German Sonar on Italian Vessels – Pt. 3

In the third and, for the moment, final part of this mini series on the use of German S-Geraet sonar on Italian vessels, here is a list of the vessels which had it installed, or were scheduled for installation, as of 28 February 1942. The list excludes Antonio da Mosto, which had been sunk by that date (see this link and this link and this link).

The list is fairly self-explanatory. I am using the Italian abbreviations, so ‘Ct’ stands for Cacciatorpediniere – Destroyer, and ‘Tp’ for Torpediniere, Escort Destroyer or Torpedo Boat. The destroyers listed are an interesting mix, and five were going to be assigned to the Italian fleet following the installation of the S-Geraet. They included the older Navigatori class, of the late 1920s, and the most modern fleet destroyers of the Soldati class.

The Torpediniere are also a bit of a mix, primarily Spica class, but with two older vessels included, the San Martino and the Calatafimi, both of which dated back to WW I destroyer designs and had only recently been downgraded to Torpediniere status. Unlike the destroyers, most of the Torpediniere were going to be assigned to specific stations, Sicily (4), Libya (3), Greece (2), Rhodes (2), Naples (1), and the escort group (1).

A number of destroyers and Torpediniere have no destination allocated to them.

In the table, ‘DC’ stands for depth charge. For Italian depth charges installed, where it reads ‘0 16/50 12/100’, this means ‘no depth charge launcher, 16x50kg depth charges and 12x 100kg depth charges’. For background on the Italian depth charges, please see this link. I am not certain the information in the report is fully correct, but it is given as is.

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Destroyers Usodimare and da Noli in port, late 1930s. The picture shows well the range finder, rounded bridge house, and the twin-turret with its 4.75” (12cm) guns. Courtesy Wikipedia.


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San Martino entering a port. Courtesy Wikipedia

Apart from the naval vessels, some auxiliaries were also equipped with the S-Geraet, for harbour defense in La Spezia and Taranto, and two motor sailing vessels (Motoveliere) for serving with the submarine defense school at La Spezia, to train new personnel. The only vessel where the future port of service isn’t given is the Cyprus.

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Use of German Sonar on Italian vessels – Pt. 2

In a previous post (at this link) I had written about the use of German sonar (S-Geraet) and depth charges by the Italian navy, the Regia Marina. This commenced at the end of 1941, and gave the Regia Marina an important new capability in providing convoy defense on the North Africa route, which led to some quick successes, such as the sinking of HMS P-38 (see also this link). A technical description of the history and functioning of the S-Geraet can be found at this link.

In the post below, I have translated a report of the Special Command of the German navy, the Kriegsmarine, which was charged with the task of overseeing the operation of the German equipment on the Italian vessels. The document is from the war diary of the German Liaison Staff at the Admiralty of the Royal Italian Navy, and can be found in NARA under T-1022 Roll 2481.

Overview of the Activity Carried Out Thus Far by the Special Command for the Installation and Deployment of German S-Geraete on Units of the Royal Italian Navy

(Commenced 17 November 1941)

1.) Introduction followed proposals made by Chief Naval Liaison Command to Italian Navy during July 1941.

2.) Exectution

a) Personnel:

1 Officer (Commander Ahrens)

1 Chief Petty Officer[1]

3 Non-Commissioned Officers from the Submarine Defense School Gotenhafen[2]

Furthermore listening crew (from destroyer Lody, strength 1/4[3] from beginning November to mid-December on Torpedo Boat (Torpediniera) Castore, and
listening crew strength 1/4 on destroyer Da Mosto from beginning November to 1 December. 3 other ranks were killed when the boat was sunk. The NCO and one man remain at the disposal of the Special Command.

b) Activity:

At the start of the activity:

Clearance of specific questions of detail concerning submarine defense with the relevant Italian offices, especially Admirals Strazzari and Da Zara. Determination of equipping Italian vessels with S-Geraet installed with German depth charges and depth charge throwers.

Instruction of Italian crew and shore personnel in various naval stations about installation and maintenance of the German depth charges.

Schooling of listening and depth charge crews on the units with S-Geraet installed. Carried out trials.

Instruction of all captains in all questions relating to submarine defense, especially about the method of attack. Participation in combat missions.

c) Successes of Italian vessels equipped with S-Geraet up to 28 February 1942.

1.) Torpedo boat Castore near Gaeta on 24 November 1941: based on S-Geraet location report evaded two torpedo trails. Carried out attack with 36 depth charges. Destruction of submarine possible.[4]
German listening crew.

2.) Destroyer Da Mosto, southern tip of Sicily, 27 November 1941: location of an unknown minefield.
German listening crew.

3.) Torpedo boat Lince, Gulf of Taranto, early December, attack on located submarine with Italian depth charges. Success questionable.
Italian listening crew and Construction Advisor Morgenstern.[5]

4.) Torpedo Boat Orsa, 115 Degrees, 63 nautical miles off Sfax on 7 January 1942. Attack on located submarine with 30 German depth charges. Success: initially strong aural location ceases; location continues to show in large oil slick. Location of attack had to be left early to ensure protection of the escorted steamer.[6]
Italian and German listening crew, directed by Commander Ahrens.

