First patrol of my new career aboard U-358 (continued)
April 13 through to 21, 1943: It has been an uneventful nine days. If this continues, we will have to head home with close to a full complement of torpedoes.
April 22, 1943: Finally, we encounter a ship, none to soon I say, the crew were starting to get restless. Looking through the binoculars, I see what looks like a small craft. Dam! Worse yet, the winds are too high to engage with the deck gun. I dive and proceed at flank speed on an intercept course. I would normally not waste a valuable torpedo on such a small craft with only a small chance of success, but as I am to return home this evening due to nearing the limits of my fuel, I feel that this may be the only ship to cross my path.
Every three minutes I plot the tugboats range and bearing. From this I notice that he is constantly changing course, zigzagging, but staying on the same basic course.
Raising the scope to make the attack I find the target 1200 metres and at 30° to port. I estimate the AOB to be 70° port,“Fire one!” The tugboat changes course and first torpedo misses. Was the course change because they detected us or was it just a regular course change?
I decide to press home the attack; I put in the new AOB and bearing and fire tube three and lower the scope. With seconds to impact, I raise the scope and watch as the torpedo hits the tugboat in the stern. The tugboat come to a stop, but after 15 minutes has failed to sink. Cursing at having to use three torpedoes on a tugboat, I bring the U-Boat around to perform a rear shot. The torpedo hits and the tugboat explodes in a mass of flames.
April 23, 1943: I plot a course home and order ahead standard. Brest is 2956 kilometres and my Navigating Officer tells me we have enough fuel at this speed to travel 3002 kilometres.
April 25, 1943: Convoy! The radioman reports a convoy in Grid AM79 travelling SE at 8 knots. Only 25 kilometres south of us. I ask the Navigating Officer how far to home and how much fuel we have. He reports that at the current speed we have enough fuel for 1039 kilometres and we are still 1069 kilometres away from home.
Having decided to engage the convoy I submerge to take a sound check; nothing is heard from the reported relative bearing of 350°, however there is a faint noise at a bearing of 320°.
Surfacing I order ahead full and plot a course to arrive ahead of this bearing hoping that I am chasing the convoy and not a lone merchant. Half way to the next waypoint I submerge for another sound check. A strong noise can now be heard, but again further ahead of where I expected to find the convoy. Surfacing I again alter my course and proceed at full speed.
The fuel situation is getting critical and we cannot continue to chase this phantom convoy indefinitely. After an exhaustive 3 hour chase we submerge for what will have to be our last sound check.
The soundman shouts “Sound contact, sir! Merchant Moving slow! Moving Away! Bearing 344 Long range!”
The U-Boat surfaces and we proceed at full speed. I man the conning tower with my best lookouts. After forty-five minutes dusk starts to set in. As we continue to press on the radioman reports “Radar contact, sir! Bearing 25! Long range”. I look out at the horizon, unable to see the escort and I decide not to turn around or submerge and to press home the chase. The minutes pass slowly as we wait to see if the escort has detected us, eventually the minutes pass into double figures and I feel that we have averted danger yet again.
My persistence pays off as numerous smoke stacks are seen on the horizon. I radio BDU of the convoys’ location.
As I make my end round manoeuvre I see an escort less than 5000 metres away, heading in the opposite direction. Holding my breath, I turn the U-Boat away. Luck is again with us, as the escort continues to the rear of the convoy. The decision not to enter the convoy from the rear has proved to be a wise move.
The convoy is making wild constant course changes and this is making it difficult to attain a position ahead of the convoy.
The night is still quite bright for making a surface attack and waiting till darkness is quickly dismissed due to lack of fuel and the escorts’ radar.
Eventually, many hours after making contact with the convoy we attain a position ahead of it and submerge in preparation to attack. From the long end round on the convoy, I have calculated the convoys speed to be 7 knots on a mean course of 150°.
The seas have turned rough with a heavy swell, not an ideal situation for a submerged attack. I hope that should I broach the water that the night will hide us from any prying eyes.
I mark out a Large Tanker as my target. Lowering the scope I open all tubes in preparation. As I raise my scope to prepare to attack, I discover the convoy has made a course change. I decide not to follow the convoys’ change of course and hold fast on my current course.
A Small Tanker off to port will now be my first target. Selecting tubes one and four and wait for a better firing position.
As I wait the convoy again changes course. Scanning further to my left, I see that a Large Tanker has come into a perfect position. I setup a 3-torpedo spread One after the other the three torpedoes launch. I quickly turn rearward and see a Small Tanker. As I enter the targets data into the TDC three successive explosions are heard just as I fire at the small tanker. Turning back to the large tanker all I see is the last of the stern as it slides beneath the waves.
I order a depth of 75 metres to reload the last two torpedoes, one in the bow and one in the stern. As the U-Boat noses forward taking us deeper a lone explosion is heard. I can only presume that I hit the Small Tanker. No counter attack comes.
After the torpedoes are loaded, we surface to find the night is very black. Again, we make chase for the convoy.
We quickly catch the convoy and the blackness of the night allows us to slip inside the convoy undetected. Picking out a C2 cargo ship I fire my last bow torpedo and I turn hard to port to allow for the stern torpedo to be fired at the C2.