I Was There! - We Got the Convoy Through the U-Boats

The War Illustrated, Volume 6, No. 147, Page 541, February 5, 1943.

Attacked 35 times by U-boats in the Atlantic, an armada of merchantmen recently reached this country. The part that a Liberator of the Coastal Command played in this battle lasting four days and nights is told below: the story is reprinted from the Daily Telegraph.

"We had been over the convoy only about half and hour", said Sqdn.-Ldr. Bulloch, "when we sighted the first submarine. There was a hailstorm at the time and in the early morning light visibility was bad."

"But this U-boat was on the surface about 11 miles behind the convoy. It was travelling fast to catch up with the ships. I circled to attack. It sighted us and started to crash-dive, but I got it just as it was disappearing, and the depth charges went down on top of it."

Flyg.-Off. Michael S. Layton, Bulloch's Canadian navigator, had a "grandstand" view of what happened then.

"I looked back from the astrodome", he said, "and saw about 40 feet of the submarine sticking out of the water at an angle of 30 degrees. The depth charges exploded right along the track of the U-boat and the spray completely smothered the stern."

A patch of oil nearly 800 yards long spread on the surface of the sea and was followed seconds later by debris. The Liberator signalled a corvette to the scene. When it arrived it disturbed a flock of seagulls which were hovering over the debris. The corvette signalled Sqdn.-Ldr. Bulloch, "You certainly got him." Another signal read, "You killed him." And a third, "Dead bodies seen."

Three hours later the squadron-leader sighted two U-boats 300 yards apart going like mad for the convoy.

"There was oil coming from one of them", he said. So they attacked it and the depth charges were well placed. A couple of seconds after the explosions had died away a terrific spout of water shot us into the air.

The Liberator had now no more depth charges, but it continued its patrol. The crew settled down to the routine jobs and one of the gunners cooked a lunch of steak and potatoes on a paraffin stove.

"I was sitting in the cockpit with a plate on my knee, with 'George' the automatic pilot in charge", Sqdn.-Ldr. Bulloch said. "I was going to enjoy that steak, but another U-boat popped up."

"The plate, with its steak and potatoes, went spinning off my knee as I grabbed the controls and sounded the alarm. There was a clatter of plates back in the aircraft as the rest of the crew jumped to it, forgetting how hungry they were."

"We dived on the submarine and opened up on it with cannon and machine-gun fire. We couldn't do anything else. But the U-boat didn't know that, and so soon as it saw us coming it got under quickly. Our lunch was ruined, but that U-boat didn't get within torpedo range of the convoy."

Twenty minutes later another one was sighted, and Sqdr.-Ldr. Bulloch began to wonder if the whole German U-boat fleet had congregated in that part of the Atlantic. They attacked again with their cannons, and again the U-boat dived in a hurry.

Another half-hour and the squadron-leader sighted a sixth submarine; 50 minutes later a seventh; and in another 25 minutes the eighth. All three were attacked with cannon fire and forced to crash-dive. It was only when darkness was beginning to fall that the Liberator headed back to base. It landed safely after a patrol of nearly 17 hours and after attacking U-boats from dawn to dusk.

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