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Allied planes hunt U-Boats
An excerpt from 'The Allied Air Campaign Against Hitler's U-Boats' - and low level images from the series of attacks on the 5th November
The Allied Air Campaign Against Hitler's U-boats: Victory in the Battle of the Atlantic is apparently the first single volume devoted to examining the air war against the U-boats - other studies have looked at the overall campaign and Allied strategy. Adopting this approach allows Timothy S. Good to provide some context as well as an action-by-action account of how the battle unfolded. This excerpt covers part of November and December 1943:
During the last two months of 1943 the Allied air campaign continued to succeed, with the Liberators taking the leading role. The B-24s attacked six of the twelve U-boats destroyed by aircraft during this time. Allied forces totalled twenty U-boats destroyed at sea, resulting in aircraft contributing 60 per cent of the total, and Liberators' successes accounting for 30 per cent, nearly one-in-three of all Allied U-boat victories. However, the greatest insight regarding anti-submarine efforts during these months occurred not at sea, but on shore, with the Allied conferences that differed sharply from that in Casablanca in 1942.
The Allies' altered attitude towards Donitz's U-boats, as witnessed at the Sextant and the Eureka conferences, stemmed from the successful U-boat assaults, especially by Allied aircraft. The conferences well demonstrated that 1943 marked the turning point in the U-boat war. The hope with which Donitz had greeted the new year with his new position and vastly increased influence had been dissipated by Allied aircraft during the long months that followed his promotion.
British Liberators successfully attacked two Nazi Type VUC U-boats during this time. On 16 November, 86 Squadron Liberator Mk. IH 'M' rendezvoused with its assigned convoy in the mid-North Atlantic at 0906 hours, and at 1025 hours the crew spotted U-280 west of Ireland. The pilot, Flight Officer J.H. Bookless, initiated an 'immediate attack'.
On approach, the nose gunner opened fire and scored hits on the conning tower as the U-boat remained on the surface and instituted 'tight turns to port'. German gun fire disabled the outer port engine and the depth charges 'overshot, so the aircraft prepared for a second attack'. Bookless swung the Liberator around and 'three minutes later' the nose gunner struck the conning tower multiple times while 'knocking out the forward gunner'. Yet, the depth charges overshot, with the 'nearest exploding 30ft from the hull'. Bookless remained in the area and 'a few minutes later the U-boat slowly submerged without any forward movement'. The aircraft loitered for over an hour and while the crew witnessed 'no evidence of damage', the attacks did sink U-280. The forty-nine crew members went down with the boat, which was on its first patrol having not engaged any Allied vessels.
It may be presumed that the small oil slick marked the Liberator's final location and the larger oil was U-508's last position. All fifty-seven U-boat crew and all ten on board the B-24 perished.
The following month, on the 13th [December], in the Bay of Biscay, 53 Squadron Liberator Mk. V 'B' began a 'Square search' hunt in the darkness at 0413 hours after the Allies suspected that a U-boat was operating in the area. The RAF had equipped Mk. V B-24s with radar, but this morning, the aircraft suffered both radar and intercom issues, resulting in only momentary contacts. This irregularity required the crew to use the Leigh Light for verification, an action that immediately brought the aircraft to the attention of U-391's crew and they responded with machine gun fire. The crew 'switched off' the light and the pilot, Squadron Leader G. Crawford, 'manoeuvred to attack up moon'. The U-boat fire ceased, leading the crew to assume that the Germans had 'lost sight of the aircraft'.
Crawford ordered the air gunners to hold their fire during approach, and they did not re-engage the U-boat until the German fire commenced again. At that point, the Liberator's gunners 'sprayed' the conning tower as the aircraft roared over the U-boat and 'scored a straddle with six depth charges'. The crew noted 'two bodies, apparently alive' in the water and obtained a momentary 'small, sharp Radar contact', which was 'suggestive' of a U-boat's 'bows or stern at the moment of plunging'. The U-boat flak had not injured any crew members, although they noticed a 'few bullet holes in the aircraft's hull'. All fifty-one crew members went down with the U-boat, which was on its maiden voyage and had not attacked any Allied shipping.
