July 24, Flandernflotille Headquarters Bunker 0745 hours
Well, breakfast seemed to go over well with the men this morning. Why shouldn’t it? The men had not been starving, but a double ration would improve everyone’s outlook a bit. Lunch would not be as heavy, but dinner would be double normal. Bartenbach had made clear to the cooks that this was a one-day thing.
Now Bartenbach had enough food to last for months – if he didn’t get caught. There had never been an inspector looking at supplies in Zeebrugge, but there was always a first time.
July 24, Channel Fleet Headquarters, 0830 Hours
“Gentlemen, let us get started. What has happened since we last met?”
“I’m afraid there has been another fiasco in the Mouth of the Seine, sir. The French salvage vessel that was raising the wreck at the Mouth was attacked and damaged by the Germans.”
“Attacked? Right under the French noses?”
“Actually, sir, there was a French minesweeper alongside the salvage vessel dropping off men and some gear. The minesweeper was blown to bits and the explosion damaged the salvage vessel. The salvage vessel itself was only damaged but a good deal of her flotation gear was wrecked. Also one of her divers was injured. They expect operations to be put back ten days or so.”
“Further, the Germans have taken advantage of the growing jam of ships in the roadstead. In a twenty-four hour space they sank four more merchant ships – two in broad daylight not a mile from the mole at Le Havre. Actually one of our officers there saw part of the action. Apparently the Germans torpedoed a French destroyer then two U-boats surfaced and forced the crews of two anchored ships to abandon and then calmly sank them with gunfire.”
“Did the French just stand there?”
“No sir. The French had emplaced a battery of more modern guns across the estuary and that battery saw the Germans. The problem is that they sank another anchored merchant and did not molest the Germans at all. The Germans calmly cruised into deep water and submerged.”
“Our man commented that the German submarines are quite small and operated in very shallow water, but they pack a good sized gun and readily sank the merchants without use of torpedoes. Torpedoes, they seem to reserve for warships. This is the third destroyer the French have lost in these waters.”
“What can we do?”
“We could take over security in the Mouth, but that would mean pulling patrol craft from our own ports and with submarines running amok, I cannot guarantee you we’d do any better. We just have no way to detect or hurt them.”
“Sir, my recommendation is that we ask the French to disperse this crowd of ships sitting at anchor. Under the best of conditions, Rouen is closed for two more weeks. Leaving the ships anchored there is just asking the Germans to sink them.”
“That is a bleak assessment.”
“Yes sir, it is, but I see no other.”
“Of course, but it is just bitter medicine to swallow. I’ll speak to the Admiralty in a bit and will recommend dispersal of the anchored ships. The French will object, but if they leave all those ships anchored for another month, the Germans are likely to block the Mouth by filling the roadstead with sunken ships.”
“What other cheerful news do you have?”
“Not really our command, sir, but we hear that one of the Q-ships missed its morning report. We don’t know if that is significant just yet.”
“One bit of good news. For the eighth straight day all the inbound traffic through the south channel has been accounted for successfully.”
“That’s good news. Nothing sunk by the submarines?”
“It seems not, sir.”
“What are we doing right?”
“We have no idea, sir. I think the recent rash of foggy weather may have made the merchants difficult for the U-boats to find, but that is just a guess.”
“Very well. Dismissed. I have to call the Admiralty.”
July 24, Special Flotilla Headquarters, 1120 Hours
“Any response from the Marten yet?”
“No sir. We call her on the quarter-hour but no response so far.”
“How late is she?”
“She should have reported around 0600.”
“Well, it may be an equipment failure. The Marten is hardly the best-run ship in His Majesty’s Navy. We won’t get excited until tomorrow.”
July 24, UB-2, Course 005, Speed Three Knots, Surfaced 1405 hours
24 kilometers NW of Zeebrugge
Kapitänleutnant Werner Fürbringer was bored out of his mind. Just three short days of doing what the UB-2 was designed to do and he was going stir-crazy. Back and forth, looking for an enemy that never came. That was naval war. Very long periods of boredom and seconds of sheer terror. At least it beat being in the trenches – he supposed.
