During her fourth patrol, Borie got a radar contact on U-256 shortly after 1943 hours, 31 October and closed in. The sub promptly crash dived. Two depth charge attacks forced her back to the surface, but she again submerged; after a third attack, a large oil slick was observed. Though U-256 made it home badly damaged, Hutchins believed the target to be sunk, and signalled the Card: "Scratch one pig boat; am searching for more."
Borie then got another radar contact about 26 miles (42 km) from the first, at 0153 hours on 1 November 1943, range 8000 yds. (7200 m) and charged in to engage. At 2800 yd (2500 m) radar contact was lost, but sonar picked up the enemy sub at about the same time. Borie engaged U-405 (a Type VIIC U-boat) hours before dawn, at 49°00' N., 31°14' W. There were 15-foot seas, with high winds and poor visibility.
The destroyer initially launched depth charges, after which the submarine came (or was probably forced) to the surface. Borie then came about for another attack, engaging with 4 inch (102 mm) and 20 mm gunfire at a range of 400 yd (360 m)
The sub's machine guns scored hits in the forward engine room and several scattered and harmless hits near the bridge, and her deck gun crew traversed their 88 mm (3.5 inch) gun and took aim for their first shot at Borie's waterline; but Borie's 20 mm gunfire wiped out every exposed member of the sub's crew topside, and a salvo of three 4 inch shells then blew off the sub's deck gun before it fired a round. Borie then closed in and rammed U-405, but at the last moment, the submarine turned hard left and a huge wave lifted the Borie's bow onto the foredeck of the U-boat.
After the ramming, Borie was high-centered on top of U-405, and until they separated, exchanges of small arms fire took place. This was a unique battle: unlike most other modern naval battles, it was decided by ramming and small arms fire at extremely close range. Borie's 24-inch spotlight kept the submarine illuminated throughout the following battle, except for brief periods when it was turned off for tactical reasons.
The two ships were initially almost perpendicular to one another; as the battle progressed, wave action and the efforts of both crews to dislodge from the enemy ship resulted in the two vessels becoming locked in a "V" for an extended fight, with the U-Boat along Borie's port side. The two ships were locked together only 25-30° from parallel. The action of the seas began to open seams in Borie's hull forward and flood her forward engine room. The submarine's hull, made of thicker steel and sturdier beams to withstand deep diving, was better able to handle the stress. Hutchins reported later, "We were impressed by the ruggedness and toughness of these boats."
Normally, in a surface engagement the superior armament, speed and reserve buoyancy of the destroyer would have been decisive. But in this unusual case, the destroyer was unable to depress her 4 inch (102 mm) and 3 inch (76 mm) deck guns enough to hit the sub, while all of the submarine's machine guns could be brought to bear. One or two 4 inch gun crews attempted to fire, but their shells passed harmlessly over the target. Borie's crew had a limited number of small arms, however, and the German deck mounts were completely open and had no protection. The executive officer had presented a virtually identical situation during drills on 27 October — a theoretical ramming by a U-boat on the port side — and as a result, after the ramming the Borie's crew took immediate action without orders.
In the extended and bitter fighting that ensued, dozens of German sailors were killed in desperate attempts to keep their machine guns manned. As each man emerged from the hatch and ran toward the guns, he was illuminated by Borie's spotlight and met by a hail of gunfire. Borie's resourceful crew engaged the enemy with whatever was at hand: Tommy guns, rifles, pistols, shotguns intended for riot control, and even a Very pistol. Borie's executive officer and a signalman fired effectively from the bridge with Tommy guns throughout the fight. One German sailor was hit in the chest with a Very flare. One of the Oerlikon 20 mm cannon was also able to continue firing, with devastating effect.
Borie's crewmen could clearly see a polar bear insignia painted on the conning tower of the sub, and three numerals that had been obliterated by 20 mm gunfire. The bow of the sub had been badly damaged by the depth charges and she was probably unable to submerge. U-405's deck armament was extensive: in addition to the 88 mm gun, she also had six MG 42 machine guns, in one quadruple and two single mounts. These weapons would have been devastating if the sub's crewmen had been able to keep them manned. Occasionally, one of them would reach one of the MG 42 mounts, and open fire briefly before he was killed. Other German sailors kept up a sporadic small arms fire of their own from open hatchways.
At a key moment in the fight, as Borie's port side crewmen were running out of 20 mm and small arms ammunition, two Germans broke from their protected position behind the bridge and approached the quad mount gun. A thrown sheath knife pierced a German crewman's abdomen and he fell overboard. Unable to bring his gun to bear, one of the 4 inch gun captains threw an empty 4 inch shell casing at the other German sailor, and successfully knocked him overboard as well.Finally, U-405 and Borie separated and the two crews attempted to engage each other with torpedoes, to no effect. At this point, about 35 of the German crew of 49 had been killed or lost overboard. Borie had been badly damaged and was moving at a reduced speed, while the sub was still capable of maneuvering at a similar speed.
The U-405's tighter turning radius effectively prevented the Borie from bringing her superior broadside firepower to bear, and her skipper, Korvettenkapitän Rolf-Heinrich Hopmann, did a masterful job of maneuvering his badly-damaged boat with his remaining crew.
