Thursday, December 17, 2015


What was that? The whole submarine had shuddered violently and had thrown him about. The deafening roar that accompanied it made his ears ring and hurt. He left his hiding place and ran while the crew were busy either recovering or trying to watch the panels. He reached a door and entered, finding himself inside the generator room. There was no one inside so he ran for an opening underneath one of the generators. Someone had opened a cover, probably to inspect the inside. It was a convenient hiding place.

Meyer staggered to Gunther, both of them shaken by the massive vibration caused by the exploding depth charge. They stared at the dials, looking for any sign that the reactor or any of its components might have been damaged. Everything seemed normal but they continued looking anyway. After a few minutes, Meyer turned to Gunther.

"Gunther, I'm going to the electrical room. Keep monitoring the reactor. Call me if you see anything that doesn't seem right...even a little, understand?"

Gunther nodded. "Yes, sir."

Meyer climbed the stairs to the catwalk and entered the electrical room. Three technicians were inspecting a panel.

"Any problems here, men?" he asked.

"Everything seems normal, sir. None of the fuses popped during the explosion."

The boat's holding up, Meyer thought. This could work! We need to get back to base and inform the admiral, Donitz, and the Fuhrer. The test is successful! The technology is viable!

U-1215 was moving at 17 knots away from the scene of the last attack. At this speed, it was almost impossible to hear anything on sonar and that was the problem of sonar chief, Johann Merk. He and another sonar operator had taken over the station after Blöhme and Schmitt were wounded by the blast. Right now, all he was hearing was water rushing by his sensors. He had recommended that they slow down to listen, something he didn't really want to do but it was the correct thing to say at the time. Werner wanted to wait a little longer to put a little more distance from the searching destroyer escorts, much to Merk's—and quite a few other's—relief.

Werner turned to Schneider and asked, "What happened to our torpedo?"

Schneider thought quickly. He had suddenly been pushed into second-in-command in the control room and the captain needed his analysis. "With the explosion happening so soon after launch, it's very possible it exploded prematurely, Captain."

Werner nodded. He'd thought as much. "Tube 3 is unusable but all the other tubes are functional. We'll move away for a while and turn around for another try."

After fifteen minutes, Werner ordered ahead slow and a rise to a depth of 50 meters. Merk reported that the two destroyer escorts were now about eight thousand meters behind them, pounding the sea with ASDIC.


Admiral Brown watched as a launch cast off to pick up Lt. Brian after he ditched in the ocean. He thought of writing a letter of commendation for the pilot. He'd probably saved the carrier. It seemed, however, that he had missed. Sonar had not heard the break up sounds of a submarine sinking towards the bottom of the ocean.

If a submarine is hulled, water would rush in and the boat would sink. Any compartments that are closed would soon implode when the sinking vessel reaches the depth where the pressure of the ocean overcomes the strength of the submarine's hull. This depth is aptly called, crush depth, and the actual value varies for each vessel. The sound of rushing water is unmistakable and the boom that accompanies the implosion, signals that men have died.

Without the telltale signs, or sounds in this case, of a sinking submarine, Admiral Brown had to conclude that the u-boat was still alive and could be coming around for another attempt. The two destroyer escorts, USS John Johnson and USS James Smith, had quickly moved in to the spot where the periscope had last been seen. They were now scouring the sea with ASDIC.

Buzzards Bay had stopped sinking though several compartments had flooded. They were going to attempt to light the boilers again to get the ship moving. A motionless ship is a sitting duck and usually didn't live very long. There was also a possible second u-boat out there and they had not found it. The two destroyer escorts were scouring the surrounding sea, looking for the telltale echo of a u-boat swimming by.

"Captain," a junior officer called out, "James Smith reports no contacts."

Admiral Brown shook his head. We have to find him before he can shoot again.

Werner made a discovery that made him swear but would have made Meyer very happy. The periscope had sprung a leak and was unusable. There was no way to repair it except to surface, find the leak, and repair it. He'd have to rely solely on sonar. Since the carrier was not making any noise, he would not be able to shoot a torpedo at it. He could still take out the two destroyer escorts, however.

Schneider took a glance at the torpedo controls. "All tubes are loaded, Captain, and waiting for targeting information."

"We'll shoot at the two destroyer escorts," Werner said. "After they are out of action, we'll surface and finish off the carrier."

Schneider nodded and was about to turn away when he remembered something.

"Captain, we can't show ourselves to the enemy."