5.)  Torpedo boat Sagittario at Cape Ducato on 8 February 1942. Evaded torpedo. Enemy submarine rammed, has to be considered destroyed. Torpedo boat heavy damage on the bow.
German and Italian listening crew.[7]

6.) Torpedo boat Circe on 13 February 1942: located enemy submarine was fixed for six hours. Submarine surfaces after 3 attacks with German depth charges; 23 prisoners made. Attempt to bring her in fails, boat sinks. English submarine “Tempest”.
German and Italian listening crew.

7.) Torpedo boat Pallade at Capo dell’Armi on 16 November 1942. Located submarine attacked in three runs with 45 German depth charges. At water depth of 1,600m signal ceases after final attack. Oil slick of 1,000 x 2,000 m.
German and Italian listening crew, directed by Commander Ahrens.

8.) Torpedo boat Circe at Ras Hallab on 23 February 1942. During escort of convoy attacking submarine is located and periscope is sighted. 10 depth charges dropped on diving location. Submarine surfaces briefly, twice, and finally sinks. Bag with flags, parts of interior (door of cupboard, tabletop), cans of biscuits and cigarettes as well as human body parts come up. Large oil slick. Continuous rising of air bubbles.
German and Italian listening crew.

d) Intended equipping of Italian naval and merchant units

Delivered:

1.) 29 S-Geraete of which one fixed in Spezia. One further S-Geraet lost when destroyer da Mosto was sunk.

2.) 40 depth charge throwers, 72 reloading installations, 20 depth charge rails, 60 single depth charge holders.

3.) 4,000 depth charges Type Dora

2,000 depth charges Type Fritz

1,500 stamps and cartridges for depth charges WB D60m and WB F40m.

By 28 February 1942, 10 Italian torpedo boats and 1 destroyer as well as 9 auxiliary vessels have been equipped with the S-Geraet.

For equipping further Italian naval units with S-Geraet, see attached list, Appendix 17.[8]

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R.N. Pallade, a Spica-class, Alcione sub-class Torpedo Boat, photographed pre-war. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

[1] Oberfeldwebel

[2] Ubootabwehrschule (UAS)

[3]1 NCO, 4 other ranks

[4] There is no submarine loss recorded for this day, and no attack in the region of Gaeta either. I used the ASA database at this link for checks.

[5] Baurat, a German civil servant grade. I have not verified this attack.

[6] This was not actually a successful attack – see this link, in particular comments below.

[7] The submarine was HM/Sub Proteus (N29), and while she was damaged, it appears she came off better than Sagittario. Details from the crew of HM/Sub Proteus can be found at this link.

[8] This will follow in another post.

HM/Sub Urge (N17) may have been located off Libya

It appears from various news media that a missing submarine from the famous 10th Submarine Flotilla on Malta may have been located off Libya. There are some doubts around it, but I thought it worth mentioning in any case.

Telegraph Article

Argunners Article – includes a sonar picture.

HM/Sub Urge was, as the name indicates, a U-Class submarine, and a highly decorated one at that. Her wartime history is very well set out on U-Boat Net at this link

HMS Urge

HM/Sub Urge underway – official Admiralty picture from the IWM Website

Hopefully it is really her, and the relatives will then have some more knowledge on what happened to the crew. Also, hopefully the situation in Libya will calm down at some point, and enable further investigation of the wreck, to confirm that it is HM/Sub Urge, and maybe confirm the reason for her loss. Urge was lost with 42 men on board, carrying a number of passengers apart from her complement. The crew and passengers were very highly decorated, between them accounting for:

1x D.S.O. and bar

1x D.S.C. and bar

2x D.S.C.

1x D.S.M. and bar, twice Mentioned in Despatches

10x D.S.M.

4x Mentioned in Despatches 

Ras el Hilal

Location of Sonar Contact, showing how close it is to the straight line course from Malta to Alexandria. Click on the picture for a smaller scale satellite image of the area.

Based on the history on U-Boat Net, and the location, which seems to confirm that the fatal attack was delivered by Fiat CR.42s of this may well be one of the last (if not only) times that a double-decker plane sunk a submarine. Contrary to the entry on U-Boat Net however, it appears that the CR.42 in the ground assault variant, which was the main role it played in North Africa in 1942, could carry up to 2x100kg bombs, which may well be fatal to a surfaced submarine.

It is most likely that the planes of 153 Squadriglia which are now likely to have sunk HM/Sub Urge were flying escort or maritime surveillance to cover the coastal convoys between Benghazi and Derna. The parent unit of 153 Squadriglia, 3 Gruppo C.T. (3rd Fighter Group) was based on airfields around Benghazi (K2, K3) in early 1942 (see this link).

Fiat CR 42 Benina Lybia 2

“Fiat CR.42 – Benina Lybia” by Unknown – . Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Urge conducted four patrols during Operation CRUSADER, damaging the modern Italian battleship Vittorio Veneto in an attack that led to the cancellation of convoy operation M.40 in mid-December 1941. While this was quite a success, it appears that the Admiralty was not too happy that Urge’s commander did not try to sink her, even if it would have been suicidal to do so.

