Fighting the U-boats

Aircraft & Air forces

The Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF)

'Caught on the Surface'. The sinking of U-461 by an RAAF Sunderland, 461/U, in the Bay of Biscay in July 1943, as depicted by aviation artist Robert Taylor.


Despite the fact that Australia is situated quite literally at the other end of the Earth from the North Atlantic Ocean, Australian airmen were intensively involved in fighting the U-boats throughout WW2.

The participation of Australians in the Battle of the Atlantic arose from two decisions made early in the war. In September 1939, the RAAF happened to have two squadrons of Short Sunderland flying boats under construction in the UK. When war broke out, Australia supported Britain by committing the flying boats and their Australian crews to anti-U-boat patrols in British waters.

At about the same time, the British 'Dominion' countries (such as Australia and Canada) were organised into a massive 'Empire' aircrew training scheme. Under this scheme, individual RAAF aircrew could find themselves receiving basic training in Australia, followed by advanced training in Canada and operational conversion with RAF units in Britain. This system produced a sustained flow of Australians into Europe even after the Japanese attack in the Pacific in 1941.

It was originally expected that Australian aircrew arriving in Britain would be used to form wholly 'Australian' squadrons. This did indeed happen for around half of the RAAF manpower supplied to Europe. The other half were randomly allocated as replacements throughout the British RAF. As a result, many RAAF airmen played important roles in U-boat sinkings which have historically been classified as 'British' successes.

The chronology below lists 29 U-boat sinkings and eight other significant actions where RAAF airmen made a major contribution. In many cases, references are listed for relevant photos held by the Australian War Memorial in Canberra (AWM). The photos can easily be viewed at

(Instructions: It is recommend that you open a new Internet browser window. (Hit Cntl+N in Internet Explorer.) Next, click on the above link to open the AWM photo search engine. Copy and paste the search keywords noted below, including any punctuation, to the 'Find This' box of the search engine, then click the 'Search' button.)



An Early Morale Boost. U-26 Scuttled Under Pressure.
1 July 1940.

U-26 attacked a convoy southwest of the Scilly Isles and was damaged by the corvette HMS Gladiolus. The U-boat tried to escape on the surface but it was then twice attacked with depth-charges by an Australian Sunderland, aircraft 'H' of 10 Squadron RAAF ('10/H'), piloted by Flight Lieutenant Bill Gibson. With the Naval escort catching up, he captain of U-26 then decided to scuttle his boat. All of his crew were picked up by HMS Rochester. This sinking occurred about 300 miles SSW of the 10 Squadron base at Mount Batten near Plymouth on the southwestern coast of England.

(For a photograph of the Sunderland's depth-charges exploding near U-26; AWM Keyword: U26 )
(For an fascinating selection of propoganda photos of RAAF 10 Squadron Sunderlands and their base, taken in July 1940, including several cheesy portraits of Gibson; AWM Keyword (use the entire string): +"1940-07", +"raf station mount batten" )


Leigh Light Debut. Italian Submarine Luigi Torelli Damaged.
3 and 7 June 1942.

Luigi Torelli was the first Axis submarine attacked at night with the assistance of the 'Leigh Light' airborne searchlight. An Australian, Pilot Officer Triggs, was the second pilot of the 172 Squadron RAF Wellington which delivered that attack.

Three days later, the damaged Torrelli was spotted, limping back through the Bay of Biscay, by an RAAF 10 Squadron Sunderland. This was joined by another 10 Squadron Sunderland flown by Flight Lieutenant Ed Yeoman, who attacked with depth-charges. Both Australian flying boats were damaged by return fire.

The next day the Luigi Torelli was observed beached, with a large hole amidships, at Santander on the Spanish coast. Torelli was patched up and had a remarkably colourful career over the rest of the war. It was boarded by the Japanese in Singapore when the Italians surrendered in 1943 and then handed to the Germans in Penang, Malaya, as UIT-25. Following the German surrender in 1945 it was renamed I-504 by the Japanese and operated with the Imperial Japanese Navy until August 30th, 1945. It scored the last combat victory of any Japanese naval vessel in WW2, shooting down an American B-25 Mitchell bomber. Some of the original Italian crew served on the boat right through all of its ownership changes.

(Ed Yeoman was killed in action two months after his attack on Torelli. For two portraits of Triggs, who later survived a ditching in the Bay of Biscay; AWM Keyword: 400500 )

Gun Drill. U-71 Damaged.
5 June 1942.

