Boarding battle was an integral part of naval battles of the era of sailing and rowing fleets. With the development of artillery and torpedo armament of ships, the value of boarding was reduced to almost zero: the opponents sought to destroy each other at long range. It would seem that by the beginning of the Second World War, the time of boarding was gone forever, but there are exceptions in any rule. Such was the battle between the German submarine and the Canadian corvette in August 1942 in the Caribbean Sea, culminating in a real boarding in the spirit of the corsairs of the XVI – XVII centuries.
Since the declaration of war by Germany to the United States, the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico have become one of the hottest regions in the entire history of submarine warfare. Like centuries ago, the waters of the West Indies again were stained with blood, but now instead of galleons and brigs the bulk carriers and tankers were at the bottom. During the first half of 1942, German submarines destroyed the Allied merchant fleet there with impunity, taking advantage of America’s unpreparedness for its defense.This led to the loss of a large number of ships, which fully complied with the strategy of the German submarine commander Karl Dönitz, based on the idea of attacking in places where the enemy had no anti-submarine defense.
The Canadian Corvette Oakville is one of the main characters in the story of the death of the U 94. The boat was the only one
which this ship sank during the war. The picture was taken during the posting of the convoy FH-70 on August 7, 1943.
The Allies tried to learn from the lessons taught by the Germans, and slowly but surely introduced the system of convoys in the Caribbean. The loss of ships decreased as their solo voyage was kept to a minimum. In addition, the role of anti-submarine aviation, which has become a formidable opponent of German boats in the area, has sharply increased. However, this did not force Dönitz to abandon actions on the Caribbean islands, where the main routes of tankers and vessels with bauxite lay. While there was the slightest chance of success, the German boats continued to attack shipping.
During July-August 1942, 28 boats went to North America from France: 15 “nines” and 13 “sevens”. Although Dönitz was aware of the introduction of a convoy system between Key West, Trinidad,Aruba and Curacao, most of them were sent there. The actions in this area had their pros and cons. The enemy increased the strength of the PLO there, but the convoy movement was active, and the boats did not have to wait for days for targets — there were many of them.
Dönitz called upon his commanders, when a convoy was detected, to attack and transfer contact messages to other boats. Unlike the North Atlantic, submarines occupied positions at key points of navigation not far from each other, which allowed several boats to attack the convoy in turn, since the formation of a "wolf pack" was out of the question. Submarines could not often go on the air and arrange a long pursuit of a convoy because of the small area of action that was actively patrolled by enemy aircraft.
"Catalina" from the 92nd squadron of the US Navy patrols the Caribbean, 1942.
Such tactics bore certain benefits: during August 1942, in the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico, ten German boats attacked eight convoys, which suffered losses in the form of 18 sunk ships with a total tonnage of 95,769 grt. During this time, the Germans lost in the specified area two submarines,one of which, after a hot battle, was boarding a Canadian corvette.
German submarine star
Included in the fleet in August 1940, the U 94 was a type VIIC boat. Her first commander, Lieutenant-Captain Herbert Kuppisch (Herbert Kuppisch) made four campaigns on her and on May 14, 1941, was awarded the Knight's Cross for "successful attacks of enemy shipping." German radio announced that it had sunk an enemy destroyer and 17 ships with a total tonnage of 90,260 brt, while Kuppish’s real successes amounted to 16 ships for 82,108 brt. However, the fifth trip to the U 94 was the last for 31-year-old Kuppish - he, as they say, “burned down at work”. Kuppish's nerves were shattered, so Dönitz removed him from the boat and transferred him to staff work.
On August 29, 1941, a new commander was appointed to the U 94 - 23-year-old Chief Lieutenant Otto Ites (Otto Ites). Despite his youth, he was an experienced submariner: for two years Iteses was a watch officer on the famous U 48, under the command of such aces as Herbert Schultze and Heinrich Bleichrodt, after which he was appointed to the U 14 deuce on which he made two trips to the Atlantic and sank one ship - the Finnish steamer Pluto (Pluto).
