rhudspith is offline
Join Date: Apr 2001
Location: North East UK
Memoirs of a U-boat Officer * Part 5
Something has been happening here! ....
Debris and pieces of wreckage lie in our path. Later, in our home port, we learn of the Battle of Skagerrak, in which the German fleet, under the leadership of Admiral Scheer, did away with England’s proud dominance of the Sea. We had travelled across the battlefield.
After a day’s work it is good to be quiet. So we thought as we steered for one night into the German bight to ground the boat, since we couldn’t have an escort through the blockades until the next morning. The situation of the boat was good, on a sandy and level bed. After placing the boat on the bottom she sways now to port and now to starboard, and it seems as though she is preparing herself properly for the night. We helped, by taking in at least 2 or 3 tons in the regulating tanks, and so gave the boat a good bit of weight to prevent any movement during the night due to underwater currents. To spend the night hours on the seabed are very refreshing for boat and crew. When the lights go out, both feel unusually well, and peace and quiet reigns in the boat, which can only be compared to that in the grave. As a result all sleep wonderfully well, and I don’t believe there was a single member of the crew who had not had enough sleep by the next morning.
“Diving stations, surface!” We got off the bottom without difficulty, although the boat had got stuck so firmly in, that merely pumping out the flooded chambers didn’t manage to shift it from its bed. It had to be given a fair old blast of compressed air; then it moved. It struggled up, rose higher, broke the surface, and the starting of the diesel engines gave it life again to continue the journey.
Our entry into our home port is worthy of any hero. It will always stay in the memory of those who took part. While the boat goes into dock for repair of the decking and an engine-service, so as to be ready for a new trip, the crew goes on leave. Only someone who has himself ever returned after a long sea voyage and been able to return home, can imagine with what emotions we embark on the journey to our families.
But everything eventually comes to an end, and the leave of a U-boat man is limited too. The day came for a new mission.
As expected, after its overhaul the checks on the boat gave it full seaworthiness in every aspect. The boat went to its berth in order to take on board the remaining provisions, the ammunition it lacked, and the vital diesel. The day for sailing had been fixed, and came round. We took leave of our friends, and left for sea with full confidence in the serviceableness of both boat and crew. It is apparent that once more every single one will do his duty to the utmost. The boat’s orders provided for a similar operation somewhere in the Atlantic, with the exception that this time the approach was not to be round the Shetlands, but, in order to save time and diesel, through the Channel. That is reasonable, in the experience of little boats, which work in the Channel, but for a bigger boat is risky; we are not happy about it. It is well known that between Dover and Calais there is a U-boat net, laid by the English, and it is also well known that in addition to this it is hung on heavy supports, and enemy destroyers stand by on both sides of it ready to destroy with depth charges U-boats which have the misfortune to get caught in the net.
In obedience to the orders we decide to pass the barrier on the surface at top speed as darkness sets in, and so to break through between Dover and Calais. Both diesel engines run flat out at the same time as the fire from Dover and Calais gradually increases. Dusk is setting in by now, and we keep a sharp lookout for the beams at the top of the net so as not to run into it. Suddenly, there lies a dark shadow dead ahead us. It is identified as an enemy destroyer. “Alarm! Emergency Dive!” and again comes the need to bring the boat down deep in the shortest time possible.
In such cases, when it’s a matter of life and death, if every command is not given clearly in the engine room and control room, and if every routine is not adhered to, in many cases the boat has been lost.
Because of the destroyer, the boat has been compelled to dive in front of the net. This was not a good thing at all. Apparently we hadn’t been spotted, but at once the unspoken suspicion of all of us proved well founded. As we go down deep, the boat no longer responds; it stays hanging, with the bow at 18 metres but touching the bottom with the stern. We are lying in a tricky sloping position, caught in the blockade net. That is a bit of luck we could well do without. Quiet and meditation are not going to be of any use here. The boat must be freed; we cannot perish miserably in this position. It is my intention to make the boat as heavy as possible in order to tear the net. Steps are quickly taken to achieve this, because we need to move fast. The whole crew, with the exception of those needed for operating the engines, and those in the control room, is ordered forward into the bow-room. All the after ballast water is similarly taken forward and the water slowly floods the regulating tanks. There is no immediate movement of the boat; it remains solidly held and hanging in the same sloping position. To increase further the strain on the net, the regulating tank is flooded completely. Still there seems to be no success achieved. Then finally, after 5 tons of regulating water is in the boat, (that is, in the regulating tanks) the net breaks. As a result of the heavy ballast, the boat falls heavily onto the seabed with a hard jolt. There is an immediate checking of the electric batteries to ensure that all the cells are still intact and that there are no suffocating gases escaping into the boat. That is vital for the crew’s survival. The boat is lying on an even keel. All measures so far taken are now reversed, and the proper balance of the boat is restored.
However, we are still not free; we now need to travel through the hole in the net that we have just made. By means of a further pumping out of the regulating tank, the boat slowly rises off the bottom, and we try to go ‘slow ahead’ with both electric motors, in order to pass through the hole in the net. We manage a boats length, then the rudder fails to respond, and we are stuck on the bottom again. It seems likely this time that the propellers have become entangled with the loose ends of the net. That could prove fatal, and could mean the loss of the boat, for in such cases there is little prospect of getting free from the net’s steel tentacles. We need to make violent attempts to free ourselves, and such tearing and pulling at the net would not go unobserved on the surface.
The stern is blown, that is, the back part of the boat is raised by blowing out the stern dive tanks with compressed air, and at the same time the e-motors are thrown into gear for a moment. The strain on the ammeter is normal, and the propellers are free too, thank God. The stern is flooded again, so that the boat is restored to an even keel. We lift the boat off the bottom again. By dint of pumping out the regulating tanks it rises slowly, and with ‘slow ahead’ from both e-motors we creep slowly across the sea-bed. We seem to have stood the test, for without any further problems we finally now are able to move freely. The mountain that was pressing down on us so heavily has fallen away.
This involuntary delay has cost us valuable hours. When it gets light, we surface, and are just in the process of getting some air through ourselves and the boat, when an enemy plane is reported on our port bow by the bridge lookout. “Alarm”, and dive deep.