Werner didn't speak for a few seconds. Schneider was right. The admiral's orders said to make sure that no one, friend or foe, sees U-1215. He, however, knew something that the young officer had not thought of.

"It's night up on the surface, Lieutenant. They won't be able to see us approach. They'll have a few lights, I'm sure, and that will give us the correct bearing to launch an attack."

Schneider nodded again, smiled, and turned away. Werner moved to the sonar room to get range and bearing information on the two moving warships. They were most likely sailing around a spot on the ocean where they last detected U-1215. They didn't know that the u-boat was already way out of their search box. Werner planned to launch four torpedoes, two for each vessel, but not directly at them. He would fire them at an oblique angle and then have them turn toward the ships from different directions. He hoped it would increase the chances of getting a hit.

He had not recovered from the fright of all the noise and shaking earlier. His nervous tic was really strong right now and there was nothing he could do to stop it. He stayed underneath the generator, shaking badly.

Saturday, December 5, 2015


The typical acoustic torpedo has "ears" on either side of its warhead. Directional control is simplicity personified. If the left ear hears a louder sound than the right ear, the torpedo changes course to the left and, when the right ear hears a louder sound than the left, the torpedo changes course to the right. If the sound has equal loudness in both ears, the torpedo steers a straight course.

U-1215's torpedoes had an additional feature designed to target submarines as well as surface ships. It had two additional sensors, one on top and one at the bottom of the warhead. This allowed it to follow a noise source down into the depths.

The two torpedoes headed for the noise sources, switching their attentions every now and then before deciding on one each. Unit 1 hit USS James Smith's Foxer noisemaker, exploding it and tearing it apart.

Unit 2 was slightly ahead of USS John Johnson and was hearing both the ship's screw and engine as well as the noisemaker. It steered for the space between the two noise sources and its path put it on a direct collision course with the noisemaker's tow cable.

It hit the tow cable but didn't explode. The cable snapped but not before damaging the top fin of Unit 2. The weapon lost control and began running in circles and arcs, its maneuvering commands scrambled by the damaged fin. USS John Johnson's Foxer sank to the depths, still intact and making noise.

The unit intended for the carrier had turned around and had been tracking USS Johnson's Foxer when the noise suddenly seemed to dive. Unit 6 followed the noisemaker down into the depths and smashed into it, obliterating it in a massive explosion.

Blöhme frowned. He had his sensors turned down in anticipation of the explosions from the torpedoes but he was having trouble interpreting the sounds he was hearing. There were three torpedoes in the water, one was heading in the opposite direction of the other two. He heard the two explosions in the directions of Units 1 and 2 but nothing from the direction of Unit 6. Furthermore, the second explosion had come about a half minute after he had expected it. The sound also seemed to come from a deeper depth.

Werner listened to his sonar crew describe the information they were getting from their sensors and helped in interpreting them. The two Foxer units had certainly been successful in decoying their torpedoes and the two destroyer escorts were still moving. The absence of an explosion in the direction of the carrier meant that Unit 6 had missed.

"Make Tubes 3 through 5 ready! Unit 3 for the carrier and Units 4 and 5 toward the two destroyer escorts. Quickly, before they deploy another Foxer!" Werner was going to take another shot at the warships, determined that he would be taking home six pennants. "Head for the carrier, we'll shoot from very close range and at periscope depth to make sure we sink her for sure."

Meyer was not in the control room to hear this but he would not have made any objections. He had accepted that Captain Werner would not listen to reason anyway and decided to monitor his precious reactor. Besides, he was having problems of his own.

One of the electricians had reported that one of the fuses for the reactor control had popped. It was fixed immediately and did not seriously affect the reactor's operation. Meyer asked himself whether he should inform the captain of this new incident but decided not to. The captain was dead set on sinking every ship in this flotilla. Nothing, short of saying the sub was sinking would probably make a difference.

The repeated explosions frightened him and he ran from one hiding place to another. One of the wires had given him a terrible shock and he was resting behind one of the numerous panels in this vast room. The other occupants were clustered around another panel he'd been in about half an hour ago.

"Up periscope!" Werner had brought the boat back to periscope depth and was sailing toward the carrier. The floating airfield was not moving and would be an easy target. Tubes 3 through 5 were set, their outer doors open.

"Captain! The two destroyer escorts are heading for us!" Blöhme and Schmitt worked their sensors, trying to gather enough data to give their captain a chance to launch weapons.

"How long?" Werner asked.

