Military history

AN EPIC CONVOY BATTLE

As another measure in the effort to support Rommel’s Afrika Korps, in early December, the OKM directed Dönitz to maintain a dozen boats on continuous patrol in the Atlantic close to the western mouth of the Strait of Gibraltar. They were to continue the attacks on convoys going from the Mediterranean to the British Isles and vice versa.

Again Dönitz demurred. Most British supplies, he iterated correctly, went to the Mediterranean via Freetown and Cape Town, not via Gibraltar. Moreover, British ASW forces in the waters immediately west of Gibraltar had been reinforced greatly, and the inbound and outbound Gibraltar convoys were certain to be more heavily escorted than ever. Owing to the heavy commitment of Type VIIs to the Mediterranean and the setbacks ten other Type VIIs had incurred attempting the passage, Dönitz did not have enough Type VIIs to attack Gibraltar convoys. If the OKM insisted on these operations, Dönitz would be forced to use some Type LXs, which were not considered to be suitable for attacks on heavily escorted convoys.

The OKM insisted.

As a first step, Dönitz redeployed the special six-boat group, Steuben, from Newfoundland waters to the approaches to Gibraltar. It contained two Type IXs: Wolfgang Lüth’s aged U-43 and Georg Schewe’s U-105. While passing near the Azores in heavy weather on November 29, Lüth came upon elements of the storm-scattered convoy Outbound South 12, originally composed of fifty-two merchant ships, guarded by six escorts.

What Lüth found was about half the convoy and half the escorts. He sank two British freighters in the convoy, the 5,600-ton Thornliebank and the 4,900-ton Ashby. The first was a loaded ammo ship, which blew up with an awesome roar, throwing debris all over the place. Later, in a propaganda broadcast, Lüth asserted that a grenade hurled from Thornliebank, a kilometer away, hit and bruised his quartermaster, Theodor Petersen, who was topside. Two ex-Coast Guard cutters, Totland and Sennen, and another escort sighted U-43, drove her under, and depth-charged her for several hours, but Lüth evaded and escaped.

A day or so later, on December 2, Lüth came upon the 11,900-ton American tanker Astral, sailing alone from the Caribbean loaded with gasoline. Believing her to be a 12,300-ton British tanker of the San Melito class, or so he wrote in a wartime propaganda book,* Lüth hit and sank her with torpedoes. He described the result:

The tanker offered a magnificent show as she burned … for hours afterwards thick clouds of smoke hovered so far above the location that we could see a couple of small, bright “fair weather” clouds underneath them. Over half the sky was covered with black smoke….

None of the thirty-seven-man crew survived. Dönitz attempted to vector the other five boats of group Steuben to Outbound South 12, but all efforts failed. Since these six boats were low on fuel after this futile chase, group Steuben had to be disbanded. The Ritterkreuz holders Lüith in U-43 and Schewe in U-105 (who had sunk no ships on this patrol) set a course for France. Initially the other four Type VII boats were ordered to refuel at Vigo and go directly to the Mediterranean, but later some of these orders were modified.

Inbound to refuel at Vigo for transit to the Mediterranean, one of the Steuben boats, U-434, commanded by Wolfgang Heyda, age twenty-eight, on his first patrol from Germany, ran into convoy Outbound Gibraltar 77. While Heyda shadowed, Dönitz brought up Lüth in U-43 and another Type IX, Müller-Stöckheim’s U-67, reconditioned after her collision with the British submarine Clyde in the Cape Verde Islands and fresh from Lorient. Lüth found and attacked a destroyer with his last torpedoes, but he missed. Owing to a critical shortage of fuel, he had to break off and head for France, unable even to shadow. For the same reason Heyda had to break off and go into Vigo. Left alone, Müller-Stöckheim in U-67 found the convoy and shot a bow salvo at a fast-moving “destroyer.” One torpedo circled back and nearly hit U-67; the others missed. The “destroyer,” other escorts, and British aircraft from Gibraltar thwarted a second attack.

At this time, German spies near Gibraltar reported that convoy Homebound Gibraltar 76 was on the point of sailing for the British Isles. Although he was reluctant to send Type IXs against Gibraltar convoys, the shortage of Type VIIs forced Dönitz to position Müller-Stöckheim’s U-67 to watch for the convoy.

