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KaptainKarl
05-21-2006, 10:02 AM
A first, and probably only, patrol report on one of the funnest patrols I've had yet. Hope you enjoy.
-----------------------------------------

So far, our patrol in the waning months of 1940 had gone well. We had just finished our assigned patrol of the northwest coast of Spain where we had managed to sink a number of cargo vessels, we estimated the total to be 31,000 tons of enemy shipping. Unwilling to rest on such an unremarkable success, I'd ordered the boat south... towards the Straight of Gibralter. My XO, Heinrich, seemed anxious about this decision, but little did he know that command had another plan for us. A plan which would cause far more fear than the British fortress guarding the Med.

Perhaps it was based on our earlier success with a similar mission. Perhaps it was desperation. Perhaps we were just cursed. I read the missive and could hardly believe it. My men and my boat, not to mention myself, were about to be thrown away on a suicide mission. And for little more than propoganda. There were many things wrong with this war and, even in those heady days of the early war signs were coming from Berlin that all was not well with the high command. Regardlesss, when the radioman came to my quarters with the dispatch I could tell from the look on his face that things were definitely not going to go according to plan. No, we would not be heading to Gibralter.

In two days, the British fleet would commission their newest flagship, HMS King George V. And she would be docked deep within the safety of Scapa Flow. Command wanted her sunk... at anchor, as a message to the British. The mission was as much about destroying a powerful threat to the Fatherland as much as crushing the hopes of the British. But, surrounded by mines, anti-submarine netting and nearly a dozen destroyers, I knew things would not go so easily.

Indeed, I'd been to the harbor once before, shortly after my crew and I had been transferred to U-51. In those days, the British were complacent, foolish. Their captains? Imbeciles. Our infiltration of the harbor was made easy when, despite the clearest weather, nearly half the picket vessels had run aground. Perhaps it was some strange shift in the earth's rotation or a magnetic anomoly. Perhaps they'd merely let the Irish take the helm. We never understood, but in the end we had managed to sink one of their fleet carriers and escape the harbor without interception. I knew it wouldn't be so easy this time.

We turned north for the long journey and, though they wouldn't admit it, I caught a number of the men praying. The British would not be caught unawares twice and the men knew it. The last time we had infiltrated from the east -- it was a shorter, more direct route into the harbor. This time, however, our fuel was already running low from an extended patrol and, more importantly, I didn't want to rish the chance of scout planes detecting our presence while we came around the northern islands. Taking the chance with the mines and less room to maneuver, I ordered the helmsman to take is in through the western passage. Heinrich surely thought I had gone insane but what could I do. Our orders were insane.

The journey was uneventful but for stumbling upon yet another cargo ship. One of the larger ones I had seen, actually. Although our fuel was dwindling and the torpedos were precious (we had only six remaining in our bow compartment), I thought the men needed the morale boost. With a single torpedo and a few rounds from the deck gun, we sent the merchantman to the bottom before continuing to our rendevous with destiny.

You know, I couldn't tell you how many ships I've sent to the bottom. How many lives I've snuffed with a single torpedo or, in my excesses, when two of the fish slam into a simple merchantman. Surely not many survive the first minute of carnage, but how many die later of the burns? Drowning? Sharks? I suppose it doesn't do a Kaptain well to dwell on these things, but such is the nature of my work. To strike quickly and silently, out of the dark, with no warning, when men are most helpless and vulnerable. In a few days, the tables would be turned and I feared I and my crew would pay for our transgressions against our fellow man. Assuming we even made it into the harbor, the sinking of their flagship would incite the British to hunt us down and seal off the harbor. There would be no escape. Indeed, if all went well they would have no clue as to our presence and the men of the King George would die as quickly as all the merchantmen, but then the enemy would know we were there, and where we must go to escape.

Fate, it seems, has a sense of humor. I was careful to time our speed to conserve not only fuel but to arrive in the western straight at dusk on December 13, hoping the night would wrap us in her embrace and allow us to stay on the surface for a few more precious minutes, conserving the batteries for our submerged run. Instead of having only darkness, it was as if nature had unleashed her full arsenal. The wind whipped as though a tempest and more rain fell from the skies than I thought were held in all the seas. A fog had descended, thick as snow, and a chill cut through my bones such that no amount of coffee from the galley could warm my soul. I exchanged silent glances with Heinrich, but we knew each other so well we no longer needed to speak. Was Mother Nature helping us, or warning us away?

