May 1943 had seen the turning point in the Battle of the Atlantic. One of the ships that had made a particular contribution to the Allied success was the newly commissioned carrier USS Bogue, which, in combination with a group of US Navy destroyers, formed a hunter killer group operating in the North Atlantic.
Their successful attacks continued in June 1943 after they had sailed from Belfast to join a convoy off Iceland. One attack, on the 12th June was especially well documented, with sets of pictures of the attacks on U-118. In addition to the photographs the Office of Naval Intelligence was able to piece together the sequence of events as seen from U-118, from the subsequent interrogation of the sixteen survivors:
Suddenly Doblies shouted: “Flieger! Flieger!” (“Planes! Planes!”) Almost simultaneously, one of the planes opened fire with machine guns. The planes, diving from the sun, had caught U-118 unawares.
The bridge watch leaped to their guns. Czygan rushed to the bridge and immediately gave the order to submerge. One of the bridge watch said later that he fired one magazine before jumping into the conning tower.
Three of the bridge watch were wounded by the first blasts from the planes. The fourth, Reinl, helped the others into the conning tower and himself closed the hatch.
Survivors said they believed U-118 was at about 35 meters depth when the first depth charges exploded near the stern. The damage was considerable. Lights failed, and the emergency system was switched on. Water poured into the Diesel compartment through the exhaust valves, causing the U-boat to go down several degrees by the stern.
The engineer officer restored partial trim by ordering all men forward. A few minutes later, when the boat was down to about 55 meters (according to survivors estimates) more depth charges exploded aft. Both motors went dead; the electrical steering failed; the hydroplanes and the rudder were wrenched loose.
Apparently believing that he could not safely remain submerged, Czygan ordered the tanks blown. The boat had been submerged about eight minutes.
As U-118 broke surface, Czygan ordered his gun crews up to fight it out. He himself climbed to the bridge. The gunners, on jumping out of the conning tower (one of them later said) were shocked to see, not two planes, but eight or more of them, circling or diving at the boat.
BATTLE ON THE SURFACE.
Survivors described the criss-cross machine gun fire of the attackers as deadly. Nearly all of the men who attempted to reach the guns were killed or wounded. They succeeded in firing but a few magazines. Czygan was hit several times, (survivors believed in one leg and shoulder), but he remained on the bridge throughout the action, kneeling on one knee.
Below, confusion grew. One Diesel was propelling the boat, while the other was used for blowing the tanks. One of the motors broke into flames, burning to death a Maschinenmaat named Schumann. Gauges were ruined.
The U-boat still was down by the stern, with a starboard list.
Only a few minutes after surfacing, Götze, the engineer officer, shouted to Czygan that he no longer could keep the boat afloat. (“Das Boot ist nicht mehr Schwimmfähig!”) According to survivors, Götze stood in the conning tower crying shamelessly.
Czygan immediately gave the order to abandon ship.
About one-third of the crew, it is believed, were never able to leave the U-boat. A well-placed stick of bombs hit U-118 forward of the conning tower and blew her in two, the boat seeming to break apart in the middle.
One survivor swimming nearby, said he saw Czygan, his white shirt covered with blood, kneeling on the bridge as his ship disappeared in a fountain of spray and debris. All survivors believed he made no effort to save himself.
A survivor said that while he was swimming about in the oil-covered waters, he heard several dull, detonation-like noises. He later concluded that they were sounds from the oil tanks bursting under pressure of the bombs. One survivor believed the sounds may have been scuttling charges, although there was no evidence obtained that charges were set off.
(O.N.I. Note: At 1347 Z, 12 June, two planes on patrol from the carrier U.S.S. Bogue sighted U-118 at range of one mile, from 3,000 feet. They attacked immediately; the first, strafing her from stern to bow, the second, strafing and then straddling her amidships with bombs as she started to dive. Several minutes later, two additional planes arrived and dropped four depth charges as U-118 surfaced.
Strafing from the planes prevented the Germans manning their guns during this stage of the fight, the planes chasing the U-boat gun crews from one side to the other. More planes joined the attack. About 1405 Z depth charges straddled U-118 at the conning tower, causing her to list to starboard.
U-118’s gun crews finally reached their guns for one brief burst before more depth charges exploded under the boat. The U-boat blew up amidships, U-118 had disappeared.
Altogether, nine planes participated in the action, 14 depth charges were dropped, 11 of them close aboard, in a total of five attacks.)
U-Boat Archive has the complete set of documents and photographs relating to this attack.
U-boat.net has a good summary of the history of the USS Bogue hunter killer group, and their sucesses in May and June 1943.