Battle of Atlantic , September 1941 , Multiple Tasks for Royal Navy , Royal Canadian Navy and recent non belligerent USN

Hitler’s U-Boat War” , Clay Blair Jr.
“The War For All Seas” , Ewan Mawdsley
“World War II At Sea” , Craig L. Symonds
“The War With Hitler’s Navy” , Adrian Stewart

At the beginning of the third year of war, on September 3, 1941, the British Admiralty was overburdened by urgent operational tasks. Among the most important:

• The management and defense of military and merchant-ship convoys in the North and South Atlantic.
• The inauguration and defense of a new convoy system from Iceland to northern Russia (“Murmansk Convoys”).
• Maintenance of an adequate force in the Home Fleet to cope with raids by big German surface ships and merchant-ship raiders.
• The continuing naval struggle for mastery of the Mediterranean Sea.
• The deployment of an Eastern Fleet to help deter Japanese aggression in the Indian Ocean and the Far East.

The most demanding and difficult of these tasks was the protection of Atlantic convoys, Britain’s lifeline. Amid great secrecy in September 1941, important modifications in that mission took place. The most significant was the assumption by the Americans of responsibility for escort of convoys on the Canada-Iceland leg of the North Atlantic run. The entry of the “neutral” Americans into this “undeclared war” also greatly affected the deployment and operations of Canadian naval forces.

When US Navy Atlantic Fleet commander Ernest King took on responsibility for this escort service in early September, he committed most of his Atlantic Fleet to the job: all six battleships, five heavy cruisers, fifty destroyers (twenty-seven new; twenty-three old), and forty-eight Catalina and Mariner patrol planes. Two of the three newer battleships and two heavy cruisers were to maintain the Denmark Strait Patrol from Hvalfjord; two of the three older battleships and two heavy cruisers, basing at Argentia, were to provide backup. In addition, two of the three aircraft carrier task forces in the Atlantic were to be kept on standby in Bermuda or Argentia.

By terms of the Anglo-American agreement, ABC-1, King’s resources included the entire Atlantic-based Canadian Navy. The Canadians warmly welcomed the entry of the Americans into the war, but, as related, resented the fact that a non-belligerent or neutral nation now commanded their Atlantic naval forces. Moreover, being offensive-minded, they were not overjoyed with the strictly defensive tasks King assigned to all Canadian warships.

In September 1941, the 10-knot Halifax (HX) convoys and the 7½-knot Sydney (or Slow) convoys departed Canada every six days. The fastest ships and those with the most valuable cargoes, such as oil or petroleum products, sailed in Halifax convoys. The slower, smaller ships were in Sydney (or Slow) convoys. Logically the Americans with their fifty fast destroyers took over escort of Halifax convoys and delegated escort of Slow convoys to the Canadian Navy.

Initially, the Canadians were able to provide only twenty thinly trained warships to ocean-convoy escort: five destroyers and fifteen corvettes. The British contributed five ex-American four-stack destroyers and some corvettes to the Canadian contingent, but this was not sufficient naval force for proper escort of the Slow convoys. The Canadians asked the Americans for additional help, but Admiral King said no. He did not have enough destroyers to carry out his own high-priority tasks. These included escort for the Halifax convoys, escort for the Denmark Strait Patrol and its big-ship back up in Argentia, escort of the three carrier task forces, in the Atlantic fleet, plus numerous special missions, such as a force of fifteen destroyers to escort Task Force 15 (taking U.S. Army troops to Iceland) and a force of eight destroyers to escort a special British troopship convoy to Cape Town, South Africa, and beyond. Furthermore, King and other Americans did not believe in and refused to countenance “mixed” naval forces: ships of different nationalities operating in a single unit, such as an escort group.

Besides , Canadian warships were not on a par with the British and American warships in detection equipment or traning or at least not yet. The British had let the Canadians in on the secrets of shipboard 1.5-meter-wavelength search radar (Type 286) and the Canadian electronic firms were turning out sets slowly. However, even by the end of 1941, only fifteen of the seventy Canadian corvettes had Type 286 radar. Canadian development of the more sophisticated centimetric-wavelength radar (Type 271) lagged badly. Canadian vessels were fitted with a prewar British sonar that had none of the advanced capabilities and refinements of the latest British wartime models.

Admiral King, in consultation with British Admiralty from King (a rare gesture of cooperation with other arms and other Allied navies) , made substantial changes in convoy procedures in the western North Atlantic. Chief among these was to move the Mid-Ocean Meeting Point (MOMP) eastward to an area between 26 degrees and 22 degrees west, and about 300 miles south of Iceland. This enabled the Allies to eliminate the cumbersome “middle leg” escort by the three Iceland-based British escort groups (3d, 7th, 12th), which, in any case, could not base in Iceland in winter months owing to the lack of supporting facilities and to the ghastly weather. This change eliminated one North Atlantic mid-ocean convoy-escort rendezvous, difficult in fair weather, almost impossible in foul winter weather, and it enabled the Admiralty to strengthen escort forces in the South Atlantic.

