Chapter X
Last Challenge of the Pre-Schnorchel U-boat

  1. The U-boat war contracts.

  2. Renewal of activities against Gibraltar-England convoys: Groups Schill and Weddigen.

  3. Group Coronel and successors: Groups Sylt, Amrum and Föhr.

  4. Striking characteristics of Group Rügen: individual U-boat aggressiveness and observation of convoy movements.

  5. Appearance of weather boats.

  6. Group Borkum engagements with U.S. task groups: TG 21.14 and TG 21.16.

  7. Groups Stürmer and Hinein.

  8. Failure of Group Igel and abandonment of "individual initiative" plan by Command.

  9. Group Preussen: the last "wolfpack" before the Invasion.

  10. Net results of the renewed offensive.


  1. The U-boat war contracts.

    With the second evacuation of the Northwest Atlantic in November 1943 any hope of reviving the existing U-boat fleet as the first line of German defense was buried. There was no dispersal this line. Even had dispersal been possible, the hour was growing late. Instead U-boats were drawn back toward the homeland and concentrated off the British western approaches and along the UK-Gibraltar lane, where they left to attempt a modified form of group warfare. Throughout the winter they fought their stubborn, holding action with occasional flashes of offensive spirit and continuing losses. The groups were characterized by long life submerged, by slowness, and silence. The Grand Admiral turned his attention to the construction of a new fleet, but persisted in demanding that the most be made of the one at sea.

  2. Renewal of activities against Gibraltar-England convoys: Groups Schill and Weddigen.

    In conjunction with the operations against convoys in the North Atlantic, action had been taken up against convoys on the Gibraltar-England lane, in the area northeast of the Azores. The operation of Group Schill and its successor, Group Weddigen, extended from late October to early December. Due to the fact that there was less area in which to maneuver and to the ability of the Germans to make considerable use of reconnaissance aircraft, some of these convoys were not able to avoid the patrol lines altogether. However, in half a dozen operations, the Germans did not achieve - any great success. COMSUBs himself justified the operations only because they forced the British to cut down on antisubmarine activities in the Bay of Biscay.

  3. Group Coronel and successors: groups Sylt, Amrum and Föhr.

    After two weeks of inactivity in the North Atlantic, Group Coronel was set up on 2 December to operate on a convoy from a position closer to the Western Approaches than any previous group. Colonel was set up fairly well south, across an


    approximate great circle route. The convoy however, made its run through the northern end of the line unnoticed. Colonel continued to have no success whatsoever in intercepting "expected" convoys, although the lines were shifted almost daily.

    Three new and short-lived groups were formed from Coronel U-boats, Group Sylt, Amrum and Föhr, on 18 December. Of the three, Group Föhr was the most promising. It was told to cruise on the surface even during the day. The order to carry out so daring an action was soon rescinded. The problem of finding the convoys was getting desperate, else U-boats would never have been ordered to offer such fine targets for attack. The only convoy which was contacted was let go, at COMSUBs orders. The total operations of Group Coronel and its successors extended over 17 days. During this time some 20 U-boats had swept back and forth across an area 5 degrees in latitude and 12 degrees in longitude. They were assigned at least 13 distinct positions, yet of the seven convoys which they were to intercept, only two were contacted.

  1. Striking characteristics of Group Rügen: individual U-boat aggressiveness and observation of convoy movements.

    1. "Make determined use of chances for attack."

      Group Rügen, formed 24 December, had two striking characteristics. It was patterned on the type of Group Eisenhart, small units over a considerable area. To be successful against convoys, such a disposition demanded great aggressiveness on the part of the individual commanders. They were exhorted to: "Make determined use of chances for attack, since, owing to the small number of boats, the period of fighting is bound to be short." (1252/22) Such aggressiveness was just the quality which had been lacking. Rügen may have been organized less with a view to sinking a large number of ships than in the hope of providing COMSUBs with much needed information as to the convoy routes.

    2. Immobility of Group Rügen.

      The essentially informative function of Group Rügen is brought out by its second characteristics - a peculiarity which


      became even more marked as time went on - its lack of movement. As in the case of Coronel the area it covered remained constant, and submarines wove back and forth across their assigned positions. But in contrast to the restlessness of Coronel, the U-boats of Group Rügen were moved only seldom from one assigned position to another. The U-boats were assigned only nine different positions within the first month of the group's five week existence. As a result, less refueling was necessary, and the 500 ton submarines in the group were able to remain active for unusually long periods without being refueled.

    1. New developments in tactical handling.

      This change in the function of the group necessitated a corresponding change in tactical handling. COMSUBs sent out relatively few reports of convoys to be expected. Although quite a few convoys were contacted, even during the remaining days of December, COMSUBs rarely ordered any section of Group Rügen to operate on such reports. The individual U-boats were expected to do this of their own accord. Add to this the fact that all unit transmissions except the tactically essential ones were discouraged, and it becomes evident that Group Rügen represented an increase in responsibility for the U-boat Commander at the expense of Control. It was as though COMSUBs had nothing more to give his boats in the way of aid. With Group Rügen the general method of procedure which had for so long obtained with regard to U-boats on station patrol in distant areas began to be adapted to North Atlantic convoy activities.

