Operation Strauchritter

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This was a U-boat wolfpack operation off the north coast of German-occupied Norway (29 April/5 May 1942).

The wolfpack comprised U-88, U-251, U-376, U-378, U-405, U-436, U-456, U-589 and U-703, and for the loss of none of its own number sank one 6,153-ton ship of the PQ.15 convoy and damaged two ships (14,347 tons including the British light cruiser Edinburgh) of the QP.11 convoy.

It was on 26 April that the PQ.15 convoy, which had departed Oban in north-western Scotland during 10 April, reached the Hvalfjörður in south-western Iceland and thence departed with 26 laden ships, escorted between 26 April and 5 May by the armed trawlers Cape Palliser, Chiltern, Northern Pride and Vizalma, and minesweepers Bramble, Leda and Seagull. With the convoy was the naval oiler Grey Ranger escorted by the destroyer Ledbury. The convoy was joined on 28 April by its ocean escort comprising, under the command of Captain J. H. F. Crombie, the destroyers Somali, Boadicea, Matchless, Venomous and Free Norwegian St Albans, escort destroyer Badsworth, auxiliary anti-aircraft ship Ulster Queen, catapult-armed merchantman Empire Morn, and submarine Sturgeon. Rear Admiral H. M. Burrough’s close support force comprised the heavy cruiser London, light cruiser Nigeria, and two destroyers. Admiral Sir John Tovey’s British and US covering force between Iceland and Norway comprised the battleships King George V and US Washington (Rear Admiral Robert C. Giffen’s Task Force 99), fleet carrier Victorious, US heavy cruisers Tuscaloosa and Wichita, light cruiser Kenya, and destroyers Belvoir, Escapade, Faulknor, Hursley, Inglefield, Lamerton, Marne, Martin, Middleton, Oribi and US Wainwright, Mayrant, Rhind and Rowan.

On 28 April the QP.11 convoy departed Murmansk with 13 unladen ships, with a local escort until 29 April by the Soviet destroyers Kuybyshev and Sokrushitelnyi, and British minesweepers Gossamer, Harrier, Hussar and Niger. Between 28 April and 7 May the convoy had Commander M. Richmond’s ocean escort comprising the destroyers Amazon, Beagle, Beverley and Bulldog, corvettes Campanula, Oxlip, Saxifrage and Snowflake, and anti-submarine trawler Lord Middleton. Close cover was provided by Rear Admiral S. S. Bonham-Carter’s force comprising the light cruiser Edinburgh and destroyers Foresight and Forester. Patrolling off the north coast of German-occupied Norway to warn of and attack any German attempt to sortie with surface warships was a flanking force comprising the submarines P43, Truant, Unison, Free French Minerve, Free Norwegian Uredd, Free Polish Jastrzab and Soviet D-3, K-2, K-22 and K-23.

The U-boats assembled to intercept and attack the two convoys were U-88, U-251, U-405, U-436, U-456, U-589 and U-703.

On 29 April German air reconnaissance and the U-boats sighted and reported the QP.11 convoy. On 30 April U-88 missed the convoy and U-436 missed Edinburgh ahead of it, but the cruiser was later hit by two torpedoes from U-456. The German destroyers Hermann Schoemann, Z 24 and Z 25 of Kapitän Gottfried Pönitz’s 8th Zerstörer-Flottille sortied against the QP.11 convoy, but were hampered by ice and were beaten off on several occasions by four British destroyers and the corvette Snowflake. Even so, the German destroyers sank the 2,847-ton Soviet freighter Tsiolkovsky and damaged Amazon. The German destroyers also tackled the disabled Edinburgh, for whose aid there had arrived the Soviet patrol ship Rubin, the British minesweepers Harrier, Niger, Gossamer and Hussar, and a tug.

During the engagement on 1 May Hermann Schoemann was hit and badly damaged by Edinburgh, and in later engagements impeded by a snow shower and a smokescreen Z 24 and Z 25 badly damaged Forester and Foresight, and hit Edinburgh with yet another torpedo, with the result that the cruiser had to be abandoned and sunk by a torpedo from Foresight.

The destroyers Gremyashchiy and Sokrushitelnyi of the Soviet Northern Fleet were despatched to assist. Z 24 and then U-88 rescued most of Hermann Schoemann’s crew.

In attacks on the QP.11 convoy, U-589 and U-251 attacked but missed a merchant ship and a destroyer respectively. Accompanying the PQ.15 convoy, the Free Norwegian destroyer St Albans and minesweeper Seagull mistook the identity of the Free Polish submarine Jastrzab and sank it after the boat had strayed from its position in the flanking concentration.

In the covering force, meanwhile, King George V accidentally struck the destroyer Punjabi, whose exploding depth charges damaged the British battleship. Unable to evade the wreckage of the sinking destroyer, Washington was also damaged and had to be relieved by the British battleship Duke of York.

German torpedo aircraft and level bombers made attacks on the QP.11 convoy, but gained no success. On 2 May torpedo aircraft of the 1./Kampfgeschwader 26 sank two British freighters, the 5,848-ton Botavon and 3,807-ton Cape Corso, and damaged the 6,153-ton Jutland which was sunk on 3 May by Kapitänleutnant Heinrich Timm’s U-251. On 3 May the trawler Cape Palliser was attacked from the air and suffered bomb damage. From 4 May a local escort comprising the Soviet destroyers Gremyashchiy and Sokrushitelnyi, two Soviet patrol ships, and three British minesweepers joined the PQ.15 convoy, 22 of whose ships reached Murmansk on 5 May. Twelve of the QP.11 convoy’s ships reached Iceland on 7 May.