Our sonar array was useless on the surface, but we made such great speed and the visibility was so aweful I decided it was worth the gamble. A quick insertion meant less opportunity for the British to detect us and, given the chop, it seemed unlikely the enemy's sonar would detect us while we were on the surface, our engine sounds muffled by the waves slashing across the length of the boat.

Finally, two-thirds of the way into the channel (at least, according to the navigator for certainly none of us could see more than 15 meters off the bow), we dove to periscope depth and began our final approach. The sonar operator's report confirmed my fears, however. At least a half-dozen destroyers and corvettes lay between us and the harbor entrance.

Somehow, I can't tell you how, we made it though I was sure we'd been discovered at one point. A destroyer drove directly over us at one point. Mere meters of water separated us from their keel but somehow, fate did seem to be on our side but, again, reminding us that our luck could be a fickle thing. Truth be told, I seriously considered firing our stern tube at the British hound but knew that such a premature signal of our arrival would spell not only the failure of our mission but merely hasten our demise. We pressed on, a bit slower and more cautious. Oddly, after that close call, it seemed as if the entire picket parted to let us pass. The sonar operator confirmed it and a check of the navigation charts revealed the path between us an the submarine nets was clear. Of course, a destroyer could have been lying in wait, its engines silent while its sonar probed the waters, but if that was the case there was nothing we could do about it. The weather continued to make visual scanning useless, and we had only the searchlights the British had kindly installed on the shores to guide us.

When we had last visited the harbor, as I told you, a fleet carrier and her escort met their demise. Our task had been made easier by the worst piloting of a ship I had ever seen as the Brits grounded ship after ship. This time, according to my sonarman, they made no such mistakes. Two corvettes patrolled the inner harbor and a third moved in to cover the inlet after we had passed through. My stomach began to tighten as I sensed a trap but surely the British wouldn't be so foolish as to let us in this far? But, I remembered, the destroyer that had passed over us without firing. How could it have come so close, mere meters, without detecting our presence?

For an hour we searched the harbor. I began to suspect the intelligence was faulty. There was no battleship here. Not even a cruiser. Only death in the waiting hands of those corvettes that now waited between me and the open sea. At one point, when my nerves nearly got the better of me, I almost had the radioman tossed into one of the tubes and jettisoned into the black hell raging on the otherside of the hull. How could he deliver such a message? Was it even from command? Had he verified it? Was it from the British, had they cracked the system?

"Kaptain!" hissed the warrant officer manning the periscope. "I see her!" I kid you not, my heart froze in that moment. All at once, I knew we had succeeded and we were going to die. Thirty degrees of the port bow, she lay at anchor. Silent, still and dark. Little more than a hole in the night, darker than the surrounding, the fog and the mist shrouding her in a blurry haze. I thought at first she was a cruiser, or even a destroyer. When all points of reference are blurred, its difficult to gauge the size of something. But we confirmed it... a battleship. The new flagship. Just commissioned. About to die.

Another fifteen minutes were spent getting into position, all the while the two corvettes patrolled in the central harbor, not two kilometers behind us. They seemed to cruise in a triangle, from the center to the inlet and then to the northeast -- towards us. Our timing would have to be perfect, our shots true, and our escape swift.

Unless you've been there, unless you've done it, it's difficult to describe the tension that fills a bridge at such a critical moment. A dozen times I switched between the periscope and the targetting computer. Was the angle right? The depth of the torpedoes? Impact or magnetic? (Given the weather, we had to go with impact fuses. The waves tended to interfere with the magnetic fuses and would setoff premature detonations. But, without a magnetic fuse, our torpedoes would have to strike deep and true. There would be no keel-breaking shot to sink this behemoth. Brute force and damage alone would have to do it... punching through her armor plating.)

Finally, I gave the order to fire and, as much as I wanted to watch, I knew the second the last fish was away we'd have to begin our escape. Prompting turning to the north and going to 6 knots, we actually turned away from our escape in order to throw off the pursuit which would surely come. As we began to slide away, a sound came through the water which nearly crushed my spirit. Far too early, a torpedo had detonated. Seconds later, another followed. Two of the four torpedoes had detonated prematurely. Perhaps the waves had tossed them into the harbor floor or perhaps famed German engineering had failed. Of course, two torpedoes remained, but against a ship the size of the King George V I couldn't see how they could possibly do the job.

