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Analysis of Attacks by a U-boat on Convoy SC 19 on Jan. 29-1941
dated March 1-1941 (all times are BST)
(It'll be noticed that some of the station numbers given here are different from those given on the A 1 form - see Page 1).
Particulars of Convoy
Note - Convoy SC 19 originally consisted of 36 ships in 9 columns. After being scattered by gale, the ships remaining with the Commodore were re-organised into 7 columns - numbers 1 and 2 being dispensed with.
Particulars of Escort
Destroyers carrying out independent zig-zags.
Events leading up to the attack on Convoy SC 19
At 02:43 on 29th January the C.O.W. of Lady Madeline thought he heard the sound of engines to starboard and smelt oil fuel, and at the same time the lookout reported a dark object moving forward on the starboard side. No H.E. could be heard.
The Commanding Officer altered course to starboard for 5 minutes, carrying out an Asdic sweep, but as nothing further was seen or heard, the original course was resumed.
The attack on Convoy SC 19
At this time, 02:58, the 10 000 ton Tanker W. B. Walker (81) - the leader of the 8th column - was torpedoed amidships. The ship was holed on both sides, but the balance of evidence supports her Master's opinion that she was hit on the port side. W. B. Walker at once fired 2 white rockets, and shortly afterwards King Robert also fired 2 white rockets, the delay in her case being due to the rockets being wet. Neither ship initiated a W/T report.
At 03:01 Aikaterini (71), the only ship in the 7th column, who was slightly astern of station, sighted a U-boat very close on her port beam steering a parallel course. Aikaterini at once turned to starboard and at the same time observed the U-boat turning to port. At 03:03, while still turning, Aikaterini was struck by a torpedo aft on her port side.
Movements of Escorts
Anthony also heard the explosion of the torpedo at 02:50 and appreciated that an attack was taking place on the starboard side. She increased speed, altered course across the front of the Convoy and carried out a search to the Southward firing starshell. Having sighted nothing, at 03:28 she set course to rejoin and at 03:50 sighted King Robert and W. B. Walker with a Trawler standing by. Anthony was ordered to stand by the Tanker and she proceeded to pick up survivors. Anthony reports that the survivors picked up from the Tanker were intoxicated; in Anthony's engine-room there was a feeling of "joie de vivre", whilst on the upper deck the men were in a condition which could not be described as strictly sober - the cause of all this was W. B. Walker's cargo of high octane aviation spirit, a great deal of which had been blown out of the ship by the torpedo.
The Trawler referred to above was Arab. She had also heard the explosion at 02:50 and turned towards the starboard wing of the Convoy at full speed, firing starshell. Arab proceded alongside West Wales, who did not conform to the Convoy's movements, and ordered her to rejoin the Convoy. She then picked up 3 boat-loads of survivors from W. B. Walker and later, in accordance with previous instructions, dropped 5 depth charges at 2 minute intervals set to 350 ft. Arab then returned to stand by the torpedoed ships.
Lady Madeline, having resumed the course of the Convoy (after having carried out an Asdic sweep as described above) heard the explosion at 02:50 and turned to the Southward at full speed, firing starshell and dropping single depth charges at 5 minute intervals. At 03:35 she set course to rejoin, but on sighting the torpedoed ships (presumably by the light of starshell) she closed them, and at 04:45 picked up a boat-load of survivors from King Robert.
Movements of S.S. Rushpool
At 04:15 Rushpool had arrived back at the scene of the attack on the Convoy, and having spoken Anthony, set a course 082°. This was maintained until 05:20 when a torpedo struck her amidships on her starboard side. Just before the torpedo hit, Rushpool sighted a U-boat close on her starboard side steering to the N.E. at high speed. 7 minutes later, at 05:27, Rushpool was hit by a second torpedo on her starboard quarter which blew off her stern (only one attack is mentioned by Rohwer). White rockets were fired, but no W/T report was made.
Movements of S.S. West Wales
At about 05:00 an object, believed to be a U-boat, was sighted ahead and course was at once altered to the Southward. It seems likely, however, that the object sighted was actually one of the ships in the main body of Convoy SC 19.
At about 05:25 West Wales altered course to 090° and this course was maintained until 06:15, at which time she was struck by a torpedo forward on her starboard side. About 1 minute later she was hit by a second torpedo on her starboard side amidships and sank within two minutes (again, only one attack is mentioned by Rohwer). She therefore had no time to fire rockets, or make a signal by W/T.
At about 06:35 a survivor on a raft reports sighting a U-boat on the surface nearby which soon afterwards proceeded.
