U-123 on patrol earlier in the war.

U-123 on patrol earlier in the war.

The days of U-boats expecting to return for propaganda medal ceremonies were long since gone. The number of U-boats lost had gone up dramatically since mid 1943.

The days of U-boats expecting to return for propaganda medal ceremonies were long since gone. The number of U-boats lost had gone up dramatically since mid 1943.

Peter Cremer was a lucky man. As a U-boat commander he defied the odds and survived the war to write his memoirs. He did so after surviving a series of very close encounters with the Royal Navy. In 1942 he had been badly wounded in an engagement with HMS Crocus in October 1942. After recovering from his wounds he returned to command U-333.

On U-333’s 10th patrol they came up against a formidable adversary – the 2nd Escort Group under the command of Captain Walker, the most successful of all the U-boat hunters in the war. Walker’s group of ships was returning to port when they were alerted to a possible U-boat spotted by an aircraft. After the war the Royal Navy examined the records of the Kriegsmarine and speculated that the 2nd Escort Group might have attacked U-333. Cremer was able to set the record straight in his memoir:

In English opinion ‘the move could well have taken the Group across the path of U 333, to which I can only say ‘it certainly did’ , for our courses definitely crossed.

After the reconnaissance plane had observed and reported me in the early morning of 21 March, at about 1100 strong propeller noises were heard approaching in a broad spectrum extending from west to south.

I tried to outmanoeuvre the enemy and break through to the south-west but it was a hopeless enterprise. The weather itself was bad. A long Atlantic swell was running which even at 40 metres depth made itself unpleasantly felt and swung the boat to and fro.

This Group came at U 333 from two sides in the attack formation preferred by Walker. In broad line abreast the ships dropped depth charges at very short intervals. As prelude numerous samples were dropped in a few minutes, their explosions merging with one another so that it was impossible to count them.

Their pressure waves were so enormous that the conning-tower hatch began to shudder and we were all thrown about. Then it became suspiciously quiet until the odious ping – ping – ping of a searching ship was first heard thinly, then louder. Then that, too, broke off and there was another pause, explained perhaps by the fact that the enemy did not succeed in locating us with certainty.

It may be that the weather was responsible. At any rate it was a situation of ‘no reports being made since their contact was not firm enough.’

This probably saved our lives, for suddenly all hell was let loose again. But now they were throwing them without aim, on suspicion. Escaping was not to be thought of. The ocean was too shallow here and the slightest of our machinery noises would have betrayed us.

It was best to play possum and let nothing be heard of us – come what might. So I laid the boat on the bottom where it bedded itself softly in sand and mud. I ordered the crew to rest and as far as possible not to think of depth charges, though it was impossible not to hear them. I thought: whoever throws so many will soon have none left. Meanwhile the hands of our clock kept moving, the search dragged on and lasted into the night.

It was deathly still in the boat, if that does not sound macabre. As distinct from in films and many a book, the U-boat men controlled themselves in precarious situations and only seldom lost their nerve. There were neither cries nor groans and even orders were passed in a whisper from mouth to mouth. Pst! The enemy is listening! Water is an uncanny conductor.

I myself crouched in the control room, knees and stomach wrapped in soft catskins. It was cold and old wounds were hurting.

The propeller noises of the destroyers sounded muted, then clearer. They came closer, moved further off, sometimes singly, sometimes several together. Time passed. The air was used up, the potash cartridges were nearly expended and I had to supply oxygen. Everyone was breathing in short, heavy gasps. After ten hours (but what hours!) I was forced to go up.

All hands — Action stations — Surface! At once they were wide awake. ‘Blow tanks!’ A high-pitched hissing noise. That was all – nothing else. The boat would not budge, an invisible hand was holding it down. This was something quite new. Again, the same manoeuvre. ‘Blow tanks!’ Nothing moved.

U-333 had bedded itself only too well into the sand and mud of the ocean bottom. There was an even more nerve racking period as they tried to free the U-Boat from the bottom of the ocean. See Peter Cremer: U-Boat Commander: A Periscope View of the Battle of the Atlantic

Field Marshal Erwin Rommel inspecting one of the U-Boat bunkers during his tour of the 'Atlantic Wall' in February 1944.

Field Marshal Erwin Rommel inspecting one of the U-Boat bunkers during his tour of the ‘Atlantic Wall’ in February 1944.

