View Full Version : Patrol Diary of Herbert Altmeier Part 3 (long)

10-15-2005, 10:11 PM
7-8 Feb 1944
Debriefings were perfunctory. I had completed my report on the FLAK ammunition stores while still two days out. Technically it was the job of the Weapons Officer but he delegated the task to me. The Old Man had granted liberal leave to take effect when we completed our individual tasks so my time was my own until Wednesday at 0800. I took the noon autobus to Pontchâteau.

A €œclosed€ sign was on the tavern door €" Seaman€s wouldn€t be open for business until 1600. I wrapped on the window a few times. The curtain was drawn back and Yvette€s brother Etienne peered out. Seeing me he turned and called for Yvette as he opened the door. I had barely crossed the threshold when Yvette came bounding across the room and jumped into my arms, nearly knocking me over. The hug was more familial than passionate. I noticed her mother actually had the hint of a smile. Her brother was studiously ignoring us, busily wiping down tables that were already immaculate.

Yvette broke the hug and dashed over to her mother, with whom she had a whispered exchange. She hurried back over and took me by the hand saying, €œCome on Herbert.€ She led me out the door, around the corner of the tavern and up the stairs to the apartment above. Once inside we kissed passionately. She took my hand again and started to lead me to the bedroom. This suited me but things were happening too fast and I was confused, which I expressed by saying, €œYour mother?€ €œShe knows where we are. Besides, what€s she going to say? When she was 16 she was married.€ The first time the word was used but it felt €¦ right.

We lay in bed a couple of hours talking. The war accelerates everything and I think our conversation was actually about establishing the foundation for a life €" for however long it lasts €" together. So soon after passion it was incongruous to be talking about religion and God but that was the very first thing we discussed. Yvette is a devout Catholic and she wanted to know if I€d be willing to convert. I€m an indifferent Lutheran so I said, €œIt€s the same God €" sure, I€d be willing to do that.€ It didn€t stop there €" we talked quite a bit about faith and God in the context of the war. I said that both sides €" well, not the Bolsheviks €" were praying to the same God for success in battle. He couldn€t answer both prayers €" someone had to lose. The only explanation I could come up with was depressingly medieval €" the war was a trial by combat. God would show his favor by selecting the victor. I finally told Yvette how my parents died: they were suffocated along with thousands of other people huddling in air raid shelters when Hamburg was bombed. Whole families, their children, little babies, all died - choking in the darkness while a fire storm raged overhead. They were all praying - I€m sure of that. If I was right €" this is trial by combat €" then what great wrong had Germany done that would cause the Almighty to visit such terrible destruction upon the innocent?

I was sobbing - it was the first time I€ve cried since I was a child. Yvette comforted me. Right then I knew a bond had been forged between us.

We talked about children. We talked about after the war and what we hoped life would be like. Neither one of us said anything directly about marriage but that€s what we were both thinking about.

I ate dinner, upstairs, with Yvette and her mother €" not her brother who is married and was with his family. He obviously doesn€t want to be around me in any case. I remain puzzled by the thaw in Dominique€s feelings toward me. Is it nothing more than a mother€s acquiescence to her daughter€s wishes? Have I become an acceptable German?

Tuesday, Yvette and I bicycled and had a picnic next to a farmer€s pond.

Both nights I spent in the apartment with Yvette. Her mother raised no objection.

9 Feb 1944
I reported for duty at 0730. The XO handed me several manuals and said that €œthe Captain€ thought I should look at them. One was a technical overview of the Type VII, another was a description of the propulsion system €" both diesels and electrics. There was a manual about torpedoes, another about navigation. Some of this I already knew from the U-boat school but the manuals appeared to be much more detailed and comprehensive.

In the afternoon, I drilled the FLAK crew on the tachystoscope.

10 Feb 1944
Reported to the Old Man. He informed me that I was to begin live-fire gunnery drills with the FLAK crew. In preparation we were to take a one-day class on the 3.7cm Mk 42 dual FLAK. He saw my expression of surprise and said, €œYes, Altmeier, the boat is being fitted with 3 of the 3.7 dual mounts.€

11 Feb 1944
Class all day. At the end we had the opportunity for a hands-on inspection of a €œ37€.

12 Feb 1944
Live fire exercises. Each gun team got the chance to fire at targets towed by Ju-52€s. Not very challenging €" the Ju-52 is a slow plane. It would be much better to use an Me-110 as a tow plane but I expect they are needed as frontline defense. I was unimpressed by the Mk 42€s gun sight. I€m sure I could come up with a better design. I€ll save it as a project for when we€re on patrol €" something to relieve the boredom.

