We will now return to the homeward cruise of U188.
British D/F fixes showed that U.Boats were still in the area ten days later, and it was appreciated that the enemy would probably have to send another tanker to supply them. By now it was known that U.Boats like the U.188, patrolling the Arabian Sea would need fuel and supplies.
In Mauritius, at the beginning of March, a force (codenamed C.S.4), consisting of two cruisers, HMS NEWCASTLE (wearing the flag of Admiral Commanding Fourth Cruiser Squadron) and HMS SUFFOLK, an escort carrier, HMS BATTLER, and two destroyers, HMS QUADRENT and HMS ROEBUCK, was being formed. Seven Catalinas of 259 and 265 Squadrons were also made available, their operations setting the western limit to the area in which the enemy could safely supply his U.Boats.
C.S.4 sailed from Mauritius on the 6th March 1944. From the 8th March onwards HMS BATTLER'S aircraft had to face severe weather, yet, on the 11th and 12th, a number of the flying crews spent eight hours in the air, some making night patrols as well.
At about 10.00 hrs on the 12th, their exertions were rewarded by the sight of a tanker and two U.Boats making off on a south-westerly course. The tanker, subsequently found to be the BRAKE, had just refuelled U.188 - with considerable difficulty, judging by the oil that surrounded the latter - and was now trying to find easier conditions in which to complete her task.
Things were now hotting up and at 10.18 hrs HMS ROEBUCK was ordered to attack the enemy. She had only just finished being refuelled by the HMS SUFFOLK in the most difficult conditions, but she set off at full speed, aircraft from HMS BATTLER dropping messages on board, showing the range and bearing of the tanker and U.Boats.
At 11.16 hrs HMS ROEBUCK sighted the enemy at 13 miles and ten minutes later opened fire. BRAKE was hit and soon burning and she sank just after 12.00 hrs. The two U.Boats, one of which was U.188, had submerged but in the evening they were found on the surface and attacked by aircraft from HMS BATTLER. One of them was severely damaged. However U.188 managed to submerge and slipped away undamaged.
The entries in U.188 log for the 12th March show how these operations appeared to her crew:
Captain Luedden in U.188 was now on his own. Both his supply ships had been sunk, he still had problems with his diesel engines, and he had yet to round the 'Cape of Good Hope' and return to Europe with his valuable cargo. His orders were for him to meet four U.Boats on the way home.
On the 22nd March he fell in with U.1062 and obtained mail and ciphers from her. Then after rounding the Cape, and suffering considerable damage from heavy seas, he met U.181 on the equator. From this U.Boat he received some lubricating oil and also took off a lieutenant commander - possibly a commanding officer under instruction. On the 28th April he rendezvoused with U.129, which transferred to him two G.S.R. sets, a 'Naxos' and a 'Borkum', which Luedden, with the passage through the Bay of Biscay before him, was no doubt glad to have on board.
On the 1st April 1944 U.188 was ordered to close U.66, one of the oldest boats at sea, which was running very short of fuel oil. Her position was 300 to 400 miles west of the Cape Verde Islands and about 600 miles from U.188.
Luedden calculated that it would take him five or six days to reach this position, but his W/T transmitter was by this time out of order and he could neither inform U.66 nor his Control, that he had received the signal and was complying with it. Late on the 5th May he heard hydrophone effects and, sighting three destroyers through his periscope, made off to the south-east.
These destroyers were part of the USS 'Black Island's' Task Group and in the early hours of the 6th May one of their aircraft sighted the U.66. It was bright moonlight and a calm sea and to the aircraft the U.Boat appeared to be lying to, at times steaming in circles and at times steaming on a steady course.
The fact that she was obviously waiting at a rendezvous was not lost on USS BUCKLEY, who had been ordered to hunt for submarines in this area. Using bearings provided by the Task Group aircraft she set off at full speed and in the early hours of the 7th May sighted U.66. The USS BUCKLEY approached up path of the moon, and got to within 5,000 yards before she was noticed.
Thinking she was a U.Boat supply ship, her appearance must have gladdened the heart of U.66's captain, who owing to the failure of U.188's W\T transmitter, must have begun to wonder if he was ever going to receive assistance. At 03.08 hrs he fired a recognition signal, to which, of course, there was no reply. After about five minutes he discovered his mistake and fired a torpedo, but by then it was to late, USS BUCKLEY being only a little over a mile away.
