Chapter II
Transition: January - February 1943

Convoy Codes explained...

  1. Comment on radio intelligence for this period.

  2. Groups Falke and Jaguar waited in vain for expected convoy.

  3. A new pattern begins to evolve.

  4. Success on Gibraltar lane. Delfin-TM 1.

  5. The new pattern begins, to move.

  6. The new pattern receives its final touch. Ex-Landsknecht, HX 224.

  7. Pfeil - SC 118. "Be hard and ruthless in action. Think of the East Front." (2254/5 February 1943).

  8. COMSUBs not satisfied with SC 118 action.

  9. Lapse of offensive against eastbound convoys as U-boats turn against westbound convoys, ON 165-166-167. 9 February to 6 March.

  10. Ex-Haudegen and Taifun: ON 165.

  11. Ritter-Knappen: ON 166. "A run of the mill success."

  12. Operation on ON 167.


  1. Comment on radio intelligence for this period.

    The first part of January showed no great change either in the number of U-boats at sea or in their general arrangement. There was, however, a marked change in the Allied camp. Barely underway in December, the reading of U-boat traffic was sufficiently current to effect successful convoy diversions and thus contribute to the. sharp decrease in merchant shipping losses for January. Unfortunately, the reading of traffic dropped behind towards the end of the month. The lag prevented radio intelligence from having a clear and timely picture of the change in the U-boat pattern just at the critical moment which preceded contact and operation against convoys HX 224 and SC 118.

  2. Groups Falke and Jaguar waited in vain for expected convoy.

    The reading of December traffic was helpful in appreciating the possibilities of the U-boat situation for early January. With the formation of Falke in the Raufbold-Spitz area for another southwest convoy, and of group Jaguar north of Flemish Cap for a resumption of attacks on eastbound convoys, the pattern of early December was restored. With good convoy intelligence this system might have worked, for only reliable knowledge of convoy routes could effect the small number of patrolling boats, in themselves inadequate to cover the entire arc of possible diversions. Current radio intelligence was able to follow the wind-up of Spitz-Ungestrüm operation against ON 154 as well as the plans to set up group Jaguar off Newfoundland. It was also known that continued bad weather at the Neumann (U-117) refueling rendezvous was constituting a serious delay in building up Jaguar to battle strength. At the same time the first patrol line of Falke had been accurately deciphered and, although it was not possible to follow all the details of its reconnaissance maneuvers, the area of this activity was sufficiently well known. Once the convoys got clear of these outer barriers they had the mid-ocean more or less to themselves. Allied radio intelligence was making itself felt. For the greater part of January U-boat groups swept and


    re-swept, made course and reversed course, and found nothing. German intelligence continued to supply the lines with the dates and even the speeds of the expected convoys but the rhythm was stalled and no boat came out. "You can count on announced convoy" (1624/13 January 1943), but still no contact.

  1. A new pattern begins to evolve.

    Fully aware that convoys were going around his lines, COMSUBs became stricter about breeches of radio silence and more vocal in his fears of Allied radar. U-boat lines were far from idle and were shifting in an effort to close convoy escapes. Falke was sent north apd, with the addition of more and more U-boats, eventually covered all routes from 61°30'N to 53°27'N at 26°W. Meanwhile group Jaguar was going through a similar evolution although smaller in scale and by 18 January was testing the assumption that eastbound convoys were heading due north along the Newfoundland coast before putting out to sea. As a result of these shifts, it was appreciated by mid-January that Falke was in a position to operate on east or westbound convoys, to close eastbound convoys picked up off Newfoundland by Jaguar or to support operations on southwest bound convoys contacted by group Habicht, an new group known then to be forming to the southeast of Falke for a convoy expected on the 16th. Habicht's convoy was successfully diverted. By 20 January there were 28 U-boats lined up just east of 30°W, Habicht's nine having joined on to the south end of Falke. Two important elements were still lacking in this transitional arrangement. First, the pattern had yet to move as it began to do when Haudegen (ex-Falke) started its sweep west and second, the group assigned to block southwest convoys had yet to turn its attention to the west and join in the general sweep.

