from “Hitler’s U-Boat War” , Clay Blair Jr
“The War for the Seas” - Ewan Madsley
“Hitler’s U-Boat War” David Mason
“Atlantic Campaign” Van der Vat
“Donitz , The Last Fuhrer” - Peter Padfield
“Donitz andthe Wolfpacks” - Bernard Ireland
U-BOAT ATTACK ON WEST AFRICA
In the beginning of March 1941 , Donitz and BdU command decided to strike Allied shipping lanes off West Africa especially vital convoy gathering and shipping hub at Freetown port at Sierra Leone where Royal Navy defences were much more weaker than North Atlantic where heavy U-*Boat losses in March 1941 brought diappointing results for German Navy.
In striking contrast to the boats in the north, the three Type IXB U-Boats enjoying better weather in the south continued to do very well. Off Freetown, on March 16, Jürgen Oesten in U-106 made contact with another convoy, (Sierra Leone) SL68, en route to Britain. Oesten radioed an alarm and beacon signals to bring up Georg Schewe in U-105, then attacked, sinking a 6,800-ton freighter. Mounting a second attack on the next night, Oesten claimed sinking three freighters for 21,000 tons and damage to another. Schewe in U-105 made contact, and over the next three days, March 18 to March 21, the two boats chewed away at the convoy, until all fourteen internal torpedoes on each boat had been expended. Schewe sank four ships for 25,500 tons; Oesten in U-106 claimed one “freighter” sunk, one damaged. Unknown to Oesten, the “freighter” claimed as sunk was actually Queen Elisabeth class battleship HMS Malaya, which was escorting the convoy. Slightly damaged, HMS Malaya limped across the Atlantic to the island of Trinidad, thence to the United States, where, as related, under the provisions of Lend-Lease, she was repaired and refitted along with the battleship HMS Resolution, which had been badly damaged by the Vichy French submarine Beveziers in the abortive Allied attack on Dakar.
Schewe and Oesten reported great success. In seven days of tenacious attacks, Schewe claimed sinking six ships for 41,000 tons, Oesten five ships for 36,000 tons—a total of eleven ships for 77,000 tons. The confirmed score was less: Schewe five ships for 27,000 tons, Oesten three ships for 17,000 tons—a total of eight ships for 44,000 tons, plus Oesten’s hit on Malaya, which put her out of action for months.
Winston Churchill was especially shocked and enraged by the losses in this convoy. In a “rocket” to First Sea Lord Dudley Pound he expressed his displeasure and criticized the absence of destroyers in the escort, especially since Malaya was in the formation. Pound replied that the destroyers at hand did not have sufficient range to sail with Sierra Leone convoys, and refueling at sea was deemed to be too dangerous since the ships involved involved were virtually unmaneuverable during the process. To this Churchill responded: “Nonsense!” If there were four destroyers present, three could protect the other one while it refueled from a tanker in the convoy.
The third IXB in southern waters, Georg-Wilhelm Schulz’s U-124, attempted to rejoin the others after resupplying from German auxilary raider Kormoran (which would close her career off Australia coast in a spectacular way in November 1941) , but she had a catastrophic failure in both engines, which left her helpless. After the engines were repaired, she closed the coast of Africa and sank a lone 3,800-ton British freighter, bringing Schulz’s total credited sinkings, including substantial overclaims, to 100,117 tons, earning him a Ritterkreuz. While Schulz was closing on Freetown, Schewe in U-105 and Oesten in U-106 downloaded deck torpedoes and then hauled westward and resupplied from Kormoran and the supply ship Nordmark, respectively. En route to the rendezvous, Oesten claimed sinking a 5,000-ton freighter, bringing his total claims to about 82,000 tons. Having heard from B-dienst that Oesten had hit Malaya, Dönitz awarded him a Ritterkreuz.
To then Dönitz, unshakably convinced that the decisive naval battleground lay along the convoy routes in the Northwest Approaches—between Iceland and the British Isles—had resisted to the utmost any “diversion” of U-boats from that area. But the poor returns and the loss of five boats to “obscure” (i.e., unexplained) causes (three of them commanded by his most experienced and notable skippers) led him to a profound decision: He would withdraw all U-boats from that rich target area for the time being and disperse them to more distant areas where British ASW was less intense, such as the waters west of Iceland and in the South Atlantic. This little-noted decision was a milestone in the U-boat war against the British Empire: the first clear-cut defeat for the German submarines.
The principal reason for that defeat was the paucity of U-boats. Counting all gains and losses, at the end of March 1941, Dönitz still controlled only twenty-seven combat-ready oceangoing boats, the number with which he began the war nineteen months earlier. Three of these boats were temporarily unavailable because of battle or other damage; three were patrolling off West Africa. That left only twenty-one boats to patrol the North Atlantic convoy routes, and half of these were new. Owing to the travel and refit time, only a third—seven boats—could be in the hunting grounds at one time. In view of the clever diversion of convoys and the ever-growing numbers of experienced, aggressive-minded surface escorts, there were simply not enough U-boats to find, track, and carry out successful pack attacks on enemy convoys in the Northwest Approaches.
The decision to disperse the U-boats to distant waters west of Iceland and to the South Atlantic entailed a severe penalty. The Type VIIBs and VIICs in the North Atlantic did not have sufficient fuel capacity for extended patrolling at long ranges, especially if required to chase one or more convoys at high speed. The fuel limitations were to reduce the number of boats available to form a pack in the more westerly North Atlantic hunting grounds. Similarly, the extreme distances involved in South Atlantic patrolling were to reduce the combat availability of the bigger boats sent to that area. Notwithstanding the prospective increase in the size of the Atlantic U-boat force, the number of boats that could be brought to bear on enemy shipping on any given day was to decline.
It was at this time—March 1941—that Lend-Lease was enacted and that President Roosevelt transferred the ten Coast Guard cutters to the Royal Navy (in addition to the fifty destroyers), and authorized other measures to provide the British cargo ships and tankers, to reinforce the British oil “shuttle” in American waters, and to repair British warships in American shipyards. Dönitz characterized these measures as “a chain of breaches of international law” and urged Hitler to lift the tight restrictions on attacking American ships. Absorbed with planning operations in the Soviet Union, the Balkans, and the Mediterranean Basin, Hitler was still wary of antagonizing the Americans and risking open warfare with them, and rejected the proposal.