After his successful attack on U-117 on 7th August Lt Sallenger must have been very surprised to have another encounter with U-Boats just the following day. On this occasion he was flying with another plane piloted by Ensign Sprague when they came out of cloud and immediately spotted two U-boats. In fact he had come across three U-boats – U-262 was awaiting refuelling from U-664 while U-760 was being supplied.
On this occasion the U-boats must have been fully alert and the combined firepower of their guns produced a very different result:
At about 0811 GCT we came out of a cloud flying at 800 feet and on my port bow, I saw two U-boats not more than 1 or 1-1/2 miles away. They were pretty close together, about 150 yards, and on slightly different courses. The nearest was steering 3400T and the far one 3500T. When sighted, their decks were awash and there was no bow wave or wake visible, indicating a speed of 2-3 knots. My course at the time of sighting was 1650T, speed 150 knots.
It all happened so fast that I had no time to advise the ship of the contact before the attack. I had turned on my transmitter to warm it up, figuring on reporting immediately after my first run. I signaled Ensign SPRAGUE to attack. He slid under me and we made a split attack on the nearer of the two subs, coming in from bow to stern, the fighter from the port bow, the TBF from the starboard bow. Ensign SPRAGUE made a beautiful strafing attack, working over the deck and conning tower methodically.
When I was a little more than half way in on my attack, range about 1000 yards, my plane was hit by at least one 20mm explosive shell up through the bomb bay into the tunnel compartment. This knocked out my radio, interplane communication, and other electrical equipment. Later I learned that the vertical fin and rudder had also been hit in this barrage. I saw the bomb bay light go out right after the first shell hit. The plane took several more hits in the tunnel and something began to burn in the bomb bay. During this run my speed was about 185 knots, course about 1150T.
As a result of the electrical system being out, my bombs did not drop on the first pass. I turned for a second run, coming in this time from the starboard quarter, target angle about 1700.
The engine was popping and cutting out during this attack. My speed was reduced to 160 knots, and I was on a course of about 3300. During this run Ensign SPRAGUE was working over the other, unattacked sub. Again he was doing an excellent job, but the enemy AA fire seemed even heavier. On this run, the plane was hit in the left main gas tank at the wing root (It had about 30 gallons in it at the time), tearing a hole about a foot wide and immediately bursting into flames. There were other less effective hits. I proceeded on in and dropped the two depth bombs manually (the bombs, of course, dropped in salvo). I looked back to make sure they exploded, and the explosion seemed to go off right next to the submarine covering it with water. I’m sure it was a good drop.
By now my wing tank was burning badly, so I jettisoned the Mk. 24 mine, on armed, about 1/2 mile ahead of the course of the U-boat. I then turned directly into the wind (southwesterly 15 mph) and landed in the water with flaps up and bomb bay doors open because the hydraulic system had been punctured, making it inoperative.
The fire in the wing was put out upon landing. I was unhurt, my gunner, O’HAGAN. popped out of the turret and together we got the rubber boat out. I then realized Chief DOWNES was missing. So, I swam to the other side, dived under and opened the tunnel door. I was half way in the tunnel when the plane started to settle. I estimated it sank within 30 seconds.
I saw Ensign SPRAGUE going in for another strafing attack while we were inflating the rubber boat. After that, I don’t remember seeing the plane or hearing the engine again.
Lt Sallenger and his gunner O’Hagan were picked up later that day but his radioman DOWNES was lost, as was Ensign Sprague and his crew. See U-Boat Archive for the full collection of reports
For more images see U-Boat archive.