Convoy RB1

Letters and other correspondence

Father was in Convoy RB1
Published 03 January 2004; Updated 22 April 2006

From Daughter of a Merchant Seaman about USS Southland
Published 02 August 2004; Updated 23 April 2006

Grandfather was a crew member in HMS Veteran
Published 19 November 2004; Updated 22 April 2006

Father, Ronald Bernard Bellchambers, lost on HMS Veteran
Published 24 November 2004; Updated 23 April 2006

Harold Leslie Papworth, was Chief Officer on the Yorktown, and the only officer to survive, along with a few other crew members, 26/09/1942
Published 18 January 2005; Updated 12 May 2006

Tony Slevin : Convoy RB 1 and Southland
Published 15 March 2006; Updated 04 March 2007

Book about the life of HMS Veteran, 'The Proudest of Her Line'
Published 17 April 2006; Updated 21 June 2006

Captain W.P.Boylan, master of SS Yorktown, Convoy RB1
Published 14 June 2006; Updated 16 June 2006

Yorktown on which my father in law was cook at the time of her sinking
Published 16 June 2006; Updated 16 June 2006

Here is a profile of Otto von Bulow, the German U -Boat commander who sank HMS Veteran, an escort with Convoy RB1.

Hello Mac....Please find attached my prifile of my friend Otto Von Bulow, as promised, unfortunately I have left out RB1, I will send down his comments and notes after the book is out, there are obviously more that I can put in. I don't know if you can print all eight pages, but if not, please crop with sympathy......

Yours Aye......John..


Von Bülow Family Crest
Von Bülow Family Crest


On receiving his Knights Cross 20th October 1942 At home in 1992, U404 Log Book

These notes are compiled mainly through personal visits and talks at the home of Otto and Helga Von Bülow in Germany between 1992 and 2004.

In addition records from the U Boat Archives and other sources have been included for verification.

The Von Bülow family can trace their roots back to the time of the crusades, with the family story that one of their ancestors fighting in the Holy Land paid a ransom of 15 Bezants for the release of a Cornish Knight from the enemy forces. To this day part of the coat of arms of Cornwall carries these 15 bezants on its shield; as does the Von Bülow shield.

 The family owned great estates in Poland, since lost to the Russians after the war. Otto’s Father was part of the German negotiating team at the Versailles conference which followed the First World War. This conference says Otto was the end of Germany as he knew and loved it.

Otto was born on the 16th October 1911 in Wilhelmshaven.

He joined the Reichsmarine in 1930 as a ‘Seecadet’ on board a sailing ship, travelling to Africa and south East Asia.

He was promoted to ‘Ensign’ and was on board the Cruiser ‘Deutschland’ where he was acting watch officer during the cruise through the Norwegian Fjords and Coast carrying Hitler and Goebels. When the ship arrived back in Hamburg Otto was Officer in charge of the saluting party at the head of the gangway. When Hitler left the ship he shook hands with Otto, “A cold clammy rubbery woman’s hand” he recalls,” Not a man’s hand at all.”

He was promoted again in 1938, to Leutnant on board the Battleship Schleswig Holstein, cruising to Africa and the West Indies.

In 1939 he was promoted to Kapităn Leutnant and took command of a Flack battery on the coast at Pillau, where he was able to use one of his favourite horses to travel round the command. “It was a great way to keep fit, and myself in operational order; and my men loved it” he laughs. We spent many happy hours discussing our memories of horses and riding which we were delighted to have in common. His knowledge was extensive and I never saw him more relaxed than when we were ‘talking horse’

On the 1st January 1940; he underwent U Boat training and took command of the U Boat U3, a U Boat used for training officers. In July 1941 he was based in the shipyard at Danzig in Poland, standing by the construction of U404. She was commissioned on the 7th August 1941.


U404 at sea

He was awarded the Knights Cross by Hitler on the 20th October 1942 and on 25 April 1943 he travelled to Berlin again, to be awarded the Oak Leaves to his Knights Cross,again by Adolph Hitler. There were five other U Boat Officers and some Army personnel at the same investiture. One of these Army Officers told Otto “We really envy you U Boat commanders, as your awards are for your personal skills. Whereas ours, in the Army, are based not on battles won, but also by the numbers of men lost”

Curiously he says that the only time he flew the Swastika Flag was when entering or leaving harbour, if he needed to fly a flag at sea, he flew the Imperial German Ensign.