One example of the many inconclusive encounters between Australian aircraft and U-boats is recorded in a dramatic photo showing U-71 being strafed in the Bay of Biscay by RAAF Sunderland 10/U, piloted by Flight Lieutenant S. R. C. Wood. U-71 was depth-charged whilst crash-diving and forced back to the surface. The Sunderland had no further depth-charges and fired 2000 rounds of machinegun ammunition before U-71 eventually dived, trailing oil. No-one was injured on board the U-boat.

Shortly afterwards the Sunderland was engaged by a German FW200 Condor four-engined patrol plane. In a running gun battle lasting 75 minutes, these two large aircraft both sustained serious damage.

(The sea boils around U-71; AWM Keyword: 044829 )

Cloud Cover. U-105 Damaged.
11 June 1942.

U-105 was located on the surface of the Bay of Biscay during daylight by an RAAF Sunderland flown by Flight Lieutenant E. B. Martin. This was during the difficult period for U-boat commanders when they were threatened with Leigh Light attacks at night, but had not yet been equipped with the Metox radar detector. Many U-boats chose to surface in daylight for battery charging during this period, when they had a better chance of seeing an attacker in time to make a crash dive. Martin flew a radar approach behind low cloud cover and then made a surprise depth-charge attack. While this attack was not fatal, the badly damaged U-105 had to take refuge in El Ferrol, Spain. Martin himself was killed in action only six weeks later.

(Martin's depth-charges explode as U-105 slips away. Note: there is a mistake in the dating of this photo, it should be c1942; AWM Keyword: SUK10562 )

Rear Access. Italian Submarine Alabastro Sunk.
14 September 1942.

A Sunderland flying boat of RAF 202 Squadron flying from Gibraltar happened across the Italian submarine Alabastro in the western Mediterranean, NW of Algiers. The Sunderland was piloted by RAAF Flight Lieutenant E. P. Walshe. Alabastro stayed on the surface and fought with guns, but an approach from the rear by Walshe unsighted some of the Italian gunners. Precise suppressive fire from the Sunderland gunners then allowed an accurate depth-charge drop to be made. Alabastro stopped dead in the water and sank after half an hour, leaving 40 survivors in the water.

(For portraits of Walshe, who received his DFC at Buckingham Palace; AWM Keyword (include the quote marks): "e. p. walshe" )

Chicago Bound. U-505 Damaged and a Hudson Lost.
10 November 1942.

This incident, which occurred in the Caribbean approaches SE of Trinidad, is notable because it involved one of the best-known U-boats, U-505. The boat was attacked by a twin-engined RAF Hudson patrol bomber, operated by an unusually diverse multinational crew.

Hudson 'L' of RAF 53 Squadron had on board one American, one Australian, two Britons and a New Zealander. All were killed during their attack on U-505, when one of their depth-charges detonated on the deck planking of the boat. The overflying Hudson was caught in the blast and crashed into the sea. U-505 suffered two wounded personnel during this attack, plus some spectacular damage, but was able to limp all the way back across the Atlantic to Lorient. After the war, U-505 became a famous walk-through exhibit in the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry.

(Photo of the Hudsons of 53 Squadron flying to the aid of America; AWM Keyword: 128200 )
(A picture of U-505's shattered deck.) (U-505 today.)


Irredeemable. U-167 Scuttled. 5 April 1943.

While operating near the Canary Islands, U-167 was attacked by RAF Hudson 233/L, flown by RAAF Pilot Officer K. R. Dalton. The U-boat was seriously damaged. Later that afternoon it was found stopped on the surface by another Hudson and attacked ineffectually with depth-charges. At that stage, U-167 submerged with difficulty, but it was irredeemably damaged. Soon after, it was scuttled near the SW shore of Gran Canaria island. All of the crew got off safely with the help of local fishing boats.

Bolt from the Blue. U-632 Sunk.
6 April 1943.

U-632 was surprised and sunk south-west of Iceland by Liberator 'R' of RAF 86 Squadron. The pilot was RAAF Pilot Officer Cyril Burcher. Later during the same patrol, Burcher attacked another U-boat with his remaining depth-charges.

Stopgap Success. The Death of U-227.
30 April 1943.

The spring of 1943 saw desperate British efforts to cover the 'Northern Transit Zone' between the Shetland and Faeroe islands, where U-boats leaving Germany entered the Atlantic. Part of this effort included patrols by twin-engined Hampden torpedo bombers of 455 RAAF Squadron. The Australian crews had to do without specialised training for this role. They flew many lonely missions in these slow and obsolete aircraft, which also lacked search radar. Despite this, Hampden X/455, flying from Sumburgh in the Orkneys, at the far northern tip of the UK, spotted U-227 north of the Shetlands. The Hampden's pilot, Sergeant J. S. Freeth, executed two accurate depth-charge attacks to sink the boat. None of the U-boat men survived. They had been outward bound on their maiden voyage.