After these changes, the Atlantic convoy-escort system worked as follows:

• Sailing from Argentia, the American escort groups, composed of five destroyers, accompanied the fast (10-knot) Halifax convoys from Canadian waters to the MOMP at 26-22 degrees west. After handing over to a British escort group, the Americans put into Iceland, escorting ships bound only to Iceland (if any) and ships which were to join convoys sailing to northern Russia. Following brief voyage repairs, the American group sailed back to the MOMP at 26-22 degrees west to take over escort of even-numbered (fast) Outbound North convoys to Canadian waters. Upon dispersal of the convoy at about 55 degrees west, the Americans put into Boston or Portland for repairs and R&R. Thereafter the Americans sailed back to Canadian waters to repeat the cycle. American Catalinas and Mariners based at Argentia and Iceland provided air escort.

• Sailing from St. John’s, the Canadian escort groups, composed of British and Canadian destroyers and corvettes, accompanied the 7½-knot Slow convoys from Canadian waters to the same MOMP at 26-22 degrees west. After handing over to a British escort group, the Canadians, like the Americans, put into Iceland for brief voyage repairs. Thereafter they returned to the MOMP to take over escort of slow (odd-numbered) Outbound North convoys and accompanied them to a dispersal point at about 55 degrees west. Then the Canadian and British escorts put into St. John’s, Newfoundland, for voyage repairs and R&R, after which they sailed to repeat the cycle. American and Canadian aircraft in Newfoundland and American and British aircraft in Iceland provided air escort.

• Sailing from the British Isles, the British escort groups accompanied the fast and slow Outbound North convoys westward to the MOMP at 26-22 degrees west. Without stopping in Iceland, after handing over to the appropriate American or Canadian escort groups, the British groups accompanied the eastbound fast Halifax and Slow convoys onward to the British Isles. Coastal Command aircraft (Catalinas, Sunderlands, Hudsons, Northrops, Whitleys, etc.) based in Iceland, North Ireland, and Scotland provided air support.

The British Admiralty were equipping air and surface escorts with improved radar as fast as possible. By September 1941, about thirty escort ships of the Royal Navy had been fitted with Type 271M (fixed antenna) and/or Type 271P (rotating antenna) centimetric-wavelength sets. These vessels included twenty-four corvettes, two four-stack destroyers, and a sloop. If scheduling permitted, Western Approaches included at least one warship fitted with centimetric-wavelength radar with each convoy.

On paper the new escort procedure in the North Atlantic appeared to be the most efficient use of the few available air and surface craft. In practice, it was a nightmare, especially for the Canadian escort groups. The new route required that all the convoys on the Canada-Iceland leg travel for about eleven days through notoriously frigid and dangerous winter seas, where gales and hurricanes endlessly spawned, ships iced up, and huge waves slammed them hither and yon in a reckless dance, smashing bridge windows and lifeboats, snapping off masts and other top-hamper. No man or ship could withstand this incessant pounding for long, especially the sailors manning the ex-American four-stacks and the little corvettes in British and Canadian service.

After only a few weeks of these operations, it became clear to Admiral Bristol in Argentia and to Admiral Sir Percy Noble Commander in Chief of Royal Navy Western Approaches Command in Liverpool UK that the surface escort forces for convoys in the North Atlantic were woefully inadequate. Bristol notified King that the American Support Force had unavoidably shrunk from fifty to forty-four destroyers and that to escort the fast convoys properly on the Canada-Iceland leg he needed at least fifty-six destroyers (for seven escort groups of six ships each, plus reserves) or, preferably, seventy-two (for nine escort groups plus reserves). Furthermore, for proper escort of the Slow convoys, the Canadians needed a minimum of sixty-three ships (for nine escort groups).


Another formidable problem lay just ahead. The forty-eight American Catalinas and Mariners at Argentia and Iceland, and the nine British Catalinas at Iceland, were nonwheeled flying boats. When the waters from which these planes operated iced up, they could no longer take off and land and had to be withdrawn to more hospitable climes. One possible solution was to replace these aircraft with an amphibious Catalina (PBY-5A), which had retractable wheels built in the hull, but there was an acute shortage of these planes.

It was important to keep aircraft patrols in Iceland. Apart from the useful escort services these aircraft provided the convoys, they served another role: “cover” for the priceless British break in naval Enigma. To preserve knowledge of that break from the Germans, the British had decreed that any “operational use” of Enigma information (Ultra), such as evasion of or an attack on a U-boat pack, had to be ostensibly the result of “discovery” of the pack by a routine air patrol.

The second most urgent and difficult responsibility of the Admiralty in the fall of 1941 was the inauguration and defense of convoys between Iceland and northern Russia. By September 1, 1941, it appeared to President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill that the Germans were winning in the Soviet Union; indeed, that the Red Army was on the verge of collapse. Almost daily, Stalin demanded that the British open a “second front” in Occupied France to relieve German pressure on the Soviet forces. Fully committed in North Africa, the British were in no way able to open a “second front.” However, in keeping with his belief that the British must do everything they could to assist the Soviets, physically and spiritually, Churchill initiated what were to become famous as the “Murmansk Convoys.”