In order to make the exercise more challenging, I started aiming for the tow rope. By the end of the session I was hitting it every time and dropping the target. There were only two planes doing tow duty and in short order I had depleted their supply of targets. They had to land early. €œWhat bad luck,€ I said to the instructor.

13 Feb 1944
Went to early Mass with Yvette €" her mother goes at a different time of the day. It€s much more formal than a Lutheran service €" and there€s the Latin. I rather liked it. After the service she introduced me to the priest, Father Guillaume €" a thin elderly gentleman with a reedy voice. I asked him what was involved in conversion. He could instruct me, he said, but wanted to know why I wanted to convert €" was I sincere? The conversation had taken a turn I hadn€t really considered when I asked my question. I hesitated. Then I pulled Yvette to my side and said, €œI love this woman and I want to marry her. We want to be a Catholic family.€

There is something Newtonian about the progression of our relationship €" yes, it is new and exciting and even a little frightening but it is also, somehow, inexorable.

14-18 Feb 1944
I was busy all week with various tasks. The Old Man wanted to discuss my progress with the manuals. I€d read them all and asked if he had more. The Old Man has obviously taken me under his wing and I€m grateful.

We did more live fire drills. I refrained from shooting the tow ropes until I got bored about halfway through. Then I quickly terminated the session. The instructor is beginning to suspect that I may be doing it deliberately but can€t quite believe that anyone is capable of that kind of accuracy. Upon further reflection I became ashamed of myself. By terminating the sessions early I was denying my team needed practice, thereby threatening the safety of the boat. I resolved that I would behave myself in the future.

19-20 Feb 1944
Spent the weekend with Yvette. We€re definitely going to marry when I return from my next patrol.

21 Feb 1944
The Old Man told me today that all of the paperwork is in place to secure training and a promotion to Jr. Lieutenant. The process should be completed by our return. He stood and offered his hand, €œI don€t think it is premature to say, congratulations.€

As I think on it, promotion means a transfer away from the U-340 and the Old Man. So, eager anticipation mingles with reluctance and maybe a little sadness. Best to defer those thoughts until the upcoming patrol is actually completed.

26-27 Feb 1944
Yvette and I enjoyed our last weekend together €" it€s expected that we€ll sail the first of March. I had my first Catechism session with Father Guillaume.

Dominique has evinced an untoward interest in my activities at the base. I have never been comfortable around her €" her conversion was too fast, or too convenient. Etienne I can understand - his hatred for me is constant and undisguised. Is Dominique passing information to the terrorists? Might she even be a terrorist herself? I have given her nothing useful. What I find most frightening about this is the possibility that Dominique will do something and be arrested. Her crime will become Yvette€s crime. This is intolerable.

I contrived to get Yvette out of the apartment. Gave her money to buy some ersatz coffee. As soon as she left, I confronted Dominique. Naturally she denied any involvement with €œthe Maquis€. I told her that I didn€t care what she had done up until now but, henceforth, if I had any reason to suspect her, I€d shoot her myself. She cursed me €" the least objectionable epithet was €œGerman pig.€ €œThink of your daughter, woman.€ I have no patience with histrionics.

When Yvette returned I took her outside and had a long talk with her about what had transpired. I asked her to understand that my only concern was for her. I was mildly surprised at how readily she accepted this.

Now that I€ve expressed my suspicions I feel much better. I suppose it€s possible that I€ve unfairly accused Dominique. I don€t believe I have €" I trust my instincts. In any case, I doubt that she hates me more now than she did at the beginning. What matters is that Yvette loves me €" she knows that everything I€ve done is to protect her.

28 Feb 1944
I€ve acquired several books to take on the voyage: one on celestial navigation, a differential equations and engineering mathematics text, and a collection of papers on hydraulics. It€s rather like being back in school.

1 Mar 1944
Visited the boat. Took inventory on the 37 mm ammo. I went up on the bridge and tested each of the mounts. Everything checked out.

