German Radio called it "Greatest Convoy Battle of all Time." 40 U-Boats carve up Convoys SC122 and HX229. 16-19 March 1943.

Convoys SC122, and HX 229 were sailed to UK close to each other in March of 1943, both with an inadequate escort. Strung out ahead in the North Atlantic were waiting three packs of U-Boats, totaling some 40 boats. In the coming slaughter, 22 Allied ships were sunk for the loss of but one U-Boat, U-384.

U-Boat pens at Lorient France

U-Boat pens at Lorient France

Slow Convoy SC122.
This convoy sailed out of New York on the 5th. of March 1943, with a local Canadian Escort, it ran into a gale, 3 ships returned to New York, and another 6 to Halifax. There were 3 declared stragglers, including Clarissa Radcliffe.

The 9th. of March found a feeder convoy consisting of 14 ships ex Halifax joining up, it included the rescue ship Zamelek, making an amazing 18th. voyage in that role. She must have led a charmed life to chug back and forth across the North Atlantic in that unenvious task of dropping back out of the bosom of a convoy to be alone, to stop, and pick up stranded sailors from a torpedoed ship. A sitting duck at that time, once or twice to sail would be bad enough, but to fulfil that role 18 times, pure guts for her Captain and all of her crew. Not withstanding the exits and joining up, this convoy now numbered 50 ships, 5 for Iceland, the remainder destined for the British Isles, all laden with cargoes desperately awaited at their final port.

British Escort B-5 joins up.
Under the command of Richard C. Boyle the British Escort Group B-5 joined the convoy on the 12th. of March, it comprised 2 destroyers, HMS Havelock, USS Upshur, an old 4 stacker, the frigate HMS Swale, 5 corvettes, 2 of whom were crewed by Belgians, and the ASW trawler Campabello. It was intended close to Iceland, that Upshur would be the escort for the 5 ships sailing there.

USS Upshur, part of Convoy SC 122c escort

USS Upshur, part of Convoy SC122 escort

Three U-Boat packs sit in wait.
These three packs of U-Boats were:

Raubgraf ( Robber Baron )
U-84 KL Horst Uphoff
U-89 KL Dietrich Lohmann
U-91* KL Heinz Walkerling
U-435* KL Siegfried Strelow
U-600* KL Bernhard Zurmuhlen
U-603* OL Hans-Joachim Bertelsmann
U-615 KL Ralph Kapitsky
U-653 KL Gerhard Feiler
U-664 OL Adoph Graef
U-758* KL Helmut Manseck

On a North/South line were the two large groups.

Sturmer ( Dare Devil )
U-134 OL Hans-Gunther Brosin
U-190 KL Max Wintermeyer
U-229 OL Robert Schetelig
U-305* KL Rudolf Bahr
U-338* KL Manfred Kinzel
U-384* OL Hans-Achin von Rosenberg-Gruszczynski
U-439 OL Helmut von Tippelskirch
U-523* KL Werner Pietzch
U-526 KL Hans Moglich
U-527* KL Herbert Uhlig
U-530 KL Kurt Lange
U-598 KL Gottfried Holtorf
U-618 KL Kurt Baberg
U-631* OL Jurgen Kruger
U-641 KL Horst Randtel
U-642 KL Herbert Brunning
U-665* OL Hans-Jurgen Haupt
U-666* OL Herbert Engel

Dranger ( Harrier )
U-86 KL Walter Schug
U-221* OL Hans Trojer
U-333* OL Werner Schwaff
U-336 KL Hans Hunger
U-373 KL Paul-Karl Loeser
U-406 KL Horst Dietrichs
U-440 KL Hans Geissler
U-441* KL Klaus Hartmann
U-590 KL Heinrich Muller-Edzards
U-608* KL Rolf Struckmeier
U-610 KL Freiherr Walter von Freyberg-Eisenberg-Allmendingen

( not assigned to patrol groups)
U-228* OL Erwin Christopherson
U-230 KL Paul Siegmann
U-616* OL Siegfried Koitschka
U-663* KL Heinrich Schmid

* U-boats that fired torpedo or used the deck gun.

