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U 456 torpedoes the Cruiser HMS Edinburgh

At 04.00 hrs German Time in the early morning of the 29 April 1942, Kriegsmarine U-boat U 456 under the command of Kapitänleutnant (= Lieutenant Commander) Max-Martin Teichert left Kirkenes, Northern Norway for her 5th combat patrol. Meanwhile, convoy PQ-15 with 25 merchant vessels was underway, having left Iceland on the 26th of April. Almost at the same time, i.e. the 28 April, convoy QP-11 with 13 merchant vessels, had left Murmansk, Soviet Union. The convoy escort was composed of four destroyers, four corvettes and one antisub-marine craft. The close distance escort of QP-11 was maintained by the British cruiser HMS Edinburgh, flagship of the Commander of the Royal Navy´s 18th Cruiser Squadron, Rear Admiral Stuart Sumner Bonham-Carter, together with the destroyers HMS Foresight and HMS Forester.

On 29 April, the U-boat Task Group “Strauchritter” (= “Footpad”) was formed against the two convoys, composed of the Type VIIC U-boats U 88, U 251, U 405, U 436, U 456, U 589 and U 703. In the morning of the 29 April, German air reconnaissance established contact to convoy QP-11 and in the evening of that day U 456 reached her assigned Naval quadrant AC 5843. At the same time, HMS Edinburgh escorted the convoy with its speed of just 6 kts, about 100 nm northeast of U 456´s position. At approximately 02.30 hrs, the convoy had to steer westerly courses due to the ice boundary, with Edinburgh tasked to repeatedly search the sea areas ahead.

p239_1_01At 01.20 hrs of the 30 April, Kapitänleutnant Teichert received the message by U 88 of the sighting of a convoy in quadrat AC 5924. The commanding officer of U 456 concluded, that the convoy was steering northwesterly courses. When maintaining its own northwesterly course the U-boat should cross the course of the convoy not later than at the forenoon of the 30 April. Indeed, at 10.12 hrs a report came down from the conning tower about a sighting of smoke trails. Choosing a few changes in course, the CO tried to bring his boat slowly towards the target detected. At 11.20 hrs, U 456 was in quadrat AC 5554, when the lookouts at the conning tower observed a cruiser in southerly bearing, clearly identified as a British cruiser of the “Belfast”-class.

Immediately, Teichert sent a R/T message to his superior Flag Officer Polar Sea, reporting the sighting of a cruiser. Shortly afterwards the cruiser got out of sight. The U-boat´s CO estimate should prove correct soon, that the cruiser was to resume its original convoy course after its advanced screening of the sea areas ahead. At 15.10 hrs the cruiser came nearer again, executed some zig-zagging and headed then over the horizon, coming directly towards U 456, showing just its bow. Quickly, Teichert ordered to level the boat at periscope depth. However, since the attack periscope´s lens was hardly useable due to damp, the boat had to be kept on parallel course by listening bearings only. The opponent zig-zagged to south, but changed course again after ten minutes. At 16.10 hrs, the cruiser zig-zagged once more, directly towards U 456. It could be observed through the periscope only faint and rather blurred. Soon the cruiser was steering with inclination 20°, course 180 °, distance 4.000 meters, coming directly before the torpedo tubes of the U-boat. Immediately, U 456 got ready for attack.

In fast sequences Kapitänleutnant Teichert gave few orders down to the central operations room to pick up the target. Then the order came: “Spread of three torpedoes from tubes I, II and IV!” The confirmation reports came back straight away. At 16.18 hrs Teichert had given the firing order so fatal to the cruiser.

Commander of U 456 – Kapitänleutnant (Lieutenant-commander) Max-Martin Teichert

Eventually, after 80 seconds of endless waiting, which corresponded with a distance of roughly 1,200 m, they could hear under water two detonations by torpedoes in quick succession. Teichert ordered to raise the periscope again, but he could not observe anything apart from dark spots. At 16.32 hrs, he finally ordered to surface again. After they had brought the boat up to the surface, Teichert discovered by executing a look around, that the cruiser had turned starboard being covered by high yellow cloud of fume. Moreover, it had a list towards its starboard side and it was making speed of only five to six knots, heading slowly to northeast. An attempt was given up to sink the cruiser with a coup-de-grace shot since three destroyers approached the U-boat with high speed, now having submerged again. Kapitänleutnant Teichert decided to move away from the scene submerged, to evade a threatening attack by depth charges.

