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 Gentlemen of the Deep

Indice Anecdotas

By Mariano Sciaroni

The gray sky foretold a storm, but the sea was strangely calm for those latitudes and season. October is not the best time for the North Sea, I said to myself.

The old Vikings were conscious of the rough seas those months, but the old knowledge did not seem to have penetrated the bureaucratic mind of the Korvkpt (Commander) Hans Eckermann, commanding officer of the First Unterseebootsflotille, to which the U-58 was assigned.

Sending my small sardine’s can, a Type IIc U Boote of 300 tons to interdict the merchant traffic of that part of the world was an enormous job to us, and sure, couldn´t be accomplished without help. But not much help was available at the moment.

The presumptuous Type VII U Boote class (to whose captains I did not so secretly envy) should have been occupying that task because they were better prepared and they were much more “sailors” in all the sense of the word. But someone still wanted to use the old coastal type. Nevertheless, there was a job to be done. A couple of Luftwaffe´s Ju-52 cargo planes, flying with final destination Narvik, Norway saw an unauthorized small ship, 60 miles out of Bergen, heading 270º, advancing to some 8 knots.

We received then concrete orders from BdU – Op (Submarines Tactical Command), retransmitted through the flotille to us: Without leaving the patrol area intercept and sink a suspected hostile fishing boat. Our interception course, which required the machinery almost at maximum (risible twelve knots, of course not submerged), would carry us to catch our prey before nightfall.

- Smoke in the horizon, Sir!, informed the Wachoffizier from the conning tower. Time to action. - Man the battle stations! - Immersion. - Periscope depth Spargel (nickname for periscope) Up! The First Officer used it in the beginning, but it was mine. I wanted to have total control.

The smoke led to an indistinguishable superstructure, but when the boat get closer, I could saw an old (very old) fishing trawler, that was sailing without a flag and was, obviously, not fishing but bound for Scotland. Possibly it was carrying British Commandos returning home. - Norwegian saboteurs for sure, mumbled someone in the background.

Meanwhile distance, bearing, heading, and speed of the target were obtained. With those data, a small team leaded by a young Oberfaehnrich zur See (Sub Lieutenant), and loosely watched by the First Officer, was finishing the calculations for the fire solution.

A moment later, I ordered to flood torpedoes tubes 1 and 3, which were already loaded. Just a second, I don’t want to miss my first torpedo ever, I thought. - Come on, come on...

Still at the periscope, I got short of breath for a moment. A woman came from the fishing boat bridge with a small boy by her side. Both were wearing heavy coats, and she had a red handkerchief on her head. Then she descended the boy’s pants, and he started to pee unworried. Another child watched the scene from inside. All of them were unaware of my presence.

Crap!

I set the eyes apart for a second. But there was a job to be done. I looked at the trawler for a while, preparing myself to give the fire order. And I shouted, calm and without hesitation.

- Alarm! Not identified aircraft on sight, possibly a British Swordfish, down periscope and go to depth 60 meters, new course is one nine zero. The First Officer, who knew no airplane would venture to such a close distance of then German controlled Norway, less a slow and old Swordfish, looked at me, puzzled.

* * *

After a reckless race to the Faroe Islands, that patrol finished with two sunken ships, one of them an English destroyer. Not bad for just five G7e torpedoes.

* * *

Years later, after the war, in the 1971´s Verband Deustcher U-Bootfahrer (German Submariners Club) annual meeting, I told my then First Officer, an Iron Cross First Class holder (which means more than 50.000 tons in his bag) and happy owner of a tobacco shop in our beloved Kiel, the reason behind my decision that October 6, 1940. He looked at me, doubted some seconds and then added: - Heinrich, old kamerad, I always knew what the tinny fishing boat was carrying. The fire solution, in any case, was going to be faulty. I kept quiet because, at that moment I didn’t know what kind of person you are, but when you ordered the emergency dive I realized that you are a gentleman of the deep.

- Long life to the gentlemen of the deep. And we toasted, for the battles of the past, the young 80th birthday of Admiral Dönitz, and sure, for our victims and our many lost friends.

To the Iron Wolves, Gentlemen of the Deep. Then and ever.

 
 

Este sitio es publicado por la Fundacion Histarmar  - Argentina

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