Operation Rochen

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This was a U-boat wolfpack operation in the Atlantic off North-West Africa (27 January/1 March 1943).

The wolfpack was formed on 22 January and was gradually strengthened, was replenished after 10 February by U-118, and was disbanded after operations against the UC.1 convoy. At peak strength the wolfpack comprised U-43, U-66, U-87, U-108, U-118, U-202, U-218, U-258, U-264, U-461, U-504, U-521 and U-558, and for the loss of none of its own number sank five ships (18,663 tons including the French fishing vessel Joseph Elise and British anti-submarine trawler Bredon), and damaged three other vessels (26,545 tons) in attacks on the UC.1 convoy.

From 22 January U-43, U-218 and U-521, later supplemented by U-43 and then U-66 and U-108, established the ‘Rochen’ wolfpack off the Canary islands group. After landing agents, Kapitänleutnant Friedrich Markworth’s U-66 sank a 113-ton fishing vessel. On 7 February Kapitänleutnant Klaus Bargsten’s U-521 sighted and reported the Gibr.2 coastal convoy of three ships supported by four anti-submarine trawlers and a number of aircraft, and sank the 750-ton anti-submarine trawler Bredon.

U-87, U-202, U-258, U-264 and U-558, of the ‘Delphin’ wolfpack, had also been ordered to the scene, but were not able to arrive before the British destroyer Haydon and the US submarine chasers PC-471 and PC-474 joined the convoy on 9 February. On the following day U-108 was damaged by a Consolidated Catalina flying boat of the RAF’s No. 202 Squadron, but was nonetheless able to continue its patrol.

The boats of the ‘Rochen’ wolfpack replenished from U-118 on 10 February, and then from 16 February searched the area to the south of the Azores islands group for convoys on the route between the eastern USA and Gibraltar with U-43, U-66, U-87, U-202, U-218, U-258, U2-64, U-504, U-521 and U-558. On 20 February U-258, U-264 and U-437 were detached to accompany the 7,892-ton ex-Norwegian tanker Herborg, which had been captured in June 1942, renamed Hohenfriedberg and was now on her way back from Japan. The tanker was located by a Consolidated Liberator long-range bomber of the USAAF some 575 miles (925 km) to the south-west of Cape Finisterre and sunk by the British heavy cruiser Sussex, which evaded a salvo of four torpedoes from U-264.

On 22 February Kapitänleutnant Herbert Schneider’s U-522 sighted and reported the UC.1 tanker convoy of 33 ships supported by Commander L. F. Durnford-Slater’s British 44th Escort Group (sloops Weston, Folkestone, Gorleston and Totland, and frigates Exe and Ness) and a US escort group (destroyers Charles F. Hughes, Madison, Lansdowne and Hilary P. Jones). U-382, U-569 and the boats of the ‘Rochen’ wolfpack were deployed against the convoy.

During the morning of 23 February Schneider’s U-522 sank the 8,882-ton British tanker Athelprincess, but was itself sunk by Totland, and during the evening Kapitänleutnant Herbert Juli’s U-382 damaged the 9,811-ton British tanker Empire Norseman with a Falke acoustic homing torpedo, a weapon which was seeing its first operational use. Kapitänleutnant Günter Poser’s U-202 torpedoed three tankers, namely the 8,482-ton British British Fortitude, the already damaged Empire Norseman and the 7,989-ton US Esso Baton Rouge, of which the last sank. Empire Norseman was finally sunk by Oberleutnant Günther Krech’s U-558, but British Fortitude was able to continue with the convoy.

Further attacks by U-569, U-558 and U-504 during the night of 23/24 February and by U-521 and U-66 during the following night all failed to achieve any success. Kapitänleutnant Harald Gelhaus’s U-107 and Markworth’s U-66 each sank a British independent sailer in the form of the 7,801-ton Roxburgh Castle and 4,312-ton St Margaret, before the wolfpack was called away.