Heinrich and I began to frantically discuss alternatives. The stern tube? Set deeper and try (pray) for a keel busting magnetic detonation? Or have it run at the surface to avoid the chance of hitting bottom? We began to position the stern tube when we heard a sound as magnificent as angels singing. The third torpedo impacted and, seconds later, deep explosions began to echo through the water. Secondary explosions. Ammo explosions. Somehow, fate had blessed us again. The King George V immolated herself in so many fireworks it looked like Britain's former colonies had begun to celebrate the Fourth of July on her decks. Even through the fog and rain I could see the explosions through the periscope. The impact of the fourth torpedo was, ironically, so much overkill it was practically lost among the explosions of the 14 inch rounds deep in the battleship's belly.

It was then that the sonarman's report silenced the sounds of victory. A corvette was closing rapidly, but she was heading towards the battleship from the west, and heading south... the route we likely would have taken in our escape had I not, instead, ordered us north. We began to loop around to the west, hoping to come south through the harbor and hug the coast until it was time to navigate the net. Then the report of the other corvette... she was heading north from the inlet, while another ship, probably a destroyer, waited on the other side of the net.

I don't know how we did it. A miracle, is all I could call it. Timing. The foul weather surely was our savior, masking our propeller noises in the chop of the waves. When at last we arrived at the net, we sent our last torpedo into the destroyer that stood between us and life. Taken by surprise, she sank like so much scrap, and an order was soon sent to the engine room: "All ahead flank." Get... us... home...

Three more destroyers patrolled between us and the eastern passage (an escape to the west, the way we had entered, was out of the question as time was of the essence). Yet somehow, God graced us that night. In their north to south elliptical patrols, the British destroyers always seemed to be heading south as we came within their zones. The crew of U-51, it seemed, would live. Many more would likely die because of that good luck, but what we did we did for the Fatherland and our families. The tiger had been unleashed, wild and untamed, and all we could do was hope to survive until it either exhausted itself or was killed.

KaptainKarl
05-21-2006, 10:02 AM
A first, and probably only, patrol report on one of the funnest patrols I've had yet. Hope you enjoy.
-----------------------------------------

So far, our patrol in the waning months of 1940 had gone well. We had just finished our assigned patrol of the northwest coast of Spain where we had managed to sink a number of cargo vessels, we estimated the total to be 31,000 tons of enemy shipping. Unwilling to rest on such an unremarkable success, I'd ordered the boat south... towards the Straight of Gibralter. My XO, Heinrich, seemed anxious about this decision, but little did he know that command had another plan for us. A plan which would cause far more fear than the British fortress guarding the Med.

Perhaps it was based on our earlier success with a similar mission. Perhaps it was desperation. Perhaps we were just cursed. I read the missive and could hardly believe it. My men and my boat, not to mention myself, were about to be thrown away on a suicide mission. And for little more than propoganda. There were many things wrong with this war and, even in those heady days of the early war signs were coming from Berlin that all was not well with the high command. Regardlesss, when the radioman came to my quarters with the dispatch I could tell from the look on his face that things were definitely not going to go according to plan. No, we would not be heading to Gibralter.

In two days, the British fleet would commission their newest flagship, HMS King George V. And she would be docked deep within the safety of Scapa Flow. Command wanted her sunk... at anchor, as a message to the British. The mission was as much about destroying a powerful threat to the Fatherland as much as crushing the hopes of the British. But, surrounded by mines, anti-submarine netting and nearly a dozen destroyers, I knew things would not go so easily.

Indeed, I'd been to the harbor once before, shortly after my crew and I had been transferred to U-51. In those days, the British were complacent, foolish. Their captains? Imbeciles. Our infiltration of the harbor was made easy when, despite the clearest weather, nearly half the picket vessels had run aground. Perhaps it was some strange shift in the earth's rotation or a magnetic anomoly. Perhaps they'd merely let the Irish take the helm. We never understood, but in the end we had managed to sink one of their fleet carriers and escape the harbor without interception. I knew it wouldn't be so easy this time.

