U-333 makes narrow escape from HMS Crocus

The flower class corvette HMS Crocus, seen in September 1942, which was credited with a kill after her encounter with U-333.

Peter Cremer, commander of U-333 had had more than one close shave.. On the 6th October 1942 he probably came closest to being sunk when he was spotted on the surface by HMS Crocus. They were some 60 miles off Freetown, South Africa where Cremer’s U-333 had been directed to attack the British ships in convoy around Africa headed for the Suez canal.

British intelligence had sent HMS Crocus to the area on an urgent hunt for “six or seven” U-boats believed to be gathering in the area. In the early hours of the morning a lookout on U-333 spotted HMS Crocus about 500 yards away, already headed at full speed for the U-boat – Cremer went racing up the conning tower:

As I reached the bridge, the corvette opened up on us with guns and machine-guns. I turned hard-a-starboard and went full ahead. Because of the close range, everyone on the bridge, including the commander, was immediately wounded and incapacitated.

The first watch officer and I at once got to our feet again. I had several splinters in the arm and the officer had one through the throat. The explosion threw us both down the conning-tower hatch, but we managed to climb back onto the bridge. When my companion was hit several more times in the arm and leg, I ordered him to leave me alone on the bridge.

With my one sound arm I helped the wounded lying on the bridge to get back down into the conning tower. One man, a bosun’s mate, had apparently slipped overboard and disappeared without trace.

Meanwhile the corvette kept up continuous fire and I received yet more shell splinters. I put the rudder hard over to avoid being rammed, and tried everything to get into position to fire my torpedoes, while the corvette kept turning towards us and trying to ram.

The conning tower of U-boat U-333 after it arrived back in La Pallice on 23rd October 1942, ‘riddled’ with damage from the HMS Crocus’s Oerlikon

We were circling one another so tightly that their searchlight was lighting up my conning tower from above. We kept closing in until there was a crash. My manoeuvres deadened the impact of the collision but we remained locked together for what seemed an eternity.

When it looked as though I might not be able to fire a shot or even to save the boat I gave the order “stand by lifejackets and escape gear”.

Meanwhile I was wounded in the head and my vision was impaired by blood running into my left eye. Owing to the short range (50 metres or less) the corvette’s shells were overshooting, and several times their blast as they passed over spun me round. Then a splinter lodged in my breast-bone.

Time and again I tried to evade, but the corvette followed my every movement. Weakened by loss of blood, and with blood sealing up my left eye, I decided to dive as a drastic measure to save the boat. I took up a parallel course and proceeded slowly ahead of the corvette.

My boat had such a heavy list that our opponent assumed we were about to capsize, and set about ramming us again. I turned hard-a-starboard at the best speed we could muster so that she only went over our stern, Having suffered damage herself, the corvette could not follow up fast enough and, bow first, I dived at a steep angle.

With our riddled bridge, a battered bow, two and a half metres of our stern crushed and a heavy list, we must have looked as though we were sinking. I ordered a depth of 20 metres, then blacked out. The boat slumped to the sea-bed.

When the corvette rammed, she tore the bow cap off a torpedo tube; with the stern tube leaking, water was pouring into the electric motor compartment and could not be kept under control by pumping. Meanwhile the corvette was dropping depth charges.

We had to get off the bottom. I decided to surface and make off under cover of darkness. The corvette fired star shells but did not notice me. Damage to U 333 could not yet be assessed, but we were still able to dive. Owing to loss of blood, however, I was not in full possession of my faculties and the second watch officer asked the C-in-C for a medical boat.

See Peter Cremer: U-Boat Commander: A Periscope View of the Battle of the Atlantic.

Korvettenkapitän ‘Ali’ Cremer courtesy UBoat.net which has a detailed career summary.

The boat tried to escape by diving, but soon came to the surface again. After a chase lasting nearly a quarter of an hour Crocus caught up with the U-boat and again rammed it under full helm, this time very close to the stern. The boat passed down the starboard side under continuous fire from the Oerlikons, Pom-Pom and Hotchkiss. When it was on the beam both depth-charge throwers were fired to starboard.

The U-boat was listing heavily, disappeared under the shower of water from the explosions and was seen no more …. Until 0419 nine further depth charges were dropped, set between 50 and 100 metres. After several attacks contact was lost at 0427. Crocus spent the next five hours in a careful search …

Royal Navy Monthly Anti-Submarine Report, November 1942.

Contemporary newsreel of U-333 and Cremer returning to port after the attack:


A U-boat crew keeps a sharp lookout in the Bay of Biscay, 1942. U-333 would come under attack again as she neared La Rochelle.

The U-boat bunkers at La Pallice were still under construction in October 1942.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Robert Newby February 21, 2014 at 10:33 pm

My (late) Grandfather from my Mum’s side of the family. Was onboard HMS Crocus.
William ( Bill ) Polson.
Does anyone have any information or photos that may include him.
Or wish to share or enquire.

Thank you

Robert

Tony Boyle January 30, 2014 at 2:59 am

Can you help or point me in the right direction(s)? I am researching Hugh Boyle who I believe also served on H.M.S. Crocus.
A card sent to Hugh’s sister Mary Boyle from Kevin reads:
“An Easter Message”
to
“Greet you from over the sea”
There is a poem inside which reads:
A Happy Day, A peaceful day,
May Easter bring in every way;
And all our hopes in gladness thrill
With hopes of peace and true goodwill.
The card is signed:
To. You kid wishing you all the best for Easter.
Kevin.
I don’t know who Kevin is.
On the opposite side is an attached photograph of H.M.S. Crocus.
Hugh Boyle also served on H.M.S. Vanguard. Royal Cruise to South Africa. 1947. Petty Officer. E.R.A. R.N.

Martyn Cooper November 19, 2012 at 2:39 pm

My father was the radar operator on HMS Crocus during the encounter with U333. He detected was undoubtedly the conning tower of the submarine prior to their attack on it. He was mentioned in despatches for his interpretation of the radar data and to all intents and purposes the crew of Crocus believed they had sunk the U333. We now know that it managed to find safe haven. A colleague painted a depiction of the encounter, but my father rarely discussed the matter, even though I became an air traffic controller working with primary and secondary surveillance radar systems.

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