Military history

MINES, AGENTS, AND MISHAPS

The diversion of five Type VIIs to group Hecht reduced the number of VIIs of the May group to reach United States waters to eight. Five of the eight had first to carry out special missions: three were to lay minefields at New York and the Chesapeake and Delaware bays, and two were to land Abwehr agents in New York and Florida.

The three boats assigned to lay mines sailed from France on May 19. While en route to America, Joachim Berger in U-87 was directed to mine Boston rather than New York because the ships repatriating German and Italian diplomats (Gripsholm, for one) had not yet sailed from New York.

Horst Degen in U-701 arrived off the mouth of Chesapeake Bay after dark on June 12. It was the time of the new moon and pitch black. To facilitate the heavy traffic in and out of Chesapeake Bay, the Cape Henry and Cape Charles lights were burning. The lights enabled Degen to fix his position and to navigate directly to the main channel. Working quietly on electric motors close to an unalert patrol boat, at about 1:30 A.M., June 13, Degen laid the fifteen delayed-action TMB mines in thirty-six feet of water in about thirty minutes. He then ran out to deep water, submerged, and loaded his five empty tubes with torpedoes and later downloaded two air torpedoes from topside canisters.

In the late afternoon of June 15, a coastal convoy from Key West, KN 109, composed of twelve ships and six escorts, arrived off the entrance to Chesapeake Bay. At about that same time Degen’s mines, delayed for sixty hours, activated. As the convoy stood into Norfolk, it passed directly over Degen’s field. The mines severely damaged two big, loaded American tankers, R. C. Tuttle and Esso Augusta, and destroyed the 500-ton British ASW trawler Kingston Ceylonite, which was escorting the freighter Delisle, damaged earlier in Florida waters by Suhren in U-564. Seventeen of the thirty-two-man British crew on the trawler perished. Believing at first these ships had been torpedoed, the convoy escort, including the four-stack destroyer Bainbridge and the 165-foot Coast Guard cutters Dione and Calypso, ran about madly throwing off depth charges. One of Bainbridge’s missiles detonated another German mine, which damaged her, but only slightly. Two days later, June 17, another of the mines blew up the outbound 7,100-ton American freighter Santore, which could not be salvaged. Upon hearing (incorrectly) from B-dienst that these mines had sunk four merchant ships and a destroyer, Dönitz radioed Degen a “well done,” and ordered him to patrol the dangerous waters off Cape Hatteras.

Paul-Karl Loeser in U-373 laid his minefield off Cape May, New Jersey, in the mouth of Delaware Bay, on the night of June 11. Apparently the field was mislaid or the mines malfunctioned. One mine sank the 400-ton American tugboat, John R. Williams, on June 24, but no others caused any damage. After planting the field, Loeser proceeded to the Cape Hatteras area to reinforce Degen in U-701. He reported a double miss on a 4,000-ton freighter on June 14, and a single hit for damage on a 5,000-ton British freighter on June 15. Since he did not have enough torpedoes left to justify a refueling, he sailed at slow speed for France, arriving after fifty-one days at sea.

Joachim Berger in U-87 laid his mines off Boston, but the field produced no results whatsoever. After reloading his tubes with torpedoes, he patrolled north from Boston toward Halifax. Late on June 15, in foul weather, he intercepted convoy Halifax-Boston 25, comprised of six ships and five escorts. Berger sank two big ships from the convoy: the 8,400-ton British freighter Port Nicholson, and the 5,900-ton American passenger-cargo vessel Cherokee, which had taken on military passengers at Iceland for a voyage to the States. Eighty-six of the 169 men on board perished in the Cherokee sinking, one of the very few times in World War II that a U-boat sank a ship carrying Allied troops.

Berger cruised farther north to Halifax. On June 22 a Hudson of Canadian Air Force Squadron 11 found and attacked the boat, but missed. The next day the squadron leader, W. C. Van Camp, saturated the area with five aircraft. At dawn, one of the Hudsons came out of the sun and fog and caught U-87 on the surface and dropped three close depth charges near her stern. The explosions knocked the port diesel engine off its mounts, wrecked the stern tube (and its torpedo), and damaged part of the aft main-storage battery. For the second time in as many patrols to Canadian waters, Berger was forced to abort with battle damage and limped home, lucky to have survived.