Further movements of the escorts
At 05:20 rockets were sighted astern and an underwater explosion felt. Speed was increased to 26 knots and course was altered to close. At 05:27 another explosion was felt, this being the second torpedo fired at Rushpool. Speed was reduced and the area ahead was searched with starshell. These revealed Rushpool, and at 05:32 (and 1/2?) Antelope sighted a U-boat right ahead and close under Rushpool's stern. Antelope at once opened fire and the U-boat was seen to increase speed and submerge. Antelope went full speed ahead in an endeavour to ram but her movements were impeded by the lifeboats and rafts from the Rushpool. On passing over the spot where the U-boat had submerged, a full pattern of depth charges was released. A search was made in the vicinity until 06:10, but no contact was obtained.
Lady Madeline, having picked up survivors of King Robert (as mentioned further up on this page), proceeded at 05:00 to search for the Convoy on a course of 082° and at 06:00 joined Antelope.
Antelope now organised a sweep in company with Lady Madeline on a course of 050° at 11 1/2 knots. At 06:34 Antelope obtained contact at a range of 4500 yeards, and on closing, this was found to be the wreck of West Wales. Antelope and Lady Madeline proceeded to pick up survivors. Antelope did not appreciate till later that this ship had been sunk after Rushpool.
Anthony, having picked up survivors from W. B Walker (as mentioned) was ordered by Antelope to rejoin the Convoy. At 06:30 she proceeded at 25 knots and at 07:05 joined Antelope to assist in picking up survivors of West Wales.
At 07:30 Antelope swept back to Rushpool whose survivors she picked up at 07:55. She then set course to search to the North Eastward and rejoined Convoy SC 19 at 11:00.
At 08:26 Anthony ordered Lady Madeline to rejoin the Convoy and herself proceeded to the S.W. to search the area in which Antelope had informed her that Rushpool had been torpedoed. Wreckage and oil were sighted in this area and a good contact obtained, which was attacked with two patterns of depth charges, though it was thought to be the wreck of Rushpool. Anthony then carried out a further search between Rushpool and West Wales until 11:13 when course was set to return to W. B. Walker.
For the rest of the day Anthony and Arab endeavoured to take W. B. Walker in tow, but at 21:45 the Tanker broke her back and the two halves drifted apart. Throughout the night a patrol was maintained in the vicinity in the hope that the U-boat might return to investigate. At 10:00 30th January Anthony set course for Greenock and ordered Arab to act independently.
Movements of Convoy SC 19
Movements of detached ships
Culebra (51) states that at about 03:14 the Commodore gave the signal for the Convoy to scatter. There is no confirmation that this order was given. This ship therefore set course to the N.E. at full speed. She further states that Brynhild (41) left the Convoy at the same time steering about 060°. These two ships proceeded independently to their destination.
The Commodore states that at dawn on the 29th, the Egyptian Sesostris (62) was in sight several miles astern of the Convoy. This ship failed to reach port and no trace of either the ship or her crew has yet been found.
Related external link:
Movements of the U-boat
A U-boat was sighted on three separate occasions during the period of the attacks on Convoy SC 19. The positions and times of these sightings leave little doubt that the same U-boat was sighted on each occasion and that this was the only U-boat involved in these attacks.
The fact that the attack did not develop till the early hours of the morning suggests that the U-boat did not, as is usually the case, gain touch with the Convoy during daylight, but discovered its presence during the night. This is confirmed by the fact that no signal from a U-boat in this area was intercepted until 04:21/29. As the Convoy was well darkened and the visibility one mile, it is therefore possible that the encounter was *fortuitous.
Is is probable that the approach of the Convoy was heard on the U-boat's hydrophones, and that she was closing to investigate when, at 02:43, she sighted and was sighted by Lady Madeline. The fact that Lady Madeline did not again sight the U-boat, though she turned to starboard to investigate, indicates that the U-boat also turned to starboard and passed well ahead of the Trawler. Resuming her course to close the Convoy the U-boat sighted the starboard leading wing ship, and at 02:49 fired one or more torpedoes at her from her starboard bow at a range of between 5 and 8 cables.
Crossing ahead of King Robert, the U-boat sighted a large Tanker on her starboard bow steering directly away from her. Passing across her stern, the U-boat turned to starboard, and at 02:57 fired one or more torpedoes at the Tanker from a position just abaft its port beam.
It is evident that the U-boat now turned away to port. Her attention may at this time have been concentrated on awaiting the result of her attack on the Tanker, as it is otherwise difficult to account for the U-boat's very close approach to Aikaterini, who at 03:00 sighted her within 50 yards on her port side. The U-boat turned to port and at 03:02 fired her stern tube at this ship.
