3 Squadron Stories
The Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF)
Fighting the U-boats
Despite the fact that Australia is situated quite literally at the other end of the Earth from the North Atlantic Ocean, Australian airmen were intensively involved in fighting Germany's U-boats throughout WW2.
The participation of Australians in the 'Battle of the Atlantic' arose from two decisions made early in the war. In September 1939, the RAAF happened to have two squadrons of Short Sunderland flying boats under construction in the UK. When war broke out, Australia supported Britain by committing these flying boats and their Australian crews to anti-U-boat patrols in British waters.
At about the same time, the British 'Dominion' countries (such as Australia and Canada) were organised into a massive Empire Aircrew Training Scheme. Under this scheme, individual RAAF aircrew could find themselves receiving basic training in Australia, followed by advanced training in a second country such as Canada and operational conversion with RAF units in Britain. This system produced a sustained flow of Australians into Europe even after the Japanese attacked in the Pacific in 1941.
It was originally expected that Australian aircrew arriving in Britain would be used to form wholly 'Australian' squadrons. This did indeed happen for around half of the RAAF manpower supplied to Europe. The other half were randomly allocated as replacements throughout the (British) Royal Air Force. As a result, many RAAF airmen played important roles in U-boat sinkings, in an amazing diversity of environments, which have historically been classified as 'British' successes.
The chronology below lists 33 U-boat sinkings and eight other significant actions where RAAF airmen made a major contribution.
Illustrations are sourced from the Australian War Memorial in Canberra (AWM).
NOTABLE RAAF SUCCESSES AGAINST THE U-BOATS IN WW2
An Early Morale Boost
U-26 Scuttled Under Pressure
1 July 1940
U-26 attacked a convoy southwest of the Scilly Isles and was damaged by the corvette HMS Gladiolus. The U-boat tried to escape on the surface but it was then twice attacked with depth-charges by an Australian Sunderland, aircraft 'H' of 10 Squadron RAAF [abbreviated 10/H], piloted by Flight Lieutenant Bill Gibson. With the Naval escort catching up, the captain of U-26 then decided to scuttle his boat. All of his crew were picked up by HMS Rochester. This sinking occurred about 300 miles SSW of the 10 Squadron base at Mount Batten near Plymouth on the south-western coast of England.
[Left:] The Sunderland's depth-charges exploding near U-26; outside lethal range, but they did serve to convince the U-boat crew of the hopelessness of their situation.
[Right] a painting of the action from the Australian War Memorial.
[Click here for an interesting selection of propaganda photos of Sunderlands of RAAF No.10 Squadron and their base,
taken in July 1940, including several cheesy portraits of Gibson.]
Leigh Light Debut
Italian Submarine Luigi Torelli Damaged
3 and 7 June 1942
Luigi Torelli was the first Axis submarine attacked at night with the assistance of the 'Leigh Light' airborne searchlight. An Australian, Pilot Officer Allan Triggs, was the second pilot of the 172 Squadron RAF Wellington that delivered the pioneering attack.
Three days later, the damaged Torrelli was spotted, limping back through the Bay of Biscay, by an RAAF 10 Squadron Sunderland, 10/X (pilot Tom Egerton). This was joined by another Sunderland, 10/A, flown by Flight Lieutenant Eddie Yeoman, who attacked with depth-charges. They expended 16 depth charges in total, but the exploders had a design flaw which prevented shallow detonation and the surfaced submarine escaped. Both Australian flying boats were damaged by return fire and sustained casualties.
The next day the Luigi Torelli was observed beached at Santander on the northern Spanish coast, with a large hole amidships. However, the Italian crew soon patched it up. They broke out of Spanish internment a few days later.
This submarine then had a remarkably colourful career for the rest of the war. It was boarded by the Japanese in Singapore when the Italians surrendered in September 1943 and was then handed to the Germans in Penang, Malaya, as UIT-25. Following the German surrender in 1945 it was renamed I-504 by the Japanese and operated with the Imperial Japanese Navy until August 30th, 1945. Some of the original Italian crew served on the boat right through all of its ownership changes. Torelli/I-504 scored the last combat victory of any Japanese naval vessel in WW2, shooting down an American B-25 Mitchell bomber.
[10 Squadron Sunderland pilot Eddie Yeoman was killed in action only two months after his attack on Luigi Torelli.]
Allan Triggs (centre, wearing officer's cap) and his Leigh-Light Wellington crew - pictured in August 1942, after surviving a dramatic rescue experience. Their Wellington suffered engine failure at night over the Bay of Biscay and Triggs successfully ditched in complete darkness. Triggs then personally rescued his second pilot, released a malfunctioning life raft and swam to retrieve their vital emergency supplies, which they had to depend on for the next five days in the life raft. (Triggs was later awarded an MBE for his lifesaving efforts, adding to his DFC for his anti-submarine work.) Tragically, RAAF Sunderland 461/B, while trying to alight on the ocean surface to pick them up, crashed with almost all of the crew being lost (including 461 Squadron's Commanding Officer) . Another Coastal Command Whitley sent to contact them was also shot down by a German Arado floatplane, bringing the total of Allied fatalities on this rescue mission to the gruesome tally of 17. Triggs and his crew were finally rescued by a British launch, HSL 180. Even after rescue, their tribulations continued; their launch had to fight off a strafing attack by six German aircraft.
5 June 1942
One example of the many inconclusive encounters between Australian aircraft and U-boats is recorded in a dramatic photo showing U-71 being strafed in the Bay of Biscay by RAAF Sunderland 10/U, piloted by Flight Lieutenant Sam Wood. U-71 was depth-charged whilst crash-diving and forced back to the surface. The Sunderland was left with no further depth-charges. 10/U fired 2000 rounds of machinegun ammunition before U-71 eventually dived, trailing oil. No-one was injured on the U-boat.