The U-87, U-373, and U-701 planted forty-five TMB mines. Only those of Degen’s U-701 off Norfolk did any significant damage: a 7,100-ton freighter and a British ASW trawler sunk, two big tankers totaling 22,900 tons damaged (but salvaged). Nonetheless Dönitz directed the staff to prepare for other mining missions in the Americas.

The two VIIs designated to land the Abwehr agents in the United States were the U-202, commanded by thirty-eight-year-old Hans-Heinz Linder, and the U-584, commanded by Joachim Deecke, age twenty-nine, classmates from the crew of 1933. Linder had made several patrols in the North Atlantic, including one to the United States in March. Deecke had made several patrols, all in Arctic waters. After a complete overhaul in Germany, he arrived in France on May 16 for Atlantic duty. Each boat was to carry four agents. Linder in U-202 was to land his four on Long Island; Deecke in U-584 was to land his four in north Florida.

The eight agents had been schooled in sabotage. Each team brought along four crates of explosives that were to be used to blow up aircraft and tank factories and shipyards. To facilitate concealment and travel, the agents had been given about $154,000 in American money. Several of the agents had lived in the United States. Some had fathers, mothers, wives, and other relatives and close friends living there. The two team leaders were to meet in Cincinnati on July 4 to plan and coordinate the sabotage.

Linder in U-202 arrived off the eastern end of Long Island near Amagansett on the evening of June 12 in heavy mist and fog. Inching perilously close to the beach in shallow water, the crew launched an inflatable rubber boat, manned by two seamen and tethered by a line to U-202. The four agents* loaded the four crates of explosives and a seabag into the boat, then climbed aboard. As Linder’s deck crew played out the tether, the boat drifted through crashing surf to the beach. The four agents unloaded the four boxes and the seabag. Upon feeling tugs on the rope, Linder’s deck crew pulled the boat and the two seamen back to U-202.

During the wait, U-202 had grounded on a sand bar. Linder had gone ahead and astern with full power on the diesels and sallied ship, but U-202 would not budge. As dawn approached, the men topside could hear cocks crowing and automobile horns. Believing the boat was doomed, Linder prepared to destroy secret papers and scuttle, but fortunately for the Germans, the heavy mist lingered. When the tide flooded, Linder lightened ship by dumping several fuel tanks and was able to work U-202 free and run to deep water. Upon reporting his special mission carried out, he was ordered to patrol the Cape Hatteras area.

On the beach, the four would-be saboteurs changed into civilian clothes and buried the four boxes of explosives and the seabag. As they were so engaged, a twenty-one-year-old Coast Guard beach patrolman, John C. Cullen, hearing German voices, emerged from the mist to confront them. The leader of the team, Georg Dasch, asserted that they were shipwrecked fishermen and offered Cullen $300 to “forget” that he had found them on the beach. Outnumbered and unarmed, Cullen pretended to go along with the bribe. He accepted the money (actually only $240), but he returned immediately to his headquarters to spread the alarm. Meanwhile, the four agents split up and walked to Amagansett to catch trains into New York City, where they were to rendezvous later that day at a restaurant.

Dasch wrote subsequently that he despised Hitler and the Nazis and for that reason he decided to defect and to betray the scheme at the first opportunity. He confided his decision to his teammate Ernest Burger, who agreed to join in the betrayal. On about June 17 or 18, Dasch took a train to Washington, D.C., to reveal the full scheme to FBI director J. Edgar Hoover. Burger remained in a New York hotel to keep a close eye on the other two agents of the team.

Meanwhile, late on June 16, Joachim Deecke in U-584 closed the north Florida coast with the other four agents. In the early hours of the following morning Deecke put them and their four crates of explosives ashore by inflatable rubber boat at Ponte Vedra Beach, seven miles south of Jacksonville. Deecke withdrew U-584 with no difficulties and upon reporting his mission accomplished, he, too, was ordered to patrol the Cape Hatteras area. The four agents buried the explosives, changed into civilian clothes, and took a bus to Jacksonville, where they split up into two groups and went on to various locations in the Midwest.