"At this speed, we estimate they will be on top of us in twelve minutes," Schmitt answered. "They are still building up speed. They might have detected our periscope, Captain." Schmitt was wrong, however. Someone else had detected their periscope.

Lt. S.G. Walter Brian was circling the carrier. He couldn't land because the ship was not moving. There would not be enough space to bring his plane to a stop. The flight deck was also full of personnel pushing planes over the side, trying to keep the ship afloat. Besides, it was too dark already and the carrier was totally blacked out with only a few lights. His friends on other planes had already ditched and were being picked up from the water. He was waiting until the last minute before ditching his own fighter. He chanced to look down to his radarscope when he spotted an anomaly.

There were three ships on the water but he was seeing a fourth blip on the screen. It was small and was moving toward the carrier.

"I've got a periscope on the surface 2000 yards from the carrier! I'm going down," he called to the radioman on Buzzards Bay. He dove steeply for the approximate location of the blip. Without a visual sighting, he was flying blind. With one eye on his altimeter and another on the blip, he felt with his fingers for the bomb release. He had one depth charge and one chance. He caught sight of the periscope feather, dimly illuminated by phosphorescent sea plankton. It was a god sent opportunity. Half watching the altimeter and half watching the luminescent trail, he pulled the release at 500 feet.

Werner's eye was locked onto the carrier's image on the periscope. Their close range made it appear large. He ordered slow speed to bring the boat directly abeam of the dead, but still floating, carrier.

"Tubes 3 through 5 are set, Captain," the chief said, "anytime you're ready."

Werner kept silent, watching the carrier on his scope. He had heard the chief but he wanted the carrier. It was a bigger prize than the smaller destroyer escorts. He knew that the destroyer escorts were more dangerous at this time, however, so he took his eyes out of the eyepiece and nodded to Fischer. The First Watch Officer gave the order.

"Shoot Tube 3!"

Unit 3 left its tube and ran straight for the carrier, now 1600 meters away. Werner looked back into the eyepiece and gave the final order himself.

"Shoot Tubes 4 and..."

Werner never completed the order. Brian's depth charge fell into the water 200 meters in front of the submarine, and sank to 50 feet before exploding. Werner's order to slow had ruined Brian's aim, causing him to overshoot U-1215.

"AAAH!" Both Blöhme and Schmitt pulled off their headsets, blood coming out of their ears, deafened by the explosion of the depth charge at very close range. Crew members staggered as the boat shuddered from the force of the blast. Training, however, galvanized everyone into action. The sonar chief quickly pulled out Blöhme and Schmitt. Then he and another sonar operator sat on the chairs and clapped the headsets to their ears.

From the deck plates, Werner shouted. "All ahead flank, right full rudder! Dive to 150 meters!" He scrambled to his feet along with the others.

The two helmsmen, who were strapped in, quickly operated their controls. Because U-1215 had been at ahead slow, even turning at right full rudder took a longer time and the engine took time to pick up speed. Soon, however, they were diving for the specified depth and were running at 14 knots and increasing. Fischer was still on the deck, writhing in pain, both legs broken by the violent shaking that accompanied the explosion.

Schneider, shaken but uninjured, staggered to his captain. Werner took one look around and decided Schneider was the only other officer in the control room who was uninjured.

"Schneider! Get damage reports from all compartments," he ordered. As Schneider leaped up to the all-ship communication system, Werner ordered crewmen to take Fischer into sick bay. Several men were also moving toward the medical facility with similar injuries. Some of them would have to be taken to their bunks and treated there.

"Captain," Schneider called, "all sections report minor damage and all systems are operational. Torpedo room reports a leak in Tube 5's breech door."

"How bad is it?" Werner asked.

"It is a minor leak, Captain. The outer door has been closed and the leak has gone down to a small trickle." Schneider's voice trailed off as Werner made his way to the torpedo room.

Werner made way for a group of men carrying one of their injured mates into the crew's quarters. He moved to the torpedo loading area and turned to the torpedo room chief. "Report."

The chief showed Werner the leaking breech door. "It's not a major leak, Captain. The door was stressed during the explosion due to the outer doors being open. After we closed the door, the leak began to slow down. It's still decreasing as you can see."

Werner could see that the leak was indeed decreasing. This is not a major problem, he thought.

Friday, November 20, 2015


Lt. Commander Denning was on the bridge of the USS James Smith, coordinating the search. USS James Smith and USS John Johnson had been using an expanding-box search pattern. Basically, they sailed on opposite sides of a square box pattern and expanded the size of the box with every rotation. At this time, however, with no sign of the u-boat, they either had to abandon the search or use a different search pattern.