After the hits by the torpedoes from U 456, the Edinburgh moved slowly and laboriously to the east, her bow two more meters in the water than normal, only two of her four screw propellers working and no rudder. At 06.00 hrs of the 01 May the two escorting Soviet destroyers had to return home due to fuel shortage. The destroyer HMS “Foresight”, which had tied up at the cruiser´s stern to keep her on course, casted off its ropes to resume escort duties. After all, the British knew, that there must be a U-boat nearby. Given the persistence of the U-boat´s CO, it was of utmost importance to find this U-boat, to press it down by depth charges, preventing it to close to the cruiser, at least for a while. Left alone, the cruiser yawed from one side to the other like a drunken sailor.

Therefore, its commanding officer, Captain Hugh Webb Faulkner, reduced the speed down to two knots. At 18.00 hrs, the Edinburgh received support by the Soviet tug Rubin, and some six hours later by the British mine-sweepers HMS Gossamer, HMS Harrier, HMS Niger and HMS Hussar. Since the tug was not powerful enough to tow the 10,000 t cruiser, it rather tied up at forward port side of the cruiser. Once HMS Gossamer had taken over a stabilizing role at a towing line astern, a speed of about three knots and a roughly straight course could be maintained. The remaining warships formed a larger screen around the stricken cruiser to secure.

At 06.27 hrs on the 02 May, HMS Hussar, proceeding at the starboard side of the Edinburgh, suddenly was under artillery fire. On board the minesweeper three fast warships were detected, their silhouettes clearly showed German destroyers. Indeed, these were the German destroyers Z 7 Hermann Schoemann, Z 24 and Z 25, which had been given order to sink the British cruiser for good. Soon, the destroyers had designated their target and tried to close to torpedo range through obscuring smoke. But a bold maneuver by the British destroyers Foresight and Forester prevented them to do so. After the tug and the Gossamer had unbent their ropes from the cruiser, the cruiser started to shell the German destroyers with its 15,2 cm heavy gun “Bravo”. Already salvo number two hit the Hermann Schoemann, putting the destroyer out of action. Now, a fierce exchange of artillery fire developed, with Forester subsequently being hit by three shells from destroyer Z 24. Following to that, Z 24 launched four torpedoes against the Forester, which for some reasons passed under the British destroyer. However, the torpedoes now were racing towards the Edinburgh, which was unable to do any evasive steering.

p239_1_02Eventually, one of the torpedoes hit Edinburgh midships at her portside, causing her to further list. It became obvious, that the cruiser was threatened by breaking up at any moment. Immediately, Rear Admiral Stuart Bonham-Carter ordered Gossamer to come alongside to take over the injured and parts of the crew, although the cruiser´s artillery still was firing. The fire by the cruiser hampered Z 24 to close to Hermann Schoemann to help taking over its crew. Meanwhile, the list of the Edinburgh became greater. When she reached 17 degrees list, preventing any further aiming by the guns, Captain Hugh Faulkner ordered to abandon ship. Gossamer embarked 440 of Edinburgh´s men, whereas Harrier took 350 men, Rear Admiral Bonham-Carter included, and Hussar laid a smoke screen to cover up the rescue operation. In the meantime, Z 24 and Z 25 attacked again. Another intensive exchange of fire developed, with Forester and Foresight coming under well placed salvos from the German destroyers. Within a short period of time Foresight received four direct hits, leaving her with just one operational gun. Though, the two German destroyers refrained from finishing off Foresight, in order to rescue the crew of Hermann Schoemann. After Z 24 had taken over the majority of the crew of the stricken Hermann Schoemann, the destroyer eventually was scuttled by its crew. Z 24, covering the rescue operation by Z 24, received another hit damaging its R/T communication equipment, but was just able to report an own torpedo hit on the cruiser. Eventually, the German destroyers, now short of sufficient ammunition, left off their opponents and returned to Kirkenes with high speed. The remaining survivors of Hermann Schoemann, drifting in their life boats, where rescued later by U-boat U 88. However, there was no chance any longer for the survival of the Edinburgh, any further salvage attempt was completely hopeless. Consequently, Read Admiral Bonham-Carter ordered Foresight to launch a coup-de-grace torpedo against the cruiser, using her last torpedo in stock. After Foresight´s torpedo hit the portside of cruiser, Edinburgh capsized over her portside and sank within two minutes, stern first down the icy Barents Sea.