Shortly afterwards the Sunderland was engaged by a German FW200 Condor four-engined patrol plane. In a running gun battle lasting 75 minutes, these two large aircraft both sustained serious damage.
The sea boils around U-71.
11 June 1942
U-105 was located on the surface of the Bay of Biscay during daylight by an RAAF Sunderland (10/R) flown by Flight Lieutenant Eric Martin. This was during the difficult period for U-boat commanders when they were threatened with Leigh Light attacks at night, but had not yet been equipped with the Metox radar detector. Many U-boats chose to surface in daylight for battery charging during this period, when they had a better chance of seeing an attacker in time to make a crash dive. Martin flew a radar approach behind low cloud cover and then made a surprise depth-charge attack. While this attack was not fatal, the badly-damaged U-boat was left listing with grey smoke issuing. U-105 had to take refuge in El Ferrol, Spain. Martin himself was killed in action only six weeks later.
Martin's depth-charges explode as U-105 slips away.
Italian Submarine Alabastro Sunk
14 September 1942
A Sunderland flying boat of RAF 202 Squadron flying from Gibraltar happened across the Italian submarine Alabastro in the western Mediterranean, north west of Algiers. The Sunderland was piloted by RAAF Flight Lieutenant E. P. Walshe. Alabastro stayed on the surface and fought with guns, but an approach from the rear by Walshe unsighted some of the Italian gunners. Precise suppressive fire from the Sunderland gunners then allowed an accurate depth-charge drop to be made. Alabastro stopped dead and sank after half an hour, leaving 40 crew in the water, none of whom survived.
Walshe received his DFC at Buckingham Palace.
U-505 Damaged and a Hudson Lost
10 November 1942
This incident, which occurred in the Caribbean approaches south-east of Trinidad, is notable because it involved one of the best-known U-boats, U-505. The boat was attacked by a twin-engined RAF Hudson patrol bomber, operated by an unusually diverse multinational crew.
Hudson 'L' of RAF 53 Squadron had on board one American, one Australian (the pilot, F/Sgt R. R. Sillcock), two Britons and a New Zealander. All were killed during their attack on U-505, when one of their depth-charges detonated on the deck-planking of the boat. The overflying Hudson was caught in the blast and crashed into the sea. U-505 suffered two wounded personnel during this attack, plus some spectacular damage, but was able to limp all the way back across the Atlantic to Lorient.
Later in 1944 U-505 was captured in mid-Atlantic by the Americans. It became a famous walk-through exhibit at the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry.
Hudsons of 53 Squadron flying to the aid of America and U-505's damaged deck.
[See photos of the preserved U-505.]
5 April 1943
While operating near the Canary Islands, U-167 was attacked by RAF Hudson 233/L, flown by RAAF Pilot Officer Kel Dalton. The U-boat was seriously damaged. Later that afternoon it was found stopped on the surface by another Hudson and attacked ineffectually with depth-charges. At that stage, U-167 submerged with difficulty, but it was irredeemably damaged. Soon after, it was scuttled near the south-west shore of Gran Canaria island. All of the crew got off safely with the help of local fishing boats.
Closing the Gap
6 April 1943
U-632 was surprised and sunk south-west of Iceland by Liberator 'R' of RAF 86 Squadron, which was escorting convoy HX231. (These 'Very Long Range' (VLR) Liberators played a crucial role in closing the air-cover gap that had formerly existed in the mid-Atlantic.) This U-boat was spotted at a range of only one mile under very low cloud cover. The Liberator pilot was RAAF Pilot Officer Cyril Burcher, who attacked immediately; the huge Liberator passed over at an altitude of only 30 feet, but three depth charges "hung-up" in the bomb-bay and only one released. U-632 attempted to crash-dive, but Burcher quickly wheeled around and delivered a fatal second attack. All of the U-632 crew perished with their boat.
Later during the same patrol, Burcher attacked another U-boat with his remaining two depth-charges.
An amusing "Bluenose Certificate" issued to an Australian Liberator crewman operating in the Arctic.
The Death of U-227
30 April 1943
The spring of 1943 saw desperate British efforts to cover the 'Northern Transit Zone' between the Shetland and Faeroe islands, where U-boats leaving Germany entered the Atlantic. Part of this effort included patrols by twin-engined Hampden torpedo bombers of 455 RAAF Squadron. The Australian crews had to improvise, without any specialised training or equipment for this role. They flew many lonely missions in their slow and obsolete aircraft, which also lacked search radar. Despite this, Hampden X/455, flying from Sumburgh in the Orkneys, at the far northern tip of the UK, spotted U-227 north of the Shetlands. The Hampden's pilot, Sergeant J. S. Freeth, executed two accurate depth-charge attacks to sink the boat. None of the U-boat men survived. They had been outward bound on their maiden voyage.
[Left:] A memorial portrait of Freeth, who was soon afterwards killed in a flying accident.
[Right:] Click for several fine pictures of 455 Squadron Hampdens and station life.
2 May 1943
Early in the pivotal month of May 1943, the successful British introduction of centimetric radar at night - and Doenitz's corresponding 'fight-back directive' - produced a rash of daylight U-boat sightings.
On the second day of this month, which the U-boat crews would later dub "Black May", Flight Lieutenant E. C. "Bert" Smith was in command of Sunderland 'M' of RAAF 461 Squadron, patrolling the southern end of the 'Derange' area of the Bay of Biscay. (Just one day previously, this Sunderland crew had delivered an attack on U-415, but the boat had escaped damage.)
U-465 was spotted from 10 miles away, travelling outbound from France. 461/M approached using low broken cloud for cover. The U-boat engaged the Sunderland with cannon fire at a distance of one mile.