(For several fine pictures of 455 Squadron Hampdens and station life; AWM Keyword (include quotes): "hampden torpedo bomber" ) (For a portrait of Freeth, who was soon afterwards killed in a flying accident; AWM Keyword: P02450*007 )

Hot Reception. U-465 Sunk.
2 May 1943.

Early in the pivotal month of May 1943, as Doenitz's 'fight-back' directive produced a rash of daylight U-boat sightings, Flight Lieutenant Bertie Smith was patrolling the southern end of the 'Derange' area of the Bay of Biscay in Sunderland 'M' of RAAF 461 Squadron.

U-465 was spotted from 10 miles away, travelling outbound from France. 461/M approached using low broken cloud for cover. The U-boat engaged the Sunderland with cannon fire at a distance of one mile.

During the final approach, the bow turret gunner, Sgt Macdonald, an RAF man attached to the Australian squadron, successfully suppressed the fire from U-465. Smith's first 4-bomb depth-charge attack then washed the U-boat's gun crews into the ocean. U-465 began to list heavily, circled and stopped, blowing vapour and leaking oil. It started to catch fire. A second depth-charge drop by Smith foiled an attempt to re-man the flak guns. U-465 settled by the stern and around 15 men jumped into the sea. Unfortunately, none survived. Smith and his crew returned to their base at Pembroke Dock, South Wales.

(For several fine pictures of Smith, his crew and 461/M; AWM Keyword: 400297 )
(Panoramic view of their base at Pembroke Dock; AWM Keyword: UK0119 )

White Warpaint. U-663 Fatally Wounded.
7 May 1943.

Operating from his base at Mount Batten in Cornwall, Flying Officer Geoff Rossiter was patrolling the 'Derange' area of the Bay of Biscay in RAAF Sunderland 10/W. U-663 was spotted with binoculars, outward bound, whilst the Sunderland was about 17 miles away and patrolling just below the cloud base. The Sunderland's white camouflage provided excellent concealment in these conditions. The aircraft was then flown above the clouds to within four miles of the estimated position of the U-boat.

The Sunderland then made two swift depth-charge attacks. U-663 was seriously damaged. It circled, then stopped; then slowly submerged, trailing oil. It reported in by radio after the attack, but sank during the following day with total loss of life.

(A portrait of 10/W's crew; AWM Keyword: UK00135 )
(U-663 circling; AWM Keyword: 043768 )

Body Blow. U-447 Sunk.
7 May 1943.

U-447 was sunk 200 miles SW of Cape Saint Vincent, Portugal, by two Hudson aircraft of 233 RAF Squadron, operating from Gibraltar. The pilot of one, RAAF Flight Sergeant T. V. Holland, made a well-placed depth-charge attack which seemed to lift U-447 bodily out of the water. U-447 attempted to dive, then resurfaced, obviously in difficulties. It wallowed briefly and then sank out of sight for the last time. No survivors were seen.

(As a complete contrast to such destruction, there are four photos of the kind-hearted Holland presenting bananas (an unobtainable treat in those days) to children in a London hospital; AWM Keyword: 416002 )

Homed In. U-563 Battered into Oblivion.
31 May 1943.

On the last day of 'Black May', U-563 was attacked twice by RAF Halifax 58/R in the Bay of Biscay. The submarine was severely damaged and unable to submerge. 58/R homed in several more aircraft. A second RAF Halifax, 58/J, made two less accurate attacks, leaving U-563 trailing oil, but still turning easily in evasive manoeuvres. Then an RAAF Sunderland, 10/E, piloted by Flight Lieutenant M. S. Mainprize, made two depth-charge attacks which temporarily stopped the U-boat in the water, before it slowly got under way again. U-563 was finally sunk by two further depth-charge attacks from RAF Sunderland 228/X. The last attack went in as the crew were attempting to abandon the boat. 30 men were observed floating in the water, but none were ever rescued.

(Mainprize's Crew; AWM Keyword: SUK10945 )
(An action photo; AWM Keyword: 0473767 )

Body Guard. U-564 Sunk but Avenged.
14 June 1943.

