U boat U-47 fires its torpedoes

The British battleship HMS Royal Oak, flying the Norwegian flag and the White Ensign at half-mast, carries the body of Queen Maud back to Norway, about 24 November 1938.
The British battleship HMS Royal Oak, flying the Norwegian flag and the White Ensign at half-mast, carries the body of Queen Maud back to Norway, about 24 November 1938.

Gunter Priens log continues from 13th October, as he moves into the Royal Navy anchorage at Scapa Flow


0027 It is disgustingly light. The whole bay is lit up. To the south of Cava there is nothing. I go farther in. To port, I recognize the Hoxa Sound coastguard, to which in the next few minutes the boat must present itself as a target. In that event all would be lost; at present south of Cava there is no shipping; so before staking everything on success, all possible precautions must be taken.

0055 Therefore, turn to port is made. We proceed north by the coast. Two battleships are lying there at anchor, and further inshore, destroyers. Cruisers not visible, therefore attack on the big fellows. Distance apart, 3000 meters.

0116 (time queried in pencil, 0058 suggested) Estimated depth, 7.5 meters. Impact firing. One torpedo fixed on the northern ship, two on the southern. After a good 3 1/2 minutes, a torpedo detonates on the northern ship; of the other two nothing is to be seen.

0121 (queried to 0102) (suggested time 0123, in pencil) About! Torpedo fired from stern; in the bow two tubes are loaded; three torpedoes from the bow. After three tense minutes comes the detonation on the nearer ship. There is a loud explosion, roar, and rumbling. Then come columns of water, followed by columns of fire, and splinters fly through the air.

The harbor springs to life. Destroyers are lit up, signaling starts on every side, and on land 200 meters away from me cars roar along the roads. A battleship has been sunk, a second damaged, and the other three torpedoes have gone to blazes. All the tubes are empty. I decide to withdraw, because: (1) With my periscopes I cannot conduct night attacks while submerged. (See experience on entering.) (2) On a bright night I cannot maneuver unobserved in a calm sea. (3) I must assume that I was observed by the driver of a car which stopped opposite us, turned around, and drove off towards Scapa at top speed. (4) Nor can I go further north, for there, well hidden from my sight, lie the destroyers which were previously dimly distinguishable.

0128 At high speed both engines we withdraw. Everything is simple until we reach Skildaenoy Point. Then we have more trouble. It is now low tide, the current is against us. Engines at slow and dead slow, I attempt to get away. I must leave by the south through the narrows, because of the depth of the water. Things are again difficult. Course, 058, slow – 10 knots. I make no progress.

At high speed I pass the southern blockship with nothing to spare. The helmsman does magnificently. High speed ahead both, finally 3/4 speed and full ahead all out. Free of the blockships – ahead a mole! Hard over and again about, and at 0215 we are once more outside. A pity that only one was destroyed. The torpedo misses I explain due to faults of course, speed, and drift. In tube 4, a misfire.

The crew behaved splendidly throughout the operation. On the morning of 13/10, the lubricating oil was found to have 7-8% water in it. All hands worked feverishly to change the oil, i.e. to get rid of the water and to isolate the leaking point. The torpedo crews loaded their tubes with remarkable speed. The boat was in such good form that I was able to switch on to charge in the harbor and pump up air.

0215 Set SE course for base. I still have 5 torpedoes for possible attacks on merchantmen.

A full account, including charts is at U-47.org .

Gunther Prien’s U-47 enters Scapa Flow

Internment at Scapa Flow 24 November 1918 - 20 June 1919: SMS EMDEN, FRANKFURT and BREMSE entering Scapa Flow.
Internment at Scapa Flow 24 November 1918 – 20 June 1919: SMS EMDEN, FRANKFURT and BREMSE entering Scapa Flow.

In the far north of Britain, off the coast of Scotland lie the Orkney Islands, a group of islands surrounding a relatively calm body of water, known as Scapa Flow.