The Edinburgh sank at position 72°04′ North and 035°01′ East, 57 of her crew went down, the wreckage hit the seabed at a depth of about 260 m. The remaining British force headed for the Kola inlet, reaching it on the 03 May 1942. Only after the end of WW II it became known, that five tons of gold on board the Edinburgh had gone down as well. It was the state treasure of the tsar, which the cruiser had taken on board. Soviet leader Stalin intended to pay parts of the arms delivery from the allies by means of 465 gold bars, which still had the double eagle seal of the tsar engraved. Now, the gold bars were stored in 93 plain boxes on board the Edinburgh.

p113_1_02Although the British War Ministry had offi-cially declared the Edinburgh to be a war grave, whose peace may not be disturbed, ideas to lift the gold treasure were not given up. Nevertheless, for years the treasure seemed to have been lost for good, even, when the British government in 1957 partially relaxed its ban on diving down to the wreck site. However, new deep sea techniques allowed a new approach to a possible salvage operation at 260 meters depth, since the exploitation of oil and gas field in the North Sea have produced enough experience with that meanwhile.

Between the 04th of September and the 05 October 1981 eventually – 39 years after the sinking of the Edinburgh, the Scottish salvage company “Wharton Williams” managed to raise a total of 431 gold bars out of the wreckage of the Edinburgh. After the completion of the salvage operation 159 gold bars entitled to the Soviet Union were handed over to Soviet officials at Murmansk, whereas the remaining 272 gold bars were deposited at the Bank of England. Now, the first operation to raise the gold from the Edinburgh had been completed, its code name was operation “Greyhound”.

A second salvage operation began on the 03 September 1986, ending already on the 12 September, after the divers had found another 29 gold bars. Five remaining gold bars were not traceable. 16 gold bars were handed over to the Soviets at Murmansk, the remaining 13 came to England.

With that, the saga about the gold of HMS Edinburgh came to an end. The entire load of gold had been salvaged, just five bars were missing. Nobody will disturb the cruiser´s peace and silence will remain henceforth over the war grave at sea of the British soldiers. Some words about the history of Kapitänleutnant Max-Martin Teichert and U 456. The sinking of the Edinburgh was accredited to him and his boat U 456, although he had just torpedoed the cruiser. However, the German side believed that the Edinburgh has been scuttled by the British following the heavy damage done by U 456. The hits by the torpedoes from Z 24 and possibly another by Z 24 were not confirmed at that time.

Max-Martin Teichert executed another five combat patrols with U 456 in the Polar Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean. On the 12th of May 1943 a “Liberator” aircraft of the RAF 86th Squadron sank U 456 in the North Atlantic Ocean. The approximate position is 46°39′ North and 026°54′ West. U 456 was the first U-boat to have been hit by a Mk XXIV torpedo and most probably to have been sunk by it. It was a total loss, there were no survivors of the 49 men strong crew.
On 19 December 1943, Kapitänleutnant Max Martin Teichert was awarded posthumous the Knights Cross to the Iron Cross for his achievement in the war at sea. During ten war patrols he managed to sink six merchant vessels with a total tonnage of 31,721 GRT. And, the sinking of the 11,500 tons Edinburgh was accredited to him and U 465 as well.

Written by Hans-Joachim Röll, unofficial translation by Peter Monte – Picture Deutsches U-Boot-Museum

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