SUBJECT:                Report of Proceedings - Second Support Group -
                                                 23rd July - 6th August, 1943.  
From. Captain (D), Second Support Group.
Date. 8th August, 1943.                                                                  No. 0190.
To. Commander-in-Chief, Plymouth.
          Copies to: Commander-in-Chief, Western Approaches.
    Director of Anti-Submarine Warfare.
    Captain (D), Liverpool.
        The following report of proceedings is submitted to cover the general movements of the Second Support Group when acting as Anti-Submarine Striking Force under your orders between 23rd July and 6th August, 1943, and in particular the incidents which led to the sinking of four U-boats, six Spanish trawlers, the shooting down of one Sunderland aircraft, the rescue from the sea of 6 R.A.F. personnel, the taking and repatriation of 100 Spaniards and the capture of three U-boat Captains together with 95 other German prisoners.
All times G.M.T.
        2.        H.M.S. "KITE" which was to be Captain (D)'s ship for the next fortnight, slipped from No. 2 Jetty, South Yard, Plymouth at 1330 and proceeded out of harbour alone at 1330, passing the Boom at 1404 to carry out D.G. ranging.  D.G. trials were completed by 1515 and H.M.Ship passed the Boom inwards at 1520 to drop the D.G.R. Officer passing out through the Gate again at 1604.  "WREN" had been delayed for fitting Radar Beacon Type 251M and only "WILDGOOSE" and "WOODCOCK" were in company when the practice shoot which had been arranged was cancelled owing to the weather conditions.
        3.        Eddystone was abeam at 1712, course 185 deg. speed 12 knots, and at 1750 the three ships turned westwards on course 256 deg.  "WOODPECKER" joining from Falmouth
                                                                                                                      /was in . . . . . . . .


was in company at 2005;  "WREN" joined at 2259, and the Group now complete continued to the Westward, passing through position (K.A.) at 0100 24th July.
        4.        During the forenoon the Group Radar Officer was transferred from "KITE" to "WOODCOCK", and after the Group had passed through position (K.B.) H.M.Ships proceeded South towards operational area Musketry South, course 183 deg. speed 14 knots.  At 1640 course was altered to 210 deg. to chase an H/F bearing taken in "WILDGOOSE" but nothing was found by 1745 when the original course of 183 deg. was resumed.  The Group Radar Officer was returned to "KITE" at 1835 and course 183 deg. was maintained until 2007 when on receipt of C-in-C, Plymouth's 242039B (Signal One, attached) course was altered to 161 deg.
        5.        A further alteration of course was made on receipt of C-in-C, Plymouth's 242351B (Signal Two, attached) in order to pass through the amended position.  On reaching the area no survivors were sighted but wreckage consisting mainly of small pieces of white wood was observed at 0631/25 in addition to oil streaks on the sea.  After Completing a search the Group steamed on towards the North East corner of Musketry South which was reached at 1230 25th July, at which time I altered course to 240 deg. to sweep through my patrol area at 12 knots.
        6.        Nothing of interest occurred until 1830 on this day when "WREN" reported sighting a Spanish trawler, later identified as Europa 5 (No.Po 5793 L/3Vigo).  This vessel was operating in the prohibited area laid down in P.C.W.O.100 (1)(d) and in view of the impracticability of bringing such a prize into harbour I ordered "WREN" to take off the crew and sink her.  A scuttling charge was accordingly placed on board and the Europa 5 sank at 2002 in position 44 deg. 40 mins. North 10 deg. 51 mins. West, two minutes after the charge was detonated.  Her crew of 17 remained on board "WREN" until 28th July.
                                                                                                                   /7.        The . . . . . . . .