Urge’s most famous victim was the Italian light cruiser Giovanni delle Bande Nere, a Condottieri-class light cruiser from 1930. She was lost with about half her crew when Urge put a torpedo into her just off the island of Stromboli on 1 April 1942. She was the last survivor of her sub-class (Giussano) of four light cruisers. Somewhat confirming that the class was very vulnerable, she broke in two after being hit by one torpedo, and quickly sank. The exact location of her sinking and two pictures can be found at this link.

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Giovanni delle Bande Nere at anchor, probably pre-war.

Lost with HM/Sub Urge

ROWLEY JOHN KENNETH 27 D S M 06-05-42   Able Seaman Royal Navy H.M. Submarine Urge United Kingdom ‘C/SSX 21371’ CHATHAM NAVAL MEMORIAL 56, 1. SON OF HARVEY SWANN ROWLEY AND SYBIL MARY ROWLEY, OF HALL GREEN, BIRMINGHAM.

 

DAY FREDERICK 21   06-05-42   Able Seaman Royal Navy H.M. Submarine Urge United Kingdom ‘C/SSX 20578’ CHATHAM NAVAL MEMORIAL 53, 3. SON OF ANNIE DAY.

 

PARKINSON JOHN LESLIE 24   06-05-42   Able Seaman Royal Navy H.M. Submarine Urge United Kingdom ‘D/JX 204152’ PLYMOUTH NAVAL MEMORIAL Panel 66, Column 2. SON OF JOSEPH AND EDITH PARKINSON, OF COPPULL, LANCASHIRE; HUSBAND OF ADA PARKINSON, OF COPPULL.

 

DAVISON ROBERT 21   06-05-42   Able Seaman Royal Navy H.M. Submarine Urge United Kingdom ‘D/JX 190316’ PLYMOUTH NAVAL MEMORIAL Panel 64, Column 3. SON OF ROBERT JAMES DAVISON AND AGNES DAVISON, OF NORTH WALSHAM, NORFOLK.

 

GOSS RONALD HENRY 22   06-05-42   Able Seaman Royal Navy H.M. Submarine Urge United Kingdom ‘D/SSX 20989’ PLYMOUTH NAVAL MEMORIAL Panel 65, Column 1. SON OF SAMUEL AND DAISY GOSS, OF CWMBRAN MONMOUTHSHIRE.

 

WILDMAN RICHARD 22   06-05-42   Able Seaman Royal Navy H.M. Submarine Urge United Kingdom ‘D/JX 204322’ PLYMOUTH NAVAL MEMORIAL Panel 67. Column 1. SON OF RICHARD JOHN AND MARY ALICE WILDMAN, OF LANCASTER.

 

O’NEILL JOHN 22 Mentioned in Despatches 06-05-42   Able Seaman Royal Navy H.M. Submarine Urge United Kingdom ‘P/JX 217252’ PORTSMOUTH NAVAL MEMORIAL Panel 64, Column 3. SON OF WILLIAM JOHN AND ANNIE O’NEILL, OF HUCKNALL, NOTTINGHAMSHIRE.

 

TOMS CHARLES HERBERT 38 D S M 06-05-42   Chief Engine Room Artificer Royal Navy H.M. Submarine Urge United Kingdom ‘D/M 35358’ PLYMOUTH NAVAL MEMORIAL Panel 68, Column 3. SON OF HERBERT AND ALICE TOMS; HUSBAND OF VERA MURIEL TOMS, OF GOSPORT, HAMPSHIRE.

 

JACKMAN CHARLEY JOHN 33 D S M and Bar, Twice Mentioned in Despatches 06-05-42  Chief Petty Officer  Royal Navy H.M. Submarine Urge United Kingdom ‘P/J 110919’ PORTSMOUTH NAVAL MEMORIAL Panel 62, Column 2. SON OF GLOSTER AND CATHERINE ARABELLA JACKMAN; HUSBAND OF ELSIE ROSALIE JACKMAN, OF BROCKENHURST, HAMPSHIRE.

 

RUTTER RONALD FREDERICK 24   06-05-42   Electrical Artificer 4th Class Royal Navy H.M. Submarine Urge United Kingdom ‘C/MX 59915’ CHATHAM NAVAL MEMORIAL 63, 3. SON OF WILLIAM THOMAS AND ELLEN LOUISA RUTTER, OF UXBRIDGE, MIDDLESEX.

 

HELLYER REGINALD 28 D S M 06-05-42   Engine Room Artificer 2nd Class Royal Navy H.M. Submarine Urge United Kingdom ‘C/MX 47775’ CHATHAM NAVAL MEMORIAL 60, 2. SON OF ERNEST AND OLIVE HELLYER; HUSBAND OF VERONICA ANN HELLYER.

 

VARLEY ERIC 28 Mentioned in Despatches 06-05-42   Engine Room Artificer 3rd Class Royal Navy H.M. Submarine Urge United Kingdom ‘D/MX 52497’ PLYMOUTH NAVAL MEMORIAL Panel 69, Column 1. SON OF JOHN AND HANNAH EDDEN VARLEY, OF HORDEN, CO. DURHAM.

