Operation Robbenschlag

seal cull

'Robbenschlag' was a U-boat wolfpack operation in the Arctic Ocean off the north coast of German-occupied Norway against the PQ.14 and QP.10 convoys (7/14 April 1942).

The wolfpack comprised U-209, U-376, U-378, U-435, U-436, U-454, U-456 and U-589, and for the loss of none of its own number sank three ships (17,317 tons).

On 26 March the PQ.14 convoy departed western Scottish waters for Reykjavik in Iceland with the escort of the destroyers Ambuscade, Bulldog, Richmond and Free Polish Błyskawica, and anti-submarine trawler Tango. On 8 April the convoy departed Iceland with 26 laden ships, escorted from 8 to 12 April by the destroyer Wilton, anti-submarine trawlers Chiltern and Northern Wave, and minesweepers Hebe and Speedy, which soon had turn back as a result of ice damage.

Between 12 and 19 April the convoy’s ocean escort comprised the destroyers Amazon, Beagle, Beverley and Bulldog, corvettes Campanula, Oxlip, Saxifrage and Snowflake, and anti-submarine trawlers Ducton, Lord Austin and Lord Middleton. Under the command of Rear Admiral S. S. Bonham-Carter, the close escort comprised the heavy cruiser Norfolk, light cruiser Edinburgh, and destroyers Foresight and Forester, although Edinburgh and the destroyers could not join and sailed alone.

Near Jan Mayen island the convoy encountered pack ice and 16 ships and two minesweepers had to turn back with damage.

Meanwhile, on 10 April the QP.10 convoy had departed the Kola inlet with 16 unladen ships, local escort between 10 and 12 April being provided by the Soviet destroyers Gremyashchiy and Sokrushitelnyi, and the British minesweepers Gossamer, Harrier and Hussar, with ocean escort between 10 and 21 April by the light cruiser Liverpool, the destroyers Oribi, Eclipse, Fury, Marne and Punjabi, the minesweeper Speedwell, and the anti-submarine trawlers Blackfly and Paynter. Six of the PQ.14 convoy’s ships had to return with the QP.10 convoy as a result of ice damage.

Patrolling in the area between Iceland and Norway was a distant covering force of Admiral Sir John Tovey’s Home Fleet comprising the battleships Duke of York and King George V, the fleet carrier Victorious, the heavy cruiser Kent, the light cruiser Nigeria, the destroyers Bedouin, Escapade, Eskimo, Faulknor, Matchless, Offa, Onslow and Somali, and the escort destroyers Belvoir, Ledbury, Middleton and Wheatland.

On 11 April Soviet warplanes attacked the German air base at Kirkenes, but achieved little. Junkers Ju 88 medium-range bombers of Hauptmann Hajo Hermann’s III/Kampfgeschwader 30 sank the 7,164-ton British Empire Cowper of the QP.10 convoy, but a search for the convoy by the destroyers Hermann Schoemann, Z 24 and Z 25 yielded no result.

During the night of 12/13 April Kapitänleutnant Siegfried Strelow’s U-435 fired at but missed Punjabi, but then sank the 6,008-ton Panamanian El Occidente and 5,823-ton Soviet Kiev. Later in the night U-209 failed in an attack, Ju 88 bombers of the III/KG 30 sank the 5,486-ton British freighter Harpalion.

German air reconnaissance then located the PQ.14 convoy, but sporadic air attacks between 15 and 17 April were unsuccessful, and the escort of the QP.10 convoy, led by Commander J. E. H. McBeath in Oribi, defeated attacks by U-376, U-377 and U-456. U-376 only just missed Edinburgh on 17 April to the east of Bjørnøya. Kapitänleutnant Heinz Ehlert Clausen’s U-403 sank the 6,985-ton British Empire Howard of the PQ.14 convoy.

Further efforts by Kapitän Gottfried Pönitz’s 8th Zerstörer-Flottille to find the two convoys failed in the prevailing bad weather. From 17 April the PQ.14 convoy’s local escort toward the end of its passage was provided by the Soviet destroyers Gremyashchiy and Sokrushitelnyi, and the British minesweepers Gossamer, Harrier, Hussar and Niger. Eight of the PQ.14 convoy’s ships reached Murmansk.