In Washington, on June 18, Dasch made contact with the FBI. The Bureau sent a senior agent, D. L. Traynor, to the Mayflower Hotel to see Dasch, who revealed all about his own group and the other group that landed in Florida. Within twenty-four hours, the FBI had rounded up the other three agents of Dasch’s team, Burger, Heinck, and Quirin, and, based on information from Dasch, were soon hot on the trail of the team that landed in Florida. On June 23, FBI agents arrested the other team leader, Kerling, and his teammate, Thiel. By June 27, the last two agents, Haupt and Neubauer, were in custody.

Concealing Dasch’s defection, FBI director Hoover immediately announced the capture of the eight agents and the arrest of fourteen relatives or friends. The agents and ten relatives or friends were tried in Washington, New York, and Chicago, July to October, 1942. Six of the eight agents who came by U-boat were found guilty of wartime espionage and electrocuted in a jail in Washington, D.C., on August 8. Dasch and his codefector Burger were sentenced to life and thirty years imprisonment, respectively. In 1948, President Harry S Truman commuted their sentences to the five years, eight months already served and returned them to Germany, where in 1959 Dasch published a book about the mission and his reasons for betraying his cohorts. The ten relatives or friends were also found guilty. In the postwar years Truman commuted their sentences as well.

Upon detachment from group Hecht early in its operations, von Bülow in U-404 and Rehwinkel in U-578 proceeded independently to the East Coast of the United States. Both boats had made prior and successful patrols to the Americas.

Inbound to his area, von Bülow in U-404 sank three ships for 12,300 tons. The first two were 5,500-ton American freighters. He got the first with torpedoes and stopped the second, West Notus, with one round from his deck gun. After the crew took to the lifeboats, von Bülow sent a party to scuttle the ship. While his party was so engaged, he rounded up some stray survivors, put them in a sound lifeboat, and gave some of the men medical assistance and others bottles of Perrier water. His third victim was the 1,300-ton Swedish neutral Anna. When von Bülow missed her with a single torpedo, he surfaced and sank her with his gun. Her loss drew a diplomatic protest from Stockholm, but von Bulow insisted that the ship was sailing blacked out and zigzagging, and so he was not blamed. After that, Kerneval directed von Bülow to patrol the Cape Hatteras area.

While still well offshore, Rehwinkel in U-578 sank two big freighters for about 13,000 tons. The first was a 6,300-ton Dutchman, Polyphemus, sailing in company with another big ship, which Rehwinkel chased doggedly but lost. The second was the 6,800-ton Norwegian Berganger, loaded with coffee, which Rehwinkel stopped with a single torpedo. When he surfaced to put the ship under with his deck gun, the Norwegian shot back accurately, forcing U-578 to submerge and shoot two more torpedoes to sink the ship. Still well offshore, on June 10, Rehwinkel encountered a big freighter at which he fired his last six torpedoes, but none hit. He remained in the offshore area another week, then headed home.

After planting his mines at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay, Horst Degen in U-701 patrolled the waters off Cape Hatteras, as directed. On June 16 and 17 he reported scant traffic, heavy ASW aircraft and surface-ship patrols, and a double miss on a freighter, leaving him with six torpedoes. The aircraft had dropped “many well-aimed bombs,” one of which had damaged his main periscope. One of three “destroyers” he spotted in formation had peeled off and attacked U-701 with depth charges. Degen did not say so, but his air-cleaning machinery was not working properly and his men were nauseous half the time and suffering from the heat inside the boat. Hence, every afternoon at about 1:00 or 2:00, Degen surfaced for about ten minutes, started the diesels, and sucked fresh air into the boat through the conning-tower hatch.

