Sunday, April 8, 2018

The Other Side

1942 U-132 Attack at dawn - Tom Freeman
(Source)
In my post about The Immortal Chaplains, I noted that the ship those brave men went down on, SS Dorchester, had been sunk by the U-223, a German submarine. The U-223 was a Type VIIC Unterseeboot, or U-Boat as we'd spell it, was the most common U-Boat used by the Deutsches Kriegsmarine (German Navy) in World War II. Five hundred sixty eight of these boats were commissioned during the war.

After reading the account of SS Dorchester, I was curious as to the fate of U-223. Knowing full well that the U-Boat arm suffered a 75% casualty rate in WWII, losing 793 boats and over 28,000 U-Boat crewman, I guessed that U-223 had probably been sunk at some point.

And she was, going to the bottom on her sixth war patrol with the loss of 23 of her crew. Surprisingly 27 of her crew survived, which was unusual. She had been forced to the surface in an engagement with the Royal Navy.

Taken under fire by three destroyers the boat was vastly outgunned, having only a single deck gun capable of engaging another ship.

U-223 sank the SS Dorchester on her first war patrol. In her short career (February of 1943 to March of 1944), U-223 sank or destroyed five ships, one of which was Dorchester. Two of her victims were warships of the Royal Navy, one of those having been sent to the bottom* in her last fight. Before heading to the bottom, U-223 sank HMS Laforey, an L-Class destroyer.

I haven't always taken an interest in the enemy. As I grow older I realize that, no matter how much they might be hated by our side, the folks on the other side are human too.

Right now I'm finishing up James D. Hornfischer's superb book, The Fleet at Flood Tide, the third in his histories of the U.S. Navy in WWII, the other two being Neptune's Inferno and The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors. He covers the other side rather well (though he has the annoying, but very Western trait, of giving Japanese names in the wrong order).

As heinous as the actions of the Germans and Japanese were in World War II, most of them were people just like us, products of their time and culture. Much as we are.

Just thought I'd pass along the fate of the German submarine which sank SS Dorchester. I always like to know the whole story. I hope you found it interesting.




* Corrected. Thanks Tennessee.

28 comments:

  1. Perhaps the saddest events were when US submarines torpedoed Japanese ships carrying Allied POWs.

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  2. Like you Sarge, I am keen to learn the view from the enemy. A few of the stories I have read---

    Erich Hartmann
    Mitsuo Fuchida
    Saburo Saki

    ...and many others less well known. I'm sure your list is long as well.

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    1. I know those men, and others. Yamamoto Isoroku springs to mind.

      Knowing the enemy is particularly important in wartime.

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  3. Doenitz complained about how few U-boats he had in 1939, and he still came close to starving out Britain before we got involved.

    Imagine if some of the resources Hitler devoted toward never-finished aircraft carriers and battleships head gone toward U-boats.

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    1. True indeed, Bruce.

      Same goes for the Me-262, Hitler wanted it as a bomber, not a fighter. Delayed its entry into action by months!

      (I'll have to find a spot for your Home Brew Emporium over on the sidebar.)

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  4. On the same trip that my wife and I visited the Museum of The Air Force, we also went into Chicago for one day to visit the U-505.
    There aren't very many places where you can walk through a German U-boat.

    Another thought provoking post.


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    1. Thanks John. I need to visit U-505 one of these days.

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    2. Yes, yes you do. Although, now that it is indoors, they charge you to go through her. Back when she was outdoors, you could go through her at no cost other than museum admission ( for non-members ).

      You will also want to spend some time admiring their ( The Museum of Science and Industry ) aircraft displays. If/when you make the trip there, budget at least three days for that museum. We lived in Chicagoland for 14 years and were members of that ( and other ) museums for at least ten of those years and I still did not see everything that was on exhibition there.

      Thanks for the post.
      Paul L. Quandt

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    3. Somehow I have trouble picturing myself lingering in Chicago that long.

      But...

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  5. You need to read "Ordinary Men". I was watching a U-tube (heh) video where it was referenced. Just 500 ordinary guys from Hamburg, responsible for the deaths of about 83,000 people. It was chilling to say the least to realize that in the right circumstances, the majority of normal people can become ruthless blood-letters. I had to stop reading it several times due to the overwhelming carnage. I remember a concentration camp survivor that was to be a witness against a camp guard after the war. He collapsed when he saw the man in court. They asked him if the evil he endured caused him to faint, and he said, no, it was the sudden realization that the guard was just a normal guy, that anyone could have been sadistic in that setting, even himself.

    That said, the old guys I met that fought the Japanese, didn't particularly care why they did what they did. When your buddies have been beheaded and had their privates cut off and stuffed in their own mouths kinda tilts your opinion I guess. That was a fight where no quarter was given, so, little was offered.

