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:

Subsequent Update

In 2015 I was able to add to this post when Don Hall sent me some material from the now defunct discussion boards. This is the story of the one man who was rescued from U-224, Wolf Danckworth.

Lt. zur See W. D. Danckworth U-224 circa 1942.
Lt. zur See W. D. Danckworth U-224 circa 1942.


as written by Wolf Danckworth

I already mentioned in the “U-224”-story that I finally was in a temporary prisoner camp approx. 30 miles eastwards from Algiers, called “Roche du Nord”, run by the army. There were two big yellow tents. One occupied by three German officers, one paratrooper from Rommels Africa corps, one pilot from the airforce and one navy man, the other one by approx. 40 Italian officers including two generals.

Every noon an elderly captain who spoke fluent German, must have been a former German, visited us maybe checking if we were still present and told us the latest news, and always left us with a joke, more or less a good one. We waited for transfer to England, and after several weeks, we boarded at Algiers a former English luxury liner converted into a troop transport ship. We landed at Southampton after a three days voyage, and an “honour escort” brought us to an interrogation camp near Eton.

There began the weeks of interrogation by two navy officers, one commander-lieutenant (navy reserve) looking exactly like Churchill – could go as Churchill´s twin brother. The other a real gentleman, a lieutenant (reserve), an university professor. They were the two interrogation officers I had to deal with. We had daily several hours of “session” where they tried with “sugar- bread and whip” to get information from me about the new torpedo weapon we were just supplied with.

The “sugar-bread” were the walks thru fields and woods together with the gentleman-professor who tried to get information in a friendly and informal small talk way. The “whip” was old “Churchill”. According to the Geneva convention, I was only obliged to give name and rank, which I did, but this as sole information didn´t satisfy him at all. He therefore tried to use the “whip” threatening to transfer me to a camp with Polish guards. He ordered a four weeks solitary confinement, which I enjoyed being alone by myself in my quarter.

Normally, the room was occupied by two prisoners. I had now enough time to bring my thoughts, my feelings and my questions in line and order. They also tried at those sessions to provoke me with suggestive remarks which they spoke in fluent German to each other. I.e. : – “the new Uboat officer generation seems not having anymore the same quality as the old aces and the CCO had to introduce new torpedoes to get some results “. No comment, no response from my side.

They used all means to break my resistance. One day they confronted me with the name of the captain and the number of the boat. Maybe they thought I would be surprised and shocked by their knowledge, but I was not at all. It was well known to us that the English navy knew nearly everything of the German navy. They had a very good spy network. If the Germans were as good as them, I don´t know.

They knew the ships and boats, the COs, the officers and their positions in the navy, the military equipments, the operation bases, family status etc., but not yet the construction features and the strategic purpose of the new torpedo. They were so anxious to get the necessary knowledge about and were very much annoyed and frustrated not succeeding in their endeavours to get the information they wanted. “Sugar-bread and whip” did not work. My decision thru this interrogation time was “Shut Up!”

Being such a poor and reluctant informant they had no more use of me and my stay at the camp at last ended after two months and an “Honour guard” escorted me up to the north of England near the Scottish border and not far from the Hadrian Wall to the next camp. It was a former country-lodge, named “Shepherds´s Inn” and was located in lost nowhere with lonely and treeless meadow-hills which were scattered with big isles of rhododendron-bushes. We were 60 to 80 officers, mostly airforce and navy men. It was a narrow and twisty old stone building. A lot of dust, cold and difficult to warm up. No real place to stay for a longer time..

Easter came, and with the holidays a lot of snow. Winter has come back again. The daffodils in full bloom were covered with a thick layer of snow and the landscape around the camp had a big white blanket. But the snow left after a few days and we could again enjoy the yellow spring flowers. There wasn´t much to enjoy at this camp.

We learned later that this camp was also a temporary one which gave us some hope for better accommodation. As the military authorities still considered a possible German invasion, they transferred all officers to Canada to get them out of reach.

In August we, about 80 prisoners , boarded the ex-French liner “Pasteur” at Glasgow bound to Canada. The voyage took some days. Our quarters were the ship´s hold but we always could be on deck during daytime. The ocean was friendly till we reached Halifax in Nova Scotia. There we had to take a mighty shower and our clothes were disinfected. The Canadian didn´t want to have the old continent´s dirt and maybe some undesired bugs immigrate their country. A long train with comfortable coaches already waited to be boarded and a few days journey thru endless and lonely fur woods began.