During their final approach, the bow turret gunner (Sgt Macdonald, an RAF man attached to the Australian squadron) successfully suppressed the fire from U-465. Smith's first four-bomb depth-charge attack then washed the U-boat's gun crews into the ocean. U-465 began to list heavily, circled and stopped, blowing vapour and leaking oil. It started to catch fire. A second depth-charge drop by Smith foiled an attempt to re-man the flak guns. U-465 settled by the stern and around 15 men jumped into the sea. None survived.
Smith and his crew returned to their base at Pembroke Dock, South Wales.
Panoramic view of the 461 Sqn. base at Pembroke Dock.
[The AWM also has several pictures of Smith, his crew and 461/M.]
U-663 Fatally Wounded
7 May 1943
Operating from his base at Mount Batten in Cornwall, Flying Officer Geoff Rossiter was patrolling the 'Derange' area of the Bay of Biscay in RAAF Sunderland 10/W. U-663 was spotted with binoculars, outward bound, while the Sunderland was about 17 miles away and patrolling just below the cloud base. The Sunderland's white camouflage provided excellent concealment in these conditions. The aircraft was then flown above the clouds to within four miles of the estimated position of the U-boat and initiated two swift depth-charge attacks.
U-663 was seriously damaged. It circled, then stopped; then slowly submerged, trailing oil. It reported in by radio after the attack, but sank during the following day with total loss of life.
A portrait of 10/W's crew.
7 May 1943
U-447 was sunk 200 miles SW of Cape Saint Vincent, Portugal, by two Hudson aircraft of 233 RAF Squadron, operating from Gibraltar. The pilot of one, RAAF Flight Sergeant T. V. Holland, made a well-placed depth-charge attack which seemed to lift U-447 bodily out of the water. U-447 attempted to dive, then resurfaced, obviously in difficulties. It wallowed briefly and then sank out of sight for the last time. No survivors were seen.
As a complete contrast to such destruction, there are four photos in the AWM of the kind-hearted Holland,
presenting fresh Mediterranean bananas to children in a London hospital. (An unobtainable treat in those days.)
U-456 Hunted Down by a Robot Torpedo
12 May 1943
Another potent anti-submarine weapon was added to the Allied arsenal in May 1943; the Type 24 acoustic-homing torpedo. This was invented by the Americans under the codename 'Fido'. The British knew it as 'Oscar'.
Convoy HX-237 was being provided with an escort through showery weather in the mid-Atlantic by Liberator 86/B, which was flying one of the very first patrols armed with the new Type 24 torpedo. This aircraft also carried RAAF Warrant Officer Alec Craine as one of its Wireless Operator/Air Gunners.
86/B was patrolling 15 miles out from HX237 when Alec Craine spotted a wake six miles to starboard. (He had just come off lookout duty and was standing behind the skipper as the Liberator flew out of cloud.) The sighting proved to be U-456, which crash-dived before the Liberator could arrive overhead. However their 'Oscar' was dropped into the still-visible diving swirl and the robot then homed-in on the noise from the U-boat's rapidly spinning propellers. U-456 was holed in the rear pressure compartment and had to surface, but it was still able to zigzag on the surface and it fired at the Liberator as 86/B made an unsuccessful second attack with its remaining three depth charges. Out of ammunition, the Liberator stayed in contact for three hours and homed-in two escort vessels from the convoy. U-456 submerged again to try to avoid the escort, but its damage had not been adequately repaired and it probably plunged straight to the bottom of the Atlantic.
Alec Craine went on to survive one more year of operations, but was killed on patrol on 12 August 1944 over the Bay of Biscay when his RAF 225 Squadron Liberator exploded in mid-air after being hit by 'friendly fire' from the British destroyer HMS Onslow.
U-563 Battered into Oblivion
31 May 1943.
On the last day of 'Black May', U-563 was attacked twice by RAF Halifax 58/R in the Bay of Biscay. The submarine was severely damaged and unable to submerge. 58/R homed-in several more aircraft. A second RAF Halifax, 58/J, made two less accurate attacks, leaving U-563 trailing oil, but still turning easily in evasive manoeuvres. Then an RAAF Sunderland (10/E) piloted by Flight Lieutenant Max Mainprize, made two depth-charge attacks which temporarily stopped the U-boat in the water, before it slowly got under way again. U-563 was finally sunk by two further depth-charge attacks from RAF Sunderland 228/X. The last attack went in as the crew were attempting to abandon the boat. 30 men were observed floating in the water, but none were rescued.
Sunderland 10/E with Mainprize's Crew.
Note the radar aerials on the side of the flying boat. Other aerials protruded in many places,
leading the Germans to call the Sunderlands "flying porcupines".
U-564 Sunk But Avenged
14 June 1943
On the previous day, U-564 had been damaged in the Bay of Biscay by a Sunderland from 228 RAF Squadron. Although it managed to shoot the Sunderland down, U-564 was too severely damaged to submerge, and BdU instructed the nearby U-185 to escort U-564 back to base and help fend off any attacking aircraft. On the way back, the two U-boats were spotted by an obsolescent Whitley bomber on active training duty, aircraft 'G' of RAF Number 10 OTU (Operational Training Unit). The pilot was RAAF Sergeant 'Buzz' Benson. The Whitley circled the boats while sending out homing signals for other aircraft. This was the standard procedure for attacking defensive groups of U-boats.
However, after more than two hours, only one other Allied plane had arrived. This was an RCAF Hampden, an aircraft scarcely more effectual than the Whitley. Benson requested permission from Coastal Command to attack anyway. He made an accurate depth-charge drop which finished off U-564. The boat sank quickly and only 18 survivors were picked up by U-185.
