Operation Neuland (ii)

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This was a U-boat wolfpack operation in the Atlantic against the HX.228 convoy (4/13 March 1943).

Eight of the U-boats departed to form the ‘Ostmark’ wolfpack on 8 March, but were replaced by eight other boats. At one time or another, the 'Neuland' (ii) wolfpack thus came to comprise U-86, U-190, U-221, U-229, U-336, U-373, U-406, U-439, U-440, U-441, U-444, U-447, U-448, U-530, U-590, U-608, U-633, U-641, U-642, U-659, U-665 and U-757, and for the loss of Oberleutnant Albert Langfeld’s U-444 and Kapitänleutnant Heinz-Otto Schulze’s U-432 sank 11 ships (48,546 tons) and damaged another three ships in attacks on the SC.121 and HX.228 convoys.

The latter was a British convoy whose passage across the Atlantic led to a major battle with the ‘Neuland’ (ii) wolfpack between 10 and 12 March. Involved in one of the four convoy battles that occurred during the crisis month of March 1943, the HX.228 convoy of 60 laden ships, plus local contingents, departed New York on 28 February 1943 bound for Liverpool and carrying war matériel. Support was provided by Commander A. A. Tait’s British Escort Group B3 (destroyers Harvester, Escapade, and Free Polish Burza and Garland, and corvettes Narcissus and Free French Aconit, Renoncule and Roselys) from St John’s, Newfoundland. The Escort Group B3 was supported by the US escort carrier Bogue and two destroyers which departed Argentia on 5 March.

Mustered in lines against them were the ‘Wildfang’, ‘Burggraf’ and ‘Neuland’ (ii) wolfpacks, although in the event only a reconfigured ‘Neuland’ (ii) wolfpack, comprising 13 boats, actually engaged the HX.228 convoy.

At a time early in March the U-boat patrol lines made contact with the SC.121 convoy, which was several days ahead of HX.228, and engaged it. As a result the Admiralty diverted HX.228 away to the north-east in an effort to direct the convoy round the area of the SC.121 battle, but inadvertently directed it straight into the patrol area of the ‘Neuland’ (ii) wolfpack. On 10 March the first contact was made and reported by Kapitänleutnant Hans Hunger’s U-336, in heavy weather, and during the rest of the day eight other U-boats were directed to join U-336. At this point the deteriorating weather forced Bogue and her group to detach as it was impossible to fly off aircraft in the storm. The escort carrier sailed for Argentia and took no part in the action.

It was during the night of 10/11 March, during a snow storm, the first attacks took place. Kapitänleutnant Hans-Hartwig Trojer’s U-221 attacked three ships, sinking two ammunition ships (5,412-ton British Tucurinca and 6,565-ton US Andrea F. Luckenbach) and damaging a third, the 7,197-ton Lawton B. Edwards. U-221 was vigorously counterattacked, and withdrew to repair damage. Langfeld’s U-444 and Korvettenkapitän Friedrich Deetz’s U-757 both fired on the 7,197-ton US William C. Gorgas, which was hit, dropped back and later sank. U-757 also fired at the 5,001-ton Brant County, another ammunition carrier, which caught fire and exploded: U-757 was damaged as a result, and forced to return to base. The U-boat was later attacked in Bay of Biscay by aircraft of the RAF, in company of two other U-boats, but all survived.

Kapitänleutnant Walter Schug’s U-86 and Kapitänleutnant Horst Dieterich’s U-406 both claimed hits, and the 5,464-ton Jamaica Producer was damaged during this stage. During the morning of 11 March Harvester sighted U-444 on the surface and ran in to attack: the destroyer opened with gunfire and then rammed the U-boat, suffering damage to her propellers in the process. Originally thought to have been sunk, the U-boat was found later on the surface and finished by Aconit. While in the area Harvester found and picked up survivors (50 of William C. Gorgas and one of U-444), but while attempting to rejoin the convoy her engines failed and she summoned Aconit for assistance. While lying helpless, Harvester was sighted and torpedoed by Schulze’s U-432, sinking with the loss of 144 men, including Tait. Arriving on the scene, Aconit gained sonar contact on U-432, which was lying motionless at periscope depth, her commander and crew celebrating their victory. Aconit attacked with depth charges, blowing the U-boat to the surface and sinking it later with gunfire. Aconit picked up a number of survivors: 20 from U-432, 39 from Harvester, 12 from William C. Gorgas and one from U-444, to join three men rescued previously.

Despite further action that day and during the night of 11/12 March, there were no further losses on either side, and on 12 March Vizeadmiral Karl Dönitz, commanding the U-boat arm, called off the attack. The surviving ships of the HX.228 convoy reached Liverpool on 15 March.