After a submarine attack, surface warships usually have to consider two possibilities: the u-boat is sailing away or staying around to attack again. German submarine captains were notoriously brave and willing to take risks, which means there was a high probability this one was just biding his time, waiting for another opportunity.

Denning had lookouts all over the rails looking for a periscope, snorkel, or even the actual submarine. Denning's ship also had a centimetric radar, a type of radar that was capable of detecting the small periscope stub when it was raised above the water.

The periscope broke the surface of the water approximately 2000 meters away from USS Buzzards Bay. The aircraft carrier was just visible in the last sunlight of the day. The two destroyer escorts that had been hit were no longer in sight. They had sunk earlier. Werner listening in to the sonar sounds of the sinking vessels. The carrier had actually made some noise earlier in their attempt to restart the boilers but it was now quiet again. They would have to fire a straight running torpedo at her.

"Skipper!" A junior officer called Lt. Commander Denning. "Radar has detected a periscope bearing 284 degrees, 4200 yards, on course 248."

Denning ordered the ship turned around and a message sent to USS John Johnson and USS Buzzards Bay. He went to the plotting table and swore. The u-boat was heading for the aircraft carrier.

"Captain!" the sonar chief shouted from the sonar room, "The two destroyer escorts are heading this way!"

"Damn!" Werner whirled toward Fischer. "Set it up, we can't wait any longer. Fire Tube 6 on the aircraft carrier using the bearings from the periscope observation and use Tubes 1 and 2 on the destroyer escorts. Set the activation distance of Units 1 and 2 to five hundred meters. Let the torpedoes find their own targets."

Werner checked the periscope again and refined the bearings. Fischer used the bearings, the speed and course of U-1215 to calculate a course and time to launch for the torpedo. The next two torpedoes were fed the same bearings from sonar's reports. Then he straightened.

"Firing solutions set, Captain. Tube 6 will have to be fired in 44 seconds. Tubes 1 and 2 can be fired anytime."

Werner didn't waste any time. "Launch Tubes 1 and 2, now. Set the timer on Tube 6 and fire when the timer runs out."

U-1215 used a hydraulic ram launch system. It was less noisy and simpler than the compressed air launch system that most submarines used. Both systems, however, produced noise when flooding the tubes in preparation for opening the outer doors. This couldn't be helped and Werner knew it. He only hoped that the silent torpedo would confuse the warships' sonar operators.

Buzzards Bay's sonar operator's eyes widened at the familiar sound of tubes flooding. He immediately informed his superior who informed the captain. Bennet immediately got on the radio.

"Bulldog, Doberman, this is Doghouse. Torpedo launch warning!" Bulldog was USS James Smith while Doberman was USS John Johnson. Both were running at maximum speed toward U-1215's periscope and would be unable to hear the torpedo launch.

Lt. Commanders Dennning and Gonzales, skippers of James Smith and John Johnson respectively, both gave the same order to their ships.

"Launch Foxer!"

Foxer is the name for an anti-torpedo device. It was basically a noisemaker that was pulled along by a vessel to decoy acoustic torpedoes. It made a lot more noise than the vessel pulling it and was quite effective in achieving its purpose. The two destroyer escorts had to slow down to 14 knots, however, as the device tended to fall apart when running at faster speeds.

Both Admiral Brown and Captain Bennet watched as the two destroyer escorts turned so they would be running perpendicular to the approaching torpedoes and give Foxer a better chance of decoying the torpedoes. USS James Smith ran north while USS John Johnson ran south.

Blöhme swore when he heard the noisemakers. He immediately informed his superior who informed Werner. The acoustic sensors on the torpedoes were the same as the ones used in other torpedoes. Foxer had fooled those types so there was no reason why U-1215's torpedoes would not be fooled. Still he was banking on the silence of the torpedoes to cause the destroyer escorts to make a mistake.

The torpedo (Unit 6) for the aircraft carrier was already on the way. Its seeker head was set to activate at maximum distance. This meant it was not going to activate before it hit the carrier. With all the noise the two destroyer escorts were making, the torpedo might turn around and go searching in the wrong direction.

Unknown to Werner, Unit 6 had a flaw. Its seeker head had gone out of calibration and was set to activate after only 100 meters. It had turned immediately upon activation and headed for the two destroyer escorts. Being silent was an advantage only for the torpedo. Blöhme and Schmitt never heard it make the turn.

