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World War: Submarine v. Blockade

5 minute read

The lighthouse keeper in Gotland, Swedish island in the Baltic, last week rescued two castaways in a dinghy who had a tale to tell. They said they were members of the Estonian Navy who were on guard duty in Tallinn harbor aboard the interned Polish submarine Orzel, when the latter’s crew suddenly cut the telephone line to shore, knocked out one of the guards, cut the Orzel’s moorings and took her to sea under fire from other guards on the pier and from shore batteries. After three days of lurking in the Baltic, mostly submerged, with the Soviet Navy angrily searching for them, the Orzel’s men set their prisoners adrift in the night upon calm water, in sight of land. The sub was equipped with 16 torpedoes, said the castaways. Unreported again since the Estonians’ rescue, the Orzel remained this week one little bit of Polish flotsam still threatening Poland’s conquerors.

Targets for the Orzel to hunt were suggested by unofficial Berlin reports of 70 Russian ships en route to Germany with cotton, oil, wheat. Meanwhile the Polish submarine Zbik, with 50 hungry, dispirited men aboard, slid into Stockholm harbor, was promptly interned.

> Less brave than their compatriots of the Orzel, about 200 of the Polish liner Batory’s crew refused, for fear of U-boats, to sail when she was ordered to Halifax last week from her safe berth in the Hudson River (see p. 44).

> Torpedoing the British aircraft carrier Courageous remained Germany’s proudest stroke of undersea warfare. Official figures in London put the total of dead & missing at 579, the number of planes lost at 24. One survivor was sure he saw the U-boat, hit by a depth bomb, go down. The German naval command was equally insistent that the sub got away, reported its feat in routine style. Grand Admiral Erich Raeder, chief of the Nazi Navy, issued a special order praising the commander. He had his picture taken congratulating other successful U-boatmen on a pier at the Kiel naval base.

No U-boat was yet reported in the Mediterranean, but reports from far countries suggested the raiders were scattered far & wide. President Roosevelt caused a flurry by giving credence to reports of submarines (nationality unknown) off Alaska and off New England (see p. 11). U. S. patrols were set to watch for oil leggers who might seek to help raiders fuel in breach of neutrality.

In Buenos Aires, two battleships of the Argentine Navy were said to have been stopped off the Brazilian coast by four submarines flying swastikas, who looked them over, then disappeared.

> Arriving in Lisbon to fetch U. S. refugees, Rear Admiral Charles E. Courtney, commander of the U. S. Mediterranean Squadron (cruiser Trenton, flagship), reported that en route from Gibraltar he had sent the destroyer Jacob Jones to give water and supplies to the crew of the British steamer Constant, exhausted by flight from a U-boat. During the transfer, the U-boat appeared, but vanished when it saw the Jacob Jones.

> The British announced their first rescue of U-boat victims by airplane. Two R.A.F. seaplanes took turns scouting for the enemy and sitting down on rough water while they picked up 34 survivors of the freighter Kensington Court.

>Charles Wharton Stork, a professor of English from Bryn Mawr, Pa., survived the Athenia, got passage home on the U. S. freighter Wacosta. Off the Irish coast, a submarine stopped the Wacosta with a shot across her bows. Only person who volunteered to talk German with the Nazi commander who came aboard was Professor Stork. After searching the Wacosta this officer said (Stork translation): “We are not so very barbarous, are we? Except that I do need a shave. . . . I’ll see you in New York at a tea dance.”

> People on the American Farmer, which rescued 29 from the torpedoed British freighter Kafiristan, told about a British light bomber, the U-5-K appearing from nowhere while the submarine still lay by watching the rescue. A half-dozen men were on the U-boat’s deck when the diving plane raked it with machine-gun fire. The submarine dived frantically, perhaps with its conning tower still open. The bomber, swooping twice again, dropped charges which almost certainly demolished the U-boat.

>The radio log of the American Merchant reported the following series of messages received from the British freighter Fanad Head, sunk northwest of Ireland: 11:20 a.m. “S S S S” [Submarine!]

11:30 a.m. “Still being chased by submarine.”

11:45 a-m “Can you help us if necessary? This guy still chasing us.”

11:55 a-m “Will probably want you soon. He’s catching up fast.”

12:18 p.m. “Submarine now alongside. Please come for us now, old man, and do all speed you can. Will be on lookout. Leaving room.”

> The U. S. freighter Steel Mariner (Isthmian Line) told of seeing a U-boat off the “Scilly Islands, apparently unable to dive, limping along disguised crudely as a fishing boat. Up rushed a destroyer and sank her.

> Two Finnish and one Swedish vessel, all carrying woodpulp to Great Britain, were torpedoed by U-boats during the week. Woodpulp (cellulose for explosives) is high on Germany’s contraband list. The week’s losses attributed to U-boats were 25,452 tons (a decline of 41.416 tons from the week prior), bringing totals for all flags to 47 ships, 196.925 tons. > Great Britain’s Ministry of Information last week claimed that their seizures of war materials destined for Germany totaled 186.000 tons. Particularly pleased were they to have intercepted 400 tons of molybdenum concentrates and 30,000 tons of manganese, two essentials of cannon steel. Most seizures were made at control ports in the British Isles. Less than a dozen ships had been searched at Gibraltar and Haifa, with only minor seizures (3,000 tons of petroleum, 6,000 of manganese ore, 7,650 of bauxite, 9,000 of iron ore, 500 of frozen beef, etc., etc.). Upon ships bound for Italian ports, especially Trieste, with cargoes suspected of ultimate German destination, the ministry was not yet cracking down.

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