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Created: 25 July 2001 - Updated: 19 Apr 2018

Six in one trip!
By Mike Kemble


This is written by Commander D E G Wemyss, Captain HMS Wild Goose, who served under, then took over from, Capt Johnnie Walker with 2nd Support Group
Some information supplied by Ray Holden

Commander Wemyss

U592 - 31 January (Type VIIC)

The U Boat was abaft my beam when I started to turn towards her, and the noise of a number of ships propellers in her hydrophones must have drowned the noise of my ships increase in speed at the start of the attack.  At any rate she made no move to get out of the way, nor did she get off her torpedoes in any hurry as I came charging in, and it looked as if the attack was unexpected up to the last moment.  Then I imagine there came a cry from the U Boats hydrophone operator of "Propellers - Fast! - Loud! - Getting Louder!" and "Himmel" from the Captain as he swung his periscope round and caught sight of us coming. He acted fast and in time, for he dodged our pattern of depth charges alright.  His mind was however no longer occupied by thoughts of attacking and sinking anyone, which meant we had achieved our objective. His next intention, to get safely away from all this, could be dealt with in the manner we liked best, in slow time.

My chief fear during the run in to attack was that I should get there too late to put the enemy off his stroke.  The asdic contact was good and the attack more or less ran itself, but try as I could to stop them, those big ships would come on.  Of course, the whole thing was over very quickly, though it seemed to take ages at the time. 6 depth charges produced an immediate response.  With relief I saw the carriers turn and present their sterns, which meant that even if the torpedoes had been fired, they would now miss.  With fresh heart we were now free to proceed with the second part of the programme.  There is not much more to tell. Conditions were very good indeed and the enemy proved strangely docile after his early show of spirit.  We regained out contact after the attack and had it confirmed, first by Magpie and then by the "Boss" on Starling. The Magpie had a go but missed and was told to rejoin the screen. The Boss then ordered an Extra Special and charges rained down. Debris and oil in sufficient quantity appeared and that was the end of the hunt.

U762 - 8 February (Type VIIC)

The weather held beautifully fine and the night of 8 February was clear and moonlit.  My ship was out in the deep field on the convoys port bow when a shout from the port lookout drew the Officer of the Watch's attention to a U Boat on the surface. It was a nice bit of work as the enemy was fully a mile and a half away, with little but the conning tower showing and I am glad that the lookout, Able Seaman J G Wall, was well decorated for it.

We turned towards her at once but before I got to the Bridge or the guns had opened fire, she dived.  The asdic team, however, did their stuff and it was not long before we had contact, had told the Boss about it, and he ordered to hang on until he could team up as usual.  The U Boat made no use of her speed or violent manoeuvre to shake us off, while, since we knew she had a long way to go before she became a danger to the convoy, we kept quiet as well.  The two ships approached each other in this leisurely manner on opposite courses until it was clear that the U Boat would pass more or less directly under the ship.  I do not suppose that the U Boat realised she had been spotted before she dived, nor apparently, did she hear anything on her hydrophones, as her next action caught us completely by surprise and made me feel extremely foolish. She put up her periscope not more than 20 yards from the ship!  The lookout saw it and gave a yell, I followed his pointing arm and there it was in the moonlight, a good two feet of it!  The U Boat Captain evidently intended to have a good look around and I trust he was even more surprised at what he saw than we were.

