U 445 and the Christmas Eve corvette that never was

Discussions on all (non-biographical) aspects of the submarine forces of the Kriegsmarine.
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Joined: 18 Dec 2011 20:47

U 445 and the Christmas Eve corvette that never was

Post by Atrevida » 28 Apr 2019 19:59

The Type VIIc boat U 445 commanded by Oblt. z.S. Heinz Konrad Fenn with Lt. z.S. Heinz Schäffer as I WO sailed from Marviken, Norway, on 8 November 1942 and put into St. Nazaire on 3 January 1943. No ships were claimed sunk or damaged during the voyage. No Allied warship was lost to enemy action during the Christmas period 1942.

In the William Kimber 1952 version of his book "U 977" at pages 99-101, Heinz Schäffer describes how on Christmas Eve 1942 he saw through binoculars a warship approaching. Weather was misty with hail. At 400 yards when the destroyer offered U 445 her broadside, her unique flush-deck design and four stacks confirmed his opinion that she was an ex-US lend-lease destroyer in Royal Navy service. Schäffer describes how he made his successful attack from the bridge, firing two torpedoes and sinking the destroyer which left no wreckage and no survivors. Did he make it up? He has been accused of it but the more one investigates the circumstances the more peculiar the incident becomes.

Fenn must have become uneasy about the "corvette" as he calls it when it appeared astern suddenly at 2030 hrs. He could not make out the warship through the periscope and the hydrophones operator reported that the corvette was running totally silent.

The page of the KTB for the period in question from 2200 until midnight contains an over-large blank space left by Fenn, no doubt to be completed later after his discussion with Großadmiral Dönitz, who believed in the Flying Dutchman.

At 2200 the KTB entry reads, "Alarm. Corvette in sight at 1000 metres bearing down on us. No radar trace detected by FuMB. No Asdic. No propellor noise. Corvette passed overhead and then zig-zagged. Quadrant square AJ 8863."

Some time after 2200 hrs, the attack was carried out by Schäffer. The first torpedo missed. The second torpedo at 400 metres hit. "In a minute or two the dark shadow had disappeared," Schäffer wrote. Then, mulling over the doubts and uncertainties, Fenn would have called a post-mortem on the attack which probably rumbled on long into Christmas morning. Finally came the decision not to put any of it into the KTB until they got back to France.

When U 445 arrived at St Nazaire, Fenn was bound to have been questioned about this enemy warship and, if he had attacked it, why that fact had not been reported. Next would come the enquiry to account for the missing torpedoes since the KTB does not mention any being fired, and then statements taken from all concerned.

So, did the Kriegsmarine believe in ghost ships? Was quadrant square AJ haunted?

Posts: 97
Joined: 18 Dec 2011 20:47

Re: U 445 and the Christmas Eve corvette that never was

Post by Atrevida » 30 Apr 2019 00:05

Just over three months later....THE SEQUEL

In early April 1943, convoy ON 176 had left Liverpool for New York. It was composed of 49 merchant ships and an escort of warships. One of these escorts was a flush deck destroyer with four stacks formerly known as USS Branch. She had been transferred to the Royal Navy in 1940 and renamed HMS Beverley.

On 9 April 1943 in rough weather HMS Beverley collided with the steamer Cairnvalona. This put her anti-submarine and degaussing gear out of action. Though ordered by the convoy commodore to make port for repair, Lt-Cdr Rodney Athelstan Price decided to keep HMS Beverley on station at the rear of the convoy. Without degaussing gear she was therefore a sitting duck for torpedoes.

Early on 11 April 1943 in grid square AJ 9661 in conditions of near calm with good visibility, U 188 (Kptlt. Lüdden), who had located and reported the convoy but received no messages of support, decided to attack convoy ON 176 alone.

At 0542 hrs he fired a fan of torpedoes at an "extremely long tanker" estimated at 8,000 tons. One torpedo hit the tanker in the "rear third" of the hull and she sank within 45 seconds. Nobody was seen on deck, no boat was got away and no wreckage or survivors were seen in the placid sea.

The remaining torpedoes kept running through the convoy and found HMS Beverley. All hit, and the destroyer went down so quickly that only three men of her complement could be saved.

The section of the U 188 KTB for the period 0552 to 0559 hrs is missing or censored.

At 0559 hrs a "gigantic freighter" of 5,000 tons which looked odd because it had "superstructure along its whole length" was seen leaving the convoy as it dispersed. Lüdden hit her with two torpedoes, the burning stern reared up and the steamer sank within seconds. No crew member on deck or survivor in the water was seen.

U-188 had to break off at this point for a technical problem and the remainder of the convoy escaped. Of the 49 ships which left Liverpool, Lancastrian Prince was sunk by U 404 on 12 April the next day, the other 48 merchantmen all sailed again in later convoys.

Neither the extremely long tanker nor the gigantic freighter issued SSS messages on the distress frequency, the convoy rescue ship was not detailed to search for survivors and the German B-Dienst wireless monitoring service never intercepted any signal from ON 176 regarding two merchant ships missing or sunk. U 188 was given the credit for sinking HMS Beverley since no other boat had attacked the convoy that day.

To recapitulate: in the area at the foot of naval grid square AJ, on 24 December 1942 an American-type destroyer was sunk with all hands by U 445 but no Allied warship was lost, and on 11 April 1943 two merchant ships from convoy ON 176 were sunk with all hands but no ships were lost.

Fenn and Lüdden were exonerated after the usual enquiries and the incidents archived because ghost ships did not count in the Tonnage War.

SOURCE: Copies of the relevant KTB pages for U 445 and U 188 can be obtained from www.uboatarchive.com. For a long description of the events of 11 April 1943 as seen by lookout Matrose Anton Staller see his autobiography as told to Klaus Willmann "Das Boot U 188" published by Rosenheimer in 2008 at pages 87-94. Frontline Books has an English translation entitled "U 188, A German Submariner's Account of the War at Sea 1941-1945."

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