Meanwhile, Dönitz created a new group, Seeräuber, to reinforce Müller-Stöckheim. It was comprised of two ex-Steuben group Type VII boats that had refueled in Vigo, Wolfgang Heyda’s U-434 and Dietrich Gengelbach’s U-574, both still on first patrols, and four other Type IXs: U-107 and U-108, newly sailed from France, the former commanded by a new skipper, Harald Gelhaus, age twenty-six, the latter by the old hand Klaus Scholtz; and two brand-new boats, Bruno Hansmann in U-127 and Arend Baumann in U-131, both merely two weeks out of Germany. It was a less-than-satisfactory group: Five of the seven boats were Type IXs; five of the seven skippers were making first patrols.

In the afternoon and evening of December 14, fifty-eight ships departed Gibraltar for the Atlantic. First to leave was Homebound Gibraltar 76, comprised of thirty-two merchant ships and seventeen escorts. Next came a special convoy comprised of one freighter and three tankers, with five escorts, bound for Freetown and points south. Two old hands in Type VIIs, who were preparing to enter the Mediterranean via the strait, spotted the convoys: Eitel-Friedrich Kentrat in U-74 reported Homebound Gibraltar 76; Heinrich Schonder in U-77 reported the Freetown convoy.

Notwithstanding the urgency of getting these two boats into the Mediterranean, Dönitz directed both to attack the convoys, even if the chances of success were slim. Unable to gain position for an attack, Kentrat in U-74 broke off and ran the strait on the night of December 15. Dodging the escorts and aircraft, Schonder in U-77 shot at a freighter and a tanker, sinking the former, the 5,000-ton Empire Barracuda. He then resumed his passage to the Mediterranean, getting through on the night of December 16. A little farther west that night, one of the Seeräuber boats, Scholtz’s IXB U-108, sank the 4,800-ton freighter Cassequel, which was, awkwardly, a neutral Portuguese sailing alone. Scholtz then shadowed the convoy tenaciously.

German spies near Gibraltar reported the departure of Homebound Gibraltar 76. They listed the precise number of merchant ships (thirty-two) but they understated the escort, reporting “three destroyers,” a “submarine,” “several corvettes,” and the aircraft tender Unicorn. Actually, the escort was massive: three destroyers, four sloops, nine corvettes, and the “jeep” carrier Audacity (which resembled Unicorn), carrying four Martlet fighters to ward off Condors.

The Homebound Gibraltar 76 guardian was Escort Group 36, commanded by forty-five-year-old Frederic J. (“Johnny”) Walker in the sloop Stork. Son of a career naval officer, Walker was a tough, outspoken, onetime middleweight boxer with twenty-seven years of regular service. Between the wars he had specialized in ASW, rising to command the ASW school at Portland in 1937, but he had been “passed over” for promotion to captain. Rescued from a staff job, Walker had been given command of the newly formed EG-36 (two sloops, seven corvettes) in March 1941. The group had come out to Gibraltar on its first mission in late November. While waiting for Homebound Gibraltar 76 to sail, it had patrolled the western approaches to the Gibraltar Strait. One of the corvettes incorporated into the group at Gibraltar, Marigold, had sunk Ey’s U-433 a month earlier.

Upon receiving Kentrat’s contact report, Dönitz alerted and deployed group Seeräuber on a north-south line west of Gibraltar and sent out Condors from Bordeaux. However, the visibility was poor on December 15 and neither the U-boats nor the Condors could find the convoy. The usually reliable German spies caused considerable confusion at Kerneval by incorrectly reporting that owing to the U-boat threat, Homebound Gibraltar 76 had aborted and returned to Gibraltar shortly after sailing.

On the night of December 15, well after the departure of Homebound Gibraltar 76, four destroyers conducted an ASW sweep thirty miles south of Cape St. Vincent in the western approaches to the Gibraltar Strait. These were the Australian Nestor and the British Croome, Foxhound, and Gurkha II. At about 11:00 P.M., Nestor sighted a U-boat on the surface about seven miles off. Nestor alerted the other destroyers, rang up full speed, and manned her guns. Gurkha II and Foxhound raced up, taking positions on Nestor’s beams. At a range of about six miles, Nestor opened fire on the U-boat with her main battery, firing eight rounds but achieving no hits.

Her quarry was the brand-new Type IXC U-127. Commanded by Bruno Hansmann, age thirty-three, she had sailed from Kiel seventeen days earlier. Assigned to group Seeräuber, she was holding down the southern end of the patrol line. Based on the erroneous spy report—that Homebound Gibraltar 76 had put back into Gibraltar—Hansmann was lying in wait in case it resailed that night.

