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?

Monday, November 16, 2015


Meyer watched as an electrician took out a wall switch cover revealing burned out wires. The man pulled out the wires to see the extent of the damage and was relieved to find the burned portion was only a little over an inch long. He began clearing out the melted material around the wire and trimmed it before reattaching it to a new wall switch.

"Can you see what caused it to short circuit," Meyer asked.

"It was probably installed incorrectly, sir," the man replied. "Whoever worked on this probably trimmed off too much insulation and the wires touched causing the short circuit. I've seen it happen before, sir." The electrician had noted that Meyer seemed edgy and was trying to be reassuring. He'd heard about Meyer's mutterings about the spate of electrical malfunctions. Does he think we're incompetents?

Meyer stopped talking and appeared to be thinking deeply. He suddenly whirled around and left, leaving the electrician who seemed thankful to be out of his scrutiny.

Meyer went to the control room and found Captain Werner bent over the charts with Fischer. He moved closer and overheard what they were discussing.

"If that aircraft came straight from his carrier, they are sure to head in our direction. If they sail at 16 knots, we will meet around here." Werner pointed at a spot in the chart in the middle of the ocean.

Fischer nodded and measured the distances. "That means we should meet them in about four to five hours' time."

Werner leaned his elbows on the chart table. "Yes, I suggest we start preparations in case they are traveling faster than our estimate."

"Right." Fischer straightened and moved off toward the bow spaces. Meyer waited for Werner to notice him.

"Yes, Meyer. What is on your mind?" Werner had been aware of Meyer's presence all along. Since the man had not tried to get his attention, it was probably not important.

"We had another electrical short, Captain."

"Are you referring to the lights in the officer's compartment, Commander?" Werner already knew.

"Indeed I am, Captain, and that is the third defect since we set sail on this trial turned mission."

Werner sighed and motioned to Meyer to walk with him. They headed toward officer's country. People were either on their way to their duty stations, relaxing in their cubicles, or down in the mess for a meal. Everything seemed calm and tranquil.

"You designed this boat Meyer, did you not," Werner began. "Or at least you had a hand in its design."

"Yes, I did, Captain," Meyer replied, sensing that Werner was going to try and belittle his fears. "A lot of this came from my ideas."

Werner nodded. "The electrical installation, however, was not your jurisdiction?"

Meyer shook his head. "No, Captain. I do not install wall switches or wire panels. I gave the concept and someone else would turn the concept into something usable or tangible."

"I see. So, you mean you know nothing about electrical installations?" Meyer could see where Werner was headed with this line of questioning. Just as they entered the darkened area of the compartment, the lights came back on. "Ah, that is much better."

Werner looked at Meyer with a serious look. "Meyer, do you have any ideas why we are experiencing these...short circuits, you call them?"

Meyer nodded to answer the last question. "Captain, these problems could be caused by a number of things. Poor installation, substandard materials, or maybe the radiation from the reactor is making the insulation on the wires brittle or causing them to deteriorate."

Werner almost paused at that. Meyer had described the effects of radiation poisoning once before and that lesson had caused a small amount of chill to come over him whenever he passed through the reactor room. But that was the effect on human flesh, not other materials.

"You're saying that we have a radiation leak?"

"No, Captain. Our detectors have not detected raised levels of radiation." The submarine was equipped with radiation detectors that clicked when it sensed radiation. The more it clicked, the higher the radiation levels.

"But if the detectors are not sensing anything, it must be something else then," Werner replied. "Poor installation or substandard materials, as you said."

"Correct, Captain," Meyer said. "But if it is indeed one or both reasons, it is possible there may be more. We may be endangering our lives and this vessel by continuing."

Werner had to admit that Meyer was making sense and he considered the course of action the young commander had wordlessly suggested. He thought about the expected encounter with an Allied vessel.

Werner took a deep breath. "Commander, in about four hours or so, we are expecting to meet up with an Allied force, possibly an aircraft carrier and her escorts. We will engage this force and fire a spread of torpedoes at them. As soon as we know if we hit them, we will turn back to base. You have my word."