Allied intelligence on the 12th. of March read a message from U-621, indicating he had sunk a straggler from Outward Bound North ( slow ) 169, the Baron Kinnard, SC122, was ordered to alter course southward to slip past the waiting Raubgraf wolf pack. This was successful, but the two other groups still lay in the path of SC122, with Sturmer with 18 boats, and south of them Dranger, with their 11 boats. Danger was in the offing!

Intelligence blackout from 10th. to 19th. of March 1943.
But because of the loss of Naval Enigma over the time frame of 10th. to 19th. of March in 1943, Allied Control was unaware of the other two wolf packs lying in wait for SC122.

Fast Convoy Halifax229 sailed from New York on the 11th. of March.
40 ships set off with a local escort group of 5 ships, 2 of this convoy, dropped off to leave 38, one of these, the US Liberty ship Hugh Williamson straggled, but pressed on alone, and was lucky to make it to Northern Ireland, sometimes it seems on one's own was safer than in convoy, but in general it was better for ships to have the safety of the group in convoy.

On the 13th. of March the close escort B-4 joined, 2 ships HMS Highlander, the leader, and the Canadian corvette Sherbrooke were left behind to dry dock.


HMS Highlander, left behind for dry docking when
SC122 sailed, but left later to enter the fray

Thus the temporary command of B-4 went to Gordon Luther in the destroyer HMS Volunteer, HMS Witherington, and the very old US 4 stacker Mansfield, the ex 4 stack, but now British HMS Beverley, and finally 2 British corvettes made up a quite woefully thin escort.

Convoy HX229A sailed out of New York on the 12th. of March.
A second segment, HX229A sailed from New York on the 12th. of March, 28 ships, 4 for Halifax, with a local escort of 5 vessels. Another 16 ships, ex Halifax joined up with 229A, including the Lady Rodney, only going as far as St Johns in Newfoundland.

The duty Escort 40, under John S. Dallison, had 6 warships, 2 new River Class 1,500 ton frigates, Moyola, and Waveney, 2 old sloops each 260 feet long, and a pair of ex American 250 feet Coast Guard Cutters, Lulworth and Landguard, again a pitifully small escort for the job in hand.

We now have 3 convoys all eastbound, with SC122 in the van but moving with leaden feet at about 7 knots, on the 15th. of March it ran slap bang into a serious gale, the two smallest ships, the 755 ton Icelandic Selfoss, and the 550 ton ASW trawler Campobello having a hard time of it. Selfoss dropped out of the convoy, but staggered into her destination alone.

Campobello had a leak into a coal stowage that could not be plugged, the escort commander sent off the corvette Godetia to collect her crew, and then sink her. One less escort.

German U-Boat control orders Raubgraf to speed southwards to intercept SC122 and HX 229. Raubgraf had been in the midst of a frustrating but none too successful encounter with the Outward Bound North 160, they were told to break away, and speed southward for the potentially fine pickings to be had by attacking SC122 and HX229.

Commanded by Heinz Walkerling, U-91 found what he thought was SC122 on the 15th. of March, but in fact he had picked up Halifax 229, it was overtaking the plodding SC122.

3 Raubgraf boats, U-84, U-664, and U-758 were ordered by their German Control to close on U-91.

U Boat Control homes in 38 boats onto the two convoys.
Whilst looking for his U-Boat tanker, Gerhard Feiler in U-653 who was on his way home, ran into an eastbound convoy, he thought he had come across SC122, but no, he too had found the fast and overtaking HX229.

Control now ordered 2 boats coming off a refueling from tanker boats, the remaining 9 from Raubgraf, 11 from Sturmer, and a further 6 from Dranger, and 11 others to speed to the west and close on Feiler. We now have 38 U-boats on their way to join U-653.