Lt. Commander Raul Gonzales was querying the sonarman on what he'd been hearing. Prior to launching Foxer, the operator had tried to track the approaching torpedo.

"I didn't hear anything, Skipper," the man said. "No high-speed screws, no nothing. He might have been trying to spook us, trying to get us to use Foxer."

But why? Gonzales asked himself. It was a worrying thought. Foxer was good at decoying acoustic torpedoes but there were those few times when the torpedo had locked onto the warship instead of the noisemaker. Gonzales wondered if he should stop or cut the cable that was pulling Foxer.

No, he thought. Foxer has been successful more times than failed. Our chances are better with it.

Unit 1 and 2 had activated as programmed and had detected four noise sources. Two were loud while two were fainter. Their controls selected the loud ones and steered for them. Unit 1 had turned to follow USS James Smith while Unit 2 had acquired USS John Johnson.

"There's nothing, Skipper." Buzzards Bay's sonarman was having the same problem as USS James Smith. He had been listening for the high pitched screeee of the torpedoes screws as they spun. He could clearly hear the two noisemakers along with the almost faint sound of the destroyer escort's own screws but the sound of torpedoes running in the water was eerily absent.

"Are you sure you heard tubes flooding?" Bennet asked.

"Yes, sir," the man answered. "It was one of things they made you listen to over and over again in sonar school."

Bennet thought it over for a few seconds and came to a conclusion.

"He's flooded his tubes and caused James Smith and John Johnson to deploy Foxer. Their sonar is useless with Foxer operating (because of the noise), which means they can't find him."

"But I can't hear him either, Skipper," the operator complained, fiddling with his controls. "He's probably drifting with his motors off."

"Can't be," the sonar boss countered. "We haven't heard anything since the attack started. Do you think he's had his motors off all this time? Besides, we've detected his periscopes in two places, both too far from each other for a sub running underwater."

Bennet suddenly came to a realization. "We've got two submarines here."

Wednesday, November 18, 2015


It was chaotic on the bridge though it was actually an orderly chaos. The captain was taking reports from the different sections of the ship, the executive officer was somewhere supervising the damage control parties while Admiral Brown was trying to coordinate the search for the u-boat. The aircraft carrier was not in immediate danger of sinking but the two destroyer escorts, Michael Jones and Robert Williams were already being abandoned. James Smith and John Johnson were heading for a detected periscope to the east. Buzzards Bay's captain, Marlon Bennet, turned to Admiral Brown.

"He got us pretty good, didn't he?" He was referring to the u-boat.

"That he did, captain. He's either very good or very lucky. I'm leaning toward the former, however." Admiral Brown gave grudging respect for the u-boat commander that put holes into three of his warships.

The executive officer came up to the two officers. "Damage control says the flooding has been contained though we might have as much as a five degree list until we can get to a repair yard. One boiler is badly damaged but we can get the others running in about thirty minutes or so."

"Casualties?" Captain Bennet asked.

"Twenty-one wounded, two seriously. Four dead."

"Thank you XO. Keep me updated on developments."

The executive officer nodded and left to check on other things. Captain Bennet turned to the Admiral.

"Admiral? You might consider transferring to another ship."

Admiral Brown shook his head. "We're not in danger of sinking and we're still operational to some extent. I'll transfer when I need to." He pointed toward the two destroyer-escorts searching for the u-boat. "Those two are too busy to pick me up anyway."

Captain Bennet nodded. He turned when a sailor gave a message from the radio room. He read the note and shook his head.

"Smith and Johnson reports that they lost contact with the u-boat. Smith fired off a few depth charges but can't hear anything anymore. It's hiding under a layer."

Admiral Brown gave a sigh. "We'd better find him or he might come back and try to finish us off." He looked out over the sea toward the two destroyer escorts searching for the u-boat. He looked worried.

Frightened by the earlier explosions from the torpedoes, the newer explosions were terrifying. These were much closer and shook U-1215 violently. He scrambled for a better hiding place behind a panel.

The depth charge attack had not been close enough to do more than rattle the nerves of several crewmembers. Werner had ordered the submarine to move north at fifteen knots for five minutes and west for ten. This brought him in between the searching destroyers and the aircraft carrier. The sonar department had analyzed the earlier attack and deduced that the torpedoes had either activated early or they had made a mistake in calculating the distances. The weapons had attacked the closest sound source and that happened to be the three closest targets. He decided that moving in between the surface warships would allow him to fire in different directions and increase their chances of hitting all the targets. Meyer argued with Werner on the wisdom of continuing the attack.

