Captain Walker RN closes in for third kill of the day

HMS STARLING, leader of a group of British sloops which have just added two more victims to their impressive record of U-boats destroyed. During a North Atlantic patrol the first U-boat was illuminated by a starshell fired by HMS KITE NW of the Azores. After forcing her down by depth charges the KITE, WOODCOCK, AND STARLING shadowed the enemy until morning. At dawn HMS WOODCOCK dropped another pattern of depth charges, explosions were heard and the surface of the water littered with tell-tale oil and wreckage. Within 8 hours the second U-boat met her fate . She was detected by HMS WILD GOOSE and HMS STARLING delivered the coup de grace. (Text from early 1944).

HMS STARLING, leader of a group of British sloops which have just added two more victims to their impressive record of U-boats destroyed. During a North Atlantic patrol the first U-boat was illuminated by a starshell fired by HMS KITE NW of the Azores. After forcing her down by depth charges the KITE, WOODCOCK, AND STARLING shadowed the enemy until morning. At dawn HMS WOODCOCK dropped another pattern of depth charges, explosions were heard and the surface of the water littered with tell-tale oil and wreckage. Within 8 hours the second U-boat met her fate . She was detected by HMS WILD GOOSE and HMS STARLING delivered the coup de grace. (Text from early 1944).

HMS Kite (U87) on anti-submarine patrol with the 2nd Escort Group. HMS Kite joins in the depth charge attack and is dwarfed by the column of water which rises six-times her height. Captain Walker's 2nd Escort Group, consisted of the sloops, HMS Starling (U66), Kite, HMS Wild Goose (U45), HMS Magpie (U82) and HMS Woodpecker (U08), with the escort carriers HMS Activity (D94) and HMS Nairana (D05). In January 1944 it left from Liverpool with orders to protect convoys and intercept U-Boats in the Atlantic just southwest of Ireland. By their return in February 1944 they had managed to sink 6 U-boats.

HMS Kite (U87) on anti-submarine patrol with the 2nd Escort Group. HMS Kite joins in the depth charge attack and is dwarfed by the column of water which rises six-times her height. Captain Walker’s 2nd Escort Group, consisted of the sloops, HMS Starling (U66), Kite, HMS Wild Goose (U45), HMS Magpie (U82) and HMS Woodpecker (U08), with the escort carriers HMS Activity (D94) and HMS Nairana (D05). In January 1944 it left from Liverpool with orders to protect convoys and intercept U-Boats in the Atlantic just southwest of Ireland. By their return in February 1944 they had managed to sink 6 U-boats.

In the Battle of the Atlantic the Allies had proved to be the dominant force ever since May 1943. Yet still the Germans sent U-boats to sea in a desperate attempt to halt the flow men and munitions to Britain. The life expectancy of a U-Boat was now very limited and more and more boats were being sent to the bottom with all their crew.

This battle still relied on the dedicated pursuit of the U-boats by the convoy escort ships and their commanders. No one single man had made more of a contribution to this battle than Captain Frederick ‘Johny’ Walker’. He had first earned a Distinguished Service Order in January 1942 for his ‘daring and determination’ in the hunt for the U-boats. His determination was undiminished two years later when his Second Escort Group set out on its most successful hunting trip.

On the 9th February HMS Starling and the other ships in the group were to surpass themselves with three successful attacks on U-boats. This time they had to contend with the GNAT (German Navy Acoustic Torpedo) but they were able to counter with the ‘Hedgehog’.

Lieutenant Alan Burn was the Gunnery officer on HMS Starling:

After a night at action stations, with a brief rest on the way from one job to the next, Starling’s ship’s company was in no mood to appreciate a grey Atlantic morning with the visibility down to half a mile, but the chase was not over yet.

Walker reported that: ‘This Boche went slow downwind and sea, at considerable depth, making it difficult in the prevailing weather conditions to hold the directing ship long enough in position to direct the creeping attacks.’ There were only seventeen depth charges left on board Kite and she went to join Wild Goose in the patrol round the scene of action while Starling and Magpie took over the attacks.

Walker was perplexed; a very large number of charges had been expended on this target without any results. Stocks were getting low. On the other hand, Magpie was the only ship in the Group fitted with Hedgehog, and Walker had thought up a new way of using this more modern weapon.