The railway just passed a small piece of Maine. It was noontime and a big crowd was at the train station to see if the Germans were a different species of mankind. I guess they couldn´t find any difference. I saw here for the first time the US Stars and Stripes Banner, and next to the flagpole stood the stationmaster with his red cap and besides him his bella blond wife, my first American impression and memory.

Later on life I got a lot of American memories. Finally, the train stopped in the middle of nowhere on the railway which still goes to New York, built before WW I for N.Y.´s vegetable supply. The place was called “Grande-Ligne” and was not far from the Canadian / American Border near the river Richelieu and also not far from Montreal.

We had to march some miles to the camp. Approaching, we saw a big stone building surrounded by a fence and barbed wire. Our new home. The camp had just opened a few months ago. It was a former boarding school for boys and girls and founded by a Swiss couple in the late 19th century. The school was kept up till 1942 when the State took over to change it into a prisoner camp.

It was well equipped with a big kitchen, hospital maintenance and dentist care. All run by prisoners. Spacious wash and shower commodities, Sport possibilities: basketball, handball, tennis. Handball field and tennis court, built by ourselves. In order to use the time for something useful the German officer in charge of our camp, a colonel lieutenant, and address partner for the Canadian commander was very eager to establish a kind of university and the Red Cross agreed to supply all material necessary for our studies. Among the prisoners were some reserve-officers who could act as teaching professors. There was a high judge who taught law, an economy-professor economy, engineers technical studies. Languages: English, French, Latin, Japanese. Oil painting by a lecturer of an art college. And finally an academic agriculture group who worked at the farm.

To be independent, the Swiss had added the farm of good size to the boarding school. I studied four semester economy. Later back in Germany 2 semester were accredited to my German studies.

We were allowed to use the land for farming and the group was very busy in their agriculture activities. There was a big complex of barns and stables with pigs, cows, poultry and necessary equipment for working the fields. We grew potatoes, sweet corn, vegetable and, of course, food for the animals. The farm was known to many farmers in the neighbourhood as a top farm and the farmers from around came to discuss with the group the best way how to run farms. Having the farm we had the great advantage to enjoy fresh farm produce.

The farmland was also our “Word of Honour Grounds”. That meant when passing the gate next to the guardhouse we gave our word of honour not to make preparations for a future escape outside the camp or even escape. In return the Canadian didn´t order soldiers to accompany and watch us outside the camp. All alone by ourselves we could feel a bit less prisoners.

Once in a while, the commander ordered the so called “roll call” without prior announcement to check if all prisoner were still present. We had to go to the “roll call place”, stay in line, ordered not move what, of course we always tried not to do. Jumping from one line to the other, we always made it difficult for the two counting sergeants, specially when a prisoner had escaped and they wanted to find out who it was. It would then take hours before releasing.

Summer 1945 this camp was closed. The war was over and the soldiers, all middle aged, who guarded the camps wanted to go home to their families. That was the beginning to send prisoners back to England. The first ones were those who were longest in prisonship. The rest was distributed into different camps, partly to the Rockies and partly to Gravenhurst, a small country town about 100 miles northwest of Toronto. A region of smaller and greater lakes and many rocks. The spacious, half timbered and white building was a former lung-sanatorium in a bit shabby condition. There weren´t any activities. Everybody of course waited for his turn to go to England and home.

The Canadian commander wanted to reduce his guard and send them home to their families. He made the proposition to send half of the soldiers home and we would get the food surplus, but we had to give our word of honour not to escape or to make any preparations for an escape. We agreed. He reduced his guard to half and their surplus food went to our kitchen. That was a good arrangement for both parts.

There was also a “word of honour” ground which I often went to. I met here the commander, a colonel-reserve, and Winnipeg citizen. We had several short and long talks and on the day before we left the camp, he asked me to write him how I would be doing in Germany. Letters went back and forth. He was very kind in his advice

When the war was over and my career as navy officer as well, I had to decide what I wanted do in my future life. I wanted to return to Canada and the best profession I thought would be mining engineer.

On August 1946 we boarded – what coincidence – again the “Pasteur” shipping eastwards. We spent the winter at several camps in England, had open camps and could leave them in daytime. Met friendly and not hostile people. Found out that they were living difficult and deprived times. We even could become friends which was not allowed in Germany in those times and were invited to their home.

I´m very grateful that I had the luck having been prisoner of war in Canada, the best possible country where we all were considered and treated as human beings in a correct an gentleman-like manner.

