This story goes back to February 1942 and tells of the T transit of DRUM (SS 228) from New London to Panama, and thence to Pearl Harbor. She was, in fact, the first new construction boat to arrive there after the declaration of war. But that’s getting ahead of the story.
Mid-winter in New England on an open, wet bridge is no fun. But sea trials, a deep dive, post shakedown operations, torpedo tube tests in Newport, and a sound test in Gardiners Bay during which we left the skipper wet up to his waist on the bridge as we inadvertently bottomed had to be completed before deployment.
But what we remember most clearly is bidding wives and a few children farewell early on a dark day.
DRUM sailed under CfF FIVE OpOrder 2SA-42 dated 12 February 1942, leaving New London at 1609 17 February, following GATO (SS 212), the other unit of TU 5.6.1, by 24 hours.
The intelligence provided in the OpOrd consisted of three short paragraphs:
(b) Extensive AXIS submarine activity is widespread along the A1LANTIC COAST OF THE UNI-TED STATES, and in the WESTERN ATLAN-TIC AREA
(c) AXIS surface craft, possibly under neutral or friendly flag, probably are acting as supply ships for AXIS submarines in the WFSTERN AT-LANTIC AREA.
(d) Commander Task Force FIVE will transmit to submarines known information of own and allied war vessels, as well as enemy vessels of any character, which may approach route described in ANNEX AFIRM.”
What additional data may have been given orally to LCDR Bob Rice, our competent skipper, will never be known. We junior officers were, no doubt, cautioned that “this was the real thing”, and that safe passage depended upon an alert OOD with his well trained watch section.
Only recently have good accounts of the German U-Boat activity off the U.S. East Coast shortly after the start of the War been published. I refer to Operation DRUMBEAT or Pauken-schlag by Dr. Michael Gannon; and U-Boat Ace by Jordan Vause, USNA 1978, as typical examples.
ANNEX AFIRM of the OpOrd routed DRUM through a point seven miles east of Montauk Point, thence south toward Mona Passage, remaining within 100 miles of assigned positions. Of significance is the order to remain submerged by daylight until Latitude 33, then on the surface at discretion day and night.
DRUM was at war only 29 hours after getting underway.
Here’s the log entry for 18 February, 1942:
“20-24 Underway as before. 2116 Sighted wakes of three torpedoes crossing port to starboard ahead of ship. 2120 Quick dive, course 182 2141 C/C to 225. 2335 Surfaced, course 225. 2345 Emergency on 4 engines.” John D. Harper, Ensign USN
This, and another laconic entry on 21 February, 1942:
“16-20 Underway as before. 1850 Sighted enemy subma-rine at estimated 4 miles. Proceeded west and southwest for three hours. No further contact.” Manning M. Kimmel, Lt USN
prompted me to see if I could uncover data which might confirm these two events.
The Naval Historic Center in Washington has, as all of us know, a wealth of diverse material on wwn land, sea, and air actions. An initial general search for information on U-Boat activity along DRUM’s track and at the point of sightings in particular, uncovered the following from the noted sources.
a) U-Bootwaffe Command (B.d.U.). Translated logs for each day of the war include U-Boat positions in the German world-wide grid, U-Boats in transit, Air Reece, Reports on the Enemy, current operations on specific U-Boats, and Success Reports. A Portion of the U-Boat dispositions for 18 February looks like this:
b) Kriegstagebuch (In German) for each month of the War. This was a high command summary of world-wide operations. The Seekriepleitun& (Naval Warfare Management) portion was provided to Grand Admiral Raeder. This was at such a high level that only significant action by an individual U-Boat was record-ed.
c) Daily Plots by Commander-in-Chief, US Fleet (COMI-NCH) in which the 1700Z location of all friendlies at sea or in port was shown along with reported U-Boat operating areas and sinkings. The positions of GATO and DRUM are shown based upon their OpOrd.
d) U-Boat War in the Atlantic 1939-45 by Fregattenkapi-tan Gunter Hessler of the German Navy contained graphics showing the operating area of every U-Boat throughout its career. This data is corroborated by the daily U-boat position data in the B.d.U. log cited above.
From these reference documents, I concluded that U-432, – 108, -107, and -564 were in or near Grid Square CA (Cape Cod to Hatteras, east to 67W) through which DRUM passed. There is no evidence, however, of a sighting or attack upon a U.S. submarine.
logical next step was to tap the best source of U-Boat activity in the War, Prof. Dr. JOrgen Rohwer, author of Axis Submarine Successes 1939-45. He holds forth at the Bibliothek FOr Zeitgeschichte (Library of Contemporary History) in Stuttgart. He kindly investigated his data for the time and place of the DRUM’s torpedo sighting, commenting that he possesses aU torpedo shooting reports of U-Boats which returned from patrol.
He concluded that U-108 was the most likely attacker, though there are discrepancies in the attempted match. On the positive side, U-108 reported firing at “a low lying vessel without a mast and with an oblique bow”. That neatly describes a Fleet Boat! However, U-108 fired only one torpedo from a stem tube, hearing an explosion eight minutes three seconds later, followed by two more detonations. The time of attack agreed within reason, but the position was some 150 miles to the north of DRUM. Casting more doubt upon this event is the fact that U-108 fired a wakeless electric torpedo!
In further correspondence, Professor Rohwer suggested that “It may be that the sighted torpedo wakes came from whales or other natural cause.” He also recommended that U.S. sources be tapped to ascertain if another ship (or submarine) was attacked closer to the reported position ofU-108. I have found no such data, however.