At about 03.20 hrs there began a very brisk action. The U.Boat tried to open the range but at 03.29 hrs USS BUCKLEY rammed her and rode up on her, forward of the conning tower. After a minute's fierce hand to hand fighting USS BUCKLEY backed off - with five Germans on board - and the U.Boat again tried to escape but USS BUCKLEY closed her and sent her to the bottom at 03.36 hrs.
There is an interesting entry in U.188's log referring to this action:
It would appear that aircraft from the USS 'Black Island's' Task Group, on finding the U.66 had attacked her with bombs and depth-charges. Damaged and unable to dive, she would have had no alternative but to engage in a surface action when the USS BUCKLEY was identified by her Captain as hostile.
The next entry is more illuminating:
U.188's plight was now, not a happy one. Though she had enough fuel oil to supply another boat, she was again very short of lubricating oil - her diesel engines were by now in a very worn condition after their overheating problems in the Indian Ocean - and with her W/T transmitter out of action, could not ask for assistance. To make matters worse the appearance of the 'Black Island's' Task Group had forced her back on her tracks. It also appears that she had not been able to get torpedoes and ammunition loaded from BRAKE -in the Indian Ocean - before being forced to submerge and therefore, she was helpless if brought to action on the way home.
Captain Luedden seems to have made the best of a bad job. Proceeding submerged as much as he could he passed through the Cape Verde Islands, then the Canaries, finally making Madeira. He travelled very slowly taking from 6th May to the 27th May to get from the latitude of the Cape Verde Islands to a position westward of Cape Finisterre. In fact his progress got slower the further north he went. This was partly because of the extreme caution he showed during the period of the full moon in June - he spent each night on the bottom off the Portuguese coast - and partly because of his deteriorating diesel engines. When passing westward of Cape Finisterre he was so short of lubricating oil that he had to abandon his intention of making for Lorient and steered for Bordeaux instead. This he reached on the 19th June 1944, ten days under year since he had left his base at Lorient in June 1943.
As he had been unable to make any signals for over six weeks he had been given up for lost. His safe arrival with his valuable cargo therefore, must have brought much rejoicing and relief.
So ends a remarkable story - SURVIVORS ALL - U.Boat U.188, and two of its victims in the Arabian Sea, the SS FORT BUCKINGHAM and the SS FORT La MAUNE. Also, Alfred Moer, a survivor of the sinking of the CHARLOTTE SCHLIEMANN.
The courage shown by all involved, friend and foe alike, has now been recorded on the 50th Anniversary of the events of 1944. Above all, a story of survival against all the odds and an inspiration to later generations - who may wonder - WHY!
Copyright - Arthur J. Binning, March 1994.
Without the logbook of U.188 this story could not have been written. Therefore a few notes on its survival are relevant.
After Lieutenant-Commander Ziegfried Luedden and his crew landed in Bordeaux they had to make their way overland to Germany. On the way Captain Luedden carried his logbook with him. Along the route he was captured by the French Resistance and interned, and his logbook confiscated.
The resistance appreciated the importance of the logbook and passed it on to British Intelligence. It eventually reached the UK and can now be found in the Ministry of Defence, filed under KTB - Krieg Tag Buch - November 1944.
It is not known if his valuable cargo, nursed so carefully all the way back to Europe, ever reached its destination in Berlin; probably not in view of the allied advance across Europe at that time. However, its failure to reach Berlin cannot be blamed on Captain Luedden and his crew, who against all odds survived to bring their cargo home.
Type: IX-C Class. Modified for long range.
Displacement: 1120/1232 tons.
Dimensions: 252 x 22 x 15 feet.
Machinery: 2 shaft diesel/electric motors, 4400 BHP, 1000 shaft horse power.
Speed: 18.3 knots surface,7.3 knots submerged.
Bunkers: Oil fuel 208, 2 tons.
Range: Surface, 16300 miles at 10 knots. submerged, 128 miles at 2 knots.
Armament: One 4.1 inch. Two 20mm AA guns. Six 21 inch torpedo tubes,(4 fwd, 2 aft) 22 torpedoes.
Complement: 48 crew.
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