Operation Trägertod

carrier death

'Trägertod' was a U-boat wolfpack operation in the Arctic against the PQ.18 and QP.14 convoys (12/22 September 1942).

The wolfpack comprised U-88, U-377, U-378, U-403, U-405, U-408, U-457, U-589, U-592 and U-703, and for the loss of Kapitänleutnant Heino Bohmann’s U-88, Fregattenkapitän Karl Brandenburg’s U-457 and Korvettenkapitän Hans-Joachim Horrer’s U-589 sank four ships (21,559 tons) including the British destroyer Somali.

On 2 September the PQ.18 convoy of 42 laden ships, of which three were bound only for Iceland, departed Loch Ewe on the west coast of Scotland; one of the ships soon had to turn back. The ships were escorted by the destroyers Campbell and Malcolm, escort destroyers Farndale and Free Norwegian Eskdale, and anti-submarine trawlers Arab, Duncton, Hugh Walpole, King Sol and Paynter. On 6 September the escort was supplemented by the destroyers Montrose and Walpole. The motor minesweepers MMS-90, MMS-203 and MMS-212, on transfer to the Soviet Northern Fleet, operated as rescue vessels.

Dropping the three ships to unload in Iceland, the PQ.18 convoy was joined by six other laden ships from the Hvalfjörður when it departed south-western Iceland on 8 September. By this time the close ocean escort, which went right through to Arkhangyel’sk, comprised the destroyers Achates and Malcolm, auxiliary anti-aircraft ships Alynbank and Ulster Queen, corvettes Bergamot, Bluebell, Bryony and Camellia, and minesweepers Gleaner and Sharpshooter. The submarines P614 and P615 accompanied the convoy between 9 and 17 September, and the anti-submarine trawlers Cape Argona, Cape Mariato, Daneman and St Kennan joined the escort on 9 September and also went right through to Arkhangyel’sk. The submarines supporting the PQ.18 convoy left their bases from 2 September: in addition to P 614 and P 615, Shakespeare, Unique and Unrivalled reached a covering position between Norway and the convoy, and a patrol force (Sturgeon, Tribune, Tigris, Unshaken and Free Norwegian Uredd) took station off the exits of the Norwegian fjords in which German surface warships were known to be based.

On 13 September the QP.14 return convoy departed Arkhangyel’sk with 20 unladen ships, many of them carrying survivors of the PQ.17 convoy disaster. The eastern local escort force comprised four destroyers (Soviet Kuybyshev and Uritsky, and British Blankney and Middleton), auxiliary anti-aircraft ships Alynbank, Palomares and Pozarica, and corvettes Dianella, Lotus, Poppy and Free French Malouine, minesweepers Bramble, Britomart, Halcyon, Hazard, Leda, Salamander and Seagull, and anti-submarine trawlers Ayrshire, Lord Austin, Lord Middleton and Northern Gem. Some of these joined the PQ.18 convoy.

The Germans were in a good position to attack the PQ.18 convoy as, on 10 September, they had moved the pocket battleship Admiral Scheer, heavy cruiser Admiral Hipper, light cruiser Köln and destroyers Z 23 and Z 27 from Narvik to the Altafjord in the extreme north of occupied Norway. As they sortied on this movement, however, the ships were spotted and reported by the submarine Tribune and attacked by Tigris, whose five torpedoes exploded behind the German formation. The submarines also reported a sighting of the battleship Tirpitz at Narvik. The German ships were supplemented in the Altafjord by the destroyers Richard Beitzen, Friedrich Eckholdt, Z 29 and Z 30.

On 12 September German reconnaissance aircraft located and reported the convoy of 39 freighters, one rescue ship, one tanker, three minesweepers and two oilers, together with their escort forces, which now included the escort carrier Avenger supported by the destroyers Wheatland and Wilton.

For close support, divided into two groups, there was Rear Admiral R. L. Burnett’s light anti-aircraft cruiser Scylla and the destroyers Onslow, Onslaught, Opportune, Offa, Ashanti, Eskimo, Somali, Tartar, Milne, Marne, Martin, Meteor, Faulknor, Fury, Impulsive and Intrepid. Also available were Vice Admiral S. S. Bonham-Carter’s covering force with the heavy cruisers Norfolk, London and Suffolk, and Vice Admiral B. A. Fraser’s distant covering force with the battleships Anson and Duke of York, light cruiser Jamaica, and destroyers Keppel, Bramham, Mackay and Montrose. The rescue ship Copeland was part of the convoy.