3 Mar 1944
Departed St. Nazaire at 13:53. I was unable to see Yvette since last Sunday. I worry about her. I wonder about the tempest I stirred up and what is happening between her and her mother.

The sky was cloudless, temperature cool, light wind. Stood watch until 1600, first on the bridge and then at the observation scope after we dived.

4-5 Mar 1944
Duty has been light. I think we€ve spent more time submerged on the Biscay run. I€ve filled my time with study.

The easy camaraderie I enjoyed with the FLAK crew, especially Großman is gone. This is probably as it should be. There must be a degree of command distance. Some of this comes from the fact that a leader is responsible for the men under him and directly answerable to the men above. I€m fair and reasonably indulgent so long as they do their jobs €" which they do. They€re good men.

6 Mar 1944
Finally, some action. Running on the surface just after sunset the radar detector picked up emissions. The Old Man submerged the boat. Just as in our previous missions, it was a destroyer, which the Old Man chose to engage. He put our stern to the target and hit it with a Wren, which left it dead in the water. As we closed to finish it, the SO announced another warship approaching.

The Old Man was unfazed by this development. He readied the bow Wren to deal with the new threat while he positioned the boat to put the quietus on the damaged DD.

The final attack was conducted with workmanlike precision. The Wren eliminated the new threat and a T3 dispatched the old one.

We surfaced and retired from the scene at full speed.

It was only after this attack that it occurred to me the degree of trust I reposed in the Old Man. Of course the attack would succeed €" I had no doubt. The Old Man was not infallible €" I€d seen evidence that he could fail - but he always made allowances for such eventualities. It was a good trait in a commander.

Some hours later we were running submerged when the SO detected a ship. The XO had the con and was able to establish that we had found a slow moving, east-bound convoy. The Old Man was notified. He, the XO, and the Navigator had a quiet but intense discussion at the chart table. I could only hear snatches of the conversation but the main import was that the Old Man decided not to engage.

My impression is that we could have easily maneuvered to overhaul the convoy for a night attack €" probably an hour or two before dawn. That seemed to be the verdict of the XO and the Navigator. The Old Man, for whatever reason, disagreed.

7 Mar 1944
The routine since the beginning of the patrol has been surface runs at 1/3 interspersed with submerged sound checks. We received a couple of reports of contacts but they were deemed to be too far off course to investigate. I€m getting the impression that our primary mission is to reach some destination within a fixed time frame and anything that conflicts with that is to be ignored.

After watch, wrote a letter to Yvette.

During sound check, ship detected. It will be crossing our path so Old Man ordered battle surface to get into attack position.

Target turns out to be a small merchant vessel. The Old Man gives the XO the con. It€s a simple attack and one T3 proves sufficient.

8 Mar 1944
Took the morning watch. Dawn was Homeric €" €œrosy-fingered€ streaks of pink and red. Calling it the Tyndall Effect is no less poetic for its specificity. If anything, there is profound beauty wrapped up in the science and mathematics of light. I attached nothing portentous to my contemplations of the Great Poet €" the patrol is no Odyssey.

There is a period from an hour to two hours after sunrise or before sunset that can be troublesome when on watch. If the Sun happens to be in my search quadrant, I€ve found a combination of bare eye and binoculars works best: I cover the sun with one hand and use my eyes to see €œclose€ to the disk. Then I switch to the binoculars along that same line of sight and scan outward from there. As it transpired, an hour or so after dawn, upon switching to the binoculars to scan from the Sun€s limb outward, I saw a speck. The radar detector had not sounded. I turned and said to the Watch Officer, €œI believe I have an aircraft, long range, just to the left of the Sun.€ He joined me in scanning. The speck was still there. €œDefinitely an aircraft, Sir.€ He still hadn€t seen it. The Watch Officer alerted the Old Man.

A moment later, the Watch Officer relayed the command: €œFLAK crew to the bridge.€ Holzer and I took the number one mount as the watch went below and were replaced by the remaining members of the FLAK crew.

I could now clearly see the speck as its separation from the Sun increased. Other specks began to appear. I counted four coming in two waves of two abreast. The Watch Officer ordered ahead full and altered course slightly so as to put the aircraft dead off our starboard beam. Like the B-24 on my first patrol, the enemy pilots were attacking €œout of the Sun€, hoping to surprise us. Not today.