In the early dark hours of June 19, U-701 encountered a small (165-ton) Navy trawler, YP-389. She had just come out from Morehead City, North Carolina, to patrol the outer edge of a newly laid Cape Hatteras defensive minefield to warn friendly ships not to get too close. Degen boldly attacked the trawler with his deck gun. The YP-389 was armed with a 3” bow gun, but it was out of commission, so she could not shoot back. Degen put YP-389 under and sailed away. Six of the crew died, but eighteen were rescued the next day by Coast Guard cutters. Gary Gentile wrote that a Navy court of inquiry recommended that YP-389’s captain be court-martialed for “failure to seek encounter with the enemy” and “culpable inefficiency.”

In due course, four other VIIs of the small May group proceeded to Cape Hatteras: the U-202 and U-584, which had landed the agent teams in New York and Florida; U-332, commanded by Johannes Liebe, which had sailed independently from France; and von Bülow in U-404. Soon after Liebe in U-332 arrived, an ASW aircraft caught and bombed him and forced him to abort. During his long, slow voyage home, Liebe refueled from one of two new U-tankers* and sank by torpedo and gun two lone freighters for 10,600 tons. The first was the 6,000-ton American vessel Raphael Semmes. Liebe reported that he fished ten injured survivors from the water, medicated their wounds, then released them to the lifeboats. The second was the 4,600-ton Portuguese neutral Leonidas M., sunk against firm but belated orders from Kerneval. Liebe captured her captain and engineer and took them to France.

The other four VIIs at or converging on the Cape Hatteras-Cape Lookout area had a busy time during the last ten days of June.

• En route to the area, Linder in U-202, who had landed the agent team on Long Island, sank the neutral 4,900-ton Argentine freighter Rio Tercero on June 22. He picked up her captain, who angrily protested the sinking, claiming there were thirteen Argentine flags displayed on the sides and superstructure. Linder attempted to placate the captain with some brandy and a pair of shoes, but the sudden appearance of ASW aircraft forced him to break off discussions, release the captain, and dive. Linder had no luck at Cape Hatteras but well offshore on the last day of the month, he sank the 5,900-ton American vessel, City of Birmingham, crowded with 381 passengers and crew. Although the ship went down in four minutes, only nine persons perished. Ships sailing in company or nearby rescued the 372 survivors. Homebound, Linder refueled from the new tanker U-460, then intercepted convoy Outbound South 34 near the Azores, and brought up several other boats, which profited.

• Deecke in U-584 had a frustrating time, attributed by some to the shock of shifting from Arctic waters to near-tropical American waters. On June 22, he found two big tankers. A diesel-engine breakdown thwarted an attack on the first, but he shot six torpedoes at the second. Three torpedoes were duds and three missed, and the ship got away, he reported. Off Hatteras on June 27, he found a convoy and fired two torpedoes at an escorting “destroyer,” but both missed. After refueling from U-460 for the trip home, he sighted a huge, 18,000-ton tanker and chased, but she was too fast for U-584. After fifty-nine days at sea, Deecke arrived in France. He had landed the agent team in Florida but he had sunk no ships.

• Coming up to the Hatteras area from Georgia, in the early hours of June 24, von Bülow in U-404, who had refueled from the XB (minelayer) U-116, sank a 3,300-ton Yugoslavian freighter with three torpedoes. Later that day, he found an eleven-ship northbound convoy off Hatteras, escorted by the 165-foot Coast Guard cutter Dione, a British ASW trawler, and several smaller vessels. After sunset, von Bülow boldly ran in and sank two medium freighters from the convoy, Nordal and Manuela, but the cutter Dione and ASW aircraft foiled a second attack. Home-bound on June 29, he encountered and sank the 6,800-ton Norwegian freighter Moldanger, sailing alone. Nine of the thirty crewmen who were rescued spent forty-eight harrowing days on a life raft. Von Bülow claimed sinking seven freighters for 42,172 tons, making his the most successful of all the VII patrols to the Americas in tonnage sunk, but postwar analysis reduced the claim to seven freighters for 31,061 tons, which almost exactly tied the record patrol of Hans Oestermann in U-754 to Hatteras in April.