Professor Rohwer also addressed the submarine sighting near Mona Passage. He noted that U-Boats were deep in the Caribbean at that time, but that an Italian group, Da Vinci, was operating north of the Antilles. He suggested that his friend, Ammiraglio Renata Siccurezza, of the Ufficio Storico of the Marina Militare in Rome might shed light on the matter. And indeed, the Admiral sent a section from the Italian Navy World War II Submarine Operations History (in Italian). It describes in detail the activities of Grupo Da Vinci from 29 January 1942 to 4 April in and around the Antilles, including Mona Passage. The Admiral noted, however, that there was no evidence of a submarine sighting on 21 February, but DRUM’s sighting by SS AGWIDALE in Mona Passage close to the time DRUM was scheduled to transit the area. Did DRUM see TAZZOU, as suggested by Prof. Rohwer (or another boat from Grupo Da Vinci)? Did AGWIDALE see DRUM? In any event, disen-gagement was effective and no confrontation developed from either sighting.
DRUM moored safely at Coco Solo, CZ at 1440 25 Febru-ary, 1942, without further incidenl The passage was exciting, perhaps even perilous to the uninitiated.
DRUM proceeded directly to Pearl Harbor, although I have found no CINCPACFLT OpOrd. GATO carried out the CI’F Five OpOrd, proceeding to San Diego (to correct a material problem, if I recall).
While studying the DRUM sighting near Mona Passage, I found a cryptic note on the COMINCH plot for 23 February, 1942, cited above, which stated that McCORMICK (DD 224) was overdue enroute Boston. No related notes were found on subsequent plots. Later, I learned that reports of McCOR-MICK’s demise were greatly exaggerated. Her ship’s history states that she participated in the Neutrality patrol, escorted convoys to Iceland, and finally was sold to the breakers in 1946.
This intrigued me sufficiently, however, to investigate the only loss of a new construction boat in transit, that of DORA-DO (SS 248) in October 1943 enroute New London to Panama via the same track DRUM had taken 18 months before.
DORADO’s CfF 25 OpOrd No. 150-43 of 30 September contained four paragraphs related to Axis submarine activity, as
well as several devoted to movements of friendly forces: “Friendly aircraft patrols may be encountered at any time along the route prescribed herein.”
DORADO no doubt was far more alert to U-Boat activity in the Western Atlantic than was DRUM. It is also obvious that Allied and U.S. Anti-Submarine operations were highly effective during DORADO’s passage, while little to none existed in February, 1942.
The COMINCH plots for 12 and 13 October, 1943 show one
in the Canobean some 700 and 350 miles from Coco This was DORADO which had sailed from New London on 6 October. The plots also show the convoy GAT-92 escorted by two British PG and three US PC; and one U-Boat (U-214 according to B.d.U. records) close to DORADO on 12 October.
DORADO’s loss was never clarified beyond a doubt, although Theodore Roscoe’s Submarine Operatjons in World War TI notes (p. 248) that aircraft out of Guantanamo Bay operating in support of convoy GAT-92 dropped three depth charges on one submarine; and also was fired upon by a second which had failed to respond to recognition signals. The first could have been DORADO, the second U -214.
PS: WE WERE NOT ALONE
A Vignette from U-Boat History
by RADM Mike Ritulskopf, USN(Ret)
In researching the preceding article on the transit of DRUM (SS 228) from New London to Panama in February 1942, I chanced upon the daily War Diaries of the d.U. (U-Bootwaffe Command).
An entry on 23 February 1942, under Section VI. General. merits the light of day in 1992:
“lbe number of misses reported is again unusually high, certainly at least some are caused by failures. In the meantime the investigation of the possibilities of failures yielded the following information:
Because of a report from U-94 that at times considerable excess pressure existed in the depth gear pockets, the number of torpedoes were examined by the Inspectorate
of Torpedoes. It was established that due to faulty assembly and insufficient greasing by the automatic grease cup, 6.1 percent of the depth gear pockets bad not the required pressure-tightness and were, therefore, inclined to run too deep. Previous methods of testing bad not shown up this source of failures. Even though this smaU percentage does not explain all unaccountable misses, this office considers that a most important source of failures has been discovered. The Inspectorate of Torpedoes has therefore tightened up on the testing methods. It bas also issued instructions on filling the grease cup and the type of grease to be used. These instructions were to be passed immediately to submarines out on patrol, who were to act on them, so that those torpedoes that could no longer be overhauled by the fitting out depots, would be handled correctly. Special emphasis was laid on the need to vent the depth-gear pocket with normal pressure in the boat. This case again shows that operational personnet’s suspicions as to the cause of failures were in the main, correct. Again this proves how difficult it is despite complicated tests to discover causes of failures, as it is almost impossible to re-construct actual operational conditions at such trials. Therefore B.d.U. agrees with the Inspectorate of Torpedoes that the fullest possible tests and trials must be carried out for the sake of efficiency of operational torpedoes.
B.d.U. bas requested a more speedy development of a depth gear that is completely unaffected by excess pressure in the torpedo. In the meantime C-in-C Navy bas ordered its immediate construction.
It is hoped that failures caused by pistol failures will be still further reduced by the Pi G7h pistol which is now coming into use.”
Theodore Roscoe, in his 1946 U.S. Submarine Qperations in World War ll, describes the U.S. Navy troubles with torpedo depth and exploders, and the excruciatingly slow march to correction. He notes in passing that the Germans had similar problems (p. 251 ). Could it be that he had access to this same B.d.U. report?