Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1946 time period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places.- Christopher Eger
Warship Wednesday, April 17, 2018: Canadian Snorkel Power
Here we see IXC/40-class submarine U-190 of the German Kriegsmarine sailing to Bay Bulls, Newfoundland in May 1945, under escort by Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) vessels including the Fairmile-type motor launch seen in the distance. If you note, she is flying the RCN’s White Ensign and had just become the country’s first post-WWII submarine.
One of the nearly 200 Type IXC/40s completed during the war, U-190 was laid down in 1941 at DeSchiMAG AG Weser of Bremen and commissioned on 24 September 1942 with Kaptlt. Max Wintermeyer as her first skipper. At some 1,257-tons, she was not a big boat, running just 251-feet overall. However, the class was well designed and capable of 13,000-nm cruises on their economical diesel engines. Able to carry 22 torpedoes and a 4.1-inch deck gun with 180~ shells as well as a Flak armament, they were deadly and efficient killers when it came to stalking Allied merchantmen.
By 1 March 1943, she was assigned to 2 Flottille in Lorient, France.
As noted by Uboat.net, although she conducted six war patrols and took part in at least three North Atlantic wolfpacks (Neuland, Ostmark, and Stürmer), she was not very successful. Her only confirmed merchant victim was the British-flagged freighter Empire Lakeland (7,015-tons) sunk south of Iceland while part of New York-to-Glasgow convoy SC-121 during the submarine’s 111-day 2nd Patrol.
In August 1944, Oblt. Hans-Erwin Reith, 24, took command of the vessel and bugged out for Flensburg as the Allied liberation of France removed Lorient as an operating base. On 19 February 1945, Reith left Horten for U-190‘s final (German) patrol. It would last 85-days, with the crew later saying she spent upwards of 40 days on this patrol snorkeling continuously.
Her mission, as detailed by Cameron Pulsifer:
Equipped with a schnorchel and armed with 6 [T-3 Lut] contact torpedoes and eight T-5 Gnat acoustic torpedoes, its mission was to interdict Allied shipping off Sable Island and the approaches to Halifax harbor. It was, in fact, part of the new strategy on the part of the commander-in-chief of the German Navy, Admiral Karl Dönitz, initiated in the dying days of the Nazi regime, to increase pressure on shipping in North American waters in an attempt to ease allied naval pressure in waters closer to home.
There, on 16 April, U-190 encountered a Bangor-class minesweeper, HMCS Esquimalt (J272) and sank her with a single Gnat fired from a stern tube. Esquimalt was the last Canadian warship lost to enemy action during the Second World War (or since, for that matter) and took 39 souls with her to the bottom. U-190 remained submerged for a solid week following this attack, during which time she was hunted by surface vessels, who rained numerous depth charges down upon her decks.
Dönitz had ordered all his U-boats to surrender as from 08:00 5 May, but not all did so immediately.
According to an interrogation report of U-190s crew, it was only on the 11th that U-190 picked up an incomplete version of the surrender orders, to which they responded “An B.d.U.: Seit 12 April ohne F/T. Nach erfolgreicher Unternehmung auf Ruckmarsch. F/T über Kapitulation verstuemmelt aufgenommen. Bitte um nähere Anweisungen”. (“To Admiral Commanding U-boats: Have been without wireless communication since 12 April. Now homeward bound after a successful patrol. Wireless orders about surrender received in a mutilated form. Request fuller details”)
However, Germany never returned their call and on 12 May U-190 surfaced, raised a black flag, tossed her secret papers and gun ammo overboard, and sailed on a heading of 305-degrees while sending surrender signals to New York, Boston, and Cape Race. Soon met by the River-class frigate HMCS Victoriaville (K684) and Flower-class corvette Thorlock (K394) at 43° 54’N., 45° 15′ W, Reith signed a surrender document and deeded his boat over to Canada.
For the next two days, with a skeleton German crew aboard watched by an armed force of Canadians, U-190 made for Bay Bulls while flying an RCN White Ensign.