May 1947, I finally could again take my mother into my arms after 5 years of separation (last visit at home 1942)
Well, this is the story “After.”.

In the mean-time, I have been twice at Grand Ligne and Gravenhurst. Shortly after closing the camp in Grand Ligne, the stone building burned completely down by an electrical short circuit. Nothing was left. The commander´s house became a little museum. People who lived there remembered the school as prisoner camp. The yard was well kept, but nothing to recognize. The same happened to Gravenhurst.

Note: In civilian life after the war, Danckworth worked in Venezuela and Germany in the oil industry.

That might have been the end of the story but in 2009 the Santa Cruz Sentinel ran an article on one of the last survivors from the Canadian corvette HMCS Ville de Québec, Frank Arsenault. In turn Wolf Danckworth heard about the story and was prompted to get in touch – the whole story is related at Santa Cruz Sentinel . At the time this reconnection between two old adversaries attracted a mass of publicity.

Frank Arsenault pictured as an 18-year-old Canadian sailor.
Frank Arsenault pictured as an 18-year-old Canadian sailor.

19 thoughts on “Chance escape for the sole survivor from U-224”

  1. To Bob Heaslip: I have some photos of the VdQ in dry dock after the ramming. A son of
    a crew member sent them to me. If you think your dad would be interested in seeing them, or any VdQ photos, please send me you email address, and I will oblige.

  2. My father, William Heaslip, served on the HMCS Ville de Quebec as a Sub Lieut. Dad is living in Toronto and will be celebrating his 97th birthday in October.

  3. Thanks for all the great reading…i love reading about our contributions during the war. I was researching my gr grandfather lt commander Robert Swansberg and found some info that he commanded ville de Quebec for a short period. I can’t verify that but really enjoyed a lot reading about it regardless. He served on hmcs Canada WW1 as well and we are very pround of our family’s contributions …thank you !!

  4. In response to the query posed by Dave Browne Sep. 16, 2015 about the ‘bow cannon’
    misfiring. As was described to me by Frank Arsenault, the cannon did not misfire.
    The ship was so close to the sub that the cannon could not be depressed low enough
    to fire at the sub.

  5. Just a note for closure…… Frank Arsenault died 12/10/2016 at the age of 92 in Santa Cruz, CA. Frank and I met on a Santa Cruz golf course many years ago. It wasn’t until he learned that I was a friend of a US admiral that his U-224/K-242 story was related to me.

    I posted as much info as I could find in the forum to preserve Frank’s story for his family. Unfortunately, the forum closed, but I was able to recover 4 pages of photos and text. Anyone wishing copies, please contact me;

    don hall
    santa cruz, ca

  6. My father, Malcolm “Mac” McKinnon was a Signaller on the K-242 Ville de Quebec and was on duty in the wheelhouse during this event. Howard “Howie” Bunn was on the wheel. During a naval reunion held in Quebec City in 1994, these veterans gathered with other former crew members (including Frank Arsenault) and officers of the VDQ to share memories of their service with the RCN…lest we forget.

  7. My father, Malcolm “Mac” McKinnon, was a Signaller aboard the K-242 Ville de Quebec (VDQ), and was on duty in the wheelhouse during this event. Howie Bunn was on the wheel of the VDQ at the time. These naval veterans shared memories with Frank Arsenault and other members of the VDQ ‘s “Mediterranean Crew” during a reunion held in Quebec City in 1994. Thank you for the article.

  8. I saved most of the posts and photos from after it closed. Anyone
    interested in receiving any documents I have, please contact me:

    I started the thread in to provide a history for my friend, Frank Arsenault,
    who served aboard VdQ. Info includes correspondence by Wolf Danckworth, lone U224

    don hall
    santa cruz, ca

  9. Glad to see comments from family members of the men who sailed on K242. My father; William Browne was a gunnery officer (captain of #4 Oerlikon A.A. Gun) on the K242. I recently became acquainted with Rick Krehbiel who’s father also served on the K242. Until recently the only information I had about the ramming of U224 was from my father who passed away in 1998. One thing that puzzles me is his comment about the bow cannon on the K242 misfiring which apparently lead to the ramming. I have not found this in any other reports on-line. I would be interested to know if anyone else can substantiate this. My father was an artist and also painted 2 versions of the incident of which I have one copy. Dave Browne

  10. My father, Raymond Oake from Sydney, N.S. was one of the gunners on board, when they sunk the U-boat. Thanks for the article.

  11. 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.


  13. 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.


  14. 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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