After the ceremony the U Boat officers were led into an ante room for a private audience with Hitler. Where he told them of his hopes and dreams of a new world and he went on to amaze them with his knowledge of tactics and facts about their patrols without using notes and was able to quote tonnage of ships lost through Torpedo and also by bombing. Of the position of Germany, which was suffering heavy air raids and privations due to the blockade by the Royal Navy he told them “it was only a temporary set back, new factories are being built underground, this time and a long way apart, to negate the bombing by the RAF and Americans. In these factories, machines would be prefabricated to be assembled near the ports on delivery, each factory building different parts. By these means the war at sea would swing back in Germany’s favour before the year was out”

Otto left U404 in July 1943 and he took command of the U Boat Attack training base for U Boats in Danzig in August 1943. As Hitler was convinced that the end of the war was in sight and in Germany’s favour, the Officers of the Training School, (23rd U Flotilla) were allowed to take their wives and Families with them.


Otto with his children, Renate on his Right and Henning on his left shoulder.
Photograph Taken in Danzig for the German Forces Magazine, ‘SIGNAL’ which was printed in French

On 2nd February  1945, he was ordered to leave Danzig and return to Kiel, “Bringing with you as many men and as much material and equipment as you can carry. As many men as possible are to remain to act as a rearguard to hold the Russians at bay, whilst you get away” 

This order put Otto in a very awkward and invidious position, for not only were there crews in training, but the wives and children of the Officers of the Command. The date he was told to implement these orders was the day after the German Liner ‘Wilhelm Gustlaf’ had been torpedoed with very heavy loss of life by a Russian submarine just outside Danzig. She too was laden with families trying to return to Germany ahead of the advancing Russian Army.

Otto, as usual is very modest about his escape;” we were lucky!  The weather was so bad that the Russians could not find us” Not only did he make good his escape with all the naval personnel, families, equipment including all his U Boats and some old merchant ship which they used for practice attacks, but with the afterguard of the army, which Hitler had ordered to stay behind to hold off the Russians. Otto countermanded this order and ordered them on board his transport vessels. The command reached Kiel in safety and intact with no losses. At this point Otto is very apologetic “John, I am afraid we had to leave all our possessions behind, including my Library of books and my Fathers diaries, so I cannot give you any conformation of facts about the first world war and Versailles”

In April 1945 he was appointed in Command of one of the brand new electric U Boats only recently rushed into service U2545 however before he could sail he was ordered to relinquish his command and leave the boat in order to assume command of a mixed service Assault Battalion (Marinesturmbataallion) to initially defend Berlin and latterly Hitler’s bunker from which the High Command was fighting the war. “It was NOT my soldiering skills but my leadership qualities and ability to gain the trust of my men, which led to this appointment” he laughs. He went on to explain how he had to learn to ride one of the ‘Motorcycles’ with the side car in order to make my way round Berlin. “Because of the Russian snipers I had to travel via all the back gardens, alleyways and places one should not be able to travel” Once it became obvious that the end of the war was in sight, he drew his men together and gave them permission to leave his command and return to look after their families. “Not one man left me” He says proudly with a hint of a tear in his eye. A few days before the end he was placed on the staff of Grand Admiral Doenitz and accompanied him on his way to sign the German surrender in Flensburg. He was taken prisoner on the 24th May 1945 and was a prisoner of war for three months only.

He NEVER spoke of that time except to say that “To the Victor go the spoils” only he quoted it in Latin. (In Vae Vectis)

Before he was captured he buried his ‘special things’ charts, mementoes etc, (including the rope which used to be hung between the Bridge and the bows of his U boat when entering harbour. This would be decorated with flags denoting the ‘kills’ achieved on the patrol. This particular one still had the pendant showing HMS Veteran!)  under the floor of the barn on the farm belonging to his Brother in Law, where he persuaded Helga and the Children to stay until he returned home.


