Operation Battle of Bell Island

The 'Battle of Bell Island' was fought between German and Canadian naval forces in the waters off Bell Island, just off the eastern coast of Newfoundland in eastern Canada (4 September/2 November 1942).

In 1942, two U-boats attacked targets off Bell Island on two occasions, sinking four ore boats with the loss of more than 60 men, making it one of the few places in the Dominion of Newfoundland, independent of Canada until 1949, to be raided during World War II. The Germans also tried to capture St John’s, the capital of Newfoundland. These engagements are generally considered to have been part of the larger 'Battle of the St Lawrence'. Bell Island lies in Conception Bay, Newfoundland, in waters which were part of an important Atlantic convoy route allowing the flow of supplies from the USA to its allies in Europe. Large numbers of ships brought supplies through these waters to nourish the UK’s industries, people and armed forces, but many of them were intercepted and sunk by U-boats.

During the night of 4 September 1942, U-513, commanded by Kapitänleutnant Rolf Rüggeberg, followed the iron ore carrier Evelyn B to Conception Bay and spent the following night submerged. On the morning of 5 September U-513 attacked and sank the merchant vessels Lord Strathcona of 7,335 tons and Saganaga of 5,454 tons, the latter losing 29 of her crew. Right after the attack, U-513 left the area following Evelyn B. At 03.00 on 2 November, the waters off Bell Island saw a second attack, this time executed by U-518, which was commanded by Kapitänleutnant Friedrich-Wilhelm Wissmann. This attack occurred at the southern end of Bell Island in an area known as 'The Tickle' or Wabana Anchorage. Over the course of an hour, U-513 fired a torpedo at the 3,000-ton Anna T. The torpedo missed and went under Flyingdale and then exploded toward the loading dock. Wissman fired twice more. The torpedoes went straight into the 7,803-ton Rose Castle, and the ship sank immediately with the loss of 28 of her men. The Free French ship Paris Lyon Marseille 27 was also attacked, and quickly sank with the loss of 12 men. After these attacks, U-518 escaped even though there were two patrol boats nearby. This whole attack lasted a mere 10 minutes. The governor of Newfoundland, Sir Humphrey Walwyn, was deeply angered by these sinkings and, on his return to St John’s called the chief-of-staff, Captain F. L. Houghton, to tell him that 'it was madness to let ships lie unprotected'. However, Houghton felt that it was better for the ships to be left alone in St John’s.

On 13 October 1942, the 2,222-ton railway ferry Caribou departed Sydney at 21.30, and on he morning of the following day U-69, under the command of Kapitänleutnant Ulrich Gräf, attacked and sank the vessel in the Gulf of St Lawrence, taking to the bottom with her the captain, 30 members of the crew, 57 service personnel and 48 passengers including women and children; 15 members of the crew, 61 service personnel and 25 passengers were picked up by the Canadian minesweeper Grandmere and landed at Sydney on the same day.