Eleven merchant vessels and two warships sunk!
The most successful mission of U 34 in the Summer of 1940.
On 22 June 1940 U-boat U 34 left Wilhelmshaven for her 6th combat patrol. During the previous five combat patrols the Commanding Officer, Kapitänleutnant (= Lieutenant Commander) Wilhelm Rollmann, had managed to sink as many as nine merchant vessels with a total tonnage of about 46,000 BRT. The tenth victim was the 595 t Norwegian minelayer Frøya. Among the nine vessels sunk was the British freighter Caroni River, which hit one of the 8 mines laid by U 34 on 19th of January 1940 off Lands End. So far, the successes of U 34 during her previous missions.
Back to the sixth combat patrol.
On 05 July 1940 U 34 maneuvered south of Ireland, when Rollmann through the periscope sighted a destroyer. He could clearly see the hull number D 30 at the bow of the British warship, which moved directly before the U-boats torpedo tubes. A first salvo of two torpedoes was fired at 17.13 hrs, but missed. Then, the destroyer turned about and moved again directly before the torpedo tubes. At the time the torpedoes detonated Rollmann had just raised the periscope and at first sight he could see a smoke cloud rising to the skies. The first detonation was followed by a second one. When the smoke screen faded away Rollmann through his periscope could see the head of the destroyer being ripped apart. The forebody of the ship started to sink already, whereas the remaining hull managed to stay above water. Most probably the forward ammunition stores or the boiler had exploded. Rollmann continued his patrol assuming the remaining part of the destroyer would sink soon. The German communication intercept service quickly found out that the destroyer was the 1,100 tons British Whirlwind, whose wreckage later was sent to the bottom by the British destroyer Westcott.
The following day U 34 sank the Estonian 4,542 GRT vessel Vapper, with coal on board from Cardiff, Wales, to Buenos Aires, Argentina. 32 seamen of the crew did survive, one crew member died.
On 07 July U 34 encountered the Dutch oiler Lucrecia. The torpedo fired hit right under the bridge and set the vessel to fire. Sky high flames were burning out of the oiler´s hull, causing the vessel gradually to sink. The 2,584 GRT oiler Lucrecia had loaded liquid gas and oil at Aruba, Caribbean, destined for Falmouth, England. Two seaplanes landed close by the sinking Lucrecia and rescued the crew. However, two of the 32strong crew lost their lives.Due to the growing intensity of air surveillance in this area the Commanding Officer of U 34 decided to divert to the West to the open Atlantic Ocean, since he was forced to submerge almost permanently throughout daylight. On 09 July a vessel came in sight on the edge of a rain shower. Immediately, U 34 prepared for attack.
At 12.32 hrs one torpedo was launched against the 1,865 GRT Estonian vessel Tiiu, hitting it at the engine compartment. The Tiiu sank within six minutes, but managed to lower her life boat. In New York the freighter had loaded food and Naval supplies bound for Milford, Wales. There were no casualties among the 20 men strong crew.
Still in the night of the 09 July U 34 returned to the earlier area of operation south of Ireland. At the forenoon of the 10 July a trail of smoke was sighted. Rollmann ordered a high speed interception course to reach a favorable angle of attack. When the Irish coast got in sight at 13.30 hrs Rollmann ordered to submerge for attack. At 14.26 hrs the torpedo launched hit the vessel midships at the boiler room. The ship lowered two life boats carrying many sailors. Shortly afterwards the Finnish 4,596 GRT freighter Petsamo broke into two parts and sank close to the Irish coast. The ship carried cargo of some 7,300 t of maize and was enroute from Rosario, Argentina to Cork, Ireland. All but four sailors of the Petsamo could be rescued.
The next day at 07.06 hrs U 34 torpedoed the Norwegian 2,197 GRT vessel Janna. The freighter, being a straggler of convoy HX.54, sank at 08.00 hrs. The Janna had a cargo of wood and was sailing from St.John, Newfoundland via Halifax, Canada, to Falmouth, England.
All sailors of the 25 men strong crew were rescued by an escort vessel of the convoy. Two hours after the sinking U 34 sighted the convoy HX.54. Rollmann attacked immediately and fired a torpedo against a passenger liner of about 20,000 GRT identified as an armed merchant cruiser. The torpedo missed and U 34 was forced by a sea-plane to submerge and to divert from the convoy. Rollmann refrained from further pursuing the convoy since he had only one torpedo left onboard, which prevented him from doing any damage to the convoy anyway.
How prudent it had been to keep one torpedo in reserve became clear after three days, when the U-boat encountered the Greek 2,018 GRT vessel Evdoxia. The torpedo launched at 03.21 hrs hit the vessel midships to be followed by a severe detonation. Ten minutes later the Evdoxia capsized and sank. The freighter was enroute from Sunderland, England back to Greece. 22 sailors survived, one died.
On 16 July U 34 sighted another trail of smoke south Ireland. Initially at surface, then submerged the U-boat steered towards the target detected. At 23.25 hrs U 34 re-surfaced and ordered the vessel to stop. The stopping order was enforced by four rounds before the bow by the U-boat´s gun. Between 00.05 hrs and 01.10 hrs on the 17th of July the 3,532 GRT vessel, identified as Greek Naftilos, was shelled at by artillery until it sank. The freighter had loaded 5,801 tons of grain and was enroute from San Nicolas in South America to Dublin. One seaman did not survive, but 28 of the crew were rescued.