Meyer wrestled with his thoughts. He really wants to sink a ship and bring back a pennant. We are risking this vessel to satisfy one man's ego. On the other hand, coming into base with a pennant flying would surely be a convincing factor when the Admiral speaks to Donitz and, later, the Fuehrer. Will a few more hours make a difference? Meyer reluctantly nodded his head.

Werner smiled widely. "Good, Commander. Now we must prepare for our attack. The quicker we sink their ships, the quicker we can get back to base."

And I can't wait to get this over with, Meyer thought.

Sunday, November 15, 2015


After a run of about 36 hours, U-1215 surfaced again at night. Fischer had objected but Werner reasoned that they needed to obtain radio bearings to enemy ships. By surfacing, they could detect the radio transmissions or radar emissions being made by Allied ships thereby giving them a direction to sail towards. After about an hour, the radio intercepted a series  of messages from one of their u-boats. The first message said it was being attacked by an aircraft. The next message, about two minutes later, said they had been unable to meet with the resupply submarine. About an hour later, it said it was under attack by a surface ship. Werner knew what was happening.

The u-boat had been spotted by an aircraft, which had directed an enemy destroyer or destroyer escort toward it. The fact that the u-boat had sent messages meant that the u-boat was unable to dive to avoid the attack (radios don't work underwater) and a u-boat that is unable to dive is effectively a sitting duck.

That u-boat is as good as lost, Werner thought. Some of the men would survive by diving into the sea but the captain would probably choose to sink with the boat. Another German lost to the Allied navy.

Radio bearings to the doomed u-boat gave them a direction to go to. They changed course and dived just before dawn.

12 hours later, they surfaced again. They had been on the surface for only fifteen minutes when the radio operator stiffened. 

"Airborne radar to the south!"

The shout of "ALARM" and the sound of the alarm bell resounded through the sub. The engines were set to ahead full and the forward diving planes pushed to their maximum down angle. The bridge watch scrambled down and the hatch closed just as the sea began to swirl around the top of the conning tower. 

Lt. James Hendry led a two-plane section of TBF Avengers patrolling this area of the sea. Their radar had detected a surface contact and they firewalled their throttles to get to the target before it dived. When they reached the spot, however, U-1215 was gone.

Werner headed for the radio room. "From what direction did the contact come from?"

The operator rechecked his notes. "Bearing was 177°, Captain."

Werner turned to Fischer. "Set course for 177°."

120 kilometers to the south of U-1215, Task Group 28.16 turned northward. Composed of the escort carrier, USS Buzzards Bay, destroyer escorts USS James Smith, USS John Johnson, USS Robert Williams, and USS Michael Jones, they were one of several hunter-killer groups plying the Atlantic. TG28.16, in particular, had been quite successful, sinking two u-boats on this patrol bringing up their total to five since they were formed three months ago. At present, they were 270 kilometers east-north-east of the Madeira Islands, acting on a reported u-boat sighting by Lt. James Hendry.

Admiral William Brown, commander of the Task Group, frowned at the chart. Lt. Hendry's sighting was the first since coming back after refueling at Casablanca. A milch cow, a u-boat that was used to refuel, re-arm, and/or re-supply another u-boat, had been reported in the area. Hendry's sighting was not in the area where the milch cow was estimated to be so it was probably another u-boat. He ordered more planes to be launched and sent to the area of the u-boat sighting.

Since the u-boat had apparently submerged, it was expected to travel between two and three knots, which determined how big the search area was. If it had been an hour since the last sighting, the search radius would be around six kilometers. Sending one or two of the destroyer escorts to head for the area at full speed would take approximately eighteen hours by which time the radius would become thirty kilometers. No, he'd keep the group together and hope the u-boat would surface eventually. The searching planes would then detect and pounce on him.

