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U-111 sunk and crew captured

The captured crew of a U-boat are brought ashore. Naval Intelligence interviewed such men in some depth and built up a picture of the U boat service.

At 0840, 4th October, 1941, H.M. Trawler “Lady Shirley’s” masthead lookout reported an object on the horizon. At first its as thought it was the funnel of a ship in convoy but it was decided to investigate, and the Trawler followed the the precise bearing of the sighting, which soon disappeared from view. It was only at 1004 that they got an echo suggesting that a U boat was within range.

Looking through the periscope the captain of U-111, Wilhelm Kleinschmidt, believed that the HM Shirley was a large ship some 5,000 metres away. His hydrophone operator reported the ship to be 500 metres away. The latter estimate proved correct when the boat was rocked by depth charges soon afterwards.

When Naval intelligence subsequently interviewed the crew there was some confusion about the amount of damage caused by the depth charges and whether there was a need to surface. But surface she did and there was a short sharp exchange of fire:

As the U-Boat’s periscope was seen rising just clear of the water disturbed by the explosions of the depth charges, “Lady Shirley’s” wheel was put hard to port to enable her 4 in. gun to bear, and, if necessary, to enable her to ram the U-Boat. The Telegraphist was ordered to send out an enemy report.

As “U 111’s conning tower rose “Lady Shirley” opened fire with her 0.5 in. gun and Hotchkiss at a range of about 500 yards; her 4 in. gun then opened fire. “U 111” opened fire with her 20 mm. (0.79 in.) machine gun, and killed instantly “Lady Shirley’s” gunlayer, who was hit in the stomach by an explosive bullet; his position was at once taken over by Sub-Lieutenant French, R.N.R., and the 4 in. gun never faltered in its fire.

The Captain of “U 111’s” forward gun’s crew was the first man to jump down off the conning tower on to the deck, with the intention of manning his gun; he was followed by the rest of the gun’s crew.

Prisoners stated that “Lady Shirley’s” first founds fell 40 to 50 metres (about 43 to 53 yards) short, but that several direct hits were scored afterwards.

Apart from the damage caused by machine-gun bullets, prisoners knew of only two hits by shell-fire. One struck before and below the conning tower, exploded, but did not penetrate the pressure hull.

The second shell struck the base of the periscope in the conning tower and twisted the torpedo hatch cover. It was this shell which killed members of the crew in the conning tower. The Germans passed shells to the forward gun’s crew through the hole torn in the side of the conning tower. But the first round placed in the forward gun could not be rammed home and was jammed; prisoners assumed that it had been damaged while being passed up through the conning tower and out through the hole torn by the British shell.

Failure to load the forward gun was reported and the uninterrupted and effective fire kept up by “Lady Shirley” hit two men of “U 111’s” forward gun’s crew, prevented ammunition being passed out, and sent the remaining three men scurrying back; of the two casualties, one man had a leg blown off and the other was less seriously wounded.

The petty officer manning “U 111’s” machine gun on the bridge had fired fifty rounds at this juncture, and was firing the second clip of ammunition handed to him by Kleinschmidt himself, when the latter, together with Rösing and Fuchs, was killed by a direct hit on the conning tower; the above petty officer was the only man left alive on the bridge out of the eight who had been there.

He stated that Kleinschmidt, on being hit, fell forwards into the open conning tower hatch on to the platform below, where his body lay sprawled across the opening into the control room.

The crew abandoned ship after the vents were opened and U-111 sank at 1023, just 19 minutes after she had first been located by sonar.

For the full report see U boat Archive.

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