 

WHITE WILLIAM PETER 21   06-05-42   Engine Room Artificer 4th Class Royal Navy H.M. Submarine Urge United Kingdom ‘C/MX 76840’ CHATHAM NAVAL MEMORIAL 60, 2. SON OF GEORGE VICTOR AND CHARLOTTE LEASK WHITE, OF EAST HAM, ESSEX.

 

HARMAN STANLEY GORDON     06-05-42   Engine Room Artificer 4th Class Royal Navy H.M. Submarine Urge United Kingdom ‘C/MX 76070’ CHATHAM NAVAL MEMORIAL 60, 2.  

 

NORRIS JESSE   D S M 06-05-42   Leading Seaman Royal Navy H.M. Submarine Urge United Kingdom ‘C/JX 142500’ CHATHAM NAVAL MEMORIAL 52, 2. SON OF JESSE AND MINNIE NORRIS, OF ROCHESTER, KENT.

 

OSBORN HERBERT GEORGE ARTHUR 27 D S M 06-05-42   Leading Seaman Royal Navy H.M. Submarine Urge United Kingdom ‘C/JX 134094’ CHATHAM NAVAL MEMORIAL 52, 2. SON OF HERBERT CHARTER OSBORN AND ROSE EMILY OSBORN; HUSBAND OF VIOLET MAY OSBORN, OF CAMBRIDGE.

 

GROVES LAURENCE FRANK 36 D S M 06-05-42   Leading Seaman Royal Navy H.M. Submarine Urge United Kingdom ‘C/J 101563’ CHATHAM NAVAL MEMORIAL 52, 2. SON OF FRANK AND ROSE GROVES; HUSBAND OF GLADYS WINIFRED GROVES, OF FLEETWOOD, LANCASHIRE.

 

MORRIS FREDERICK HAROLD 22   06-05-42   Leading Seaman Royal Navy H.M. Submarine Urge United Kingdom ‘P/JX 145545’ PORTSMOUTH NAVAL MEMORIAL Panel 63, Column 1.

 

LAW ERIC CHARLES 22 Mentioned in Despatches 06-05-42   Leading Signalman Royal Navy H.M. Submarine Urge United Kingdom ‘C/JX 145120’ CHATHAM NAVAL MEMORIAL 58, 2. SON OF CHARLES FREDERICK AND LOUISA ALICE LAW.

 

WILKES SAMUEL CORNELIUS     06-05-42   Leading Stoker Royal Navy H.M. Submarine Urge United Kingdom ‘C/KX 81223’ CHATHAM NAVAL MEMORIAL 61, 3.  

 

WOOLRICH JOHN EDWARD 24   06-05-42   Leading Stoker Royal Navy H.M. Submarine Urge United Kingdom ‘P/KX 90716’ PORTSMOUTH NAVAL MEMORIAL Panel 68, Column 2. SON OF WILLIAM AND EDITH WOOLRICH, OF CHELL, STAFFORDSHIRE.

 

ASHFORD HAROLD GEORGE 32   06-05-42   Leading Telegraphist Royal Navy H.M. Submarine Urge United Kingdom ‘D/JX 127562’ PLYMOUTH NAVAL MEMORIAL Panel 68, Column 1. SON OF GEORGE AND ESTHER D. ASHFORD, OF FROME, SOMERSET.

 

ROGERS ROY WILLIAM GEORGE 22 D S M 06-05-42   Leading Telegraphist Royal Navy H.M. Submarine Urge United Kingdom ‘D/SS 26082’ PLYMOUTH NAVAL MEMORIAL Panel 68, Column 1. SON OF GEORGE WILLIAM AND EDITH LOUISA ROGERS, OF WHITSTABLE,

 

KENT. TOMKINSON EDWARD PHILIP 30 D S O and Bar 06-05-42  Lieut-Commander Royal Navy H.M. Submarine Urge United Kingdom PORTSMOUTH NAVAL MEMORIAL Panel 61. Column 3. SON OF ROBERT EDWARD AND BEATRICE LUCY TOMKINSON; HUSBAND OF MYRTLE ALICE TOMKINSON, OF LANGHAM, SUFFOLK.

 

ALLEN DAVID BENNETT   D S C 06-05-42   Lieutenant Royal Navy H.M. Submarine Urge United Kingdom PORTSMOUTH NAVAL MEMORIAL Panel 61, Column 3.

 

RANSOME JOHN SANDEMAN DEANE 26 D S C 06-05-42   Lieutenant Royal Naval Reserve H.M. Submarine Urge United Kingdom PORTSMOUTH NAVAL MEMORIAL Panel 71, Column 1. SON OF CAPTAIN FRANK DEANE RANSOME AND CELIA NOEL RANSOME.

 

POOLE JAMES MALCOLM STUART 23 D S C and Bar 06-05-42 Lieutenant Royal Navy H.M. Submarine Urge United Kingdom PORTSMOUTH NAVAL MEMORIAL Panel 62, Column 1. SON OF JAMES AND FLORENCE MAY POOLE; HUSBAND OF LILIAN ELIZABETH ANNE POOLE, OF STREATHAM HILL, LONDON.