U-190 reached its destination on 14 May.
Canada’s early submarine program
The Canadians got into subs in a weird way when in August 1914, Sir Richard McBride, KCMG, the premier of British Columbia, bought a pair of small (144-foot, 300-ton) coastal submarines from Seattle Construction and Drydock Company, an act that your local government normally doesn’t do. The boats had been ordered by Chile who later refused them as not up to snuff.
Sailing for Vancouver in the dark of night as they were technically acquired in violation of a ton of international agreements (and bought for twice the annual budget for the entire Royal Canadian Navy!) they were commissioned as HMCS CC-1 and CC-2. The Dominion Government of Canada later ratified the sale while a subsequent investigation was conducted into how they were acquired.
Nonetheless, the two tiny CC boats were the first submarines of the Maple Leaf and continued in service until after the Great War when they were laid up and replaced by a pair of American-made 435-ton H-class submarines from the Royal Navy, HMS H14 and H15, which remained in the Canadian fleet as HMCS CH-14 and CH-15 until broken up in 1927.
After this, Canada went out of the submarine business– until 1945.
Now back to our U-boat.
The Canadians in May 1945 had two German Type IXC/40 U-boats, sisters U-190 and U-889, both in working condition and constructed in the same builder’s yard. After transferring them on paper to the Royal Navy, they were transferred back (apparently the same day) and both became vessels of the RCN, dubbed HCMS U-190 and U-889.
The navy promptly took U-190 on a tour of eastern Canadian ports before putting it to use for training.
U-889 in the meantime had been deemed as one of the 10 U-boats allocated to the U.S. by the Tripartite Naval Commission and was decommissioned in December 1945 and transferred to the Yanks who later scuttled her in 1947 after a series of experiments.
As for U-190, she was soldiered on as Canada’s sole submarine throughout 1946 and into 1947.
In October 1947, the Canadian Navy sank U-190 as a target during Operation Scuttled, a live-fire naval exercise off Halifax– near the site of Esquimalt‘s loss. It was to be epic, with the Tribal-class destroyers HMCS Nootka and HMCS Haida using their 4.7-inch guns and Hedgehog ASW mortars on her after an aerial task force of Seafires, Fireflies, Ansons and Swordfish worked her over with ordnance.
Sadly, the actual show fell far short.
From Michael Hadley’s, U-Boats Against Canada:
Almost before the ships had a chance to enter the act, U-190 pointed its bows into the air after the first rocket attack and slipped silently beneath the sea. And thus, the RCN press release announced with inflated pathos, “the once deadly sea raider came to a swift and ignominious end” – just 19 minutes after “Operation Scuttled” had begun.
Nonetheless, for a destroyed U-boat, U-190 is remarkably well preserved as relics of her are all over North America.
U-190‘s war diary is in the collection of the U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command
The working Enigma machine recovered on U-190 is now part of the Canadian CSE’s (Communications Security Establishment– the country’s crypto agency) collection of historical artifacts.
The Canadian War Museum has her pennant, star globe, equipment plates, a C.G. Haenel-made MP28/2 Sub-machine Gun seized from her armory (which had been on display at Naval Service Headquarters in Ottawa until 1959) and other gear.
And of course, U-190‘s sky periscope, one of just five such instruments preserved worldwide, has long been in the care of the historic Crow’s Nest Officers Club in St. John’s, Newfoundland where its top sticks out over the roof to allow members and visitors to peak out over the harbor.
Only a single member of the Type IXC class survives, U-505 at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. Of the 87 Type IXC/40 subvariants, such as U-190 and U-889, the salvaged hull and conning tower of U-534 remains preserved at Birkenhead in England.
As for Reith, he was repatriated to Germany in 1946 and died there in 1987, aged 67. His personal DWM Model 1906 (1st issue) Navy Luger recently came up at auction. Likely presented to him by family or friends on the occasion of his new command, it is marked “U-190.” It appears that it too was surrendered in 1945 and went on to live its own life.