Scapa Flow had long been the natural deep water base for the British Home Fleet, offering ready access to both the North Sea and the North Atlantic. As the anchorage was surrounded by islands with only narrow channels between them it appeared to be relatively easy to secure, especially when ‘block ships’ were sunk in these channel to further obstruct them.

The location was of course well known to the German Navy, not least because the German Fleet had been interned there in 1918, and subsequently scuttled by them there when they feared that the ships would be taken over by the Allies in 1919.

As the base for many capital ships Scapa Flow was a natural target for German attention. With the outbreak of war in 1939 it could be expected that the Royal Navy would improve the defences around the anchorage. One U-boat commander went off to investigate just how good the defences were.

From the Log of Gunther Prien, commander of U-47, on 13th October:

E. of Orkney Islands. Wind NNE 3-4, light clouds, very clear night, Northern Lights on entire horizon.   At 0437 lying submerged in 90 meters of water. Rest period for crew. At 1600 general stand-to. After breakfast at 1700, preparations for attack on Scapa Flow. Two torpedoes are placed in rapid loading position before tubes 1 and 2.

Explosives brought out in case of necessity of scuttling. Crew’s morale splendid. Surfaced at 1915. After warm supper for entire crew, set course for Holm Sound. Everything goes according to plan until 2307, when it is necessary to submerge on sighting a merchant ship just before Rose Ness. I cannot make out the ship in either of the periscopes, in spite of the very clear night and the bright lights.

At 2331, surfaced again and entered Holm Sound. Following tide. On nearer approach, the sunken blockship in Skerry Sound is clearly visible, so that at first I believe myself to be already in Kirk Sound, and prepare for work. But the navigator, by means of dead reckoning, states that the preparations are premature, while I at the same time realize the mistake, for there is only one sunken ship in the straits. By altering course hard to starboard, the imminent danger is averted. A few minutes later, Kirk Sound is clearly visible.

later …

It is a very eerie sight. On land everything is dark, high in the sky are the flickering Northern Lights, so that the bay, surrounded by English mountains, is directly lit up from above. The blockships lie in the sound, ghostly as the wings of a theatre. I am now repaid for having learnt the chart beforehand, for the penetration proceeds with unbelievable speed. In the meantime I had decided to pass the blockships on the Northern side.

On a course of 270 I pass the two-masted schooner, which is lying on a bearing of 315 in front of the real boom, with 15 meters to spare. In the next minute the boat is turned by the current to starboard. At the same time I recognize the cable of the northern blockship at an angle of 45 degrees ahead. Port engine stopped, starboard engine slow ahead, and rudder hard to port, the boat slowly touches bottom. The stern still touches the cable, the boat  becomes free, it is pulled round to port, and brought on to course again with difficult rapid maneuvering, but; we are in Scapa Flow.”  

The log continues on the 14th October 1939.

A map of Scapa Flow as  subsequently annotated by the Royal Navy in 1941 - showing the route taken by U-47 in 1939 and the planned new defences.
A map of Scapa Flow as subsequently annotated by the Royal Navy in 1941 – showing the route taken by U-47 in 1939 and the planned new defences.

LIndbergh argues for United States neutrality

In his ‘Neutrality and War” speech, broadcast across the nation, Lindbergh set out his views …

The longer I lived in Europe, the more I felt that no outside influence could solve the problems of European nations, or bring them lasting peace. They must work out their destiny, as we must work out ours. I am convinced that the better acquainted we in America become with the background of European conflicts, the less we will desire to take part in them. But here I would like to make this point clear: while I advocate the non-interference by America in the internal affairs of Europe, I believe it is of the utmost importance for us to cooperate with Europe in our relationships with the other peoples of the earth. It is only by cooperation that we can maintain the supremacy of our western civilization and the right of our commerce to proceed unmolested throughout the world. Neither they nor we are strong enough to police the earth against the opposition of the other.