We turned north for the long journey and, though they wouldn't admit it, I caught a number of the men praying. The British would not be caught unawares twice and the men knew it. The last time we had infiltrated from the east -- it was a shorter, more direct route into the harbor. This time, however, our fuel was already running low from an extended patrol and, more importantly, I didn't want to rish the chance of scout planes detecting our presence while we came around the northern islands. Taking the chance with the mines and less room to maneuver, I ordered the helmsman to take is in through the western passage. Heinrich surely thought I had gone insane but what could I do. Our orders were insane.

The journey was uneventful but for stumbling upon yet another cargo ship. One of the larger ones I had seen, actually. Although our fuel was dwindling and the torpedos were precious (we had only six remaining in our bow compartment), I thought the men needed the morale boost. With a single torpedo and a few rounds from the deck gun, we sent the merchantman to the bottom before continuing to our rendevous with destiny.

You know, I couldn't tell you how many ships I've sent to the bottom. How many lives I've snuffed with a single torpedo or, in my excesses, when two of the fish slam into a simple merchantman. Surely not many survive the first minute of carnage, but how many die later of the burns? Drowning? Sharks? I suppose it doesn't do a Kaptain well to dwell on these things, but such is the nature of my work. To strike quickly and silently, out of the dark, with no warning, when men are most helpless and vulnerable. In a few days, the tables would be turned and I feared I and my crew would pay for our transgressions against our fellow man. Assuming we even made it into the harbor, the sinking of their flagship would incite the British to hunt us down and seal off the harbor. There would be no escape. Indeed, if all went well they would have no clue as to our presence and the men of the King George would die as quickly as all the merchantmen, but then the enemy would know we were there, and where we must go to escape.

Fate, it seems, has a sense of humor. I was careful to time our speed to conserve not only fuel but to arrive in the western straight at dusk on December 13, hoping the night would wrap us in her embrace and allow us to stay on the surface for a few more precious minutes, conserving the batteries for our submerged run. Instead of having only darkness, it was as if nature had unleashed her full arsenal. The wind whipped as though a tempest and more rain fell from the skies than I thought were held in all the seas. A fog had descended, thick as snow, and a chill cut through my bones such that no amount of coffee from the galley could warm my soul. I exchanged silent glances with Heinrich, but we knew each other so well we no longer needed to speak. Was Mother Nature helping us, or warning us away?

Our sonar array was useless on the surface, but we made such great speed and the visibility was so aweful I decided it was worth the gamble. A quick insertion meant less opportunity for the British to detect us and, given the chop, it seemed unlikely the enemy's sonar would detect us while we were on the surface, our engine sounds muffled by the waves slashing across the length of the boat.

Finally, two-thirds of the way into the channel (at least, according to the navigator for certainly none of us could see more than 15 meters off the bow), we dove to periscope depth and began our final approach. The sonar operator's report confirmed my fears, however. At least a half-dozen destroyers and corvettes lay between us and the harbor entrance.

Somehow, I can't tell you how, we made it though I was sure we'd been discovered at one point. A destroyer drove directly over us at one point. Mere meters of water separated us from their keel but somehow, fate did seem to be on our side but, again, reminding us that our luck could be a fickle thing. Truth be told, I seriously considered firing our stern tube at the British hound but knew that such a premature signal of our arrival would spell not only the failure of our mission but merely hasten our demise. We pressed on, a bit slower and more cautious. Oddly, after that close call, it seemed as if the entire picket parted to let us pass. The sonar operator confirmed it and a check of the navigation charts revealed the path between us an the submarine nets was clear. Of course, a destroyer could have been lying in wait, its engines silent while its sonar probed the waters, but if that was the case there was nothing we could do about it. The weather continued to make visual scanning useless, and we had only the searchlights the British had kindly installed on the shores to guide us.

When we had last visited the harbor, as I told you, a fleet carrier and her escort met their demise. Our task had been made easier by the worst piloting of a ship I had ever seen as the Brits grounded ship after ship. This time, according to my sonarman, they made no such mistakes. Two corvettes patrolled the inner harbor and a third moved in to cover the inlet after we had passed through. My stomach began to tighten as I sensed a trap but surely the British wouldn't be so foolish as to let us in this far? But, I remembered, the destroyer that had passed over us without firing. How could it have come so close, mere meters, without detecting our presence?