My first reaction was to go full ahead and drop a pattern, a really good shot with the port thrower would score a bull on that periscope. I had hardly got out the orders to the engines, and the depth charge party had hardly taken action, when I looked in the water alongside and realised we could never make it.  We might damage the U boat but we could never get enough way on the ship to avoid blowing our own stern off.  She was too close for the 4 inch guns and the only action was the result of some quick thinking on the part of the men stationed at the close quarter weapons.  Ordinary Seaman R W Gates on one Oerliken got off a pan of ammunition, and I think the stripped Lewis gun got off some rounds. At any rate, tracer hopped all around that periscope, we thought we saw sparks fly off it, we hoped the fellow at the other end got an eye bath, and then it disappeared.  Having persuaded the depth charge party not to fire, we tried to withdraw to a more convenient range to collect ourselves and to carry out the Bosses orders, but found that the enemy had made up his mind to beat it in exactly the same direction!  We simply could not get away from him and the situation seemed to be getting out of hand when order was restored by the arrival of Woodpecker.  She had been told to join in the hunt as well and had beaten Starling to it.  When she had contact there were two of us on the job and matters could proceed properly.  She ran in for the attack dropping her depth charges and the contact disappeared. Up came Starling and was directed to the spot. "Come over here" Walker signalled to Pryce (Woodpecker), "and look at the mess you have made".  I circled round them whilst they examined their handiwork and then we dispersed to our station again.

U 734 - 9 February (Type VIIC)

That action finished at about 1am.  Not long after 4am I was once more flying up to the Bridge to learn that the radar watch had detected another U Boat on the surface. The sequence of events was the same as before she dived before we could get the guns off, we got the asdic contact, told the world and was told by the Boss he was coming. I knew however that this time he was a good long way off and would be a couple of hours reaching me.  Hang on as I would, but be stared at through a periscope twice in one night was more than anyone could stand, and so I determined to have a smack at this one straight away.  We might lose contact in the commotion, but we would just have to pick it up again if we missed, and anyway, it would keep her quiet until we could attend to her properly.  It worked out according to this plan.  The pattern produced no evidence of damage, but we picked up the trail after our attack and followed it without trouble as the U Boat made no real effort to shake us off.  The Boss turned up at 6.30am and between us, we put in two Extra Specials.  The first one winged her and after that she laid a trail of oil wherever she went, the second one got her. Again, we got debris, but no survivors.

U 238 - 9 February (Type VIIC)

As soon as the Boss was satisfied we went on our way again to a fresh incident.  From snatches of intercepted signals we gathered that Kite had picked up a second U Boat at the same time as our own, which with the Magpie to help, she had been hammering ever since.  The enemy had proved to be a tougher, more wily, opponent than the other two, so that with all their patience and perseverance had not managed to hurt her much, although she had not succeeded in getting away.  We sped along at a brisk pace to join the struggle, a matter of 30 miles away and, on arrival, I was put on patrol to keep the Ring, while the Boss mixed it with the others in the middle.  After all the drama of the night, this was a welcome spell of quiet, though it was good to keep our leader going at it with undiminished vigour.  There was some hard slogging still for him to do, with this agile customer side stepping attack after attack.  The Kite had to be pulled out of the struggle to join me as ring keeper because she was practically out of depth charges, then at last, the end came.  Our scientists ashore may not have been very pleased at the way it was done, but that is a technical joke not worth telling here. Sufficient to say that Magpie was duly blooded and the Groups 3rd victim within 15 hours was safely gathered in.

U 424 - 11 February (Type VIIC)

It was just before midnight on the following night, as we reached the end of our beat, that we found one, and once again, my ship was in luck.  The moment was an awkward one, as the group was engaged in the changing of direction of search which meant that we were not in formation to keep clear of one another.  I told the rest what I had found, and our new senior officer tried to confirm the contact, at first without success.  We went through a hair raising time and had to stop the ship to avoid a colleague, and then start the attack from only 400 yards range.  The explosion of the patterns lifted the stern of the ship but she still held together, and the instruments still worked so the battle could proceed.  Conditions for some reason were not as good as usual and an uncomfortable time followed when we lost and regained contact and lost contact again while trying to follow the U Boat which was snaking freely.  The Woodpecker got contact firmly though she was not certain that she had a genuine submarine echo, attacked it for luck, without result.  They then lost it altogether and it looked as if this whole operation would turn out a frost until Wilkinson, promoted to Leading Hand, and his asdic team announced a firm contact, well clear of consorts.  It was astern and at long range which sounded unlikely but the team were so confident that I begged to be excused and went after it.

