, it would “perhaps be undesirable for political reasons” to give her to the Yugoslavs. Finally U-570 was commissioned in the Royal Navy as H.M.S. Graph, a playful allusion to the reams of charts her tests had generated. Commanded by Peter B. Marriot, she was overhauled and made ready for ASW patrols.
* The Council absolved the engineer, Mensel, who had no “command” responsibility, and the very junior officer, Christiansen, of any blame for the surrender.
* The OKM reserved judgment. It advised Dönitz that, based on the scanty information in hand, it was inadvisable to assume that Rahmlow had become incapable of command, or that Berndt surrendered the boat, or that Berndt did not realize “the enormity of his behavior until later.” Until more information was available, the OKM concluded, neither man should be condemned as “guilty.”
* To accommodate this massive traffic, Halifax and Slow convoys now sailed every six days. The established speed for Halifax convoys (from HX 147 onward) was 10 knots; for Slow convoys, still 7½ knots.
* The Italian submarine Tazzoli sank the 7,300-ton Norwegian tanker Sildra off Freetown. This was the seventh tanker to fall victim to the Italians in the Atlantic and the only Allied tanker lost to the enemy that month.