Action of 9 February 1945

 

u-864_mapThe Action of 9 February 1945 refers to the sinking of the U-boat U-864 in the North Sea off the Norwegian coast during the Second World War by the Royal Navy submarine HMS Venturer.

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This action is the first and so far only incident of its kind in history where one submarine has intentionally sunk another submarine in combat while both were fully submerged.

U-864 was a Type IX U-boat, designed for ocean-going voyages far from home ports with limited re-supply. She was on a long-range, covert mission codenamed Operation Caesar to deliver highly sensitive technology to Germany’s wartime ally, the Empire of Japan.

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Commanded throughout her entire career by Korvettenkapitän Ralf-Reimar Wolfram,she served with the 4th U-boat Flotilla undergoing crew training from her commissioning until 31 October 1944. She was then reassigned to the 33rd U-boat Flotilla.

U-Boot-Kommandant Ralf-Reimar Wolfram

On 6 February 1945, U-864 passed through the Fedje area without being detected, but on 9 February  the HMS Venturer ,under the command of 25-year-old Jimmy Launders, heard U-864s engine noise. Launders had decided not to use ASDIC since it would betray his position and spotted the U-boat’s periscope as her captain looked for his escort.

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In an unusually long engagement for a submarine, and in a situation for which neither crew had been trained, Launders waited 45 minutes after first contact before going to action stations. Launders was waiting for U-864 to surface and thus present an easier target. Upon realising they were being followed by the British submarine and that their escort had still not arrived, U-864 zig-zagged underwater in attempted evasive manoeuvres, with each submarine occasionally risking raising her periscope.

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Venturer had only eight torpedoes as opposed to the 22 carried by U-864. After three hours Launders decided to make a prediction of U-864s zig-zag, and released a spread of his torpedoes into its predicted course. This manual computation of a firing solution against a three-dimensionally manoeuvring target was the first occasion on which techniques were used and became the basis of modern computer-based torpedo targeting systems. Prior to this attack, no target had been sunk by torpedo where the firing ship had to consider the target’s position in three-dimensional terms, where the depth of the target was variable and not a fixed value. The computation thus differs fundamentally from those performed by analogue torpedo fire-control computers which regarded the target in strictly 2D terms with a constant depth determined by the target’s draught.

The torpedoes were released in 17 second intervals beginning at 12:12, and all taking four minutes to reach their target.(picture below are not the actual torpedoes)

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Launders then dived Venturer suddenly to evade any retaliation. U-864 heard the torpedoes coming, dived deeper, and turned away to avoid them. The first three torpedoes were avoided, but U-864 unknowingly steering into the path of the fourth. Exploding, U-864 split in two, and sank with all hands coming to rest more than 150 metres (490 ft) below the surface. Launders was awarded a bar to his DSO for this action.

During her career she also sank five merchant ships

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U123-the U-Boat that could have attacked New York.

Lorient, Einlaufen von U-123

On this day 75 year ago U123 surfaced so close to New York Harbor that the rides at Coney Island could be seen silhouetted against the evening sky. Captain Reinhard Hardegen expected the U.S. east coast to be blacked out after more than a month at war and was surprised to see the glow in the sky from Manhattan’s millions of lights.

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U-123 took part in the opening of Unternehmen Paukenschlag (“Operation Drumbeat”), also called the “Second Happy Time” in January 1942. She began by sinking the cargo ship Cyclops about 125 nmi (232 km; 144 mi) southeast of Cape Sable, Nova Scotia on the 12th.

Moving down the coast, she sank Norness, Coimbra, Norvana, City of Atlanta and the Latvian Ciltvaira.

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She was also credited with sinking San Jose on 17 January, although this ship was actually lost in a collision.The Malay was only damaged because Hardegen had under-estimated her size and chose to use the deck gun rather than a torpedo.

U-123 was attacked by an aircraft off New York City, but withdrew without any damage being sustained.

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She also had a lucky escape on 19 January when Kosmos II tried to ram the boat off Oregon Inlet.

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At 12.50 hours on 19 Jan 1942, the Kosmos II . spotted U-123  from a distance of about 400 metres about 17 miles northeast off Cape Hatteras. The U-boat had troubles with one of the engines and steered a course out to the sea on the surface. The unarmed whale factory ship steered at full speed (about 17 knots) towards the U-boat and tried to ram it, while they send radio messages to notifiy the maritime authorities. The U-boat was out of torpedoes and the draught of the whale factory did not allow the U-boat to submerge. As the U-boat was only 75 metres from the ship, they managed to start the second engine and evaded the ship at full speed. The big ship followed the U-boat for over one hour, but it was making 18 knots and slowly got some distance to her. Hardegen thought about firing the machine guns at the ship to irritate the crew, but decided to fire two flares with the signal pistol at the bridge of the vessel.

 

Attack on Sydney Harbour

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Not to sound too much like the beginning line of a Sting song, but in Europe and America I don’t think much is know about Australia during WWII.

I was actually doing research on a different story when I stumbled upon the story of the attack on Sydney Harbour.

I had the pleasure to visit this beautiful city once(may I add after a 17hr delay thanks to Quantas Airlines) a few years ago, and I had not seen anything then to indicate that the Japanese navy had attacked its beautiful harbour,but then again I wasn’t looking for it either.

In May and June 1942 the war was brought home to Australians on the east coast when the Japanese attacked Sydney Harbour from the sea.

