Recollections of Lieutenant Sheridan Bell (Chaplain Corps),
USNR, concerning the sinking of a German submarine
(U-233) by USS Thomas (DE-102) and USS Baker (DE-190) of Task Group (TG) 22.10, a
"hunter killer" unit, on 5 July 1944, as well as the
capture of part of U-233's crew, and the death and burial at sea of U-233's
Just after evening chow [meal], as the night planes were getting ready to take
off, one of our lead destroyers came in contact with a
[German] submarine [U-233]. It was about 5,000 yards in front of the ship so
that the men of the crew, of the [escort aircraft
carrier USS] Card [CVE-11], could witness the attack.
According to the Commander of the escort group, it was the most rapid successful
sinking of a submarine in the Atlantic. For it was
just twenty-two minutes from the time the Destroyer Escort [DE] contacted the
sub until the survivors were being taken aboard one of
the two destroyers [DD] standing by. So we were able to stand on the flight deck
and see the fight, see the flames shooting up from the
damaged submarine and the smoke and the fire of the guns.
The thirty-one survivors were brought aboard the [USS] Card within an hour so it
was possible that evening to interrogate them and to
get the necessary information that our Intelligence Officers wished to have.
Some of the men were wounded, [and] those who were
wounded and needed attention were taken to our sick bay [medical facility]. One
of them was the Captain, [Kapitanleutnant Hans Steen],
a man in his forties. He was brought down to the sick bay in an unconscious
condition and immediately the doctors began to take
care of him. I stayed with them a good deal that night and part of the following
The Captain did not regain consciousness but in that interval of twenty-four
hours, everything was done possible on the part of the
doctors to save his life. There were six [units of] blood plasmas given to him,
two [blood] transfusions and in the period five tanks
of oxygen were used. But, he was in such deep shock and the wounds had caused so
much loss of blood that he died at five o'clock the
The Captain of the ship [USS Card] indicated that the [German captain's] funeral
should be that evening before 8 o'clock reports. So at
1900 [7 p.m.], on the following evening [6 July], we performed the services of burial for the German U-boat
Our ship did not carry a swastika [Nazi flag] and it would not be appropriate
for an American flag to be draped over the body. I
found out that he was a member of the German Lutheran Church and felt that the
most appropriate covering would be our church pennant
which is the white pennant, nine foot pennant [a long tapering triangular
nautical flag] with the blue cross upon it. So on our
flight deck, on a platform on the port side (left side of the ship), rigging was
erected by our carpenters which enabled us to dispose
of the body as part of the service.
The company of the survivors of the submarine were informed and had been kept
informed during the twenty-four hours in which they
[the Navy doctors] were attempting to keep the Captain alive. Two of the crew of
the submarine gave blood transfusions so they knew
that everything had been done on the part of the medical officers to save his
life. And they were informed of the service which
would be at 1900.
The order was passed that it was a voluntary affair and the men of our ship's
company who wished to attend would do so voluntarily.
Practically the entire ship's company came to the flight deck and put on the
uniform-of-the-day which was obligatory for the
services. At 1900, the guard in custody of the prisoners, brought them up the
forward elevator [large platform which raised aircraft
from the hangar deck to the flight deck] and marched them to the midship where
the body was placed on the slide. To make it possible
for a quick disposal of the body, we had rigged a line from the top of the
canvas bag securing it to the bottom of the slide, so
that in the midst of the memorial service, during the committal, it would be
possible to cut the line and the body go into the sea.
The service began with the two [German] officers standing on each side of the
body of their Captain. I read as a service a beautiful
prayer for our enemies which is in one of our Navy handbooks and there are
certainly very appropriate Scripture which can be
read: " The judgements of the Lord are true and righteous altogether."
There are songs of comfort which I read and then I came to the committal when
his body was to be committed to the sea. They stood at
attention and as I started the committal and came to the portion where the
statement is given that the body will now be cast into
the sea, I reached forward with the knife and severed the line and the body
slowly slipped off the slide and went into the sea.