        7.        The group then proceeded on course 240 deg. speed 11 knots, until 2200 when course was altered to 060 deg. and again at 0530/26 to 240 deg. sweeping in line abreast ships disposed 2 miles apart.  Catalina, L for Love, joined at approximately 0750, 26th July and I instructed him to patrol around "KITE" at a distance of 30 miles.  All being quiet, my A/S Officer was transferred at 1000 to "WREN" to deal with defects in her A/S set and beyond this minor incident nothing of interest took place during the day.  Course was altered at 1630 to 180 deg., speed 12 knots, ships disposed on line of bearing 330/150 deg., 2 miles apart and at 1815 the A/S Officer was transferred back to "KITE".  An hour later course was altered to 060 deg.
        8.        At 0600 on the 27th July in position 44 deg. 53 mins. North, 09 deg. 25 mins. West course was altered to 180 deg. just after Catalina, K for Kitty, joined my party.  I instructed him to patrol around me at a distance of 50 miles and at 0800 I brought the Group around to 240 deg. in order to sweep down to the South West corner of area Musketry South.  "WREN" reported at 0930 that his Type 251M which had been recently fitted was working well with the aircraft in Company.
        9.        Patrol continued with courses and speeds as requisite during the early hours of July 28th.  No aircraft were co-operating, the only ones sighted being 3 enemy aircraft who kept a respectful distance and made no attack.  The main incident of this day began just as the Ship's Company were going to dinner, when 3 Spanish Trawlers were sighted in the prohibited area.  I instructed "WILDGOOSE" and "WOODPECKER" to take off their crews and sink them, but just as this signal was being passed, another trawler was sighted and from 1200 onwards the sea seemed to fill steadily with fishing craft.  The following were sunk after their crews had been taken off:
                El Viro by "KITE"
                                                                                                              Montenegro by . . . . . . . .


                Montenegro by "WILDGOOSE".
                Buena Esperanza)
                                          )  by "WOODPECKER".
                San Antonio       )
                Campanal by "WOODCOCK".
all this slaughter taking place in mean position 44 deg. 35 mins. North 08 deg. 26 mins. West.
        10.        Whilst  the removal of crews and destruction of their ships was going on, I decided to keep one trawler in reserve for use as an evacuee ship and accordingly all the trawlermen including those who had enjoyed the hospitality of "WREN" since the 25th July, were transferred to the Spanish Trawler M. de Valterrs.  During the operation, this bedraggled little vessel, her deck packed with excited Spaniards, bore some faint resemblance to the old pleasure steamers brought out for the day to cope with the rush of Bank Holiday trippers eager to explore the narrow waters at home.  But she lacked the fleeting air of dignity which befits an old vessel brought out to meet a situation, and as she lay between "WOODPECKER" and "KITE", she cut a pitiful figure of poverty, neglect and squalor, in sharp contrast to the businesslike air of H.M.Ships and the blue-gold glory of a shimmering afternoon in the Bay of Biscay.
        11.        There could so easily have been an atmosphere of tragedy over this unusual scene but the Spaniards themselves raised the atmosphere to the serio-comic.  They seemed to be enjoying themselves hugely although I am not sure that already a certain class distinction was not apparent among the refugees.  Those of them who had been the guests of the Admiralty for three days, had been well fed, bathed and deloused while they were in "WREN", and no doubt their freshly shaved appearances and air of well-being had impressed upon their comrades the advantages of being part, even for such a short time, of the Royal Navy.  Several
                                                                                                                 /had applied . . . . . . . .


had applied vociferously to the Captains of the sloops which had sunk them, to be allowed to join the Royal Navy and shrilly expressed their disappointment when their applications were turned down.  Their allegiance to the present Spanish Regime can also be judged by the remarks of the trawler Captains who, when a suggestion of regret was made to him at the necessity of sinking his ship, replied in the Spanish vernacular, "I should worry, my trawler belonged to Franco".  Not one showed resentment at losing his ship but it was clear from conversation that things are not well with them at home.
        12.        However, carnival gives place to duty, and the M. de Valterra was metaphorically slapped on the flank and told to go home, which she did, to continuous cries of "Viva Angleterra", just as one after the other 3 more Spanish Trawlers hove into sight.  It would, I am sure, be an exaggeration to say that these newcomers had heard the buzz, and were anxious to join the party, which would, had the possibility of repatrianation not occurred, have been bound for England.  However it proved impossible to add these fresh arrivals to the existing gallant band of brothers as at this time C-in-C Plymouth's signal timed 281541B (Signal Three, attached) was received followed by an aircraft sighting report of a U-boat and accordingly the Group set off at 1607 on course 327 deg. speed 17 knots.  This course was maintained until 1900 when I turned the Group to 240 deg. to a sweep through the position where the U-boat had been attacked.  No contact or sighting was obtained, and H.M.Ships therefore proceeded to the position given in C-in-C, Plymouth's above quoted signal and proceeded to patrol 090 deg. - 270 deg.
        13.        At 1100 on the 29th July C-in-C, Plymouth's 291217B (Signal Four, attached) was received and course was altered to proceed to position B in area Musketry North
                                                                                                                   /on course . . . . . . . .