The first such convoy—a hastily assembled formation—sailed from Reykjavik on August 21. It consisted of six merchant ships and the old aircraft carrier, now an aircraft ferry, HMS Argus, escorted by the fully operational fleet carrier HMS Victorious, the heavy cruisers HMS Devonshire and HMS Norfolk, and six destroyers. The most notable military cargo was a batch of thirty-nine Hurricane fighters: twenty-four fully assembled on HMS Argus and fifteen in crates on a merchant ship. Iceland-based Hudsons and Northrops, of Coastal Command Squadrons 269 and 330 provided additional air cover out to 150 miles. The destination of this naval formation was the seaport Archangel, on the White Sea in north Russia, about 600 miles due north of Moscow. The ships went northward through the Denmark Strait, hugging the edge of the late summer ice boundary in the Greenland Sea, passing near Jan Mayen Island. From there they sailed northeastward past Bear Island (south of Spitzbergen Island; north of North Cape, Norway) into the Barents Sea, thence south into the White Sea via the Gourlo, a sort of natural channel connecting these two bodies of water. Argus flew off her fighters to Murmansk; the rest of the ships put into Archangel, where the crated fighters were quickly assembled and flown to Murmansk.

This first trickle of military supplies to the Soviets was largely a propaganda play to bolster the spirits of the Russians and their will to resist the Germans. It also provided Churchill a response, of sorts, to Stalin’s demands for a “second front.” To further these psychological and political aims, the British unstintingly publicized the “Murmansk convoys” in articles, books and films, stressing the ever-present danger of enemy aircraft and U-boat attack, the hideous weather and icebergs, the horrible consequences in store for those shipwrecked in these frigid waters. As a result, the Murmansk convoys were to become the most famous of the war, even more so than the much more important and no less perilous North Atlantic convoys.

Churchill directed that Murmansk convoys were to sail from Iceland at ten-day intervals. For Royal Navy Home Fleet commander Admiral John Tovey based on Scapa Flow , this new task created a demand for escorts he was not able to fill. He decreed that as a bare minimum, each convoy bound for northern Russia was to be escorted by one heavy cruiser, two destroyers, a minesweeper, and two ASW trawlers, the empty return convoy by the same heavy cruiser, a destroyer, and two minesweepers. In addition to aircraft from Iceland, a second heavy cruiser, based near Bear Island, was to provide backup during the polar transit.

The Russia-bound convoys were designated PQ, the return convoys QP. It proved to be impossible to sail these convoys on a ten-day cycle; the British had to settle on a fortnightly cycle. PQ 1 (ten merchant ships, heavy cruiser HMS Suffolk, and two destroyers, etc.) sailed from Iceland to Archangel on September 28 and arrived October 11. At the same time, QP 1 (those first ships which went over in late August) sailed homeward. Neither convoy incurred losses. PQ 2 sailed October 18, PQ 3 November 9, and so on. The sailings of return QP convoys 2, 3, etc., overlapped with the sailings of the PQs.

To the end of 1941, the British escorted fifty-three loaded ships in seven PQ convoys to northern Russia and thirty-four ships in returning QP convoys. These ships delivered 800 fighter aircraft, 750 tanks, 1,400 trucks and other military vehicles, and about 100,000 tons of ammunition and other supplies. Although many were damaged by weather, no ships were lost to German forces.

The Russians had promised to keep Archangel open year-round with icebreakers. However, they failed to keep this promise after December 12, so for the rest of the winter the convoys put into Murmansk (hence “Murmansk convoys”), an ice-free port at the head of the Kola Inlet on the Barents Sea. Less developed than Archangel, Murmansk proved to be an inhospitable place for the Allied sailors to lay over; nor did the Russians go out of their way to show their appreciation. As a consequence, in spite of the extra hazardous-duty pay, Allied merchant sailors came to detest as well as fear the Murmansk convoys, even though, in reality, ship losses were not great by comparison with other convoy routes.


In Berlin at the start of the third year of the war, Barbarossa, the German invasion of the Soviet Union, dominated all else. Hitler personally directed the Germans from a secret hideaway, Wolfsschanze (Wolf’s Lair), in eastern Prussia. Worried about his far-flung flanks, he rejected a recommendation of his generals for a massive blitzkrieg in the center toward Moscow and strengthened the northeastward drive on Leningrad and the southeastward drive on Kiev. These diversions delayed the drive on Moscow (Operation Typhoon) to October 1, perilously close to the onset of winter.

By comparison, the Desert War in North Africa was a puny sideshow: about 120,000 Germans and Italians pitted against a like number of British and Commonwealth forces. And yet much was at stake for Hitler in that sideshow: German prestige, the integrity and solidarity of the Pact of Steel, and, not least, control of the Mediterranean Basin, the Balkans, and the Middle East. The Desert War was governed absolutely by logistics. On September 3, neither side had sufficient strength to crush the other. However, the British had three advantages: Luftwaffe Ultra, which helped them to intercept and smash the convoys supplying the Axis forces; superior naval forces in the Mediterranean Sea; and use of the less-threatened sea route to Egypt via the Cape of Good Hope. London was confident that by October or early November the British Eighth Army would be strong enough to launch an offensive (Crusader), which would crush the Italians and Erwin Rommel’s Afrika Korps and rescue a besieged Commonwealth garrison at Tobruk, which Rommel couldn’t capture and had bypassed.