On the previous day, U-564 had been damaged in the Bay of Biscay by a Sunderland from 228 RAF Squadron. Although it managed to shoot the Sunderland down, U-564 was too severely damaged to submerge, and BdU instructed the nearby U-185 to escort U-564 back to base and help fend off any attacking aircraft. On the way back, the two U-boats were spotted by an elderly Whitley bomber on active training duty, aircraft 'G' of RAF Number 10 OTU (Operational Training Unit). The pilot was RAAF Sergeant Buzz Benson. The Whitley circled the boats while sending out homing signals for other aircraft. This was the standard procedure for attacking defensive groups of U-boats.

However, after more than two hours, only one other Allied plane had arrived. This was an RCAF Hampden, an aircraft barely more effectual than the Whitley. Benson requested permission from Coastal Command to attack anyway. He made an accurate depth-charge drop which finished off U-564. The boat sank quickly and only 18 survivors were picked up by U-185.

Benson's Whitley suffered significant engine damage from the combined flak defence of the two U-boats. He was unable to remain airborne and had to ditch on the way home. Fortunately, he managed to do this safely and his crew were rescued by French fishermen. The crew became prisoners of war when they were landed back on the French coast. Benson was awarded a DFM for sinking U-564.

To cap off this day of destruction, the unfortunate RCAF Hampden was shot down by a flight of German Ju88 fighters despatched to the scene.

(A portrait of Benson; AWM Keyword: P02052*001 )

Mediterranean Sun. U-97 Sunk.
16 June 1943.

U-97 torpedoed a ship near Haifa in the Eastern Mediterranean. Subsequently, Hudson 'T' of 459 Squadron RAAF, piloted by Flying Officer D. T. Barnard, was despatched from Lydda Palestine to search for the U-boat. U-97 was found fully-surfaced with some crew apparently sunbathing on deck. The Hudson made an immediate depth-charge attack. One depth-charge exploded on U-97's decking, two more went into the water alongside. The U-boat was fatally holed and sank within five minutes. The Hudson was damaged by the blast from the direct hit. It required great skill to bring it safely back to base. Only 21 of U-97's crew were rescued.

(For an interesting set of photos of 459 Squadron Hudson aircraft and base activities; AWM Keyword (use entire string): gambut, "459 squadron" )

North Atlantic Encounter. U-200 Goes Down Fighting.
24 June 1943.

On this clear summer's day, U-200 was spotted by the crew of Liberator 'H' of 120 RAF Squadron, which was flying from Iceland towards a convoy escort rendezvous. U-200 fought on the surface, but was sunk on the first depth-charge pass. The Liberator was seriously damaged by U-200's cannon fire but was successfully landed back in Reykjavik by its Australian pilot, Flight Lieutenant A. W. Fraser.

U-200 was one of the 'Monsun' boats despatched to Asia. It was carrying 'special forces' troops in addition to the normal crew. All perished.

Fraser himself died one year later in a flying accident. Many RAAF lives were lost in such accidents - all part of the huge cost of countering the U-boat threat.

(Two dramatic photos of the attack (note that U-200 is mis-identified in one caption) plus some shots of Fraser's crew in Reykjavik and England.; AWM Keyword (include quotes): "A. W. Fraser" ) (A fine air-to-air shot of Liberator 120/H, which was credited with sinking five U-boats over its career; AWM Keyword: P01367*006 )

A Matter of Chance. An Unsuccessful Attack.
30 June 1943.

The Australian War Museum has a gripping photo of a low-level attack on a U-boat in the Bay of Biscay by an RAAF Sunderland, flown by Flight Lieutenant H. W. Skinner. Unsuccessful attacks like this one were more common than sinkings, but even sighting a U-boat was a rare event. The Biscay aircrews had to endure many thankless hours of patrolling to achieve each sighting, flying in all weathers and faced with the constant threat of hostile German aircraft.

(AWM Keyword: SUK11049 )

The Bullet With Your Name On It. U-461 Sunk by 461/U!
30 July 1943.

This strange co-incidence occurred during a classic anti-submarine engagement involving combined forces on both sides. It illustrates the intensity of the fighting during Doenitz's 'group sailing' experiments in 1943, when groups of U-boats travelled together on the surface to provide mutual anti-aircraft defence.

Two strategically valuable 'milk-cow' U-tankers (U-461 and U-462) and a Type IX (U-504), were travelling together outbound through the Bay of Biscay. The group of boats was spotted by RAF Liberator 53/O, which homed in two Halifaxes from RAF 502 Squadron, a USN 19th Squadron Liberator and an RAAF Sunderland, 461/U, flown by Flight Lieutenant Dudley Marrows. Nearby British Naval units were also alerted and gave chase.