German submarine star is the youngest underwater ace Otto Itez.
It is curious that the “Finn”, traveling from America to Petsamo with a cargo of coal, was arrested in the Danish Strait by the British cruiser “Suffolk” (HMS Suffolk) ten days before his death and sent under the control of a team of marines to Scotland for the prize court, but 28 June 1941 U 146 was sunk.
Friendly in communication, Itez quickly won the respect of the U 94 team and received from it the nickname "Uncle Otto", and the audacity in battle gave him the Knight's Cross from Dönitz. At that time, Itez became the youngest submariner to receive this award: he was 24 years old. From September 1941 to July 1942, Iteses made four cruises on the U 94, bringing his total score to 15 sunk ships for 76,882 grt and one damaged ship for 8022 brt. Dönitz favored the young star of the float so much that he even allowed them to break the rules: Itese asked the commander to return his foremen after refresher courses back to U 94, although they had to get into the crews of new submarines, and Dönitz went to meet him.
Hike to the Caribbean
On August 3, 1942, the U 94 left St. Nazaire on her tenth expedition on a mission to operate in the Cuba region. This was Ite’s first trip to the warm seas — before that the boat had always operated in cold waters.The path to Cuba was not overshadowed by any incidents, therefore Itez allowed his team to sunbathe on the upper deck. This even affected motorists and motorists, who were usually not allowed to leave the wheelhouse when climbing the bridge, if there was the slightest threat of an air attack.
By the evening of August 18, U 94 met with the U 462 underwater tanker west of the Azores. From it, ITES received 57 tons of fuel and provisions for ten days. Having spent four hours on loading, the boats parted, and the U 94 continued on its way to the south-west. After six days, Itez reported to headquarters that he had reached the area of operation: U 94 approached the Windward Strait. On August 27, airplanes were seen from the boat, the Germans interpreted their appearance as a sign of a convoy approaching.
Karl Dönitz meets U Herbert Kuppisch, returning from a hike. Saint-Nazaire, June 1941.
U 94 spent the entire day of light to go unnoticed by enemy aircraft, but in the evening, tired of playing cat and mouse, Itez ignored caution. After establishing contact with the expected escort, he declared to his watchman Rolf-Kurt Gebeschus (Rolf-Kurt Gebeschus) that if they noticed the plane, they would “wait until the last minute” and only then dive.In addition, U 94 sent a message to headquarters that a convoy with a strong air escort was found, after which it went on the air three more times.
With a full moon, the submarine was in the surface position for an hour at sea, and the east wind was four points. ITES maneuvered inside the escort order for a torpedo volley on one of the destroyers when one of the signalmen noticed the plane. The watch officer Walter Schmidt (Walter Schmidt), who was observing another sector at that moment, answered him: “You see a ghost”. However, the signalman turned out to be right: the American Catalina flying boat turned out to be a “ghost”, so the U 94 had to immediately plunge. Spewing out curses, Itez said to Gebeshus:"I managed to hide from this plane all day, and now, when I am ready to attack, he noticed me."
In the best tradition of boarding combat
“Catalina” by Lieutenant Gordon Fiss (Gordon R. Fiss) from the 92nd squadron of the US Navy was covered from the air by a TAW-15 convoy en route from Trinidad to Key West. At 10:30 pm (hereinafter, Eastern Military Time - EWT) On August 27, Fiss visually noticed the U 94 from a distance of one and a half miles, since the submarine was clearly visible in the moonlight.The aircraft increased speed and began to decline to attack. Having overtaken the submarine, Fiss dropped four bombs on it at that moment when U 94 was already sinking, but its cabin was still visible above the water. The explosion threw the boat to the surface - she lifted her nose and resurfaced, but then went under water again.
Commander Oakville Commander Clarence King (Clarence King). He was the oldest
commander of the corvette: at the time of the events described in the article King was already 56 years old.
The plane described a circle and dropped a false flare at the dive site, after which it began transmitting a SUB SUB signaling signal — a signal that indicated the detection of a submarine — to a corvette that was seen two miles from the attack site. At this moment the boat appeared again on the surface, but what happened to it later was not seen by the pilots, since the Catalina went into a new circle.