Benson's Whitley suffered significant fuel-tank damage from the combined flak defence of the two U-boats. He was unable to get all the way back to Britain and ditched within 60 miles of Land's End, in the English Channel. Fortunately he managed to ditch safely, but despite previous radio communication their raft was not found by British Air-Sea Rescue. After drifting for a five days they were finally rescued by French fishermen. The crew became prisoners of war when they were landed back in France. Whilst in captivity, Benson was awarded a Distinguished Flying Medal and promoted to Warrant Officer for sinking U-564.
A portrait of Benson.
[To cap off this day of destruction, the unfortunate RCAF Hampden, 415/S, was also shot down by a flight of German Ju88 fighters despatched to the scene.]
16 June 1943
U-97 torpedoed a ship near Haifa in the Eastern Mediterranean. Subsequently, Hudson 'T' of 459 Squadron RAAF, piloted by Flying Officer D. T. Barnard, was despatched from Lydda Palestine to search for the U-boat. U-97 was found fully-surfaced with some crew apparently sunbathing on deck. The Hudson made an immediate depth-charge attack. One depth-charge exploded on U-97's decking, two more went into the water alongside. The U-boat was fatally holed and sank within five minutes. Only 21 of U-97's crew were rescued.
The Hudson was damaged by the blast from the direct hit. It required great skill to bring it safely back to base.
Click for an interesting set of photos of 459 Squadron Hudson aircraft and base activities.
U-200 Goes Down Fighting
24 June 1943
On this clear summer's day in the mid-Atlantic, U-200 was spotted by the crew of Liberator 'H' of 120 RAF Squadron, which was flying from Iceland towards a convoy escort rendezvous. U-200 fought on the surface, but was sunk on the first depth-charge pass. The Liberator was seriously damaged by U-200's cannon fire but was successfully landed back in Reykjavik by its Australian pilot, Flight Lieutenant A. W. Fraser.
U-200 had been one of the 'Monsun' boats despatched to Asia. It was carrying 'special forces' troops (tasked with a sabotage mission in South Africa) in addition to the normal crew; all perished.
Fraser himself died one year later in a flying accident. Many RAAF lives were lost in such accidents - all part of the huge cost of countering the U-boat threat.
[Left:] A dramatic photo of the attack on U-200.
[Right:] An air-to-air shot of the Very Long Range (VLR) Liberator 120/H, which is credited with sinking three U-boats, out of 35 sighted, over its career.
[Several other photos of Fraser's crew in Reykjavik and England]
A Matter of Chance
An Unsuccessful Attack on U-518
30 June 1943.
The Australian War Memorial has a gripping photo of a low-level attack on U-518 in the Bay of Biscay by an RAAF Sunderland (10/T) flown by Flight Lieutenant H. W. ("Hec") Skinner.
Skinner had to abort his first approach because of accurate gunfire from the U-boat. He then made one low-level depth-charge pass, but the U-boat kept firing throughout and the Sunderland suffered significant damage. Sgt John Burnham, Skinner's rear gunner, was fatally wounded during this attack.
Gunsmoke from the pounding defensive cannon of U-518 can be seen. This photograph freezes the
moment when the fatal hits were probably delivered to the rear of the Sunderland.
Unsuccessful attacks like this one were far more common than sinkings, but even the sighting of a U-boat was a rare event. The Biscay aircrews had to endure many thankless hours of disciplined patrolling in order to achieve each sighting - flying in all weathers and faced with the constant threat of hostile German aircraft.
The Bullet With Your Name On It
U-461 Sunk by 461/U!
30 July 1943
This strange co-incidence occurred during an epic anti-submarine engagement involving combined forces on both sides. This engagement illustrates the intensity of the fighting during Doenitz's 'group sailing' experiments in mid-1943, when groups of U-boats travelled together on the surface to provide mutual anti-aircraft defence.
Two strategically valuable 'milk-cow' U-tankers (U-461 and U-462) and a Type IX (U-504), were travelling together outbound through the Bay of Biscay. The group of boats was spotted by RAF Liberator 53/O, which homed in an amazing collection of aircraft including a Sunderland from RAF 228 Squadron, a 210 Squadron RAF Catalina flying boat, two Halifaxes from RAF 502 Squadron, a USN 19th Squadron Liberator and an RAAF Sunderland, 461/U, flown by Flight Lieutenant Dudley Marrows. Nearby British ships of the 2nd Support Group were also alerted.
Another aircraft that followed the homing signals was a German Ju88 fighter, which threatened the 228 Squadron Sunderland, forcing it to jettison its exposed depth charges and retire from the battle. The slow Catalina also retreated. The German fighter then departed the scene, having achieved this result without firing a shot.
The remaining Allied aircraft circled the U-boat group, which stayed on the surface at top speed in calm sea conditions and good visibility. Halifax 502/B made an ineffective bombing attack and was damaged by the boats' accurate defensive fire; it had to run for home. Halifax 502/S then attacked from higher altitude and dropped a total of five 600-pound bombs in three attacks, which holed the U-tanker U-462 and caused it to circle. Other approaches were beaten off by the flak, until Liberator 53/O succeeded in bravely diving through the barrage, but it was heavily hit and unable to make an accurate attack. 53/O had to flee to an emergency landing in Portugal.
Luckily, this diversion allowed Marrows in Sunderland 461/U to get in close before he was noticed by the defence. Machine-gun fire from the Sunderland silenced the gunners of U-461. Marrows skimmed in so low over the wave-tops that the other two boats did not have a clear shot past U-461. Marrows released his depth-charges and zoomed over the conning tower of U-461, sinking the large U-tanker.
Robert Taylor's painting of Marrows' attack.
