Purpose of this blog

Dmitry Yudo aka Overlord, jack of all trades
David Lister aka Listy, Freelancer and Volunteer

Sunday, July 11, 2021

Liberating a U-boat

 On the 7th of July, 1943, U-468 slipped out of the U-boat pens at La Pallice, and departed on her third patrol. Morale amongst the crew was particularly low. Over recent weeks the crew had heard of repeated losses and very few boats returning from patrol. To the extent the crews were beginning to call the submarine arm ‘Totenkommando’ or ‘Hundsmord’, which translates to ‘suicide squadron’ and ‘dog's death’. In addition, the crew of U-468 had been experiencing bad luck on their previous patrols.

U-468 at sea.

Her first patrol had seemed to start off well, until she was subjected to a heavy depth charge attack that kept her submerged for a prolonged time, and her stern became too heavy taking on a downwards angle while at a depth of about 190m. She eventually resurfaced and found a British tanker called SS Empire Light that had been previously damaged by another U-boat’s torpedo. The SS Empire Light had become separated and would seem to have been easy prey for the U-468, however, it still took some five torpedoes to score a hit on the tanker. The Empire Light’s crew then abandoned ship. After a while as the ship had not sunk the crew prepared to re-board, resulting in the U-468 firing a sixth and final torpedo, which sent the Empire Light to the bottom. After the U-468 returned to base the crew were not given a full leave period, with just thirteen days between arrival and departure. The next patrol was even worse. Spotted early on by Allied aircraft the U-468 was subjected to a severe hunt by surface and air units that forced her to spend about a day and a half submerged whilst the aircraft and later a destroyer prosecuted the hunt for her. She finally managed to escape but had suffered some damage and thus returned to base for repairs.

Now, U-468 was departing on her third patrol. The captain had been drilling her crew extensively in AA work, however, to avoid having to test out his crew’s skills the captain took the boat down the coast of France and Spain to avoid crossing the Bay of Biscay, which was rapidly becoming a killing zone for the Allied anti-submarine efforts.

By the 11th of August U-468 was off the coast of Dakar, so far, the patrol had been quiet, only one small steamer had been found. As it was brightly lit, the crew had exchanged challenges with her, only to find that she was a Swiss ship and thus neutral. 

B-24 from 220 Squadron

At about 0945 U-468 was travelling on the surface when a B-24 Liberator was sighted at 6,000 yards. This was from No. 200 Squadron from the RAF and was flown by the New Zealand pilot Flying Officer Lloyd Allan Trigg. The Liberator was manoeuvring to set up its attack run. By this stage in the war the U-boat crews knew that it was better to try and fight the enemy aircraft, than to dive and try to hide. So, the two single barrelled 20mm’s on the U-boat began to fire. Astoundingly the accurate 20mm fire scored a hit, and the rear of the plane became a fireball enveloping the tail entirely. Instead of breaking off F/O Trigg continued to press home his attack. With no deflection the German gunners could hardly miss. Battered by 20mm, soon the Liberator entered range of the two MG81 machine guns also mounted on the conning tower, and these joined in the hammering of the Liberator. Tracer from the gunfire was seen to punch through the Liberator and carry on, all the while the fire continued to rage and spread. 

F/O Trigg

F/O Trigg’s attack run was from the port side of U-468, and it was perfectly flown, with the Liberator crossing just aft of the conning tower, at a height of 50ft. The German gunners could see their rounds bursting in the Liberators gaping bomb bay, in which several depth charges hung. As the Liberator soared over, she released a string of six depth charges. Two of these charges landed within 6ft of the U-boat, bracketing her. In the spray of water exploding the Captain of the U-boat lost sight of the Liberator, spinning around he saw the fireball slam into the water a short distance away, at which point a loud explosion occurred. There were no survivors from the Liberators crew.

Onboard U-468 the shockwaves had caused devastation. Most of the machinery was ripped from its mountings. There were several serious water leaks and U-468 was settling in the water. The radio was utterly destroyed, and one of the fuel tanks had split flooding some 65 gallons of diesel into the submarine. The rear torpedo tube had fractured and a 2in wide stream of water was flooding in, but worse was to come. Water was entering the battery compartment, which caused a cloud of chlorine to fill the submarine. Choking men tried to evacuate but the damage and the gas meant it was difficult, if not impossible. U-468 sunk in about ten minutes.

Just under half the crew, some 20 men, managed to jump overboard, many were likely gun crews, but some were suffering chlorine poisoning as they had tried and failed to get their lifebelts. As the men thrashed in the sea most were taken by drowning, sharks and barracuda. After half-an-hour one of the few survivors found a dinghy that had been thrown clear of the F/O Trigg’s aircraft when it exploded. Remarkably this was unpunctured, and still had its inflation bottle attached. After triggering the bottle some seven survivors were able to clamber onto the life raft.

Later in the day a Sunderland appeared in the skies above the life raft and dropped a supply canister to the survivors. The next day HMS Clarkia arrived at the location after being directed to them by Allied air and rescued the Germans. 

U-boat POW's being landed, including the crew of U-468.

The U-boat captain recommended that F/O Trigg be decorated. Based solely on the testimony of the seven German survivors F/O Trigg was awarded the Victoria Cross. This is the only time in the history of the VC that it was awarded based only on the account of the enemies. Some of you might be thinking what about Lt-Cmdr Roope (HMS Glowworm) or Sgt Durrant (St Nazaire raid). Both of those actions were recommended by German personnel, but there were surviving Allied witnesses to support the German recommendation. In F/O Trigg's case there were no Allied witness.


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Image Credits & Sources:

Full transcript of U-468's crew interrogation can be found here.