All of the aircraft circled the U-boat group, which stayed on the surface at top speed in calm sea conditions and good visibility. One of the Halifaxes made an ineffective attack. It was damaged by the boats' accurate defensive fire and had to run for home. Halifax 502/S then attacked out of the sun and dropped three 600-pound bombs which damaged U-462. Other approaches from the aircraft were beaten off by the flak, until Liberator 53/O succeeded in bravely diving through the barrage. It was heavily hit and was unable to make an accurate attack.

However, this diversion allowed Marrows in Sunderland 461/U to approach closely before he was noticed by the defence. Machine-gun fire from the Sunderland silenced the gunners of U-461. Marrows skimmed in so low over the wave-tops that the other two boats did not have a clear shot past U-461. Marrows released his depth-charges and zoomed over the conning tower of U-461, sinking the large U-tanker. (This moment is depicted in the Robert Taylor painting at the head of this page.)

Soon afterwards, not lacking in courage, Marrows made a further determined attack on U-504. Halifax 502/S then succeeded in sinking the other milch-cow, U-462. The remaining Type IX, U-504, continued to fight on alone but had to submerge once the Naval guns of the pursuing 2nd Support Group came within range. It was then hunted with sonar and sunk by depth-charges from the ships.

Marrows returned to the site of the U-461 sinking and dropped a life raft to the 25-30 swimmers seen amongst the wreckage, but only 15 of these men were eventually picked up by HMS Woodpecker. As if Marrows' crew had not had enough excitement for the day, on the way home they spotted another U-boat. Marrows decided to attack it. The attack was unsuccessful and their Sunderland was further damaged by return fire. Having now expended their last depth-charges and being low on fuel, they no doubt gladly turned for home. Their robust Sunderland was subsequently written-off due to the damage from these battles.

Marrows was later able to obtain some souvenirs of U-461 from the Royal Navy, the captain's life preserver and keys. He donated these to the Australian War Memorial.

(Action photos taken during the battle; AWM Keyword: U-461 )
(Ten photos of U-461 in less stressful circumstances AWM Keyword: u461 )
(Two months later, Marrows and his crew were very lucky to survive a running battle with six Ju88 twin-engined fighter aircraft. Their Sunderland was critically damaged and they had to ditch. Following their rescue, the crew was photographed with the small inflatable raft which kept them safe until they were picked up the next day. AWM Keyword: p02184*003 )

Fatal Exchange. U454 sunk.
1 August 1943.

Sunderland 'B' of 10 Squadron RAAF was co-operating with the Royal Navy 2nd Support Group in the Bay of Biscay when it spotted U-454 in very rough seas only six miles from the British ships. 10/B was immediately steered in to the attack by its pilot, Flight Lieutenant K. G. Fry. The Sunderland was severely holed by flak, but Fry pressed home an accurate depth-charge strike which broke U-454 in two. The mortally wounded flying boat was then steered towards the ships by Fry, who attempted to alight on the water. Unfortunately the damaged Sunderland broke up in the rough conditions. Only six of the 12 crew could be rescued. Fry did not survive. 14 survivors of U-454 were also picked up by the sloop HMS Kite.

(The survivors of Fry's crew back in Plymouth; AWM Keyword: 405965 ) (The dramatic rescue; AWM Keyword: SUK11307 )

Hare and Hounds. The Sinking of U-106.
2 August 1943.

U-106 was intercepted in the Bay of Biscay and chose to stay on the surface to fight two Sunderlands, 'M' of 461 RAAF Squadron, flown by Flight Lieutenant I. A. F. Clark, and 228/N RAF. The U-boat probably stayed up because British Naval units were also nearby and they would quickly have been on top of it, had it submerged. Both aircraft attacked with depth-charges and machine guns. After four depth-charge runs U-106 blew up and sank. 36 survivors were later picked up by the Naval 2nd Support Group.

(Before and after photos of the explosion; AWM Keyword: U106 )

Rocket Attack. The Sinking of U-336.
5 October 1943.

U-336 was attacked by Hudson 'F' of RAF 269 Squadron, which was on convoy patrol south-west of Iceland. The Australian pilot, Flight Sergeant G. C. Allsop, fired four pairs of armour-piercing rockets during his approach, while the U-336 gunners tried to swat the Hudson out of the sky. The U-boat was holed and stopped in a cloud of smoke. It sank by the bow in the cold seas. All hands were lost.

(A typical rocket installation on an RAAF aircraft; AWM keyword: SUK12387 )

Baiting Procedure. U-419 and U-643 Sunk.
8 October 1943.

