VI BOMBER COMMAND

IN DEFENSE OF THE PANAMA CANAL

1941 - 45

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Confirmed Sinkings of German U-Boats

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VI Bomber Command Bombardment Aircraft

While engaged in anti-submarine warfare, crews of the various squadrons of the VI Bomber Command received credit for destroying four such craft, either unassisted, or shared credit for the sinkings with U.S. Navy surface or aircraft, with a number of "probables" reported. Many of the submarines recording as probably having been destroyed, very likely never reached their home port, but official credit for destruction was not allowed because of the lack of sufficient evidence. The following are descriptions of confirmed U-boat sinkings in which VI Bomber Command aircraft were involved:

a.   An A-20a from Hato Field in Curacao, piloted by Lt. Groover of the 59th Bombardment Squadron, sighted and attacked a submarine on July 5, 1942, that could only have been the U-153 commanded by Korvkpt. Wilfried Reichmann, since no other U-boat was in this area. The attack took place thirty-six miles north of Cabo de la Vela in Colombia. Five days later on July 10, U-boat headquarters logged a signal from U-153 that made no mention of the supposedly damaging attack delivered by the aircraft. The communication on July 10 was the last recorded contact with U-153. The U.S. destroyer, USS Landsdowne DD486, on July 13, delivered a punishing depth charge attack on a contact eighty miles west northwest of Colon, in the Panama Sector, in position 09.46N, 81.29W. The boat disappeared. Neither the 59th Bombardment. Squadron., nor the USS Landsdowne sighted wreckage, nor could prove a sinking, although both elements were convinced that they had sunk a U-boat. U-boat headquarters commented on July 15 that U-153 had failed to reply to numerous signals, and, on August 1, the headquarters acknowledged the loss of the U-boat and all of its 52 crewmen. The 59th Bombardment Squadron and the USS Landsdowne shared credit for the sinking of U-153.

b.   A B-18 flown by Captain P. A. Koenig of the 45th Bombardment Squadron, on Saturday, August 22, 1942. caught U-654, commanded by Oblt. Ludwig Forster, at conning tower depth, some 150 miles north of Colon, Panama, in position 12.00N, 79.56W. At two miles, the aircraft observed the U-boat beginning its crash-dive. The B-18 dropped closer to the water and dropped all four of its 600 pound depth charges, bracketing the diving boat, trailing a heavy oil slick and considerable debris. Captain Koenig called for assistance, since all his depth charges had been released. Soon, five additional B-18's of the 45th flown by Captains Eddie Glass and Robert Moss, and 1st. Lts. Marvin Goodwyn, Ira Matthews and C. A. Woolsey arrived to continue the attack. The trailing oil slick and air bubbles gave off a fairly distinct aiming point. By nightfall, the six planes had dropped a total of 48 depth charges on or around the luckless submarine. Despite the claims of the Squadron crews, the U. S. Naval Commander of the Caribbean declined to confirm the sinking of U-654. It was not until the ending of World War II that the sinking of U-654 by the 45th Bombardment Squadron was confirmed. All of U-654's 44 crewmen were lost in the sinking.

c.   A B-18 bomber, piloted by Lt. Lehti of the 99th Bombardment Squadron based at Zandery in Dutch Guiana, took off at midnight on October 2, 1942, and flew eastwards to its assigned patrol area along the French Guiana coast. At about 4:00 a.m., the radar operator advised Lehti that he had a contact at twelve miles. Lehti brought the aircraft down to three hundred feet and began his run in. At a mile, he was over a U-boat's wake, heading northwest. Within seconds, the boat was spotted moving very slowly and fully surfaced. The B-18 dropped lower and came boring in, dropping two depth-bombs as it crossed the U-boat. One 650 pound bomb entered the water ahead of the boat with another 325 pound bomb 30 feet further on. The U-boat, although obviously damaged by the blast, has disappeared by the time that Lehti could get his aircraft round for a second attack. Lehti turned his B-18 for the shore 120 miles distant, crossing over the prominent Cayenne lighthouse, he got a good check on his position. Re-crossing the lighthouse on a reciprocal course, he flew back towards the scene of the attack. Nine miles from the position of the previous attack, his radar operator advised that he had a contact at the original attack position. Lehti brought his bomber close to the water and ran in on the radar contact, catching the U-boat by surprise, once more on the surface. As the B-18 crossed the U-boat, Lehti released two 325 pound bombs simultaneously, both bombs plummeting into the water close alongside the U-boat. After the explosion, there was no sign of the boat. Lehti did not claim a kill on his arrival back at his base, but a B-18 was ordered to make a reconnaissance of the area at dawn. The reconnaissance aircraft found a large oil patch at the center of which was a man in a life jacket, the sole survivor of the sunken U-boat. The aircraft dropped a dinghy to the survivor and watched the exhausted man climb into it. The survivor was subsequently rescued by the USS Ellis after spending 10 days on a life raft which the aircraft dropped to his aid. The U-boat, later identified as the U-512 commanded by Kptlt. Wolfgang Schultze, was sunk October 2, 1942, north of Cayenne, in position 06.50N, 52.25W. Fifty-one (51) of its crew members died.

d.   A B-18 ("Robust Man") assigned to the 10th Bombardment Squadron and piloted by Lt. Milton Wiederhold became the fifth squadron to become embroiled in a fight on August 7, 1943, against a U-boat in the Caribbean Sea southeast of Curacao, in position 12.38N, 64.15W. The heavily damaged U-boat, afterward identified as the U-615, had withstood twelve depth-charges and bombing attacks from six different aircraft for virtually a whole day. Lt. L. D. Crockett, in Mariner P-11 from VP-205, vectored the B-18 bomber into an attack run, but when the pilot flew over the area where the U-615 was last seen, there was no U-boat in sight. The pilots, seriously hampered by the weather, kept up the hunt, dropping flares to light up the sea below. At 9:15 p.m., the U-boat was sighted lying dead in the water. Lt. Crockett, his aircraft running low on fuel, relinquished command of the operation to Lt. Cmdr. Joster of VP-205. Joster, flying Mariner P-15, again vectored the B-18 bomber into an attack run. The B-18 dropped depth charges down around the U-boat, the depth-charge explosions slamming into the U-boat's hull increasing the damage. The B-18 carried out its last attack, sending shock waves slamming into the U-boat's hull. At 4:50 a.m., the U-615 finally died. Overhead, the attackers continued hunting for the U-boat, not knowing that their prey no longer existed. At dawn, the USS Walker arrived at the area of the great battle which had been fought the previous afternoon to hunt the crippled U-boat. While searching for another U-boat reported to be in the area, the Walker found 44 exhausted survivors of U-615 and hauled them up the scaling nets hanging down the destroyer's steel sides. The 10th Bombardment Squadron shared credit with VP-205 for the sinking of U-615. Brigadier General Lyons, on October 20, 1943, awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross to the crew members of the "Robust Man," in a presentation ceremony held on the aircraft parking ramp at Waller Field. This was possibly the longest ongoing combat between a U-boat and aircraft. U-615's battle enabled many other U-boasts in the Caribbean to surface and escape to the east.

 

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