Chance escape for the sole survivor from U-224

HMCS Ville de Québec Gets a Sub War artist Harold Beament's painting depicts the destruction by the Canadian corvette HMCS Ville de Québec of German U-Boat (submarine) U-224 on 13 January 1943.

HMCS Ville de Québec Gets a Sub
War artist Harold Beament’s painting depicts the destruction by the Canadian corvette HMCS Ville de Québec of German U-Boat (submarine) U-224 on 13 January 1943.

Image courtesy Canadian War Museum

The Battle of the Atlantic was now reaching a crucial phase. A huge arsenal of war material was now coming out of American factories – German troops in North Africa were shocked to discover how well equipped the U.S. Army was. The only answer the Germans had was the U-boat – and an all out attack on the supplies crossing the Atlantic. Many more new U-boats were now coming into operation.

But while the Germans could build more boats they could not replace the crews that were being lost. Most of the U boat ‘Aces’ who had been the poster boys of Nazi propaganda were now dead. Experience counted for a lot when it came to survival in a U-boat, and they now faced escort ships with much better radar and refined tactics. Once spotted a U-boat might be dealt with very quickly.

U-224 was in the Mediterranean on her second patrol at the beginning of January. Her last moments were reconstructed by the British Naval Intelligence Division after interrogating the one survivor:

It was “U 224′s” first submerged attack. She was just about to fire her four torpedoes when Kosbadt sighted a corvette closing him.

He accordingly submerged to 20 metres (65 ft.). (N.I.D. Note. So far as is known, no torpedoes were fired at the convoy. The “new” type torpedoes were most probably fitted with an improved type of depth setting gear, which will be referred to in C.B. 04051 (64).)

The corvette was so close that those in “U 224″ heard her propellers directly overhead. Kosbadt gave the order “Full speed ahead! On life-jackets!” and added that a depth-charge attack might be expected. Several depth-charge explosions thereupon took place, “U 224″ meanwhile keeping a steady course at full speed.

(N.I.D. Note. At 1558 H.M.C.S. “Ville de Quebec,” on course 100°, 4,000 yards ahead of Convoy T.E.13, obtained an Asdic contact 15 on the starboard bow at 900 yards and classified it as “submarine.” The bearing was moving rapidly right, doppler closing. The ship was turned towards the contact and full speed ordered. A signal was passed to the commodore in S.S. “Lycaon” ordering an emergency turn to port. On a course of 190°, “Ville de Quebec” at 1604 fired a pattern of ten Mark VII depth-charges with depth settings of 150 and 300 ft.)

These depth-charges caused considerable damage to “U 224,” and there was a water entry forward. The first explosion extinguished her main lighting. The Engineer Officer reported that the boat was no longer capable of diving and Kosbadt ordered her to be brought to the surface.

He told Danckworth to go on the bridge and report on the damage. Danckworth took his life-jacket in his hand, opened the conning-tower hatch and put his head out over the conning tower. Meanwhile the motors were running at full speed.

As soon as his head appeared, “U 224″ was peppered with gunfire. Danckworth says he remembered seeing the bow of a ship bearing down on him, and after that he remembered nothing more except that he was at one moment some 5 to 6 yards below the surface and automatically making swimming movements.

(N.I.D. Note. At 1608 the U-Boat surfaced in the centre of the depth-charge pattern, her bow rising some 20 ft. into the air. All “Ville de Quebec’s” starboard Oerlikons opened fire at once and the ship turned to ram. The port bridge Oerlikon opened fire as soon as it could bear. To avoid damage to the propellers, “Stop engines” was ordered about 10 yards from the U-Boat, which was rammed between the conning-tower and the forward gun. One man was seen trying to get out on the conning-tower and one man in the conning-tower, but the gunfire kept him down. As the ram was effected, the U-Boat’s hatch was seen to be open and one man was thrown clear as the U-Boat rolled over. Her stern was last seen abreast of “Ville de Quebec’s” stern, the boat sinking at about 1608 in position 36° 28′ N 00° 49′ E.)

After a short while Danckworth found himself swimming on the surface without life-jacket. He heard the sound of a large explosion and asked himself whether more depth-charges were being fired. As he saw no water columns, however, he concluded that this was not the case.

(N.I.D. Note. At 1610 a heavy under-water explosion was felt, thought to be due to the detonation of air bottles, and bubbles was seen to break surface.)

Danckworth then saw five corvettes around him. Men in one of them were shouting that they had sighted him. He also saw four aircraft. His hopes of being rescued revived sharply and he started to shout to attract attention. A corvette came alongside him, but her was unable to catch hold of a rope thrown to him, as she was going too fast. After a further period of swimming he got a cramp in his right leg. He tried to undress, but could not.

Another twenty minutes elapsed before the same corvette made another attempt to rescue him, but this also proved unsuccessful. The corvette made a third attempt at rescue and succeeded in getting a lifebelt to him. Danckworth was most impressed by the rescue efforts made. (N.I.D. Note. He was picked up by H.M.C.S. “Port Arthur,” who subsequently also examined a helmet, cork insulation and a wooden clothes locker.)

Danckworth said he did not think that “U 224″ had made her base.

For the full report see U boat Archive. Flickr user DRGorman has a comprehensive collection of images of Royal Canadian Navy Corvettes.

The Royal canadian Navy 'Flower class' corvette HMCS Ville de Quebec in camouflage scheme to break up her profile.

The Royal canadian Navy ‘Flower class’ corvette HMCS Ville de Quebec in camouflage scheme to break up her profile.

German newsreel of U boat in action:

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Jean Saint-Martin August 4, 2014 at 7:59 pm

My father Jean R.Saint-Martin was the medial doctor on boardof the Ville de Québec K-242 when they sank the german sub. He served from 1941 until 1944 on said ship protecting convoy and rescuing distressed sailors. He was a Lt.commander. After the war he served in the reserve at HMCS Montcalm.

mark thomson April 7, 2014 at 1:03 am

MY DAD WAS ON K242 I HAVE PHOTO OF CREW AND PHOTO OF DOG THAT WAS ON BORD

Brian Murza February 22, 2014 at 6:51 pm

”BRAVO ZULU” to the ”SHIP’S COMPLEMENT of H.M.C.S. VILLE DE QUEBEC K242”!!!

James Mckay August 21, 2013 at 8:22 pm

I appreciate very much the effort to make this available.
My father was a sailor aboard the K-242 during this event.

The detailed account made available here is a little entrancing as it filled the gaps of what I was able taken in as a boy when my father shared the basics with me.

Thanks!

Editor January 16, 2013 at 8:24 pm

Appreciate the comment – makes it all worthwhile.

J Burns January 16, 2013 at 6:16 pm

A real treat to see and read this entry. My father was a seaman in the RCN and although he died when I was a young child, I have heard on occasion from other Cdn navy vets that they sometimes feel their contributions to the war effort have been forgotten. They joined in on the fight in very early days, started with very little in terms of equipment, personnel and training and by the end of the war they were a force to be reckoned with – the world’s fourth largest navy, employing highly skilled personnel who were second to none in their abilities. Very nice to see them get a little recognition. Thanks for the article!

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