The projected large growth in the Atlantic U-boat force did not occur in the fall of 1941. There were several reasons. Problems had mounted at German Home Front. There was a shortage of shipyard workers (estimated at 20,000) and torpedo-recovery vessels in the U-Boat Training Command (only 300 rather than the 1,000 needed). The shortage of shipyard workers resulted in shoddy workmanship in some yards, and many U-boats had to return for extensive and time-consuming repairs before sailing to the Atlantic. The shortage of torpedo-recovery vessels delayed the boats in workup and reduced practice shooting from forty-three to twenty-six torpedoes. The shifting of some Agru Front training flotillas from the eastern Baltic to Norwegian waters caused other delays and the workup period had to be lengthened from 90 days back to 120 days. As a result, many new U-boats were backing up in the Baltic and Norway, not yet fully fit for combat. In addition, eleven more new VIICs were diverted to the Arctic during the fall. On September 3, about half the Atlantic force was at sea on combat operations in the Atlantic. Apart from the boats in refit at French bases or routinely returning from patrol, many boats were unavailable for various reasons:

• In response to orders from Hitler, six of the most experienced Type VIIs were being prepped at French bases for transfer to the Mediterranean. Admiral Dopenitz objected this order first , arguing every U-Boat sent to Mediterranean would be trapped and destroyed eventually adrter passing Gibraltar Straits (if they can pass Gibraltar , many couldn’t and sunk en route) but Hitler insisted and these U-boats sent to Mediterranean

• On orders from the OKM, six new VIIs were assigned to patrol the Arctic. The first two, U-132 and U-576, replaced the U-81 and U-652, which transferred to the Atlantic force. Again , Admiral Doenitz objected but no avail.

The assignment of fourteen new boats and two Arctic transfers to the Atlantic force in August enabled Dönitz to deploy an unprecedented number of U-boats to the Atlantic areas. On September 3, thirty-six boats were on patrol or proceeding to patrol in three sectors:

• A group, Markgraf (fourteen boats), southeast of Greenland, to attack eastbound and westbound convoys on the North Atlantic run.

• Two groups, Bosemüller (seven boats) and Kurfürst (eight boats), well to the southwest of the British Isles and west of the Bay of Biscay and the Iberian Peninsula, to attack convoys inbound to or outbound from Gibraltar and Sierra Leone.

• Seven boats, patrolling independently in the South Atlantic, to attack shipping off Sierra Leone and elsewhere on the West African coast.

Dönitz and his staff were hopeful that notwithstanding the decreasing level of combat experience, the boats would find convoys and turn in good results. After a full year of blindness, German codebreakers at B-dienst had penetrated the Royal Navy’s main operational code (Number 2, Köln in Germany) and had made some progress in cracking a special naval code (Number 3, München in Germany) employed jointly by Great Britain, Canada, and the United States for convoy operations. Although B-dienst incurred the inevitable delays and failures of all codebreakers, the flow of information was deemed sufficient and timely enough to help in finding convoys. It was also hoped that the intelligence picture could be improved by the sighting and tracking reports of the Norwegian- and Bordeaux-based Condors, whose crews had become somewhat more proficient in navigation.

Lacking naval Enigma keys for September, the British codebreakers could not read Heimisch (Dolphin) traffic currently and fluently. But they had mastered the dockyard code, Werft, and some weather-reporting codes. These and other sources provided sufficient cribs to enable Bletchley Park’s bombes to break back into Heimisch (Dolphin) with a delay of 24 hours. This intelligence, combined with more sophisticated land-based HF/DF stations, Y Service Radio Traffic Analysis, and RFP and TINA, and U-boat sightings by merchant ships, warships, and Coastal Command aircraft, and the knowledge of and insights into U-boat operations and tactics gained by complete access to Enigma traffic during the summer, enabled the British Admiralty to continue evading the U-boats through the fall of 1941 with an astonishing degree of success.


NORTH ATLANTIC , September 1941

Owing to the great distance to Greenland waters, which severely limited the patrol time of the Type VII boats, to the fog on the Newfoundland Bank and other hazards to navigation, and to radio interference, Dönitz had curtailed U-boat operations in that distant area in the summer of 1941. However, the intensified British ASW measures in Icelandic waters and in the Northwest Approaches—in particular the air patrols—persuaded Dönitz to again shift the weight of North Atlantic operations westward toward Greenland, beyond reach of Iceland-based short-range Hudsons aircraft and the long-range Catalinas and Mariner flying boats. There was another advantage. Dönitz knew that the inexperienced Canadians now escorted Sydney (or Slow) convoys between Canada and Iceland. The many green U-boat skippers and crews entering the Atlantic on maiden patrols stood a far better chance of success and survival against these convoys than others.