It got better as we got closer until we were not only confident we had the right thing but knew enough about it to attack.  The proper thing would have been to wait for assistance but this groping around was tiring people and so in we went.  We lost contact on the way but were determined to have a bang and complete the attack.  After that, we waited.  There was no contact, but instead we were rewarded with sounds. First of all I was told that my listeners could hear a noise as though someone was banging metal with a hammer.  That went on for a few minutes and then followed a sharp crack, two more muffled explosions came next and then silence.  We had heard what submariners call breaking up noises which came from a ship as she sinks after disappearing from view.  It seemed fair to assume that what we had heard were breaking up noises from a U Boat.   And, as other ships present had also heard them and none of us had a contact it was decided to hunt no further.  We formed up and went away, at 5pm we were back and what a sight met our eyes! An oil patch covered several square miles and in the middle was a large quantity of debris.  "The U Boat is sunk", signalled the Starling, "You may splice the mainbrace".

U 264 19 February (Type VIIC)

Nothing happened for a week after this, and then it became known that another pack attack was brewing, and we found ourselves attached to another convoy. Again we shared the support with another Group, so that when the attack developed, on the night of 18th February, the U-boats found strong opposition. The attack was much better timed than the last one, since the U-boats came in from different directions, and more nearly together. The fighting spirit, however, was not there, and attacks were given up as soon as a boat was intercepted. The result was a very lively night in which all but one of the attackers were caught on the boundary; the one exception, although she got to the close screen, was so harassed that eventually she went through the convoy submerged, and never got off a torpedo. Still, the result was a drawn game: no ships were hit, but neither were there any U-boats sunk.

At daybreak the convoy was clear of attack, but it was tolerably certain that the discomforted U-boats would be found not far astern of the convoy, and so that was where Captain Walker took the Group to look for them. We started the search at 9 a.m. and by 11 a.m. the Woodpecker had ‘found’ U264. She had plenty of depth charges left, and so she and the Starling hunted while the rest of us kept the ring. It was a long hunt this time, of great interest to the people in the middle, but dull for the rest of us until the climax came. A series of attacks had damaged the U-boat until her leaks got beyond the capacity of her crew to keep submerged. She was getting heavier and heavier and. nothing further could be done, so her captain decided to abandon ship. He used the last of his high-pressure air to get to the surface, the crew got out and the submarine sank at once. We got off some shots when she broke surface, but soon realised it was a waste of ammunition and ceased fire. The whole crew was picked up.

No 7 proved to be a problem. It had fired an acoustic torpedo which hit Woodpecker in the stern. We look after our own and the Starling took her in tow. By a miracle, nobody on board Woodpecker had been killed or hurt. The attack was abandoned in favour of rescue. After towing her for 8 days, a gale sprang up near the Scilly Isles and Woodpecker sank. Interview by Kapt Look U264

The Happy Return


Stills from the video linked on top and below

We were informed by Sir Max Horton that, on our return home to Liverpool, he intended that we should be cheered into harbour.  And what a welcome they gave us!  We steamed up the channel into the River Mersey in line ahead and turned to port in succession to enter the lock into Gladstone Dock, and there was the crowd.  Rows and rows of our comrades from the escort ships were there together with the Captain and Crew of the battleship King George V which was in dock nearby. Masses of WRENS who were making as much noise as all the rest put together, merchant crews, crews from allied ships and dock workers. Strung up was a hoist of flags which read, "Johnnie Walker, still going strong". Unhappily the signal hoisted was not fulfilled. On 9 July 1944 Captain Walker died of a stroke brought on by heavy strain and overwork.

The above small images are taken from a video entitled U Boat Killers which I found on thanks to Ray for the information

Not dust nor the light weight of stone, but all the seas of the Western Approaches shall be his tomb. His spirit returns to God who gave it.

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