Thursday, November 12, 2015


Fischer had just started one of their drills when the sonar operator announced a contact to their north. Werner ordered the drill stopped and all hands to battle stations. He wasn't worried about going into battle but it was just another way to drill the men to perfection.

The sound of twin diesels said that it may be another submarine on the surface. It was moving west-south-west from the direction of France which could mean it was another u-boat. Werner decided to hazard a peek with the periscope.

"Bring us up to periscope depth. When we reach it, set engines to dead slow. I don't want to make too much of a feather. Planesman, engage automatic depth-keeping and maintain periscope depth." Slowing down kept the periscope from producing too much of a feather or wave disturbance which could be seen in good weather.

It took several minutes to get up to depth and Werner double checked with the sonar operator in case there was more than one surface vessel up there. Werner raised the periscope and turned around in a complete circle before settling on the contact. It was a u-boat alright. He upped the magnification to get a better look and laughed with delight.

"It's U-684! It's my old boat!" Werner wished he could surface to greet his old command but they might fire on him as soon as they see a strange submarine appear out of nowhere. Besides, he had his orders.

Werner watched for a few more seconds, more than was safe, really. He risked the lookouts on U-684 seeing the periscope but they gave no indication of having seen the optical pipe on the surface. He reluctantly ordered the periscope lowered and told the sonar operator to keep listening to the sound of the surfaced submarine. Diesels were loud things and it was easy to track them. After several minutes, the contact changed course, a safe move during wartime. It ruined the firing solution of any submarine that may be tracking them. It would take the enemy several minutes to get the torpedoes properly targeted again.

Several minutes went by and the distance between U-1215 and U-684 increased. Werner was about to order a course reversal to begin another cycle on their oval racetrack cruise when the sonar operator reported another contact.

This was also to their north but closer to them. The sound profile said it was submerged, a submarine running on its electric motors. Werner suddenly became worried. This submerged contact was moving north...toward U-684, like a lion stalking its prey.

What was it? A re-supply submarine? If U-684 had just left port, they probably didn't need a re-supply. Perhaps they were having mechanical problems and had requested a re-supply sub to help in the repair. If that was so, however, the re-supply sub should have surfaced at a farther distance. An overly cautious sub commander was a rarity in the Kiegsmarine. A British or American submarine getting into firing position?  There was no way to know what it was. The sonar operator reported that the submerged contact seemed to be at periscope depth. Werner looked at Fischer. What should we do?

His orders were explicit, avoid contact with any vessel, friend or foe. He tried to think. A submarine was targeting U-684. Seemed to be targeting, he corrected himself. Fischer could see that his commander was thinking hard. "What are you planning to do, Captain?"

Werner looked at Fischer intently for a second before answering. "We prepare tube one for firing on the submerged contact. We have no idea what it is but if they fire on U-684, we'll fire on them. Let's hope their torpedoes miss U-684." He couldn't fire on the submerged contact without knowing what it was.

It was a terrible dilemma. It was bad enough knowing that the surfaced vessel was a u-boat, with fellow Germans and service comrades. The fact that it was a vessel with people whom he knew was worse. He couldn't surface to warn them, they'd probably start firing when they see a strange vessel rising out of the water, thinking it was a new Allied submarine. Besides, surfacing would also alert the stalking submarine. He had no doubt that he could defeat a submerged submarine—the new torpedoes allowed him to target them as well as a surface ship—but he couldn't take the risk with the new boat.

They were already at battle stations and the tracking team already had a firing solution on the submerged contact. All they really had to do was to push the firing button.

HMS Grimsby
"Prepare to fire torpedoes. She's settled on her new course and won't make another turn for several minutes."

Commander James Hendley kept the scope raised and pointed at U-684. The firing computer kept the torpedoes updated on the target's movements and could be fired at any time. They had detected the surfaced u-boat several minutes ago and had waited for it to approach to firing range. Now, they were ready to sink one of ol' Adolf's boats.