An effective technique for locating U-boats was to mount intensive aircraft patrols around threatened convoys. The example below also illustrates how the efforts of different aircrew members could contribute to a victory.

South of Iceland, Liberator 'R' of 86 Squadron RAF was patrolling around a convoy when its Australian wireless operator, Warrant Officer A. R. Craine, on lookout with binoculars, spotted U-419's wake from 6 miles away. An unsuccessful depth-charge attack was made as U-419 crash dived. However, the position was marked and the aircraft departed the area temporarily, to see if U-419 could be bluffed into surfacing again ('baiting procedure'). An hour later, the Australian navigator of the Liberator, Flying Officer Webb, guided 86/R back to the same position and they caught U-419 on the surface. The Liberator sank U-419 with its last two remaining depth-charges. The Naval escort from the convoy could only find one survivor.

86/R resumed its patrol, only to discover another boat, U-643, on the surface. U-643 stayed up, probably hoping to keep the aircraft at bay with flak and thus avoid a vulnerable crash dive. 86/R engaged U-643 with gunfire, but had no depth-charges left. Craine the wireless operator homed in another 86 Squadron aircraft, Liberator 'Z', flown by RAAF Pilot Officer Cyril Burcher. (It was Burcher who had sunk U-632 four months earlier.)

U-643 dived as soon as the second aircraft appeared, escaping a rushed depth-charge attack from Burcher. He marked the location with a smoke float and followed baiting procedure. When 86/Z returned one hour later, U-643 was found on the surface - already under attack from Liberator 120/T. Burcher immediately made an accurate depth-charge attack. This was followed by another attack from 120/T. Both Liberators then made four machine-gun passes. The U-643 crew were observed on the deck with life jackets and dinghies, then a terrific internal explosion finally sank the boat. 18 survivors were picked up by the Naval escort.

(For a portrait of Burcher; AWM Keyword: UK0833 )

Tag Team. U-470 Sunk.
16 October 1943.

U-470 was sunk after a protracted battle with three of the aircraft protecting convoys ON-206 and ONS-20, which were transiting south of Iceland. RAAF Pilot Officer W.G. Loney was flying one of the RAF aircraft which shared credit for the sinking, Liberator 59/C. Two survivors from the U-470 crew were later picked up.

Crippling Exchange. U-280 Sunk.
16 November 1943.

Liberator 'M' of 86 RAF Squadron was patrolling around convoy HX265, south-west of Iceland, when it spotted U-280. The Australian pilot, Flight Lieutenant J. H. Bookless, delivered two depth-charge attacks while his men fought intense gun duels with U-280's flak crews. One of the Liberator's engines was crippled in the exchange. U-280 submerged on an even keel, apparently only damaged, but it must soon afterwards have foundered with all hands. For the next hour after this encounter, Bookless resolutely ignored the damage accrued by his aircraft and stayed on patrol to safeguard the convoy.


Showdown. U-426 Defeated.
8 January 1944.

During a midwinter 'Percussion' patrol in the Bay of Biscay, Sunderland 'U' of 10 Squadron RAAF spotted U-426, outward bound at a distance of 12 miles in excellent visibility. Confidently remaining on the surface, U-426 opened fire at five miles with its daunting armament of an automatic 30mm gun and 4x20mm cannon. Flying Officer J. P. Roberts, piloting the Sunderland, closed to 1,200 yards and hosed the U-boat's gun platforms with his four fixed bow-mounted machine guns (a new armament devised by the Australians for the Sunderland). This caused chaos on the U-426 bridge. The boat was unable to further defend itself and Roberts pressed home a depth-charge attack. U-426 was holed at the rear. The crew abandoned the rapidly sinking boat, but none of them were to survive the exposure to the winter conditions.

(For an interesting variety of pictures of Roberts and his crew; AWM Keyword: 413931 )
(An action photo; AWM Keyword: SUK11747 )

Quick-Draw. U-571 Sunk.
28 January 1944.

Sunderland 'D' of 461 RAAF Squadron, piloted by Flight Lieutenant R. D. Lucas, was providing close protection for a convoy SW of Ireland. The Sunderland sighted U-571 on the surface. The boat made no attempt to dive. U-571's flak gunners were suppressed by strafing during the first unsuccessful depth-charge run by the Sunderland. Lucas attacked again with his last two depth-charges. This accurate attack caused U-571 to break up within one minute. There were no survivors. (Note: The title 'U-571' has recently been used for a major Hollywood action film. However, the movie's fanciful script does not in any way resemble the genuine history of U-571.)