DATE                         NAME OF SHIP                                                                    TONNAGE


5 MARCH  1942         COLLEMER                           CONVOY 178s                      5112

13 MARCH 1942        TOLTEN                                 xxxxxxxxxxxxx             1858

14 MARCH 1942        LEMUEL BURROWS xxxxxxxxxxxxx             7610

17 MARCH 1942        SAN DEMETRIO                  xxxxxxxxxxxxx             8073

30 MAY 1942             ALCOA SHIPPER                  xxxxxxxxxxxx               5491

1 JUNE 1942               WEST NOTUS                      xxxxxxxxxxxx               5492

3 JUNE 1942               ANNA                                     xxxxxxxxxxxx               1345

24 JUNE 1942             JUBICA  MATKOVIC           xxxxxxxxxxxx               3289

25 JUNE 1942             MANUELA NORDAL            xxxxxxxxxxxxx             4772

27 JUNE 1942             MOLDANGER                       xxxxxxxxxxxxxx                        6827

11 SEPT 1942             MARIT 2                                 CONVOY ON 27                   7417 Damaged

12 SEPT 1942             DAGHILD                               CONVOY ON 27                   9472  Two  Hits

26 SEPT 1942             HMS  VETERAN                  CONVOY RB1                       1120 BLEW UP

29 MARCH 1943        NAGARA                                CONVOY SL 126                  8791

30 MARCH 1942        EMPIRE BOWMAN               CONVOY SL126                   7031

12 APRIL 1942           LANCASTRIAN PRINCE      CONVOY  ON 176                1914

25 APRIL 1942           HMS BITER                            CONVOY ONS 4                   NOT CONFIRMED


Otto told me that many of his ‘kills’ in the early part of the war were managed because the American Admiral did NOT believe that the British could teach him anything about the convoy system and protection.

He also laughs as he tells me that he used to bring U404 close inshore off the coast of the USA and allow his crew on deck, to get some fresh air, watch the lights on shore and occasionally listen to music being wafted out to sea on the breeze.

In July 1943, command of U404 went to Otto’s second officer (1st Lieutenant) Adolph Schonberg, Oberleutnant Zur See. Whilst making her way from St Nazaire on her first patrol in company with another boat, she was attacked from the air by Liberator aircraft from Cornwall; off Cape Ortegal and sunk on the 30th June 1943.  Her last message read “Attacked by aircraft……..” the message never finished. There were no survivors.

Otto’s stories with regard to some of the sinkings.

Re the San Demitrio
Some people may remember the film ‘San Demitrio, London, which told the story based on fact of the tanker which escaped the convoy attack by the Battle cruiser ‘Admiral Hipper.’ In which the British Armed Merchant cruiser HMS Jervis Bay was lost with all hands defending the convoy. The San Demitrio was abandoned and later re boarded and sailed home, repaired and returned to convoy duty only to be sunk by Otto and U404.

“On the 16th April 1942, U404 was lying on the sea bed at a depth of 45 metres about 22 nautical miles east of Cape Charles. Screw noises were heard in the evening and the boat was raised to periscope depth, a big steamer was sighted, distance and position did not allow for a torpedo attack. The steamer was painted grey with two masts, neither of which had derricks fixed, she was armed fore and aft by big guns, and I assumed her to be an Armed Merchant Cruiser (AMC)

I surfaced now, the steamer turned away at high speed and a radio message was heard on the 600 metre wave band (The International Distress Frequency) saying “Submarine sighted, followed by the exact position” I had apparently miscalculated the progression of darkness and I needed to hold contact with the steamer by all means possible. A game of ‘hide and seek’ developed; sometimes we were dived sometimes on the surface. This went on for one and a half hours, when NEW screw noises were heard at a distance of 2000 metres zig- zagging on a general course of 75 degrees. I decided to make this my main target. U404 was now surfaced and running at high speed to both shadow and gain a forward position for the torpedo attack. We passed through a school of small fishing craft, firing our little guns at them (Machine guns, mounted in the bridge) with no effect

The tanker, which it proved to be, was now protected by the AMC on a general course of 80 degrees and an estimated speed of 8 knots.

One hour after midnight the AMC disappeared and the tanker speeded up to 12 knots and changed course to 360 degrees. U404 had run for one hour at full speed on the surface to reach the torpedo firing position. My Engineer was having much pain and voice about me using fuel, which we would need to return home 5000 miles across the Atlantic. At 0215 hours on 17 March one torpedo (ATO) was running to the target at a distance of 700 metes, its wake of air bubbles could be clearly seen against the luminescence of the sea. The hit was observed between the engine room and the oil tanks, a radio message was again heard on the 600 metre band “Attacked by submarine, San Demitrio…followed by the geographical position” She came to a stop but there was little activity on board for many long minutes, at last two lifeboats were lowered, again, without haste. In a moment, when the lifeboats had just pulled from the ship, she ‘blew up’ full length like a big torch of flame, it was most horrible to see these boats rowing to try to escape before the flames which were now 100 metres high, reached them. We could do nothing to help, it is a cruelly hot remembrance and I was shocked to learn that 19 of the 53 men on board were lost.

Re the ‘ANNA’
She was a Swedish therefore a neutral ship travelling without lights or identity and zig-zagging in American waters on the orders of the US Coast Guard.

