In the Battle of the Atlantic the advantage had now shifted decisively in favour of the Allies. In an ever more desperate attempt to halt the waves of men and munitions that were arriving in Europe from America, the Nazis kept sending U-boats to sea. It was by no means an entirely one sided battle – but the chances of survival for an U-boat crew were becoming increasingly slim. Allied air cover, together with much improved radar, now extended across the the ocean.
On the 9th April a US anti submarine Task Group 22.3 led by the USS Guadalcanal had caught the U-515 on the surface and successfully sunk her following a five hour hunt. In doing so they captured Kapitänleutnant Werner Henke, a Nazi hero awarded the Knights Cross with Oak Leaves. Henke was later to be shot and killed while attempting to escape from a detention facility at Fort Hunt, Virginia.
The very next day planes from the Task Group found and sunk another U-boat, U-68:
10th April 1944 0625
VT24 (Lt. S.G. Parsons) flying on instruments at 300′ following radar indication picked up at 8 miles broke into a clear spot and sighted U/B. Sub put up heavy anti-aircraft fire, but with VF4 (Lt. R.K. Gould) strafing, VT24 and VT22 (Lt. H.E. Hoerner) delivered a series of attacks, the last two after the U/B had submerged.
There followed a terrific underwater explosion, with large air bubbles, debris, oil, battery acid, torpedo air flasks and several survivors coming to the surface and again a large glowing light underwater. VT30 then out of ammunition stayed over the scene giving a blow-by-blow description. Sinking occurred at 3325′N 1859′W (corrected by Nav. LAN). Submarine was U-68, Captain Loutzinas, outbound.
There was just one survivor from U-68, 19 year old Seaman 2nd Class Hans Kastrup who had been manning the deck gun. He only survived because he was left behind when U-68 made an emergency dive. The hatch was slammed shut just in front of him – and he was left swimming in the sea with an unconscious casualty. This was the account he gave to US Naval Intelligence:
The survivor stated that U-68 was proceeding fully surfaced early on the morning of 10 April when a lookout reported the approach of enemy aircraft. The deck guns were ordered manned and the survivor took his station at the 37 mm. gun, which he served.
In the ensuing action, 200 rounds were fired from this gun but, in the general confusion, the survivor could not ascertain what damage was done to the U-boat or to the planes. He recalled 4 distinct attacks, a strafing run from astern, and an attack by a plane crossing the U-boat from the starboard beam. He did not know how many planes attacked U-68 at this time.
Suddenly, the siren was sounded for a crash dive. The survivor helped secure the 37 mm. gun and then noticed that one of the gunners had been wounded. He struggled forward with the wounded man,attempting to bring him into the boat. As they approached the conning tower hatch, it was slammed shut and the U-boat began to submerge. In a moment, the 2 men were in the water, pulled under by the suction, but clear of the boat.
The survivor, whose life jacket had been punctured by bullets and was comparatively ineffective, remained with the wounded man for some time. The latter, wounded in the stomach and leg, had turned very pale and was unconscious. The sole survivor stated that 2 planes came over after he had been in the water for a few minutes and dropped more depth charges; finally, one of the planes dropped a rubber boat. The survivor lost consciousness shortly thereafter from the effort of supporting himself and the wounded man in the water.
For the full original reports see U-boat Archive.
The task Group included the USS Pope (DE-134) whose crew were having a rather better war than the crew of USS Pope (DD-225), which had been sunk at the Battle of the Java Sea in 1942.