Werner didn't know if the aircraft had detected or seen U-1215 but he guessed they had. Those pilots would report the contact and the task group, a carrier and several destroyer escorts most likely, would proceed toward the area. They, however, would be operating on the assumption that he was a normal u-boat, not the high speed U-1215. He was heading south at seventeen knots. He was already far away from where the search planes were looking for him.

Meyer lay on his bunk, thinking about the mission. On one hand he was concerned about the status of the boat systems. There were no more malfunctions but there was always the possibility that something important would break down and do so at the most inappropriate time. On the other hand, the excitement of going into combat for the first time was infectious. The crew were happy to be heading into battle, their purpose for being finally being realized. Even the reactor technicians were looking forward to it. For Meyer, studying how the crew and the boat would perform during actual combat was an important part of the mission.

He was imagining how the battle would be conducted when the lights in the cubicle suddenly went out. Somebody must have switched it off. He turned over and went to sleep.

He moved through the spaces undetected. The wires from the switch were behind him, frayed and burned. The spark had startled him and he scurried away from it. There was much he could do here but he'd have to be careful.

TG28.16 sailed on. USS Buzzards Bay was in the middle of a trapezoid-shaped formation with the destroyer escorts at the corners. USS James Smith was 3000 yards in front and to the left, USS Michael Jones was the same distance to the front and right and USS John Johnson and USS Robert Williams were 4000 yards to left and right of the USS Buzzards Bay.

Admiral Brown was in a discussion with Buzzard Bay's executive officer. The location of the last radar detection was fifteen hours away. They would keep sending search planes armed with depth charges, torpedoes, and rockets in the hope that the submarine would surface within the search pattern. They'd expand the search radius as time went by.

In the past, they didn't find u-boats; u-boats found them. Small and able to dive underneath the surface, they were the ultimate hunters of the sea. The only way to know of their presence was the explosion from a torpedo hit.

U-boats, however, had one flaw. They couldn't stay underwater for long periods of time. Consequently, the best way to find a u-boat was by catching it on the surface while it was recharging its batteries and the best way to do that is by aircraft. Limited to searching close to land at first, the arrival of the escort carriers enabled aircraft to search ever larger swaths of ocean. Furthermore, improvements in radar, sonar, and weapons made life for the u-boat crews much more dangerous. TG28.16's successes did not help their plight.

Admiral Brown figured it would take them about eleven to thirteen hours to reach the location of the sighting depending on which direction the u-boat was moving. His search planes were constantly orbiting the area in an expanding box. If the u-boat captain decided to surface, his planes would find him.

The sun was low on the horizon, it being late afternoon in this part of the world. The planes had not detected anything and it began to appear that the u-boat had given them the slip or it was being very cautious and not surfacing. A submerged u-boat could stay down for up to 24 hours, maybe a bit more depending on how much battery time they had. They couldn't be resting on the bottom of the sea because this part of the Atlantic was thousands of feet deep. Admiral Brown considered abandoning the search but it was still too early. These things took time.

Thursday, November 12, 2015


He scurried down the hall to the kitchen. It was difficult to find food to eat and this place was almost always occupied by at least one person. The only time that it can be expected to be empty was during night time though people can be expected to come in at odd times to get something to munch on or drink during their breaks. Tonight, it was empty. There were a few crumbs from someone's biscuit but the prize was a piece of meat left on a plate. He quickly stole it and took it back to his hiding place where he finished it off.

Deciding to explore after his meal, he crept towards the back of the sub, squeezing himself into any cavities or crevices he could find whenever someone approached. Moving stealthily, he came upon an open door. Waiting for the coast to clear, he entered...

Meyer was giving Schneider some lessons in the operation of the reactor. "This here are rods that control how much heat the reactor generates. If we lower the rods into the pile, the reaction is reduced which lessens the heat that is generated."

Schneider shook his head. "I still don't understand where the heat comes from."

Meyer sighed and put a hand on the young officer's shoulder. "Even if I explained it to you, you might not understand it. The principles of how all this works were fairly recent discoveries and few understand it. It took me a while to understand it myself."