      The total accomplishment of the five weeks of the existence of this group was one merchant ship sunk. The pessimism of the German High Command with regard to the present state of submarine warfare was matched only by its optimism when it considered the future. Its confidence was still based upon the hope of perfecting a variety of technical devices which would enable the U-boats to "catch up with the enemy's lead." The hope was not without reason, for the first schnorchel equipped U-boat appeared in the Atlantic in January.


  1. 5. Appearance of weather boats.

    It was in this period, beginning on 31 December, that a new type of operation began in the North Atlantic. Within specially designated areas in the central North Atlantic, U-boats reported the state of the weather to Control twice a day. This task was their only duty, but was of the utmost importance. The U-boat was now being used in an attempt to forecast the Allied invasion.

  2. Group Borkum engagements with U.S. task groups: TG 21.14 and TG 21.16.

    After a lapse of nearly a fortnight, action against Gibraltar-England convoys was resumed during the last ten days of December. On the 18th, Group Borkum was formed. On the 23rd, Borkum was advised of an "enemy carrier and cruiser" in the neighborhood. Contact was made on TG 21.14, the USS Card and four destroyers. A battle ensued which lasted two days. The Germans claimed four destroyers sunk, and the task group claimed one U-boat sunk. But the U-boats seem to have had the best of it, sinking one destroyer, while one U-boat was slightly damaged. Meanwhile, the convoy expected had dodged to the west. It was chased, but to no avail. During the night of 31 December, various boats of Group Borkum located parts of TG 21.16, the USS Block Island and four destroyers, but the action was inconclusive and the group turned toward a southbound convoy. Aircraft reconnaissance was not available, but COMSUBs hoped to compensate for this by having the U-boats remain on the surface. Since nine submarines in the group were equipped with the new 37 mm automatic anti-aircraft gun, COMSUBs expected them to fight it out with any aircraft they might meet.

    Group Borkum lasted for 25 days. During this time COMSUBs had hoped they would intercept six convoys. Yet, constantly worried and held under by carrier and land based aircraft and by destroyers of task groups, they never made substantial contact with any of the convoys. The campaign on the Gibraltar lane ended with this group. Its nuisance value was great, but as an offensive weapon it was no more effective than its counterpart on the US-UK lanes.


  1. Groups Stürmer and Hinein.

    Groups Stürmer and Hinein were formed on 26 and 27 January, 1944. The former surrounded the island of Rockall, and the latter took it up its position a short distance to the west of southern Ireland. U-boat groups had never before operated so close to the United Kingdom. Despite the favorable position for convoy contact and Command's evident corrections of his convoy plot, successful convoy evasion continued. Days of fruitless searching preceded the disbanding of the two groups on 3 February.

  2. Failure of Group Igel and abandonment of "individual initiative" plan by Command.

    Group Igel was formed immediately thereafter, and accomplished nothing for the two weeks of its life except the expenditure of a considerable amount of precious fuel oil. After the Group Rügen fiasco, in which each commander was expected to use his own initiative in attacking, this method of handling was evidently reconsidered and abandoned. Group Igel was given every possible assistance. The first convoy slipped through their fingers nonetheless, as did the other two on which operation was intended.

    Just before this unfortunate group was converted into Group Hai, long messages of encouragement and admonition were sent. "The coming operation is to be fought with all available forces, in order to fight a convoy battle in the old style," with the qualification that "the first night must produce the main blow from all submarines, since further operation during the day is questionable because of carrier aircraft." (2236/17) A final sentence, indicating the vital need of a successful action against a convoy, warns: "This long-prepared action must succeed. Do your best."

  3. Group Preussen: the last "wolfpack" before the invasion.

    Group Preussen was formed 22 February, considerably to the southwest of recent groups, and was ordered to watch for an eastbound convoy. It waited in vain for the convoy had passed to the south. During March, COMSUBs sent no messages to Preussen informing them of the arrival of convoys. After long inactivity the group was disbanded on 22 March, and the


    boats scattered over the North Atlantic in free maneuver areas. The last "wolfpack" in the history of the old style German U-boat had vanished in failure.

  1. Net results of the renewed offensive.

    The tabulation of results of the seven months' group operations shows a sharp contrast between the cost of the undertaking and its meager returns. An average of 60 U-boats a month lay across convoy paths in the North Atlantic and off convoy gathering and dispersal points. After the 11 ships sunk by Group Leuthen in September and October, only eight more can be credited to the Germans, a total of 19 ships. A heavy toll was exacted for these few successes, for 50 U-boats were sunk, plus two refuelers sunk at rendezvous.

    The last concerted attempt to sever Allied supply lines before the invasion was ended. With unswerving devotion to one single purpose, the campaign was fought in the face of great Allied superiority in ships, men, aircraft, and location devices, including radio intelligence. Even after the first few months; when defeat must have been plainly seen by the Germans, there was no yielding. Only when the obvious eminence of invasion forced German Command to begin hurried readjustments in the disposal of the German navy did the effort cease.

    April and May, 1944, were months of waiting. Weather reporters continued to be active in the central North Atlantic, and U-boats were given free maneuver in the entire North Atlantic area. A few boats continued their operations in distant patrol stations, but the majority of boats were held in French ports, waiting for whatever was to come.


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