British and American Liberators [also] co-operated on a U-boat attack. On 9 November off the Spanish Atlantic coast in the Bay of Biscay, a 612 Squadron Wellington 'B' obtained radar contact for Type VIIC U-966 at 6 miles, and then made visual contact at 4 miles due to 'moonpath'. The crew avoided the use of their Leigh Light to reduce the possibility of detection. They struck with six depth charges and gun fire but the U-boat, while damaged, submerged.
U-966 later surfaced and two US Navy VP-105 Liberators attacked but failed to discharge their depth charges due to flak-damaged bomb bay doors. However, Navy VP-103 Liberator 'E' and VP-110 Liberator 'D' depth charged the boat, followed by Liberator 'D' from the RAF's 311 Squadron, with a Czechoslovakian crew, with a rocket assault. The extensive damage forced the German crew to scuttle the U-boat in Spanish coastal waters on 10 November. Forty-two crew members reached shore by Spanish boats or by swimming, while eight perished. U-966's first patrol ended with no Allied vessels sunk.
American Liberators also achieved solo fatal assaults. Three days later, on 12 November, in the Bay of Biscay, north of the Spanish coast, US Navy VB-103 Liberator 'C' spotted one of the long-range Type IXC boats, U-508, led by one of Donitz s best officers. The U-boat commander, Georg Staats, had sunk fourteen ships on seven patrols and received one of Nazi Germany's highest honours, the Knight's Cross.
The American pilot, Lieutenant (jg) Ralph B. Brownell, could not have known his opponent's reputation or skill when approaching the U-boat. In his last radio report, he stated, 'Am over enemy submarine in position ...' Neither the Germans nor the Allies heard from either the U-boat or the aircraft again. The following day, American aircraft searching the area discovered a small oil patch and a larger one separated by 5 miles. It may be presumed that the small oil slick marked the Liberator's final location and the larger oil was U-508's last position. All fifty-seven U-boat crew and all ten on board the B-24 perished.
On 5 November, two VB-107 Liberators co-operated in the destruction of a U-boat. Three hundred miles south-west of Ascension Island in the South Atlantic, a pair of US Navy PB4Ys patrolled the area and one of them spotted surfaced U-848, a long-range Type IXD2. The pilot of Liberator B-12 immediately engaged and released depth charges from 75ft.
Then B-24, B-4, 200 miles away, arrived after thirty minutes and deposited several depth charges that further damaged the U-boat. Yet, it did not sink or submerge. Two USAAF B-25 Mitchells attacked later but their ordnance, dropped from 4,000ft, missed. The two Liberators from the initial attacks, having returned to base and rearmed, then returned to the scene and collaborated on attacks that destroyed the U-boat. All sixty-three crew members perished on U-848’s first patrol, having sunk only one Allied vessel
©Timothy S. Good. Reproduced courtesy of Pen & Sword Books Ltd.
This excerpt from The Allied Air Campaign Against Hitler's U-boats: Victory in the Battle of the Atlantic appears by kind permission of Pen & Sword Books Ltd.
A detailed and comprehensive study with a wide range of relevant images. In the text above I have added a few more photographs from the sequences taken during the attack on the 5 November.
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8th November 1943: Hitler defiant as he speaks to the Nazi faithful - "We are fighting the fifth year of the greatest war of all time."
Every year Hitler came to Munich for the annual Party Rally, in which the Nazis celebrated the anniversary of the 'Beer Hall Putsch', when they had first attempted to grab power 1923.
Hitler always addressed the most ardent party members in the Löwenbräukeller. He had narrowly avoided an assassination attempt here in 1939. Every year he made boasts about how the Germans were the master race, about to dominate the world. This time there was not much to boast about.
You shall also leave here with fanatical confidence and the fanatical faith that there can be nothing other than our victory.