In the past, we have dealt with a Europe dominated by England and France. In the future we may have to deal with a Europe dominated by Germany. But whether England or Germany wins this war, Western civilization will still depend upon two great centers, one in each hemisphere. With all the aids of modern science, neither of these centers is in a position to attack the other successfully as long as the defenses of both are reasonably strong. A war between us could easily last for generations, and bring all civilization tumbling down, as has happened more than once before. An agreement between us could maintain civilization and peace throughout the world as far into the future as we can see.

But we are often told that if Germany wins this war, cooperation will be impossible, and treaties no more than scraps of paper. I reply that cooperation is never impossible when there is sufficient gain on both sides, and that treaties are seldom torn apart when they do not cover a weak nation. I would be among the last to advocate depending upon treaties for our national safety. I believe that we should rearm fully for the defense of America, and that we should never make the type of treaty that would lay us open to invasion if it were broken. But if we refuse to consider treaties with the dominant nation of Europe, regardless of who that may be, we remove all possiblity of peace.

The full speech, and much more material, is at CharlesLindbergh.com.

German Navy at sea, Soviet Russia threatens Finland

The Naval Military and Air situation up to noon on 12 October 1939, as reported to the War Cabinet:

Naval situation

North Sea

1. The principal item of Naval interest during the past week was an encounter between British naval forces and German aircraft. On 8th October aircraft sighted a German force, consisting of one battleship, with three cruisers and two destroyers, off the Norwegian coast proceeding northwards. British naval forces were disposed to intercept them, and a force of 12 Wellington bombing aircraft left to attack, but failed to locate them in bad visibility and returned. The Germans are believed to have turned back during the night of 8th/9th October and returned via the Kattegat.

2. On 9th October the 2nd Cruiser Squadron, with destroyers in company, whilst carrying out a sweep off the Norwegian coast in connection with the above incident, was bombed by German aircraft intermittently over a period of about four hours without effect, although over 100 bombs were dropped. At least four separate high-level bombing attacks were made by groups of six aircraft and and one dive bombing attack by a single aircraft.


12. The Dover barrage is nearly completed.

13. Many floating mines have been reported in the southern part of the North Sea. A large number have drifted ashore in Suffolk and Essex: 16 of these are definitely German, some are Dutch, others British. No doubt that the hard gales of the last week account for this.

Military situation

Western front

British Expeditionary Force.

20. The 2nd Corps and remaining G.H.Q. troops have now moved forward, and, by 12th October, the B.E.F. with the 51st French Division under command, will have completed taking over the Lille sector of the French frontier defences, from Maulde (north of St Armand) to Armentieres.

Soviet Russia

28. The Soviet has adopted a somewhat threatening attitude to Finland in connection with the forthcoming talks. This has led the latter to mobilise some 50,000 to 60,000 men, and to deploy forces along her more vulnerable frontiers. The scope of the Soviet demands on Finland is not yet known. But, if they are excessive, it is quite probable that the Finns will resist.

It is reported that the Soviet has a total of four divisions on or near the Finnish frontier. It is assumed that this total does not include the normal garrison of the Leningrad area, and and in any case these forces could be reinforced quickly if necessary.

Air situation

Effectiveness of German anti-aircraft fire.

39. Pilots have reported that German anti-aircraft fire is extremely accurate. Nevertheless, very few aircraft have been destroyed by this means in western Germany. On 8th September French reconnaissance aircraft was brought down at the height of 16,000 feet, and on 11th September a similar type of aircraft was destroyed by ground machine gun fire. Four other aircraft were missing during September and may have been shot down from the ground. It is more probable however that they were lost by fighter action.

It is it therefore appears that of the twenty-seven French aircraft are lost during September as a result of enemy action, and only two are known to have been destroyed by A.A. fire, although the loss of four more may have been due to the same cause.”

Germany transfers troops to the ‘West Wall’

German officers in their bunker on the western fron

Hopes by the Poles that the French and British would launch an attack on Germany from the west were to prove groundless. As soon as the Polish campaign drew to a close the Germans transferred troops from east to west, to reinforce the ‘West Wall’. This series of fortifications along the border with France was by no means as comprehensive as the French Maginot line, although the Germans had sought to exaggerate its significance in their propaganda. General Mellenthin arrived there in early October:

I soon realized what a gamble the Polish campaign had been, and the grave risks which were run by our High Command. The second-class troops holding the Wall were badly equipped and inadequately trained, and the defences were far from being the impregnable fortifications pictured by our propaganda. . . the more I looked at the defences the less I could understand the completely passive attitude of the French.

