On 5 January while in the Noord Zee Kanal a Seehund torpedo discharged itself, hitting a lighter and damaging a harbour defence boat.
Hullmann + Hinrichsen in U-5013 had failed to find any ships on their first voyage. Their rations were ruined, compressed air and oxygen used up. The hatch was open, following seas washed over the boat partially flooding it, and it had sunk in 18 metres. After a superhuman effort the crew managed to raise her an hour or so later and ran into Ijmuiden on 5 January totally exhausted. After that Hinrichsen was given a shore appointment.
In this first operation, K-Flotilla 312 lost sixteen Seehund and eighteen men, an appalling statistic. K-Verband Command and OKM were horrified. Kptlt Rasch was ordered before Grossadmiral Dönitz to deliver a personal report. Despite these heavy losses, a new operation was planned for 9 January 1945.
Between 1830 and 1930 on 10 January, four Seehund sailed for Margate on the Kent coast. A fifth boat dropped out with trim problems. Two of the four boats returned prematurely. Wegner + Wagner had compass failure in U-5311, Stürzenberger + Herold were tracked by radar, damaged by aircraft and pursued by two MLs. Both these boats put back into Ijmuiden on 11 January.
South of the Kentish Shoals (naval grid square AN 7935), Kiep + Palaschewski sank a collier of about 3,000 gross tons at 1500 on 12 January in heavy seas, wind force 5–6 with persistent snow showers. This was at the entrance to the Thames estuary. The name of the ship could not be established as Kiep turned away at once in compliance with his orders. The sinking was confirmed by the B-Dienst which had been monitoring British radio traffic. The boat returned safely to Ijmuiden on 13 January.
Krüger + Bahlmann stranded at 1330 on 14 January off Zandvoort and had to destroy the boat with explosives.
In better weather on 17 January ten Seehund set out. Nothing was achieved and all boats returned safely. By 20 January the number of operational boats at Ijmuiden had risen to 26, these reinforcements arriving despite the closure of Schichau Werft at Elbing in the face of the Russian advance in Prussia.
Between 1400 and 1600 on 21 January ten Seehund left Ijmuiden in three groups for the Dumpton and Elbow Buoys, South Falls, Lowestoft and Great Yarmouth. This operation reported no successes, nearly all boats had technical problems. U-5033 Bischoff + Hellwig had a defective diesel vent, U-5339 Kempf + unknown had both compasses fail. U-5368 Drescher + Bauditz had a faulty diesel, another boat was losing lubricant, another collided with a buoy. Von Dettmer’s boat had to break off the mission when the engineer said he could not go on because of seasickness. This boat then stranded about 7 sea miles south of Ijmuiden and had to be blown up. Aboard U-5334 Ulrich Müller + Niemann the bilge-pump, light-image compass and trimming switches all failed. The boat was pursued by an aircraft working with British search groups and had to be run aground in a sinking condition on 23 January off the Hook of Holland after the torpedoes had been discharged to aid buoyancy. The boat was destroyed by explosives.
Another Seehund crew had tragic bad luck. The boat reached the operational area but entered the Thames estuary as the result of a defective compass. A torpedo was fired at a ship and missed. On 22 January the boat regained the North Sea. After two days voyaging blind the Seehund arrived south of Lowestoft where the launch ML 153 tracked her and attacked with depth charges. The boat waited on the bottom and eventually escaped. When night fell the commander decided to surface. He was not aware that the current had drifted the boat northwards to Great Yarmouth, and on 25 January, heading in the wrong direction, he ran the boat aground on Soroby Sands. After nearly three days attempting to refloat her and living in the stinking interior the crew gave up and fired their distress flares. The Trinity House lighthouse tender Beacon came out to assist.
On 19 January SKL reported on the current state of preparations for further Seehund operations which were presently being made extremely difficult by north-westerly storms preventing sailings. A deluge at Petten in Noord Holland breached dykes and displaced sand dunes.
The last Seehund operation of January 1945 began on the 19th at 1500 when ten of the dwarf fleet left the small lock at Ijmuiden in two groups. Operational zones were the crossing points for Allied convoys near the Dumpton Buoy and the sea area of the South Falls sandbanks. The orders were to return to base if the weather worsened, especially if the wind backed to the south-west. The wind soon strengthened to gale force with a sea state varying from 5 to 10. It was overcast with very poor visibility – not good weather for a Seehund.
The area of operations was naval grid square AN 8744. Only two boats got there. On 30 January U-5335 Stürzenberger + Herold discovered a convoy of three steamers and escorts. Before they could fire the escorts forced the boat to dive. Later heavy seas caused the boat’s return. The other Seehund, Ross + Vennemann, put back on 30 January and reported having torpedoed a collier between the Dumpton Buoy and the Margate roadstead. There was no official confirmation for the claim.