(Portraits of Lucas' crew; AWM Keyword (include quote marks): "r. d. lucas" )

Bomber's Moon. U-545 Scuttled.
10 February 1944.

RAAF Flight Lieutenant Max Paynter was flying RAF Wellington 612/O in the Northern Approaches (the sea lanes NW of the UK) at night. Following a radar contact, Paynter spotted U-545 from one mile away in the moonlight. He made an immediate depth-charge attack, but chose not to use his Leigh Light to avoid drawing return fire. This was wise, as U-545 had previously shot down a Canadian 407 Squadron Wellington. U-545 was unable to continue. It was scuttled and the crew were rescued by U-714.

Lucky Squeak. An Unsuccessful Attack.
April 1944.

An amazing action photograph from the Bay of Biscay shows a U-boat being straddled by well-placed RAAF depth-charges, but escaping fatal damage. (AWM Keyword: SUK12074 )

Pea Shooter. U-241 Outshot and Sunk.
18 May 1944.

U-241 was sunk NE of the Faeroe Islands by Catalina 'S' of 210 Squadron RAF. The Australian bow gunner of this flying boat, Warrant Officer Hinderson, made a significant contribution to this sinking. He used his comparatively ineffectual 0.303 calibre single-barrelled Vickers gun to knock out the heavily-armed defensive flak crew of U-241. Meanwhile his pilot coolly dove the Catalina towards U-241 and sank the submarine with a pattern of well-placed depth-charges. All of U-241's crew perished.

The Best Way To Learn. U-675 Sunk.
24 May 1944.

U-675 was spotted and sunk in the North Sea west of Alesund, Norway, by a Sunderland on training duty, aircraft 'R' of RAF No. 4 OTU. The flying boat was captained by Flight Lieutenant F. P. Frizell, RAAF, and manned by a scratch crew of instructors and trainees. The crew of U-675 were themselves inexperienced, being on their first patrol. They were all lost.

Double Teamed. The Sinking of U-990.
25 May 1944.

U-990 was sunk by multi-aircraft attack in the North Sea. One of the planes involved, Liberator 'L' of RAF 59 Squadron, was flown by RAAF Flight Sergeant A.R. Playford. Credit for the sinking went to Liberator 59/S. At the time, U-990 was also carrying a large group of survivors that it had picked up from U-476. 51 men of the combined crews escaped from U-990. A German patrol boat rescued them.

The Salmon Run. A Multinational Crew Downed.
6 June 1944.

Many RAAF aircrew lost their lives to the potent anti-aircraft defences of the U-boats. Below is just one example.

In response to the Allied D-Day landings at Normandy, the U-boat force made a brave attempt to interdict the Allied invasion fleet from the western end of the English Channel. A strong anti-submarine force had been prepared by the Allies for just this eventuality, and the result was the largest pitched battle between U-boats and aircraft of the entire war. Both sides suffered significant casualties. One example was the loss of Leigh Light Liberator 'B' of 224 Squadron RAF, shot down by U-415 in a night-time battle. All ten crewmembers of the Liberator were killed, including seven Australians.

(Five interesting pictures of an RAF Liberator demonstrating its Leigh Light; AWM Keyword (include quote marks): "leigh light" )

Jitterbug. U-243 Sunk.
8 July 1944.

RAAF Sunderland 10/H was patrolling in the Bay of Biscay, 130 miles SW of Brest, France, when it spotted U-243. The pilot of the flying boat, Flight Lieutenant Bill Tilley, immediately dove to attack. The U-243 gunners opened up at 2 miles range. Tilley jinked the ungainly four-engined flying boat violently from side to side, while his bow turret gunner, Flight Sergeant Cooke, replied accurately to the defensive fire. U-243's guns were silent by the time that the Sunderland passed over at only 75 feet. The close approach allowed the decisive placement of Tilley's depth-charges. U-243 was holed and stopped, but the crew briefly mounted some further gun defence, during which time two additional ineffectual attacks were made by an RAAF Sunderland and an RAF Liberator which had been homed onto the scene. The submarine finally foundered after about half an hour, leaving a number of survivors in the water. Tilley dropped a life raft and food pack. 38 of the U-243 crew were later picked up.

(Action photos of U-243 under attack and Tilley's crew; AWM Keyword; U243 )
(The U-243 survivors adrift on the ocean; AWM Keyword: 135147 )
(A portrait of Tilley's crew; AWM Keyword: SUK12913 )

Moonlight Sonata. U-385 Sunk by Air-Sea Co-Operation.
10-11 August 1944.