• Horst Degen in U-701 doggedly patrolled off Hatteras, surfacing briefly in early afternoon to suck foul air out of the boat. German sources credit Degen with damage to the big Norwegian freighter Tamesis on June 25, but other sources suggest that ship hit one of the American defensive mines. In any case, Tamesis was salvaged. On June 27, Degen intercepted a thirty-one-ship southbound convoy and shot two torpedoes at a 7,000-ton tanker, British Freedom. One torpedo hit, but the tanker was sailing in ballast and was salvaged. One of the escorts, a converted yacht, St. Augustine, dropped thirteen depth charges and forced Degen off. At noon the next day, Degen came upon the big, fully loaded 14,000-ton American tanker William A. Rockefeller, escorted by a Coast Guard aircraft. He stopped the tanker with a single torpedo. Seeing the shadow of U-701, the aircraft counterattacked with two depth charges and vectored in an 83-foot Coast Guard cutter, Number 470. The cutter threw over seven depth charges, which prevented another daylight attack and then rescued the crewmen. Degen returned to the scene after dark and put another torpedo into the tanker. That one sent her to the bottom, the only tanker sunk by a U-boat in the Eastern Sea Frontier in June.

To then, Degen had conducted an exceptional patrol. His mines had sunk the British ASW trawler Kingston Ceylonite and the 7,100-ton American freighter Santore, damaged two American tankers, the 11,600-ton Robert C. Tuttle and the 11,200-ton Esso Augusta, and slightly damaged the four-stack destroyer Bain-bridge. By torpedo and gun he had sunk the tanker William A. Rockefeller and the trawler YP-389, and damaged the 7,000-ton tanker British Freedom and possibly the 7,300-ton Norwegian freighter Tamesis. In all: possibly nine ships for about 60,000 tons sunk or damaged, the best VII patrol of all.

The other two VIIs of the May group that had laid mines, U-87 and U-373, were within sight of Lorient by July 7. Strangely, Degen in U-701, who had sailed the same day as they and had not yet refueled, was still off Cape Hatteras, seeking one more ship to sink with his remaining two or three torpedoes, even though he had found no traffic for nine straight days and nights. The heat and foul air inside the boat were nearly unbearable and he faced a tedious three-week voyage home.

Shortly after 1:00 P.M. that day, Degen cautiously surfaced to freshen the air in the boat. He and his first watch officer, Konrad Junker, a junior officer, and the senior quartermaster, Günther Kunert, went to the bridge to serve as lookouts, each man responsible for covering one quarter (90 degrees) of the horizon. Seeing no aircraft or ships, Degen sucked fresh air into the boat for a while, then gave orders to dive. As Junker was preparing to go below, he suddenly shouted: “Aircraft! Port quarter.” Momentarily stunned, Degen turned angrily on Junker: “You saw it too late!”

The plane was one of thirteen Hudsons of the Army Air Forces’ 396th Medium Bombardment Squadron. Formerly based in California on ASW duty, the outfit had recently moved to the Marine Corps air station at Cherry Point, North Carolina. The squadron flew six five-hour ASW missions during daylight hours, patrolling offshore between Cape Hatteras and Charleston, South Carolina. The plane was piloted by twenty-four-year-old Harry J. Kane, assisted by four aircrew. At 2:12 P.M. that day, while flying at 1,500 feet in broken clouds, Kane himself spotted U-701 about seven miles off his left wingtip. Reflexively, he turned directly toward the U-boat on a descending flight path and alerted his crew, which made ready three 325-pound Mark XVII depth charges, fitted with newly issued fuses set to detonate at twenty-five feet.

Although Degen had dived U-701, it was too late to get “deep.” Kane passed over the boat’s swirl at an altitude of fifty feet and dropped all three depth charges. The first charge fell twenty-five feet short of the boat but the next two hit close to or on U-701’s stern. The explosions wrecked and flooded all of the boat aft of the conning tower. Within two minutes the control room filled with salt water almost to the overhead. Unable to blow the ballast tanks, Degen immediately led an escape party through the conning-tower hatch. Eighteen men got out that way, rising in the giant air bubbles. Unknown to Degen, when the boat hit bottom, eighteen others escaped through the bow torpedo-room loading hatch. The Germans estimated that about seven of the total crew of forty-three died in the sinking or the escape procedure.