Just at that moment, before I could step back to the microphone and continue the
committal service, the entire company of survivors
whipped out the Nazi salute and in perfect cadence gave a farewell cry to their
Commanding Officer. I do not know what the words were
but it sounded like this. "Hola! Hola! Hola!"
And I understood it meant farewell.
It was interesting to see how moved the entire ship's company were at this
emotion and the restraint with the emotion as the men
of the submarine said farewell to their Commanding Officer.
Immediately following this outburst, which took us by surprise, I stepped up to
the mike and was able to finish the committal service
with its statement of the resurrection and the hope of the Christian faith. At
the conclusion of that, the ship's officers returned
the prisoners to the hold of the ship where they were being kept until we could
deliver them to an American port. And later, one of
the [German] officers asked if he could see me. He was the one who could speak
very good English and he thanked me then for the
service, and for the spirit of the service and asked if, when it would be
permissible, I would write to the widow of the Captain
informing her where he was buried, latitude and longitude, and include in the
letter the service that was used. This I promised and
have kept it so that when the war is concluded and such documents can be sent
back to Germany, I will do that for Captain Steen's
The service was an interesting one because of the spirit of both companies. Each
time that we have had survivors aboard, there has been
a noticed interest on the part of our own men that they share their cigarettes
and their candy and their ice cream with the prisoners
of war do not look on them as enemy but as sailors who are then in need and
there is no sense of bitterness or hostility.
Chaplain, I take it this service was read in English and later translated for
the benefit of the German crew.
No, I'm sorry that was not done. But the one officer, you can see looking at me
here, (shows picture) interpreted the service to the
other of the members of the crew following the entire service.
I think you spoke of this Captain as Captain Steen. Do you know his full name?
Wilhelm Steen. [Kapitleutnant Hans Steen]
What was the number of the U-boat? Do you recall?
I'm sorry I don't have that [U-233] but they had been in commission for
four-and-a-half years and most of that time had been
at sea. I know that the Navy has pictures taken off some of the men which showed the commissioning detail and other activities of the ship's life.
What was the Destroyer that sank it?
The destroyers [destroyer escorts] were the [USS] Baker and the [USS] Thomas.
And where was this? Mid-Atlantic or South Atlantic?
No, This was the North Atlantic approximately 200 miles away from the Sable
Islands [islands approximately 100 nautical miles southeast of Nova Scotia, Canada].
And I don't think you gave the date of the recording.
This was July the 5th, 1944.
How many did you figure were in the [submarine's] crew? About 50, would you say
They say 61 were in the submarine's crew and we saved 31 with one of these being
the Captain. There were 30 survivors brought ashore
[at Boston, Massachusetts].
How come we caught them so unawares I wonder?
From what I understand, this was one of the weather submarines, giving out
nightly weather broadcast to Germany and had been
watched for a good long time. Our planes were scouting in that area and had come
across it the day before but the attack was not
successful. I don't know the details but whether our Captain made a fake and was
able to surprise them by his night trip the night
before or not but it just so happens that they were caught very unexpectedly and
not realize that this escort group was so close to
Captain Isbell was off [no longer Commanding Officer of] the [USS] Card then?
Yes, Captain Rufus C. Young was the Commanding Officer.
I supposed you had several of these church flags?
Yes, we keep a number. This is the official size that is flown from the mast on
Sunday morning and seemed to be the appropriate one to
use for the service. It's a pennant nine feet long.
Notes: 36 United States Code 173-178, approved 22 December 1942, states that the
church pennant is the only flag permitted to fly above
the US flag while at sea, and then only while divine worship services are being
The photographs referred to in this interview are not located in the collections
of the Naval Historical Center. It is possible they
are located at the National Archives and Records Administration, 8601 Adelphi
Road, College Park, MD 20740-6001.
Oral History-Battle of the Atlantic, 1941-1945
Adapted from Chaplain Bell interview in box 2 of World War II Interviews,
Operational Archives Branch, Naval Historical Center.