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 3...no 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 close...one 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?

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