German submarine U-550
Crewmen of U-550 abandon ship after being depth charged, rammed and shelled
|Career (Nazi Germany)|
|Ordered:||5 June 1941|
|Builder:||Deutsche Werft, Hamburg|
|Laid down:||2 October 1942|
|Launched:||12 May 1943|
|Commissioned:||28 July 1943|
|Fate:||Sunk, 16 April 1944|
|Type:||Type IXC/40 submarine|
|Height:||9.6 m (31 ft 6 in)|
|Draft:||4.7 m (15 ft 5 in)|
|Test depth:||230 m (750 ft)|
|Complement:||48 to 56|
German submarine U-550 was a Type IXC/40 U-boat of the Kriegsmarine (the Navy of Nazi Germany) built for service during World War II. She was laid down on 2 October 1942 by Deutsche Werft in Hamburg as 'werk' 371, launched on 12 May 1943 and commissioned on 28 July under the command of Kapitänleutnant (Captain Lieutenant, or Lieutenant Commander) Klaus Hänert.
She sailed from Kiel on 6 February 1944, heading for the North Atlantic, via the gap between Iceland and the Faroe Islands and conducted weather reporting duties before sailing for Newfoundland and subsequently the northeast coast of the United States. On 22 February the boat was unsuccessfully attacked south of Iceland by a Canso flying boat of No. 162 Squadron RCAF. However, two members of the U-boat's crew were killed.
On 16 April, south of Nantucket Island, she located convoy CU 21, bound for Great Britain from New York City. The SS Pan-Pennsylvania, one of the largest tankers in the world, was unwisely straggling behind the convoy; U-550 torpedoed her. The ship quickly caught fire and began to sink. As the vessel settled, the submerged U-boat maneuvered underneath her hull in an effort to hide from the inevitable counterattack by the convoy's escorts.
Convoy CU-21 was escorted by Escort Division 22, consisting of Coast Guard-manned destroyer escorts reinforced by one Navy DE, the Gandy (DE-764), which took the place of the Leopold (DE-319), which had been lost in action the previous month. The escort division's flagship, Joyce (DE-317) and the Peterson (DE-152) rescued the tanker's surviving crew, while the Joyce detected the U-boat on sonar as the Germans attempted to escape after hiding beneath the sinking tanker. U-550's engineering officer later said, "We waited for your ship to leave; soon we could hear nothing so we thought the escort vessels had gone; but as soon as we started to move – bang!" The Joyce delivered a depth-charge pattern that bracketed the submerged submarine. The depth charges were so well placed, a German reported, that one actually bounced off the U-boat's deck before it exploded.
The attack severely damaged U-550 and forced her to the surface, where the German sailors manned and fired their deck guns. The Joyce, Peterson and Gandy returned fire. Gandy rammed U-550 abaft the conning tower and the Peterson dropped two depth charges which exploded near the U-boat's hull. Realizing they were defeated, the U-boat's crew prepared scuttling charges and began abandoning their boat. Joyce rescued 13 of U-550's crew, one of whom later died from wounds received during the fire-fight. The remainder of the U-boatmen went down with their submarine. Joyce delivered the prisoners of war and the Pan Pennsylvania survivors to the authorities in Great Britain.
There is a grisly postscript to the sinking of U-550. According to the Eastern Sea Frontier's War Diary account of the sinking, some of the crew apparently survived the sinking and were trapped in a forward compartment. They tried to leave the U-boat as it lay on the ocean floor using their escape apparatus.
At 1515 on 5 May 1944, the Coastal Picket Patrol CGR-3082 recovered a body from the sea at 39° 51′ NN. 71° 58′ W., about 93 miles (150 km) ESE of Ambrose. The body was clothed in a German-type life jacket. From the markings on his clothing it was possible that the man's name was "Hube". A German escape lung was found near his body as well. An autopsy performed on the body indicated that the individual died only five days before his remains were discovered – U-550 had been sunk on 16 April, the corpse was found 19 days later.
Two other bodies were subsequently found. The first, picked up by another picket boat, CGR-1989, at 1730 on 11 May, was fully clothed, had an escape lung and life jacket on. He was found in a rubber raft. Identification marks indicated the man was a German sailor named Wilhelm Flade, aged about 17. The body was transferred from CGR-1989 to CGR-1338 on the morning of 12 May 1944 and was brought to Tompkinsville on Staten Island.
On 16 May a third body was sighted and picked up by USS SC-630. It was stated that the uniform and insignia indicated the victim had been a German crewman, although he carried no identification; he had been in the water more than 18 days.
The War Diary report continued:
Further evidence is lacking to complete the apparent story of successful attempts made by certain men to escape from compartments in the vicinity of torpedo tubes or escape hatches. Curiously, the area was not entirely deserted by patrol vessels. On the day following the torpedoing of the Pan Pennsylvania, a vessel was sent to the area to effect salvage operations or to sink the derelict [tanker] in order to remove such a menace to navigation. This vessel spent some time in trying to sink with gunfire the still buoyant and burning hulk of the Pan Pennsylvania. No survivors were sighted during these operations. Questions were raised as to the possibility of some survivors having been able to reach the southern shore of Long Island, since the sub sank only 150 miles from Montauk Point; only 70 miles from Nantucket. Although such considerations should not be dismissed, it is doubtful that men aboard the smallest type rubber rafts would be able to cover so great a distance without being detected before they reached shore.
The wreck of U-550 was discovered on 23 July 2012. It lay off the coast of Massachusetts about 70 miles south of Nantucket. A team of seven divers, lead by New Jersey attorney Joe Mazraani, located the wreck using side-scan sonar after a multi-year search. The team members were Joe Mazraani, Garry Kozak, Tom Packer, Steve Gatto, Eric Takakjian, Anthony Tedeschi and Brad Sheard.
Mazraani said the next step is to contact any sailors or their families from the escort vessels, the tanker and the German U-boat to share the news and show the pictures. Another trip to the site is coming, he said, adding the investigation has just started.
- "Explorers Find Sunken German U-Boat Off Mass". The New York Times. Associated Press. 27 July 2012. Retrieved 28 July 2012.[dead link]
- Kemp, Paul (1997). U-Boats Destroyed – German Submarine Losses in the World Wars. Arms & Armour. ISBN 978-1-85409-515-2.
- Paterson, Lawrence (2007). U-Boats in the Mediterranean 1941–1944. Chatham Publishing. ISBN 978-1-86176-290-0.
- Price, Scott (26 January 2012). "Sinking the U-550: Coast Guard-manned Destroyer Escorts USS Joyce & Peterson Sink a U-boat". US Coast Guard.
- Helgason, Guðmundur. "The Type IXC/40 boat U-550". U-Boat net. Retrieved 28 July 2012.
- "U-550 Crew List". Kriegsmarine and U-Boat history. U-Boat Waffe net. Retrieved 28 July 2012.
- Wynn, Kenneth (1998). U-Boat Operations of the Second World War. Career Histories, U511-UIT25 2. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press. p. 27.