  2. Success on Gibraltar lane. Delfin-TM 1.

    The peculiar lull in the North Atlantic offensive must have been something of a worry in Berlin, where the Navy was surely receiving the most urgent commands to relieve the Eastern Front. To offset the failure of group operations in the north there was the destruction of the tanker convoy TM 1 by group Delfin. First sighted by Auffermann (U-514), who was


    enroute to the Trinidad area, the convoy had been shadowed from 20°27'N - 45°33'W into the arms of approaching group Delfin. The sinking of 13 out of 15 tankers (actually seven out of nine) was recognized as a most important blow for the African Front. Grand Admiral Raeder called the operation a "brilliant joint success of the well planned leadership on the part of COMSUBs and the smart attack of the submarines group Delfin." (2139/10). The Allies likewise had their appreciation of the TM 1 action. Results of January in the North Atlantic were so hopeful that complacency was feared and antisubmarine authorities felt obliged to point to the TM 1 operation as indicative of what was still to be expected of the U-boat on the North Atlantic lanes. January was a "lucky" month, the crisis was yet to come.

  1. The new pattern begins to move.

    The group pattern which began to show at the end of January and which remained more or less constant for the remainder of the winter offensive was in part the natural result of shifts made to improve reconnaissance during the weeks of failure. The use of the term "pattern" should not be misleading and should not obscure the fact that group arrangements were conditioned and altered by circumstances, accidents, and a vigorous measure of opportunities. The new pattern began to function in part on about 20-21 January with the conversion of Falke into westerly fan sweep of Haudegen. On the same day (21 January) that Jaguar confirmed the extreme northerly diversion of SC 117 by contact in 53°N - 51°W, Haudegen caught HX 223 in its net at 58°N - 41°W. Although both operations were frustrated by weather plague, resumption of contact on convoys must have been encouraging. One group, however, still remained as a reminder of the earlier arrangements. When Haudegen began its sweep to the west, a new group Landsknecht (20 U-boats) was formed from 55° to 50°N - 26° to 24°W to operate on southwest bound convoys, thus continuing the block which had been represented in the past by Raufboud, Spitz, Falke, and Habicht. When Landsknecht was disbanded 28 January after failure to contact an expected southwest bound convoy, the U-boats were ordered to cruise west.


  1. The new pattern receives its final touch. Ex-Landsknecht, HX 224.

    U-boat attacks on HX 224 and SC 118 seem to have been the results of accident, an accident which probably clinched the new pattern. Ex-Landsknecht submarines were not in formation as they proceeded west but were merely heading for an area off Newfoundland, there presumably to reform. It was apparently planned to surround the American convoy exit and to negate initial convoy diversion at its source. Haudegen's continued lack of success in the Newfoundland-Greenland area had not dissuaded COMSUBs from the belief that HX-SC convoys were hugging the coast of Greenland and Iceland. He thought that Haudegen would intercept HX 224 and SC 118. Even after U-456's accidental contact on HX 224 in 53°09'N - 30°55'W on 1 February, COMSUBs still believed that its SC sister convoy might be taking the extreme northerly route, hence his concern to establish the nature of the convoy which had been picked up by Haudegen on 2 February. No chances were taken, however, and before Haudegen (Nord sturm) had settled the issue by reporting that the convoy was the "smaller Greenland convoy" and not the England convoy, Landsknecht submarines were being formed as new group Pfeil to seize the second convoy "suspected to be on about the same route as Teichert's (U-456)." (2131/1 February 1943). As Pfeil swept carefully towards SC 118, Teichert's convoy was being pursued to 17°W. The attack on SC 118 will be singled out for special comment. It was the first major success against an eastbound convoy during the winter offensive. It was the first major success against any North Atlantic convoy since the operation against ON 154 at the end of December. The convoy's escort was strong and the greater part of the losses was suffered after very long range aircraft had arrived over the convoy.

