- Duchesne, Tim
- Ship histories and stories, History - WW2, Book reviews, Naval Engagements, Operations and Capabilities, Non Commonwealth Navies
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- June 1997 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
This is the story, told in some detail by David Stevens, of U862 – a Type IXD U-Boat (or U-Kreuzer) of nearly 2,000 tons displacement. The story is placed in context against the background of the rise of the U-Boat arm in the 1930s and the development, containment and defeat of Admiral Doenitz’s assault on Allied sea lines of communications in the Atlantic and around the world during World War II.
Although but a sideshow in the overall scheme of things, the deployment of U-Boats to the East tied down disproportionate Allied sea and air forces. The ratio of resources employed by Germany through her U-Boats and the Allies through their range of ASW forces is generally conceded to be about 1:10. As the book points out, it was Doenitz’s grasp of the fact which persuaded him to continue sending his boats to their almost certain doom in the Atlantic from 1943, and to deploy a number many thousands of miles away to the Indian Ocean and ultimately to Australian and New Zealand waters. They had no further hope of achieving decisive results, but Doenitz believed they still tied down huge resources which might otherwise be used more directly against the Fatherland. There was also the hope that some vital war materials might run the Allied blockade in this way.
U 862 was completed and commissioned at Bremen on 7 October 1943. She was the latest design Type IX equipped with a hinged schnorchel mast which enabled her to run her diesel main engines whilst dived at periscope depth. Her CO, officers, and ship’s company had transferred en bloc from U251, a Type VII boat – one of the 500 ton boats, which formed the bulk of Doenitz’s operational force in the Atlantic, Arctic and Mediterranean.
The CO, Kapitanleutnant Heinrich Timm, was an interesting man; an ex-merchant Navy officer, and son of a Merchant Navy Kapitan, he transferred to the Reichsmarine in 1933. At the outbreak of war he was commanding a minesweeper which was by that time equipped for and employed on anti-submarine patrols. In January 1940 he won the Iron Cross for sinking the British submarine Starfish in the Heligoland Bight. He transferred to the U-Boat Arm in March 1941. In August that year he joined his first boat as her CO! He was clearly an exceptionally capable officer. After six months work-up and operational training in the Baltic, his submarine (U 251) joined the squadron based in Narvik in April 1942. After several successful patrols, including an involvement in the convoy PQ 17 debacle, U 251 paid off due to major main engine defects, and Timm and his crew joined U-862.
U-862 sailed from Kiel in late May 1944, bound for Penang via the Denmark Strait, the Cape of Good Hope and the Mozambique Channel. The story of this extraordinarily long passage with its moments of high excitement, followed by upkeep in Penang, docking in Singapore and briefing in Jakarta before the next patrol (German submarine staff were based in all these places), is really gripping. The extent of intelligence available to the British about the movements of this and other boats was astonishingly comprehensive.
On 18 November 1944, U-862 sailed from Jakarta for her second and final patrol. This voyage was also of epic proportions and took U-862 down the west coast of Australia, round Cape Leeuwin and south of Tasmania, up to Gabo Island, then north-about round New-Zealand, and finally south – about round Australia once more, arriving safely back in Jakarta on 15 February 1945. I wonder how many modern submarines could complete similar voyages with such limited support with such a remarkable record of serviceability of main, auxiliary and fighting equipment. Timm’s tactical handling of his boat had some shortcomings on his patrol. He missed several worthwhile targets through lack of aggression and drive, yet risked his boat in the most foolhardy manner for the possibility of meagre returns on other occasions. His First Lieutenant’s vehement protests were common knowledge through the boat. Nonetheless, Timm held his team together and brought them safely back. His few sinkings (two unescorted ships) achieved extraordinary results. “Sightings” of submarines, periscopes and torpedo tracks proliferated throughout Australian waters for months. As the author says, “The mere threat of his presence had occupied the attentions of more naval and air assets, for a longer period, than probably any single submarine has ever achieved before or since”.