Recollections of Lieutenant Commander Dudley S. Knox, USNR,
on destroyer escort USS Chatelain DE-14, of the sinking of
German submarines U-515 and U-68 off Madeira
Island on 9 and 10 April 1944
This is a talk on an action which took place in the North Atlantic on Easter
Sunday. I'll give you some background before I go into
that part of the story. I will give you a general idea of what we were doing. We
were Task Group 21.12 operating as a so-called killer
group. Our mission was to sink submarines and we attempted to stay at sea in the
areas where the submarines were concentrating. With a
CVE [escort aircraft carrier], the [USS] Guadalcanal [CVE-60], there were four
escorts, all of which were DE's [destroyer escorts]. I
believe this was the first time that DE's were used for this purpose.
The action on Easter Sunday started actually on the 8th in the evening when
aircraft attacked a radar contact which proved to be a
submarine and which crash dived. During the night, the USS Pope [DE-134] of the
same group made sound contact and attacked three times
and then lost contact. Later on in the morning of the ninth, I think
approximately around 6 in the morning, another submarine was attacked which I
think eventually proved to be the same submarine. He in turned crash dived and escorts were sent out to search the area.
The USS Pope was left to screen the carrier, and as she was steaming more or
less away from the attack area she got sound contact. I believe it was on the starboard bow of the
carrier, and later reports indicate that the Captain of the submarine, the U-515, had the Guadalcanal in his sights and he had planned
a torpedo attack on her. However, when he heard the pinging
[sonar] on him he instantly took evasive tactics. The Pope maintained
contact all morning, and made repeated attacks.
About 12 o'clock in the day, about 1200, the Division Commander asked the Pope
if she needed assistance. She stated that she did and
the USS Chatelain [DE-149], the ship that I was on, was detached for the search
and went to help. Our mission at that time was to
maintain contact on the submarine which we got instantly on approaching the
area. Now all we did for perhaps an hour was to lay
off while the Pope continued her attacks by depth charge.
Finally the Pope lost contact and at the same time the Chatelain lost contact,
and we commenced a search in the immediate area, with
the rest of the escorts laying off perhaps three to six thousand yards. After
sweeping the area for some time, the Chatelain
regained contact and commenced her run. I happened to be on the flying bridge
and the ASW [antisubmarine warfare] Officer had passed
the word to stand by to fire depth charges when I saw a bow out of the water
broad on our starboard beam, approximately 400 yards
away, perhaps less. At that time, we were, of course, at general quarters and we commenced firing instantly. Our momentum was such that we
circled across her bow and lay off about a thousand yards or less and fired all our guns. There was an attempt from the
submarines' crew as they came out of the conning tower to man the 20 mm. [antiaircraft] guns right in the conning tower, but
such a concentration of fire was made that they were soon cleaned off the conning tower.
We then noticed men spilling out of a hatch aft and diving into the water. We
ceased firing and there was a period when we waited
for them to abandon ship but nothing seemed to happen when four men, either four
or five men ran forward to man her forward gun. Our 20
mm [antiaircraft guns] cut them down before they could get to the gun and we
commenced firing with all the guns for the second time
and she exploded. There seems to be some question of whether or not it was ready
box ammunition that exploded. The fire seemed to come
out of the hatch forward near the gun. We then ceased fire for the second time and the submarine sank, stern first.
After the submarine sank the USS Pope came in and assisted us in taking on
survivors. Forty-three men were saved from the water,
of which approximately seven were taken aboard the USS Chatelain, which included
the Captain of the submarine. He stated his name to be
Lieutenant Commander Heinkle [Korvettenkapitan Werner Henke], who it turned out
was a very famous German submarine commander who had
been decorated by Hitler himself. The survivors were, of course, very completely shocked, practically every survivor had his ear drums
punctured and they were very dazed. They were, however, soon
transferred to the carrier, where they got proper medical attention and
we were all glad to say that they all recovered.
Also, a note of interest, there was no question of arrogance on the part of any
of the people there. We asked the German Commander,
the Captain, when he thought the war would end. He said, "1944."
On the following morning, April 10th aircraft [from USS Guadalcanal] made radar
contact approximately around 0600 in the morning. They
attacked [German submarine U-68 near Madeira Island] and there was an explosion
seen by the aircraft followed by a second explosion
under the surface of the water. There was very reason to believe this was a
kill, escorts were detached and arrived at the scene
approximately two hours later. Floating in the water were four air flasks which
were recovered. They looked very bright as though they
had not been stowed on deck. There were two men floating in the water, and the one that we picked up was the only one alive. The
USS Flaherty [DE-135], also a part of this Task Group, picked up the other man. There was also a great amount of oil on the
water, parts of bodies, floating about, jackets, trousers, pillow cases, all sorts of odd things that indicated that the
submarine had been mortally damaged.
The one survivor was in pretty bad shape. He had been in the water for some time
but recovered sufficiently to answer questions in
German. However, he, in turn, was transferred to the carrier and stated upon
recovery that he had been on deck manning machine guns
when attacked by aircraft and been blown clear into the water. I believe,
although there is nothing official, at this time, that
that was a kill. The air flasks in the water would indicate that something had
been opened up in the way of pressure hull and would
indicate that the submarine was sunk by aircraft.
Note: German Navy Korvettenkapitan Werner Henke, commander of U-515 from 21 Feb.
1942 to 9 April 1944, was killed while attempting to
escape from a prisoner of war camp on 15 June 1944. [Source: Busch, Rainer and
Hans-Joachim Roll, German U-Boat Commanders of World
War II: a Biographical Dictionary, Annapolis MD: Naval Institute Press, 1999.].
Oral History-Battle of the Atlantic, 1941-1945
Adapted from: Dudley S. Knox interview in box 18 of World War II Interviews,
Operational Archives Branch, Naval Historical Center