Apart from sending some local patrols into the outlying areas (very “outlying”) of Saarbrucken, the French had kept very quiet and left the West Wall alone. This negative attitude was bound to affect the fighting morale of their troops, and was calculated to do much more harm than our propaganda, effective though it was.”

Major General F W Mellenthin: Panzer Battles

Hitler addresses the Reichstag

Hitler used the occasion to make a vague appeal for peace. He already identified Churchill as the main centre of resolve against Germany, even though Churchill was at this time only First Lord of the Admiralty.

Neither force of arms nor lapse of time will conquer Germany. There never will be another November 1918 in German history. It is infantile to hope for the disintegration of our people.

Mr. Churchill may be convinced that Great Britain will win. I do not doubt for a single moment that Germany will be victorious.

Destiny will decide who is right.

One thing only is certain. In the course of world history, there have never been two victors, but very often only losers. This seems to me to have been the case in the last war.

May those peoples and their leaders who are of the same mind now make their reply. And let those who consider war to be the better solution reject my outstretched hand.

As Fuehrer of the German people and Chancellor of the Reich, I can thank God at this moment that he has so wonderfully blessed us in our hard struggle for what is our right, and beg Him that we and all other nations may find the right way, so that not only the German people but all Europe may once more be granted the blessing of peace.

The full text of Hitler’s speeches are available at humanitas-international.

A lull in U-boat operations, the Red Army in Poland

The Naval Military and Air Situation reported to the War Cabinet on the 5th October 1939:

U-boat operations

15. There has been a marked decline in U-boat activity. This is attributed to various causes : –

(a) the changeover of submarines at the end of the first month of the war;
(b) the increased efficiency of our defensive measures, which tends to make attacks, particularly on convoys, more hazardous;
(c) the weather; and
(d) U-boats making passage to the coasts of the Americas to operate there.

16. In a broadcast on 30th September the German stated that they intended in future to regard every British merchant-man as a warship. They stated that several German submarines had been attacked by British merchant ships recently, and that, therefore, although German submarines had hitherto conformed to International Law in future they must retaliate.

German troop movements.

34. A week ago 43 German divisions were reported on the Western front. There are now at least 52 divisions, in addition to which elements of several other divisions have been reported. To what extent the increase is due to the transfer of division from Poland or from central Germany is not known. The main flow of reinforcements has been towards the sector between the Moselle and Rhine. Certain increases in the number of troops on the Dutch Belgian frontiers and on the southern half of the Rhine frontier have also been reported on. There has been no big concentration of German mechanised units in the frontier regions and it is believed that the majority of the mechanised divisions are refitting in Germany. They could, however, be quickly moved to any sector where an offensive was contemplated.

The Russian advance in Poland.

39. By 28th of September the Red Army had reached the general line: Grajewo (45 miles NW of Bialystock) – Miedzyrec (40 miles west of Brest-Litovsk) – Szczebrzeszyn (40 miles S.S.E. of Lublin) – Przemysal. Since that date no official communiqués have been issued regarding the line reached by the Red Army.

The rate of advance during the period 23rd September to 28th September was between six and 10 miles per day. This was considerably slower than the initial rate and affords indirect confirmation of a report that a very serious breakdown has occurred in the petrol supply of the Army.

The equipment of the first-line divisions of the Red Army is said to be good, but that of the reserve divisions pitiable. The cavalry and infantry are described as an undisciplined rabble, but the appearance of the armoured troops is satisfactory. In northern Poland the soldiers appear to be greatly impressed with the standard of living of the people.

Royal Air Force operations.

Reconnaissances in north-west and west Germany.