Beginning with group Markgraf, for the next seventy days—early September into early November—Dönitz attempted to maintain one or more large groups in the waters southeast of Greenland. Because of the fuel limitations of the Type VIIs, the makeup of these wolf packs changed often, the new U-boats from Germany or France replacing the boats that were forced to terminate patrols.

Two new U-boats that had pioneered Arctic patrols in the summer, U-81 and U-652, sailed from Trondheim to join the Markgraf group. On the morning of September 4, an Iceland-based Coastal Command Hudson of British Squadron 269 spotted U-652, but her young skipper, George-Werner Fraatz, age twenty-four, crash-dived before the Hudson could mount an attack. As it happened, there was a lone American destroyer about ten miles to the south—USS Greer, a four-stack, similar to the fifty American destroyers given to Britain. Commanded by Laurence H. Frost, USS Greer was en route to Iceland with mail and freight for the American occupation forces. Sighting USS Greer, the Hudson signaled that a U-boat lay along her track. As a precaution Frost ordered general quarters and increased speed to 22 knots. The Hudson returned to the place where U-652 had dived and dropped four 250-pound depth charges and notified Iceland headquarters, which later sent to the scene relief planes and three destroyers, HMS Malcolm, HMS Sardonyx, and HMS Watchman.

Under the ambiguous orders then in force for American warships, USS Greer could defend herself, but she was not specifically authorized to mount an unprovoked attack on a U-boat. Coming up, USS Greer slowed to 10 knots and got U-652 on sonar and held the contact, maneuvering to keep the U-boat on her bows. Why Frost elected to act aggressively against U-652 is not certain; perhaps to drill his crew, perhaps to hold the U-boat in place until other British ASW forces arrived. Unable to evade and doubtless fearing the arrival of other ASW forces, after three hours of harassment Fraatz, who may have believed USS Greer was one of the fifty four-stack destroyers transferred to Britain, shot a torpedo at her. It was the first German U-boat attack on an American warship in the war.

Fully alert to a possible attack, Frost evaded the torpedo and counterattacked, dropping eight depth charges. Fraatz responded with a second torpedo, which Frost also evaded. During the evasion, Frost lost sonar contact, and Fraatz escaped, temporarily. Frost regained contact two hours later and mounted a second attack, dropping eleven more depth charges. None fell close and Fraatz again eluded USS Greer. Frost hunted for another four hours, then gave up and proceeded to Iceland. Greer’s failure to pursue more aggressively—and to call in other ASW forces—drew angry comments from US Navy Atlantic Fleet commander Ernest King.

To this time the United States had publicly maintained a pretense of neutrality. That pose, however, could not be sustained for long. American destroyers were preparing to escort their first fast convoy, Halifax 150, from Canada to Iceland. Partly to justify that overt intervention in the war, Roosevelt indignantly denounced U-652’s attack on USS Greer as unprovoked “piracy” and revealed that he had issued what the media described as orders to “shoot on sight” any Axis submarines or ships that threatened the freedom of the seas. “When you see a rattlesnake poised to strike,” Roosevelt explained in a “Fireside Chat” radio broadcast, “you do not wait until he has struck you before you crush him.”

German Admirals Raeder and Dönitz seized upon Roosevelt’s public declaration to urge Hitler to rescind the complicated restrictions on U-boats. Meeting with the Führer at his headquarters, Wolfsschanze, they proposed, in effect, that U-boats be permitted to wage unrestricted submarine warfare to within twenty miles of the coast of North and South America. But Hitler demurred. Impeded by rain, poor roads, and other factors, the Russian campaign was not going as rapidly as planned. However, “great decisions” were expected by the end of September, Hitler said. Therefore, “care should be taken,” he told Raeder and Dönitz, “to avoid any incidents in the war on merchant shipping before about the middle of October.” Since this would leave German submariners fighting with one hand tied behind their backs, Hitler directed Dönitz to tactfully inform his men of “the reason for temporarily keeping to the old orders.”

Perhaps put on the scent of a convoy by B-dienst, or influenced by the Greer incident, merely hours after the encounter between U-652 and Greer, Dönitz shifted the entire Markgraf group (fourteen boats) 150 miles farther to the west—toward safer waters southeast of Greenland. On September 9, two of the most recent boats to join the group, U-81 and U-85, patrolled close to the ice pack on the east coast of Greenland. Early that day Friedrich Guggenberger in U-81 found and sank a lone 5,600-ton British freighter. A little to the south of Guggenberger, Eberhard Greger, age twenty-six, in U-85 ran into a huge mass of ships. He shot at one British freighter, but missed, and got off a contact report.

The U-81 and U-85 had found Slow Convoy SC42. Composed of sixty-five ships making about 5 knots, it was escorted by the newly formed Canadian Escort Group 24, consisting of the modern Canadian destroyer HMCS Skeena, commanded by the combat-experienced J. C. Hibbard, and corvettes HMCS Alberni, HMCS Kenogami, and HMCS Orillia.

