U-boat escapes depth charges off Florida

The USS Dallas was a 1919 vintage Clemson class destroyer similar to the USS Lamson pictured here.

On 7th May 1943 the U-boat U-333 was off Florida, once again involved in Operation Drumbeat, the sustained attack on US coastal shipping that had been underway since the beginning of the year. Gradually U.S. counter measures had become more organised and more effective. The ‘happy time’ that the U-boats had enjoyed for so long was coming to an end.

An encounter with the USS Dallas very nearly finished off U-333. Her captain Peter Cremer was able to include both sides of the story when he wrote his post war memoirs, using U.S. Naval records. After a sustained depth charge attack U-333 had been damaged and had lost oil and USS Dallas moved in for the kill:

The destroyer reported ‘the submarine manoeuvred at fairly good speed and agility’ and she followed our trailing oil slick which described a circle and finally a broad straight line, drawing from Dallas a further series of depth charges.

After several attacks the captain thought we were on the bottom, unable to move. He tried to obtain an oil sample but gave up, not daring to stop the ship. Then his Asdic located us about 3,000 metres ahead ofthe oil slick. The current was two knots and the depth was 91 fathoms or about 160 metres. This was beyond the effective depth of his charges which at the most exploded at 120 metres whatever adjustments were made.

When at 1930 a depth charge failed to explode Dallas ceased her attacks against us, circled the oil patch which had increased considerably and concluded that the U-boat had been further damaged.

We had to surface whether I wanted to or not. There was too much water in the boat. The diving tanks were waterlogged, we were floating only on tank no. 1. The oxygen bottles were empty, we could get no more air and were at the end of our physical strength, shut in a steel cage with the roof threatening to cave in on top of us at any moment. We breathed in gasps and jerks, were bathed in sweat, and not only because the high water temperature of the Gulf Stream turned the interior of the boat into a suffocating tube. So I ordered hydroplanes hard-a-rise, motors full ahead. Painfully the boat came up with its leaking tanks. The casing stayed completely under water, only the battered conning tower appeared. Night and darkness had come. Dallas lay about 2,000 metres off and did not notice us. I showed a slim silhouette and moved away cautiously. It was exactly 2200. We escaped by a hair’s breadth.

Five minutes later, at 2205, Dallas reported by radio toheadquarters: ‘Submarine bottomed in ninety fathoms . . . made eight attacks total twenty-five charges. After second attack no further movement of sub noted indicating probable positive results. Suggest plane investigate spot tomorrow to determine whether slick is still present. Dallas proceeding to Charleston’

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

Footage of Peter Cremer and U-333 returning to port:

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