U-boat Group Operations Against U.S. and British Convoys Bound to or from North Africa
November 1942 - April 1943
(In view of the special interest which attaches to the opening of the Allied North African offensive with the landings in November 1942, a summary of available relevant November 1942 U-boat traffic is included, although this traffic was not read until December 1942.)
First word of the Allied invasion went out on U-boat circuits at 0710B/8 November: "Americans have landed in Morocco and Algiers on large scale." At the same time 15 U-boats at sea in the Atlantic were ordered to the landing beach at high speed. That the U-boat navy was caught off guard seems beyond dispute. At 1528/8 nine U-boats were taken from North Atlantic convoy operation and ordered to the Gibraltar approaches. As additional U-boats were rushed to the Gibraltar area, some of them on into the Mediterranean to support the concentration of Mediterranean U-boats, COMSUBs admitted at 2212/8 that the situation was "obscure." On the following morning Admiral Dönitz repeated Hitler's order to Mediterranean U-boats: "I expect the most ruthless victorious attack," and added the following for Atlantic U-boats:
'I expect the same kind of attack from the subs stationed off of Morocco and Gibraltar. Without reserve we must put our insatiable, forceful will to attack, into this task set by the Führer. Speedy sinking of a transport can have the greatest importance with regard to American attacks and the French defense." 9/11/42 Schlagtot formed (8 U-boats) with attack area off NW coast of Africa to attack allied landing forces. U-572 (Hirsacher) sighted about 20 transports. COMSUBs ordered group to attack, even in shallow water, but DD and A/C patrols were too strong. 18/11 Group moved to patrol line off Gibraltar. U-173 (Schweichel) sighted and attacked strongly patrolled eastbound convoy. Reported that, despite several hours chase at top speed inside DD rear guard, no success because enemy speed too high.
20/11 U-103 (Janssen) sighted convoy off Lisbon. No contact. U-519 (Eppen) sighted and attacked convoy of 9 steamers, 4 DD's in 35°51'N - 11°50'W, course east. U-413 (Poel) reported convoy of 6 ships, course 008°, altering to east. 21/11 These sightings hastened formation of Westwall (15 U-boats), 5 U-boats operated off of Lisbon (Schlagtot) were joined by 7 from the Gibraltar area, plus 3 others. Line: 35°03'N - 37°51`W to 15°02'N - 12°14'W.
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December 1942 - April 1943
Convoy U-boat Group E-bound 6/12: Westwall moved west to block US-Gibraltar lane. Line: 37°57'N - 41°10'W to 42°33'N - 41°10'W. Here U-515 (Henke) sighted 2 troop transports, course SE and claimed sinking the Ceramic.
7/12: U-515 (Piening) claimed freighter and U-185 (Maus) a steamer from the same convoy.
15/12: U-103 (Janssen) sank Henry Stanley in 41°57'N - 40°14'W. Westwall cruising eastward, low on fuel. To tarry off Portugal before putting in to Biscay.
S-bound 16/12: 6 to 10 steamer convoy (probably Gibraltar bound) reported 49°33'N - 11°45'W. Westwall U-boats for whom no provisioning was planned were to avoid the convoy.
18/12: Remainder of the group plus outgoing U-boats in the area to operate on it. Apparently U-boats were unable to make contact and, after sweeping back and forth, discontinued the operation.
22/12: New Westwall (8 U-boats, 5 U-boats from the former group plus 3 others) assigned attack areas across US-Gibraltar lane west of Portugal. After an unsuccessful patrol of the Gibraltar route, 5 U-boats returned to port and the remaining 3 joined other groups or operated individually.
2/1: Group ordered to turn south, proceeding between 35° and 42°W. Supply submarine U-463 (Wolfbauer) in company.
TM 1 3/1: U-514 (Auffermann) outbound from Trinidad sighted TM 1 in 20°27'N - 45°33'W, course east. He was ordered to shadow until Delphin, now on course 170° at high speed, could arrive.
Convoy U-boat Group W-bound Simultaneously, U-182 (Clausen) reported a convoy of 11 to 15 steamers in 32°N - 25°W', course west. Delphin was diverted to attack, since it could reach this convoy's position sooner. U-182, however, lost contact, having been driven off by shell fire and D/C.
5/1: U-514 and U-125 (Folkers) join Delphin with orders to operate independently on TM 1. They sank one tanker. If Delphin had no contact on the westbound convoy by 2000, it was to break off the operation and take positions in a patrol line from 35°33'N - 30°17'W to 33°39'N - 33°38'W, course SE.
6/1: U-514 lost contact and made no report because of transmitter breakdown. Consequently, U-125, hindered by a lack of shadower's reports, also gave up the chase.
7/1: New Delphin formed: 8 U-boats, i.e. the former group plus U-514 and U-125. Subsequent addition of two more brought the total to 10 U-boats on the lookout for TM 1. Line: 28°21'N - 30°54'W to 25°39'N - 29°27'W, course SE. If no contact made by 2030, reverse course.
