U 107 and the most successful war patrol of a Kriegsmarine U-boat in World War II
On 29 March 1941 the type IX B U-boat U 107 (Built 1939/40 at AG Weser at Bremen, commissioning 08th of October 1940, displacement 1,051 t, submerged 1.178 to, length 76,5 m, width 67 m, speed 18,2 kn, submerged 7,3 kn, range 12.000 nmi at 10 kn, submerged 64 nm at 4 kn, 4 bow und 2 stern torpedo tubes, up to 22 torpedoes on board, alternatively up to 44 mines, complement of 56 men) under the command of Kapitänleutnant (= Lieutenant Commander) Günter Hessler departed for its second combat patrol. Together with U 94 it left its final outfitting berth at Lorient in German occupied France and sailed in convoy until it reached the open Bay of Biscay. The sea areas between the Canary Islands and Sierra Leone in West Africa, respectively Freetown, Liberia was its designated area of operation.
Nothing particular really happened until the 8 April. The sea was absolutely empty. Suddenly a vessel in darkened mode came in sight. A first single torpedo shot passed under the target uneventful. U 107 started chasing the vessel, which chose zig-zagging courses at irregular intervals. The second torpedo hit the bow of the British 3,829 GRT vessel Eskdene. While wildly sending messages for help the vessel kept lying stopped, and started to sink over the bow, however without any indication of really going down.
After the entire crew of the freighter has gone off board, some 104 rounds of the U-boats gun eventually caused the Eskdene to sink at about 07.47 hrs. Now, Kapitänleutnant Hessler knew that he has sunk a straggler of convoy OG 57. Hence, U 107 ought to be close to the convoy.
Already late afternoon the widely spread convoy came in sight. A torpedo launched at 19.40 hrs hit the British vessel Helena Margareta just under the bridge. Within a minute the 3,316 GRT vessel sank steeply over the bow. The sinking occurred so fast, that 27 sailors of the 36 men strong crew went down. On 09 April, shortly after midnight, U 107 established contact again to the convoy and reached soon a favorable position for another attack. At 00.37 hrs Hessler launched a two-salvo torpedo attack on the British vessel Harpathian. While the first torpedo missed, the second hit the 4,671 GRT vessel after 56 seconds running time.
The vessel, which was to transport aircraft parts for the Royal Air Force to West Africa, broke in the middle and sank within few minutes. Four sailors out of the 43 men strong crew did not survive. In the afternoon of that day another big vessel came in sight, which soon was identified as tanker. At 19.20 hrs a two salvo torpedo launch was executed from the rear torpedo tube No V and VI. The first “eel” hit the tanker just before the bridge, the second detona-ted some 15 meters behind the bridge. The vessel managed to sail on despite the torpedo impacts, but it was chased further by U 107. Only after four more torpedo hits the tanker sank in the mor-ning of the 10th of April. It soon was clear, that it has been the British 8,512 GRT tanker Duffield, which was underway from Curacao to Gibraltar with some 11,700 tons of oil. The Duffield fell as the last victim of convoy OG 57 to U 107. 25 sailors of the 52 strong crew died.
On 21 April 1941 a huge vessel was made out at calm seas. U 107 resumed attack position and launched a two salvo torpedo attack at 14.20 hrs. The first torpedo hit right behind the funnel after a mere 35 seconds of running time, causing an immediate explosion of the boiler.
The second torpedo detonated after 38 seconds in the fully loaded mid section of the vessel. It was the British 10,305 GRT freighter Calchas, and it eventually sank at 14.58 hrs following a coup de grâce-torpedo launch. When U 107 surfaced again, the watch keepers at the conning towers counted four life boats with about 100 survivors. As a matter of fact, a total of 104 crew members and 9 passengers have been on board the freighter, 31 sailors and 1 passenger did not survive the sinking.
In the evening of the 30 April U 107 sighted the British 7,417 GRT motor vessel Lassell and sank it on 21.58 hrs. On 03 May U 107 met the German Naval Oiler Nordmark and executed immediately oil replenishment. Thereafter, the boat returned to its assigned area of operations, where on 09 May it met the German supply ship Egerland , to take over torpedoes, food supplies and fresh water. Later on, U 107 headed for sea areas off Freetown in its area of operations.