Marrows returned to the flotsam of U-461 sinking and dropped a life raft to the 25-30 swimmers seen amongst the wreckage, but only 15 of these men were eventually picked up by HMS Woodpecker.
Soon afterwards - not lacking in courage - Marrows made a determined approach towards U-504, but he had to break away, as British naval shells were starting to impact the sea surface. U-462 was scuttled just as shellfire from the fast-closing 2nd Support Group began to come in, and 64 survivors were later picked up. U-504 took cover by submerging but was then systematically hunted with sonar and sunk by depth-charges from the 2nd Support Group (with total loss of life).
As if Marrows' crew had not had enough excitement for this day, on the way home they spotted another U-boat. Marrows decided to attack it with his last remaining depth-charge, but his Sunderland was further damaged by return fire and he was unable to drop his single bomb. After this, he no doubt gladly turned for home, low on fuel. His mighty Sunderland was subsequently written-off due to the damage from these battles.
Marrows was later able to obtain some souvenirs of U-461 (via the famous Captain Walker of the RN 2nd Support Group), the U-boat captain's life-preserver and keys. Marrows also later met U-461's captain, Wolf Stiebler, whose life had been saved by the raft that Marrows dropped (against RAF policy) to his erstwhile enemies.
[Left:] The U-boats manoeuvring on the surface during the battle.
Click for more pictures, including crew photos of U-461 in less stressful circumstances, such as their mid-oceanic refuelling of other U-boats [shown at right].
Two months later, Marrows and his crew were very lucky to survive an hour-long running battle with six Ju88 twin-engined fighter aircraft. Their Sunderland was critically damaged and they had to ditch. A small inflatable life-raft kept them safe until they were picked up the next day.
A grainy German photograph of Marrows' downed Sunderland, sinking in the Bay of Biscay, 16 September 1943. - Note the liferafts deployed on the wing - only one was un-punctured. Remarkably, this print was later found in possession of a German Ju88 crewman who was himself shot down and made a prisoner of war in Britain.
1 August 1943
Sunderland 'B' of 10 Squadron RAAF was co-operating with the Royal Navy 2nd Support Group in the Bay of Biscay when it spotted U-454 in very rough seas only six miles from the British ships. 10/B was steered into an immediate attack by its pilot, Flight Lieutenant Ken Fry. Despite the Sunderland being severely holed by flak, and with two of his engines blown to pieces, Fry pressed home an accurate depth-charge strike which broke U-454 in two. The mortally-damaged flying boat was then steered towards the Allied ships by Fry, who attempted to alight on the rough swell. Unfortunately the shattered Sunderland airframe broke up on touchdown. Only six of the 12 crew could be rescued.
Fry did not survive. He was mentioned in despatches for his bravery (many of his squadron mates thought that he deserved a Victoria Cross).
14 survivors of U-454 were also picked up by the sloop HMS Kite.
The dramatic rescue of some of Fry's crew, floating on a shattered piece of their Sunderland's wing.
Hare and Hounds
The Sinking of U-106
2 August 1943
After the mauling received by the U-boats in the Bay of Biscay during the summer of 1943, the Germans increased their air- and sea-escort efforts. U-106 was intercepted in the Bay of Biscay because Sunderland 'M' of 461 RAAF Squadron, flown by Flight Lieutenant I. A. F. Clark, first spotted the U-boat's German naval escort of three Narvik-class destroyers. Clark's radio operator homed-in the British 2nd Support Group and another Sunderland, RAF 228/N, for a potential naval engagement. Then, just as the German destroyers started to retreat, U-106 was spotted by Clark's forward gunner and Clark immediately spiralled down to attack.
U-106 had been returning to base after a damaging encounter with a Canadian Leigh-Light Wellington of 407 squadron. It chose to stay on the surface to fight the two Sunderlands. Both attacked with depth-charges and used machine-guns to suppress the boat's defence. Four depth-charge runs left U-106 wallowing on the surface for half an hour until it began settling and the crew abandoned it. Soon after the boat blew up and sank. 36 survivors were picked up by the 2nd Support Group.
U106 straddled by depth-charge plumes.
5 October 1943
U-336 was attacked by Hudson 'F' of RAF 269 Squadron, which was on convoy patrol south-west of Iceland. The Australian pilot, Flight Sergeant G. C. Allsop, fired four pairs of armour-piercing rockets during his approach, while the U-336 gunners tried to swat the Hudson out of the sky. The U-boat was holed and stopped in a cloud of smoke. It sank by the bow in the cold seas. All hands were lost.
A typical rocket installation on an RAAF aircraft.
U-419 and U-643 Sunk
8 October 1943
An effective technique for locating U-boats was to mount intensive aircraft patrols around threatened convoys. The example below also illustrates how the efforts of diverse aircrew members could contribute to a victory.
South of Iceland, Liberator 'R' of 86 Squadron RAF was patrolling around a convoy when its Australian wireless operator, Warrant Officer Alec Craine, on lookout with binoculars, spotted U-419's wake from six miles away. An unsuccessful depth-charge attack was made as U-419 crash dived. However, the position was marked and the aircraft departed the area temporarily, to see if U-419 could be bluffed into surfacing again ('baiting procedure'). An hour later, the Australian navigator of the Liberator, Flying Officer H. N. Webb, guided 86/R back to the same position and they caught U-419 on the surface. The Liberator sank U-419 with its last two remaining depth-charges. The convoy escort could only find one survivor.
86/R resumed its patrol, only to discover another boat, U-643, on the surface. U-643 stayed up, probably hoping to keep the aircraft at bay with flak and thus avoid a vulnerable crash dive. 86/R engaged U-643 with gunfire, but had no depth-charges left. Craine the wireless operator homed in another 86 Squadron aircraft, Liberator 'Z', flown by RAAF Pilot Officer Cyril Burcher. (The same Burcher who had sunk U-632 four months earlier.)