The submarine shuddered as the torpedo shot out of the tube, propelled by compressed air. The weapon immediately changed course to its preset heading and sped on to an intersection point in the ocean where it was supposed to meet the u-boat.

The torpedo controller set Tube 1 to the same bearing as relayed by the sonar operator. They had a rough range but they were going to set the torpedo so that it activated a little more than half-way to the target. Werner didn't want to risk the torpedo moving past the target and latching onto the sound of the surfaced u-boat.

"Torpedo in the water! They've fired on U-684!" 

Werner's fear had been realized. He did not hesitate.

"Fire One!"

"Enemy torpedo is running hot, straight and normal. It's heading for the u-boat. Our weapon will hit a few seconds after theirs, Captain. We're too late."

Werner and Fischer looked at each other as if asking the other their next course of action. Fischer came to a decision and shook his head. They couldn't risk being discovered. They'd have to wait and hope for the best.

The British torpedo ran true and hit U-684, lifting it partially out of the water. It was a precise shot, hitting dead center of the surfaced u-boat.

HMS Grimsby
Hendley shouted as he saw the u-boat explode, followed soon after by the sound of the explosion. The crew celebrated, laughing and punching the air in jubilation. Their celebration was short-lived, however. U-1215's torpedo hit them just after the conning tower, instantly killing the control room crew and tossing the rest about the hull of the submarine. 

There was no celebration in U-1215, though. They had their first kill but they had lost countrymen in the process. The sonar man listened to the noise of the two submarines filling with water and breaking up as they sank to the bottom of the Atlantic.

Werner lowered his head, mourning the death of his former boat mates. Fischer didn't know what to say except to remain silent and watch his captain. The man had just lost all of his friends and comrades and there wasn't anything anyone could do about it.

Werner lifted his head, looked at Fischer, nodded and retreated to his stateroom. Fischer wondered if he should give the order to reverse course for the north-west leg of their trial cruise. It was about that time. He sighed, orders were orders and, in the absence of any instructions from the captain, he had to follow the mission orders. U-1215 turned around and settled on a heading of 317°.

The Decision

Werner entered his room and laid down on his bed. The sub was quiet, everyone whispering among themselves while performing their duties. Werner was alone with his thoughts.

Werner's thoughts were not on his former shipmates though. True, he had started out by thinking of them but was soon thinking about what he could have done to prevent it. He should have surfaced and taken the chance. The men on the U-684 would have been surprised but they would not have been able to react quickly. Their first reaction would probably be to turn towards them, unmask their 105mm deck gun and begin firing. U-1215 would have been under fire but the maneuver by U-684 would have thrown off the enemy sub's aim or cause their torpedo to miss. U-1215 would have dived then and left the scene. The unknown, of course, was whether U-1215 would be hit by one of U-684's shells. The range was close enough for a highly probable hit so that wouldn't have worked.

Should they have fired a torpedo as soon as they had detected the submerged submarine? It had certainly been acting like an enemy sub when they first detected it. No, that's only because we know that it was an enemy sub now. Any sub commander would have hesitated as he had. There was no way to identify the submerged submarine before it fired on U-684.

As Werner lay on the bed, his mind wandered towards the capabilities of U-1215. He could have sneaked into a British harbor or lay in wait just offshore and pick off the enemy vessels as they came in or out. That way, that enemy submarine would have been sunk long before he could get to U-684. For that matter, he could have ventured out into the open ocean and hit convoy after convoy, preventing important material from reaching Britain and curtailing their ability to wage war. Countless lives of Germans would be saved.

Werner began to imagine approaching an Allied convoy, firing torpedoes left and right, two for the closest escorting destroyers and four towards the convoy ships themselves. The surviving escorts would think that they were under attack by several u-boats and be forced to search in every direction. Meanwhile the convoy ships would scatter, thinking they would confuse the attacking submarines. Some would blunder towards U-1215 and he'd dispatch them easily. Then he would run at full speed, chasing ship after ship, sinking them one by one, or even two or three at a time. The searching destroyers would be picked off when the opportunity presented itself, making U-1215's job easier. He would chase down the remaining ships and destroy them.

