The end of U-331
17th November 1942: A bungled 'surrender' has fatal consequences for most of the crew of 'one of the best known U-Boats operating in the Mediterranean'
Just under a year earlier, on 25th November 1941, U-331 and her crew had come to notice, when they torpedoed the Royal Navy battleship, HMS Barham. The 32,000 ton warship had been ripped apart by a massive explosion when her magazine exploded - 862 men died. When the Barham was finally confirmed sunk in January 1942, the captain of U-331 had been awarded an immediate Knight’s Cross.
On 7th November 1942 U-331, still in the Mediterranean, departed on her 9th operational patrol.
On the 9th November von Tiesenhausen spotted the US Troopship USS Leedstown, a 9,000 former liner, lying stationary after being disabled by a Luftwaffe bomber attack. Eight men died when he sank her with three torpedoes.
Then on the 13th U-331 was subjected to a 6 hour long depth-charge attack by Royal Navy destroyers, which she survived.
On the 17th U-331 was surprised on the surface by an aircraft attack. On a calm clear day with good visibility they relied on a visual watch and did not mount their early warning radar on the conning tower.
A Hudson aircraft from 500 Squadron RAF Coastal Command swooped down and straddled them with four Mark XI Torpex depth charges before they could submerge. U-331 was seriously damaged and stuck on the surface.
Two more Hudson aircraft from 500 Squadron then appeared and subjected U-331 to further machine gun and depth charge attacks - causing some casualties and more damage. When the crew attempted to man their bridge machine guns (the main deck gun 88mm having already been put out of action) they were subjected to another machine-gun attack. Eventually, they hoisted a white flag.
That might have been the end of the story. But U-331’s confused end was reconstructed by the RN Naval Intelligence Division1, when they later interrogated survivors:
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