 

BOTTING HENRY JOHN     06-05-42   Petty Officer Royal Navy H.M. Submarine Urge United Kingdom ‘C/JX 137747’ CHATHAM NAVAL MEMORIAL 51, 3.  

 

WATTS HENRY RONALD JOSEPH 31 D S M, Mentioned in Despatches 06-05-42   Petty Officer Royal Navy H.M. Submarine Urge United Kingdom ‘P/JX 129967’ PORTSMOUTH NAVAL MEMORIAL Panel 62, Column 3. SON OF JOSEPH EVANS WATTS AND EDITH CLARA WATTS, OF ARBORFIELD, BERKSHIRE. HIS BROTHER STANLEY HORACE WATTS ALSO FELL.

 

ASHFORD WILLIAM GEORGE 28 D S M 06-05-42   Petty Officer Stoker Royal Navy H.M. Submarine Urge United Kingdom ‘C/KX 82966’ CHATHAM NAVAL MEMORIAL 60, 3. SON OF HENRY GEORGE AND ALICE M. ASHFORD; HUSBAND OF VIOLET FRANCES ASHFORD, OF MERTON, SURREY.

 

WISEMAN PETER DUGDALE 27 Mentioned in Despatches 06-05-42   Petty Officer Telegraphist Royal Navy H.M. Submarine Urge United Kingdom ‘D/JX 134000’ PLYMOUTH NAVAL MEMORIAL Panel 68, Column 1. SON OF THOMAS AND JANE WISEMAN, OF BLYTH, NORTHUMBERLAND.

 

STANGER MARCUS 26   06-05-42   Stoker 1st Class Royal Navy H.M. Submarine Urge United Kingdom ‘D/KX 90258’ PLYMOUTH NAVAL MEMORIAL Panel 70, Column 3. HUSBAND OF GEORGINA ALEXANDRA STANGER, OF PLYMOUTH.

 

McMILLAN JOSEPH CRESSWELL DIXON 21   06-05-42   Stoker 1st Class Royal Navy H.M. Submarine Urge United Kingdom ‘D/SSX. 32970’ PLYMOUTH NAVAL MEMORIAL Panel 70, Column 2. SON OF ROBERT AND MARY A. MCMILLAN, OF FAULDHOUSE, WEST LOTHIAN.

 

TWIST HENRY ERNEST   D S M 06-05-42   Telegraphist Royal Navy H.M. Submarine Urge United Kingdom ‘D/JX 225829’ PLYMOUTH NAVAL MEMORIAL Panel 68, Column 2.

 

BAXTER LESLIE GORDON     06-05-42   Able Seaman Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve H.M. Submarine Urge. United Kingdom ‘C/LD/X 3971’ CHATHAM NAVAL MEMORIAL 66, 2.  

 

McDIARMID FRED 21   06-05-42   Able Seaman Royal Navy H.M. Submarine Urge. United Kingdom ‘P/SSX 32644’ PORTSMOUTH NAVAL MEMORIAL Panel 64, Column 2. SON OF GEORGE AND ELIZABETH B. MCDIARMID, OF GLOSSOP, DERBYSHIRE.

 

CHAMBERLAIN SIDNEY WILLIAM 22   06-05-42   Leading Seaman Royal Navy H.M. Submarine Urge. United Kingdom ‘P/SSX 22878’ PORTSMOUTH NAVAL MEMORIAL Panel 62, Column 3. SON OF ERNEST WILLIAM AND EMILY CHAMBERLAIN, OF BRIGHTON.

 

LEEKE RONALD WILLIAM 20   06-05-42   Leading Signalman Royal Navy H.M. Submarine Urge. United Kingdom ‘P/JX 154364’ PORTSMOUTH NAVAL MEMORIAL Panel 66, Column 2. SON OF THOMAS WILLIAM AND ADA DOROTHY LEEKE, OF SCOTTER, LINCOLNSHIRE.

 

LAMB JAMES WILFRED 24   06-05-42   Leading Stoker Royal Navy H.M. Submarine Urge. United Kingdom ‘P/KX 94635’ PORTSMOUTH NAVAL MEMORIAL Panel 68, Column 1. SON OF CLARENCE LAMB, AND OF JANE A. LAMB, OF YORK.

 

MAIDMENT JOHN 22   06-05-42   Leading Telegraphist Royal Navy H.M. Submarine Urge. United Kingdom ‘P/SSX 22031’ PORTSMOUTH NAVAL MEMORIAL Panel 66, Column 3. SON OF JOHN AND ETHEL MARY MAIDMENT, OF DORCHESTER, DORSETSHIRE.

 

BRYANT ALBERT EDWARD 38   06-05-42   Stoker 1st Class Royal Navy H.M. Submarine Urge. United Kingdom ‘P/K 61633’ PORTSMOUTH NAVAL MEMORIAL Panel 68, Column 2. SON OF ALBERT AND ROSE BRYANT; HUSBAND OF ETHEL MARY BRYANT.

