warspite1 -> RE: Naval War Day-by-Day (6/9/2015 11:33:30 AM)
November 1939 (The U-boat War).
One of the battles that Donitz faced constantly with Hitler, and even the OKM, was that concerning the best employment of U-boats for maximum effect. Donitz was unequivocal in his belief that his U-boats should be in the Atlantic attacking convoys; it was the strangulation of trade that would hurt the British and, hopefully, take them out of the war.
However, on many occasions his U-boat force was tasked with support operations and special missions that took the boats away from the convoys. November 1939 saw this happening on a large scale. There were three reasons for this: 1. a number of boats were engaged in mining operations (more than usual as the OKM wanted ports mined as part of the planned German offensive against France), 2. the return to Germany of the Deutschland (see Post 137) and 3. The OKM were planning a breakout into the Atlantic by the Battlecruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau (see later).
In the case of the latter two operations, OKM wanted a U-boat force to assist both the return of the Panzerschiff and the breakout by the capital ships.
This meant that Donitz had just three boats available for duty in the North Atlantic – U-41 (Kapt. Gustav-Adolf Mugler), U-43 (Kapt. Wilhem Ambrosius) and U-49 (Kapt. Curt von Gossler). Note: by this time the restriction on French and British passenger ships had been removed as had a restriction pertaining to neutral tankers (except the US) which were thought to be UK bound.
On the 12th November, U-41 sunk a small British trawler and an 11,000 ton Norwegian tanker before Donitz ordered the boats south to the Bay of Biscay due to the atrocious weather conditions. Whilst there, U-41 accounted for a small British freighter and a French trawler, while U-43* accounted for three ships totalling almost 12,000 tons. Although U-49* only achieved one sinking, and was herself badly damaged and almost sunk, she did provide Donitz with a valuable piece of information. In evading a depth charge attack by HM destroyers Echo and Wanderer she dived to over 550 feet – way more than was believed possible – and importantly, deeper than the 500 feet maximum depth for British depth charges. U-43 was also damaged and forced to abort during this patrol. U-53, which we had last heard about in September (see Post 56), was ordered to the Mediterranean in October but had not been able to negotiate the Straits. She too was in the Bay of Biscay at this time but was unable to claim any enemy ships and returned home - whereupon Kapt. Ernst Gunter Heinicke was relieved of command.
*Note some sources claim 4 sinkings for U-43 and none for U-49.
To support the surface ships four boats were ordered to the Shetlands/Orkney area – U31 (Kapt. Johannes Habekost), U-35 (Kapt. Werner Lott), U-47 (Prien) and U-48 (Schultze). On the 28th Prien fired a torpedo at the heavy cruiser HMS Norfolk. Although convinced that he had damaged the cruiser, the cruiser was in fact unharmed by the torpedo that detonated astern. Prien recorded no sinkings in November. A day later U-35, was sunk by three British destroyers – Icarus, Kashmir and Kingston – after a depth charge attack. All members of the crew were picked up by the destroyers. U-48 sank a 4,800 ton British Merchant, while U-31 claimed two vessels totalling 3,300 tons.
The mines planted by two of the Ducks the previous month were making themselves known; U-21 (Kapt. Fritz Frauenheim) severely damaged the new Town-class cruiser HMS Belfast – damage that would keep her out of the war until 1942. At the beginning of December U-21 sank a Finnish freighter through more conventional means and would add further to her tally later in the month. U-24 (Kapt. Harald Jeppener-Haltenhoff) also recorded a single success with the sinking of a small freighter.
Further mining operations were carried out in November against the East Coast ports in preparation for the planned (but ultimately postponed) invasion of France. U-15’s (Kapt. Heinz Buchholz) minefield would prove disappointing. A mine laid by U-19 (Kapt. Wilhelm Muller Arnecke) sank a Yugolav merchant (note this was in addition to three ships sunk to her mines the previous month, but not reported in the October figures. A mine from U-20 (Kapt. Karl-Heinz Moehle) also sank one ship at the end of the month.
Also operating on the East coast were U-18 (Kapt. Max-Hermann Bauer) that sank a 500 ton merchant ship, U-20 (Kapt. Karl-Heinrich Jenisch) that despatched a 345 ton trawler, and U-57 (Kapt. Claus Korth) that sank two freighters totalling almost 3,000 tons. Further north U-13 (Kapt. Heinz Scheringer) sank a small 800 ton freighter. U-56 (Kapt. Wilhelm Zahn) sank a Swedish freighter for 2,119 tons.
Elsewhere, U-33 (Hans-Wilhelm von Dresky) was patrolling west of the UK and off the coast of Ireland she came across five small trawlers and sunk all of them. On the 23rd she intercepted the Borkum – a German ship that the British had captured and taken as a prize. U-33 sunk her, killing four Germans in the process. U-28 (Kapt. Gunter Kuhnke) was also off the coast of southern Ireland on her way to lay mines when she came upon two ships – one of which was a Dutch tanker – and she claimed them both netting over 10,000 tons.
Note, Clay Blair suggests that the U-26 (Kapt Klaus Ewerth) mission to the Mediterranean was a failure and she never got past Gibraltar. Other sources suggest that she did make it there and in a patrol that lasted a few days she sank the French merchant Loire (4,300 tons). I have included this “kill” in the numbers below.
Once again, Donitz’s boats were plagued with magnetic pistol failures and torpedo malfunctions…
Summary for the period
U-boat, type, ships sunk
U-13 (IIB) - (1) Bowling (19th)
U-18 (IIB) - (1) Parkhill (18th)
U-19 (IIB) - (1) Carica Millica (18th)
U-20 (IIB) - (1) Ionian (29th)
U-21 (IIB) - (1) Mercator (1st Dec)
U-22 (IIB) – (1) Wigmore (18th)
U-24 (IIB) – (1) Carmarthen Coast (9th)
U-26 (I) - (2) Loire (13th) Elena R (22nd)
U-28 (VII) - (2) Sliedrecht (17th) Royston Grange (25th)
U-31 (VII) - (3) Arcturus (1st Dec) Ove Toft (3rd Dec)
U-33 (VII) - (6) Thomas Hankins, Delphine and Sea Sweeper (20th) Sulby and William Humphries (21st) Borkum (23rd)
U-41 (IX) - (4) Creswell and Arne Kjode (12th) Darino (19th) Les Barges II (21st)
U-43 (IX) - (3) Arlington Court (16th) Arijon (22nd) Uskmouth (25th)
U-48 (VIIB) - (1) Gustaf E Reuter (27th)
U-49 (VIIB) - (1) Pensilva (19th)
U-56 (IIC) - (1) Rudolf (3rd Dec)
U-57 (IIC) - (2) Kaunas (17th) Stanbrook (19th)
Total - 31 ships with a tonnage of 84,357
The above came at a cost of just one U-boat – U-35.
Hitler’s U-boat War Volume I (Clay Blair)
Chronology of the War at Sea 1939-45 (Jurgen Rohwer)