U-643 dived as soon as the second aircraft appeared, escaping a rushed depth-charge attack from Burcher. He marked the location with a smoke float and followed baiting procedure. When 86/Z returned one hour later, U-643 was found on the surface - already under attack from Liberator 120/T.
Burcher immediately made an accurate depth-charge attack. This was followed by another attack from 120/T. Both Liberators then made four machine-gun passes. The U-643 crew were observed on the deck with life jackets and dinghies, then a terrific internal explosion finally sank the boat. 18 survivors were picked up by the Naval escort.
A portrait of Burcher showing his DFC ribbon.
16 October 1943
U-470 was sunk after a protracted battle with three VLR Liberators protecting convoys ON-206 and ONS-20, transiting south of Iceland. RAAF Pilot Officer Wes Loney was flying one of these RAF aircraft, Liberator 59/C.
The three aircraft expended all of their depth charges in a whirling series of attacks. U-470 put up a spirited defence but was halted in the water before Loney put in the final devastating attack. The boat sank instantly and a few survivors popped to the surface. Loney dropped a marker-buoy which guided the convoy escort to the site, but only two survivors from the U-470 crew could be picked up.
Loney then faced a 1,400km flight through bad weather and darkness to return to Northern Ireland. Their fuel reserves had also been reduced due to tank punctures inflicted by U-470. Upon touch-down at Ballykelly, 59/C's battle-damaged port main landing-gear collapsed and the huge aircraft slithered perilously to a halt, dragging one wingtip. Fortunately all of the crew were able to exit safely and there was no fire because their tanks had almost no fuel left! Loney was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.
A map of Wes Loney's long nervous journey home on 16-17 Oct 43,
illustrating the war-winning endurance of these VLR Liberators on their mid-Atlantic patrols.
16 November 1943
Liberator 'M' of No.86 RAF Squadron was patrolling around convoy HX265, south-west of Iceland, when it spotted U-280. The Australian pilot, Flight Lieutenant Jack Bookless, delivered two depth-charge attacks while his men fought intense gun duels with U-280's flak crews. One of the Liberator's engines was crippled in the exchange. U-280 submerged on an even keel, apparently only damaged, but it must have soon afterwards foundered with all hands. For the next hour after this encounter, Bookless resolutely ignored the damage accrued by his aircraft and stayed on patrol to safeguard the convoy.
8 January 1944
During a midwinter 'Percussion' patrol in the Bay of Biscay, Sunderland 'U' of 10 Squadron RAAF spotted U-426, outward bound at a distance of 12 miles in excellent visibility. Confidently remaining on the surface, U-426 opened fire at five miles with its daunting armament of an automatic 30mm gun and 4x20mm cannon. Flying Officer J. P. Roberts, piloting the Sunderland, closed to 1,200 yards and hosed the U-boat's gun platforms with his four fixed bow-mounted machine guns (a new armament devised by the Australians for the Sunderland). This caused chaos on the U-426 bridge. The boat was unable to further defend itself and Roberts pressed home a depth-charge attack. U-426 was holed at the rear. The crew abandoned the rapidly sinking boat, but none survived the winter conditions.
[Left:] The 10/U crew back on dry land after their day-long mission. The AWM has an interesting variety of pictures of Roberts and his crewmates.
[Right:] U-426 settles by the stern.
U-571 Smashed in a Winter Storm
28 January 1944
Sunderland 'D' of 461 RAAF Squadron, piloted by Flight Lieutenant R. D. Lucas, was providing close protection for a convoy SW of Ireland. While flying through bitter winter gale conditions, the Sunderland's front turret gunner, Fight Sgt. Joe Simmonds RAF, suddenly sighted U-571 on the surface three miles away. The boat made no attempt to crash-dive. U-571's flak gunners bought their six cannons to bear and put up a heavy barrage, but Lucas corkscrewed to dodge the flak and the U-boat gun crews were then mown down by accurate fire from Simmonds, who had first sighted U-571 only 60 seconds before. 461/D's first depth-charge run was not successful but Lucas pirouetted the massive flying boat to attack again with his last two depth-charges. This accurate attack caused U-571 to break up within one minute.
37 men were counted abandoning the boat but they did not have time to deploy any liferafts. Lucas's crew were appalled at the plight of the survivors in the frigid water. The Sunderland crew dropped their own rubber dinghy but tragically it failed to inflate. Another Australian Sunderland arrived and another dinghy was dropped but by that time there were only six Germans left waving for help. Sadly none of these swimmers had the strength to reach the rubber boat bobbing nearby. Hypothermia claimed them all.
[Left:] Lucas at the hatch of his flying boat, "D for Dog", immediately after returning.
[Right:] An oil stain on the rough Atlantic surface marks the demise of U-571.
[Note: The title 'U-571' has been used for a major Hollywood action film. However, that movie's fanciful script does not in any way resemble the genuine history of U-571.]
10 February 1944
RAAF Flight Lieutenant Max Paynter was flying RAF Wellington 612/O in the Northern Approaches (the major sea lanes NW of the UK) at night. Following a radar contact, Paynter spotted U-545 from one mile away in the moonlight. He made an immediate depth-charge attack, but chose not to use his Leigh Light to avoid drawing return fire. This was wise, as U-545 had previously shot down a Canadian 407 Squadron Wellington. U-545 was unable to continue. It was scuttled and the crew were rescued by U-714.
