Happy Time For U-Boats , October-December 1940

After construction of U-Boat pets in French Atlantic ports in 1940 autumn and with training and perfection of wolfpack tactics came to full use , by October 1940 German U-Boat fleets , still small in numbers , began to exploit temporary weakness (or absence) of Royal Navy escorts in Atlantic convoys , attack in wolfpack groups and sink huge numbers of tonnages from Atlantic convoys mostly in Western Approaches. Between 19-26 October 1940 German U-Boats sunk 20 ships from slow convoy SC-7 and 13 more merchant vessels from convoy HX79.

from naval-history.net

October 1940

22nd October - Canadian destroyer MARGAREE escorting Liverpool-out convoy OL8, was lost in collision with merchantman “Port Fairy” to the west of Ireland. This was the last of the short-lived fast OL’s sailing from Liverpool. 30th October - Royal Navy Destroyers “Harvester” and “Highlander” sank “U-32” northwest of Ireland during a convoy attack. Two days earlier, the U-boat had finished off the damaged 42,000-ton liner “Empress of Britain” .

German Surface Warships & Raiders - Pocket battleship “Admiral Scheer” sailed from Germany for the Atlantic and later Indian Oceans. She returned home in March 1941. Meanwhile German raider “Widder” arrived in France after six month’s operations in the central Atlantic where she sank or captured 10 ships of 59,000 tons.

Battle of the Atlantic - Focke-Wulf Kondor bombers continued to range the waters off Ireland and on the 26th, bombed and damaged the “Empress of Britain”, later sunk by “U-32” (above). The Luftwaffe’s long-range aircraft were now flying from bases in Norway as well as France. Inter-service rivalry between the Luftwaffe and Navy meant the Kondor would never be fully integrated into the Gerrnan effort in the Battle of the Atlantic. Escort limits were only now pushed out to 19ºW. In a series of wolf-pack attacks on lightly-defended Canada/UK convoys, U-boats sank more than 30 ships from SC7 and HX79 between the 17th and 20th, a rate of loss that would soon have brought Britain to her knees. Fortunately, a number of measures were being taken to ease the dire situation and provide some of the foundations from which Britain and her Allies would go on to hold the U-boat threat in check: (1) the old US destroyers were coming into service and the British building programme starting to deliver the escorts needed; (2) the need for permanent escort groups to develop and maintain expertise was being accepted, and greater emphasis given to A/S training and (3) co-operation between RAF Coastal Command and Western Approaches Command was steadily improving. But there was still a long way to go, and vast areas of the Atlantic were without air or sea anti-submarine cover.

Europe - October 1940

Britain - Birmingham, Liverpool and Manchester joined London as targets for German bombers in the Blitz. On the 12th the planned invasion of Britain was postponed until the following Spring.

18th October - The old Royal Navy submarine H-49 , on anti-invasion patrol off the Dutch coast, was lost to German A/S trawlers. 19th October - Royal Navy Destroyer VENETIA also of World War 1 vintage was sunk by a mine in the Thames Estuary while on patrol. **30th October - Destroyer STURDY , local Western Approaches escort for Halifax/UK convoy SC8, ran aground off the west coast of Scotland, on Tiree Island. She was a total loss.

Eastern Europe - German troops occupied the Rumanian oilfields.

Monthly Loss Summary: 56 British, Allied and neutral ships of 287,000 tons in the Atlantic from all causes, 1 destroyer; 1 German U-boat.



United States - Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected to an unprecedented third term of office as President of the United States.

2nd November - Attacking a convoy northwest of Ireland, “U-31” was sunk for the second and final time, on this occasion by destroyer “Antelope” in co-operation with shore-based aircraft of RAF Coastal Command. RAF Bomber Command first sank her in March 1940.

3rd November - Two armed merchant cruisers returning from patrol were sunk west of Ireland by Kretschmer’s “U-99”. The first was “LAURENTIC” on the 3rd. 4th November - Next day, “PATROCLUS” was lost west of Ireland to an attack by “U-99”. A third AMC was sunk next day.