Page 6 of this report is missing

also claimed by "WILDGOOSE" and "WOODCOCK"), and almost at once a message, "U-boat no more" was received from the aircraft circling the position, followed 1-1/2 minutes later by a second Signal from the same observer consisting of the single word "Congratulations".  Thus perished U 462 which was afterwards learned to have hastened its own end by scuttling when the crew could take it no longer.  Its fellow U. 461 had already been sunk by aircraft attack and this left the operational U-boat only, to be destroyed.
        17.        By 1030 H.M.Ships were up at the position where the enemy had sunk for the last time, and survivors packed tight in rubber dinghies were passed close to on the port side.  Other wreckage and survivors were seen a mile or so further away and I later detached  "WOODPECKER" to pick up the more distant party, leaving nearer party in the water and also in blissful ignorance of the harrowing moments through which they were about to live.
        18.        After passing the position I had ordered "WOODPECKER", "WILDGOOSE", and "WOODCOCK" to form a square patrol, at the same time instructing"WREN" to join me, and at 1034, having obtained a contact a few minutes earlier, "KITE" fired a 10 charge pattern set to 300 and 150 feet.  This attack was followed by an attack from "WREN" who fired a pattern at 1040 when she was in a position 7 cables distant from "KITE" on my port quarter.  When orders to fire "KITE's" pattern were given, no one could foretell what effect it would have on the members of the Aryan bathing party who were but a short distance astern, with the whites of their eyes still clearly visible.  It was a fateful moment although there was no question of a sword hanging over their heads; rather was their fate to be decided much lower down.  However all went well with then and after the depth charges had erupted, the Boches were still seen to be rocking gently on the bosom of the ocean, although doubtless, for the time being, concentrating heavily on the immediate
                                                                                                                   /future and . . . . . . . .


future and taking no thought of the morrow.
        19.        From this time onwards contact was lost and regained intermittently until 1132 when "KITE" was once again in firm contact, firing her second 10 charge pattern set to 350 and 550 feet at 1049.  I looked on these first three attacks as preliminary sparring.  They showed me:
a) That the U-boat had gone deep.
b) That it had taken swift avoiding action from the three normal asdic attacks, and was therefore no milch-cow.
c) That it was now necessary to get down to the job seriously.
Accordingly I decided to apply the "creeping attack", and instructed "WOODPACKER" to come up on my port quarter, to proceed ahead, (not operating Asdics) and fire a 22 charge pattern set to 500 and 750 feet, directed by "KITE".  This was fired at 1258 after which a quantity of oil was seen to come to the surface.  These tactics were followed in the next attack in which "WILDGOOSE" was used as firing ship, carrying out her attack at 1342 having been directed onto the target and receiving her firing instructions from "KITE".
        20.        After this attack contact faded among all the echoes from the depth charge explosions, and at 1400 "KITE" proceeded to investigate the area of the attacks.  Whalers were sent away from "KITE", "WILDGOOSE" and "WOODPECKER" to make a collection among the considerable quantity of wreckage brought to the surface.  Trophies collected included the usual split wood, and clothing together with a part of a human lung and some bacon.  The bacon had been well cured but the human remnant was very new.
        21.        I finished investigating the area at 1500 and the group proceeded back towards the dinghies which had been passed, and nearly depth charged, four and a half hours
                                                                                                                        /earlier.  . . . . . . . .