U 34 resumed its return to base leg after sinking the Naftilos , but it was not Wilhelmshaven, instead it headed for Lorient in the recently German occupied France, where it berthed on 18 July 1940. In a speedy way fuel, fresh provisions, new torpedoes and artillery ammunition were taken on board, enabling U 34 to depart again as soon as the 23 July.
Already on 26 July U 34 closed to the convoy OB.188 west of Ireland. During an initial attack Rollmann launched three torpedoes. At 14.47 hrs two explosions could be heard.
Through the periscope the Commanding Officer saw considerable damage on the upper deck of a modern freighter he had identified before as armed merchant cruiser. As it turned out to be it was the British 9,337 GRT motor vessel Accra. Shortly after the torpedo hits two more explosions did shake the vessel, which then started to sink fast. The Accra was enroute from Liverpool to Freetown, Liberia, carrying 1.700 tons of goods. There were 499 crew and passenger onboard. Four crewmembers and four passengers died, eight crew and eight passengers were missing afterwards. The second freighter hit was the British 4,359 GRT Vinemoor, soon dropping its stern, but finally sinking not before the 27 July. The Vinemoor was sailing with ballast only, her port of destination was the phosphate island of Nauru in the Pacific South Sea. All sailors of the crew of 32 were rescued. Another torpedo launched at 14.51 hrs being aimed at the British Zeal missed. Rollmann tracked the convoy continuously and fired again at 02.58 hrs on the 27 July. The torpedo hit the British 5,620 GRT vessel Sambre at its stern. The freighter started quickly to drop deeper but stayes afloat idle keeping all ships lights on. At 03.20 hrs the stricken vessel was still afloat covered by heavy smoke clouds until is sank some time later. The Sambre had 1,500 t of cargo bound for Philadelphia. All sailors of the 48 men strong crew were rescued.
During the attacking phase against the convoy U 34 fired two more torpedoes at a freighter and at an oiler. Both missed. Another torpedo launched at 03.01 hrs did not hit either its target. At 03.05 hrs U 34 fired another torpedo at a vessel estimated to displace some 6,000 GRT. An explosion was heard and consequently sinking was assumed. However, there was never any confirmation of sinking by the Allies afterwards. A further torpedo fired at 03.13 hrs hit the British 10,364 GRT oiler Thiara.
Rollmann observed a water splash column rising high, with the vessel sinking over its bow. The Thiara had just ballast in her tanks and she was scheduled to sail from Falmouth via Milford Haven to Curacao in the Caribbean. Amazingly, on 23 August the Finnish freighter Figge managed to rescue 36 survivors from the Thiara, but 25 sailors of the crew did not make it. In the afternoon of the 27 July another vessel was sighted. It was the Dutch Stolwijk. The torpedo launched against her passed under the vessel and Stolweijk tried to escape with high speed.
Rollmann decided to let go the vessel, as he had again left just one torpedo remaining. And, again it became clear soon that his decision was right. On 28 July U 34 resumed its return to base leg to Wilhelmshaven.
It was the 01 August 1940 when U 34 had circumnavigated Scotland and entered the North Sea. Weather was perfect, the sea absolutely calm, when the lookout spotted a grey shadow ahead. Was that a mast or a conning tower of a submarine? At 18.48 hrs U 34 submerged and through the periscope the conning tower of another submarine was detected. Unmistakably, it was the conning tower of a British submarine. Soon a favorable firing position was reached. At 19.04 hrs, a little jerk and the last remaining torpedo left the tube. Through the periscope a cloud of explosion could be observed, with debris flying through the air. A minute after the explosion Rollmann ordered to surface to close to the position of the probable sinking. Right in the middle of the sea of debris a wounded sailor was drifting, who soon was picked up and taken onboard. The British submariner still rather dazed told that he had come from Australia just a few weeks before. One had put him onboard this submarine after only a short and entirely insufficient training, whose name was Spearfish, with a displacement of 670 t.
The name of the now prisoner of war was William Victor Pester, and his service as submariner had started in June 1940, with specialist submariner training of just one day. When the Spearfish was to depart for combat patrol one man was missing. So, William Victor Pester was ordered to go on-board as substitute. Already the next day Spearfish was sunk by U 34 – with William Victor Pester being the only survivor. He remained onboard U 34 another two and a half days until the U-boat had arrived at Wilhelmshaven, which made him sailing on that U-boat more time than on Spearfish.
During her combat patrol between 22 June and 03 August 1940, just interrupted by a short stop over at Lorient, U 34 had managed to sink some 11 merchant vessels with a total tonnage of 50,654 GRT, and an additional two warships, i.e. the destroyer Whirlwind and the submarine Spearfish, together another 1.770 t.
Because of these excellent achievements Kapitänleutnant Wilhelm Rollmann was awarded the Knights Cross on 31 July 1940, being the 6th member of the German U-boat force.
Text: Hans-Joachim Röll and Deutsches U-Boot Museum Picture: Deutsches U-Boot-Museum