Kane circled overhead, watching the two separate groups of survivors pop to the surface. He dropped four life vests and a rubber lifeboat to the Germans and marked the location with a smoke bomb. He then notified all agencies concerned by radio and attempted to guide an 83-foot Coast Guard cutter, Number 472, by radio and signal lamp to the site of the sinking. However, by that time the smoke bomb had exhausted itself and the swift current of the Gulf Stream had swept the two separate groups of survivors well to the north, and the cutter found nothing. By 4:30 P.M., Kane was low on fuel and had to leave.

American aircraft, patrol boats, and a blimp scoured the seas for the survivors on the following day, July 9, but found nothing. Huddled together in two groups—each unknown to the other—the Germans began to die one by one from shock and exposure or madness from drinking saltwater. Degen’s rapidly dwindling group clung to a makeshift “raft,” consisting of three escape lungs and three life preservers (two of the preservers from the Hudson) lashed together. The men scavenged a lemon and a coconut that drifted by.

About noon the next day, July 10, a Navy blimp, K-8, piloted by George S. Middleton, found seven survivors of U-701 in two groups about 110 miles offshore. The blimp crew lowered a life raft, blankets, water, food, and a first-aid kit, then radioed for a seaplane. A Coast Guard pilot, Richard L. Burke, homed on the blimp and landed near the seven survivors, who had been in the water forty-nine hours. Among the living were Degen and his senior quartermaster, Kunert, and three men who had escaped from the bow compartment. Burke flew the survivors to Norfolk, where they were hospitalized and then turned over to ONI and FBI officials. Later in the day, the 83-foot Coast Guard cutter Number 480 recovered five German bodies. No sign of the other thirty-one men of U-701 was ever found.*

The ONI interrogators wrote that the seven survivors of U-701 were grateful for their rescue and appeared to be cooperative. They revealed much of interest, including the important news that U-tankers had come into service in the North Atlantic. However, the survivors artfully concealed knowledge of their own and U-87’s and U-373’s mining missions and the landing of Abwehr agents by U-202 and U-584. After the ONI had milked the survivors dry—or so it was assumed—Degen and Kunert were incarcerated in an officers’ POW camp in Arizona and the five enlisted men at camps elsewhere. The news about the U-tankers was slow to reach the operating forces; the British continued to doubt that it was true.

In all, the eight VIIs of the May group that reached American waters sank twenty ships for about 102,000 tons, including three trawlers for 1,000 tons. This was an average of 2.5 ships for 12,750 tons sunk per boat per patrol. One boat, von Bülow’s U-404, accounted for nearly one-third of all the sinkings and the tonnage. Excluding the lost U-701, the boats were at sea for an average of sixty days. The minefields planted by U-87, U-373, and U-701 caused the Americans no little consternation, but the forty-five mines, which displaced fifteen torpedoes in the boats, actually sank only two trawlers and one freighter for a total of about 8,000 tons. The fifteen displaced torpedoes might have achieved much more.

Fortunately for the Allies, the Germans were unaware of a major shipping accident that might have yielded more sinkings yet. On the night of June 28, the 350-foot merchant ship Stephen R. Jones, en route from Norfolk to Boston with 6,300 tons of coal, ran aground in the Cape Cod Canal, then capsized and broke in half. This mishap blocked the canal, forcing all north and southbound ship traffic in that area to go “outside” around Cape Cod. Owing to the destruction of the ship and to strong currents in the canal, it took about four weeks to clear away all the wreckage, repair damage, and reopen the canal. Had the Germans known about this mishap, Dönitz could have concentrated the U-boats off Cape Cod, probably with good results and without great risk, inasmuch as a large pool of deep water (650-700 feet) lies fifteen miles off the cape.

This temporary closing of the Cape Cod Canal lent impetus to a proposed plan to transfer the assembling and sailing of Halifax and Slow convoys from Canadian ports to New York.

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