"Captain, we already have four victories, including the British submarine we sunk earlier. We don't need to sink anymore ships, we could leave and sail back to base. We need to inspect U-1215's systems for faults." Meyer had kept following Werner around the control room, trying to convince him to abandon the attack. The latter was trying keep his temper from exploding on the lieutenant commander-engineer. Finally, he had grabbed the man's arm and pulled him like a child into his stateroom and whispered harshly.

"Meyer!" Werner had called him by name instead of rank. "I told you we will go home when we have finished off all of them. You gave me your word that you will follow my orders. If I hear another word out of you, I will confine you to quarters under guard." Meyer, however, was not intimidated.

"Captain, I do not know if you were informed but we just had another problem a few minutes ago. One of the dial gauges monitoring the reactor temperature suddenly stopped working. I tell you, we are experiencing unusual failures. I couldn't tell you in the control room else we alarm the crew." Werner had been ignoring Meyer as much as he could. Meyer needed to find a way to get his attention.

Werner was shocked. Meyer had emphasized again and again that the reactor was the most important and dangerous piece of equipment on the submarine. A problem here will not just disable the submarine but could also kill them in a fiery inferno that none of them would survive.

"Is the reactor safe?" Werner asked.

"Yes," Meyer answered. "One of the technicians found a wire that seems to have frayed and become detached. The electrician has reconnected it."

"So, you are worried about one wire?" Werner was becoming angry again. "This does not sound very serious!"

Meyer shook his head. "No, Captain. The electrician said that he found several wires in the same condition."

Werner's eyes widened at this revelation. "Several wires? Do you know how this could happen?"

"I am not sure. At first I thought the wires might have corroded but, upon looking closer, I think the wires are being eaten."

"EATEN?" Werner shouted. "WHAT DO YOU MEAN EATEN?"

"I said I am not sure, Captain. It may be that even the small amount of radiation we have inside the reactor room is affecting the wires. Remember that every one of our previous problems were with wires. I cannot explain them." Meyer gave the Captain a baleful look. 

"We have to go back, Captain. We might not make it back if we delay any longer."

Werner turned away for a moment and looked back at Meyer. "We will fire three torpedoes at the enemy and turn for home immediately. We will listen for the hits as we move away. Any explosions we hear will be counted as a ship sunk. There will be no more discussions. Go back to your station, Meyer. We have a job to do." Werner quickly left before Meyer could say anything further.

Werner entered the control room and went to the plotting table.

"Take us above the layer, Mr. Fischer, but be ready to duck back down if necessary."

Fischer repeated the order and gave the command to the planesman. The boat slowly rose up from the depths with the sonarman listening intently through his headphones and the others watching the gauge that showed the seawater temperature outside the hull. Soon, the sonarman announced the presence of engine sounds but those were some distance off and did not present any present danger. The firing solution team immediately set to work.

"Do we have a firing solution?" Werner asked after several minutes.

"We are just refining our distance calculations, Captain. We can fire with what we have now but our chances will be better if we wait a few more minutes." Fischer waited for his captain to give the word. He was eager to get on with it but, as an experienced submariner, he understood the value of being patient.

His captain, however, seemed indecisive. Werner looked at the plotting table as the plotting crew worked on the data they had to determine the positions of the warships relative to U-1215. Meyer stood to one side, waiting.

Werner straightened and looked at his crew. "We will wait."

Meyer's mouth opened in surprise. Werner gave him a hard look, warning him not to say anything. Meyer closed his mouth, lowered his head, and left the control room, toward the aft end of the boat. Werner turned back to the plotting table and caught Fischer looking at him. It was an unspoken question, with an unspoken answer.

Fischer's team had a problem. The aircraft carrier was not making any noise, its engines were shutdown. They could raise the periscope again and fire a straight-running torpedo at it while sending the acoustic torpedoes toward the two destroyer escorts. After twenty-three minutes, Werner decided he'd waited long enough and ordered the boat to periscope depth.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015


Admiral Brown checked with his pilots. They had not spotted the submarine again and it looked as if it had given them the slip. Aircraft had been circling the area for the past three hours. If the u-boat had remained submerged, it could not have gone further than ten miles. Then again, three hours was not impossible for a u-boat to endure but as long as it remained underwater, it could not go very far. By the time they arrive in the area where it was last seen, the u-boat could be 30 miles away assuming it ran at 3 knots in a straight line. That's 2,800+ square miles of ocean to search. Not small but not too big either. When it surfaces, we'll catch him, he thought.