    I read "Those Devils in Baggy Pants" when I was about 10. They Germans agreed to a cease fire to collect the injured in Italy. Both sets of medics rushed around to clear the dead and wounded. That is a particularly human thing to do. I don't remember that ever happening in the Pacific theater.

    Humans are.... complicated....

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    1. Humans are indeed complicated. The Japanese even more so. Of course, they were abruptly yanked out of the Middle Ages right after our Civil War (1868). Torn from a culture dominated by the samurai to be replaced by wealthy industrialists. The leaders of the Japanese Army corrupted bushido beyond all recognition.

      Still and all, within each of us lies the capacity for great good, or for great evil. Two wolves, which ever one is fed the most, dominates. Scary as Hell.

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    2. Indeed, the Eagle and the Wolf.

      http://www.semperfileader.com/moral-courage/

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  6. Allow me to recommend additional books:
    "Shattered Sword: The Untold Story of the Battle of Midway" by Parshall and Tully. The authors used Japanese sources for much of their research. Deeply researched and detailed accuracy.
    "A Tomb Called Iwo Jima" and "The Last Zero Fighter" by Dan King. Interviews with Japanese survivors and relatives and recreating the path of dead/missing military members through family letters and remaining records. Training and brainwashing was brutal. I read an American view of Midway and the description of an American dive bomber pilot watching a Japanese Zero lift of the flight deck of the Soryu(?) seconds before the American pilot's bomb crashed through the front flight deck; that pilot survived the war and was interviewed by Dan King. The Japanese pilot gave his description of the flight deck exploding behind him just as he cleared the flight deck.
    "D-Day Through German Eyes" by Eckhertz. Many of the defenders truly believed they were there to preserve Fortress Europa's freedom from the Allies. Short stories collected by a German author after the way. You'll want book 1 and 2.
    I concur with what you wrote about them being products of their time and culture as we are today.
    - Barry

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    1. I need to track those works down.

      Thanks Barry.

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  7. Yes, you should visit the U-505. If you haven't read it yet, you really need to read "U-505" by Daniel V. Gallery. I like Gallery's books anyway, but that is the one people should read whether they like his style or not, because he was there and helped make it happen. His respect for the U-boat men comes through clearly. As long as I'm recommending books I'll mention British brigadier Desmond Young's biography of Rommel. It has some concise summations of the qualities of Rommel and of his troops.(Regarding Rommel's influence on his men, Young writes "one has only to meet the survivors of the Afrika Korps and of the S.S. to see the difference".)

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    1. Krieg ohne Haß, war without hatred. North Africa was different from the rest of the war.

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    2. Gallery's U-505 is available for the Kindle at a great price.
      I am not prepared to pay the amounts of money that the sellers are demanding for his Capt'n Fatso novels.
      When my wife and I were going through the U-505's exhibit I realized what the much younger me had not realized. The Navy boarding party climbed aboard a sinking U-boat, closed the hatch behind them and searched for the scuttling charges while closing the sea cocks.
      Many truly heroic things are done in the heat of combat, but what those American sailors did that day took a different type of courage.

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    3. I saw that.

      Took cojones to prevent that boat going down.

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    4. That boarding party was led by the Admiral himself. He wasn't suppose to, but who is going to tell the HCMFIC " No "?

      Paul

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  8. I hate nitpicking grammar, but this one is too glaring. "Being sank"? Really, Sarge? I would have thought even an Air Force type could manage "being sunk" without difficulty.
    --Tennessee Budd (off my soapbox now)

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    1. D'oh!

      (How did I miss that? Corrected it. I avoided "sink" altogether.)

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  9. I guess it all depends on the individual's experiences - kind of easy for us who weren't there to 'appreciate' the enemy. Not that I don't see the honor in some of them ... they are human and subject to all the variations of character that entails. I know my dad, who fought up the east side of France into Germany and had many of 'his boys' in the tank company he commanded get killed, and he himself severely wounded in Germany east of Frankfurt a month before the war ended, never did cotton to Germans much. Even took him a while to warm up to my wife who had distant German ancestors ...

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    1. My late Uncle Charlie, infantryman in the ETO, 63rd ID under Patch. He hated Germans until the day he died.

      I still hate the VC, and I wasn't even there.

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  10. That reminds me, there's a nice memorial at Liberty Station- the neighborhood that was once Naval Training Center San Diego. It's call the 52 Boats Memorial, which honors the 52 US submarines that were lost in World War II. It consists of 52 American Liberty Elm trees, 52 flags and 52 granite memorials to the ships and men who were lost. It lists the names too and one interesting point is how small and junior some of those crews were- with many having LTs in command.

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    1. I'll have to check that out the next time I'm in Sandy Eggo.

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