Chapter I
The Opening of the Convoy Battle

Convoy Codes explained...

  1. General situation as seen through U-boat traffic of early December.

  2. Convoy battle circuits.

  3. Group pattern.

  4. Poor beginning: Panser-Draufgänger versus HX 217, 6 December.

  5. Büffel-Ungestüm and HX 218.

  6. North Atlantic operations shift to southwest bound convoys, ON 153 and 154.

  7. Ruafbold and ON 153, 15-18 December.

  8. Refueling situation strained. Mid-December.

  9. U-boat successes: Spitz-Ungestüm and ON 154.

  10. The Gibraltar lane unsuccessfully guarded.

  11. "Baldrian" procedure. Blockade runner and U-boat escorts.

  12. Seehund and Eisbär: Capetown U-boats.



  1. General situation as seen through U-boat traffic of early December.1

    The beginning of December 1942 was fairly quiet. A sizable group of U-boats (Westwall) patrolled the US-Gibraltar lane in the area of the Azores while individual U-boats kept stations in the Gibraltar approaches as well as along the Northwest African coast (Casablanca and Freetown). On the North Atlantic convoy lanes Group Panzer lay in wait for HX 217; Group Draufgänger (nine submarines) was reforming to block an ON convoy. A concentration of both inbound and outbound submarines searched for survivors of the Italian blockade runner Cortellazzo, sunk 1 December some 500 miles west of Cape Finisterre. With the exception of one U-boat (U-183), Schafer, off Sable Island, the remaining U-boats were in the southern areas that had proved so profitable after the shut-down in the American coastal waters. Trinidad, Guiana, and Brazil were well attended. The St. Paul Rocks area was particularly infested. No less than 23 submarines were in these South American areas during the month. From Capetown and Madagascar areas, three U-cruisers were beginning their long homeward voyages, among these the famous Luth of U-181.12

  2. Convoy battle circuits.

    The introduction of two convoy battle circuits, HUBERTUS (Serial Numbers 801-900) and DIANA (701-800), in December gave indication of increasingly serious attention to improvements in convoy assaults. It is of interest to note that HUBERTUS was the name of the Christian Saint of the Hunt and DIANA that of the Pagan Goddess of the Hunt.


  1. Group pattern.

    It is a noteworthy factor that group formations at the beginning of December 1942 showed equal interest in westbound and eastbound convoys. The group pattern was simple, two basic groups, one at either end of the North Atlantic convoy lanes: Panzer at the western awaiting the eastbound HX 217 and Draufgänger at the eastern end preparing to block an ON convoy. The two groups together did not number more than 20 boats. The encirclement maneuver which was so obviously and effectively a part of group operations in March 1943 was already foreshadowed, for when Panzer obtained contact on HX 217, Draufgänger was ordered to close from ahead rather than wait for a westbound convoy. The initial arrangement in December suggested that groups stationed at the two ends of the convoy lanes could merely exchange positions as a result of convoy operations. This exchange could keep up as long as replacements were made as planned. Actual group operations, however, while they approximated this exchange never displayed its pure form.

  2. Poor beginning: Panzer - Draufgänger versus HX 217, 6 December.

    Despite five good contacts during December, group operations netted less than individual operations against independents. When group Panzer established contact on HX 217, 6 December, there seemed every reason to expect brilliant operation, for group Draufgänger was ordered to close the convoy from ahead. This they did, joining on 8 December in 58°N - 33°W. The U-boats were reminded that convoy escorts were weakened by the North African invasion and that American escorts were inexperienced. Manseck (U-758) torpedoed three ships (two sank) but in general the operation consisted of a series of shadowers, no one of which could hold on long enough to home the groups.

  3. Büffel - Ungestüm and HX 218.

    A like opportunity was offered on 13 December against HX 218. At this time the rhythm of U-boat group operations had not been restored after the disruption due to HX 217. On the 13th there was neither a group in ambush off


    Newfoundland nor one lined up west of Ireland. When Loesser (U-373), en route from supply sub Schnoor (U-460), made contact in 53°N - 42°W, COMSUBs added the only two other available U-boats in the area to form group Büffel as a shadowing group until he could make up Ungestüm from ex-Panzer and Draufgänger as a reception group just to the west of 30°W. The following morning, groups Büffel and Ungestüm began to guard circuit HUBERTUS. DIANA was being guarded by new group Raufbold, then forming with 14 submarines for a southwest convoy about 450 miles west of Ireland. Use of HUBERTUS in the general area west of 30°W and of DIANA east of 30°W proved of great value to radio intelligence on subsequent occasions. Although Ungestüm reached its assigned area on time it never found the convoy, which had been diverted.

