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SINKING OF U 546

USS Bogue (CVE 9), USS Flaherty DE 135, USS Neunzer DE 150, USS Chatelain DE 149, USS Varian DE 798, USS Hubbard DE 211, USS Janssen DE 396, USS Pillsbury DE 133 and USS Keith DE 241

As the plane flies, St. Johns, Newfoundland, to Fayal in the Azores, the distance is 1,180 miles.  On April 23, 1945, in mid-Atlantic about halfway between St. Johns and Fayal, several escort-carriers and a parade of destroyer escorts were strung out in a 100-mile north-south barrier patrol.  The CVE-DE flotilla, one of the largest hunter-killer forces yet assembled, formed another segment of the "net" spread to catch the super-Schnorkels swimming across the Atlantic to invade America's Eastern Sea Frontier.

The anti-submarine (AS) barrier was composed of two CVE task groups (TG 22.3 and TG 22.4) and a large detachment of DEs.  The force was operating under Commander Task Group 22.5 - Captain G. J. Dufek, in Bogue.  Senior DE officer was Commander F. S. Hall, ComCortDiv 4, in Pillsbury.  He was designated Commander Task Unit 22.7.1.

The DEs of Task Unit 22.7.1 included USS Pillsbury DE 133, USS Keith DE 241, USS Otterstetter DE 244, USS Pope DE 134, USS Flaherty DE 135, USS Chatelain DE 149, USS Frederick C. Davis DE 136, USS Neunzer DE 150, USS Hubbard DE 211, USS Varian DE 798, USS Otter DE 210, USS Hayter DE 212, USS Janssen DE 396 and USS Cockrill DE 398.

The ships were tactically disposed so that the DEs of the task unit formed a surface barrier between the Bogue air group to the south and Core (CVE ) air group to the north.  Spaced five miles apart, the 14 DEs were ranged across the seascape like a dragnet, the carriers serving as figurative trawlers.

At 1322 in the afternoon of April 23, a search plane sighted a submarine about 70 miles from USS Pillsbury DE 133.  Commander Hall formed a scouting line and the DEs steamed for the spot where the enemy had been glimpsed.  The sub went down and stayed down.  All afternoon the hunters combed the vicinity with their detection gear.  All through that evening of the 23rd.  Midnight, and they were still searching.  Into the early hours of April 24 the relentless hunt went on.

At 0829 Frederick C. Davis DE 136 made contact with U-546 and was proceeding to attack when, at 0840, the submarine fired a stern shot which tore the DE apart and sent her down with heavy loss of life.  She was the second and last American DE to go down to enemy torpedo-fire in the Battle of the Atlantic.

The U-boat skipper who fired at the Frederick C. Davis DE 136 must have known he was courting suicide.  For eight destroyer escorts from the scouting line immediately closed around the u-boat like a noose: Pillsbury, Flaherty, Neunzer, Chatelain, Varian, Hubbard, Janssen and Keith.

The submarine hunt conducted by this killer group stands as exemplary of the AS tactics employed by hunter-killers at that stage of the war.

Neunzer DE 150 and Hayter DE 212 conducted a search while Pillsbury DE 133 circled the area and Flaherty DE135 picked up survivors. Flaherty made contact in less than an hour and with Pillsbury proceeded to attack. Neunzer and Hayter took over rescue operations.

0950-1020: Flaherty and Pillsbury made hedgehog attacks.  1023: Directed by Pillsbury, Flaherty fired a magnetic-set pattern of Mark 8 charges in creeping attack.  Depth-charge explosions were heard.

Five minutes later, Pillsbury lost contact with the sub.  Six minutes later contact was regained - range 900 yards - but this contact would last only 16 minutes.  The sub appeared to be very deep, estimated about 600 feet.  It was evident the U-boat was operating at the deepest level endurable and maneuvering radically at varying speeds from practically zero to 5 knots.