5th November, Loss of the “Jervis Bay” - Halifax/UK convoy HX84 with 37 ships and its solitary escort, armed merchant cruiser “Jervis Bay” (Capt Fegen) was attacked by 11in-gunned pocket battleship “Admiral Scheer” in mid-Atlantic. The convoy was ordered to scatter as “JERVIS BAY” headed for the “Scheer”, guns firing. The end was in no doubt and she went down, but her sacrifice saved all but five of the merchant ships. Capt Edward Fegen RN was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross. It was in this action that tanker “San Demetrio” was damaged by gunfire and abandoned. Later re-boarded by a few of her crew, they got her into port in spite of the greatest difficulties and privations. “Admiral Scheer” headed for the central and later the South Atlantic.

Battle of the Atlantic - Outward-bound OB244 and UK-bound SC11 were attacked by two groups of U-boats west of North Channel. Fifteen merchant ships were sunk, including seven from SC11 by Schepke’s “U-100” on the night of the 22nd/23rd. In separate North Atlantic operations, German submarine “U-104” and the Italian “FAA DI BRUNO” were lost. In both cases the circumstances were uncertain, but “U-104” was claimed by corvette “Rhododendron” and the Italian submarine is probably sunk by destroyer “Havelock”. “U-104” was the last German U-boat lost until March although the Italians suffered casualties. By the end of the month they had 26 submarines operating out of Bordeaux, but were never as successful as their Axis ally. Important steps were taken in the air war when an RAF Sunderland equipped with 1.5m wavelength anti-surface vessel (ASV) radar located a U-boat. This was the first success of its kind with a system that was mainly effective by day; contact was lost within two miles of the target. It was the addition of the Leigh light that turned it into a powerful night-time weapon as well. Now Coastal Command was using depth charges instead of ineffective A/S bombs.

Monthly Loss Summary: 38 British, Allied and neutral ships of 201,000 tons in the Atlantic from all causes; 3 armed merchant cruisers; 2 German and 1 Italian U-boats.


Britain - The Blitz continued with a particularly damaging raid on Coventry on the night of the 14th. Night-time attacks on London and other ports and cities carried on through to May. German cities were also targets for the RAF. Former Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain died on the 9th.

7th November - A planned attack by German torpedo boats (small destroyers) off the coast of Scotland ended when “T-6” was mined on the British East Coast barrage and went down.

16th November - Royal Navy Submarine SWORDFISH , setting out on Bay of Biscay patrol, struck an enemy mine off the Isle of Wight, southern England and sank.

**Eastern Europe - Hungary and Rumania joined the Axis Tripartite Pact on the 20th and 23rd. Only Yugoslavia and Bulgaria held out against German pressure to become members, the only countries in Eastern Europe and the Balkans not completely dominated by the Axis or Russia.

Monthly Loss Summary: 48 British, Allied and neutral ships of 93,000 tons in UK waters.



German Surface Raiders - German auxilary cruiser “Kormoran” was the first of the second wave of raiders to leave for operations. She started in the central Atlantic and later moved to the Indian Ocean, where she was lost in November 1941. Much further afield in the South West Pacific, other German disguised raiders (auxilary cruisers ) “Komet” and “Orion” shared in the sinking of five ships near the phosphate island of Nauru. Later in the month “Komet” shelled the installations on Nauru. 1st December - Armed merchant cruiser “Carnarvon Castle” was badly damaged in action with German raider “Thor” off Brazil, the German ship’s second and equally successful fight with an AMC.

2nd December - Cdr Otto Kretschmer and his submarine “U-99” claimed a third Royal Navy armed merchant cruiser when “FORFAR” was sent to the bottom west of Ireland with torpedoes of U-99; the others were “Laurentic” and “Patroclus” a month earlier. At the same time nearby convoy HX90 was attacked by a U-Boat wolfpack just before the Western Approaches escorts arrived. Eleven ships were lost to the U-boats.

15th December - Italian submarine “TARANTINI” returning from North Atlantic patrol was torpedoed and sunk by Royal Navy submarine “Thunderbolt” in the Bay of Biscay.

