Friday, November 24, 2006

Fullbore Friday

U-123? Yes. A U-boat for Fullbore Friday? You betcha. Ever gone toe-to-toe with a Q-ship?
At 2053, radio stations at Manasquan, New Jersey, and at Fire Island, New York, intercepted the distress message:

SSS SOS Lat. 36-00 N, Long. 70-00 W, Carolyn burning forward, not bad.

Two minutes later, a second distress message further amplified:

Torpedo attack, burning forward; require assistance.

As U-123 proceeded around under her victim's stern, her captain, Kapitänleutnant Hardegen, noted one boat being lowered on the starboard side and men abandoning ship.

Because such attacks were a regular occurrences at this time and because all available surface craft were on patrol the dispatch from Carolyn produced no immediate action. The Duty Officer in the Control Room had not been informed as to the secret nature of Carolyn, and consequently his only action was to forward the dispatch to Commander-in-Chief, United States Fleet (Cominch).

"Carolyn" was not out of the fight. After U-123 turned to starboard, Atik gathered steerage way, paralleling her course by turning to starboard as well, and dropped her concealment, commencing fire from her main and secondary batteries. The first shell dropped short of the U-boat, as she made off presenting a small target; the others were off in deflection. A hail of .50-caliber machine gun fire, though, ricocheted around the U-boat's decks as she bent on speed to escape the trap into which Hardegen had fallen. One bullet mortally wounded a midshipman standing watch on U-123's bridge. Gradually, the U-boat pulled out of range behind the cover of a smoke screen emitted by her straining diesels, and her captain assessed the damage. As he later recorded, "We had been incredibly lucky."

U-123 submerged and again approached her opponent. At 2129, the U-boat shot a torpedo into Atik's machinery spaces. Satisfied that this blow would be fatal, U-123 stood off and watched as Atik settled by the bow, her single screw now out of the water.

Once again, Atik's crew could be seen embarking in her boats, as their ship clung stubbornly to the surface. U-123 surfaced at 2227, confident that Atik was no longer a threat, and continued to watch until 2250 when a cataclysmic explosion blew Atik to pieces. Ten minutes later, U-123 buried her only casualty -- the midshipmen killed by Atik's machine gun fire. Atik's entire crew perished -- either in the blast or during the severe gale that blew up soon after the ship disintegrated.
Never underestimate your opponent. Don't get your dander up at the U-boat commander. He is a great, honorable warrior. You Jax folks should know the story.
During this time, the oil tanker, SS Gulfamerica had set sail from Texas on her maiden voyage, laden with oil and petroleum bound for the war. The new ship rounded the tip of Florida and sailed parallel to the east coast, northward. At a point just four miles off of Jacksonville, on the night of April 11, U-boat 123 struck the tanker with torpedoes that ignited the fuel into a massive firestorm aboard her. But the ship was slow to sink. The submarine then surfaced and, with her deck gun, began to shoot into the hull to expedite the sinking.

U-boat Commander, Kapitanleutenant Reinhard Hardigan prepared to engage the ship but observed the nearness of the shore - there he could see evidence of the well populated coast of Jacksonville. Realizing that if he fired, there was a possibility that overshots could hit the shore, putting civilians at risk. He navigated around the Gulfamerica to a place where his fire would be directed to sea. In doing so, he lost valuable time and was engaged by American warships. The damaged U-123 made a narrow escape back to Europe.

The Gulfamerica sank, losing nineteen of her crew, but Hardigan's humane conduct in not firing on the shores of the city was recognized.

Long after the war, the
former U-Boat Commander visited Jacksonville and was warmly hosted by the community that was once in his gunsights. The friendship has remained.
A great ship as well. I know some of you are wondering what sub that is up there. Oh, that is her. She was scuttled prior to the war's end - was raised by a lesser navy - and served with the French Navy until the late 1950s.
42 ships sunk for a total of 219.924 GRT
1 auxiliary warship sunk for a total of 3.209 GRT
1 warship sunk for a total of 683 tons
5 ships damaged for a total of 39.584 GRT
1 auxiliary warship damaged for a total of 13.984 GRT

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