Kriegsmarine U- Boat U-131
The U-131, German long-range submarine of Type IXC, was laid down by AG Weser, Bremen, on September 1st, 1940; and commissioned on July 1st, 1941.
She was on her first war patrol, Korvettenkapitän (Commander) Arend Baumann in command, Sunk 17 Dec, 1941 north-east of Madeira, Portugal, in position 34.12N, 13.35W, 48 survivors (No casualties).
Just minutes before being sunk U-131 shot down a British Martlet aircraft this was the first aircraft shot down by a U-boat in the war. U-131 was sunk immediately afterwards by aircraft bombs and several destroyers: British escort destroyers HMS Exmoor and HMS Blankney, the British destroyer HMS Stanley, the British corvette HMS Pentstemon and the British sloop HMS Stork and by depth charges from a Martlet aircraft (Sqdn. 802) of the British escort carrier HMS Audacity.
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EXTRACTS FROM THE INTERROGATION REPORT OF “U-131” CREW
The complement of "U 131" at the time of her sinking totaled 48, which included five officers, three chief petty officers, 12 petty officers and 28 men. All were saved.
The Engineer Officer of "U 131" was Kapitänleutnant (Ing.) (Engineer Lieutenant-Commander) Eckehardt Schaaf, of the 1933 term. He is married and has a wife living in Kiel. In 1937 he served in the cruiser "Emden," in which ship he visited Falmouth, the only occasion on which he had been in England before his capture. On the outbreak of war he was at the Naval School at Wesermünde and later served in various surface ships, but he said that he was glad to join the U-Boat service, as he realized he would be his own master there. He did not give the impression of disliking the English and was extremely "correct" in his behavior. He was lacking in charm. He said that he hoped to visit England after the war to
continue his engineering studies.
FIRST AND LAST WAR CRUISE OF "U 131"
According to prisoners "U 131" sailed from Kiel on 17th November, 1941. On the first day out she was heading north and came into collision with a Norwegian freighter. Although she escaped serious damage, her stern was slightly stove in and it was thought advisable to put back to Kiel, where she arrived on the following day. Repairs took approximately one week and "U 131" again left Kiel on 25th or 26th November, 1941. Prisoners stated that they believed at this time that they were under orders to proceed to a patrol area in the Atlantic and that their final port of destination was to be Lorient. They followed the Norwegian coast up to the latitude of Bergen, where they turned west. "U 131`s" sole success against shipping occurred after she had reached the Atlantic, when she sank an unescorted 6,000-ton freighter. According to one prisoner this sinking took place on the evening of 6th December, 1941. The prisoner alleged that he remembered the date owing to a coincidence of sixes, the six thousand-ton ship being sunk on the 6th by six torpedoes. The prisoner added that their victim was alone. She came zigzagging towards them and as it was already dark they decided to attack on the surface. Their attack was successful, the steamer finally sinking at 2100 hours (N.I.D. Note. This ship was possibly "Scottish Trader," 4,616 tons, which failed to arrive in Convoy S.C.56, due in Mersey 8th December, 1941.)
On the following day "U 131" sighted a lifeboat containing about 15 Portuguese survivors. Acting on instructions from Baumann the shipwrecked sailors were given condensed milk, water, tinned meat and cigarettes.
Another prisoner stated that on one occasion they sighted a fully illuminated ship at night time. They had received instructions not to attempt an attack on such a ship; but it was not until the ship switched on three searchlights, giving rise to suspicions that she might be a U-Boat trap, that Baumann decided
to abandon the chase. "U 131" was also stated to have maneuvered to attack a 12,000-ton ship which avoided them by zigzagging. "U 131" took up the pursuit but, at the critical moment, the port Diesel engine failed. Before repairs could be effected the merchant vessel had long passed out of sight and further action by the U-Boat was considered useless.
Prisoners stated that while in the Atlantic they were repeatedly forced to dive to avoid attracting the attention of aircraft patrols.
On or about 12th December, 1941, "U 131 apparently received orders to proceed south to the Gibraltar area, one prisoner even making the statement which could not be confirmed, that "U 131" was instructed to proceed to the Mediterranean. Whatever her exact instructions may have been, the prospect of missing Christmas in harbour caused a general depression aboard the U-Boat. According to one prisoner, "U 131" reached a position about two days from Gibraltar when she came upon Convoy H.G.76. Prisoners from "U 574" and "U 434," both of which were sunk in the attack on this convoy, stated that they were directed to the Convoy by "U 131," which was the first U-Boat in contact. These statements have not been confirmed by prisoners from "U 131," but, if they are correct, it would appear that "U 131" first sighted the convoy on 16th December, 1941.
On the night of 16th/17th December, 1941, when following the convoy, "U 131" rose to periscope depth and found herself right in the middle of the British ships. This miscalculation may be attributed to inefficient working of the hydrophones, which appear to have been only indifferently repaired after "U 131`s" collision with the anti-torpedo nets in the Baltic. Recovering from his surprise, Baumann decided that his position was too dangerous for comfort and accordingly he allowed the convoy to pass over his head before following at a more discreet distance.