  2. Pfeil - SC 118. "Be hard and ruthless in action. Think of the East Front." (2254/5 February 1943).

    Contact was made at dawn 4 February in 50°09'N 37°05'W when the Norwegian ship Annik fired a snowflake by mistake. The bridge watch of U-187 saw it and investigated. By 1048/4 Munnich, the Commander, finally got through to Control with his report of a very large convoy. The prompt sinking of Munnich and the convoy's alteration of course left


    the U-boats confused. COMSUBs came in to demand shadowers' reports and assure the U-boats that refueling was planned. Rudloff's (U-609) report of star shells about midnight in 51°33'N - 35°55'W (2323/4) led to his immediate appointment as shadower, for COMSUBs believed that "star shells are unquestionably over convoy." (2345/4) But Rudloff had been following the erring port wing of the convoy which had failed to alter course. When Rudloff found the main convoy on the afternoon of the 5th, COMSUBs instructed his men as follows:

    "The first night does not show a thing. Experience shows the great blow does not come until later, when the enemy has been softened by the continued attacks, when he has no more depth charges left and when he can no longer cope with the great number of submarines. Therefore: always keep pursuing and attacking. " (1521/5 February 1943 )

    Hoping to come to the attack that night COMSUBs signaled at 2254/5:

    "1. With all your means try to begin contact. The convoy must not be lost again. Favorable weather situation. The defense is powerless in that weather. Location devices are greatly hindered above and under the water..."

    Nevertheless only three U-boats were in a position to attack at this time, and they were discouraged by the strong defense. Rudloff lost contact the morning of the 6th. At 0940/6 COMSUBs complained that "more submarines should have gone at it on Rudloff's reports," urged them to make sweeping runs at high speed and use their hydrophones. Hydrophone bearings had apparently brought V-454 (Hackländer) to attack during the morning on what he believed was the provisioning ship for the convoy escorts. The attack failed, "since enemy used radar and escaped." (1015/6) On the afternoon of the 6th the indefatigable Rudloff again gained contact. By this time all of group Pfeil had caught up with SC 118 but instead of sighting and sinking reports they were sending aircraft reports. Two submarines were temporary put out of action and at 1600/6 COMSUBs ordered: "Further reports about aircraft are superfluous." Nevertheless, in the next two hours he received signals from four more U-boats that had been subjected to


    aircraft attacks. It was aircraft that forced Rudloff to dive and lose his contact late on the 6th. (2130/6 This was the last transmission ever sent by U-609). The U-boats seemed firmly under Allied control. Hence it was something of a shock when, during the night of 6-7 February, seven ships were sunk within three hours from the midst of the convoy. These successful attacks were the work of two men who had gotten inside the convoy defenses: Baron von Forstner (U-402) who claimed 6 ships and Franke (U-262) who claimed one sunk and one hit. COMSUBs continued to urge Forstner on through the night of 89 February. The action was discontinued on the morning of the 9th.

  1. COMSUBs not satisfied with SC 118 action.

    If the SC 118 action served as a reminder to the Allies that the U-boat crisis was still to come, it also served the German navy as a stimulus to greater effort. The action was still going on when Command announced the great victory to all U-boats:

    "1. Despite strong air (protection) on February 6 (V-boats) kept contact tenaciously - until early today - on large convoy bound for England. (First) seized on February 4 in BD 1190. While only 1 tanker and 2 stragglers were sunk by evening 6 February, during the past night a total of 9 ships of almost 70,000 tons were sunk. During this action the following distinguished themselves particularly: Forstner (402) by sinking 6 (ships); Franke (262) by sinking 3; Rudloff (609) by keeping contact tenaciously. Operations continues. Last position AL 44." (1533/7 February 1943)
    Baron von Forstner went home to receive the Knights Cross and the congratulations of High Command. Privately, U-boat Command prepared to study the operation in great detail. Pfeil U-boats were ordered:

