|©1997 - Ian W Hillbeck|
How flower power beat a U-Boat in the Atlantic
In October 1942, the Battle of the Atlantic was at Its height and we were losing. Despite being far superior to anything Barrow had put in the water up to that time, German U-boats were not always successful.
On October 7 that year the crew of one German submarine was fighting desperately for life off the West African coast. The battle began soon after 0400 hours, in poor weather and with reduced visibility. The sea was calm. The submarine U333 was proceeding slowly on the surface.
Suddenly, out of the mist, the rather wimpishly named corvette HMS Crocus, one of the slow but sturdy Flower class, emerged with all guns blazing. She had picked up U333 on radar which could reveal even very small objects above the surface of the sea at considerable range.
U333 could not dive because the corvette was almost on top of her. Crocus actually rammed the U-boat (which hung on to the corvette for some time) while the British crew tried in vain to depress the guns sufficiently to hit the submarine. Soon, with the conning tower holed like a colander and plates ripped from her casing, the U-boat broke free and made a run for it.
The corvette, still firing with all guns, much of the shot going over the sub because the guns were unable to be depressed sufficiently at short range, overhauled the U-boat and rammed her again, sliding over her stern and ripping away the caps of the torpedo tubes, causing serious leaks within the boat. Crocus then fired depth charges and in the colossal showers of spray from them, the U-boat disappeared, making the captain of the corvette sure he had destroyed this submarine. Unfortunately for the Allies, this was not so.
The U-boat captain, Peter Kremer, badly wounded in the attack by a razor sharp shell splinter embedded in his chest, still directed his boat away and went deep. His first officer had been killed, another severely wounded, another crew member had disappeared overboard and two more men were dying from shell and splinter wounds. The submarine at one time was heeled well over, righting herself with great difficulty. On the surface of the water, Crocus was badly damaged by ramming the U-boat twice, and soon lost contact with the submerging foe.
In her first ramming, the U333 had scraped along the corvettes side, tearing open a two metre long gap below the waterline in the British vessel. Bow flooded, nose down, pumps going constantly to keep the corvette afloat, her captain had still managed to ram the twisting and turning submarine a second time but did it because he had little choice. The sub had been trying to turn and use her torpedoes.
Three days later, limping homewards, U333 rendezvoused with a Milch cow, a U-boat supplying fuel, stores and a doctor. His engineer officer, using pliers, had removed the shrapnel embedded in Kremers chest, but the captain had lost a lot of blood. Three members killed in action had been buried at sea.
A replacement skipper supplied by the Milch cow began to take U333 home. Her ordeal was far from over. She still had far to go and on the October 21, Trafalgar Day to the Royal Navy, the wounded Kremer, lying in his bunk but still officially in command, directed extra vigilance over sea and sky from the lookouts.
The battered U333 entered a area near her base at La Pallice which was notorious for ambush by British aircraft using 10cm radar or submarines at periscope depth using sonar.
The bridge watch suddenly screamed Torpedo tracks to starboard. U333 turned bows on to face them, a manoeuvre called Combing the tracks. Four torpedoes sped harmlessly by and (U333 made harbour safely.
Her attacker, U570, had been captured off Iceland, overhauled in Barrow by Barrovian shipwrights, refitted and renamed. Having given the yard many of her secrets, and showing how much further advanced she was than the yards offerings to date, she was now HMS Graph and carrying a British crew.
In the attack the jangle of U333s badly damaged casing when making her turn rnade HMS Graphs skipper believe he had hit and sunk the German. Expecting counter attack, HMS Graph withdrew quietly.
U333s luck finally ran out on July 23 1944 when she was sunk with all hands. HMS Graph ended as a wreck on the isle of Islay in March 1944, being towed away as scrap.
Who remembers Trafalgar Day these days?