For an hour we searched the harbor. I began to suspect the intelligence was faulty. There was no battleship here. Not even a cruiser. Only death in the waiting hands of those corvettes that now waited between me and the open sea. At one point, when my nerves nearly got the better of me, I almost had the radioman tossed into one of the tubes and jettisoned into the black hell raging on the otherside of the hull. How could he deliver such a message? Was it even from command? Had he verified it? Was it from the British, had they cracked the system?

"Kaptain!" hissed the warrant officer manning the periscope. "I see her!" I kid you not, my heart froze in that moment. All at once, I knew we had succeeded and we were going to die. Thirty degrees of the port bow, she lay at anchor. Silent, still and dark. Little more than a hole in the night, darker than the surrounding, the fog and the mist shrouding her in a blurry haze. I thought at first she was a cruiser, or even a destroyer. When all points of reference are blurred, its difficult to gauge the size of something. But we confirmed it... a battleship. The new flagship. Just commissioned. About to die.

Another fifteen minutes were spent getting into position, all the while the two corvettes patrolled in the central harbor, not two kilometers behind us. They seemed to cruise in a triangle, from the center to the inlet and then to the northeast -- towards us. Our timing would have to be perfect, our shots true, and our escape swift.

Unless you've been there, unless you've done it, it's difficult to describe the tension that fills a bridge at such a critical moment. A dozen times I switched between the periscope and the targetting computer. Was the angle right? The depth of the torpedoes? Impact or magnetic? (Given the weather, we had to go with impact fuses. The waves tended to interfere with the magnetic fuses and would setoff premature detonations. But, without a magnetic fuse, our torpedoes would have to strike deep and true. There would be no keel-breaking shot to sink this behemoth. Brute force and damage alone would have to do it... punching through her armor plating.)

Finally, I gave the order to fire and, as much as I wanted to watch, I knew the second the last fish was away we'd have to begin our escape. Prompting turning to the north and going to 6 knots, we actually turned away from our escape in order to throw off the pursuit which would surely come. As we began to slide away, a sound came through the water which nearly crushed my spirit. Far too early, a torpedo had detonated. Seconds later, another followed. Two of the four torpedoes had detonated prematurely. Perhaps the waves had tossed them into the harbor floor or perhaps famed German engineering had failed. Of course, two torpedoes remained, but against a ship the size of the King George V I couldn't see how they could possibly do the job.

Heinrich and I began to frantically discuss alternatives. The stern tube? Set deeper and try (pray) for a keel busting magnetic detonation? Or have it run at the surface to avoid the chance of hitting bottom? We began to position the stern tube when we heard a sound as magnificent as angels singing. The third torpedo impacted and, seconds later, deep explosions began to echo through the water. Secondary explosions. Ammo explosions. Somehow, fate had blessed us again. The King George V immolated herself in so many fireworks it looked like Britain's former colonies had begun to celebrate the Fourth of July on her decks. Even through the fog and rain I could see the explosions through the periscope. The impact of the fourth torpedo was, ironically, so much overkill it was practically lost among the explosions of the 14 inch rounds deep in the battleship's belly.

It was then that the sonarman's report silenced the sounds of victory. A corvette was closing rapidly, but she was heading towards the battleship from the west, and heading south... the route we likely would have taken in our escape had I not, instead, ordered us north. We began to loop around to the west, hoping to come south through the harbor and hug the coast until it was time to navigate the net. Then the report of the other corvette... she was heading north from the inlet, while another ship, probably a destroyer, waited on the other side of the net.

I don't know how we did it. A miracle, is all I could call it. Timing. The foul weather surely was our savior, masking our propeller noises in the chop of the waves. When at last we arrived at the net, we sent our last torpedo into the destroyer that stood between us and life. Taken by surprise, she sank like so much scrap, and an order was soon sent to the engine room: "All ahead flank." Get... us... home...

Three more destroyers patrolled between us and the eastern passage (an escape to the west, the way we had entered, was out of the question as time was of the essence). Yet somehow, God graced us that night. In their north to south elliptical patrols, the British destroyers always seemed to be heading south as we came within their zones. The crew of U-51, it seemed, would live. Many more would likely die because of that good luck, but what we did we did for the Fatherland and our families. The tiger had been unleashed, wild and untamed, and all we could do was hope to survive until it either exhausted itself or was killed.

VikingGrandad
05-21-2006, 10:20 AM
Great story, and very well written too http://forums.ubi.com/images/smilies/25.gif

joeap
05-21-2006, 01:32 PM
Excellent!