Tuesday, 6 March 2012

U-48: the most successful U-boat of WW2 - PART 1

The U-48 was a type VIIB U-Boat, ordered by the Kriegsmarine on 21 November 1936. The submarine was laid down 10 March 1937, built at the Germaniawerth of Kiel for the two following years and launched on 8 March 1939. On 22 April the boat was commissioned into service, under the command of Kptl. Herbert Schultze.
Herbert Schultze
On 20 August 1939, the submarine sailed from Kiel. She travelled North along the Norwegian coast, ventured into the North Atlantic, headed south narrowing the Bay of Biscay and then positioned around the Western Approaches. Two days after the U-48 had reached it patrolling area, United Kingdom and France declared war on Germany, and the war began.

On 5 September 1939, in position 46.23N, 14.59W, Kptl. Schultze intercepted the British steam merchant Royal Sceptre (4,853 tons). U-48 opened fire with its deck gun at 12.00, for about 25 minutes. After the Master James William Gair had been killed, all the crewmen abandoned the ship, with the exception of the radio operator, who remained on board trasmitting a distress signal, and was later taken as prisoner too.
The steam merchant Winkleigh
The following day, the U-48 stopped the steam merchant Browning. The crew panicked and abandoned ship, but Schultze told them to get back and take on board the survivors of the British Sceptre, including the brave radio operator. During the following days, U-48 stopped and released several neutral vessels, before to intercept the 5,005-ton Winkleigh on 8 September. The merchant was hit with a single torpedo across the bow. Luckiy, all the 37 crewmen were able to get onto the lifeboats, being subsequently picked up by the Dutch liner Statendam and landed at New York.

On 11 September, U-48 attacked the Firby about 270 miles west of the Hebrides. The U-boat scored five hits with its deck gun, forcing the British crew to abandon ship. The merchant was finished with a torpedo, and commander Schutze radioed to the British:
Transmit to Mr. Churchill. I have sunk British steamer Firby position 59°40N/13°50W. Save the crew if you will please. German submarine. [uboat.net]
All the 34 survivors were picked up by HMS Fearless and landed at Scapa Flow on the following day. U-48 reached Kiel on 17 September, and departed for its second war patrol on 4 October. Schultze followed the same route of the previous patrol, and caught the French Emile Miguet on 12 October. The 14,115-ton, loaded with 137,000 barrels of gasoline and oil, was shelled and stopped at 18.08, with the coup de grace delivered at 18.20.
French tanker Emile Miguet
Shortly thereafter U-48 attacked the simoultaneous convoys OA-17 and OB-17. Schultze fired five torpedoes against the 5,000 ton Heronspool between 20.24 and 23.52, but all missed. Then, his sixth torpedo hit and sunk the merchant vessel at 01.16.
The  sinking  Louisiane 
The following morning, U-48 stopped the French Louisiane. After the crew had abandoned ship, the U-boat shelled it from 8.35 to 8.45, and sank it.
On 14 October, commander Schultze stopped and sank the 3,677-ton Sneaton. Three days later, on the 17th, it was the turn of the 7,256-ton Clan Chislolm, which was sank with a single torpedo 150 miles NW of Cape Finisterre.
The seemingly unbreakable luck of commander Schultze ran out two days later, when he attacked with gunfire the steamer Rockpool. The vessel fired back and forced the U-boat to crash dive. When the Germans resurfaced in order to sink their prey, a destroyer appeared forcing them into a second dive.

Having sunk 37,153 tons and escaped with luck its last encounter, Kptl. Schultze wisely decided to head for home, and reached the safety of Kiel on 25 October. CLICK HERE FOR PART 2
The Clan Chisholm, sunk on 17 October 1940

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