Operation Wotan (ii)

(Germanic god)

This was a U-boat wolfpack operation, in tandem with ‘Leopard’ (i), in the Atlantic against the ON.135, ONS.136, ON.137 and SC.104 convoys (5/19 October 1942).

The wolfpack comprised U-118, U-216, U-221, U-258, U-356, U-410, U-599, U-607, U-615, U-618 and U-661, and for the loss of Oberleutnant Erich Lilienfeld’s U-661 sank 21 ships (57,934 tons including 10 medium landing craft being carried as freight) in attacks on the SC.104 and ONS.136 convoys.

The SC.104 slow convoy comprised merchant ships travelling from Sydney, Cape Breton island to Liverpool, and was involved in a battle with a wolfpack between 13 and 16 October. The convoy’s 47 ships had departed New York on 3 October 1942 and were met by Commander R. Heathcote’s British Escort Group B6 (destroyers Fame and Viscount, Free Norwegian corvettes Potentilla, Eglantine, Montbretia and Acanthus, and convoy rescue ship Goathland). The attacking force was the ‘Wotan’ (ii) wolfpack comprising Kapitänleutnant Hans-Hartwig Trojer’s U-221, Kapitänleutnant Wilhelm von Mässenhausen’s U-258, Kapitänleutnant Georg Wallas’s U-356, Kapitänleutnant Ernst Mengersen’s U-607, Kapitänleutnant Kurt Baberg’s U-618, Lilienfeld’s U-661, Oberleutnant Wolfgang Römer’s U-353 and Kapitänleutnant Odo Loewe’s U-254.

The convoy was spotted and reported by U-258 on 11 October, and the other U-boats of the ‘Wotan’ (ii) wolfpack were ordered to join the reporting boat. By the evening of 12 October U-258 had thus been joined by U-221 and U-356, and during the night of 12/13 October these boats attacked. U-258 and U-356 were unsuccessful, being driven off by the escorts, but U-221 was able to sink three ships in the form of the Norwegian Senta and Fagersten (3,785 and 2,342 tons respectively) and the 5,227-ton British Ashworth. On 13 October the U-boats continued to shadow the convoy, and were joined during the day by five other boats.

During the night of 13/14 October the wolfpack attacked at full strength. This time U-221 sank two ships, the 5,929-ton US Susana and 12,398-ton British whale factory ship Southern Empress, the latter carrying 10 52-ton medium landing craft which went down with the ship. U-607 torpedoed the 4,826-ton Greek Nellie, which later sank, but was counterattacked, severely damaged and compelled to return to a French base for repairs. U-661 torpedoed the 3,672-ton Yugoslav Nikolina Matkovic, and U-618 torpedoed the 5,791-ton British Empire Mersey.

Throughout 15 October the ‘Wotan’ (ii) boats shadowed SC.104, but were unable attack successfully during the following night. On 15 October Viscount detected U-661 in fog, and attacked with gunfire, ramming and depth charges: U-661 was destroyed, but Viscount was also damaged, and had to complete the voyage as part of the convoy.

On 16 October U-353 was sighted by Fame, which attacked and destroyed her by ramming, again suffering damage in the process. Command of the escort passed to the captain of Potentilla, which was able to make an attack on a contact later that day: no identification was made, or result credited, but post-war examination shows that U-254 had been severely damaged in this attack, and forced to retire to base.

Also on 16/17 October SC.104 came in range of patrols by long-range aircraft such as the Consolidated Liberator landplane and Consolidated Catalina flying boat. These were able to break up any further attacks, and on 17 Vizeadmiral Karl Dönitz, the commander of the U-boat arm, called off an further operations against SC.104. The remaining portion of the convoy’s passage was unhindered, and the convoy reached Liverpool on 21 October. SC.104 had lost eight ships (44,729 tons) and had two escorts damaged, but in return sank two U-boats and damaged two other U-boats.