The planes €" Sunderlands - were coming directly for us, with no fancy maneuvers. These fellows knew their business. So did we.

The roll of the boat imparted a slow rise and fall to the gun sight. This was compensated by the planes€ straight approach, which made the shot close to zero deflection. I allowed the boat€s roll to bring the sight up €" just before it reached true firing position I commenced firing: BAM-BAM-BAM. There was an explosion of metal and glass from the cockpit of my target. I switched to the wingman. Meanwhile the other guns had started firing at my kill €" probably a reflex action. As they ripped it apart I fired at plane number two: BAM-BAM-BAM €¦ boom. There was an explosion from the wing root and the plane began to roll out of control. The crew didn€t bother to target it since it was obviously dead.

Undeterred, the second wave began its attack run. The Watch Officer took no evasive action €" the FLAK crew needed a stable platform. I targeted the right Sunderland. Again, I fired first: BAM-BAM-BAM €¦ Boom. The right engine exploded, taking the wing with it. My shooting was way off.

I took aim on the last Sunderland. The rest of the crew had already begun firing at it €" ineffectively. I waited until the boat started to roll upward. BAM-BAM-BAM €¦ BOOM. Cockpit.

The Sunderland nosed over. A black shape fell from the plane. It pinwheeled and then a parachute blossomed. As the plane plunged into the sea astern, I followed the parachutist down in the sight. BAM. The man exploded €" the parachute, relieved of its weight, fluttered into the ocean like a wind-blown leaf.

The guns went silent. There was no sound other than the background hum of the diesels and the hiss of the spray. The pause was finally broken when the Watch Officer issued a redundant, €œCease fire.€ I realized Holtzer was staring at me. So was the Watch Officer, Großman €¦ everyone.

€œSecure.€ As we secured the guns, the Watch Officer came to my mount, leaned close and quietly said, €œBravo, Altmeier. Bravo.€

I was credited with all four kills. I realized that, with the B-24, it made me an €œace€ €" undoubtedly the only one in the Kriegsmarine.

9 Mar 1944
A sixth day of perfect weather. Our course is taking us around the British Isles, south of Iceland.

In the evening, a hydrophone check found a target. As before, the XO conducted the attack on what proved to be another small merchant.

11 Mar 1944
We proceeded north of England, thence down the Norwegian coast to our patrol area in the North Sea. I don€t understand why we have been ordered here €" I would think that boats based in Bergen would be more logical choices for this mission. I suspect the Old Man has some questions of his own €" he€s been clenching and unclenching his jaw muscles for days.

Late evening we were attacked by one or more aircraft while snorkeling. Visibility is marginal and they got close before being spotted. One close hit apparently damaged one of the diesels.

12 Mar 1944
When I awoke I learned that we had set course for Bergen in the night. Fuel for the return trip is marginal and the diesels need the kind of repair work that is only available in port.

13 Mar 1944
Spent most of the day sailing through fjords to Bergen. We docked late evening.

14 Mar 1944
I€m extremely disappointed €" our stay in Norway is going to be extended. The port diesel needs to be completely overhauled. I will post my letters to Yvette.

16 Mar 1944
The course of training for officer was waived. I took my qualification test today.

19 Mar 1944
Yvette got the benefit of my descriptions of Norway and Bergen. To this diary I€m committing two important events. The first is that I€m now commissioned a Jr. Lieutenant, qualified as a Watch Officer and Navigator. This makes me a supernumerary aboard the U-340. I€ve been assigned to the U-1197 based in St. Nazaire, Jr. Lieutenant Hans Von Augsburg commanding.

The second event is that I€m to be awarded the Iron Cross, First Class.

22 Mar 1944
The awards ceremony was today. There were several newspaper reporters and photographers on hand €" the fact that I€m an €œace€ makes me newsworthy, it would appear. Normally, the Commander of the 7th Flotilla would present the medal but in his place the 11th Flotilla Commander performed the honors.

1 Apr 1944
We are supposed to sail tomorrow. I mailed my final batch of letters to Yvette.

10-16-2005, 12:32 PM
Not bad. But your a monster for killing a pilot. MONSTER!!!!!!!!!!!

10-18-2005, 04:49 PM
Another couple of parts and you have a (illustrated) book. http://forums.ubi.com/images/smilies/11.gif