1056: Pillsbury and Flaherty commenced "Operation Observant"
1059: ComCortDiv 62 ordered to form a search line, composed of all ships not engaged in attacks or rescue operations, to ready for search sweeps.
1133: Hubbard ordered to bring search line forward through target area.
1150: Pillsbury joined line as a guide
1152: Otterstetter ordered to join Hayter and Otter in rescue work.
1201: Flaherty obtained contact on U-boat.
1202: Flaherty reported her sound gear out and that contact should be ahead of DE Varian, range about 1,000 yards.
1205: Varian obtained contact.
1211: Janssen was ordered to attack, Varian assisting.
1228: Janssen delivered depth-charge attack.
1233: Hubbard was ordered to join Janssen; Varian to assist and coach creeping attack.

With Varian directing maneuvers, Hubbard and Janssen steamed into attack position.  The U-boat was deep,  but the two DEs were determined to dig it out whatever the level.  Down went the depth-charges, a creeping attack that was launched at 1250.

1254: Varian reported a large air bubble.
1255: Neunzer was ordered to the scene of contact.
1259: Hubbard reported indications that U-boat was at depth of 600 feet.
1314: Another creeping attack delivered.
1320: Janssen relieved by Flaherty at scene of contact.
1341: Creeping attack delivered.
1346: Chatelain ordered to scene of attack.
1418: ComtCortDiv 62, in Otter, and Hayter left scene of Davis torpedoing to deliver survivors to escort carriers Core and Bogue.  Otterstetter remained on scene of torpedoing to continue search for any remaining survivors.
1515: Varian reported depth indication that U-boat was at depth of 580 feet
1516: Another depth-charge attack delivered.
1545: Cockrill ordered to scene of contact.
1549: Creeping attack delivered by Neunzer, Varian and Hubbard with Chatelain as directing ship.
1556: By means of depth-finding equipment, submarine located at 420-foot level. Contact lost shortly thereafter.

At 1637 Chatelain and Neunzer were ordered to return to the line.  During the previous attacks, the line had been held in readiness to make a sweep forward if contact was lost.  At 1649 all ships were ordered back into line and the echo-ranging sweep was expanded.

1650: Cockrill obtained contact
1705: Having lost contact, Cockrill suggested that line make sweep through area.
1723: Line started forward through area, Pillsbury as guide.
1731: Varian reported contact.
1734: Keith reported contact.
1737: Pillsbury ordered to scene of contact to assist.
1743: Flaherty ordered to assist.
1747: By means of depth-finding equipment, Keith reported indications that U-boat was at depth of 220 feet.  TU Commander ordered attack to be switched to hedgehog, in view of decreased depth.
1810: Flaherty delivered hedgehog attack.  Pillsbury noted underwater explosion on sound gear.
1814: Small oil slick reported near scene of last attack.
1824: Flaherty reported bubbles coming up.
1828: Flaherty delivered hedgehog attack.
1838: U-boat surfaced.

From 9:50 in the morning to 6:30 in the evening - under fire for 10 1/2 hours - the sweating Germans had had enough of it.  Moreover, the U-boat had been damaged by depth charge and hedgehog. 

As the U-boat's conning tower broke water, all ships that had a clear range opened fire.  Frantic submariners fought their way out of the hatches.  Under a storm of hits the sub plunged and rolled.  At 1844, her bridge knocked all acockbill, the U-546 went under with her Schnorkel throat severed.

The killer of the Frederick C. Davis has been executed.  Thirty-three U-boaters, including the Commanding Officer, Herr Kapitan Leutnant Paul Just, were taken prisoner.


A survivor of Frederick C. Davis DE 136 is being transferred
from Flaherty to a CVE.
 

Source: United States Destroyer Operations in World War II, Theodore Roscoe, 1953, United States Naval Institute, Annapolis, MD, p. 510-513.

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USS England DE 635 ] Sinking of RO 501 ] Sinking of U 66 ] Sinking of U 233 ] Sinking of U 490 ] Capture of U 505 ] Sinking of U 515 ] Sinking of U 518 ] [ Sinking of U 546 ] Sinking of U 548 ] Sinking of U 550 ] Sinking of U 853 ] Sinking of U 866 ] Sinking U 869 ] Capture of U 873 ] Sinking of U 1062 ]

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