August 7, U-24, Course 120, Speed four knots 2345 hours
161 kilometers SW of Bergen
More of nothing. Around 1500 the lookouts reported a plume but the U-24 never got close enough to determine whether it really was a plume or just another dark cloud on the horizon.
August 8, UB-13, Course 170, Speed 3 knots, Surfaced 0145 hours
16 kilometers ESE of Coryton
Incredibly, Becker heard another explosion off to the east. His lookouts reported a flash but no fire. He could only wonder what had bumbled into the new minefield. This was the third victim in a single day. Yes, this was a very heavily traveled stretch of water, but one would think the Englisch would have found a way to warn off ships.
Becker also wondered where the Englisch minehunters were. The Thames is a vital water way. One would think minehunters would have been out in droves by now.
As Becker pondered, life intruded,
The lookout must have owl vision. The night was dark as a tomb.
“Off the port bow”
Becker looked through his best Zeiss night binoculars. With their huge 100mm front lens, they gather an enormous amount of light. To use them in daylight was to risk blindness and even on a halfway bright night they would leave you with a headache by the end of a watch. But tonight they earned their expense.
After several sweeps with his powerful glasses, Becker finally picked up a collier. Scheiß! They were only two hundred meters away and moving across his path.
“Come right to 260”
“Gun crew on deck!”
“Make ready boarding party.”
Within minutes he was alongside the collier. Even though he was only 50 meters away the kiste did not seem to see him. Finally the signal lamp got somebody’s attention.
From the collier: “Ahoy. Sheer away”
Becker yelled back through the megaphone.
“I am U-boat. Heave to and stop or shoot we will.”
“Booten. Boats. Take to boats”
Finally someone saw the 88 pointed at them and she hove to, not two kilometers from the minefield.
“Take to boats. Schnell!”
As he approached to within thirty-five meters everyone on both vessels could make out what was going on. The crew was taking to the boats. This close to shore a trip into the lifeboats was not a slow death, just an inconvenience. After a few minutes he could see the four boats pulling off to the south.
Rather than call attention to himself, Becker decided to stay true to form and board the kiste. It was too dark to maneuver the UB-13 around her but the boarding party has the collapsible boat out. Eins and three men paddled over to the collier. They found the ladder down to take on the pilot and simply climbed up. One held the boat close while two men went below with demolition charges and eins went to the wheelhouse for papers.
This practiced course of action went well, although slowed by the man in the collapsible boat had a bit of trouble getting where the others could easily get back in, but after a few minutes delay the boarding party was away from the kiste.
Not a moment too soon.
They were about halfway back when …
Another ship plowed into the first ship the boarding party had just abandoned. The second ship was a bit smaller but was moving at about five knots and this opened up the first ship and stove in the stem of the second ship. Becker decided to wait and see what came of this collision. The first ship was clearly going down even before the demolition charges went off and the second ship raised a fierce commotion trying to save their ship.
The second ship raised a ruckus and fired off rockets. Becker secured his boarding party and gun and struck every one but himself and the lookouts below. Eins had the papers on the first kiste, but Becker wanted to know what he had bagged with no effort. The letters at the back said Terpsichore – London. That seemed an odd name for a tramp steamer but the Englisch had so many merchant steamers that odd names were an inevitability. He also noticed that this ship also had the pilot’s ladder down.
Of course, dummkopf! They must drop off and pick up the river pilots somewhere near here.
About time that the second ship’s crew had given up and were taking to their boats, the lookouts spotted two vessels showing lights approaching. Patrol boats, no doubt. Becker did not want to tangle with patrol boats – he had a mission. Kisten were gravy. Time to disappear. The UB-13 pulled a few hundred meters to the northeast and put thirty meters of water above her.
August 7, UB-17, Course None, Speed Zero (tied to pier), Surfaced 0230 hours
The approach and entry to the harbor had been nerve-wracking. That it was a dark night made hitting that narrow gap in the breakwater difficult enough. In fact the fires on the shore were the only way Rees could make out the gap. The smoke certainly slowed things down.
The harbor itself was littered with floating debris and worse yet, bodies. There was no one there to aid in tying the boat up so Rees had to send some of his men ashore to tie her off to the bollards.
Rees stayed with the boat and sent a couple of petty officers to find whoever was in charge. They wandered around for over an hour before they finally found Leutnant Metz, dead asleep on a sand bag. He told them he had absolutely nothing for them. The fuel depot was in flames, and what torpedoes could have been available were on wagons inland. There was nothing to eat as the commissary and mess hall were blown to bits. There wasn’t even drinking water that he knew of.
Metz woke up enough to ask of the state of the UB-17. This was mostly for the Admiral’s satisfaction. Metz had no orders, but suggested it may be best to get to Wilhelmshaven. The petty officers made their way back to the UB-17 and they weren’t five meters away before Metz was asleep again.
When the got back to the UB-17 and reported, Rees decided that Metz was right. The best thing was to get the UB-17 out of the harbor and back to Wilhelmshaven for repairs.
But he wasn’t going to brave that narrow entrance again until daylight. They’d wait til dawn.
This was a memorable night for the U-boatmen of the UB-17. The fires seemed to press closer. They could hear screams and groans from the darkness. The smoke was thick and the smell of death was overpowering even to normally nose-dead U-boatmen. When they got back to Wilhelmshaven the stories they told earned Zeebrugge the sobriquet of “Hell’s Anteroom” for the rest of the war.
August 8, UB-10, Course 280, Speed 4 knots 0400 hours
39 kilometers WNW of Zeebrugge
Obviously the Englisch warships had evaded Steinbrinck and Hundius once again. As these boats retained their deck guns, they were ordered to the Dover area (Steinbrinck to the north and Hundius to the west) to wage guerre de course until recalled.
August 8, Eisenbahnbautruppen work train, Stopped 0630 hours
1 kilometer South of Zeebrugge Harbor
They had moved up during the night and had gotten started at dawn. Already they had repaired one damaged piece of track but now they had to stop and the next spot was in the middle of a burned neighborhood of the town.
August 8, British Reconnaissance plane, Speed 70 Miles per hour, Altitude 5,000 feet 0822 hours
Over Zeebrugge, Belgium
The plane had taken off at first light and flown east to Zeebrugge. There were no German fighters up this far north and east of their usual haunts around Arras, so the photographer could take his time and get his landmarks down before snapping pictures.
After expending all his film the photographer clapped the pilot on the shoulder and motioned for “home.” It would be a two-hour flight, largely over water (to avoid German Fokkers) back to base.
The photographer doubted his pictures would be of much value as the target was obscured by smoke.