Shortly after midnight of the 17th of May the Dutch 8,029 GRT oiler Marisa ran into U 107. At 00.36 hrs a torpedo from tube II brought the oiler to a stop, which immediately started to sag deeper and to bend at the mast section of the ship.
After another torpedo at 01.15 hrs the vessel was sunk by means of gun fire. The following day at 22.27 hrs the British 8,286 GRT vessel Piako was torpedoed by U 107 about 120 nmi off Freetown and, after the crew had left the vessel, was sunk by a coup de grâce-torpedo at 22.43 hrs. Finally, on 27 May at 01.01 hrs, the British 5,108 GRT vessel Colonial was torpedoed in the sea areas off Freetown and sunk at 01.46 hrs with another coup de grâce-torpedo.
The Colonial was a vessel of the already dispersed convoy OB 318. The next day, the Greek 3,748 GRT vessel Papalemos was hit. The vessel was enroute from Freetown to the United Kingdom and was brought to a stop by U 107 through a torpedo hit, but eventually sunk by gun fire. 2 men from the 29 strong crew did not survive. On 31 May U 107 encountered the British 5,664 GRT vessel Sire sailing with ballast only and torpedoed it at 07.39 hrs. Three minutes later Sire was sent to the ground by another coup de grâce-torpedo.
Already next day, U 107 detected the British 5,013 GRT vessel Alfred Jones. Hessler launched a two salvo torpedo attack against the vessel, both torpedoes detonated at the rear part of the ship, which was immediately covered by a huge cloud of smoke. Slowly the vessel listed towards its starboard side, while U 107 passed behind its stern. When debris of the vessel hit the periscope, Hessler retracted it for some time. After he raised the periscope again the U-boat captain observed life boats being lowered to wa-ter at the vessels inclined port side and the crew in parts clim-bing down to the boats via a rope-ladder. Hessler remained suspicious, as many people on board appeared to be somewhat strange, many of those even in immaculate white uniforms.
The men swimming in the water were taken on board by the life boats already afloat. Hessler was wondering about the high num-ber of crew on board the vessel, he estima-ted it to be some 150. Because he assumed guns and depth charge dropping units under camouflage behind those large boxes at the vessels upper deck he classified the vessel to be a raider or a U-boat trap. However, Hessler was wrong, the Alfred Jones was nothing of that kind, she was the vessel of the convoy commodore of convoy OB 320, who had embarked on this vessel together with his entire staff.
Hence, the many smart uniforms! The Alfred Jones was enroute to Freetown with a cargo of about 2,000 t of military goods, in particular aircraft parts, which explained the tall boxes on the upper deck.
Hessler also got the number of crew wrong, there were not 150, but a mere 63 on the freighter, two of those died at the first attack by U 107. On 08 June 1941, just 82 nmi off Freetown, the British 7,816 GRT motor vessel Adda was sunk by one torpedo. 8 men from the 154 strong crew did not survive. In addition, there were 260 passengers on board the Adda, two of those died.
When the air surveillance became more dense, U 107 withdrew from the sea areas off Freetown. Nevertheless, on 13 June some 500 nm northeast of Freetown, U 107 managed to sink the Greek 4,981 GRT vessel Pandias by means of one torpedo. The freighter bound for Table Bay carried a load of 4.894 t of coal and 1,050 t of military goods, plus 11 “Spitfire” fighter aircraft. After the sinking of the Pandias U 107 surfaced and closed in to the life boat. Hessler helped the Greek master by providing him with navigational information, also he gave to the shipwrecked crew cigarettes, fresh water and rum. Sadly, 11 sailors from the 34 strong crew in the life boat did not survive the long and enduring journey of more than 500 nmi to the African coast.
On 19 June U 107 started its return leg to Western France, where the boat berthed on 02 July 1941 at Lorient. With that, the most successful combat patrol by a German U-boat in World War II was over.
During this second combat patrol after its commissioning U 107 achieved sinking of 14 vessels with a total tonnage of 86,699 GRT. Already during his first combat patrol, Hessler had sunk 4 merchant vessels with a total tonnage of 18,482 GRT, giving him after his return a total success of 105.181 GRT being sunk. For that, Kapitänleutnant Günter Hessler was awarded the Knights Cross to the Iron Cross on 24 June 1941.
Source: Picture: Deutsches U-Boot-Museum Text: H.J. Röll, unofficial translation by Peter Monte