    "to make up for report exact route, chart of convoy operation with own route and enemy route on basis of shadower report on which you operated. Draw on tracing paper. Charts 1897 large and 1872 large. All dives,


    surfacing, airplane attacks etc. are to be drawn in." (1849/9 February 1943)1

    Although "recognition" was sent to Pfeil "for tenacious and hard fighting" with special mention for Forstner, Rudloff and Franke, COMSUBs judgment was: "But still more submarines ought to have come against so numerous a group." (0108/1 0) One might allow that there had not been sufficient time for a grand scale preparation. The contact which set the thing off, Teichert on HX 224, had come at a time when the 30°W area was denuded of U-boats, Haudegen having gone on west, and its replacement formation (Neptun-Ritter) not yet on hand for massed attack. Furthermore, the attempt to exploit the HX 224 opportunity, at the moment the only bird in the hand, had drawn off several of the ex-Landsknecht U-boats. In fact only nine U-boats actually came to grips with SC 118. Against these nine the convoy had 12 escorts plus very long range aircraft to protect its 65 ships. Of the nine U-boats three were sunk, including the two shadowers, Munnich and Rudloff. Of the remaining six U-boats, five were damaged, three so seriously that they were forced to return.

    9. Lapse of offensive against eastbound convoys as U-boats turn against westbound convoys, ON 165-166-167. 9 February to 6 March.

    From 5 to 28 February U-boat traffic was read steadily with an average time lag of little more than a day, which was well within the limit of operational use for the normal cases of group lines and convoys but not a guarantee against stray contacts or against last minute German intelligence. Following


    the SC 118 operation U-boats achieved no further action of any significance against eastbound convoys for more that three weeks. Haudegen continued to sweep west but gave no return on the large investment it represented. By 10 February, Haudegen was forming an arc from Belle Isle to Flemish Cap. Low on fuel, it had to be disbanded on 15 February. For more than three weeks it had slowly cruised westward, had "expected" no less than seven convoys, and had achieved no results other than a few contacts which were canceled by bad weather. As Haudegen broke up, eight to return to western France, the rest to proceed to supply sub U-460 (Schnoor), first Ritter and then Neptun were beginning to retrace the U-boat line along 30°W from 60° to 50°N; from there the westward sweep for "the NE convoy" was to begin again, this time on course 235° for convoy HX 226. By 16 February it was apparently believed that the convoy was ahead of the U-boat schedule and Ritter-Neptun boats, now 26 in number, were put through rapid paces in preparation. Although set for an eastbound convoy the new trap was to be sprung by west convoys. A series of unforeseen events threw the majority of North Atlantic U-boats into a hubbub of action against three successive ON convoys (165-166-167), two contacted by accident and one as a result of last minute intelligence.

  1. Ex-Haudegen and Taifun: ON 165.

    Enroute home ex-Haudegen U-boats ran into ON 165. When sighted by U-69 (Graf) in 51°15'N - 40045'W, COMSUBs insisted on aggressive action to the very limit of fuel as a last opportunity to make up for Haudegen's long and enforced inactivity. The U-boats destined for the refueler were called Taifun and together with the submarines going home, were to strike the convoy with the force of nature.

    "1. Continue to operate as long as fuel supply permits. In view of weather situation, count on lower enemy speed and on scattered single ships. Torpedoes do their work even in very bad weather.

    2. Time discontinuation so that provisioning square will be reached with 6 to 8 cbm." (1801/18 February 1943)


    Again at 1910/18, after U-403's (Clausen) contact, COMSUBs ordered his men to stick at it to the very end since "torpedoes do their work even in bad weather, destroyers are powerless." By 0749/19 it was just plain: "Attack, Attack!" The actual loss of three ships from the convoy could not in itself have been impressive, but, before the action had ended, COMSUBs attention was diverted to a saving prospect: ON 166.