Destroy them. Destroy them now.

Werner sat up from his bed. He had several indicators in his stateroom that showed him the status of his. The compass showed that the sub was on a north-westerly course while another instrument indicated a speed of nine knots. They were forty-five meters under the surface and maintaining that depth. They were the stealthiest submarine in the world and the only such one existing. There was only one.

Werner, jumped off the bed and opened the door. "Fischer! Come here!"

Fischer was startled but ran to the captain's stateroom. Werner had such a wild look on his face that Fischer wondered if his commander had gone crazy.

"Assemble the officers and meet me in the wardroom," Werner ordered. Fischer acknowledged the order and hurried off to gather the officers.

Werner went to the wardroom and waited for his men to enter. He was pacing the room from one end to the other greeting each man as he came in. When all were present, he ordered them all to sit down. He remained standing. He gazed at the men for a few moments before speaking, as if telling them that he was going to accept no dissenters.

"Men, we have been the unfortunate witnesses of the death of about 50 of our comrades," Werner began. Everyone lowered their heads as if in prayer. News travels fast in a submarine even though an announcement had not been made. "I have been thinking this over and have come to the conclusion that the best way for us to prevent this from happening is to have U-1215's sisters built as soon as possible. With a flotilla of U-1215s, the Allied convoys will not be able to reach British ports and Allied warships be sunk at a fast rate. The only way to prevent more losses of German lives is by winning this war.

"U-1215's future is uncertain. After we return to base, the admiral will bring the results of our trial to Donitz who will bring it to the Fuhrer for his approval. He may or may not give it. The only way he can be convinced of our submarine's effectiveness is to bring home a prize. The sinking of an Allied warship or warships."

Fischer nodded his head but Meyer's eyes widened in surprise. The long range trial cruise was a little more than a week old with less than two more weeks to go. Except for the problem with the stove and the water distillation system, there have been no serious problems thus far, but it was too early to tell. There was also that submarine they had just sunk.

"Excuse me, Captain. We already have a prize. That submarine we sank should serve the purpose satisfactorily." Meyer was just as enthusiastic to see his baby project become a reality but this was all very new technology and concepts. They just couldn't push it into combat without ironing out the imperfections.

Werner, however, was not going to be put off. "That is true, Meyer, but submarines usually stay on patrol for several weeks and it can take several weeks more before they will admit that a boat is lost. And that's assuming they ever admit it. The loss of a bigger vessel, on the other hand, is much more difficult to conceal."

Fischer suddenly sensed what Werner was planning but decided not to keep it to himself. 

"You are thinking of sinking a much larger ship, Captain? A destroyer? A cruiser, battleship, or even an aircraft carrier?"

Everyone in the room looked at the man next to him in surprise. Should they do it? The submarine had not been certified even though it had performed well in practically every trial. Each man had no doubt that they could pull off such a feat. Sailing back to base with a pennant (a small flag signifying that the submarine had sunk a vessel) was something that every submariner wants.

Meyer tried one last counter. "Captain, U-1215 has not yet been certified. He is only a prototype and will only be used as the basis for the design of the combat version. We don't know if he will perform well under real battle conditions. We've already had two malfunctions and there may be more later. Remember, also, that our men are mostly fresh from training. How they react to the stresses of battle is unknown."

Meyer fired his last salvo. "Do not forget also, Captain that this project is top secret and we cannot afford to reveal our existence to the enemy. Our orders to avoid contact is still in force."

Werner looked at Meyer as he finished what seemed to be a diatribe but was actually quite short. Meyer had not been present when the admiral had given their trial orders, indeed, Werner was the only one present. He had informed them that they were to sail up and down the continental shelf for three weeks but that was all. It is fortunate, he thought, that I didn't tell them about the order to avoid combat.

