This was a U-boat wolfpack operation in the Norwegian Sea against the JW.56B, JW.57 and RA.56 convoys (27 January/28 February 1944).
The wolfpack comprised U-278, U-312, U-313, U-314, U-362, U-425, U-472, U-601, U-674, U-713, U-716, U-737, U-739, U-956, U-957, U-965, U-973 and U-990, and for the loss of Kapitänleutnant Georg-Wilhelm Basse’s U-314 sank the British destroyers Hardy and Mahratta.
After ordering the termination of the U-boat operation against the storm-delayed JW.56A convoy, Konteradmiral Eberhard Godt, the successor to Grossadmiral Karl Dönitz in day-to-day command of the U-board arm, ordered the concentration of the ‘Werwolf’ wolfpack, using the boats of the late ‘Isegrim’ wolfpack reinforced by U-313, U-472, U-973, U-956 and U-990, in the Bjørnøya Passage to operate against the next convoy. Departing Loch Ewe on 22 January, this JW.56B convoy of 16 laden ships was supported by Captain I. M. R. Campbell’s British escort force comprising the destroyers Milne, Mahratta, Musketeer, Opportune, Scourge and Canadian Huron (and later Meteor), while its close escort comprised the destroyers Westcott, Whitehall and Wrestler, sloop Cygnet, corvettes Honeysuckle, Oxlip and Rhododendron, and minesweepers Hydra, Onyx and Seagull. More distant cover was provided by the heavy cruisers Berwick and Kent, and light cruiser Bermuda.
The JW.56B convoy was spotted and reported at about 12.00 on 29 January by U-956, which was then attacked by three destroyers right through to 24.00. By the morning of 30 January U-737, U-601 (twice), U-957 (four times), U-278, U-472, U-425 (twice) and U-313 had all launched torpedoes against the escorts, but only Oberleutnant Joachim Franze’s U-278 managed to achieve a hit, in this instance on the destroyer Hardy, which had to be sunk by the destroyer Venus of the JW.56A convoy’s escort. U-737 and U-957 only just missed the destroyers Milne and Free Norwegian Stord of the JW.56A convoy’s escort. Basse’s U-314 was sunk by the destroyers Whitehall and Meteor, and none of the U-boats managed to approach the merchant ships.
Up to a time early on 31 January, U-965, U-425 (twice), U-737, U-956 and U-990 all made unsuccessful torpedo attacks on the escorts.
On 1 February a Soviet escort group (destroyers Gremyashchiy, Groznyi and Razyaronnyi, British minesweeper Gleaner and Soviet minesweepers T-111 and T-117, and submarine chasers BO-201 and BO-210) met the convoy and escorted seven of the ships to the White Sea.
The RA.56 return convoy, combining the 39 of the JW.56A and JW.56B convoys’ ships, of which two later turned back, departed Murmansk on 3 February with a Soviet local escort comprising the destroyers Gremyashchiy, Gromkiy, Groznyi and Razyaronnyi, minesweeper T-114 and four submarine chasers. The combined escort of the two JW convoys, comprising 23 destroyers and corvettes (less Hardy, Obdurate and Virago), reinforced by the destroyers Obedient, Swift and Verulam from Scapa Flow in the Orkney islands group, avoided the ‘Werwolf’ wolfpack’s remaining boats (U-278, U-312, U-313, U-425, U-713, U-957, U-973 and U-990).
The convoy was located by German air reconnaissance on 6 February, but its course was reported wrongly and the U-boats searched in the opposite direction. The RA.56 convoy had cruiser cover from Bermuda, Berwick and Kent, while the local escort force comprised the destroyer Wrestler, corvettes Borage, Honeysuckle and Wallflower, and minesweepers Cockatrice, Loyalty, Rattlesnake and Ready. The convoy entered Loch Ewe on 11 February without suffering any loss.
On 20 February the JW.57 outbound convoy departed Loch Ewe with 42 laden ships, and its the local escort to 22 February was the corvettes Burdock and Dianella, and minesweepers Hydra, Loyalty, Orestes and Rattlesnake. Between 22 and 28 February the convoy’s close escort comprised the destroyers Beagle, Boadicea, Keppel and Walker, and corvettes Bluebell, Camellia, Lotus and Rhododendron. On 22 February Vice Admiral I. G. Glennie’s ocean escort joined the convoy with the escort carrier Chaser, light anti-aircraft cruiser Black Prince, destroyers Wanderer and Watchman, and frigates Byron and Strule; Captain Campbell’s destroyer group (Milne, Mahratta, Matchless, Meteor, Obedient, Offa, Onslaught, Oribi, Savage, Serapis, Swift, Verulam and Vigilant) and Commander Tyson’s support group (based on the destroyer Keppel) then joined. Vice Admiral A. F. E. Palliser’s covering force comprised the cruisers Jamaica, Berwick, Kent and Norfolk.
The convoy was spotted and reported by a Junkers Ju 88 medium-range reconnaissance bomber on 23 February, and then a Focke-Wulf Fw 200 Condor long-range reconnaissance aeroplane maintained contact for more than 10 hours as the ‘Werwolf’ (i) wolfpack was deployed and the ‘Hartmut’ wolfpack (U-315, U-366, U-472 and U-673) was despatched.
On 24 February an Fw 200 maintained contact despite attacks by Grumman Wildcat fighters from Chaser, and called in U-425, U-601, U-713 and U-739. Of these, Oberleutnant Henri Gosejacob’s U-713 was sunk by Keppel on the same day.
By the evening of 25 February the U-boats had been driven off and a Consolidated Catalina flying boat of the RAF’s No. 210 Squadron had sunk Oberleutnant Otto Hansen’s U-601. During the evening of this day, Kapitänleutnant Hubert Nordheimer’s U-990 torpedoed and sank the destroyer Mahratta, the destroyer Impulsive being able to rescue only 16 of her 236-man crew.
Although Fw 200 and Ju 88 aircraft maintained contact on 26 and 27 February, only U-956, U-366 (four times), U-278, U-312 and U-362 were able to make attacks, all on the escorts, but all of these were unsuccessful.
On 28 February the convoy, now also escorted by the Soviet destroyers Gromkiy, Gremyashchiy, Razumnyi and Razyaronnyi, four minesweepers and four submarine chasers, reached the Kola inlet, whence seven transports and three tankers continued with the British minesweepers Gleaner and Seagull and the Soviet escorts to the White Sea.
The remaining U-307, U-315, U-472 and U-739 then constituted the basis of the ‘Boreas’ wolfpack, later supplemented by U-278, U-288, U-354, U-361, U-366, U-673, U-959 and U-973.