Carnage looked highly likely.

HX 229 under attack.
Over the 16th./17th. of March, 8 U-Boats fell upon HX229, but thought they were onto SC122. These are the results:

U-603 ( Hans-Joachim Bertelsmann ) sank the 5,200 ton Elin K.

Helmut Manseck in U-788, accounted for the 6,800 ton Dutch Zaanland, and damaged the US Liberty James Oglethorpe.

U-435 damaged the 7,200 ton US Liberty William Eustis.

Bernard Zurmuhlen commanding U-600, sank the British 12,000 ton whale factory ship/tanker Southern Princess and damaged two others, the 8,700 ton British Nariva, plus the 6,100 ton US Irenee Du Pont.

The battle continued, Heinz Walkerling in U-91, polished off the 6,400 ton American Harry Luckenbach, and proceeded to have a picnic, picking off the 4 damaged ships, James Ogelthorpe, Nariva, Irenee Du Pont and William Eustis.

Still the sinkings went on apace, U-384 sank the British 7,200 ton Coracero, and it finally finished when Jurgen Krugrer in his U-631 sank the Dutch freighter Terkoelei of 5,200 tons.

All in all, 10 ships totaling 72,000 tons went to the bottom of the North Atlantic. 7 different U-Boats had enjoyed success.

Lack of a rescue ship with HX229.
It was a terrible error in not ensuring that a rescue ship sailed with HX 229, it turned out that only 2 of the escorts stayed with the convoy, whist the rest were kept busy trying to pick up survivors from the 10 sunken ships from the convoy. Instead of attacking the marauding U-Boats, and forcing them to keep their heads down, they left the convoy bereft of their support, whilst playing a role intended for a rescue ship.

Now it was SC 122's turn to be attacked.
The Raubgraf U-Boats were now out of the fight, six for want of fuel, and 6 for other causes. But the Sturmer and Dranger boats were off to the west at high speed, and on the night of the 16th. /17th. of March, Manfred Kinzel in his brand new U-338 at last found SC122. He avoided the escort to fire 5 torpedoes into the heart of the convoy, he sank 2 British freighters, Kingsbury, and King Gruffydd, the Dutch 7,900 ton Alderamin, and damaged the 7,200 ton Britisher Fort Cedar Lake, a stunning result for his 5 fish.

Zamelek the Rescue Ship screened by the corvette Saxifrage, dropped back to cope with the mass of survivors.

U-Boat Control were confused, they thought the first attack was on SC122, and this one on HX229 , in fact it was the other way round.

The Escort Commander, Richard Boyle, asked for reinforcements from Iceland, plus some heavy air cover, the Treasury class Coast Guard Cutter Ingham and the US 4 stack destroyer Babbitt were despatched to help SC122, but when it was realised that HX229 was also in trouble, Babbitt was diverted to that convoy, and in addition the destroyer HMS Vimy was ordered to HX229.

The B-4 Escort Commander in Highlander, plus the Canadian corvette Sherbrooke, both delayed when their convoy had sailed, now raced eastwards to reinforce the paltry escort of HX229, it had run into hurricane force winds notably slowing it down.

Convoy under air protection

Convoy under air protection


Coastal Command puts up an umbrella over SC 122, and HX229.
At last, very long range B-24's from British Squadrons 120 in Iceland, and 86 in Northern Ireland gave air cover both in the morning and afternoon of the 17th. of March to SC122, and HX229 had the benefit of cover from very long range B-24's also from Iceland in the late evening. Numerous U-Boat sightings were made, and 5 attacked with depth charges, no kills were made but harassing a shadower helped to slow the massing of U-boats.