The U-boat's speed throughout this attack appears to have been about 15 knots.
There is little doubt that when the U-boat was sighted by Rushpool at 03:40 she was engaged in reloading torpedoes. The position of this sighting makes it clear that, after torpedoing Aikaterini, the U-boat retired to the W.N.W. through the gap between the 6th and 8th columns.
Having completed reloading, the U-boat pursued Rushpool, and it appears from the track chart that she again sighted her about 04:45. During this pursuit, the U-boat probably passed within about 2 miles of the position where Anthony and Arab were picking up survivors.
Having taken up a favourable attacking position, the U-boat torpedoed Rushpool from the starboard beam at 05:20. The range must have been short, as Rushpool sighted the U-boat before the torpedo hit. 7 minutes later, the U-boat fired a second torpedo from Rushpool's starboard quarter.
It seems possible that the U-boat then closed to read the name on Rushpool's stern and, while so engaged, was sighted by Antelope. The U-boat at once increased to full speed and dived on a North Easterly course. It appears from Antelope's track chart that after her depth charge attack, she must at some time during her subsequent search round Rushpool have been within Asdic range of the U-boat, and Antelope was unlucky in not gaining contact.
At 06:15 West Wales was hit by two torpedoes on her starboard side. The distance from the position where the U-boat was seen to dive indicates that, estimating a surface speed of 14 knots, and an underwater speed of 5 knots, the U-boat maintained her course to the N.E. after diving, and surfaced at about 06:00. There is no conclusive evidence, however, that the U-boat did not surface before this time.
After the sinking of West Wales the U-boat was sighted by survivors, probably close Northward of the torpedoed ship. Her subsequent movements are unknown, though the Admiralty U-boat disposition signals of 29th and 30th January indicate that she probably moved to the Eastward. This may well be true, in which case this U-boat could have been responsible for the loss of Sesostris (according to Rohwer, this ship was sunk by U-106).
The description of this U-boat given by survivors indicates that it was probably of the German 740 ton type, but the enemy has not yet broadcast any information from which its number or the name of its Commanding Officer can be deduced.
APPENDIX (dated March 10-1941)
"Convoy attacked by three U-boats
Announcer: - When three U-boats recently arrived at a West Coast base one of the Commanders described how he saw a merchant steamer in a convoy broke in two, though he had not attacked. The following conversation will explain why.
Recording: - The first Captain says that after a series of uneventful days he was lucky enough to make out the shape of a destroyer at a distance. Working round it he noticed a whole convoy. He attacked a steamer, which shot off a white rocket. His next target was a "fat" tanker, which he hit amidships, causing a huge explosion, followed by a penetrating smell of petrol. The ventilators of the U-boat's Diesel engines had sucked in the petrol vapours. He proceeded to attack a third vessel, which was also hit. He had then spent all his ammunition, and had to reload his torpedo-tubes. He then took aim at another ship, the outline of which was clearly visible against the light background provided by the star shells fired by the destroyer. But before he had released his torpedo, he was dismayed to see a column of fire rise from ship, which broke in two. A comrade had obviously got in first.
The second Captain declares that this had been the first ship he attacked. But, when he wanted to carry out an attack on another ship, he was in turn cheated of his victim, for the vessel blew up before he had fired his torpedo. The third Captain then states that he sank this ship with two torpedoes, as she did not sink after the first hit. He had been guided to the scene by the noise of previous detonations and the light of star shells, but, of course, he had no idea that more than one other submarine had got in before him.
One of the three Captains says that they destroyed a great number of ships in this convoy, which dispersed. Later he found one of the stragglers and, after long manoeuvres, in which the steamer repeatedly tried to ram the submarine, succeeded in sending it to the bottom of the sea".
(Could this mean that U-106, in fact, sank 2 ships and U-94 just 1?)
A study of other recent broadcasts and German press articles indicates that German propaganda is following a fairly consistent policy of exaggerating the number of U-boats operation in, and carrying out attacks on shipping in the Atlantic.
The conclusion reached that all these attacks were made by one U-boat is, therefore, still thought to be correct.
It is of interest that in this report no claim is made that the three U-boats made synchronised attacks, but merely that they happened upon each other at the scene of the attack.
The purpose of this broadcast was, therefore, to create the impression that great numbers of U-boats are operating at the same time, and to lend colour to the enemy's much advertised "Wolf Pack" tactics.
To the next SC convoy in my list SC 20
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