SINKING OF "U 131"
H.M.S. "Stork," Senior Officer`s ship of the escort of Convoy H.G.76, reported that at 0625 on 17th December, 1941, aircraft sighted a U-Boat on the starboard quarter; this was quickly corrected to 190° convoy 22 miles (on the port beam). "Stork" proceeded towards the position at full speed and ordered the three fastest escorts and the nearest, to do likewise; there ships were "Blankney," "Exmoor," "Stanley" and "Pentstemon."
"Blankney" arrived first, followed by "Stork" at the position indicated by the circling aircraft. "Blankney" passed to "Stork" in quick succession; "Several non-sub echoes here," "Rattle effect" (twice), "Oil" and "No contact"; she then dropped a pattern of depth charges. "Stork" was unable to confirm any of these reports except the first mentioned. "Exmoor," "Blankney" and "Stork" were then formed in line abreast 1-2 miles apart and commenced a sweep on a course of 270° "Stork`s" appreciation being that as the U-Boat had been shadowing the convoy on a westerly course, she would probably continue west, even though forced to dive.
Meanwhile "Pentstemon," coming up astern with "Stanley," obtained a contact, which was classified as "submarine." Echoes were indifferent but the contact was attacked at 1106-1/2 with a pattern of ten depth charges, in which six "Lights" were set to 150 feet and four "Heavies" to 385 feet. Contact was not regained after the attack.
At 1133 "Stanley" and "Pentstemon" were ordered to rejoin "Stork" if not in contact - which they did.
Having swept 12 miles to the westward, "Stork" carried out two turns to port, thereby altering the direction of sweep to 090° and transferring it to cover fresh ground to the southward. The order of ships was then (from north to south) "Pentstemon," "Stanley," "Blankney," "Stork," "Exmoor" in line abreast 1-2 miles apart, course 090°.
According to prisoners` accounts of operations up to this time "U 131" had been proceeding submerged since the break of day, but had surfaced for a quick look around at the very moment when a British aircraft was within visual range. This was at 0925. Baumann deduced correctly that the aircraft would draw British warships to his position, if he had been sighted, and he dived to 250 ft., after, it was stated, he had sighted approaching warships.
At 1108, as one prisoner stated, a number of depth charges exploded around the U-Boat. Three were particularly close and damage within the U-Boat was severe. A considerable quantity of water entered aft and, according to one prisoner, the U-Boat lay at an angle of nearly 40° and began to sink. A number of gauges in the control room were smashed and the electric motors damaged, although they did not become entirely useless. Oil from a leaking tank began to pour into the Diesel room. The hydrophones, which had been working at irregular intervals only, now went completely dead. The lights were not extinguished.
Prisoners alleged that "U 131" had sunk to a depth of over 600 ft. before she could be got under control. This statement must be taken with reserve; survivors are always inclined to exaggerate the depth to which they sink during attack. Steel plates were cracking, as if they would give way at any moment. Paint was peeling in blisters from the inside of the hull; locker doors were warped and jammed shut by the tremendous pressure. When all seemed lost Baumann managed to get some trim on the U-Boat and he ordered the tanks to be blown. "U 131" reached surface with only eight kilograms (17.5 lb.) of air pressure left.
Prisoners were of the opinion that, had they been able to remain a further half an hour submerged, they would certainly have escaped. As it was, they broke surface when "Stanley" was still near enough to sight them and she immediately reported to "Stork"; "Submarine on the surface bearing 060°." "Stork" altered course by Blue Pendant to 060° and ordered ships to proceed at utmost speed. In the ensuing rush the two Hunt class destroyers drew ahead, followed by "Stanley," then "Stork," with "Pentstemon" only just astern.
At 1307 "Audacity`s" relief fighter, to whom the U-Boat`s position had been given, dived to attack the U-Boat.
"U 131," unable to submerge again, had been straining her engines beyond all safety limits to produce her maximum possible surface speed, which prisoners alleged was over 20 knots. She was steering away from the distant destroyers and had hoped to escape out of sight without being seen. She saw the aircraft coming and manned her 2 cm. and 3.7 cm. guns. According to prisoners, they got the range of the aircraft and bullets from the 2 cm. gun struck the cockpit, probably killing the pilot. At the same moment a 3.7 cm. shell scored a direct hit and tore off one wing. The aircraft plunged into the sea.
The renewed lease of life which "U 131" had brought for herself by this success was short. Her best speed, even if she could maintain it, was not enough to out distance the destroyers and, at seven miles range, "Exmoor," "Blankney" and "Stanley" opened fire, the former making particularly excellent shooting. "Stork" opened fire about five minutes later.
Baumann now recognized that his position was hopeless. His one effective gun at such range was trained forward and could not be brought to bear without a disastrous alteration of course. Accordingly, he ordered a signal to be sent to Vice-Admiral U-Boats, reporting the circumstances.
By this time shells were straddling "U 131" and Baumann therefore ordered the vents to be opened and the crew to abandon ship. When interrogated, Baumann stated that his ship was not actually struck by shells and that she was sunk by scuttling and not by explosive charges. All prisoners stated that although the shooting was very good, "U 131" was not hit.
"Stork" reported that "U 131" fired a few rounds at "Blankney" (a fact not confirmed by prisoners), but sank at 1330 on 17th December, 1941, in position 34° 30` N. and 13° 45` W. "U 131`s" entire crew was picked up.
The body of the British pilot was recovered by "Stork" and buried at sea the following day.
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