The Japanese planned to launch the midgets one after the other between 17:20 and 17:40, from points 5–7 nmi (5.8–8.1 mi; 9.3–13.0 km) outside Sydney Harbour.The first midget was to pass through the Heads just after 18:30, but heavy seas delayed her by over an hour.The other two midgets followed at twenty-minute intervals and were similarly delayed.

The choice of targets was left up to the midget commanders, with advice that they should primarily target aircraft carriers or battleships, with cruisers as secondary targets. The midgets were to operate to the east of the Harbour Bridge, although if no suitable targets were to be found in this area they were to move under the Bridge and attack a battleship and large cruiser believed to be in the inner harbour. When the second reconnaissance flyover revealed that the expected British battleship—HMS Warspite—was nowhere to be found,

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USS Chicago became the priority target.

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After completing their mission, the midgets were to depart Sydney Harbour and head south for 20 nmi (23 mi; 37 km) to the recovery point off Port Hacking. Four of the mother submarines would be waiting in an east–west line 16 km (8.6 nmi; 9.9 mi) long, with the fifth waiting 6 km (3.2 nmi; 3.7 mi) further south.

 

In the late afternoon of 31 May 1942 three Japanese submarines, I-22, I-24 and I-27, sitting about seven nautical miles (13 kilometres) out from Sydney Harbour, each launched a Type A midget submarine for an attack on shipping in Sydney Harbour.

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The night before, I-24 had launched a small floatplane that flew over the harbour, its crew spotting a prize target – an American heavy cruiser, the USS Chicago. The Japanese hoped to sink this warship and perhaps others anchored in the harbour.

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After launching the three two-man midget submarines, the three mother submarines moved to a new position off Port Hacking to await the return of the six submariners sent into the harbour. They would wait there until 3 June.

All three midget submarines made it into the harbour. Electronic detection equipment picked up the signature of the first (from I-24) late that evening but it was thought to be either a ferry or another vessel on the surface passing by. Later, a Maritime Services Board watchman spotted an object caught in an anti-submarine net. After investigation, naval patrol boats reported it was a submarine and the general alarm was raised just before 10.30 pm. Soon afterwards, the midget submarine’s crew, Lieutenant Kenshi Chuma and Petty Officer Takeshi Ohmori, realising they were trapped, blew up their craft and themselves.

Before midnight, alert sailors on the deck of USS Chicago spotted another midget submarine. They turned a searchlight on it and opened fire but it escaped. Later, gunners on the corvette HMAS Geelong also fired on a suspicious object believed to be the submarine.

The response to the attack was marred by confusion. Vision was limited and ferries continued to run as the midget submarines were hunted. At about 12.30 am there was an explosion on the naval depot ship HMAS Kuttabul, a converted harbour ferry, which was moored at Garden Island as an accommodation vessel. The crew of the midget submarine from I-24 had fired at the USS Chicago but missed, the torpedo striking the Kuttabul instead. Nineteen Australian and two British sailors on the Kuttabul died, the only Allied deaths resulting from the attack, and survivors were pulled from the sinking vessel.

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A second torpedo fired by the same midget submarine ran aground on rocks on the eastern side of Garden Island, failing to explode.

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Having fired both their torpedoes, the crew made for the harbour entrance but they disappeared, their midget submarine perhaps running out of fuel before reaching the submarines’ rendezvous point.

The third midget submarine from I-22 failed to make it far into the harbour. Spotted in Taylors Bay and attacked with depth charges by naval harbour patrol vessels, Lieutenant Keiu Matsuo and Petty Officer Masao Tsuzuku, shot themselves.

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The mother submarines departed the area after it became obvious that their midget submarines would not be returning. The submarine I-24 is believed to have been responsible for a number of attacks on merchant ships as well as shelling Sydney Harbour a week later.

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(the picture is from an I-26 submarine which was similar to the i-24)

The bodies of the four Japanese crewmen from the midget submarines launched by I-22 and I-27 were recovered when these two midget submarines were raised. They were cremated at Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs Crematorium with full naval honours. Rear Admiral Muirhead-Gould, in charge of Sydney Harbour defences, along with the Swiss Consul-General and members of the press, attended the service.

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The admiral’s decision to accord the enemy a military funeral was criticised by many Australians but he defended his decision to honour the submariners’ bravery. He also hoped that showing respect for the dead men might help to improve the conditions of the many Australians in Japanese prisoner of war camps.

After the recovery of the two midget submarines a composite was constructed using the bow section of one and the stern of the other. It was decided to use this composite midget submarine to raise money for the Royal Australian Navy Relief Fund and the King George Fund for Merchant Sailors. The composite submarine was first put on display at Bennelong Point, now the site of the Sydney Opera House, and people paid a small fee to see it. It was then transported by truck on a 4000-kilometre journey through south-eastern Australia raising further funds. Eleven months after the submarine raid, the composite submarine was installed at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.

In 1968, Lieutenant Matsuo’s mother travelled to Australia to visit the spot where her son had died. During her visit she scattered cherry blossoms in the water where her son’s midget submarine had been located and later she presented a number of gifts to the Australian War Memorial.

In November 2006, part of the mystery of the midget submarine from I-24 was solved when divers discovered the wreck of the submarine off Sydney’s northern beaches. We will probably never know if Lieutenant Ban and his navigator, Petty Officer Ashibe Mamoru intended to rejoin their ‘mother’ submarine or whether they had no intention of returning and simply scuttled their vessel.