At this time, arrived in time, the Canadian corvette "Oakville" (HMCS Oakville). From the report of his commander, it follows that the SSS light signal was received from the aircraft and they saw a false flare. The Oakville went at full speed to it and dropped five depth charges there, the fuses of which were exposed to a depth of 30 meters. A little later, the Asdik made contact, and less than half a minute 100 meters from the indicated bearing from the Oakville noticed the nose of the submarine.
Oakville crew members: sailor George Howard (left) and foreman Charles Skeggs (right) also participated
in drowning U 94. She became the only German boat that was drowned not only by shells, bombs and a battering ram,
but also Coca-Cola. At the moments when the corvette was getting close to the submarine, the sailors from the party dropping depth charges bombarded
chopping the U 94 with empty soda bottles.
The distance between the U 94 and the corvette began to grow slowly, so the latter went to the ram. The boat passed under the nose of the Oakville, but when he abruptly changed course to the left, she hit him on the port side. The corvette opened fire and tried to ram again. Canadians got into the cabin of the boat, with another shell they demolished the deck gun. U 94, apparently, tried to leave and increased speed. The Oakville rammed it to starboard, and then dropped depth charges, one of which, apparently, exploded directly under the boat, significantly reducing its course. The corvette departed again, and then rammed the boat for the third time - now the blow fell a little behind the cabin.
After the first ram, Itez ordered to give the most full speed, but the boat could not reach a speed of more than 12 knots.One of the possible reasons for this could be that the U 94 had problems with the rotation of the screws. As the watchman foreman-diesel operator later recalled, both diesel engines worked normally all the time, and the tachometers showed revolutions of the fullest stroke. He first stated that he was not aware of the inability of the boat to develop the fullest stroke, but when he was told about this, he himself pointed out the possible malfunction of the coupling. He also showed that the propeller shaft could jam.
The electrician of the right electric motor considered that a ramming blow caused an overload in the network, since right after it the fuses of both motors knocked out. He stated that he managed to start the right engine again. The tachometer drive chain of the left engine was torn by fallen cans that were stored nearby. According to the electrician, at that time the screws most likely did not rotate. ITES himself stated that after the ram he personally examined the stern part and considered that the screws were damaged.
Assessing the position of his ship as hopeless, the commander of the U 94 ordered the crew to open the tank ventilation valves and leave the boat. Submariners were selected from the U 94 through the manhole. Sailor Hermann Neck (Hermann Schee), when he got out of the wheelhouse, hit the wave.He fell back into the mine with his head down, but he caught his foot on the hatch and hung unconscious. His comrade Heinrich Mecklenborg (Heinrich Mecklenborg) freed his leg and carried out the Neck to the deck, where he came to himself. Subsequently, the Neck managed to escape, but Mecklenborg drowned.
The submariners who had reached the upper deck were under machine-gun fire from the corvette, which the Canadians wanted to prevent the Germans from using the remaining anti-aircraft guns on the boat. Climbing out of the wheelhouse Ites was wounded in the leg. Gebeshus, who rose after him, was forced to lie down directly on the bridge in order not to fall under the lead squall that Oakville watered U 94. Canadians also wanted to prevent submarine flooding in the hope of capturing the Enigma code tables or even the submarine itself.
With an average sea wave, the corvette managed to become a ship aboard with a boat, after which sub-lieutenant Harold Lawrence (Harold Lawrence) and foreman Arthur Powell jumped onto it with pistols in their hands, which made up the boarding party. Two Germans emerged from the log hatch, one of whom was a U 94 mechanical engineer Heinrich Müller. When they ignored the order of a Canadian officer to stop, he killed one of them.The second made a move in the direction of Powell, and he was also shot dead - later the surviving Germans claimed that Muller was trying to surrender.
Heroes of boarding U 94 sublautant Lawrence (left) and foreman Powell.
