From 1940 a number of Norwegian owned tankers which had escaped the German occupation of their country were placed under RFA management and used almost exclusively in the carriage of oil to British Naval bases at home and overseas from the Caribbean and also the Persian Gulf.

The tankers were operated by their Norwegian crews with the addition of DEMS gunners for their protection.

 

From 1940 a number of Norwegian owned tankers which had escaped the German occupation of their country were placed under RFA management and used almost exclusively in the carriage of oil to British Naval bases at home and overseas from the Caribbean and also the Persian Gulf.

The tankers were operated by their Norwegian crews with the addition of DEMS gunners for their protection.

Two of these tankers were the mv Albert L Ellsworth and mv Minister Wedell and full details of these ships and the others under RFA management can be found under the indexed item of Norwegian RFA’s on this web site.

On 3 January 1943 convoy TM1 consisting of nine tankers (which included the two mentioned above) left Trinidad for Gibraltar under the protection of the destroyer HMS Havelock (Commander Boyle, Royal Navy)

HMS Havelock

 

and three corvettes – HMS Pimpernel, HMS Saxifrage and HMS Godetia [Escort Group B5] and they immediately came under U-Boat attack when U514 (KptLt Auffermann) torpedoed and damaged but did not sink the tanker British Vigilance.  The submarine also reported the convoy to U-Boat headquarters and a wolf-pack – code named Dolphin was formed.

Wolf-pack Dolphin consists of U134 (KptLt Schendel), U181 (KorvKpt Luth), U381 (KptLt Von Puckler und Limburg), U436 (KptLt Seibicke), U442 (KorvKpt Hesse), U511 (KptLt Schneewind), U522 (KptLt Schneider), U571 (KptLt Moehlmann), U575 (KptLt Heydemann) and U620 (Kpt Stein).
In addition some individual boats became involved – U105 (Oblt Nissen), U124 (KorvKpt Mohr), U125 (KptLt Folkers) and U514 as mentioned above.

The vital importance of this convoy was recognised by the German High Command with the need of fuel being paramount for the British and American Forces involved in the North African Campaign. So much so that another convoy GUS-2 was ignored and orders were issued that tanker convoy TM1 must be attacked.

The Wolf-pack was deployed in a line across the ‘Great Circle’ route from Trinidad to Gibraltar which the Germans suspected would be used and their belief was proved as such when, on the 8 January, U381 sent out a sighting report.

Between the 8 January and 11 January the ships of the convoy are attacked by the Wolfpack and the losses mounted. 

Ships sunk or damaged from convoy TM-1

Date                      U Boat            Ship Hit                                 GRT              Nationality
3 Jan 1943 U514 British Vigilance (d) 8,093 British
8 Jan 1943 U436 Albert L Ellsworth 8,309 Norwegian*
8 Jan 1943 U436 Oltenia II 6,394 British
9 Jan 1943 U442 Empire Lytton 9,807 British
9 Jan 1943 U522 Minister Wedel 6,833 Norwegian*
9 Jan 1943 U522 Norvik 10,034 Panamanian
11 Jan 1943 U522 British Dominion (d) 6,983 British
11 Jan 1943 U620 British Dominion 6,983 British
24 Jan 1943 U105 British Vigilance 8,093 British

 

 

Of the nine which had sailed only the Cliona and Vanja reached Gibraltar on the 14 January 1943. None of the crew members of the two Norwegian ships under RFA management were killed when their ships were sunk beneath them.

(d) = the ship was damaged in the attack
* Under RFA control
7 ships sunk for a total of 56,453 GRT
2 ships damaged for a total of 15,076 GRT

No U Boats were lost during the attacks on the convoy. This was the only ‘TM’ convoy which was attacked by U-Boats in the war.


On 13 Jan 1943 the leaders of Britain and the USA, Prime Minister Winston Churchill and President Franklin Roosevelt, met at Casablanca, Morocco to discuss the war. Generalissimo Chiang Kai-Shek of China was in attendance.  The Russian leader Josef Stalin had been invited but had declined to attend.

The conference lasted ten days with a purpose of formulating a military strategy for the remainder of the war. It was decided that the defeat of Germany must be the main priority and that the ‘unconditional surrender’ of all enemy countries would be demanded.


The leaders were fully aware of the major threat posed by U-Boats and both were determined to devote all possible resources to their destruction. Their concern partly rested on the knowledge that supplies of fuel oil in Britain had fallen to a dangerously low level. Fears were intensified when news arrived at the beginning of the conference of the fate of Convoy TM1. The leaders decided to take immediate action.