Upon reaching the spot where U-127 had dived, Nestor slowed to 18 knots and got an excellent sonar contact. Holding the contact, she carried out a rapid but careful attack, dropping five shallow-set depth charges. Foxhound also got contact and prepared to run in, but upon hearing a dull explosion deep beneath her keel, she broke off the attack. Nestor, Gurkha II, and Croome also heard the explosion. Soon afterwards the destroyers found oil and wreckage—pieces of wood, some clothing, and “human remains.” It was surmised from this evidence that Nestor’s depth charges had ignited an “internal explosion” on the U-boat. Nestor was correctly credited with an unknown U-boat kill; nothing further was ever heard from U-127

Condors from Bordeaux found Homebound Gibraltar 76 on the morning of December 16 and shadowed, unseen by any of the escorts. Dönitz relayed the position report to group Seeräuber. In the late afternoon, Klaus Scholtz in the IXB U-108 regained contact, reported his position, and shadowed. Dönitz passed this information to the other Seeräuber boats, promising Condor support and urging them to converge at highest speed, to get in front of the convoy, and to attack by dawn on December 17, “without fail.” Intercepting this Enigma traffic, the Admiralty alerted the convoy to the impending danger and ordered Audacity to mount ASW patrols, commencing at dawn.

By the early hours of December 17, four boats were in touch with the convoy: Scholtz in the IXB U-108, still shadowing doggedly; Gelhaus in the IXB U-107; Baumann in the IXC U-131; and Gengelbach in the VII U-574, fresh from refueling in Vigo. With the coming of light, a Martlet from Audacity took off and scouted. Shortly thereafter the pilot reported a U-boat twenty-two miles ahead of the convoy. Upon sighting the Martlet, it dived.

Hearing this report, EG-36 commander Johnny Walker in the sloop Stork left the convoy to carry out a U-boat hunt. On his instructions, the three destroyers Blankney, Exmoor II, and the ex-American four-stack Stanley, and the corvette Penstemon, joined the chase.

The destroyers raced ahead to the reported position. Arriving first, Blankney hurled off depth charges at a doubtful contact. When Exmoor II and Stork arrived, Walker repositioned the three ships to conduct an organized sweep, but they found nothing. Coming up last, the corvette Penstemon, in company with the destroyer Stanley, got a firm sonar contact. Shortly after 11:00 A.M., Penstemon carried out a deliberate attack, dropping ten depth charges set from 150 to 400 feet.

The boat was the Type IXC U-131, commanded by thirty-seven-year-old Arend Baumann. This very senior officer (crew of 1922) was three weeks out from Kiel on his first patrol. During its hurried workup, U-131 had damaged its hydrophones. They had not been repaired, leaving U-131 “deaf” when submerged and thus unable to evade properly. Some of the ten charges fell very close, causing extensive internal damage. Baumann eased away slowly and attempted repairs, but after an hour and forty-one minutes, he gave up and surfaced, getting off a frantic message to Kerneval reporting he was “unable to dive” and asking for assistance. Kerneval replied that no assistance could be provided, adding: “If there is no other way, sink your boat.”

When U-131 surfaced, the destroyer Stanley sighted her and gave the alarm. All five ships plus a Martlet from Audacity converged on the position. The closest destroyer, Exmoor II, opened fire with her main battery at about six miles, but achieved no hits. The Martlet pilot, George Fletcher, bravely—but unwisely—roared in and strafed U-131, drawing return fire from Baumann’s gunners. The German gunners hit the Martlet in the cockpit, killing or fatally wounding Fletcher, and the Martlet crashed into the sea.

When four of the five escorts brought U-131 under heavy fire, Baumann ordered the crew to scuttle and abandon ship. At 1:21 P.M., Exmoor II reported, the U-131 upended and sank stern first. Exmoor II rescued forty-four Germans, including Baumann. Stanleypicked up the other four. Stork recovered the dead Martlet pilot, Fletcher, and buried him at sea. The Admiralty generously credited Stork, Blankney, Exmoor II, Stanley, Penstemon, and Audacity for the kill, but the Germans said it was Penstemon’s skilled depth-charge attack that directly led to the destruction of U-131.

Several U-boats clung to the convoy during the night of December 17-18. Klaus Scholtz in U-108 reported that he torpedoed one ship, but he was mistaken. No ships were hit that night.