He directed Magpie at slow speed until she was just short of the U-boat’s position and pointing in the right direction, whereupon she was ordered to fire her Hedgehog at a range calculated by Starling’s navigator. This caused a lot of laughter on the bridge — imagine any one of twenty-four bombs dropping seven hundred feet through the water and getting a direct hit on the twenty-foot diameter hull of an invisible U-boat!

The laughter was cut short by two sharp underwater explosions as two bombs found their target twenty-one seconds after the Hedgehog fired. Not content with this result, he directed Magpie to carry on without interruption with a creeper, firing old-fashioned charges, followed up by Starling four minutes later. To everyone’s surprise and to the amazement of Walker and his specialist anti-submarine team, this makeshift attack produced all the usual evidence of destruction as oil-soaked wreckage came to the surface in quantities.

Walker wrote: ‘I was highly tickled by this hedge-hoggery. Complicated instruments are normally deemed essential to score even occasional hits with this weapon; to get two bull’s eyes first shot with someone else’s Hedgehog 1000 yards away was of course a ghastly fluke.’

This as Walker at his most ruthless. The chase had gone on for eight hours with fteen depth-charge attacks (252 charges) and ‘two Hedgehog attacks (48 bombs). Starling had expended all her depth charges.

If this last attack had not succeeded, there was no doubt that he would have continued to stalk the U-boat until it surfaced for air, when it would have been destroyed by gunfire, or rammed as a last resort.

The Second Support Group had sunk three U-boats in the past 15 hours. But nerves were ragged; there were too many of these Gnats and maybe other devices exploding too close. In a signal timed 092030A to C-in-C Western Approaches, Walker reported, among other events: ‘Several “Gnats” fired during operations but all avoided by use of low speed.’

The convoy of fifty-seven ships and twenty-four landing craft proceeded unharmed on its way, guided neatly between these two battles without casualties. It had been shadowed by aircraft all night but was not attacked.

On the evening of 9 February, the two aircraft carriers were ordered to return home while the Group continued the patrol. They went off in ones and twos to refuel from an oiler in the nearest convoy and to replenish with depth charges. Starling had none left out of her usual armoury of 160 charges, Magpie seventeen and the remainder about sixty-six each.

See Alan Burn: The Fighting Captain, less a personal memoir than a tribute to Captain Walker, with details of all his U-boat battles.

Captain Walker died in July 1944, aged 48, his death attributed to exhaustion and battle fatigue.

Atlantic Battle Record Breakers Welcomed Home. 25 February 1944, Liverpool. The First Lord Of The Admiralty, Mr A V Alexander Welcomed Home The 2Nd Escort Group, Commanded By Captain F J Walker, Cb, Dso And Two Bars, Rn, In Hms Starling, From Its Record Breaking U-Boat Hunt In Which Six Enemy Submarines Were Destroyed.

Atlantic Battle Record Breakers Welcomed Home. 25 February 1944, Liverpool. The First Lord Of The Admiralty, Mr A V Alexander Welcomed Home The 2Nd Escort Group, Commanded By Captain F J Walker, CB, DSO And Two Bars, RN, in HMS Starling, from its Record Breaking U-Boat Hunt in which six Enemy Submarines were destroyed.

The sloop HMS MAGPIE returns to Liverpool after a successful escort patrol in the North Atlantic, 25 February 1944.

The sloop HMS MAGPIE returns to Liverpool after a successful escort patrol in the North Atlantic, 25 February 1944.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Phil Teece February 16, 2014 at 4:49 am

My father was Walker’s CPO Telegraphist throughout these battles. The editor’s description of events concerning U-202 is completely consistent with my father’s telling of the tale.

Editor February 10, 2014 at 8:41 pm

Craig

It is true that Walker’s Group Operational Instructions were “Our job is to kill, and all officers must fully develop the spirit of vicious offensive. No matter how many convoys we may shepherd safely through in safety, we shall have failed unless we can slaughter U-boats. All energies must be bent to this end”.

However, he did pick up prisoners when they presented themselves – for example 18 survivors were picked up from U-202 after Walker had forced the boat to the surface after a 14 hour hunt. It was just that the most usual form of attack meant that the U-boats were blown apart underwater.

Martin

craig gleason February 9, 2014 at 11:03 pm

Didn’t Walker take no prisoners if any were encountered? I remember reading about a RN officer that didn’t and I believe it was Walker. Good thing he was on the winning side!

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