 

BROWN CYRIL 28   06-05-42   Stoker 1st Class Royal Navy H.M. Submarine Urge. United Kingdom ‘P/KX 84490’ PORTSMOUTH NAVAL MEMORIAL Panel 68, Column 2. SON OF RUFUS AND HILDA ELIZA BROWN, OF COAL ASTON, DERBYSHIRE.

 

Mystery Sub Loss?

Here’s a puzzle.

In the records of the German navy command South (Marinebefehlshaber Sued – Admiral Weichold), there’s a telegram from a chap called Ahrens, who was assigned to the Regia Marina‘s torpedo boat Orsa, about a successful attack by Orsa on a submarine. Based on the report about the attack in the same file, Orsa was equipped with the German sonar equipment and depth charge launchers (see this older post), and Mr. Ahrens was an offiicial responsible for the final hand-over of this equipment to ships’ crews, and participated in the mission.

The text of the telegram is as follows:

131 Trapani 725 34 TF 8 1941

German Naval Command, Navy Ministry Rome

Entered Trapani with Orsa on 8 January 17.30 hours. Submarine attacked with visual success. Depart 8 January [should be 9?] 08.00 hours for Messina. Request information of Fuerbringer Berlin. Ahrens.

The separate report states that the attack happened on 7 January, at 09.45 hours. The target was identified as a submarine because of the very clear echo. The visual confirmation of success consisted of an oil spot on the surface, coming after a depth charge attack, an air bubble, and wooden pieces coming up.

Now here’s the puzzle. No submarine has been reported lost in the area on the 8 January or on the preceding days. One submarine went missing during this period, HMSub Triumph, but that was probably far away from Trapani, in the Aegean. More detail on this can be found at this link. HMSub Triumph was quite an interesting boat, having been involved in Operation FLIPPER, the raid on ‘rommel’s HQ’ (actually offices of the Chief Quartermaster Panzergruppe). And her successor in name is busy again in Libya today

Of course, it could be that even though visual confirmation of the success was obtained, the boat attacked was only damaged, or maybe not even that. One boat that was in the area just prior to the attack was the famous HMS Upholder, which on 5 January 42 had sunk Regia Marina sub Ammiraglio Saint Bon during a supply mission for North Africa.

So, does anyone have any ideas who was attacked by Orsa on the 7 January, if anybody?

Submarine Supplies to North Africa – May to November 1941

Submarines played a minor but interesting role in the supply of Axis forces in North Africa, even before the Regia Marina’s emergency programme of November. Throughout the campaign they delivered fuel, ammunition, and rations. When Bardia was invested in November 1941 during the early phase of CRUSADER, they were used to evacuate officer prisoners of war, such as Brigadier Hargest, commander of 5 New Zealand Brigade, who was captured on 27 November 1941 when his Brigade HQ was overrun, and high-ranking Italian officers who were evacuated to serve again when it became clear that Bardia was a lost cause. Submarines had the advantage of stealth, and they were small enough to use the smaller harbours along the coast, such as Derna, thereby reducing the need to spend fuel on forward transport, or to slot into capacity-constrained harbours such as Benghazi with additional supplies. Two submarines were lost on re-supply missions during CRUSADER, Carraciolo (sunk on 11 December by depth charges from Hunt-class destroyer HMS Farndale after a failed attack on a Tobruk convoy) and Saint Bon (sunk on 5 January by HM/Sub Upholder south of Sicily). Both of them were large ocean-going submarines of the Cagni class. The small amounts of fuel supplied by the submarines were nevertheless valuable. For example, a single run by a Cagni class submarine could supply sufficient aerial fuel to keep the Luftwaffe planes in North Africa flying for one day.

ON 21 November the German Navy Command (Seekriegsleitung) in Berlin requested from the Commander Naval Transport Italy (Seetransportchef Italien)an overview of German army supplies transported by submarine to North Africa. On 28 November the Seetransportchef responded with an overview that unfortunately does not contain dates, and for most of the missions fails to name the submarine. It is nevertheless of interest. On 6 February 1942 an update was provided which gave additional information. It is important to note that Italian supplies are not included in these volumes, and neither are those of the Luftwaffe.

The documents are translated below.

Berlin W 35 the 21 November 1941

Tirpitzufer 72-76

Fast Memo (Schnellkurzbrief)

To

Seetransportchef Italien

Rome

For the submarine transports carried out until now a list has to be supplied immediately, including the names, dates of leaving and entering harbor, and the type and volume of goods transported.

[…]

High Command of the Navy

Skl Qu.A. Via 10419/41 geh.

SECRET!

Quartermaster Rome                                        28 November 1941

(Army)

No. 6466/41 geh.

To

Seetransportchef

Rome

Referring to the meeting of Oberlt. Vogel and Lt. Kostas, Qu Rom sends the attached list of submarine transports thus far.

1 Attachment                                            The Quartermaster

Signed

SECRET!