He was sending his fighter-bombers off in relays. Just before a plane needed to turn back for fuel, another would arrive to take over its station. Right now, he had four of them flying in an expanding box pattern around the area where the u-boat was last detected. He had four others flying around elsewhere individually on the chance they might find another submarine. It was an intricate dance, one which they had lots of practice. They could keep doing this as long as they had fuel to fly the planes.

U-1215's sonarman, Martin Blöhme, felt as if he could reach out into the depths and feel the presence of a ship. In a way, that was true. The sounds of a ship's engines and screws carried quite a distance when the sea conditions were perfect. Right now, conditions couldn't be better. The sea above was calm, with hardly a wave to disturb the surface. That meant that wave noise was absent. There were several dolphins swimming about but not much else.

Listening, however, only worked when the sub was moving slowly, as in slower than 15 knots. Faster speeds generated flow noise, a rushing sound that made it impossible to hear anything. Every hour or so, Captain Werner would order U-1215 to slow to 5 knots so that Blöhme and his mates could listen to the sea around them. After around fifteen minutes of listening, he would order them back to 17 knots for the next hour. As they got closer to the estimated interception point with the Allied task group, Werner ordered listening stops at thirty minutes intervals. It didn't take long.

Blöhme straightened, listening intently. He'd thought he heard something during the previous listening stop but the sound had disappeared as quickly as it had appeared. Now, it was definitely there. Somewhere out on the surface slightly to their right, a group of ships were sailing.

He couldn't tell how many yet. All he could hear was a generalized rumble most sonarmen called, "a thundering herd." This didn't sound like a large herd though.

Blöhme was the most experienced sonarman on the boat. He'd been on two other u-boats before being assigned to U-1215. He was using the omnidirectional sonar set which enabled him to hear sounds from all around and give a general direction from where it was coming from. He turned to the second sonarman, Helmut Schmitt, and gave him a direction to turn the directional sonar. Schmitt swung the sonar and listened intently. A smile broke out on his face.

"Captain to the sonar room," Blöhme's superior called out. Werner strode over to the little compartment and waited for the two men to make a report. They waited a while before speaking.

"A small flotilla, Captain ... not more than six or seven ships maybe ... bearing ... 128 degrees ... can't tell what their coarse is at the moment." Schmitt made small adjustments to his filters. "Estimate 40 kilometers ... I can't differentiate screw sounds yet, Captain ... we'll need to get closer."

Werner gave a small laugh. "That is exactly what we're going to do." He turned to the control room. "Helm! Set course 120 degrees, 12 knots." As the submarine settled into her new course, Fischer and Meyer smiled but for different reasons. Fischer was anticipating the action while Meyer was happy they would soon be finished with this mission.

"Captain," Meyer called, "we can fire our torpedoes from maximum range. We're sure to get a hit. I'm sure of it."

Werner didn't turn toward Meyer. "I agree that we would hit at least one, Meyer. But we must make sure we could sink it. We cannot claim a kill if it doesn't sink."

"But we will sink it! Our torpedoes are high explosive types. For such a small flotilla, it is sure to be an Allied task group. If we hit a destroyer-escort, or even a destroyer, we are sure to hole them or even break them apart."

Werner finally turned toward him. "We do not know that, Meyer. Sonar distances are guesses—estimates if you wish—if our estimates are incorrect, the torpedoes may run out of fuel before they hit. Or every torpedo might target one single target. What good would that do?"

"But we only need to sink one!"

"That is where you are wrong, Meyer. I intend to sink every ship in that flotilla and I am going to do it with one torpedo for each of them."

Meyer's mouth dropped.

With the task group sailing at 17 knots, the sonar systems in the ships were hardly functional. Their present course was ideal because they were actually sailing into the wind. That meant Admiral Brown could launch and land his planes without altering course. He was on the bridge watching another Avenger fly off the deck toward the north. Then he went inside to consult with the plot yet again.

Schmitt listened intently on his earphones, twisting the dial left and right in the standard method for scanning for sounds in the sea. "Captain, we have five ships. Two close to us, a third beyond them, and two further out." He turned his controls a few more times and fiddled with his filters. "I estimate they are sailing at 16 knots, course 356 degrees. The center ship sounds different from the others. I believe they are four destroyer escorts with a cruiser or aircraft carrier in the center." He gave off distances and bearings to give the plotters a picture of the formation.