The next morning shortly after 9:00, December 18, the destroyer Stanley spotted a U-boat on the surface about six miles off. The other two destroyers, Blankney and Exmoor II, and the sloop Deptford, joined Stanley for the hunt. When Stanley had closed to three miles, the U-boat dived, leaving Stanley at a disadvantage since her sonar was temporarily out of commission. Nonetheless, she dropped nineteen single depth charges in a squarish pattern around the presumed position of the boat. Running in to help, Blankneygot a firm sonar contact at close range and dropped six charges. She then relayed her contact to the four-stack Stanley, who fired off fourteen more depth charges with deep settings. For good measure, Blankney fired another six depth charges with medium settings.

The victim of these forty-five depth charges was the U-434, a Type VII commanded by Wolfgang Heyda, still on his first patrol from Germany. He had refueled in Vigo, under orders to proceed to the Mediterranean, but had been diverted to group Seeräuber for the attack on Homebound Gibraltar 76. Built in Danzig at a new U-boat shipyard, U-434 had numerous serious structural defects, including unreliable gears in the ballast-tank flood and vent valves. Some of the depth charges fell close, inflicting such heavy damage and flooding that Heyda was forced to surface.

When U-434 popped up, Blankney was merely 2,000 yards off. She put on flank speed to ram, firing her main battery. As Blankney closed, all the Germans except one officer manning a machine gun jumped overboard. At the last second Blankney’s captain decided to board rather than ram, but the decision came too late. Blankney struck the U-boat a glancing blow, which did no harm to the boat but rather damaged Blankney. She lowered a whaler with a boarding party, but Heyda had set demolition charges and U-434 blew up and sank before the whaler reached her. Blankney rescued Heyda and forty-one others. Four Germans, including the defiant officer who had manned the machine gun, could not be found. Blankney and Stanley shared credit for the kill.

By design or by accident, the surface escort for Homebound Gibraltar 76 gradually diminished. The corvette Carnation was first to leave. Then the sloops Black Swan and Fowey. Then the corvette La Malouine. After damaging herself in the collision with U-434, the destroyer Blankney, joined by another destroyer, Exmoor II, which was low on fuel, returned to Gibraltar. By the evening of December 18, the surface escort had decreased by nearly a third—to eleven ships.

The sole remaining destroyer, the ex-American four-stack Stanley, took up position at the stern of the convoy. In the early hours of December 19, Stanley saw a U-boat and gave the alarm. Johnny Walker in Stork ordered Stanley to fire a flare to indicate her position. Upon seeing the flare, Walker established visual communications with Stanley, but it was immediately interrupted by a frantic message from Stanley: “Torpedoes passed from astern.” Moments later, a torpedo hit Stanley, and she “blew up in a sheet of flame several hundred feet high.”

The shooter was Dietrich Gengelbach in the Type VII U-574, who had refueled in Vigo and was still on his first patrol. He did not have long to savor the victory. Walker in Stork led several corvettes to the scene and within nine minutes Stork had a good sonar contact and attacked, dropping fifteen shallow-set depth charges in two runs. Some of these fell close to U-574, causing such damage that Gengelbach was forced to surface, merely fifteen minutes after the first depth-charge explosion.

The boat came up 200 yards in front of Stork. Catching sight of her, Walker bent on flank speed to ram, firing snowflakes and his main battery. Gengelbach, too, bent on flank speed, circling to port. Stork pulled so close to U-574 that the British gunners could not depress the main gun to shoot and, as Walker reported, they were reduced to “fist-shaking and roaring curses.” Eleven minutes into the chase, Stork rammed U-574 forward of the conning tower and rolled her over. For good measure, Walker dropped ten more depth charges set to explode at fifty feet.

A Wagnerian drama ensued on the shattered U-574. Gengelbach gave the order to scuttle and abandon ship, but then he and the engineer officer fell into some kind of dispute. The Germans reported later that during the dispute the engineer apparently committed suicide with his pistol. Gengelbach chose suicide as well. After all his men had jumped overboard, he threw himself into the conning tower and went down with the boat.

Having done away with U-574, at the cost of damage to her own bow and loss of her sonar dome, Stork proceeded to search for British survivors of Stanley. Homing on cries in the water, Stork picked up five Germans from U-574 and twenty-five British sailors from Stanley. The corvette Samphire found eleven more Germans and three more men from Stanley. In all, Stork and Samphire rescued sixteen Germans and twenty-eight British.

