The Demise of U-106
by Marc-André Haldimann
Outward bound on her 10th patrol which initiated from Lorient on 28 July 1943, U-106 was soon to bear the full brunt of the interdiction patrols flown by the Allies over the Bay of Biscay. On 2 August, W/Cdr J. C. Archer took off at 05.34 hours aboard his Wellington Mark XIV, HF127 of 407 RCAF Squadron from Chivenor. Almost four hours later, at 09.30 hours, while flying southwards at 2000 feet just below the cloud base, the Canadian crew saw a wake some 10 to 12 miles ahead. W/Cdr Archer took his Wimpey into the clouds while heading towards the sighting, positively identifying a U-boat by peering through cloud breaks with binoculars. The discovered boat was U-106, which was heading west at 12 knots. The Wellington was taken lower some two miles ahead of U-106 and Archer led his command straight towards his target at a height of 50 feet as the boat altered course to port. Six depth charges were dropped and they fell almost at right angles to its track. According to the rear gunner, they straddled U-106 but not close enough, as the nearest depth charge exploded more then 20 feet from the conning tower.
Olt.z.S. Wolf-Dietrich Damerow had no choice but to remain on the surface and fight it out with the circling Wellington, his command being unable to dive. Thus U-106 and the Wellington kept on circling for the next 50 minutes, the latter evading the Flak from the former without attempting another pass, as all depth charges had been released during the initial attack. At 10.20 hours, W/Cdr Archer, having reached his Prudent Limit of Endurance (PLE), had to swing Wellington HF127 towards Chivenor.
Unfortunately, the three Torpedoboote were sighted at 16.20 hrs by a Sunderland of 228 Squadron which reported them as destroyers. In response, the 19th Group ordered Sunderland III "N" JM708, 228 Squadron, piloted by F/O R. D. Hanbury and Sunderland III "M" DV968, 461 RAAF Squadron, piloted by F/L I. A. F. Clarke to shadow the Kriegsmarine rescue group, while a 58 Squadron Halifax patrolling with 40th Escort Group came in to investigate. Unfortunately for the plane, the cloud cover broke as it was passing directly over the three ships; bracketed by accurate Flak, the now damaged Halifax was compelled to leave the operation. The 228 Squadron Sunderland having exhausted its time on station also left 40 minutes later, both planes being replaced by a 502 Squadron Halifax and a 224 Squadron Liberator. At 18.04 hrs, F/O Hanbury sighted the 40th Escort Group and from then on kept on transmitting bearings of the Torpedoboote by visual signals. At 19.00, HMS Bideford momentarily saw the Kriegsmarine units, now only 15 miles away. The 224 Squadron Liberator had to head for home shortly afterwards, leaving F/L Clarke's Sunderland and the 502 Squadron Halifax still circling the German rescue group.
Since 19.00 hrs, the submerged U-106 had been picking up the noises from the approaching Torpedoboote through her hydrophones. At 19.51 hours, as the noises were now receding northwards, OLt.z.S Damerow ordered to surface in an effort to catch up with his escort. U-106 was sighted almost immediately while only three miles south-east of the Kriegsmarine units by F/L Clarke. Ten minutes later, F/O Hanbury, who also sighted the U-boat, swung his Sunderland in for a strafing attack. As U-106 began a starboard turn, both aircraft captains decided to carry on their attack. Here is the account of OLt.z.S Damerow as published by Hessler (MoD 1989):
" ... 19.52: Sunderland approaching from ahead, range 800 metres, medium height (F/L Clarke). I open fire on her at once and she sheers off to starboard, circling us outside gun range. In order to deny her the opportunity of attacking, I am forced to keep her ahead, so that I gain little on the torpedo-boats. Two minutes later a second Sunderland (F/O Hanbury) dives out of the clouds and commences to circle us. On reaching favorable positions, they attack from each bow, blazing with their guns. The one to the starboard is engaged by the quadruple 2-cm; the one to port by the single 2-cm and machine guns. The former turns off a little and drops at least six bombs, which detonate about 50 metres astern and cause severe concussion in the boat. The latter, whose fire had knocked out the layer, trainer and two loading number of the quadruple, dropped her bombs almost simultaneously on the port quarter. The port engine-room switchboard is torn from its securings and catches fire.
"The starboard diesel stops. Thick smoke fills the boat, which lists to port with a bad leak. Five minutes later the aircraft: return to the attack. We engage them as before. The single 2-cm is shot out of action. The bombs fall very close and cause further damage. The port diesel also stops. Both electric motors are out of action. The boat is out of control and settles appreciably by the stern because of the inrush of water. Chlorine gas is coming from the batteries. At 20.08 a third attack is made and, since casualties among the guns' crews have been replaced by non-gunnery ratings, our fire is less accurate. The aircraft, engaging with all her guns, drops four bombs which detonate about 10 meters away. The boat continues to settle and the Senior Engineer reports that she can no longer be kept afloat.
" 'Abandon ship!' Rafts are manned and inflated. The crew spring overboard with them, except five men manning the AA armament.
"20.15: Fourth attack. Aircraft repeatedly attacks with gunfire, wounding several men in the water and shooting up a number of rafts. My guns have run out of ammunition, and I jump overboard with the last five men. Shortly afterwards there is a heavy explosion in the boat and she sinks rapidly, stern first, to the cheers of the swimming crew.
"The aircraft flies over us several times without shooting and then drops two smoke-floats. I and 36 of the crew, clinging to lifebuoys and a rubber dinghy, are picked up at dusk by the three torpedo-boats . . ."