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Mar

20

1944

Joyce Grenfell sees the casualties of war up close


20 March 1944: Joyce Grenfell sees the casualties of war up close

The first ward (it was at 65) was a huge surgical [ward] full of casts, pulleys, and very sick men. All the time we were playing there were sisters doing dressings, patients feeding from tubes, orderlies bringing people in from the theatres and newly arrived from the line. About half the room was too ill to listen or care; the others lay and took it in with their eyes. It was no fun to see the suffering going on in there.

Mar

19

1944

Chaos as the Germans begin to depart eastern Poland


19 March 1944: Chaos as the Germans begin to depart eastern Poland

Some Poles are fearful of the time between the German pullout and the arrival of Russian troops or the Home Army because they think the Ukrainians will start a massacre. Overall there is a happy feeling here. The days of our slavery are now numbered. We see Germans escaping. This is the day we have been waiting for years to see.

Mar

18

1944

Friedrichshafen – disaster for the 392nd Group


18 March 1944: Friedrichshafen – Disaster for USAAF 392nd Bombardment Group

The navigator, being dazed from the exploded 20mm shell and his wounds, which cost him his eye, wanted to bail out. The bombardier was struggling to restrain him, and Stupski misinterpreted the action. The navigator soon quieted down and was given a shot of morphine to ease his pain.” Time “whizzed” by and there they were again at three o’clock and climbing. Their sleek-nosed silhouettes identified them as Messerschmitt 109s or Folke-Wulf 190s. All we could do was to sit there and wait. Then – here they came again!

Mar

17

1944

Officer’s VC after arm hacked off by Japanese


17 March 1944: Officer’s VC after arm hacked off by Japanese sword

Some shots had come down at us but not as many as I had expected, which probably meant we had regained the initiative by then and taken them unawares. Then, to my surprise, the Japs leapt up as we went at them and charged into us. Two sides charging at each other was certainly not going according to the military rule books.

Mar

16

1944

Montgomery speaks to the D-Day invasion troops


16 March 1944: Montgomery speaks to the D-Day invasion troops

‘I wanted to come here today so that we could get to know one another: so that I could have a look at you and you could have a look at me – if you think that’s worth doing. We have got to go off and do a job together very soon now, you and I, and we must have confidence in one another. And now that I have seen you I have complete confidence… complete confidence… absolutely complete confidence. And you must have confidence in me.’

Mar

15

1944

Officer’s sacrifice as Japanese march towards India


15 March 1944: Officer’s sacrifice as Japanese march towards India

The Japanese then arrested 270 Karens and tortured and killed many of them but still they continued to support Major Seagrim. To end further suffering to the Karens, Seagrim surrendered himself to the Japanese on 15th March 1944. He was taken to Rangoon and together with eight others he was sentenced to death. He pleaded that the others were following his orders and as such they should be spared, but they were determined to die with him and were all executed.

Mar

14

1944

Italian civilians suffer as the struggle continues


14 March 1944: Italian civilians suffer as the struggle continues

He was chained up in the usual way, weeping desperately, clearly knowing what was coming. It took the judge minutes to find him guilty and sentence him to ten years. ‘What’s going to happen no my poor family?’ he shrieked. He was led away sobbing loudly. A sickening experience.

Mar

13

1944

U-boat commander massacres survivors in the water


13 March 1944: U-boat commander massacres survivors in the water

He decided to destroy all pieces of wreckage and rafts and gave the order to open fire; on the floating rafts. He thought that the rafts were a danger to him, first because they would show aeroplanes the exact spot ofthe sinking, and secondly because rafts at that time of the war, as was well-known, could be provided with modern signalling communication. When he opened fire there were no human beings to be seen on the rafts.

Mar

12

1944

U-boat murder leads to last mass execution in U.S.


12 March 1944: U-boat murder leads to last mass execution in U.S.

The investigation in that case indicated that Drechsler had been used as an informant by G-2 or ONI to assist in the interrogation and processing of prisoners at Meade or some other installation in this vicinity. After his usefulness had been exhausted Drechsler was shipped to Papago Park for imprisonment. He was a submarine man, and Papago Park detains numerous Navy prisoners. Drechsler was recognized as a traitor to Germany and was murdered. This result could or should have been foreseen, to put it mildly.