Borie shut off her searchlight, with her crew hoping that U-405 would attempt to escape and provide a better target for gunfire. The submarine did attempt to speed away, and Borie switched her searchlight back on and turned to bring her broadside guns and a depth charge thrower to bear. The sub was bracketed by shallow-set depth charges and struck by a 4 inch shell, and came to a stop. Borie's crew observed about 14 sailors signalling their surrender and abandoning ship in yellow rubber rafts, and Hutchins gave the order to cease fire; several of them were apparently wounded, being loaded into the rafts in stretchers by their shipmates. The last to leave the stricken ship was wearing an officer's cap. U-405 sank slowly by the stern at 0257. She was seen to explode underwater, probably from scuttling charges set by the last officer to leave. Hutchins reported later,When the submarine sank, there was a yell that went up from all hands — it probably could be heard in Berlin. The men were clasping each other and patting each other on the back, and all during the action, there were times when it was actually comical to observe the situation, particularly with the submarine pinned underneath ... heretofore their one dream had been to catch a submarine, depth charge him, bring him to the surface and then to sink him with gunfire, this particular action more than justified their hopes.The survivors were observed firing Very star shells: Borie's crew believed this to be a distress signal, and maneuvered in an attempt to recover them from their rubber rafts, as they approached 50-60 yards off the port bow. But as it turned out, the Germans were signalling another surfaced U-boat, which answered with a star shell of her own. A Borie lookout reported a torpedo passing close by from that U-boat, and Borie had no choice but to protect herself by sailing away. The Borie was forced to sail through the U-405 survivors' rafts as she turned away from the other U-boat, but the men on the rafts were observed firing another Very flare as the Borie steamed away in a radical zigzag pattern. No German survivors were ever recovered by either side; all 49 crewmen were lost.
A jubilant radio report of the sinking of the U-405 was sent to Card after the engagement,Time to celebrate? Well, notsofast.
Because of the loss of electric power, the crew had to wait until daylight to fully assess the damage to their ship. First light brought a thick fog. Borie was too badly damaged by the collision to reach the rendezvous in time, or even be towed to port by her sister ships. She had sustained severe underwater damage along her entire port side, including both engine rooms, as the two ships were pounded together by the sea before separating. The stress of the wave action from the 15-foot waves, as Borie was pinned against the U-boat's hull, had caused damage to key operating systems throughout the ship.
The forward engine room and generators were completely flooded, and only the starboard engine was operating in the partially flooded aft engine room. Auxiliary power had been lost and speed was reduced. The most critical damage was the compromised hull; but steam and water lines had separated, and most of the fresh water for the boilers had been lost, compounding the drive system problems. As a result, Hutchins was forced to use salt water in the boilers: the reduction in steam pressure forcing him to further reduce speed to 10 knots, making her an easy target for U-boats.
At about 1100, the communications officer restarted the Kohler emergency radio generator with a mixture of "Zippo" lighter fluid and alcohol from a torpedo; a distress call was sent, a homing beacon was set up and, after some delays due to poor visibility, Borie was spotted by a TBF Avenger from the Card.
Valiant efforts were made to save the ship. Kerosene battle lanterns had to be used for all work below decks. The crew formed a bucket brigade, and all available topweight was jettisoned, even the gun director. All remaining torpedoes were fired. The lifeboat, torpedo tubes, 20 mm guns and machine guns were removed and thrown over the side, along with the small arms used against the U-boat crew, tons of tools and equipment, and over 100 mattresses. Only enough 4 inch ammunition was kept for a final defensive action: 10 rounds per gun.
But the ship continued to slowly settle into the water with all pumps running; trailing fuel oil from all portside fuel tanks, and an approaching storm front had been reported. It would have been necessary to bring out a tugboat to tow her into port; due to the poor visibility prevalent in the North Atlantic, Hutchins believed the chances of a tugboat finding the Borie were slim. The nearest port, Horta, was about 690 miles away; Iceland, Ireland and Newfoundland were all about 900 miles away, and the task group was at the approximate center of five reported U-boat wolfpacks. By now there were 20-foot waves.
As nightfall approached at 1630, Hutchins reluctantly ordered his exhausted crew to abandon ship. The Card task force had taken a substantial risk by leaving the escort carrier unprotected in sub-infested waters. Card was 10 miles away, but Goff and Barry were close by as the crew abandoned Borie; on orders from the Task Group commander, the ship was not scuttled at that time. Despite the sporadic machine gun and small arms fire from U-405, none of Borie's crewmen had been killed during the engagement, although several were wounded. But due to 44° F. (6° C.) water, 20-foot waves, high winds and severe exhaustion, three officers and 24 enlisted men were lost during the rescue operation. Hutchins reported, "Many of the lost were just unable to get over the side" of the two rescuing destroyers.
Still, the ship remained afloat through the night; Goff and Barry attempted to sink the wreck at first light, but torpedoes went astray in the heavy seas. One 4 inch shell from the Barry struck the bridge and started a small fire, but she still refused to sink. The coup de grace was delivered on the morning of 2 November by a 500 lb (227 kg) bomb dropped by a TBF Avenger from the Card, piloted by Lt. (jg) Melvin H. Connley of VC-9. Borie finally sank at 0955 on 2 November. The survivors were transferred to the more spacious accommodations of the Card for the journey home.The battle of the Atlantic in a nutshell. There is a reason you hear the trailer for The Cruel Sea on Midrats.