Photo shot from one of the attacking Sunderlands (Australian War Memorial)
As a consequence of the staggering loss of six U-boats between 30 July and 2 August in the Bay of Biscay , Dönitz stopped all subsequent sailings from the Atlantic bases, recalling the boats which had sailed the previous day. U-boat groups in transit were disbanded at once and their commanders were instructed to keep close to the Spanish coast without regard to territorial waters. All told, out of 17 boats sailing between 20 July and 1 August, one was heavily damaged and 10 were sunk, including three precious type XIV U-tankers. All sailings remained suspended until the availability of the new Wanze radar search receiver, which was rushed into service, allowing to resume operations by the end of August.
The crew of U-106
(By courtesy of Horst Schmeisser, reply on U-board forum, 04/10/2002):
Killed in action:
MtrOGfr Rupert Albrecht, 14.04.21 +
MaschOGfr Hans-Richard Diederich, 03.09.23 +
MtrGfr Rolf Ebeling, 09.05.25 +
FkOGfr Günther Fell, 01.01.24 +
MaschOGfr Wilhelm Gleißner, 02.03.23 +
Lt. (Ing.) Johann Gruber, 07.04.21 +
Btsm Karl Heemann, 26.11.13 +
Btsmt Walter Hölzber, 09.06.18 +
MtrOGfr Ernst Hollergeschwandtner, 11.01.22 +
MechOGfr Werner Koch, 04.08.21 +
MaschOGfr Wilhelm Kritzen, 21.08.22 +
MaschMt Heinrich Langer, 05.08.23 +
MaschOGfr Berthold Lücke, 13.03.22 +
OLt.z.S. Manfried Ploke, 04.12.18 +
OMaschMt Rudolf Richter, 08.02.17 +
OStrm Willi Rothe, 12.12.11 +
OMaschMt Fritz Sieler, 29.12.17 +
MtrOGfr Heinz Stütz, 11.11.22 +
StOMasch Albert Voß, 27.06.13 +
MaschMt Karl Will, 27.07.21 +
MtrOGfr Ernst Willig, 19.06.22 +.
Survivors rescued by T-24 and T 25:
MaschHGfr Harry Arnold, 17.07.21
MtrOGfr Erhard Both, 05.11.19
OLt. z.S. Wolfdietrich Damerow, 28.05.19 in Schwedt/Oder (died on )
MaschMt Werner Ebner
MaschOGfr Werner Geruhn, 21.12.21
MaschOGfr Rudi Harenberg, 02.04.23
MaschGfr Harzen, OLt. (Ing.) Helmer
OBtsMt Peter Herschler, 09.11.17
MaschOGfr Günter Hesener, 19.05.22
MtrOGfr Hans Heske
MaschOGfr Gerhard Hoffmann, 09.05.21
MaschOGfr Andreas Hopf, 04.01.23
MaschOGfr Helmut Klein, 24.06.23
MaschOGfr Hans-J. Klopfleisch, 27.03.24
MaschOGfr Hermann Knoll, 17.04.23
MaschHGfr Paul Krause,
OMasch Franz Linnenbaum, 21.02.15
FkOGfr Helmut Moldenhauer,
FkMt Erich Oberquelle, 14.12.18 (DKG am 25.01.45)
FkMt Werner Piedath, 21.07.22
MtrOGfr Friedrich Rein, 23.11.21
BtsMt Erich Rapp,
MarOAssA. Dr. Sapia
OMaschMt Peter Schauenburger
MtrGfr Paul Schie,
MechGfr Hans Wiese, 08.06.25.
MechOGfr Ernst Schröter, 10.10.22 in Pahnitz (UN 4680/41 S),died from his wounds in the Brest Marinelazarett on 04.08.43. He was buried in the Ploudaniel-Lesneven cemetery in France, Block 13, Row 7, grave 275.
OLt.z.S. Wolfdietrich Damerow (Kommandant), 28.05.19 in Schwedt/Oder, died on 21 May 1944 in the Reservelazarett Eberswalde from emboli and intestinal occlusion subsequent to a wound. His grave remains unknown.
Earlier crew casualties:
Mtr Ewald Brühl, 25.09.19, lost overboard while on watch duty on 23 October 1941. Fähnr.z.S. Herbert von Bruchhausen, 21.03.22, (Crew 40), lost overboard while on watch duty on 23 October 1941.
OLt.z.S. Werner Grüneberg, 14.02.18, lost overboard while on watch duty on 23 October 1941.
OLt.z.S. Günter Wißmann, 16.06.15, killed on 27. July 1942 by an air attack. He was buried in Pornichet, France, Block 9, Row 14, grave 324.
The aircraft and their crews(Source, Franks 1995, p. 137):
Sunderland III "N" JM708, 228 Squadron, on patrol between 11.00-01.06 hrs.
F/O R D Hanbury Pilot
F/O D Pearson
F/S A Beal
F/S B Lacey
F/S T Kilsby
F/S E House
F/S N T H Wilson DFM
F/S R Webster
Sgt W Harris
Sgt D Norman
Sgt R A Morrison
Sunderland III "M" DV968, 461 RAAF Squadron, on patrol between 12.42-00.45 hrs.
F/L I.A F Clarke RAAF Captain
F/O J C Amiss RAAF
F/O E R Critcher
W/O R Hattam
F/S P Pfeiffer
F/S J H Poulton
F/S J H Royle
F/S L G Studman
F/S L White
Sgt R Jeffries
Sgt J M Jorgenson
Franks, Norman (1995), Search, Find and Kill, London, p. 137-138.
Franks, Norman (1999), Conflict over the Bay, revised edition, London, p. 156-159.
Hendrie, Andrew (1997), Canadian Squadrons in Coastal Command, St-Catherines, Ontario, p. 96 and 113.
Hessler, Günther (MoD 1989), The U-boat War in the Atlantic, Chapter VII, p.13-14.
This article was published on 23 Oct 2002.
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The Approaching Storm. Chewning, Alpheus J., 1994.