  1. North Atlantic operations shift to southwest bound convoys, ON 153 and 154.

    Following the abortive operation on HX 218 by groups Büffel and Ungestüm, which was very similar in pattern to the operation on HX 217, no further groups were stationed off Newfoundland for nearly three weeks. Interest was concentrated instead on ON convoys which were proceeding on a southerly route. Such an arrangement may have been in part accidental, a result of two eastbound operations without any compensating westbound operations. It is true that group Ungestüm had operated briefly against ON 152 after it had failed to find HX 218, but the operation had not carried it much beyond 35°W. In the absence of a supply submarine it was more reasonable to reform Ungestüm as a backfield for a westbound convoy. The second half of December is remarkable for the only two premeditated and carefully planned assaults on ON convoys during the course of the winter offensive; the Raufbold operation on ON 153 and the Spitz-Ungestüm operation on ON 154 concentrated practically all available North Atlantic U-boats. The Germans undoubtedly had assurance that these convoys would take the southerly route which was sufficiently reliable to warrant this concentration.


  1. Raufbold and ON 153, 15-18 December.

    Rudloff (U-609) made first contact on ON 153 for the 14 U-boats that were lined up from 55° to 52°N, 26° to 21°W. The accuracy of the U-boat patrol line is indicated by the position of the first contact, 53°27'N - 23°05'W. The operation which ensued might have been disastrous for the convoy had it not been for bad weather, which seemed an excuse to the U-boats even though COMSUBs was positive that it gave them the advantage - " . . .torpedoes will run in the foulest weather" (2053/16 December 1942). Four merchantmen and the senior officer escort were lost, the latter sunk by Ranse (U-211). Claims from the U-boats themselves were much more impressive.

  2. Refueling situation strained. Mid-December.

    The attempt to carry out an offensive simultaneously on the Gibraltar-US lane and in distant coastal areas had its effect on the North Atlantic offensive in the shortage of supply submarines. Three U-tankers had been working during the first half of the month but only two were available for the latter part and one of these (Wilamowitz, U-459) was engaged on a long haul into the South Atlantic to service Capetown submarines. As COMSUBs had already announced, the provisioning situation was strained due to bad weather as well as to the lack of tankers. Rence submarines in the North Atlantic groups were not permitted to accumulate from one operation to the next and were available only for brief operations before dropping out one by one and heading for France.

  3. U-boat successes: Spitz-Ungestüm and ON 154.

    Before Raufbold's operation against ON 153 had been discontinued, fresh U-boats were already en route from port to line up as group Spitz in approximately the same area which Raufbold had occupied. The subsequent disposition of ex-Raufbold U-boats indicated that the operation was very carefully planned. On the 22nd, a few hours before Spitz U-boats were to take up their positions officially, three exRaufbold U-boats were added to Spitz, not to extend the patrol line but to form a back wing 02° to the south and west of Spitz.


    Nine minutes later the remaining ex-Raufbold were reformed with group Ungestüm in the area 49°N - 31°W in order to "surround" the convoy. The convoy's "expected" position for the 23rd was given. Thus a total of 22 U-boats was brought into position for the encirclement maneuver. A two day gap in traffic obscures the events immediately prior to contact, but it is clear from the position of Graef's (U-664) first contact on the 26th that COMSUBs had further shaped and modified the Spitz line to conform with the convoy as she tried to evade the area by extending her southerly route. Sure of his convoy, COMSUBs quickly calmed the waiting Ungestüm with word that the convoy contacted in 48°15'N - 23°55'W would soon leave its southerly course and turn west. During the night of 26-27 December the remainder of the group Spitz came into action reporting the convoy's course first as 180°, then as 210°, and finally, on the afternoon of the 27th, as 260°. The following morning Ungestüm joined. Although ON 153 had been assisted by rough weather in discharging Raufbold's attack, ON 154 was not so fortunate and lost 1/3 of her company. Once caught, ON 154 was helpless before the additional attack of Ungestüm. A total of 22 U-boats had attacked a convoy of 45 ships pursuing it to 43°N - 34°W, sinking 14 ships and torpedoing one. Weather conditions probably saved the convoy from greater loss. The U-boats came out relatively unscathed.