Acting on Greger’s contact report, Dönitz directed the entire Markgraf group to close and attack. Three other boats joined U-81 and U-85 during the night of September 9–10 and the next day. All five U-boats found good hunting.

• Guggenberger in U-81 carried out two further attacks, expending all his torpedoes except one. He claimed sinking four more ships (for a total of five ships for 31,000 tons), but only one other of 3,300 tons went down.

• Siegfried Rollmann, age twenty-six, in the new U-82, sank one ship, the 7,500-ton Empire Hudson, equipped with a catapult and aircraft.

• Although Eberhard Greger in U-85 reported five torpedo failures in two attacks, he claimed sinking three ships for 15,000 tons, and possibly one other, but only one for 4,700 tons could be confirmed. He sank her during a submerged periscope attack. In response, skipper Hibbard in the destroyer HMCS Skeena and Reginald Jackson in HMCS Kenogami (on her first combat cruise), aggressively pounced on U-85, dropping depth charges which inflicted such serious engine damage that Greger was forced to abort.

• Heinz-Otto Schultze, age twenty-six, in the new U-432, sank three ships for 9,500 tons and shadowed aggressively.

• Georg-Werner Fraatz in U-652 damaged the 6,500-ton British tanker Tahchee and the 3,500-ton British freighter Baron Pentland. Owing to a mix-up in signals, the corvette HMCS Orillia, commanded by W.E.S. (Ted) Briggs, took the tanker Tahchee in tow and set off for Iceland, leaving only three escorts. The Baron Pentland was abandoned, but her cargo of lumber kept her afloat. Total bag in the first assault by these five boats: seven ships for 30,600 tons sunk; two for 9,900 tons damaged.

Upon receiving the news that Slow Convoy 42 was under attack, Western Approaches ordered surface and air escorts to rush to its assistance. The first reinforcements were two Canadian corvettes, HMCS Chambly and HMCS Moosejaw, Canada’s first “Support Group.”* The two corvettes caught up with some ships of the disorganized convoy at about 2200 on the night of September 10. Mere minutes after arriving on station, HMCS Chambly, commanded by J. D. Prentice, got a “good” sonar contact, ran down the bearing, and attacked with four depth charges. HMCS Moosejaw, commanded by F. E. Grubb, maneuvering to assist, saw a U-boat surface dead ahead and opened fire with her 4″ gun. However, the gun jammed and Grubb put on speed to ram.

The boat was the new Type IXC U-501, commanded by Hugo Förster, age thirty-six, thirty-five days out from Trondheim. In that long, arduous time, Förster had sunk one freighter, a 2,000-ton Norwegian, on September 5, expending six torpedoes and forty rounds from his deck gun to do so. HMCS Chambly’s depth charges caught the boat at 131 feet, putting out lights, smashing dials and valves, and blowing off the port diving plane. Although U-501 was faster than the corvettes and Förster might well have escaped in the dark, he made the decision to scuttle. As HMCS Moosejaw closed U-501 to ram, Förster put on rudder and ran parallel with the corvette, the sides of the two vessels merely inches apart. To the astonishment of Germans and Canadians alike, Förster suddenly leaped from the deck of U-501 to the deck of HMCS Moosejaw. “It is not clear how he did it,” Grubb reported, “but he did not get wet in the process.” :laughing: That Förster had given up the fight so quickly and was first, rather than last, to leave his ship caused deep resentment among the Germans. Förster later justified his action as the first step in a process to “negotiate the surrender of the crew,” but few Canadians believed that. Unprepared “to repel boarders,” Grubb veered off before any more Germans could leap on his ship. Abandoned by the captain, U-501’s first watch officer, Werner Albring, assumed command and ordered the boat scuttled. In the ensuing minutes, HMCS Chambly sent across a nine-man boarding party, led by Edward T. Simmons, to grab secret papers. Simmons found eleven Germans still on the deck of U-501 and forced two of them at gunpoint to the bridge to help him, but it was all for naught. Flooding swiftly by the stern, U-501 literally sank beneath Simmons’s feet. HMCS Moosejaw and HMCS Chambly rescued thirty-seven Germans, including all six officers and midshipmen; about eleven German enlisted men were never accounted for.

During interrogation of captured crewmembers of U-501 , British intelligence officers noted the youth, the lack of experience and training of U-501’s crew, the exceptional seniority of Förster, and his newness to the U-boat arm. Only seven men of the forty-eight-man crew had made prior patrols in U-boats. One enlisted man was merely seventeen years old. According to the British author Terence Robertson, when Förster was delivered to the officers’ POW camp at Grizedale Hall, Otto Kretschmer convened the Council of Honor to try Förster for cowardice, as he had tried Rahmlow and Berndt of U-570. But when camp officials got wind of the plan, they isolated Förster and sent him to another POW camp.

While HMCS Chambly and HMCS Moosejaw were sinking U-501, a half dozen other U-boats of group Markgraf commenced a second assault on the main body of Slow Convoy 42.

