Operation Weddigen

(World War I U-boat ace)

This was a U-boat wolfpack operation in the Atlantic against the KMS.30, OS.59, MKS.31, SL.140, KMS.34 and OS.60 convoys (22 November/7 December 1943).

The wolfpack comprised U-86, U-107, U-228, U-238, U-262, U-358, U-391, U-424, U-542, U-586, U-600, U-618, U-648, U-714, U-764, U-843 and U-969, and for the loss of Kapitänleutnant Walter Schug’s U-86, Oberleutnant Christian-Brandt Coester’s U-542, Korvettenkapitän Bernhard Zurmühlen’s U-600 and Oberleutnant Peter-Arthur Stahl’s U-648 sank no ships.

On 22 November the remaining boats of the ‘Schill’ wolfpack (U-86, U-228, U-238, U-262, U-358, U-391, U-424, U-542, U-586, U-600, U-618, U-648, U-764, U-843 and U-969) were concentrated to the west of the Iberian peninsula as the ‘Weddigen’ wolfpack in order to operate against the combined KMS.30 and OG.95 convoys, whose passages had been detected by the B-Dienst radio intercept and analysis arm of the German navy. The convoys were supported by Commander E. C. L. Day’s British Escort Group B4 (destroyers Highlander, Walker and Westcott, and corvettes Abelia, Asphodel, Clover and Pennywort). During the night of 22/23 November Commander H. J. R. Paramore’s British 4th Support Group (frigates Byard, Bazely, Bentinck, Berry, Blackwood and Drury) passed the U-boat patrol line. U-648 was sunk and U-424 and U-714 were attacked for 12 hours, and U-843 missed one of the frigates with a single torpedo.

On 23 November the air escort sent out to cover the convoy failed to locate it charge, which had passed farther to the west. The 4th Support Group meanwhile remained close to the ‘Weddigen’ wolfpack.

During the night of 24/25 November eight Vickers Wellington anti-submarine aircraft of the RAF’s No. 179 Squadron, operating from Gibraltar, attacked U-618 and U-542, and also called in the frigates, which damaged U-618. After sustaining damage, U-586 had to begin its journey back to base. Toward morning Bazely and Blackwood sank U-600.

At about 12.00 on 26 November German air reconnaissance spotted and reported the MKS.31 convoy, which was supported by Commander E. C. Bayldon’s British Escort Group B1 (destroyers Hurricane and Wanderer, frigate Glenarm, and corvettes Borage, Dahlia, Meadowsweet and Wallflower) before it joined the SL.140 convoy.

During the night of 26/27 November U-764 missed one of the 4th Support Group’s frigates with a single torpedo, and was then depth-charged and later bombed from the air.

On 27 November German air reconnaissance again found the now-combined MKS.31/SL.140 convoys of 68 ships supported by an escort strengthened by the arrival of the 4th Escort Group and Captain F. J. Walker’s 2nd Support Group (sloops Starling, Kite, Magpie and Wild Goose). The strength of the escort and the availability of Allied air cover now persuaded the Germans to move the ‘Weddigen’ wolfpack. During the evening a Blohm und Voss Bv 222 long-range flying boat of the 1 (Fern)./Seeaufklärungsgruppe 129 maintained contact with the convoy for five hours and managed to summon six boats, but the presence of a strong night air escort made the task of the boats difficult. U-391 was driven off, U-542 was sunk by Leigh Light-fitted Wellington of the RAF’s No. 179 Squadron and U-764 shot down a Boeing Fortress long-range patrol bomber of the RAF’s No. 220 Squadron RAF, but U-262 shot down another aeroplane. During the night U-107 and U-764 made unsuccessful attacks on the frigates of the 4th Escort Group.

U-262 surfaced in the middle of the convoy during the morning and fired four torpedoes, none of which struck home. U-238 only just missed the corvette Dahlia, and U-843 was driven off by the ships of the 2nd Support Group. In the morning of 29 November Captain Joseph B. Dunn’s US Task Group 21.12 (escort carrier Bogue and destroyers George E. Badger, Clemson, Dupont and Osmond Ingram) reached the wolfpack’s operating area after detachment from its support of the UGS.24 convoy. Aircraft from Bogue attacked U-764 and U-238 but, while they suffered losses, the boats were still able to dive. U-86 was sunk by an aeroplane of the VC-19 squadron from Bogue.

Still in day-to-day command of the U-boat arm via his deputy, Konteradmiral Eberhard Godt in his capacity as the service’s operations chief, as well as being commander-in-chief of the German navy, Grossadmiral Karl Dönitz now grouped the rest of the ‘Weddigen’ wolfpack (U-107, U-228, U-238, U-358, U-391, U-424, U-618 and U-843) for an attack on the combined KMS.34/OS.60 convoys. However, this major convoy grouping was not located by air reconnaissance on 30 November and 1 December, and was not found by the U-boats.

Then, following the failure of an attempt to group the boats with those of the ‘Coronel’ wolfpack on 6 December against the ONS.24 convoy, the ‘Weddigen’ wolfpack was broken up on 7 December. On the following day the ‘Weddigen’ wolfpack’s boats were directed toward the HX.268 convoy, but the convoy passed to the north of the patrol line unseen by German air reconnaissance.