  1. Ritter-Knappen: ON 166. "A run of the mill success."

    Before Ritter and Neptun could execute the last of the series of adjustments designed for HX 226, all orders were canceled late in the afternoon of 18 February for a westbound convoy, expected two days later. COMSUBs issued three orders within 27 minutes, late on 18 February. He reformed Neptun and Ritter to line from 59°45'N to 52°45'N along 30°W to sweep east southeast, while a new group of 4 U-boats, Knappen, formed from 53° to 52°N and 28° to 27°W to sweep due east.

    As in the case of ON 154, the convoy attempted to clear the area by continued diversion to the south but was caught by the southeastern extension (Knappen), which thereby fulfilled its purpose with precision. At 1055/20 Höltring (U-604) in Knappen reported "possibly convoy screws in 040 true; wide band, very soft." Putting Neptun on course 260° to maintain the sweeping block against northeast convoys, COMSUBs released Ritter to operate, once Höltring's hydrophones had been confirmed by sightings. During the night Höltring was driven off by destroyers but, by the following afternoon, Ritter had closed the convoy and claims of sinkings began to appear in traffic. As the day wore on ex-Haudegen U-boats began to join from ahead. Subs which had to drop out were instructed to wait for ON 167 which was now being shadowed by outbound U-boats. The Schnoor refueling rendezvous had to be moved out of the way and Vowe (U-462) was hurried to the general area to assist Schnoor in the task of general refueling which could be anticipated. By afternoon of the 22nd some 20 U-boats were on the convoy, many of them low on fuel. Sinking reports were now streaming in. Having explained refueling plans, COMSUBs ordered "continue to operate accordingly without regard to fuel consumption. Your one aim is to get at the convoy again and again as quickly as possible." (1753/23) It was a good day, so good that U-boats were reminded to adhere strictly to Standing War Order 509


    (concerning the assessment of damage done) and to report faithfully if another sub had had a hand in the torpedoing. "Don't let go. We must get the rest!" (2021/23) The U-boats dogged every attempt to throw them off and attacked the convoy all the way to 45°N - 45°W. On the morning of 26 February, the score was counted and U-boats commended "for exceptionally stubborn and energetic fighting during 6 day pursuit." (1024/26) Twenty-three ships were claimed sunk and seven torpedoed. Of the 19 submarines officially assigned to the task 13 had "a direct share in the great success." (1024/26) The whole operation was summed up as follows: "For us a run of the mill success, for Tommy, one of the greatest of convoy catastrophes." (1024/26)

  1. Operation on ON 167.

    The attack on convoy ON 167, like that on ON 165, was the result of accidental contact and like the operation on ON 166 offered an opportunity for a fun run across the North Atlantic in a latitude most favorable to the U-boat and unfavorable for convoy defense. The result, however, was nothing like the ON 166 success, for the operation had not been planned and U-boats were unable to exploit the early contact despite a long effort which involved the diversion of fresh U-boats bound for the Burggraf formation against eastbound convoys. Prospects may have been too exciting with a tendency to assume that the self-evident superiority of the German U-boat would make all things possible. It was something of a let-down when the convoy could not be found again after group Sturmbock had been hurriedly formed to continue the operation.


Group Pfeil - SC 118, February 1943


Groups Ritter, Knappen, and Neptun - ON 166, February 1943


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1. The request mentioned (in 1849/9) seems a little surprising in that it comes so late in the V-boat war. In part it was merely a reemphasis of something which had been carried on U-boat books since early in the war. Standing War Order #501 in the edition carried in 1941 mentions "sketches of battle situations (attacks on convoys, shadowing, etc.)" as one among many supplements to be prepared for submission with the War Diary. Whether or not this particular supplement had been overlooked in the past is not known but it is apparent that Pfeil operation on SC 118 recalled it to mind. On 23 February 1943 the request for convoy battle charts was specifically issued as Order #33. (0949/23 February 1943) The request was then incorporated in the 24 April 1943 edition of Standing War Order 501, after the opportunity for its greatest usefulness had passed.

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