Quartermaster Rome

(Army)

Supply Runs with Submarines thus far with supply for the Army (starting in May [1941])

No

Fuel

Ammunition

1

75

2

72.2

3

75

4

67.1

5

78.9

6

43

7

68.6

8

88.4

9

33.7

10

53

11

53.5

12

55

13

58

14

47

15

Zoea

56.3

16

Corridoni

17.6

65.7

17

Atropo

59.4

18

Saint Bon

140

19

Cagni

140.2

20

Atropo

56.8

21

Atropo

57

22

Saint Bon

133

5

23

Cagni

139

5

24

Millo

134

6.8

25

Micca

26

Saint Bon

137

2.3

1,014

1,009.5

Seetransportchef Italien Rome, 6 February 1942

B.Nr. Geh. 841/1942

To

German Navy Command Italy

Attn. Lt.Commander Stock

Attached we submit an overview of submarine transports during the year 1941.

Submarine Transports

Total supply since start (10 May 41 to 31 December 41):

1,086 tons fuel

1,072 tons ammunition

203 tons rations

No supplies were shipped in the month of September.

From 20 November to 30 December the following were shipped in 8 voyages:

675 tons fuel

9 tons ammunition

203 tons rations

Italian submarines transported until July only ammunition for the army (about 1,000 tons), from August to end of November fuel and a small volume of ammunition (900 tons fuel and 20 tons ammunition).

During December primarily Italian rations were transported, and at the end of December 4 voyages brought:

139 tons fuel

203 tons rations

for the German Afrikakorps.

To get an overall idea of the volume of submarine supplies compared to other measures, it is useful to look at the files of a single harbour loading unit. In this case the Seetransportstelle Brindisi, reporting on traffic ex-Taranto for the month of December.

Total supply was 12,116.6 tons, in the following categories:

259 men

100 vehicles

6 motor cycles

1,326 tons for the German army

359.5 tons for the German navy

10,431.1 tons for the German air force

Seven submarines were loaded for a total of 440 tons of army supply. By comparison, the cruiser Cadorna brought 233 tons and 88 men in one voyage, while 6 destroyers brought 49 men and 315.9 tons of supplies.

This article at Regiamarina.net gives a nice overview of Italian transport submarines.

Sinking of HM Submarine P.38 – 23 February 1942

This is only indirectly related to Operation CRUSADER, but of interest nevertheless because it shows the increasing sophistication of Italian escort vessels which happened around the time of the end of the operation, and which probably contributed somewhat to 1942 becoming the worst year for losses in the Mediterranean, with a total of 13 of HM Subs lost, compared to 9 in 1940 (admittedly in just over six months), and 11 each in 1941 and 1942. I have added information on the Italian convoy on 28 May, based on the entry in the Seekrieg website.

P.38, under the command of Lieutenant R.J. Hemingway RN DSC, was sunk by Tp Circe (Tp = Torpediniere – torpedo boat, a class of light escort destroyers), which sank or participated in the sinking of four Royal Navy submarines, HM S/M Grampus on 16 June 1940, HM S/M Tempest and P.38 in February 1942, and HM S/M Union in July 1942. Circe herself was lost on 27 November 1942 in a collision with auxiliary cruiser Citta di Tunisi. Lt. Hemingway was probably awarded his DSC on 20 December 1940 for  what was believed to be a successful action against an Axis submarine (either U-58, or Italian submarines Veniero or Otario) in the Bay of Biscay, while serving on HM S/M Tigris under Lt.Cdr. Bone, DSO, DSC. In reality however Tigris did not sink the target, whichever of the three it was. His previous command was HM S/M H.31, which was lost with all hands on 19 December 1941 in the North Sea.

P.38 was sunk while trying to attack one of the big convoys of early 1942, in this case the third major operation of the year, convoy K.7. It consisted of two separate convoys of six merchants each from Messina and Corfu. The convoys were the fast motor vessels Unione, Monginevro, Ravello (all in convoy 1), and Monviso, Lerici, and Giulio Giordani (convoy 2). They were escorted by destroyers in direct escort (Ugolino Vivaldi, Lanzerotto Malocello, Nicolo Zeno, (all Navigatori-class), Premuda (captured Yugoslav Dubrovnik), Strale (Freccia-class), – convoy 1; Antonio Pigafetta (F), Emanuele Pessagno, Antonio Usodimare, (all Navigatori-class) , Maestrale, Scirocco (both Maestrale-class) – convoy 2) and also by two squadrons of heavy escorts, those of the  old battleship Duilio with the Soldati-class destroyers Aviere, Ascari, Geniere, Camicia Nera, and the heavy cruisers Gorizia and Trento, the light cruiser Giovanni della Bande Nere, and the destroyers Alpino (Soldati), Antonio Da Noli (Navigatori), and Alfredo Oriani (Oriani/Poeti-class). Convoy 1 was escorted by the Spica-class torpedo boat Pallade, and convoy 2 by Spica-class torpedo boat Circe. Commander of the close escort of convoy 2 was the Captain of the destroyer Antonio Pigafetta.  It appears that only Circe and Pallade were equipped with the German S-Geraet sonar and German depth charge throwers (and probably rails, since references to depth charges used on Circe use two German separate designations).