Stationed at Spitsbergen was a force for the relief and resupply of the escort, this force comprising the heavy cruiser Cumberland, light cruiser Sheffield, and destroyers Eclipse, Amazon, Bulldog, Echo, Venomous, Windsor, Worcester, Cowdray and Oakley.

On 12 September the destroyer Faulknor located and sank U-88 near Bjørnøya, but on the following day U-405 and U-589 sank the 7,191-ton US Oliver Ellsworth and 3,559-ton Soviet Stalingrad. Then, in the course of several attacks, level bombers of Oberstleutnant Erich Bloedorn’s Kampfgeschwader 30 and torpedo bombers of the I and III/KG 26 sank the 5,432-ton US Wacosta, 4,826-ton US Oregonian, 4,885-ton Panamanian Macbeth, 5,441-ton Panamanian Africander, 6,209-ton British Empire Stevenson, 7,044-ton British Empire Beaumont, 3,124-ton Soviet Sukhona and, later in the same day, 7,177-ton US John Penn.

On 13/14 September Hawker Sea Hurricane single-seat fighters from Avenger shot down five German aircraft, but in the process lost four of their own number.

During the night of 14/15 September U-457 torpedoed and damaged the 8,992-ton British tanker Atheltemplar, which later had to be abandoned. During the afternoon of 15 September, in a new attack, the I/KG 26 lost 12 aircraft and seven crews, and the III/KG 26 eight aircraft and seven crews, but hit the 6,049-ton US Mary Luckenbach, which exploded after being hit.

Supported by Fairey Swordfish anti-submarine aircraft of the FAA’s No. 825 Squadron from Avenger, the destroyer Onslow sank U-589.

On 16 September adverse weather removed any possibility of air operations, but on the following day the Germans located the convoy once more , although an attack by the KG 26 was broken off. U-457 succumbed to the destroyer Impulsive. On 18 September aircraft of Oberst Martin Harlinghausen’s KG 26 and the KG 30 made another attack, even though the visibility was poor, but the former’s aircraft suffered many torpedo failures. A Hurricane fighter from the 7,092-ton catapult-armed British Empire Morn shot down two Heinkel He 115 floatplanes.

Now with an escort strengthened by the arrival of the Soviet destroyers Gremyashchiy, Kuybyshev, Sokrushitelnyi and Uritsky, together with the minesweepers Britomart, Halcyon, Hazard and Salamander, the convoy lost the 5,446-ton US Kentucky, and the 6,458-ton Panamanian Troubador had to be beached in the Kola inlet, where she was later broken up, after being damaged by bombs.

In overall terms, therefore, the PQ.18 convoy suffered the loss of 13 ships, three of them (19,742 tons) to the U-boats and 10 (55,915 tons) to the warplanes.

Between 20 and 26 September U-251, U-255, U-403, U-408, U-435, U-592 and U-703 operated against the QP.14 convoy of 20 unladen ships escorted by two anti-aircraft ships, a total of 11 corvettes, minesweepers and trawlers, and the rescue ships Rathlin and Zamalek. These had departed Arkhangyel’sk on 13 September. Close escort was provided from 17 September by Burnett’s cruiser force.

On 20 September U-435 sank the minesweeper Leda, U-255 sank the 4,937-ton US Silver Sword, and U-703 torpedoed and damaged the destroyer Somali, which was taken in tow by her sister Ashanti but sank in a gale on 24 September. On 22 September the convoy was still under escort by the destroyers Faulknor, Marne, Meteor, Milne, Offa, Onslaught, Onslow, Tartar, Blankney and Middleton, corvettes Dianella, Lotus, Poppy and Free French Malouine, minesweepers Bramble and Seagull, trawlers Ayrshire, Lord Austin and Northern Gem, and auxiliary anti-aircraft ships Palomares and Pozarica,part of Burnett’s force having been withdrawn. At this time U-435 was able to make another attack and sank the 5,345-ton US Bellingham and 7,174-ton British Ocean Voice as well as the 3,313-ton British oiler Grey Ranger.

On 23 September U-255 was badly damaged by the attack of a Consolidated Catalina flying boat of the RAF’s No. 210 Squadron. On 25 and 26 September the local escort was strengthened by the arrival of the destroyers Impulsive and Worcester, and the rest of the convoy made port without further loss.