All this time the Ritterkreuz holder Klaus Scholtz in the IXB U-108 had been dogging the convoy with remarkable tenacity. During sixty hours of tracking and reporting, he had made several torpedo attacks, claiming, incorrectly, that he had hit at least one ship. While Stork and the other escorts were preoccupied with the rescue of survivors from U-574 and Stanley, Scholtz attacked the formation of freighters, firing his last torpedoes at the 2,900-ton British Ruckinge. Scholtz reported a sinking, stressing that he was out of torpedoes, but Kerneval ordered him to keep shadowing.

The Ruckinge was wrecked but she did not sink. However, her thirty-nine-man crew hastily took to lifeboats, leaving behind the ship’s “confidential papers.” Stork and the freighter Finland recovered the survivors. When Walker learned that the captain had left secret papers behind, he ordered the corvette Samphire to board the hulk and recover them. After this was done, Samphire sank the Ruckinge by gunfire.

During that day, December 19, Condors patrolled from Bordeaux. En route to Homebound Gibraltar 76, they found and reported a southbound convoy. Although the southbound convoy was obviously a more valuable military target, Dönitz was not confident of the Condor position reports and clung to the bird-in-hand. He told the Seeräuber boats that Homebound Gibraltar 76 was “still the object of operations” but authorized an attack on the southbound convoy if any boat encountered it without deviation. Continuing on to Homebound Gibraltar 76, the Condors received a hot reception from Audacity’s Martlets. The British pilots shot down two Condors that day and damaged a third.

Meanwhile, Dönitz had dispatched three other Type VIIs from French bases to reinforce group Seeräuber. All, he logged, were manned by aggressive and “experienced” skippers, who, he was “confident,” could deal with this “difficult” convoy. The skippers were Walter Flachsenberg in U-71, Ritterkreuz holder Engelbert Endrass, the reigning U-boat ace still in Atlantic combat,* in his new command, U-567, and Gerhard Bigalk in U-751. Flachsenberg and Bigalk had arrived in the Atlantic in June. Flachsenberg had sunk no confirmed ships; Bigalk had sunk one for 5,400 tons. Since taking over the U-567 in September, Endrass had made one patrol but had sunk no ships.

Despite deteriorating weather and exhaustion, the three remaining IXs of group Seeräuber, U-67, U-107, and U-108, hung on to the convoy during December 19 to 21. Only U-67 and U-107 had torpedoes, but neither had any luck. Müller-Stöckheim in U-67fired three of his remaining nine torpedoes at a “large destroyer” but missed, he reported, “owing to a misfire in the middle tube.” All three boats were harassed by Martlets from Audacity. One Martlet pilot claimed to have found two U-boats twenty-five miles astern of the convoy, lying side by side on the surface with a “plank” between them. The pilot said he strafed the boats and despite counterfire from both, “shot three men” off the plank. The British surmised that the boats had collided and were repairing the damage.

Homing on Scholtz’s beacons, the three Type VIIs newly sailed from France made contact with the convoy on the afternoon of December 21. Perhaps needlessly, Dönitz radioed them: “Given equal firing opportunity, sink the aircraft carrier first. You’ll find it easier then.” Aware from Admiralty signals that six U-boats were stalking the convoy, Walker in Stork ordered the sloop Deptford and some corvettes to haul away some distance and stage a “mock battle” (star shells, gunfire) to mislead and draw off the U-boats. However, the “battle” had the opposite of the intended effect. Seeing it, several freighters in the convoy became alarmed and fired off snowflakes, giving away the game and lighting up the real convoy.

These snowflakes served as a beacon for Engelbert Endrass in U-567. He ran in and torpedoed the 3,300-ton British freighter Annavore. Loaded with iron ore, she sank instantly; only four of her crew could be found. Upon seeing this attack, Walker in Stork ordered the Deptford group to break off the mock battle and rejoin the convoy.

At almost exactly this same moment, 11 P.M., Bigalk in U-751 saw Audacity steaming unprotected, silhouetted against the light of snowflakes. He mistook the 10,000-ton “jeep” carrier for a new fleet carrier of the 23,000-ton Formidable class. “Good God!” he exclaimed when recounting the attack later in a Berlin radio broadcast. “What a chance!” Quickly but coolly, Bigalk set up and fired three bow torpedoes. All hit Audacity. Flooding heavily from three solid hits, Audacity (an ex-merchant ship with no hull armor) went down in ten minutes. Unaware that she had sunk, Bigalk submerged to reload his bow tubes, intending to finish her off with another salvo. But when he surfaced, there was no sign of “Formidable.” Upon his report of the attack, Dönitz congratulated him and later, when Bigalk returned to France, he received a Ritterkreuz.*