Here’s the report of her captain, Capitano di Corvette (Lt.Cdr.) Palmas, which is held in the captured German records section in NARA. It can be found in the files of the German Naval Attache in Rome.

GKDOS 1706/42

28 March 1941 (sic!)

SECRET COMMAND AFFAIR!

REPORT ABOUT THE SINKING OF AN ENEMY SUBMARINE BY TORPEDO BOAT “CIRCE” ON 23.2.42 – ACCORDING TO STATEMENT BY COMMANDER K.KPT.PALMAS

CIRCE escorted a convoy of 3 steamers on the way to Tripolis. Calm sea. Light swell. Speed 14 knots.

Northwest of Cape Misurate an echo was reported at 1014 [hours] in 46 degrees, 1,800 metres. Bearing wanders out quickly. Signal to convoy to turn to port.

Boat [CIRCE] turns into the bearing, increases speed to 18 – 20 knots and moves across the target. At around 1,000m the periscope is sighted at the position of the echo. With 16 knots moved onto it and dropped six depth charges from rails and four from throwers into the location of the dive which was indicated by air bubbles. Depth setting 70 metres. Shortly after the submarine surfaces with heavy list to stern, it had apparently used pressurised air [emergency surfacing]. Other boats [escorts] and planes open fire and throw depth charges, in some cases in front of other boats. One Italian rating is killed by friendly machine-gun fire. This makes an orderly attack by CIRCE impossible. After the other boats have been called off, CIRCE again receives an echo from the by now again submerged submarine. This resurfaces shortly after like a dolphin with running screws and drops 45 degrees listing to prow into the depth. A lot of oil and air bubbles come up, which only slowly reduce. Apart from that parts of the interior fittings (polished cupboard door, table top), one bag with flags and body parts (lung) drift up.

Boat remains 1.5 hours on the scene of the attack. Echo shows the same location until the last. Water depth 350m. The echo is probably caused by the continuing rising of oil and the still escaping air.

In his formal report to Supermarina, the Italian admiralty, he also analysed the performance of the attack. Below is the section on lessons learnt.

  1. March during lively sea during the night 22 to 23 February has taxed the ship’s hull very much, especially while marching direction 180 degrees.
    Three cracks occured at the movement gap [Dehnungsfuge], which is situated in the centre of the boat, between machinery centre and the ventilators of boiler room 2.
  2. In contrast to the attack on 13 February [on HM S/M Tempest, which was sunk], this attack on a submarine was carried out almost with lightning speed, with the intent to prevent the submarine, which was already lying ready to attack, from carrying this out and to then hunt and destroy it.
    The second task, far more important by comparison to the first, was achieved almost immediately. The convoy could, because of my signals, turn away 90 degrees to port, and thereby move away from the danger zone. The second task was then resolved shortly after, by the almost immediate dropping of all depth charges, which were set at 75 metres depth [sic!] from the rails and throwers.
    The explosion has certainly hit the submarine which was in rapid dive. It was so strong that the enemy commander could do nothing else but surface immediately and give pressurised air on all the tanks.
    The second and last attempt by the submarine to surface failed, and it dived forever.
  3. The attach was carried out based on the information received from the S-Geraet, the prior sighting of the periscope, and the air bubbles which remained on the surface when the submarine dived rapidly.
    These visible signs led me to drop all depth charges at once, even though by this I partially violated existing regulations. 11 depth charges were dropped.
    I found it not useful to undertake further depth charge drops during the later phases of the search since the proof I had seen and collected left not the slightest doubt about the result of the attack.
    The parts of the interior fittings of the submarine and the human remains prove beyond any doubt the destruction of the submarine. During the two unsuccessful attempts to surface the tower was closed and nobody came out.
    The small bag with flags was probably inside the tower under the hatch, inside the pressure vessel.
  4. The behaviour of the crew was again commendable. The rapidity of the attack has excited the crew beyond belief.
  5. The explosion of a depth charge packet is extremely strong. The hull of the torpedo boat has vibrated noticeably, but not too much, because I carried out the attack at a speed of 15 knots.

It is clear from this account that P.38 and her crew never stood a chance. The Italian commander made all the right decisions (and risky ones – emptying his depth charge racks could have landed him in trouble if P.38 had survived the first attack), he had advanced detection systems that allowed him to find the enemy (and I wonder if 10th Flotilla on Malta was aware of this – does anyone know?), and his relentless initial attack doomed the submarine.All 32 hands on her were lost. May they Rest in Peace. You can read a bit of background on one of her crew, 22-year old Clarence Durnell, at this link. Before rejoining the convoy escort, Circe made a final gesture to the fallen, according to the report of her commander:

Before I finally move off, I cross the site of the sinking at slow speed and and offer the fallen honourable recognition with the whole crew on combat stations.

The convoy arrived in Tripoli without any losses, and brought much needed reinforcements for the Axis forces in North Africa, allowing them to build up strength for the Gazala battles in May 1942, the conquest of Tobruk, and the advance to El Alamein.

Many thanks for Dili from the Comando Supremo forum for his comments and corrections.