Following her sinking there was an international enquiry from which, for obvious reasons, I was absent. All the blame was put onto myself and U404 until the American Ambassador admitted that the Coast Guard had given the orders regarding the mode of progression through their waters. I was absolved from blame.

She was attacked by our deck gun, as I had not enough fuel on left on board to overtake her and find a position from which to fire the torpedoes. She was, it turned out, loaded with Linseed Oil which kept flooding out of the ship through the shell hulls, the more holes we made, the more oil came out, the higher the ship sat in the water and would not sink. Eventually lifeboats put off from the ship . I noticed that a boat was stuck in the ‘falls’ of the ship, so I drew alongside and told the men to jump. I then picked them up and took them to the other boars, where I asked if any were injured; I gave them first aid kits, bandages, blankets, brandy and a chart. Otto smiles and says “There was no enquiry about this!”

In the late 1950’s Otto met most of the men from these boats on American Television.


After his release from the P.O.W.Camp. Otto became a manager in commerce buying not only Photocopiers but the rights to copy charts from the Allies. These he sold to shipping companies. In 1956 he was agin in Naval Uniform rebuilding the German Naval surface fleet, ironically in conjunction with the Americans. His training crews took over six ‘Fletcher’ class Destroyers from the Americans with Otto taking command of not only one of the ships but the whole squadron.

Whilst on a ‘courtesy call’ to Plymouth, the crew both American and German from the flotilla were invited to a civic reception in the Guildhall. The then Lord Mayor stood up to make a speech. Looking directly at the German crews he said “I expect you never thought that, having lost the war, you would be addressed not only by an Englishman, but a Jew” As one man, the whole of the crews stood up and left the room.  With Otto, who was at the top table being the only German Sailor left. He stood up and said “All the fighting finished with the end of the war” Like his men, he bowed to the Mayor, about turned and left the hall to be met by his cheering crews.

The next port of call was Falmouth off the coast of which Otto remembered lying close to the Wolf Rock and it’s lighthouse, waiting for targets. He says that he used to dream of the aftermath of the war when Hitler had told him “Because of your family connections, and coat of arms, “You will become ‘King of Cornwall’ with all its lands as your Fiefdom” As a Cornishman I was both relieved we had won and sorry that a man such as Hitler could be so vain.

Following his command of the training squadron he again came ashore. This time as Director of Training at the Admiralty Staff Academy in Hamburg. Where for a time He stayed with his family in the Hotel St Raphael (Which coincidentally, is the Hotel Pat and I use when we go over to Germany)

For the last five years of his naval career, Otto, now promoted to Käpitan sur see, was made Commander of the Garrison in Hamburg. This leads me to another part of my story. On my first visit to Germany, Otto said he would pick me up at the hotel. On leaving he went the wrong way down a one way street. I was trying to climb under the dashboard of the car, as vehicles swept towards us blowing their horns and waving fists. “Don’t worry. John, I was the Commander of the garrison, I always go this way!”

When he retired from his official duties in 1970, he was given a Civic Reception in Hamburg town hall. Following the meal and speeches, Otto was mingling with the guests when a local Shop Steward approached him “Do you mind if I shake your hand, Sir,” He asked. Otto took his hand and the man became tearful and overwhelmed. When Otto asked him if he was alright he replied “I am now sir, thanks to you. You ordered me and my mates to leave Danzig in front of the Russians. I want to thank you on behalf of my wife and my children who would not have been born to me, but for you”

Another family coincidence is that at the same time, my uncle, Captain John Marrack RN was Naval Attaché in Hamburg. John’s son, also John, married a German girl from Cologne (where for a time I went out with a German Girl, whom I met at a horse show) Otto and his Family were invited to John’s wedding.

One story which always makes us laugh is with regard to my telephone calls to Otto. I don’t speak a lot of German, Because of the war, Otto is very deaf. Therefore when I ring, I scream at Otto, who passes the telephone over to Helga, to whom I speak in French, She then screams in German at Otto who screams the reply back to Helga, who translates it back into French for me. I don’t phone much!

Otto and Helga have two children HENNING and RENATE. Helga says that “He only got two periods of leave from U404 and left me with a child from each of them!”

Henning is a Captain in the Mercantile Marine and also a Captain in the German Navy Reserve. He also lectures the officers of NATO, where the tactics which Otto used during the war are standard practice for the up and coming officers. He is married to Dorathea, who is a Doctor and their son is also training to be a doctor.

Renate is married to a Scientist who is working on producing artificial hearts, Stuart Wilson, and they live in America.

Helga sadly died on the 5th December 1977 and Otto sadly died 5th January 2006


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