Operation Schill (i)

(Prussian soldier of the late 18th century)

'Schill' (i) was a U-boat wolfpack operation in the Atlantic against the MKS.28, KMS.31, MKS.29A, MKS.30 and SL.139 convoys (25 October/9 November 1943).

The wolfpack comprised U-228, U-262, U-306, U-333, U-358, U-466, U-707 and the anti-aircraft boats U-211, U-441 and U-953, and for the loss of Kapitänleutnant Claus von Trotha’s U-306 and Oberleutnant Günter Gretschel’s U-707 sank one 2,968-ton ship.

This undertaking began as a one-night operation, with air reconnaissance support by Generalleutnant Ulrich Kessler’s Fliegerführer 'Atlantik' command, against the MRS.38 convoy. Supported by Commander H. V. King’s British 39th Escort Group (sloops Rochester, Hastings and Scarborough, frigate Tavy, corvettes Azalea, Balsam and Geranium, attached destroyers Whitehall and Watchman, and auxiliary anti-aircraft ship Alynbank), this convoy was reported as departing Gibraltar on 23 October, and was located and reported by a Focke-Wulf Fw 200 Condor long-range maritime reconnaissance bomber of the III/Kampfgeschwader 40 after joining the SL.138 convoy on 25 October.

Grossadmiral Karl Dönitz, commander-in-chief of the German navy but still in day-to-day command of the U-boat arm via Konteradmiral Eberhard Godt, the service’s operations chief, established the 'Schill' (i) wolfpack across the anticipated route of the convoy during the night of 29/30 October. Fw 200 aircraft reported the convoy on 27 and 28 October as 56 ships with seven escorts, but on the decisive 29 October the four Condor aircraft deployed for last-minute reconnaissance passed to the north of the convoy without spotting it. Now comprising 60 ships, the convoy was then located and reported at about 12.00 on 30 October by a Blohm und Voss Bv 222 long-range flying boat of the 1 (Fern)./Seeaufklärungsgruppe 129.

Toward morning on 31 October the convoy passed the wolfpack’s patrol line. Kapitänleutnant Heinz Franke’s U-262 sank the 2,968-ton Norwegian Hallfried in a submerged attack, but U-333 missed an escort. U-306 was located by HF/DF and then sunk by the destroyer Whitehall and corvette Geranium. Because of the convoy’s strong air escort, the Germans then called off the attack and the remaining U-boats were ordered to establish a new patrol line. On 1 November U-953 sighted and reported an MKF convoy which was moving too quickly to be reached and attacked. German air reconnaissance on 2 November did not succeed in finding and reporting the expected KMS.31 convoy.

On 3 November U-333 sighted a landing ship convoy and missed an escorting destroyer. After unsuccessful air reconnaissances on 3, 4 and 5 November, an Fw 200 sighted the MKS.29A convoy, supported by the British Escort Group B4, on 7 November, but then lost contact and the convoy was not found again on 8 November. However, during the night of 8/9 November the convoy encountered the new patrol line: U-262 transmitted the first sighting report, U-466 missed a destroyer before being depth-charged and damaged, Gretschel’s U-707 was sunk by a Boeing Fortress long-range maritime patrol bomber of the RAF’s No. 220 Squadron from the Azores islands, and U-262 and U-228 missed a destroyer and a straggler respectively.

Although Fw 200 reconnaissance aircraft reported the convoy on another two occasions, U-211, U-333 and U-358 did not approach it.