Then Lawrence allowed the remaining Germans inside the boat to go upstairs and left them guarded by the foreman on the upper deck. He himself entered the wheelhouse, the hatch of which was stuck at an angle of 40 °. Downstairs it turned out that there was no light, the lower deck was flooded (it remained a little over a meter before the ceiling), the air smelled of some kind of gas. The boat started and seemed to start astern. Lawrence indicated in his report that he could not find any secret documents, so he grabbed four binoculars and climbed up. He ordered everyone to jump into the water, and at about 23:00 the boat sank, nose up, when the Germans and Canadians had already sailed by about 15 meters.
The destroyer USS "Lea" (DD-118)
By this time, the American destroyer Lea (USS Lea) approached, but from the Oakville it was reported that they did not need help. The destroyer also sent a boarding party to the boat, but when she approached, only the wheelhouse remained above the surface, and she soon disappeared under water. The Americans returned with nothing, not even having set foot on the deck.Of the 45 members of the crew of U 94, five were rescued by a corvette, another 21 were raised aboard the Leah. The prisoners were convinced that the entire crew had left the boat. According to them, some were killed during the battle, and the rest drowned. It was said that Lieutenant Schmidt drowned because he could not swim.
None of the crew of the U 94 could not understand why the boat after the attack of the aircraft could not sink, despite attempts to get her to do it. Gebeshus said that he himself realized the reason for this only when U 94 lifted up his nose and sank: he noticed that the boat did not have bow horizontal rudders. In his opinion, they were blown away by depth bomb blasts from an airplane. Thus, the attack of “Catalina” by Lieutenant Fiss became fatal for U 94.
Kick on the other hand
While the escort of the convoy repaired the Ite boat, another German submarine attacked the TAW-15 ships. It was U 511 Lieutenant Commander Friedrich Steinhoff (Friedrich Steinhoff), who received all the radiograms sent by Ethes after the discovery and pursuit of the convoy. Steinhof, following the coordinates obtained, followed in the footsteps of Itez and became an unwitting witness to the death of U 94. However, according to the records in the U 511 combat log, her commander found what he saw as a trick of the enemy, distracting the convoy:“23:00, EC 1298 square.Light flashes and firing at 140 ° bearings, and tracers, as when firing anti-aircraft guns. Searchlight aircraft. Two explosions and flashes are noticed. This fireworks. Perhaps distract attention. ”
U 511 discovered TAW-15 at 00:15 on August 28th. The Germans counted 12–13 steamers from 7,000 to 9,000 brt, walking in four columns and guarded by escort ships. The front of the convoy consisted of large tankers. Despite the bright moon, Steinhof decided to attack from the surface position and cautiously began predzelpovogo maneuvering, trying not to be seen by the enemy escort.
At 00:29, from a distance of 1200–1500 meters, the U 511 consistently launched four torpedoes from the bow, and then two of the stern torpedo tubes, on selected targets. Immersed after the attack, Steinhof heard three strong explosions, which he took as four torpedoes, two of which exploded almost simultaneously. Then the boat was easily shaken from two explosions, which were mistaken for depth charges or bombs from an airplane. A little later, the boat was strongly shaken by the two strongest explosions, which the Germans took for the death of one of the tankers, which tore to pieces the last two torpedoes.
The first commander of the U 94 - underwater ace Herbert Kuppish.
At 1:30 U 511 it surfaced and immediately noticed at a distance of 3000–4000 meters the escort ship at the sinking ship (estimated at 8000 grt), and a little later two more escorts, which were taken to be an enemy PLO group looking for a daring submarine. Since the U 511 was damaged by explosions, Steinhof found it necessary to leave a dangerous place in order to repair later. In his opinion, the torpedoes hit three or four steamers with a total tonnage of 22,000–29,000 grt, of which probably two or three ships sank.