U-241 Picked Off
18 May 1944
U-241 was sunk NE of the Faeroe Islands by Catalina 'S' of 210 Squadron RAF. The Australian bow-gunner of this flying boat, Warrant Officer Hinderson, made a significant contribution to this sinking. He used his comparatively ineffectual 0.303 calibre single-barrelled Vickers gun to knock out the heavily-armed defensive flak crew of U-241. Meanwhile his pilot coolly dove the slow Catalina towards U-241 and sank the submarine with a pattern of well-placed depth-charges. All of U-241's crew perished.
The Best Way To Learn
24 May 1944
U-675 was spotted and sunk in the North Sea west of Alesund, Norway, by a Sunderland on training duty, aircraft 'R' of RAF No.4 OTU, based at Invergordon, Scotland. This flying boat was captained by Flight Lieutenant T. F. P. Frizell, RAAF, and manned by a scratch crew of instructors and trainees. The crew of U-675 were themselves inexperienced, being on their first patrol. Despite putting up a heavy defensive fire, they were all lost.
The Sinking of U-990
25 May 1944
U-990 was sunk by multi-aircraft attack in the North Sea. One of the planes involved, Liberator 'L' of RAF 59 Squadron, was flown by RAAF Pilot Officer Wes Loney. Credit for the sinking went to Liberator 59/S. At the time, U-990 was also carrying a large group of survivors that it had picked up from U-476. 51 men of the combined crews escaped from U-990. A German patrol boat rescued them.
The Salmon Run
A Multinational Crew Downed
6 June 1944
Many RAAF aircrew lost their lives to the potent anti-aircraft defences of the U-boats. Below is just one example.
In response to the Allied D-Day landings at Normandy, the U-boat force made a brave attempt to interdict the Allied invasion fleet from the western end of the English Channel. A strong anti-submarine air group had been prepared by the Allies for just this eventuality, and the result was the largest pitched battle between U-boats and aircraft of the entire war. Both sides suffered significant casualties. One example was the loss of Leigh Light Liberator 'B' of 224 Squadron RAF, shot down by U-415 in a night-time battle. All ten crewmembers of the Liberator were killed, including seven Australians.
Five interesting pictures of an RAF Liberator demonstrating its Leigh Light.
8 July 1944
RAAF Sunderland 10/H was patrolling in the Bay of Biscay, 130 miles SW of Brest, France, when it spotted U-243. The pilot of the flying boat, Flight Lieutenant Bill Tilley, immediately dove to attack. The U-243 gunners opened up at two miles range. Tilley jinked the ungainly four-engined flying boat violently from side to side, while his bow turret gunner, Flight Sergeant Cooke, replied accurately to the defensive fire. U-243's guns were silent by the time that the Sunderland passed over at only 75 feet. The close approach allowed the decisive placement of Tilley's depth-charges. U-243 was holed and stopped, but the crew briefly mounted some further gun defence, during which time two additional ineffectual attacks were made by an RAAF Sunderland and a US Navy Liberator that had homed onto the scene. The submarine finally foundered after about half an hour, leaving a number of survivors in the water. Tilley dropped a life raft and food pack. 38 of the U-243 crew were later picked up by HMCS Restigouche.
[Left:] U-243 under attack.
[Right:] The U-243 survivors adrift on the ocean in small rafts.
U-385 Sunk by Air-Sea Co-Operation
10-11 August 1944
U-385 was one of the U-boats ordered to abandon its base on the French Biscay coast once the Allied armies broke out from their Normandy beachhead.
Pilot Officer Ivan Southall was flying RAAF Sunderland 461/P over the Bay on the moonlit night of the 10th of August. After an initial radar contact, Southall sighted the boat, outbound on the surface 150 miles south of Brest. Southall flew a curved approach to keep the boat visible in the moonpath. This also allowed him to avoid using flares, which would have given away his presence to the U-boat gunners. He made an accurate attack with a stick of six depth-charges, which caused U-385 to lose way and begin wallowing. The Sunderland circled while the seriously damaged U-boat sent up heavy but ill-directed defensive fire. Southall flew off to guide nearby Naval units to the area. When 461/P returned, U-385 had submerged. Early the next morning U-385 was detected by the five ships of the 2nd Support Group, depth-charged to the surface by HMS Starling and engaged with gunfire as the crew abandoned it. All except one of U-385's crew survived.
[Left:] A nice study of 461/P taking off
[Right:] Portrait of Southall just after VE-Day, in the firing position of an anti-aircraft cannon on the surrendered U-776.
[After the war, Southall moved on to more important things.]
The End of U-270
13 August 1944
U-270 was another refugee from the Biscay U-boat bases. It was evacuating important German personnel from Lorient to La Pallice and had a total of 71 men aboard. The surfaced boat was detected by radar at night by Sunderland 'A' of 461 RAAF Squadron, captained by Flying Officer Don Little. U-270 then found itself suddenly illuminated by flares dropped from the Sunderland. The boat's guns immediately opened fire. (In its career, U-270 had survived several previous air attacks and had shot down two RAF Flying Fortresses.)
Little pressed in with a determined attack, strafing with his own four nose-mounted machine guns. U-270 was straddled and holed by depth-charges on the first run, but immediately afterwards the Sunderland lost contact in the darkness.
The boat stayed underway for over an hour but started to become dangerously unstable and the order was given to abandon ship. All hands were assembled on deck in preparation for launching their rafts when they were startled by the targeting searchlight of a Leigh-Light Wellington, 179/X (which mercifully held its fire). All 71 Germans were later fished out of the sea by a British destroyer guided in by homing signals from 461/A. - The orbiting Sunderland crew had observed many twinkling lights on the ocean surface from the Germans' life preservers.
U-Boat Far From Home
U-862 Defies the Odds in Australian Waters
December 1944 to February 1945
Amazingly, one German U-Boat managed to operate off the southern and south-eastern coasts of Australia (and to circumnavigate New Zealand!) in the closing days of WW2. U-862, which had been specially designed for ultra-long range, motored all the way from Germany to the Far East (to join the Axis 'Monsun' fleet) and then launched its stunning patrol into Australian waters from the German/Japanese naval base at Batavia (modern-day Jakarta, Indonesia).