Esquimalt was his only victory and she is remembered every year at a public ceremony in the British Columbia that served as her namesake.
Meanwhile, the Canadians took a decade break from subsea ops after U-190 was scuttled but eventually got back into the sub biz, using two U.S. boats, —USS Burrfish (SS-312) and USS Argonaut (SS-475), as HMCS Grilse (SS 71) and Rainbow (SS 75), respectively– from 1961 to 1974. Then they bought their first new subs since CC-1 & CC-2, a trio of British Oberon-class diesel boats– HMCS Ojibwa (S72), Onondaga (S73) and Okanagan (S74), which served from 1965 to 2000. Since then, they have been using the quartet of second-hand RN Upholder-class subs, HMCS Victoria (SSK-876), Windsor (SSK-877), Corner Brook (SSK-878) and Chicoutimi (SSK-879) which are expected to remain in service in some form until the 2030s.
1,144 t (1,126 long tons) surfaced
1,257 t (1,237 long tons) submerged
251 ft 10 in o/a
192 ft 9 in pressure hull
22 ft 6 in o/a
14 ft 7 in pressure hull
Height: 31 ft 6 in
Draught: 15 ft 4 in
4,400 PS (3,200 kW; 4,300 bhp) (diesels)
1,000 PS (740 kW; 990 shp) (electric)
2 × diesel engines
2 × electric motors
13,850 nmi at 10 knots surfaced
63 nmi at 4 knots submerged
Test depth: 230 m (750 ft)
Complement: 4 officers, 44 enlisted
6 × torpedo tubes (4 bow, 2 stern)
22 × 53.3 cm (21 in) torpedoes
1 × 10.5 cm (4.1 in) SK C/32 deck gun (180 rounds)
1 × 3.7 cm (1.5 in) SK C/30 AA gun
1 × twin 2 cm FlaK 30 AA guns
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An unsung class of warship during WWII was the 59-vessel Bangor/Blyth/Ardrossan-class oceangoing minesweepers.
Despite their designation, these 600-ton/162-foot vessels carried a decent main gun (3-inch in RN service, 4-inch in the RCN) as well as ASW kit to include depth charges and listening gear to bust subs, making them something of a multi-purpose coastal escort that could also sweep mines.
They spent much of their time in harm’s way, with nearly a quarter of the class never seeing the end of the war.
Several were lost in their primary tasking, including HMS Clacton (J151), HMS Cromer (J128), HMS Felixstowe (J126) and HMS Cromarty (J09) all struck mines during clearing efforts in the Med in 1942-43, pointing out just how dangerous the mission was. Off Normandy, class member HMS Peterhead (J59) was similarly lost just two days after D-Day while HMCS Mulgrave (J313), who struck a mine off Le Havre, was so badly damaged she was never repaired.
When it came to fighting subs, HMCS Clayoquot (J174), HMCS Clayoquot (J174) and HMS Hythe (J194) were torpedoed and lost. Meanwhile, three whose names shall not be mentioned were captured by the Japanese when Hong Kong fell.
Post-War, they continued to serve in RN and Commonwealth service, as well as in the Turkish and French fleets well into the 1970s, in all, giving excellent service for such a humble maritime figure.
Which brings us to the subject today.
HMCS Esquimalt (J272) was a Bangor-class minesweeper that was sunk by U-190, a German U-Boat on 16 April 1945, making her the last Canadian warship lost to enemy action during the Second World War (or since, for that matter).
Tragically, she was lost just three weeks before VE-Day, proof that the Battle of the Atlantic remained very hot right until the end of the conflict– and then some.
Every year on the anniversary of her sinking, the 35-member Naden Band of the Royal Canadian Navy, accompanied by a Guard of Honour from Canadian Forces Base Esquimalt pay tribute to the crew of the lost minesweeper and the 39 souls still at sea with a moment of silence and wreath-laying in Esquimalt Memorial Park, where a cairn to the ship and crew has long been established.
This year’s ceremony will be held at 5:45 pm and is open to the public.
As for what became of U-190, that’s another story.