It was the first attack of the U 511 - the boat was on its first trip and for the first time discharged its torpedo tubes into the enemy. Steinhof reported to the headquarters about the successful attack, honestly declaring only two ships at 17,000 grt, in which he was drowned. In reality, his torpedoes sent two tankers to the bottom: Rotterdam (Rotterdam) at 8968 brt and San Fabian at 13,031 grt. In addition, the tanker Esso Aruba was torpedoed at 8773 bt, but the ship did not sink and was able to reach Cuba. Thus, U 511 took revenge on the TAW-15 convoy for the death of U 94.
Submarine like an apple of contention
All the surviving U-94 submariners, including the wounded Otto Iteus, were landed at Guantanamo in Cuba and fell into the hands of the Americans.The latter were very proud of the fact that for the first time they were in captivity a German underwater ace, a knight of the Knight's Cross. However, the sinking of the Ites boat had the unpleasant consequences that the American historian Clay Blair described in his work on the Battle of the Atlantic as follows:“The fact is that the commander of the naval base in Guantanamo, George Weyler (George L. Weyler) tried to inflate the participation of the Americans and to obscure the actions of the Canadians. He insisted that the sinking should be counted the destroyer "Lea", as he "opened fire" on the boat. In addition, Weiler’s report to his superiors contained barely veiled criticism from Canadians. Based on the reports of the American crews Catalina and Lea, the commander of the Oakville, Clarence King, managed to refute the charges against Weiler and his tactless report. Officially, the sinking of the group was counted - in half the crew of the Catalina Fiss and the crew of the Oakville King. The U 94 became the sixth boat, sunk directly by Canadians or with their participation. This outstanding achievement was not appreciated at the time. ”
Blair is right that the feat of Canadians was not appreciated.For the sinking of U 94, the commander of the Oakville King was only in December 1942 awarded the Order of Distinguished Service. It is curious that he was a veteran of the First World War and, even in those years, he had a cross For Outstanding Merit for serving on ships-traps for submarines.
The boarding hero Harold Lawrence was presented for his actions to the Victoria Cross, but the Committee on Awards in London for some reason found no reason for this, and the Canadian officer was promoted to the rank and awarded only the Cross For Distinguished Service with the following wording:“For brave actions in direct contact with the enemy, Lieutenant Lawrence, who commanded a boarding party of two people, who tried to prevent the flooding of the German submarine. With contempt for danger, acting in the best traditions of the Royal Canadian Navy, this officer, accompanied by foremen, boarded the German boat and, taking her crew as a prisoner, took steps to prevent her being flooded, despite the fact that she was already sinking.
Another boarding member, Senior Officer Powell, was awarded the Medal for Distinguished Service. The same award was given to Sergeant-Major David Wilson for preventing flooding of the corvette’s room, in which a hole was formed after a collision with a submarine.However, the Canadian military propaganda did not disregard the feat of their sailors, and soon a poster appeared depicting the moment when Lawrence and Powell aboard a German submarine.
A Canadian war poster showing a fragment of a German submarine captured by an officer and
foreman with the Oakville. Thanks to this poster, the feat of Canadian sailors is sometimes remembered in our days.
In conclusion, I would like to say a few words about the fate of the heroes of this story. After the Oakville, Clarence King commanded the Swansea (HMCS Swansea) and Runnymede (HMCS Runnymede) frigates. He became a real ace in the fight against German submarines and in 1944 took part in the sinking of four more submarines: U 845, U 448, U 311 and U 247, for which he was re-awarded with the Cross For Outstanding Merit. After the war, King retired, lived in Canada and died in 1964.
Harold Lawrence after the Oakville continued to serve on the destroyer Sioux (HMCS Sioux). He participated in the wiring of polar convoys in the USSR and provided a landing in Normandy during Operation Overlord. After the war, Lawrence remained in the navy and retired only in 1965.He then taught at the University of Ottawa and wrote several books about the war in the Atlantic. He died in 1994 in Canada.
Otto Ites was held captive by the Americans until the spring of 1946, after which he returned to Germany. Until 1956, he worked as a dentist, and after creating the Bundesmarine in the Federal Republic of Germany, he returned to the fleet, where he served for 20 years, retiring in 1977 as a rear admiral. Iteses died in 1982 in his homeland, in the city of Norden (Lower Saxony).