"They are unaware of our presence, Captain," Fischer said.

"Yes, it seems that way. We must attack before they remember they are in a war." 

Werner barked orders to the torpedo control center. He would fire five torpedoes at staggered intervals. If their sonar estimates and calculations are correct, their weapons would hit their targets at almost at the same time. They would be sending an impressive message to Donitz and Hitler if they could pull this off.

Meyer watched the preparations, barely keeping from urging the crew to hurry. He wanted this to be over as quickly as possible. He wanted to bring his precious submarine back to its base and examined thoroughly. He didn't tell Werner that even if they bring home five pennants, if they find flaws in the design of U-1215, deployment could still be delayed or even cancelled. His only consolation was that he had convinced Werner to fire the torpedoes from at least 20 kilometers away.

The torpedo solutions were set. The targets had been designated as Targets 1 to 5 with Target 1 being the closest and Target 5 as the farthest. It was time.

The first torpedo launched out of its tube and headed for its programmed course. The next four torpedoes were fired at various intervals with the last one almost eight minutes after the first. All five weapons turned toward their targets. The explosions should come about 45 and-a-half minutes after the last weapon had been launched.

Werner was standing near the periscope watching the clock, ready to raise it about twenty seconds before the torpedoes would hit. Suddenly, an explosion was heard to rumble through the hull.

"That was too soon," Fischer said. It had only been 37.9 minutes after the last launch.

Several seconds later, a second explosion. "What is happening?" Werner grumbled, making his way to the sonar room followed by Fischer. "Report!"

Before Blöhme could answer, a third explosion reverberated through the hull. "It's still too confusing, Captain, but I think three of the torpedoes hit other targets."

"What does that mean?" Werner almost screamed.

Fischer figured it out. "Three of our torpedoes did not hit their assigned targets, Captain."

"Well, which targets did we hit?" Werner demanded. "Did we hit three? Two? Or just one?"

Blöhme was having trouble analyzing the sounds he was hearing and having his commander press him for information. Fischer noted this and tried to calm Werner down.

"Captain," Fischer grabbed Werner's arm. Werner whirled around. "Let him get a clearer picture, sir. He needs time."

Werner stared at Fischer for a moment before his eyes defocused. He nodded his head and turned to Blöhme. "Take your time, Mr. Blöhme. Make your report when you're ready."

A moment later, Blöhme made his report. "Captain, I can no longer hear Targets 1, 2, and sounds of sinking, however...Targets 4 and 5 are maneuvering."

Werner pounded his fist on the wall and bounded back to the control room. "All ahead full," he shouted. "Make your course 243 degrees. Rise to periscope depth."

Meyer closed his eyes. So much for the idea of not using the periscope.

After a run of 30 minutes, he moved to the periscope and ordered it raised. When it had stopped, he slapped the handles down and began turning the device around. He stopped.

It was late afternoon. The ships were silhouetted against the setting sun. "Two destroyer escorts in is listing badly...the other has sunk up to its deck..." He turned the handles slightly, "An aircraft carrier...she's dead in the water." Another turn, "Two more destroyer escorts...undamaged...looking for us, no doubt."

He slapped the handles up and ordered the periscope lowered. Then he turned to Fischer.

"Three confirmed hits." Werner's voice sounded triumphant. "Reload all tubes. We'll target the other two destroyers..." He was interrupted in mid-sentence.

"Captain!" The sonar supervisor called out. "ASDIC coming on from the escorts!"

Werner automatically ordered the periscope raised again. Meyer shook his head. We need to remove that periscope.

Werner watched as the escorts seemed to be turning toward him. Damn! He slapped the handles back up and ordered "down scope" and "make your depth 150 meters, ten degrees down on the planes" in one breath.

U-1215 dived toward the depths at a steep angle, seeking to escape from the searching destroyer escorts. They could make a run for it but the escorts were about as fast as or slightly faster than his submarine. He needed to get to the layer and sprint to another spot without his pursuers realizing it. He would then launch a torpedo at each of them. He was going to bring home six pennants even if he had to stay here all night.

Werner and Fischer watched the temperature indicator, looking for the thermal that would hide them. Three minutes later, the indicator had hardly moved. The ASDIC pings were now audible through the submarine's hull. Soon depth charges would be dropping into the water.

"Left ten degrees rudder," Werner ordered. In case the destroyer escorts had a fix on him, he would make a course change to throw off their aim. Where is that thermal?