The Commander in Chief of the RAF’s Bomber Command, Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Harris received instructions from the Air Ministry on the 14 January to ‘devastate the whole area in which are located the submarines, their maintenance facilities and the services of power, light, communications, etc, and other resources upon which their operations depend.’ These attacks were to take place at night and the order of priority was given as Lorient, St-Nazaire, Brest and La Pallice. Thus the system of ‘area bombing’, which Bomber Command had adopted over cities and town in the German heartland after the destruction caused by the Luftwaffe in British residential districts, was unexpectedly extended to these four French ports.


Harris responded immediately, making four raids on Lorient with fairly small numbers of bombers before the end of the month dropping high explosives and showers of incendiaries. The new US Eighth Air Force which was already engaged on attacking U-boat ports in day light also received orders to attack the same targets. In total 564 bombers from both forces attacked Lorient during January 1943.


The agony suffered by Lorient continued – British bombers were dispatched to the town – 128 on the night of the 4/5 February, 323 on 7/8 February, 466 on 13/14 February, 377 on 16/17 February. At the end of these attacks about 3,500 to 5,000 homes in the centre of Lorient had been destroyed plus 1,000 more in nearly suburbs. 184 civilians had been killed and at least 162 injured. Having destroyed Lorient the Royal Air Force turned its attention to St-Nazaire which received similar treatment.

 
Little damage, if any, was suffered by the U-Boats which were in their bomb proof pens and the raids were stopped. The raids were recommenced on the 12 August 1944 when the RAF had supplies of the 12,000lb ‘Tallboy’ bombs which were capable of breaching the roof of the submarine pens with an attack on Brest. Eight U-boats were damaged.

The U-Boats which formed Wolf-Pack Dolphin or were involved in the attack on Convoy TM1 may not have suffered any losses in the course of their attack but it did not mean that subsequently they were not the subject of attack elsewhere.

U105         

Sunk 2 June 1943 during its ninth war patrol near Dakar by depth charges from a French Naval Air Force Flying boat from Flotille d’exploration 4E – all the crew of the submarine were killed.

U124

Sunk 2 April 1943 during its eleventh war patrol in the North Atlantic Ocean west of Oporto by depth charges from HMS Stonecrop and HMS Black Swan – all the crew of the submarine were killed.

U125

Sunk 6 May 1943 during its seventh war patrol in the North Atlantic Ocean east of Newfoundland by ramming by HMS Oribi after being depth charged to the surface by HMS Snowflake – all the crew of the submarine were killed.

 

 

Signal

 

U125

U125 with Kptlt Ulrich Folkers (Knights Cross) in command was involved in the attack on Convoy TM1 some four months prior to his U-Boat being rammed. This intercept was decrypted by Station X (Bletchley) and is from the National Archives.  Kptlt Folkers and his crew were all killed very shortly after this signal was sent when the U-Boat sank to the sea bed.

U134              

Sunk 24 August 1943 during its seventh war patrol in the North Atlantic near Vigo, Spain by 6 depth charges from a British Wellington aircraft from 179 squadron – all the crew of the submarine were killed.

U381

Sunk 19 May 1943 during its third war patrol in the North Atlantic near Greenland by depth charges from HMS Duncan and HMS Snowflake – all the crew of the submarine were killed.

U436

Sunk 26 May 1943 during its ninth war patrol in the North Atlantic west of Cape Ortegal by depth charges from HMS Test and HMS Hyderabad – all the crew of the submarine were killed.

U442

Sunk 12 February 1943 during its second war patrol west of Cape St. Vincent by depth charges from a British Hudson aircraft from 48 squadron – all the crew of the submarine were killed.

U522

Sunk 23 February 1943 during its second war patrol in the mid Atlantic south west of Madeira, Portugal by depth charges from HMS Totland – all the crew of the submarine were killed.

U571

Sunk 28 January 1944 during its tenth war patrol west of Ireland by depth charges from an Australian Sunderland aircraft from RAAF Squadron 461 flown from Pembroke Dock, Wales by Flight Lieutenant Richard D. Lucas RAAF – all the crew of the submarine were killed.

U575

Sunk 13 March 1944 on its tenth war patrol in the North Atlantic Ocean north of the Azores by depth charges from a Canadian frigate HMCS Prince Rupert,  US Destroyers  USS Hobson and USS Haverfield and further depth charges from  British aircraft from  172, 206 and 220 Squadrons and an Avenger aircraft from USS Bogue. 18 of the crew were killed and 37 survived.

U620

Sunk 13 February 1943 in the North Atlantic Ocean north-west of Lisbon, Portugal by 5 depth charges from a British Catalina aircraft of 202 Squadron – all the crew of the submarine were killed. This submarine was sunk on its return journey to its home port of La Pallice after sinking British Dominion in convoy TM1.

 

 

 

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