    By the 29th COMSUBs was highly elated and boldly aggressive. He declared that the convoy was routed and ordered the U-boats to "kill the rest of the convoy!" (1005/29). Not even one straggler should escape. Boats low on fuel could still search for damaged ships and plans for refueling were rushed so that no boat need hold back for fear of running short. In an outburst of confidence, COMSUBs ordered his men to pay no attention to their own search receivers. Enemy radar was declared ineffective and the statement was documented with reports from U-boats on the spot. "The enemy can attack only what he first sees . . . rely on yourselves and think only of attack." (1012/28). With an almost morbid curiosity, COMSUBs probed Leimkiihler's (U-225) report of a Q-ship sinking and Strelow's (U-435) report of 300-400 survivors on rafts.

    When the operation was discontinued on New Year's Eve, U-tanker 117 (Neumann) was already refueling those who had dropped behind and COMSUBs was hurrying his men to reform off Newfoundland for a return trip on an HX or SC convoy.


    Meanwhile a fresh group Falke was forming off Ireland. In his New Year's Eve message, Admiral Donitz called his men "unsparing, hard, and courageous to death." (1005/31). To the U-boats that had fought on ON 154 he sent this message: "You have fought bravely and achieved beautiful results." (1153/1 January 1943).

  1. The Gibraltar lane unsuccessfully guarded.

    Throughout December, group Westwall guarded the Gibraltar lane without much success. On the 22nd the group was stationed off Portugal to block the England-Gibraltar lane as its last gesture before returning to Biscay. Group Westwall's replacement in the Azores area was already at sea and had taken up its position by the 29th as group Delfin.

  2. "Baldrian" procedure. Blockade runner and U-boat escorts.

    Between 1 December and 1 January, three blockade runners were sunk in U-boat areas and constituted an interruption and a nuisance to U-boat operations, not only because of the great care which had to be exercised in their protection but also because of the necessity for searching for survivors after they had been sunk. The sinking of the Cortellazzo on 1 December has already been mentioned. On 13 December an Offizier message bearing the code word "Baldrian" was intercepted but its inner text not read. It was later learned from traffic that "Baldrian" stood for a short signal procedure to be used by U-boat escorts for blockade runners and in this case concerned the tanker Germania, whose scuttling in the area 45°N - 15°W was announced by COMSUBs on the afternoon of 15 December with orders to five U-boats to proceed to the place of sinking.

    On 26 December, the day contact was made on ON 154, a series of Offizier messages began for three U-boats detailed to meet and escort the inbound Rhakotis from area 42°30'N 32°00'W. Getting the Rhakotis clear of the convoy operation was a matter of some concern, but was accomplished by bringing her around to the north of the combat area. It was not until the 29th that COMSUBs dared to lift the temporary ban on attacks on independents. The sinking of the Rhakotis in 45°10'N - 10°50'W by HMS Scylla on 1 January came too late


    to spoil the elation of the Spitz success, but the U-boat escorts were called to account and Sturm (U-410) was apparently relieved of his command.

  1. Seehund and Eisbär: Capetown U-boats.

    A mention of "Seehund Order" in a message to Wurdemann (U-506) on 17 December, followed on the 28th by orders for the returning Ibbeken (U-178) to rendezvous Clausen (U-182) and deliver "Eisbär" was of value in giving assurance that Wurdemann and Clausen were replacements for the Capetown area. The orders presumably for their operational area. There is no reason to believe that they bore any similarity to the Monsun orders of summer 1943, which provided for Japanese cooperation.


Table of Contents ** Next Chapter (2)


1. This summary of December operations is based on U-boat traffic which for the most part was read subsequent to those operations. Toward the end of the month, traffic was being read with a lag of only two or three days.

2. Loth was a favorite of Donitz and it was apparent in the message traffic. Loth was immediately recognized for his sinking of ten ships in the Indian Ocean during his 1943 deployment. He was awarded the Knight's Cross with Diamonds. He was the first member of the German navy to receive the highest German military award.

Transcribed and formatted for HTML by Chuck Roberts for the HyperWar Foundation