August 5, Flandernflotille Headquarters Bunker, 0030 hours
Bartenbach had stayed up to see the third wave of the Admiral’s offensive to sea. The second wave left around 1800. At dawn, the fourth and largest wave would depart. Bartenbach was holding Becker, Hundius, and Wenninger for defensive patrols. These were the last three boats left with the improvised deck guns. The offensive was mostly work for torpedoes and Bartenbach did not want the clumsy gun-equipped boats on this run. The UB-17 had some mechanical problems and - worse yet - there was talk that Wenninger was cracking up. The UB-17 was in port tonight getting some repairs and tomorrow the UB-17 would go out on a close-in defensive patrol.
During the day three minelayers had come in loaded. Von Schmettow and Weissbach, he knew, but this Schmidt in UC-11 was new to Bartenbach. Never mind. They all leave at dawn.
August 5, U-16, Course 140, Speed 4 knots Surfaced 0320 hours
24 kilometers North of Shetland Islands
“Contact! Off the starboard bow!”
Oberleutnant Hillebrand had just relieved eins on the bridge. The U-16 had arrived on-station a couple of days ago but had seen nothing so far. This position was right in the middle of the shipping lanes from the Irish Sea to Archangel. Hillebrand expected to see some action.
This was about as far from Heligoland as this old boat had ever gone. Normally she was in action in the southern part of the North Sea. The weather here is a good deal rougher than the North Sea, but at least all this wind dissipated her dark plume very quickly.
There she is. Looks like a nice fat steamer. Is that another plume to the south?
“Come right to 270 All ahead full”
Unlike some other U-boats this month, Hillebrand had not been relieved of the cruiser rules. His station was far enough south that there may be trouble from sinking a ship without warning. No matter, he could quickly close on most merchants and deal with them using the gun.
Hiilebrand’s big worry was the men. The U-16 had been on patrol one place or another more or less continuously since April and the men were wearing down. Nothing big, just a little clumsiness or slow reaction here and there. They had just been in port but they had only a couple days rest before heading back out. At least they had a full load of torpedoes. That little fracas off Harwich had eaten up a lot of torpedoes.
The U-16 closed within twenty-five minutes. Checking the registry book this was indeed a 3,200 ton Englisch freighter. Little surprise that she is Englisch. Their merchant fleet was far and away the largest in the world and this was their home waters. She is riding deep – carrying a cargo and that meant only one place – Archangel. Englisch ships bound for Narvik were in ballast and tended to ride high in the water.
The U-16 pulled parallel and close abeam.
“Booten, boats, bateaux!”
Suddenly, the freighter put here rudder hard over to try to run the U-16 under.
“Hard right rudder! Full speed ahead! Schnell!”
Suddenly belching solidly black smoke the U-16 shot ahead and twisted away. Once clear, Hillebrand called his gun crew to the deck. A quick look astern, the plume was closing rapidly, but it was still just a plume. Once decently clear Hillebrand slowed back down to improve his gunnery.
“So he thinks he is the Grand Fleet, ja?”
“Gun. Put some in her engine room.
CRACK CRACK CRACK
At this range there was no missing the ship, but the question was how high or low could you hit her? Two shots hit definitely in the boiler or engine area but well above the water line. The third shot looked like it hit just at the water line.
“Give her three more. Below the water line.”
CRACK … CRACK … CRACK
This time firing more deliberately, two hit well below the water line and the third a bit high. This got results. The ship began spewing steam and she definitely slowed down. There was some activity near the boats.
A huge column of water shot upward about 800 meters beyond the kiste. Hillebrand spun around and looked. A cruiser! A big one!
“Two more! Schnell! Then gun crew below!”
Two more hits well above the water line.
“Secure the gun Lookouts below!”
It took about thirty seconds to get the gun crew below.
This one was closer, maybe three hundred meters.
“Go to batteries. All ahead full.”
Finally the gun crew was below and Hillebrand saw the hatch wheel spin. He dove down the hatch and spun his wheel.
“Hard right rudder Make your depth forty meters”
The submarine took a radical down angle while turning to the right. All sorts of unsecured gear fell to the deck. In another time this would be called: “Angles and dangles.” Hillebrand straightened her out at about a right angle to here previous course. The crew felt a slight judder and a 9.2” HE shell fell about 200 meters astern. Twenty seconds later another fell but they didn’t feel anything. They were well away.
“All ahead slow Make your depth 30 meters”
August 5, HMS Leviathan, Course 025, Speed 15 knots 0405 hours
13 nautical mile NNW of the Shetland Islands
“I don’t see anything. I’m afraid we missed her, sir.”
“Quite. All we did was splash water. All ahead full. Come left to 270.”
The Captain of the Leviathan was anxious to disengage. All cruiser Captains were well aware of what had happened to Cressy, Hogue, and Aboukir, and he had no intention of repeating those mistakes. Speed in general seemed to reduce the danger.
The Leviathan was in these waters on a training mission. The personnel losses in the Grand Fleet had to be made good and one source of personnel was the older cruisers. After the loss of the Good Hope at Coronel and the crippling of the Drake and King Alfred in the Channel, the Admiralty had no intention of letting an old deathtrap like Leviathan near the enemy. But she was still sound enough to be used as a training ship. After drafting off two thirds of her black gang and most of her gunners, she was partially re-manned with men who were landlubbers until recently. As it was, he had only about two-thirds of the stokers he needed and while his main battery was fully manned with the best of the replacements, he only had enough gunners for the upper corner 6 inch guns and the weather deck twelve pounders. (See Note 1) In fact he had just finished some target practice in the (now nearly abandoned) Scapa Flow gunnery range and he was just going north to get his trainees some real sea time. This had paid off for his apprentice lookouts. Young eyes had seen the freighter stop and were suspicious enough to keep looking and they spotted the U-boat.