U-385 was one of the U-boats ordered to abandon its base on the French Biscay coast once the Allied armies broke out from their Normandy beachhead. Pilot Officer Ivan Southall, flying RAAF Sunderland 461/P over the Bay on the night of the 10th of August, sighted the boat, outbound on the surface 150 miles south of Brest.

Southall flew a curved approach to keep the boat visible in the moonpath. This also allowed him to avoid using flares, which would have given away his presence to the U-boat gunners. He made an accurate attack with a stick of six depth-charges, which caused U-385 to lose way and begin wallowing. The Sunderland circled while the U-boat sent up heavy but ill-directed defensive fire. Southall flew off to guide nearby Naval units to the area. When 461/P returned, U-385 had submerged. Early the next morning U-385 was detected by the five ships of the 2nd Support Group, depth-charged to the surface by HMS Starling and engaged with gunfire as the crew abandoned it. All except one of U-385's crew survived.

(A nice study of 461/P taking off; AWM Keyword: P01520*001 )
(Portrait of Southall just after VE-Day trying out one of the guns on the surrendered U-776; AWM Keyword: UK2928 )
(After the war, Southall moved on to more important things; AWM Keyword: UK3158 )

Flare-Lit Finale. The End of U-270.
13 August 1944.

U-270 was another refugee from the Biscay bases. The boat was detected at night on the surface, outbound from St Nazaire, by Sunderland 'A' of 461 RAAF Squadron, flown by Flying Officer D. A. Little. U-270 found itself suddenly illuminated by flares dropped from the Sunderland. The boat's guns immediately opened fire. Little pressed a determined attack and U-270 was straddled and holed by depth-charges on the first run. There was enough time for all of U-270's men to get off. They were later picked up by British Naval vessels.

(Portrait of Little; AWM Keyword: UK1925 )


Let This Be Their Memorial. A Multinational Crew Shot Down Over the Kattegat and U-534 Sunk.
5 May 1945.

The last few days of the war in Europe saw many dramatic escape attempts by U-boats based on the north German coast. These boats were ordered to run for safer Norwegian ports ahead of the rapidly advancing Allied ground forces. One such action, involving the now-preserved U-534, occurred in the Kattegat Strait between Denmark and Sweden.

On this day, patrolling RAF Liberator 86/G used radar to detect a group of three U-boats running on the surface in hazy daylight in a staggered line-astern formation. 86/G homed in another RAF Liberator, 547/E. As the first two boats of the group began gingerly submerging in the shallow water, 547/E made two ineffective attacks on the lead boat. Unfortunately it then had its wing blown off by the powerful armament of U-534, which had remained on the surface. The Liberator crashed into the sea and only one man survived from its multinational aircrew. The dead included Canadians, Britons and one Australian.

Meanwhile, U-534 was attacked by Liberator 86/G, and was sunk after two depth-charge runs. 86/G was operated by yet another multinational crew which included four Australians.

All except three of U-534's crew survived and were rescued. The wreck of U-534 has been salvaged and is now on display near Liverpool in the UK. It has been preserved as a memorial to all who died in the Battle of the Atlantic.

(Photos of the raised hulk of U-534.)
(The crew of 86/G and an action photo (note that the date should read 1945); AWM Keyword: nollau )
(Another Australian connection with U-534 is the rescue of three survivors from an RAF Wellington shot down by U-534 in August 1944. RAAF Sunderland pilot Bill Tilley, who had sunk U-243 a month earlier, was an excellent flier who was able to safely alight on the open ocean to save the three men; AWM Keyword: SUK13008 )


Most of this material draws on the work of Australian war historian John Herington. He wrote two volumes of the official Australian war history published by the Australian War Memorial in 1954; Air War Against Germany and Italy 1939-43 and Air Power Over Europe 1944-45. These fascinating books are available in most Australian public libraries. Herington was a Catalina pilot operating out of Gibraltar during WW2 and he is therefore an informed commentator on the U-boat War. (Some factual information reported by Herington, such as the presumed identities of certain U-boats, has been updated using the latest revised data from Other sources used were the more recent books, U-boat Versus Aircraft and Black May; and for Italian data.

Compiled by James Oglethorpe, Sydney, 2002.

Selected media links

Sunderland Squadrons of WWII

Lake, Jon (2000)
($ 44.25)
(£ 13.99)

U-Boat Versus Aircraft

Franks, Norman and Zimmerman, Eric (1998)

RAAF Flying Boats at War

Leach, Joe (1999)

They Shall Not Pass Unseen

Southall, Ivan (1956)

Aircraft & Air forces