A wild nighttime action ensued. Directed by Walker in Stork, the ten remaining escorts of Homebound Gibraltar 76 ran hither and yon, firing snowflakes, rescuing survivors of Audacity, and dropping depth charges. The corvettes Samphire, Vetch, and Marigoldeach carried out an attack on a U-boat, but no kills resulted. Spotting a U-boat on the surface, the sloop Deptford turned to ram. When the boat dived, Deptford raced up and threw off ten shallow-set depth charges “by eye.” After the noise subsided, Deptford got a solid sonar contact and attacked with care, firing another ten depth charges. Holding the contact, Deptford carried out three more full-scale depth-charge attacks. The Admiralty ruled there was not sufficient evidence to credit a U-boat kill, but years later, after a painstaking study of the British and German records, British historians concluded that Deptford had sunk Englebert Endrass in U-567.

The attack on Endrass utterly drained the crew of Deptford. Returning to the convoy in pitch darkness, improperly alert, Deptford smashed into the port side of Stork. Her bow, Walker logged, rode right up on Stork, crushing the after cabin, where the five survivors of Gengelbach’s U-574 were being held. Two of the Germans, Walker reported dispassionately, “were pulped, literally, into a bloody mess.” Fortunately Deptford had not hit any of Stork’s vital machinery, and after the two sloops got untangled, both continued onward at considerably reduced speed, neither with working sonar.

During December 22, Dönitz requested reports from the Seeräuber boats. Nothing had been heard from Bruno Hansmann in the new Type IXC U-127, for days. It was wrongly assumed that escorts from Homebound Gibraltar 76 had sunk her rather than, as was the case, the destroyer hunter-killer group. It was also assumed, correctly, that the convoy escorts had sunk the new Type IXC U-131, as well as the two new Type VIICs that had refueled in Vigo, Heyda’s U-434 and Gengelbach’s U-574. No one would permit himself to believe that the invincible Engelbert Endrass in the VIIC U-567 was gone, and yet he did not reply to repeated requests for his position and status. When it was finally conceded that U-567 was lost, Dönitz withheld the news for weeks.

After assessing the battle on December 22, Dönitz called off the chase and directed Müller-Stöckheim’s U-67, Gelhaus’s U-107, Scholtz’s U-108, and Bigalk’s U-751 to return to France. Upon tabulating the results of this epic chase, Dönitz was devastated: one aircraft tender* and three (actually only two) small freighters sunk at a cost of five (as he thought) U-boats, including Endrass. It was a terrible setback for the U-boat force.

Reinforced by surface and air escorts based in the British Isles, including a B-24 Liberator of British Squadron 120, which came out 800 miles, Homebound Gibraltar 76 reached its destination on December 23. Although the loss of Audacity and the four-stack Stanley was a sharp blow, the Admiralty lavished praise and awards on escort commander Johnny Walker and his captains. In relentlessly aggressive actions, they had positively sunk three U-boats (U-131, U-434, U-574) within a period of three days—an unprecedented achievement—and had brought home thirty of the thirty-two merchant ships of the convoy, a timely and smashing victory.

The U-boat effort to assist Axis forces in North Africa in the fall of 1941 was thus costly: thirteen boats and about 600 men lost in combat in merely six weeks—the greatest loss rate of the war to then—and another half-dozen boats knocked out with battle damage. No less disconcerting was the complete curtailment of the U-boat war in the North Atlantic in favor of assisting the Afrika Korps.

Dönitz drafted a tactful plea to the OKM. He conceded the urgent need to assist Axis ground forces in North Africa by sending U-boats to the Mediterranean, but he urged that attacks on Gibraltar convoys on the Atlantic side of the strait be curtailed. It was unfair and a terrible waste of assets to pit inexperienced skippers against the heavily escorted Gibraltar convoys. Four skippers on first patrols had been lost in the chase of Homebound Gibraltar 76. It was also unwise, he insisted, to send the big, clumsy Type IX boats against heavily escorted Gibraltar convoys or to patrol them near the heavily defended Gibraltar Strait. Of the five Type IXs sent against Homebound Gibraltar 76, only Scholtz in U-108 had managed to sink a ship. The others had had an arduous and perilous time; two IXs (U-127, U-131) had been lost.

The OKM agreed—reluctantly. U-boat attacks against the heavily escorted Gibraltar convoys were to be terminated, and patrols to the Atlantic area immediately west of Gibraltar cut to a bare minimum.

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