8/1: U-381 (Pückler) sighted convoy in 27°51'N - 29°02'W. The order for Delphin to attack contained the reminder that the operation was of the utmost importance for the success of the African campaign. "Be hard in attack. Help your comrades in Tunis." (1841/8 January 1943)
TM 1 8/1: Two other U-boats in the area join the attack. Day's bag: 2 ships.
9/1: It was presumed that the two parts of the convoy came together in 30°15'N - 30°38'W. Three more hit and three sunk. The group claimed 13 of 15 tankers in convoy sunk. Commander in Chief (Grand Admiral Raeder) congratulated all for this relief to the Tunisian front and called it "a brilliant joint success of the well planned leadership on the part of COMSUBs and the smart attack of the subs group Delphin." (2139/10 January on all series)
TM 1 lost 7 out of 9 tankers.
E-bound 10/1: U-571 (Möhlmann) sighted convoy of 23 tankers 29°57'N - 21°18'W, course NE. Attacked and sank one.
12/1: Rendezvous underway for provisioning Delphin from Wolfbauer.
E-bound 16/1: 10 U-boats of Delphin ordered to take up positions in patrol line 32°N - 31'02'W to 36°N - 31'02'W, course W for convoy expected on the 16th. U-boats to be in position 1100A, without fail.
Convoy U-boat Group 18/1: Patrol line advanced to area 33°N - 34°W to 37°N - 34°W.
27/1: After fruitless sweeping, Delphin patrol line was extended from 31°N to 37°N and moved eastward to 31°W. Group Rochen (5 U-boats which had been moving in towards Cape Blanco) formed to intercept north-south convoy traffic and fast single ships, all of which were important to the African front. To move up African coast from area Cape Blanco and block inner passage between Canaries and mainland.
28/1: Delphin, still unsuccessful, moved eastward as fuel decreased, to form a new patrol line from 36°39'N - 22°38'W to 29°27'N - 18°22'W. U-514 to watch off Ponta Delgada.
1/2: COMSUBs reported 2 convoys in Rochen's area to prove that there is traffic, subtly criticizing the group's inactivity.
S-bound 2/2: Rochen in Canary passages. Hartherz (12 U-boats) formed of incoming and outgoing U-boats in expectation of south bound convoy. Area 46°27'N - 13°45'W.
3/2: A/C scouting for Hartherz convoy.
4/2: English steamer reported attack in 46°51'N - 16°55'W. Second steamer sighted by A/C in 47°39'N - 14°55'W. U-753 (Mannstein) reported corvette and A/C in 46°21'N - 17'15"A,", course south. However, there is no indication from reports of Hartherz U-boats that the results of their operations were anything but negative.
E-bound 7/2: Hartherz dissolved.
U-218 (Becker) in Rochen finally reported a convoy in 28°15'N - 15°58'W, course 045°, whereupon COMSUBs ordered combined operations by Delphin and Rochen but the joint attempt was unsuccessful.
N-bound 8/2: Delphin, after an order to discontinue the operation, moved northeastward, formed a line from 39°N - 12°W to 36°N - 15°W in expectation of a northbound convoy due in area on 10/2.
9/2: Rochen to take up new line from 31°N - 16°22'W to 34°45'N - 16°22'W, course west.
W-bound 10/2: U-108 (Wolfram) in Rochen reported convoy in 32°34'N - 16°09'W but lost contact due to A/C and asdic pursuit. Other Rochen subs followed up, but without success.
Convoy U-boat Group 11/2: 5 Rochen U-boats proceeding to area 32° to 36°N, 21° to 23°30'W, and the remaining 5 to U-tanker. S-bound 12/2: Delphin breaking up into attack areas ranging from 37° to 42°N, 12° to 15°W. Ordered to attack southbound convoy sighted by outbound U-569 (Johannsen) in 43°39'N - 14°15'W. Despite the addition of 2 ex-Hartherz U-boats, the operation was unsuccessful. All but 3 of the group began their return to port. UGS 5 14/2: Rochen by noon 16/2 to be in patrol line from 32°15'N - 30°06'W to 36°45'N - 30°06'W in expectation of an eastbound convoy due on 17/2. Group to be augmented as refuelled subs arrive.
15/2: Robbe, 3 ex-Delphin U-boats and 5 U-boats fresh from port, formed to assist Rochen in intercepting UGS 5. Patrol line from 39°27'N - 27°57'W to 42°21'N - 28°14'W, course 280°.
Comment: Thus preparation for UGS 5 consisted of two groups, one sweeping on 280° north of the Azores, the other sweeping west to the south of the Azores. UGS 5 not contacted.
UGF 5 17/2: U-522 (Schneider) sighted convoy 37°45'N - 21°02'W. Robbe ordered not to operate when it became clear that convoy was on SE course. Schneider pursued. Contact lost.
20/2: 3 U-boats detached from Rochen to escort Hohenfriedburg. Remainder of group ordered to proceed on SE course 34°21'N - 26°30'W for refuelling.
21/2: Robbe returning east to take up individual attack areas in Gibraltar approaches.
