Western Approaches, 6th June 1940
After failing to locate the first convoy reported, we have at last located another. We're waiting, submerged at 80 metres, ahead of its track, for the leading escort(s) to pass over...
... before coming up to periscope depth and attacking the merchantmen, who range from whale factory ships...
...to more conventional freighters, large...
In the event, the convoy approaches quite quickly and by the time I’m at periscope depth, there are merchantmen all around me, in several columns.
My immediate priority is establishing that none of the ships is a collision risk. That done, I start picking out targets, fore and aft. There are so many that I’m a bit overwhelmed. On top of that, some are a bit closer than I’d like...
...while others are within range, but still too far off for a high probability of a hit.
Above all else, experience tells me the heavy seas are going to mean that even shots that are accurate for line will have problems with the wildly undulating sea surface and the ships pitching up and down, on it.
But I'm here, and they're there, right in front of my torpedo tubes! I can't resist the urge to do something about it, here and now, while I can!
...to be continued!
While continuing my primary Silent Hunter 3 single player career as Richard Schepke in U-105 with the Doenitz Elite Flotilla (DEF), I'm also dipping back into my parallel career as Kommandant of U-33, Erich Pohl. This was started primarily as a try-out of the GWX OneAlex Edition mod before risking U-105, but that being done, it gives me an opportunity to try out shorter patrols earlier in the war, and with a smaller but handier Type VII boat. This career lacks the additional immersive features of a DEF patrol, not least a human role-played HQ to interact with, but is still fun.
It's 25 April 1940 and we're starting from the recently-occupied port of Bergen, in Norway. Bergen's U-boat bunkers weren't built at this time but neither SH3 nor my mod represents such developments. Even so, it's a nice experience as the mod I'm using starts some patrols from inside bunkers, whether or not they should really be there. Ahead of us as we slip our virtual lines is out minesweeper escort.
So, where are we going@ Oor patrol area is marine quadrat BE34, which is in the Western Aproaches. For now, though, the task is to follow our escort out to the open sea, no sinecure as Bergen lies inland of several channels between high ground.
As usual, the bridge watch are initially relaxed, but become fully alert as we get beyond about 400m from out berth.
It would be easy to ignore the escort, plot a course and jump into time acceleration, but for me, with a mod which simulates escorts out of port, I relish navigating my boat manually, in real time.
About half-way down the channel out to the North sea, our escort turns back...
...at which point, I plot my course out to our patrol area.
The Western Approaches is a choke point for merchant shipping to and from the British Isles by the southern route. So I'm hopeful of a more productive patrol than was obtained by stooging about the North Sea chasing warships. Tine to start what BdU called the Tonnage War!
...to be continued!
U-105 off Freetown, Sierra Leone, September 1941
One of my favourite U-boat books is Robert C Stern's Battle Beneath the Waves (Cassell, 2002) which tells the stories of selected boats in both World Wars. He recounts that shortly before she was lost off West Africa after an unusual surface slugging match with USS Buckley in May 1944, Type IX boat U-66, harassed from the air, signalled to Befehlshaber der U-boote 'Central Atlantic Worse than Biscay'. The latter bay being traditionally where air power made life most difficult for U-boats by about 1942.
Well, that's how I felt, not long after my role-played Flotille Chef at the online Doenitz Elite Flotilla assigned us to return to the seas off Freetown for all of two weeks, for our second full patrol.
The full story of the first patrol, written in the form of illustrated extracts from U-105's Kreigstagebuch or war diary, you can find here: http://www.donitzeliteflotilla.com/forum/index.php?topic=3368.0 (this was recorded as two patrols as it involved a refuelling stop at a covert supply ship in the Canary Islands - all very hush-hush, or sehr Gekados if you like).
Second patrol, things started happily enough at Lorient. Crew on deck, we slipped out of our berth, to the accompaniment of the quayside band playing and the nurses throwing flowers.
Clear of port and with the open seas ahead, we bade farewell to our minesweeper escort.
There was nothing much to tell for the next ten days or so, as we ploughed our way southwards at economical cruising speed, increasing revolutions to transit the Bay of Biscay and the seas west of the big enemy naval and air base at Gibraltar. Sometimes the weather was good; other times, not so good.
Other times again, it was a bit of a mixture.
Our first encounter came en route and in darkness, when our alert bridge watch spotted a steamer showing no lights and sailing independently. She was unarmed, so we sank her with our 10.5cm deck gun.
A few days later, also in darkness, the tables were turned. We were surprised on the surface by two escorts, obviously radar-equipped, who drove us down and depth-charged us mercilessly. But fortunately without serious effect.
All we could do was track them on the hydrophones, while creeping away.
We escaped eventually, and ran into a second freighter a few days later. It didn't go well for her...
...and she slipped below the waves soon after desperately firing off some futile distress flares.
About the time we arrived in our patrol area SSW of Freetown, the weather finally improved again.
So, why 'worse than Biscay', then? Well, that'll come next!
...to be continued!