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.

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