Re: The loss of SURCOUF: Solving an old mystery/Comment published in THE SUBMARINE REVIEW, 2012 Summer Edition, p.138 by CDR John D. Alden
Commander Alden is right to be frustrated with the lack of source material printed with my article. It was very long, so had to be divided into two installments. It would have been much longer and encrusted with footnotes had I listed the sources of every definitive statement. Suffice it to say that if I had been writing a history book I would have done so. A magazine article demands abbreviation, and the reader must rely on the integrity of the author. I made no statement nor drew any conclusions I was not prepared to defend.
In the absence of hard proof of SURCOUF’s fate, speculation is all we have. But, in my opinion, informed speculation which takes into account all available facts ranks higher than the sort which resulted in the conventional wisdom of the THOMPSON LYKES collision, which has been repeated endlessly. Ditto for the purported aircraft attack the day after THOMPSON LYKES (for which there is no evidence) and the suggestion of the U-502 torpedo attack which assumes that an ace U-boat skipper would confuse SURCOUF with a small tanker.
I think it unlikely that Captain Blaison would have attempted a trim dive in deep water, having lived through the perils of serving with Captain Ortoli. For a U.S. submarine, trim dives are an essential part of operational readiness. Not so with SURCOUF. She made no trim dive on her February ’42 trip to Bermuda from Halifax when the chances of encountering a U-boat were at least as high as when she left Bermuda. As a matter of fact, Admiral Kennedy-Purvis had sent a message to Admiral Horton suggesting that SURCOUF not return to Bermuda because of the submarine threat. And with the high speed of advance Blaison had been ordered to maintain en route to Panama there was no time for a trim dive.
The simpler hypothesis offered by CDR Alden leaves a number of facts unaccounted for. First and foremost, the debriefings of two St. Lucia PBY aircrews. LTJG E.N. Chase and his co-pilot saw “the biggest submarine he had ever seen … over 300′ long.” A Type VII U-boat was 220′ long. A Type IX was 251 ‘ long. Mr. Chase knew what he saw was unusual. Later that same day, L TJG Binning had two radar and two visual contacts on a surfaced submarine which had a noticeable oval contour to the front of the conning tower and a white cross marking. He attacked during the second encounter, and ultimately received a Navy Cross for his action.
No U.S., German, or British submarines were sunk that day. Either both aircrews were hallucinating or there was some other submarine present that day.
Secondly, the simpler hypothesis leaves unexplained the very peculiar antics of U-69 during the same time period. Having completed a successful patrol, she was heading back to St. Nazaire when she made a right angle tum, entered a tiny fishing port on the east side of Martinique, remained there for three days, then went out to one of the few spots shallow enough to anchor about 40 miles west of Martinique and stayed there for a week. Why was anchoring involved? I believe she intended to remain at a designated rendezvous point, and there is a steady one-knot westward current in that part of the Caribbean.
Of course, as CDR Alden suggests, something else could have happened to SURCOUF, but to me this seems to best comport with the evidence currently available. It will be interesting to see if any more evidence is discovered.