earlier.  These were alongside at 1545 and with the remainder of the group screening, "KITE" spent the next three quarters of an hour collecting up the survivors of U.462.  This collection complete H.M.Ships proceeded on course 258 deg. to pass through the position of the last series of attacks and on reaching the area the sea was found to be covered with oil to a great extent.  This would mark, for a short while, the grave of the last of the three U-boats, which trio had shaped a course across the Bay that led them only to disaster.  They would not return to disport themselves in the harbour that belongs to France.
        22.        Pleasantly satisfied with these events, the Second Support Group moved off on course 076 to search for a dinghy which had been reported by aircraft.  Shortly before 2000 a small dinghy with a yellow sail was sighted and I instructed "WOODCOCK" to pick up its occupants.  These were found to be the crew of a Focker-Wolfe 200 who stated that they had been shot down by a Beaufighter on Thursday the 29th July.  It is of interest to record that medical examination of one of the wounded survivors suggested that his wound had been inflicted not later than the 27th July.
        23.        The Group now proceeded on course 090 but on receiving C-in-C, Plymouth's Signal timed 302227B, (Signal Five, attached) I altered course to 285 deg., speed 17 knots, in order to reach position 254 deg. (B) 52 miles, by 0430 31st July.  On reaching this position the group patrolled in the area until 1320/31 when I decided to steer a course of 096 deg. in order to run down what I took to be the line of approach from Bordeaux as I considered that this was likely to be my most suitable hunting ground.  In the meantime "WILDGOOSE", who had been detached in accordance with Para. 2 of the above quoted Signal, had rejoined after a fruitless search.
                                                                                                          /24.        Another . . . . . . . .


        24.        Another eventful day began just before 0900 on the 1st August, when a signal was intercepted from aircraft 00502 reporting himself over a U-boat in a position 045 deg. 50 mins. North  009 deg. 40 mins. West.  My latest movements had brought me close to this position and by 0900/1 the Second Support Group was away on course 345 deg. speed 15 knots which was increased to 16 knots by 1000.  At 1012 I altered course to 350 deg. and by 1022 the Group was crashing along at 17 knots on that course, through a rough sea and heavy short swell.
        25.        During the time from 0900 Onwards, nothing had been received from the aircraft although he had been instructed by Base to home my striking force to the position of sighting and at 0936 he informed Base that he was returning owing to fuel shortage.  It would have been better if this aircraft had dropped a marker on the position of her sighting, and had transmitted a homing signal before leaving the area.  However, no contact was obtained but I continued on this course until 1246 when a second Catalina O for Oboe reported a submarine 132 deg. (B) 34 miles whereupon course was altered to 180 degrees, speed 17 knots.
        26.        Speed was increased to 18 knots at 1330 and the aircraft ahead of the Group was making every possible effort to ensure that I should find my way to the correct position.  An hour later a smoke float, now burning very low, was alongside and a short distance away another, much more vigorous, which had been newly dropped at my request, by my attentive and efficient guide.  After passing both smoke floats, course was altered to 270 deg. at Asdic sweeping speed, on the assumption that the enemy had been outward bound, and at 1440 a Sunderland aircraft was observed dropping depth charges on a bearing of 306 deg.  To my deep regret the Sunderland was seen to crash into the sea very shortly after the depth charges exploded and it was subsequently learned that both pilots had been killed by gunfire from the U-boat on which
                                                                                                                            /they . . . . . . . .


they had pressed home their attack.  The death of the aircraft Captain and the release of his depth charges must have been practically coincident.
        27.        Course had been altered towards, when the depth charge explosions were seen, and at 1516 survivors were sighted in the water.  Their presence made it clear that the Second Support Group, after its rush to the scene, had arrived a few minutes too late to be in at the kill but it was some comfort at least to be in at the death, although, unfortunately H.M.Ships had not been able to hasten it in any way.  The morale of the German survivors did not appear to be very high so although they had only been in the sea for a few minutes there was a tremendous amount of howling and a cooling among them and two members of the "master race" cried out continuously for twenty minutes before their turn came to be hauled aboard.  They were uninjured but in an advanced state of panic.
        28.        It was learned that the U-boat had been U.454 and by 1530 its Captain and thirteen other prisoners were on board "KITE", after which the Group resumed patrol on course 270 deg. at 12 knots.  Course was altered at 2130 in order to search for a U-boat reported by aircraft in position 46 deg. 49 mins. North 11 deg. 26 mins West, but nothing was seen or contacted and at 0150 2nd August, course was altered to 101 deg.  This course was maintained until at 1045 the Group set off on a new course 275 deg., speed 15 knots, in accordance with C-in-C, Plymouth's Signal timed 021045B, (Signal Six, attached) but no good fortune attended this search.
        29.        The main incident of this day began with reports that the Narvik Class Destroyers from the French ports were out in the area and hopes ran high that the Second Support Group would be able to make a new and bigger kill.  Signal
                                                                                                                  /after Signal . . . . . . . .