German Heavy Warships - Earlier in the month the 8in heavy cruiser “Admiral Hipper” left Germany and passed into the Atlantic through the Denmark Strait. On Christmas Day the 25th December, 700 miles to the west of Cape Finisterre, northwest Spain she encountered Middle East troop convoy WS5A, one of ‘Winston’s Specials’, escorted by cruisers. They were accompanied by carrier HMS Furious ferrying aircraft to Takoradi in West Africa. In an exchange of gunfire the heavy cruiser HMS Berwick and two merchantmen were slightly damaged. “Hipper” retired and soon reached Brest. She was the first of the Gerrnan big ships to reach the French Biscay ports. From there she and her companions posed a major threat to the Atlantic convoy routes right up until the Channel Dash of February 1942.

Monthly Loss Summary: 42 British, Allied and neutral ships of 239,000 tons in the Atlantic from all causes, 1 armed merchant cruiser; 1 Italian U-boat


Royal Navy - Adm Sir John Tovey succeeded Adm Forbes as Commander-in-Chief, Home Fleet.

5th December - The ex-American destroyer CAMERON undergoing refit in Portsmouth harbour was bombed and badly damaged. Not worth repairing, she was used for experimental purposes. 17th December - Following repairs to bomb damage, destroyer ACHERON was carrying out trials off the Isle of Wight, southern England when she detonated a mine and went to the bottom.

Eastern Europe - Hitler ordered detailed planning for Operation ‘Barbarossa’ - the invasion of Russia.

Monthly Loss Summary: 34 British, Allied and neutral ships of 83,000 tons in UK waters.


from naval-history.net

DEFENCE OF TRADE - April to December 1940

U-boats and now long-range aircraft had taken a heavy toll of British, Allied and neutral shipping in the Atlantic , mainly in the North Western Approaches to the British Isles. Further afield surface raiders had sunk, captured and disrupted shipping as far away as the Pacific. U-boats also operated with success off West Africa. In UK waters , attacks by aircraft and E-boats had added to the continuous threat from mines. Over half the ships and 40 percent of tonnage had been lost close to home. Vital as the Battle of the Atlantic was, there could be no let up in the equally important battle for the coastal convoy routes once the ships reached UK waters. Only heavily escorted transports used the Mediterranean until 1943. The monthly loss rate in these months was twice that of the first seven months of the war, and each form of attack required a different technical and operational response by the Royal Navy and its Allies. The 1940 patterns of assault against the trade routes continued throughout 1941, although the U-boats moved further out into the Atlantic. By year’s end they had reached the coasts of America.

Total Losses = 878 British, Allied and neutral ships of 3,441,000 tons (382,000 tons per month)

By Location

Location Number of British, Allied, neutral ships Total Gross Registered Tonnage

North Atlantic 321 1,683,000 tons
South Atlantic 8 55,000 tons
UK waters 497 1,367,000 tons
Mediterranean 13 64,000 tons
Indian Ocean 24 173,000 tons
Pacific Ocean 15 99,000 tons

By Cause

Causes in order of tonnage sunk
(1. 4. … - Order when weapon first introduced) Number of British, Allied, neutral ships Total Gross Registered Tonnage

  1. Submarines 363 1,842,000 tons
  2. Aircraft 172 546,000 tons
  3. Raiders (new cause) 54 367,000 tons
  4. Mines 151 342,000 tons
  5. Other causes 99 201,000 tons
  6. Warships 16 95,000 tons
  7. Coastal forces (new cause) 23 48,000 tons

Hey, pally, there’s something off with the tables. I’ll fix it for ye.

By Location

Location No. of British, Allied, neutral ships Total Gross Registered Tonnage
North Atlantic 321 1,683,000 tons
South Atlantic 8 55,000 tons
UK waters 497 1,367,000 tons
Mediterranean 13 64,000 tons
Indian Ocean 24 173,000 tons
Pacific Ocean 15 99,000 tons

By Cause

Causes in order of tonnage sunk* No. of British, Allied, neutral ships Total Gross Registered Tonnage
Submarines 363 1,842,000 tons
Aircraft 172 546,000 tons
Raiders (new cause) 54 367,000 tons
Mines 151 342,000 tons
Other causes 99 201,000 tons
Warships 16 95,000 tons
Coastal forces (new cause) 23 48,000 tons

*1. 4. … – Order when weapon first introduced


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