• Ritterkreuz holder Wolfgang Lüth in the weary IX U-43 fired a salvo of six torpedoes, but four broached and ran erratically and the other two missed.

• Siegfried Rollmann in U-82 carried out a second and third attack, claiming four more ships sunk for 26,000 tons. Postwar accounting credited three ships for 16,900 tons, including the 7,500-ton British tanker Bulysses sunk, and damage to the 2,000-ton Swedish freighter Scania.

• Ritterkreuz holder Georg Schewe in the IXB U-105 sank a 1,500-ton straggler, but his diesels failed, forcing him to abort.

• Fritz Meyer, age twenty-five, in the new VIIC U-207 sank two freighters for 9,700 tons, and possibly a small Canadian freighter.

• Hans-Heinz Linder, age twenty-eight, in the VIIC U-202 missed with all five torpedoes in his first attack. In a second attack he finished off the damaged Scania with two torpedoes and wrongly claimed sinking an escort.

• Heinz-Otto Schultze in the new U-432, making his third attack, sank a 1,200-ton freighter—his third confirmed victim.

• Hans Ey, age twenty-five, in the new U-433 damaged a 2,200-ton freighter.

• Hans-Peter Hinsch in the new U-569 was forced to about with mechanical problems before he could shoot. Total bag in the second assault on Slow Convoy 42: eight ships for 31,300 tons sunk and possibly another for 1,500 tons; one ship for 2,200 tons damaged.

During the morning of September 11, reinforcements arrived from Iceland to assist this besieged convoy escort: Catalinas of British Squadron 209, five destroyers of British Escort Group 2 commanded by Captain W. E. Banks in HMS Douglas, the smart British corvette HMS Gladiolus, the Canadian corvette HMCS Wetaskiwin, and two British trawlers, HMS Buttermere and HMS Windemere. These raised the total surface escorts for that day to twelve.

In the early afternoon, a RAF Coastal Command aircraft reported a U-boat lying ahead of the convoy. Banks in HMS Douglas sent two of his destroyers, HMS Leamington and HMS Veteran, to investigate. At 3:00 P.M., both destroyers saw a U-boat on the surface about seven miles dead ahead. This was Fritz Meyer’s new VIIC U-207, merely two weeks out of Trondheim. HMS Leamington and HMS Veteran charged at 22 knots and Meyer crashdived, but he was too late and both destroyers soon got U-207 on sonar. In three deliberate, well-planned attacks, HMS Leamington and HMS Veteran dropped twenty-one depth charges , sinking U-207 with all hands.

For the next five days, six U-boats stalked Slow Convoy 42 eastward toward Iceland and beyond. But the large force of surface escorts, including three American destroyers (USS Hughes, USS Russell, USS Sims) that came out from Iceland, and Iceland-based aircraft held the U-boats off. Late on September 16, however, as the convoy approached North Channel, Robert Gysae in U-98 attacked and sank a 4,400-ton British freighter. Still later, Heinz-Joachim Neumann in U-372 found the abandoned hulk of the freighter Baron Pentland, damaged by Fraatz in U-652, and sank her.

Total confirmed damage to Slow Convoy 42 in all the attacks: nineteen of the original sixty-five ships for 73,574 tons sunk (one tanker), and the 6,500-ton tanker Tahchee, hit but saved. In terms of ships sunk, to then this was the second-worst convoy loss of the war after Slow Convoy 7, from which U-boats sank twenty-one ships in October 1940. It came just as the Americans took command of the Canada-Iceland convoy-escort forces. The Canadians drew a barrage of official and unofficial criticism for the performance of their Escort Group 24. They could be faulted perhaps for attempting too much too soon, mostly out of nationalistic pride, but the Admiralty was also at fault. It permitted this insufficiently equipped and trained naval force to assume large responsibilities before it was fully qualified and then routed the convoy north, directly into the arms of Markgraf, rather than south to avoid this menace. Although HMCS Orillia mistakenly left the convoy prematurely, the other Canadian warships performed well or even better than anyone had any right to expect, all things considered. In this battle, Royal Canadian Navy sank their first U-boat, U-501, and so badly damaged U-85 that she had to abort.

Assuming from the overclaims in the flash battle reports that group Markgraf had sunk well over twice the tonnage confirmed in postwar records, for the loss of two boats (both on maiden patrols), Dönitz was not unhappy with the results.

A new patrol line, group Brandenburg, replaced group Markgraf. It was composed of nine boats, some of them newly arrived from Germany or France. One of the boats assigned to Brandenburg was the VIIC U-94, now commanded by young Otto Ites, age twenty-three, who had been a watch officer on the famous U-48 for two full years of combat. As such he had served under the boat’s four Ritterkreuz holders: Herbert Schultze, Hans-Rudolf Rösing, Heinrich Bleichrodt, and Reinhard Suhren. Ites had orders to return U-94 to the Baltic for a thorough yard overhaul and upgrade.