"That is where you are wrong, Commander," Werner said. "You were not present during the pre-trial briefing. The admiral ordered us to avoid being detected by the enemy. That usually means that we are to move away from them. He, however, also said that we can use our torpedoes as I see fit." It was a slight lie, to be sure, but with a grain of truth. Enough that he sounded convincing.

Meyer's eyes opened wider. "The admiral told me no such thing!"

"As I said, Commander, the admiral kept everyone else out of the briefing except me. He had his reasons, I suppose, but he did say it. The decision to take this boat into combat is at my discretion and I intend to use it. Why else would he authorize the loading of live torpedoes?"

Meyer still wanted to argue the point but he could see that the other officers were itching to go with the captain. He was the only senior officer without combat experience and the thought of going into a fight terrified him. On the other hand, a pennant would make the admiral's case more convincing to the Fuhrer. He wanted this project to succeed just as much as Werner did. He lowered his head as he waged an internal battle with his thoughts. 

When he looked up, he found Fischer, Schneider, and Schmitt looking at him. Their gaze was intent, waiting for him to...what? Give in? Suddenly, Meyer felt he was alone.

"It goes against my better judgement, Captain. I can see that your mind is made up and I did promise, when we first met, that I will follow your orders whatever the circumstances."

Werner was magnanimous in victory. He didn't smile or react to Meyer's statement of support. He merely nodded his head and addressed the assembled officers.

"We will sail for the area around Madeira off the western coast of Morocco. Allied activity there have increased substantially since they landed at Sicily. The environment will be rich with targets, I'm sure. Fischer, order the boat turned around and sail towards the Madeira Archipelago. Gentlemen, return to your stations. Meyer, please stay awhile."

When the room had emptied and the door closed, Werner began speaking. "Meyer, I know you think this is a bad idea but believe me, it's the best way to ensure that U-1215 goes beyond just being a prototype. Be assured that I will take full responsibility as this submarine's commander. I just want to be sure that I have your cooperation for this mission. Your expertise is going to be crucial."

Meyer had all sorts of things he wanted to say but made an effort to keep a level head. If he disagreed and Werner went ahead anyway, he'll find himself isolated with no real way of changing anyone's mind. He had to pretend to go along. Maybe he'd be able to convince Werner later.

"I already said that I will support you, Captain. You have my word."

Werner smiled and clapped Meyer on the shoulder. "Thank you, Meyer. We'll sail back into base with a pennant, maybe several, if we get lucky. U-1215 is the best submarine in the world for the job. Come, I will need to address the crew."

Werner led Meyer out and they both headed for the control room. By then, the boat's course had already been changed and their heading was now westward. Rumors were also spreading through the boat rapidly. Some of the officers had talked and the crew's reaction was divided nearly evenly with half reacting in fear and the other half with excitement.
Werner took the microphone and switched on the ship wide public address system.

"Attention all hands, this is the Captain speaking. I am informing you of a change in our mission. Effective immediately, we will sail for the West-African coast to wage war against Allied shipping in the area. I know most of you have never seen combat. Be assured, however, your officers are experienced and can guide you in what to do. Just remember your training and everything will be all right. You have been a good crew thus far. I am sure you will perform well. The result of this mission is crucial to ensure that more U-1215's will be built and we can start turning the Battle of the Atlantic back in our favor. That is all."

Karl Gunther looked at his shift mate in surprise. "No one told us that we'd be going into battle! This isn't what I signed up for."

"Fool," his friend said, "we are in a submarine loaded with torpedoes. What do you think they intend to do with them? Sink a whale?"

"Shooting at a whale is one thing, sinking a ship that can fight back is another," Gunther reasoned. "Look at how we performed against the Heimlich. If they hadn't made a mistake, we'd have lost that exercise and everyone on this boat would look like a fool, not just me!"

"Ah, Karl, you worry too much. The captain is an old hand and so is Fischer and the others. They know what to do."

Gunther grumbled and returned to his duties. Great, just great.

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