B-24 Very Long Range Aircraft used to cover Convoys SC122 and HZ229

B-24 Very Long Range Aircraft used
to cover Convoys SC122 and HX229

HX229 again in trouble.
Even with the additional surface escorts and the air cover, HX229 again suffered, Hans Trojer in U-221 claimed 2 victims, the British Canadian Star, 37 crew and passengers died, and the 7,200 ton Liberty Walter O. Gresham.

U-527's Herbert Uhlig gained two hits on the American Mathew Luckenbach, she was abandoned, and the crew rescued from their lifeboats by both Ingham and Upshur.

U-527 returned to finish her off, but his compatriot Walter Piezsch in U-523 arrived first, and set off one torpedo to finish the job, and Mathew Luckenbach made for the ocean floor.

March 18.
With the dawn of the 18th. of March both SC122 and HX229 were about 250/300 mile from Iceland, close enough for Coastal Command to use 4 very long range (VLR) B-24's from Squadron 120 to cover HX229, but the aircraft could not find the ships, but they did make an abortive run on one U-Boat.

But 5 aircraft, also from Squadron 120 provided cover for 10 hours over SC122, they attacked U-boats 4 times, but alas to no avail.

March 19.
The 19th. of March found Coastal Command mounting the largest air cover yet provided for a North Atlantic convoy, B-24's, B-17's and Sunderlands all played their part.

Coastal Command Sunderland aircraft, part of the air umbrella put up over Convoys, SC122 and HX229

Coastal Command Sunderland aircraft, part of the air umbrella
put up over Convoys, SC122 and HX229

The U-boats that attacked HX229, achieved 13 sinkings to total 93,502 tons, and 10 boats had all sunk ships, it was the best after the infamous Convoy PQ17 in the tonnage sunk stakes.

Only one U-boat pays the price.
Only one U-Boat was sunk, U-384, a new Type V11 was sunk by a B-17 Flying Fortress from the British Squadron 206, and flown by Leslie G. Clark, all the U-Boat crew died.

The Berlin propagandists have a field day.
In Berlin, the propagandists tended to lump SC122 and HX229 as one battle, rather than two separate fights, they claimed 38/40 U-Boats had sunk up to 32 enemy ships adding to 186,000 tons, the greatest ever success against a convoy.

But if looked at from a two separate battle event, attacked in the main, by three diverse U-Boat groups,  Raubgraf, Sturmer and Dranger, the final results were not a record. SC122 lost 9 ships, and HX229 13 vessels, all up, 146,500 tons, and 40 boats committed. This result, a little over .5 of a ship sunk per U-Boat involved, was about average , none the less, the Allies could ill afford to see these ships go under the grey North Atlantic surface.

23 ships sunk was a great result for Donitz's U-Boat arm. On the Escort front, both convoys were denied a serious escort group to protect them. I have already noted that HX229 sailed without a rescue ship, that was a disastrous decision, and Western Approaches compounded the problem by sailing the two convoys so close to each other, essentially following the same route, they were merely setting up a large luscious target for the hungry, waiting wolf packs.

Admiral Karl Donitz, head of the U-Boat arm

Admiral Karl Donitz, head of the U-Boat arm

The whole scenario was only saved from being a total disaster by the fact that surface reinforcements came in from Iceland, but more importantly, the air umbrella flown by VLR B-24's, B-17's and Sunderlands found many of the attacking U-Boats and forced them to keep their heads down, and a real plus for the aircraft, U-384 was sunk. In all, 54 sorties were flown over the two convoys, the aircraft reporting sighting 32 boats, and attacking them 21 times, a busy time for all the airmen involved.

The 10 days when the Code breakers were bereft of the U-Boat signal traffic had proved very costly, 22 ships sunk, crewmen dying, and their precious cargoes destroyed. By the 20th. of March 1943, all the U-Boat traffic was again being read.

These two convoys indicated the necessity of strong ship escorts, and of heavy air cover. But in only two more months the Allies were on top of the U-Boat menace on the Atlantic run, and in May of 1943, The Battle of the Atlantic was finally won.


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