UC 1 22/2: U-107 (Gelhaus) in group Robbe sank Roxburgh Castle 38°09'N - 26°14'W.
U-552 (Schneider) having refuelled from U-tanker on 21/2, sighted UC 1 in 34°21'N - 22°30'W, course southwest. Rochen ordered to attack at top speed, assisted by 3 U-boats from Robbe. All subs operating on UC 1, combined into one group i.e. Rochen. To press attack without regard for fuel, since U-tanker was detailed to bring up the rear. After initial success by Schneider, action began to lag. On 24/2 COMSUBs demanded more vigorous attack: "The convoy must be destroyed." (1903/24) Subs were reminded again on 25/2 that a refueller was behind them and exhorted in stronger language in view of the exceptional opportunity. Operation discontinued 27/2. 2 ships from convoy and 1 straggler were sunk. COMSUBS claimed 1 DD and 8 ships sunk, other units damaged. "The battle was hard but it will get easier." (2211/27/3/43)
Convoy U-boat Group GUS 4 27/2: 6 ex-Rochen U-boats formed group Tümmler to operate on a slow westbound convoy in area of 28°N - 36°W. Convoy's position 2000/26 given. (German decryption of Allied message in Combined Cipher #3, table "S"). After failure to contact expected convoy, Tümmler cruised east and disbanded. N-bound 1/3: U-511 (Schneewind) sighted convoy 36°33'N - 10°22'W, and was forced off by asdic pursuit. Robbe U-boats, capable of approaching by night, ordered to attack. Results nil. XK 2 5/3: U-130 (Keller) sighted convoy in 43°21'N - 14°55'W, course north. All outgoing and returning U-boats directed to operate. Keller lost contact after five hits but 4 ships were sunk. KMS 10 6/3: U-107 (Gelhaus) reported convoy 37°21'N - 10°38'W, course SE. A/C patrol forced him to submerge. N-bound 9/3: Robbe moved northwest to 41°N - 13°W to 41°N - 16°W. During the cruise U-107 (Gelhaus) reported a convoy in 36°57'N - 10°54'W. Attempt to operate unsuccessful. U-boats continued to assigned line. UGS 6 Five 740 ton U-boats, (Emmermann U-172, Henke U-515, Rüggeberg U-513, Sturm U-167, and Keller U-130) in mid-Atlantic enroute U.S. waters for operation (Seewolf).
Orders cancelled and U-boats headed south for area 33°25'N - 40°55'W, where U-106 (Rasch), ex-Tümmler, was waiting. These U-boats told on 10/3 to form by 1000/12 from 37°N - 40°W to 43°N - 41°W for eastbound convoy, expected beginning 12/3. To scout on course 270°. (German information presumably derived from decryption).
12/3: Keller (U-130) sighted convoy. UGS 6 sunk him. Convoy altered course to north of Azores, temporarily shaking off the U-boats. Contact again on 13/3 by Rüggeberg (U-513) and Emmermann (U-172).
14/3: Unverzagt and Wohlgemut (12 U-boats) operating on UGS 6.
Comment: Unverzagt apparently applied to the original 6 U-boats and Wohlgemut to 6 more that were farther to the east. All 12 were united as Unverzagt by noon 14/3. All 12 were 740 tonners.
Convoy U-boat Group By morning of 14/3 good contact had not been made and held. Hence U-boats were ordered to form a receiving line from 39°27'N - 36°06'W via 38°N - 35°10'W to 36°27'N - 35°26'W, thus blocking routes through or to north of Azores. Continuous contact began by noon 14/3. U-boats pursued and attacked until 19/3, area 15°W, having been supported by Robbe subs which came in to operate briefly before dropping out with just enough fuel to return home. The battle was hard and COMSUBs recognized that convoy defense had been very strong. U-boats were congratulated for their "total success" and its contribution to the Tunisian campaign. (1018/20 March 1943) Actually 3 ships were sunk, a few others torpedoed. U-boat claims were excessive.
21/3: Since no tanker U-boat was available, rendezvous were arranged for fuel adjustments. One U-boat from port sacrificed its cruise to refuel the group. Upon completion of the operation at that time, moved south to form Seeräeuber and operate.
25/3: Seeräeuber formed (8 U-boats - 6 ex-Unverzagt plus two from port) to intercept slow south bound convoy expected on 26/3. Op area 26° to 27°N - 14° to 15°W.
27/3: No contact. Seeräuber began to work down the African coast.
RS 3 28/3: U-167 (Sturm) reported contact in 25°51'N - 15°15"W and the group had orders to attack accordingly.
29/3: U-105 (Nissen) sighted convoy again 22°27`N - 17°09'W.
30/3: By the end of the month the group patrol was abandoned and only two U-boats remained in the area to intercept African coastal convoys.
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Group patrol of Gibraltar convoy lanes temporarily abandoned. Interest in UK-Gibraltar lane was resumed in May 1943 with group Drossel. In June 1943 attempt was made to block the US-Gibraltar lane by U-boats that had been forced to withdraw from the North Atlantic (Group Trutz).
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