Once U-862 revealed its presence by sinking an American liberty ship (SS Robert Walker) south of Sydney on Christmas Eve 1944, a maximum-effort air search was launched by the RAAF, involving many squadrons. Farcically, considering the massive resources applied by Australia, U-862 then got clean away, patrolling right around New Zealand. The home-based RAAF had just received an abject lesson in the importance of specialised equipment and training; military intelligence; command and control in achieving results in anti-submarine warfare.
On 6 February 1945, whilst on their return leg to SE Asia, U-862 sank its last victim (liberty ship SS Peter Silvester, west of Perth, W.A.) and slipped through a waiting cordon of Allied submarines (fully informed due to the breaking of Japanese codes) to make a triumphal return to Singapore.
Ganging Up on U300
17-22 February 1945
In the face of increasing Allied air-power, from 1944 onwards the Germans fitted 'Schnorchel' ventilation tubes to many of their U-boats, greatly decreasing their visibility and making the task of searching Allied aircraft much harder. New detection technologies such as sonobuoys were hurriedly mobilised by the Allies in response. Another new tactic was the 'Swamp' technique, which used the numerical superiority of Allied aircraft to pin down a U-boat in a small area, even if the aircraft were unable to locate it exactly.
U-300 had a schnorchel, but her position was revealed when she torpedoed two ships in a convoy west of Cadiz, Spain. The fleeing U-boat was immediately subjected to continuous 'Swamp' searches, where two entire Allied squadrons (No.22 SAAF by day and No.458 RAAF by night, with Leigh Light Wellingtons) flew missions around-the-clock to prevent the U-boat from surfacing and running away, while naval units methodically searched underwater with ASDIC echo-location. After an amazing five-day effort, the ships HMS Recruit, Evadne and HMS Pincher depth-charged U-300 to the surface and then sank her with naval gunfire. 41 of U-300's crewman survived.
458 Squadron Wellingtons at Gibraltar, February 1945.
The Way of the Future
U1017 Destroyed Underwater
29 April 1945
In the early afternoon of 29 April, U-1017 was proceeding under the surface of the Atlantic north-west of Ireland, with its schnorchel deployed. Its small wake was spotted at a distance of three miles by the co-pilot of RAF Liberator 120/Q, Sgt. Allan McPhee RAAF. Four depth charges were dropped on the schnorchel, along with a sonobuoy. The U-boat crew were probably unaware that they had been attacked until the depth charges went off. The sonobuoy then detected a long series of secondary explosions underwater. Further breaking-up noises were confirmed when 120/Q dropped another pattern of four sonobuoys.
A B24 Liberator bomber circles a surrendered U-boat (U293) at the end of WW2.
The Liberators earned a reputation as the most effective Allied anti-submarine aircraft.
Let This Be Their Memorial
A Multinational Aircrew Shot Down and U-534 Sunk
5 May 1945
The last few days of the war in Europe saw many dramatic escape attempts by U-boats based on the north German coast. These boats were ordered to run for safer Norwegian ports ahead of the rapidly advancing Allied ground forces. One such action, involving the now-preserved U-534, occurred in the Kattegat Strait between Denmark and Sweden.
On this day, patrolling RAF Liberator 86/G used radar to detect a group of three U-boats running on the surface in hazy daylight in a staggered line-astern formation. 86/G homed in another RAF Liberator, 547/E. As the first two boats of the group began gingerly submerging in the shallow water, 547/E made two ineffective attacks on the lead boat. Unfortunately this Liberator then had its wing blown off by the powerful armament of U-534, which had remained on the surface. 547/E crashed into the sea and only one man survived from its multinational aircrew. The dead included Canadians, Britons and its Australian pilot, Flying Officer James Howatson.
Meanwhile, U-534 was attacked by Liberator 86/G, and was sunk after two depth-charge runs. 86/G was operated by yet another multinational crew which included four Australians.
All except three of U-534's crew survived and were rescued. The wreck of U-534 has now been salvaged and is on display near Liverpool in the UK. It is being preserved as a memorial to all who died in the Battle of the Atlantic.
[Left:] An action photo.
[Right:] The crew of 86/G posing on a load of depth-charges.
[Photos of the raised hulk of U-534.]
Another Australian connection with U-534 is that in August 1944 it had shot down an RAF Wellington (172/B), leaving three survivors in a life-raft. RAAF Sunderland pilot Bill Tilley, an excellent flier who had sunk U-243 one month earlier, was able to safely alight on the open ocean to save the three castaways.
Tilley's Sunderland smashes through the swell and lifts off after the successful rescue.
Most of this material draws on the work of Australian war historian John Herington. He wrote two volumes of the official Australian war history published by the Australian War Memorial in 1954; Air War Against Germany and Italy 1939-43 and Air Power Over Europe 1944-45. These fascinating books are available in most Australian public libraries. Herington was a Catalina pilot operating out of Gibraltar during WW2 and he was therefore an informed commentator on the U-boat War. (Some information reported by Herington, such as the presumed identities of certain U-boats, has been updated using the latest revised data from uboat.net.) Other sources used were the more recent books, U-boat Versus Aircraft, Maritime is Number Ten, Endurance, They Shall Not Pass Unseen and Black May; and www.regiamarina.net for Italian data. The original Operations Record Books for 10 Squadron 1940-43 and 1944-45 and 461 Squadron 1942-45 are available online from the National Archives of Australia.
Compiled by James Oglethorpe, originally for U-boat Net
3 Squadron Stories