Operation Action of 27 March 1942

The 'Action of 27 March 1942' was a naval engagement fought between Germany and the USA when a US Q-ship on patrol some 300 miles (485 km) off Norfolk, Virginia, encountered a U-boat and a short surface engagement followed (27 March 1942).

Commanded by Lieutenant Commander Harry L. Hicks, the Q-ship Atik was originally the merchant vessel Carolyn which was converted into a Q-ship after the USA’s December 1941 entry into World War II. Atik displaced 6,610 tons, was crewed by 141 men and carried an armament of four 4-in (101.6-mm) guns, four 0.5-in (12.7-mm) and four 0.3-in (7.62-mm) machine guns and six K-gun depth charge projectors.

It was about 17.00 on 27 March that U-123, a 'Type IXB' submarine, detected Atik. More than two hours later, at 19.37, Kapitšnleutnant Reinhard Hardegen fired a spread of G7e torpedoes from a surfaced position, and one of these weapons struck Atik's bow on port side. The Q-ship caught fire and started to list slightly. Hicks seems to have decided that the only way to lure the U-boat within range of his guns was by ordering a lifeboat to be lowered on the starboard side. The trick worked, so as U-123 was manoeuvring to starboard round Atik's stern, the Q-ship opened fire with all her weapons, including depth charges. The first shots fell short of the U-boat and the others deflected. The US machine gunners were successful, however, and the U-boat’s bridge was slightly damaged and one German midshipman was mortally wounded.

Immediately after the Americans opened fire, Hardegen ordered his 105-mm (4.13-in) deck gun into action and moved out of Atik's range before diving, but at 21.29 attacked once again to sink the Q-ship. After the Germans had fired and hit the ship with another torpedo, Atik still remained mostly afloat though with her bow slowly settling. The rest of the US crew appeared to be abandoning the ship at this point, so the Germans deemed her as no longer posing any threat and surfaced at 22.27 to watch Atik sink. Some 23 minutes later, at 22.50, Atik exploded. A gale then blew in, killing all of the 141 US sailors. The one German casualty was buried at sea 10 minutes later and then U-123 moved away.

An SOS signal had been received by three nearby US warships, namely the destroyer Noa, Q-ship Asterion and fleet tug Sagamore, but when these vessels arrived they found nothing but wreckage. US aircraft also searched for several days, finding nothing but debris and five empty lifeboats.