U-Boat ace of U-124 sunk by HMS Black Swan

U-124 returns from a successful patrol. Her original Edelweiss emblem is visible as well as the Frog that was added by Mohr when he assumed command of her.

U-124 returns from a successful patrol. Her original Edelweiss emblem is visible as well as the Frog that was added by Mohr when he assumed command of her.

On 24th March 1942 the 42 ships in Convoy ONS-45 left Liverpool for South Africa with many ships destined for the further journey to India. This was an unexceptional event, almost all concerned had become familiar with the dangers at sea during this period. By the end of the 43rd month of the war, March 1943, 4,486 merchant ships had been sunk – including 82 in the North Atlantic in that month alone. As the men on these ships headed out into the North Atlantic they were not alone in wondering how much longer this could go on.

Nicholas Monserrat, himself serving on a Royal Navy corvette, was to describe his continued admiration for the men of the Merchant Navy:

I had seen hundreds of convoys in this war; and if they did not always impress me with the same pride and the same admiration as at the beginning, that was simply because of the human inability to hold an impression, however strong or vivid, indefinitely….

There were ships that had seen scores of long-drawn out actions, and still came back cheerfully for more; there were men – British and Allied sailors – who dared all, not as a job for money but simply as a chosen habit, who returned to the same task and the same run after two or even three hideous ordeals as survivors, who stuck to oil-tankers as other people stick to one brand of bottled beer.

Even apart from action with the enemy, the men in these ships – some of them, old friends, were waving as I passed them now – had seen their job transformed by war into something a hundred times more difficult and hazardous: they had accepted loyally the irksome compulsion of convoys, of never moving except in crowded company – a discipline quite alien to sailors, whose foremost instinct is to beat it in the opposite direction when another ship comes over the horizon: they had accepted the necessity of wallowing along for hundreds of miles at the speed of the slowest, and of keeping close station in
weather like a dirty blanket hanging all around them ….

One could only feel proud to share a job with such men. Nominally we were in charge of them, on all their undertakings: but it was really a more complex relationship, in which admiration had its full share and a brotherly regard seasoned all the discipline we had to enforce.

See Nicholas Monsarrat: Three Corvettes

Waiting for ONS 45 off the coast of Portugal was U-124 commanded by Korvettenkapitän Johann Mohr who had spent his entire career on this boat, first as an officer then as commander from November 1941. He had sunk 25 ships himself including HMS Dunedin on 24th November 1941. A year earlier, in March 1942, he had sunk ten ships off the East coast of the USA.

A typical victim of Operation Drumbeat off the U.S. coast in the spring of 1942. The W.E.Hutton was a steam tanker sailing unescorted and unarmed when she was torpedoed and sunk by U-124 on 19th March. Photo courtesy of the Mariners Museum, Newport News VA and U boat net.

A typical victim of Operation Drumbeat off the U.S. coast in the spring of 1942. The W.E.Hutton was a steam tanker sailing unarmed and unescorted when she was torpedoed and sunk by U-124 on 19th March. Photo courtesy of the Mariners Museum, Newport News VA and U boat net.

Mohr had radioed a report of his success in rhyme:

The moon night is as black as ink
Off Hatteras the tankers sink
While sadly Roosevelt counts the score
some fifty thousand tons. Mohr.

Formal portrait of Mohr with his Knights Cross.

Formal portrait of Mohr with his Knights Cross.

Mohr had been awarded the Knights Cross for that period of success and had recently been awarded the Oak Leaves to go with it, joining a very exclusive group of Nazi heroes. Now he struck again.

SS Gogra,

SS Gogra, carrying 7,000 tons of military stores, including ammunition, was torpedoed and sunk by U-124 at 18.55 hours on April 2, 1943 about 320 miles west of Oporto. The master (John Drummond), 75 crew members and six gunners were lost. Five crew members and three gunners were picked up by Danby, transferred to the New Northland and landed at Freetown. Only 10 British Officers are commemorated on Tower Hill on Panel 52 and only 1 of the 6 gunners lost has any known commemoration. As the Gogra belonged to the British India SN Co. Ltd, the rest of the crew were from the Indian Merchant Navy and sixty-seven are commemorated on the Bombay/Chittagong War Memorial.

SS Katha, carrying 7,000 tons of naval and military stores including 16 aircraft, was torpedoed by U-124 at 18.55 hours on April 2, 1943 about about 320 miles west of Oporto. The master (Samuel Thomson), 53 crew members and four gunners were picked up by Danby and the corvette HMS La Malouine, transferred to the New Northland and landed at Freetown. One crew member (commemorated on Tower Hill Panel 60) and five unknown gunners were lost.

SS Katha, carrying 7,000 tons of naval and military stores including 16 aircraft, was torpedoed by U-124 at 18.55 hours on April 2, 1943 about about 320 miles west of Oporto. The master (Samuel Thomson), 53 crew members and four gunners were picked up by Danby and the corvette HMS La Malouine, transferred to the New Northland and landed at Freetown. One crew member (commemorated on Tower Hill Panel 60) and five unknown gunners were lost.

Details of sinkings courtesy Convoyweb.org and U-Boat.net

However these sinkings were to be swiftly avenged. The sloop HMS Black Swan and the corvette HMS Stonecrop were quickly on the hunt and U-124 was depth charged later that evening. There were no survivors amongst the 53 crew. It was the end of the third most successful U-boat, which had sunk 48 ships totally nearly a quarter of a million tons. It was a sign of the shifting fortunes in the Battle of the Atlantic.

The sloop HMS Black Swan. Lt.Cdr.  Rodney  Thomson,  had come out of retirement to command her.

The sloop HMS Black Swan. Lt.Cdr. Rodney Thomson, had come out of retirement to command her.

The Flower class corvette HMS Stonecrop.

The Flower class corvette HMS Stonecrop.

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