Schneider folded his arms in front of his chest and looked at the diagram. Various lights and meters showed the status of the reactor and peripheral equipment, making a fascinating display on the control panel. He understood how steam could make a turbine turn but the workings of the reactor was quite beyond him. Learning that the reactor was capable of generating such a vast amount of heat that it was capable of melting the steel skin of the vessel was unnerving. He immediately deduced the importance of the control rods Meyer was describing.

"So, the control rods determine the amount of heat that can be generated. If we were to fully lower the rods into the pile...?"

Meyer smiled, he had a good student here. "The reaction stops...or at least becomes so low that the reactor is effectively shut down."

Schneider put a hand on his chin, as if contemplating the result. "That would lower or stop generation of steam, causing the turbines to stop or slow down." He turned to Meyer with a realization. "That would stop the generators! We'd be without power!"

Meyer moved quickly to dispel the man's fear. "The control rods have back up power from batteries, which can allow us to operate the rods in case of a problem. We will have time to either effect repairs on the generators or blow the tanks and surface the submarine...if that becomes necessary."

Meyer was careful to choose what words he used during these training sessions. If he told them too much, they could become too frightened and do something rash. The reactor used uranium which, by itself, was dangerous. It was contained inside a lead-lined container, which was encased inside a steel vessel. The system was designed to generate only enough heat to boil water and keep the turbines running and the generators spinning. There was no need for the maximum amount of heat the reactor can generate. It was, therefore, relatively safe. However, as Schneider suspected, a malfunction in the control systems could lead to a shutdown, causing the turbine and generators to stop, cutting all power to the submarine. They didn't have a back-up diesel engine to provide emergency power. What they had were batteries, which could provide temporary power for the submarine's systems and the control rods but only for a limited time. The control rods themselves were moved up and down by electro-magnets. This was a safety feature designed to drop the rods into the pile in case of power failure. It ensured that the reactor would not continue generating heat when it was not needed. If the control rods were to become stuck in the up position, the heat could easily increase to dangerous levels. Once that happened, U-1215 and all her crew would become casualties to the sudden appearance of a miniature sun, incinerated into ashes. The only consolation was that the pain, if any, would be very short.

He stayed hidden, listening. When the men moved off, he explored the interior of the vast room, noting locations and features. It was probably lunch time since there were less people around than normal. It was easy to flip from one place of concealment to another. He memorized the layout of the equipment and locations where he could safely stay out of sight.

Life in U-1215 settled into a routine. The drills came and went, keeping everyone on their toes and honing their skills in responding to alerts. To save their precious air scrubbers, they surfaced for a few hours at night to ventilate the spaces. Fischer and Meyer thought this was dangerous but Werner said that it would enable them to intercept radio messages and detect radar emissions from Allied warships. It would give them a direction to head for. These surface runs also offered opportunities to practice emergency dive drills. With five men on the bridge of the conning tower, an alert would be sounded and everyone was expected to be below, the hatch closed and secured, and the sub below the surface, within 30 seconds. If there were less men on the bridge, they could dive faster but they needed the eyes to keep watch.

They sailed west for more than half the day to get out of the Bay of Biscay before turning south-south-west toward the area east of Madeira, approximately 1000 kilometers away. From radio intercepts, the area was a hotbed of Allied activity. A number of u-boats had disappeared while transiting there, suggesting that U.S. hunter-killer groups were actively searching for and sinking their comrades. It was a dangerous place to be but it was also a target-rich patch of ocean.

Karl Gunther was noting down the readings on the gauges in the reactor room when he felt like he was being observed. He looked around but only saw his fellow technicians doing their own things. No one was looking at him, each of them engrossed with whatever it was they were assigned to do. He shook it off and continued.

He pulled back into a crevice when he saw one of the people turn toward him. Apparently, the man was one of those who can sense when someone was watching him. For the next hour, he stayed where he was until he saw an opening. He slipped out and disappeared through the door, returning to his hiding place in the kitchen.