World War II submarines could only run submerged on electric motors. They routinely surfaced at night to run on Diesel engines and re-charge their batteries. In operations in the northern latitudes off Norway during the summer this posed particular problems – as the in the ‘land of the midnight sun’ the sun never set. The commander of HMS Shark Lieutenant-Commander Buckley was well aware of the hazard involved when he surfaced in the evening of 5th July – but the batteries had to be re-charged so that they could maintain their patrol the following day. The risk of being spotted by German aircraft was considerable – and at 2215 this was exactly what happened. HMS Shark made a crash dive that left two members of the deck crew swimming in the water.
Despite managing to submerge the submarine was badly damaged by bombs that hit while she was at a shallow depth. At 2245 the damage sustained forced them to the surface, which they just managed to achieve with the little compressed air they had left. Miraculously they soon came across and were able to rescue the two crew members who had been left swimming in the sea. It was now apparent that the submarine was badly damaged, could not dive and had severely impaired steering. She was a sitting duck when German aircraft spotted her again at about midnight.
HMS Shark put up a fierce fight with her deck gun and many of the crew were injured in the series of attacks that followed, including Lieutenant-Commander Buckley, who sustained wounds to the head and legs. Nevertheless they probably accounted for two German aircraft shot down or badly damaged.
The end was never really in doubt:
Some time about 0300, four Messerschmidt 109s appeared from the direction of Stavanger and from now on continued to rake the bridge and guns crew with machine gun and cannon fire. Their fire was devastating and it obvious that the end was now in sight although everyone stuck to their posts in the most magnificent manner until wounded, or in one case, killed outright.
One of the seaplanes now signalled us by light to “stop or steer to.. Stavanger”. No notice was taken of this signal but about a quarter of an hour later, after continuous attacks from the 109’s, our ammunition being expended and having many wounded or dead (l could not tell which), I reluctantly decided to capitulate.
Some time after, the “fighter” attacks had commenced, I called the First Lieutenant on to the bridge as I was feeling particularly shaky and-, from this time on, I have only a vague recollection as to what actually happened.
Lieutenant-Commander Buckley was only able to complete his report on the action when he was released from prisoner of war camp in 1945. It is an extraordinarily detailed account of all the damage sustained, the fight back by the crew, as well as the measures taken to ensure that the submarine was not captured.
HMS Shark did sink shortly after German trawlers arrived and got her under tow. In compiling his report Lieutenant-Commander Buckley would have been very conscious of the very similar circumstances of the surrender of HMS Seal. Lieutenant-Commander Lonsdale of HMS Seal was also released from POW camp in 1945 but he now faced a Court Martial. In the case of HMS Seal, despite his efforts, the submarine had been captured by the Germans.