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.

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