after Signal was received from aircraft reporting the enemy in a variety of positions but the most probable position was the one reported by BIDEFORD, herself away to the Westwards, and I accordingly steered towards the position she had given.
        30.        At 1815 the masts of three ships, later increased to four, were sighted bearing 251 deg. steering approximately 090 deg.  It is much regretted that enemy reports of these ships were made at this time although the vessels concerned were afterwards discovered to be the 40th Escort Group.  This error was due to the fact that all information derived from several signals from E.G.40 placed his Group out of sight to the northwards and also the non-receipt on the bridge of "GREENVILLE'S" last signal which stated that the ships he had already twice reported as enemy were now identified as friendly.  Night dispositions were made to trap the enemy as he moved East during the dark hours but in the early hours of the morning E.G.40 reported that Radar contacts showed that the enemy had slipped through the line in his vicinity and were moving East at high speed.  A fruitless patrol was subsequently carried out as far as the meridian of 08 deg. 20 mins. West.
        31.        Nothing of further interest occurred and the Second Support Group ceased patrol in the Musketry Area just before noon on the 4th August and proceeded towards Plymouth, suffering some disadvantage, and certain minor losses such as Floatnets, owing to the constant attention of a Westerly gale, throughout the homeward run.  H.M.S. "KITE" with H.M.Ships "WILDGOOSE, "WOODPECKER, "WREN" and WOODCOCK" in company passed the Gate at 0646 6th August, passed up harbor, and tied up alongside No. 2 Jetty, South Yard at 0730.  All prisoners were turned over to the Military Authorities
                                                                                                                 /and R.A.F.  . . . . . . . .


and R.A.F. personnel were discharged from "WREN" to 19 Group Coastal Command Headquarters.
        32.        Reports (on Forms S.1203) of attacks on U-boats by H.M.Ships "KITE", "WILDGOOSE", "WOODPECKER" and "WREN" are attached.  It will be noted that certain discrepancies in geographical positions exist in the individual reports but this is not considered surprising in the circumstances, and the fact that the positions are estimated from D.R.  The time of opening fire as stated by Commanding officer, "WILDGOOSE" on form S.1203 is incorrect and is due to an error in the watch in use on the Bridge.  All track charts have been forwarded to the Director of Anti-Submarine Warfare with his copy of this report.  Recorder traces are valueless owing to fading and have not therefore been forwarded.  Copies of HF/DF reports are attached as Appendix One, the originals having been forwarded to the Director of Naval Intelligence in accordance with C.A.F.O 1179/43.  Intelligence reports and lists of prisoners have already been forwarded to C-in-C, Plymouth under cover of my letter No. 0190 of 7th August, 1943.
        33.        REMARKS.
                With reference to paragraphs 9 to 12 above, it is suggested that the wording of C-in-C, Plymouth's signal timed 241751B May and W.A.G.O. 90 should be modified.  The Spanish fishermen collected by the Group appeared harmless, ignorant, cheerful and pro-British:  it is unlikely that the order to "attack at sight" would ever be carried out by a British Naval Officer, who was aware of this.
        34.        The destruction of the third U-boat on 30th July was effected by two "creeping attacks" in exactly the same way as was the second U-boat on 24th June (under my letter No. 0190 of 30th June, 1943).  It is suggested that this method of dealing with a deep U-boat
                                                                                                                    /should be . . . . . . . .


should be widely promulgated.  My Group orders on the subject are attached as Appendix Two.



Click the icons to view the associated records

Return to the U-504 page