En route to the Brandenburg patrol area on September 15, the U-94 came upon elements of convoy Outbound North 14 and/or other lone vessels. Making the most of this lucky find, in a series of skilled night surface attacks, Ites sank three freighters (two British, one Greek) for 16,477 tons, a notable debut for this young skipper who had obviously learned well on U-48. He had no luck while in Brandenburg but two weeks later, October 1, Ites sank the impressive 12,800-ton British tanker San Florentino, a straggler from the storm-scattered slow convoy Outbound North 19. This success raised his total bag to four ships for 29,300 tons, earning a warm welcome for the boat when it arrived in Kiel for overhaul.

Unknown to Dönitz, one of the Brandenburg boats, Eitel-Friedrich Kentrat’s U-74, came upon Slow Convoy 44 on September 18. It consisted of sixty-six ships, thinly escorted by another Canadian escort group comprised of one destroyer and four corvettes. Kentrat got off a contact report, but Kerneval did not hear him. Other boats did and while they were converging on his beacon, Kentrat attacked the convoy twice, expending all torpedoes. He claimed sinking four large freighters for 26,000 tons, but only two ships for 8,000 tons were confirmed: a British freighter and the Canadian corvette HMCS Levis, commanded by C. W. Gilding. The Canadian corvettes HMCS Mayflower and HMCS Agassiz were able to rescue forty survivors of Levis; seventeen Canadians perished.

Other boats made contact with Slow Convoy 44 late on September 19 and attacked. The first was Ritterkreuz holder Erich Topp in U-552. He claimed sinking two tankers and two freighters for 27,000 tons. Postwar records confirmed two tankers, the 8,200-ton British T. J. Williams and 6,300-ton Norwegian Barbro, and one 4,200-ton freighter, a total of 18,700 tons. The U-69, commanded by Wilhelm Zahn, who had been relieved of command of the duck U-56 earlier in the year because of nerves, found the blazing Barbro and gave it a finishing shot, but the torpedo failed to detonate and Zahn sank no ships. Nor did any other boat.

Total damage to Slow Convoy 44 by Kentrat and Topp: seven ships (two tankers) for 26,700 tons. During this engagement, eastbound convoy Halifax 150 passed several hundred miles to the south. Comprised of fifty fast merchant ships of several nationalities, including the 17,000-ton British liner Empress of Asia, it was the first Halifax convoy to have an exclusively American escort group. The group consisted of five destroyers, the new USS Ericsson and USS Eberle, and three four-stacks: USS Dallas, USS Ellis, and USS Upshur. Because the nine U-boats of group Markgraf had raced north to attack Slow Convoy 44, Halifax 150 encountered no enemy opposition. One freighter of the convoy, Nigaristan, caught fire and had to be abandoned. Per plan, a British escort group composed of two destroyers and four corvettes relieved the American escort at the Mid-Ocean Meeting Point (MOMP) south of Iceland and took the convoy onward to the British Isles. The American destroyers put into Iceland to refuel and to prepare for a return voyage to Canada with a fast Outbound North convoy.

The Americans learned numerous lessons on this mission. Chief among them was what the British had found out the hard way: that owing to fuel limitations and instability, the aged American four-stack destroyers, such as USS Dallas, were not really suitable for North Atlantic convoy escort.

British codebreakers made some strides in penetrating the double-enciphered German naval grid codes and as a result Royal Navy Western Approaches Command could plot or guess at the positions of many boats of group Brandenburg and reroute convoys around them. As a consequence, the boats of this group scoured empty seas for days. The lack of contacts convinced Dönitz and his staff, as Dönitz logged it, that the British had “information obtained by methods undiscovered by us,” which enabled them to evade U-boat packs. In view of the intense measures taken recently to safeguard radio security and other factors, Dönitz doubted that the British “information” was derived from codebreaking. Moreover, on September 19, B-dienst assured Dönitz in writing that “a penetration of our codes does not come into the question”; it simply was not possible. Nonetheless, at Dönitz’s request the chief of the Kriegsmarine communications service, Vice Admiral Erhard Maertens, initiated a new and intensive investigation into cipher security.

Altogether the Allies sailed nearly 1,000 ships east and west in twenty one North Atlantic convoys in September. The U-boat packs mounted successful attacks only on two Canadian-escorted Slow convoys, 42 and 44, sinking twenty-six merchant ships (three tankers) for about 100,000 tons and one escort, the Canadian corvette HMCS Levis. In return, British and Canadian escorts sank two U-boats, U-207 and U-501, and Canadian escorts forced another, U-85, to about with battle damage. The U-boats sank four other lone freighters for 12,800 tons in northern waters, making a total bag of twenty-eight ships for about 110,000 tons. About 970 ships in eighteen transatlantic convoys got through safely. A harsh gale scattered one convoy, Outbound North 19.

For the German Navy, an ominous new trend had set in. In August and again in September, about half the U-boats on patrol returned to bases without having sunk a confirmed ship. This was due, in part, to the inexperience and lack of workup time for the skippers and crews of the many new boats; in part to the sharp reduction in Allied merchant ships sailing outside convoys; and in part to the assignment of U-boats to larger and larger groups, or “wolf packs,” most of which the British Admiralty shrewdly evaded with the help of ULTRA.