“What of the crew of the freighter, sir?”
“We cannot stop to pick the poor buggers up with a U-boat near. We’d get sunk. Signal Scapa Flow of the position. Maybe they have a patrol craft they can send out.”
August 5, U-16, Course 140, Speed 4 knots Periscope depth 0415 hours
26 kilometers North of Shetland Islands
Hillebrand had brought the U-16 for a look. The freighter was just about to go under. They must have only hit here below the water line a couple of times. But where was that cruiser?
There! West? And she looked to be headed west at a pretty good clip.
“Ja. Way too far, but we have to stay submerged until she is gone. She has big guns.”
Around 0600, the U-16 surfaced and used one of the one-time codes to report.
August 5, MN Athene, Course 100, Speed 12 knots 0945 hours
13 kilometers ENW of Cherbourg
“Something in the water!”
“Off the starboard bow quarter, maybe 150 meters out”
“Ouí! I see it. What is it?”
“Bridge, lookout We have an object in the water about 150 meters to starboard”
The Captain happened to be on the bridge and ordered the Athene to slow and come around for a closer look.
“Sir, it is either a bouy or a German mine that has escaped its mooring.”
“Get the book and check”
Much rustling around and thumbing through the book and looking and waving.
“Sir, we are fairly sure it is a German mine”
“Get the machine gun crews to their stations.”
Whether it was a mine of a buoy, he could not leave it floating out here and he wanted no part of getting near a mine.
“Machine guns open fire on the object”
It took a bit for the gunners to zero in but when they did they worked it over really well.
As the column of water abated, the Captain commented.
“Well, it was definitely a mine. Buoys don’t explode.”
A mine near Cherbourg was not good news. There are surely more, but where. The Athene had contacted a submarine earlier. Maybe this mine has something to do with that submarine. Time to contact the superiors.
August 5, HMS Revenge, Course none, Speed Zero (tied to bouy) 1100 hours
Portsmouth Naval Base
Captain Cedric White had arrived this morning. Immediately he had contacted Captain Reeves to come aboard. There the three Captains had sorted out the seniority and command. On top of explicit orders, White was senior anyway.
White’s lieutenant had briefed the others on the mission. Now Reeves had to get back to his flotilla and brief them. White wanted to be underway by 1800.
August 5, Flandernflotille Base, 1515 hours
Bartenbach heard some shouting out on the pier that did not sound like the usual shouting chief petty officers generally dealt out and went to investigate.
Indeed it was not a chief petty officer doing the shouting but Wenninger, the Kommandant of the UB-17 shouting at his eins and chief. Something about “betrayal” and “stab me in the back.”
Bartenbach knew what this was about. Bartenbach had gotten a whiff of a rumor that Wenninger was stressed out (wildly anachronistic euphemism) and had separately interviewed the eins and chief of the UB-17. He intended to talk to Wenninger anyway, but this out burst drastically changed the tone.
The shouting tailed off and Wenninger looked his way.
“In my bunker! Schnell!”
As Bartenbach got to the bunker first he told his yeomen to walk out and look at the railroad for a few minutes. They took one look at each other and fairly ran out of the bunker.
A somewhat disheveled-looking Wenninger came into the office and saluted.
“Stay at attention, Wenninger!”
“Did your crew (See Note 3) not get instructions about not dressing down your officers in front of the men?”
“Those officers came in to talk to me at my direct orders. You do remember about obeying orders?”
“So why do you berate them for following orders?”
“Did you think they were trying to take your command?”
“As a matter of fact, they told me everything was fine. What has gotten into you? You seemed fine when you went out. Tell me what happened”
About halfway though the story, Wenninger simply stopped and sobbed.
“Pull yourself together, man! You are an officer in the Kriegsmarine! Act like one!”
This had exactly the opposite of the desired effect. Wenninger collapsed in a heap and wailed like a grieving mother.
“Get up! Be a man! Do you think you are the only commander to lose one of his men. Literally millions are dying and you come apart over one? Good thing you are not a Korvettenkapitan. I lose men by the boat load. I have sent men out repeatedly and so far four U-boats and four torpedoboats have not come back. In the case of the torpedo boats I knew it was ein himmelfahrt (See Note 4) and so did they. They looked me in the eye and went out and there can’t be a half dozen of them left alive. Do you not think these men look accusingly at me every night? But I have my duty and that carries me through. Obviously that is not enough for you.”
“I’m temporarily relieving you of command.”
Wenninger stopped blubbering and looked up.
“Yes I can. At least pending an interview at Korps headquarters. I may be just a Korvettenkapitan, but at the other end of that telegraph instrument is a full Admiral and if you don’t do better with him than with me, he’ll have you peeling potatoes in Pomerania for the rest of the war. I cannot send out good officers, men and boat under a weakling.”
Baterenbach stepped over the again blubbering Wenninger and stepped to the door. He saw his yeoman a few meters away.
“Hans! Get the UB-17s eins and chief here right away.”
“Karl! Take Kapitanleutnant Wenninger and find him an overnight billet. Then get back here.”
1.All the secondary and tertiary guns were all that were usable anyway. The rest were mounted too low in the hull and were flooded out in anything but calm water.
2.The author does not know French bridge patois, so uses English style for sake of clarity.
3.Seekadet classes were called “crews” because part of the training was handling an old sailing vessel.
4.A suicide mission.