Operation Schill (ii)

(Prussian soldier of the late 18th century)

'Schill' (ii) was a U-boat three-part wolfpack operation ('Schill I', 'Schill II' and 'Schill III') in the Atlantic (13/21 November 1943).

The 'Schill I' wolfpack comprised U-211, U-228, U-262, U-333, U-358, U-426, U-515 and U-600, and for the loss of Korvettenkapitän Karl Hause’s U-211 destroyed the British sloop Chanticleer.

The 'Schill II' wolfpack comprised U-86, U-238, U-343, U-536, U-586, U-608, U-648, U-709 and U-969, and for the loss of Kapitänleutnant Rolf Schauenberg’s U-536 sank no ship.

The 'Schill III' wolfpack comprised U-212, U-391, U-424, U-542, U-618, U-714, U-764, U-843 and U-967, and neither lost any of its own number nor sank any ship.

On November German agents in neutral Spain reported the departure of the MKS.30 convoy from Gibraltar. On the following day this convoy joined the SL.139 convoy to create an assembly of 66 ships supported by Commander G. V. Legassick’s British 40th Escort Group (frigates Exe and Moyola, sloops Milford and Indian Kistna, corvettes Clarkia and Petunia, and armed merchant cruiser Ranpura).

On 15 November a Junkers Ju 290 long-range maritime reconnaissance bomber of Hauptmann Hermann Fischer’s Fernaufklärungsgruppe 5 spotted the convoy and radioed its precise composition, location and course. Another sighting report was made early on 16 November by a Blohm und Voss Bv 222 flying boat of the 1 (Fern)./Seeaufklärungsgruppe 129.

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, ordered the establishment of a patrol line across the convoy’s predicted course by the 'Schill I' wolfpack, and this was formed off Lisbon in time for the night of 18/19 November. Then, in light of further sighting reports by aircraft of the Fliegerführer 'Atlantik' command on 17 and 18 November, the patrol line was moved. Commander R. L. F. Durnford-Slater’s British 7th Support Group (sloops Chanticleer, Crane and Pheasant, and frigates Essington, Foley and Garlics) joined the escort during the afternoon of 18 November, with Durnford-Slater as the combined escort’s senior officer.

At this time U-333 was depth-charged several times by Exe and then rammed, but managed to escape. Oberleutnant Werner Henke’s U-515 was attacked by Chanticleer and Crane before being able to transmit a contact report, but was able to torpedo Chanticleer, which was damaged and had to be taken in tow to the Azores island group, where she was declared a total loss. During the night a Vickers Wellington medium-range anti-submarine aeroplane, equipped with radar and a Leigh Light, of the RAF’s Gibraltar-based No. 179 Squadron located and sank Hause’s AA-strengthened U-211.

During 19 November Commander J. D. Birch’s British 5th Support Group (frigates Nene and Tweed, Canadian corvettes Calgary, Snowberry, Edmundston, Camrose and Lunenburg and, a little later, British destroyers Winchelsea and Watchman from Gibraltar) joined the convoy.

Focke-Wulf Fw 200 long-range maritime reconnaissance bombers of the III/Kampfgeschwader 40 maintained contact with the convoy, and their reports allowed five boats of the 'Schill II' wolfpack, formed for the night of 19/20 November, to be vectored in an attack position. At midnight U-238 was overrun by the convoy and fired torpedoes against an escort vessel, in whose wake they exploded. Calgary and Snowberry then depth-charged the boat and then, two hours later, joined forces with Nene to force U-536 to the surface, where the boat was sunk by gunfire.

On 20 November German air reconnaissance failed as de Havilland Mosquito and Bristol Beaufighter heavy fighters shot down an Fw 200 and a Junkers Ju 290 near Cape Ortegal, and the radar of the two other German reconnaissance aircraft became unserviceable. Aircraft from airfields in south-western England assumed the task of providing the convoy with air escort, and forced the seven boats of the 'Schill III' wolfpack, earmarked for the attack during the night of 20/21 November, to dive. During this period, U-618 and U-648 shot down a Short Sunderland flying boat of the RCAF’s No. 422 Squadron and a Consolidated Liberator long-range patrol bomber of the RAF’s No. 53 Squadron.

During the night of 20/21 November the convoy passed the German patrol line, and early on 21 November Commander E. H. Chavasse’s British 4th Support Group (frigates Bentinck, Bazely, Blackwood, Byard, Berry and Drury and, a little later, the AA-strengthened armed merchant cruiser Prince Robert) joined the convoy. Essington depth-charged U-967, and Foley and Crane sank U-538.

With the wolfpack unable to get to the convoy, Generalleutnant Ulrich Kessler, the Fliegerführer 'Atlantik', ordered 25 Heinkel He 177 long-range maritime patrol bombers of the II/Kampfgeschwader 40 to attack the convoy, which had been located once more by air reconnaissance on 21 November. Twenty of the bombers reached their target, and of these three were shot down and two turned back. The He 177 warplanes launched 40 Hs 293 guided glide bombs, which sank the 4,405-ton British Marsa and damaged the 6,055-ton British Delius.