After the wild and wooly action off Harwich the UB-2 (only five months old) had developed a leak in the pressure hull around the field-applied deck gun. The engineers had determined that the gun had worked against the reinforcements on the hulls and caused the leak. The gun was removed and the leak was fixed although the engineers told Fürbringer to not take her below 40 meters.
When he was told the UB-2 had lost her gun, Korvettenkapitan Bartenbach had put the UB-2 on a defensive patrol off Zeebrugge. In addition, Bartenbach had put a couple of the twenty-year old C35/91 torpedoes (See Note 1) into the UB-2 while other repairs were made. (See Note 2) These old antique torpedoes only had a 400 meter range and needed only twenty-five seconds of running time. Worse yet, these old torpedoes had no gyro setting. You had to point the submarine exactly at the target and no “spread” angle. Your marksmanship had to be flawless. Fürbringer doubted if the old torpedoes would even go off.
Some wonder-boy at the staff noticed that there were a number of these old 35 cm torpedoes sitting around in Kriegsmarine warehouses. Apparently all the surface ships designed for these were out of active service, so it fell to the U-boats to use up this junk.
In order to neck down the 45 cm tubes, the torpedoes were fitted with a series of 5 cm radially formed wooden blocks. In the front of the torpedo, there were only six blocks. The front blocks only held the torpedo square in the tube until it was launched. The rear blocks were linked by a leather strap which held the compressed air pressure needed to eject the torpedo from the tube. The engineers from the fleet said this system worked well, but somehow Fürbringer could visualize the banded blocks getting caught in the propeller and sticking in the tube.
Bartenbach had left him with the suggestion if Fürbringer could think of any way the UB-2, sans deck gun and with the C35/91 torpedoes could be used offensively, Bartenbach would give such ideas special consideration.
At least one thing. Misery loves company and Furbringer and UB-2 would be shortly be joined on this useless defensive patrol by Haecker and the UB-6. Apparently the UB-6 had the same leak. Maybe a deck gun was more than the UB-I boat was made for.
July 24, U-32 Course 330 Speed Six knots, Surfaced 1945 hours
Exiting a Fjord near the North Cape
Von Spiegel had finally found his supply ship. Just a matter of hitting the right fjord and there were dozens of them around here. The supply ship was really very safe. Von Spiegel knew she was out here and about what she looked like and it took him days to find her. The Englischer would have to send half their fleet up here to find her.
At any rate, he had refueled, took on food and gotten his new orders. Once he was ten kilometers offshore he was to open his orders.
His orders were interesting. At this high latitude, the gloves were off. Unrestricted submarine warfare north of Narvik.
July 25, UC-6 Course 280 Speed Four knots Surfaced 0025 hours
West Exit of Wilhelmshaven Mine Fields
Graf von Schmettow saw the escort boat turn back and knew he was clear of the mine fields.
“Dive the boat”
He leveled off at twenty meters. These waters were still a bit shallow. His orders were to proceed covertly as possible to Zeebrugge. This meant he would go for an hour or two underwater in case an Englisch submarine were lurking, then go on the surface until dawn and proceeding as much as possible submerged. On a UC-I boat that made little difference. She was about as fast submerged as surfaced.
While in Wilhelmshaven the mechanics there had fixed four auxiliary fuel tanks in four of his mine tubes. He was told that to get at the fuel he had to run on the surface and use a hand-billy to pump the fuel out of the auxiliary to the main tanks. This sounded like a real ordeal. He really didn’t need the auxiliary fuel to get to Zeebrugge but they had filled the auxiliary tanks so his crew could practice while en route. Only headquarters could think up something this hare-brained.
Von Schmettow didn’t know about the other two Zeebrugge UC-I boats but they had been dispatched earlier in the day for Zeebrugge.
1.The KM did indeed have a lot of old C35/91 torpedoes, although up until now the Flandernflotille had used C/06 torpedoes. http://www.navweaps.com/Weapons/WTGER_PreWWII.htm
2.Lacking reloads, a UB-I boat only had two torpedomen in her crew. Fresh torpedoes were loaded in port. The torpedomen in the crew mostly set the torpedoes for their run as specified by the Captain.