68. Day and night reconnaissance flights have been made by Blenheim aircraft over north-west Germany, mainly to establish the density of traffic on roads and railways, and to examine German air dispositions. Two aircraft which sets out on 28th September to reconnoitre traffic movements in the Osnabruck – Rheine area failed to return. On the 30th September 3 Blenheims left to reconnoitre aerodromes in north-west Germany: one of the aircraft was attacked soon after reaching enemy territory and returned with gun trouble. Another is believed to have come down in the North Sea, but the third flew black with photographs of a number of German aerodromes.

Over the French-German line, units of the Advanced Air Striking Force have made a number of routine reconnaissance flights into German territory by both day and night.

On 30th September five Battle aircraft were attacked at 22,000 feet over Saarbrucken by fifteen Messerschmidt fighters, with the result that four of the Battles were shot down and the fifth crashed on returning. The air gunner in the last named aircraft reported that he had shot down two Messerschmidt fighters in flames, and French ground observers confirmed one of these successes. Of the crews, totalling twelve, in the Battles which were shot down it has been established that eight escaped by parachute, and there is some evidence that a ninth similarly escaped.

See TNA CAB 66/2/23 for the full report.

Diamantis crew saved by U-35

Panagos Pateras master of the Greek ship Diamantis gives an account of his encounter with U-35 on 3rd October:

When we were about 40 miles off Land’s End on Tuesday the U-boat came to the surface about 1.30 p.m. The commander hailed us and we stopped. He then told us that he was going to sink the Diamantis. He did not ask for our papers.

He ordered us to abandon ship, but when he saw that the sea was so rough that our small boats could not possibly live in it he took us aboard the submarine. Four of us were taken across at a time, this necessitating seven trips as there were 28 of us. We were not allowed to take our belongings. When we got aboard the submarine three or four torpedoes were fired at our vessel and she sank in about 20 minutes.

Many of us were wet to the skin and the submarine’s crew dried our clothes and gave us hot food and cigarettes. Most of the members of my crew were able to sleep a little although all the time we were wishing that we were out of the submarine. The captain of the submarine spoke English and I was able to talk to him for short periods when he was off duty.

When we had been on board for about 34 hours we came to the surface off the Irish coast at about 5:30 yesterday evening. A collapsible boat was lowered and again seven trips were made to the shore. The submarine remained about 50 yards off the shore, which appeared to be deserted. Immediately the submarine had taken the boat aboard she submerged and that was the last we saw of her.

The crew waved good-bye to us. We were taken charge of by local policemen and the local people looked after us very well.”

A pre-war picture of U-35, still with white painted numerals.

For a complete history of U-35 see u-35.com

In Warsaw the Jews are immediately targeted

Chaim A. Kaplan quickly discovered the reality of the German occupation for the Jewish citizens of Warsaw:

I was suddenly informed that the newly arrived Germans had already managed to requisition five houses on Nowolipki Street – numbers 12, 14, 16, 18, 20 – and to expel all their Jewish inhabitants. They did not permit them to take even a shoelace out of their apartments: they did not permit them to don even an overcoat. In a matter of minutes, all the Jews were expelled and all the houses cleared. The Jews went out afraid and shocked, in a state of confusion and wearing house clothes. Two or three soldiers arrogantly and noisily stormed into every apartment and shouted: ‘Jews, heraus!

They were not permitted to utter a syllable. Within minutes hundreds of families were left without a roof, without clothes, without food, without an apartment, without money – and I among them. And to add to my misery, I had left all my savings in my apartment. My last straw to cling to in an hour of need had been taken from me. Up to now, during the dangerous days, I had left my money in safe-keeping with my wife; after things quietened down a bit, we put it in a box which we locked in a chest in the closet. Now I am stripped of all my possession. I don’t even have a roof over my head.”

Chaim A. Kaplan was to keep one of the most detailed records of the holocaust as it unfolded in Warsaw. Written in extraordinary conditions he managed to chronicle the ever increasing persecution with a tone of almost detached observation, even though he was a victim as much as those around him.

Scroll of Agony: The Warsaw Diary of Chaim A. Kaplan