Surviving a U-boat patrol in the Barents Sea

The Kriegsmarine and Luftwaffe were outstandingly successful in May. A total of 170 enemy ships weighing 924,400 BRT were sunk. Of these, the U boat wing alone had destroyed 140 ships weighing 767,400 BRT. A U boat at full speed in the Atlantic. 10-20 May 1942

At the beginning of May Otto Giese was on patrol with U-Boat U-405 on her second patrol, the first occasion they had rounded the North Cape and entered the Barents Sea. They were operating in the same region as U-456 which had just torpedoed HMS Edinburgh but on this patrol they were not get close enough to make any attacks on shipping.

Giese had been an officer in the pre war merchant marine and was an experienced seaman. Having now volunteered for the U-Boat service, he was still only an ‘officer aspirant’ at this stage, holding the rank of an ordinary seaman.

He found the constrained life in the narrow tube of the U Boat very different from his previous experiences at sea. The experience of being on watch was even more different. As they left Narvik he wondered at the need to be strapped to the conning tower rails with a canvas belt – as they entered the open sea he learned why it was such a life saver, even if it delayed them getting down the hatch if there was a crash dive:

I had a good chance to watch the spectacular scenes, which reminded me of those days off Cape Horn. Only this time there was a difference; now I was almost part of the sea, immersed in water so much of the time.

The tremendous rollers were like the fangs of hungry wolves snapping at our small boat, As long as the fangs closed in the wake or on the afterdeck of the boat, their greedy tongues could only lick us up to the waist. But when those fangs closed right on top of us there was a thunderous crashing and bursting that snatched our breath away.

A tremendous weight forced us onto our knees and tore at all our limbs. Above us a bright-green watery vault foamed and hummed before gradually subsiding. It became brighter and brighter while we fought against the draining water, spitting, choking, and cursing. A glance at other comrades and short smiles from salty red faces gave us comfort that all was okay again.

Well, sometimes. Once I found the sailor next to me kneeling on the grating as if he were look» ing for something. “Where are my teeth?” he cried out. “My teeth are gone, look!” He raised his head and I saw blood pouring out of his mouth. There was nothing left but a few scattered, broken teeth. In terrible pain, he was released from his watch.

The strain was just as hard on our aching, wailing boat. The hatch was closed at all times to prevent water from entering the boat. There had been incidents where other boats had been pressed underwater by heavy seas from the rear. And incredible as it sounds, there had been some cases where boats had run for hours after the entire watch was washed overboard. Thus we reported in the central room about every half hour to signal that all was okay aloft.

See Otto Giese: Shooting the War: The Memoir and Photographs of a U-Boat Officer in World War II .

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