None of the other eight boats found the enemy. U-5342 Böcher + Fröbel abandoned the voyage after only three hours with damage to couplings. Schulze + Macy put back on 30 January with a leak astern. Weber + Knupe were losing lubricating oil and feared that the diesel would seize up. U-5338 Wachsmuth + Feine were unable to find the operational area through navigational difficulties. Seiffert + Stiller searched the Goodwin Sands without reward, U-5332 Wolter + Minetzke broke off because of the rough seas in the Margate road-stead: Kruuger + Bahlmann returned for the same reason, in U-5041, Kretschmer + unknown found his engineer so totally incapacitated by seasickness in the sea conditions that he could no longer assist in running the boat.
In January 1945, 44 Seehund voyages were sailed and ten boats were lost. At the beginning of February three boats operated off Ramsgate. On 3 February Wolter + Minetzke in U-5332 claimed sinking a ship of 3,000 gross tons off Great Yarmouth, but B-Dienst was unable to confirm.
On 3 February 1945 Kptlt Rasch was relieved of command as Flotilla Chief and appointed head of Lehrkommando 300 at Neustadt. Presumably his wolf-pack tactics had let him down and led to unacceptably high losses. The new chief of K-Flotilla 312, and later 5 K-Division, was FKpt Albrecht Brandi, an experienced U-boat officer who, on 23 November 1944 as the second Kreigsmarine recipient (Wolfgang Lüth was the first, 9 August 1943) received the Diamonds to his Knight’s Cross with Oak-leaves and Swords. At the outbreak of war Brandi had been 1WO aboard the minesweeper M1 (commander, KKpt Bartels). Subsequently he went to the U-boat Arm and as commander of U-617, U-380 and U-967 had sunk 25,879 gross tons of merchant shipping, two destroyers, the fast minelayer HMS Welshman, a Fleet tug and a naval trawler. After leaving the U-boat Arm, Brandi was appointed Admiralty Staff Officer to Commanding Admiral Eastern Baltic, and had been a Staff Officer with K-Verband Command since 1944. His assistants were KKpt Heinrich Stiege and Kptlt Karl Born.
On that same 3 February 1945 an operation previously prepared by Kptlt Rasch was due to begin. As if to usher in the change in command, Ijmuiden was bombed. No Seehund was damaged. The Allies did not target the locks to avoid flooding Velsen. This resulted from a secret agreement between the Allies and Dutch to prevent unforseeable consequences for the city of Amsterdam.
At 2330 eight Seehund left for the Thames estuary, the crossing and assembly point for Allied convoys. This operation had no success.
U-5368 Wilken + Bauditz had navigation problems after being tracked by radar and attacked by aircraft.
U-5033 Bischoff + Hellwig and U-5326 Knobloch + Leidige were forced to return with technical problems.
U-5339 Kempf + unknown stranded north of the Hook of Holland on 7 February. The boat had to be destroyed, the crew was rescued. The same day U-5329 Ulrich Müller + Niemann returned to Ijmuiden having failed to reach the operational zone.
U-5311 Wagner + Wegner ran aground about 10 sea miles north of Ijmuiden.
U-5348 Dietrich Meyer + Schauerte reached the operational area despite the weather and scouted the Thames-Scheldt route for ships in vain. This shipping lane was well lit by night by a string of light-buoys every two miles. On the way home Meyer surfaced alongside the hull of a patrol boat. The commanders of both vessels were so taken aback that neither reacted in time. No action ensued. U-5348 escaped and reached Scheveningen on 8 February.
U-5344 Livonius + Pawelcik also returned to base on 8 February after having been depth-charged in the operational zone by MGBs.
A new operation against the Thames-Scheldt route began on 10 February when eight Seehund sailed: by nightfall U-5363 (Buttmann + Arno Schmidt), U-5337 (Horstmann + Nitschke) and Lt Polakowski’s boat were all back at Ijmuiden with technical problems. They were joined on the morning of 12 February by U-5335 (Kunau + Jäger), and 13 February by U-5347 (Sparbrodt + Jahnke) because of thick fog.
Schöne + Sass in U-5347 were attacked by aircraft at 2330 on 10 February off the Hook of Holland. Six bombs exploded close to the boat putting out both compasses. Nevertheless they reached the operational area but were foiled by thick fog. The boat was losing fuel and trailing lubricant. Early on 13 February the bunkers and batteries were drained. Schöne put his command aground on the island of Texel, about 30 sea miles north of Ijmuiden, and destroyed it with explosives.
U-5349 (Kähler + Harte) was discovered beached at Castricum north of Ijmuiden by Wehrmacht forces at 1500 on 16 February. There was no sign of the crew.
U-5345 failed to return, nothing further is known.
These failures must have prompted a rethink at K-Verband Command. The so-called wolf-pack tactics practised by the large U-boats in their heyday and to a limited extent by the Seehund were no longer viable, not least because the boats had no radio. This ruled out centralized direction or even agreement between the respective captains. Moreover the problem of radar had been grossly underestimated, and the plethora of technical defects which was causing many boats to put back prematurely pointed to the need for a better standard of maintenance and preparation for operations.
FKpt Albrecht, a willing listener, sent his boats out only in small groups. What he could not influence however were the strong defences protecting even the smallest convoys, and the enemy’s immense aerial presence day and night.
On 12 February five Seehund sailed to attack the convoy traffic heading for Antwerp. U-5332 (Wolter + Minetzke) and U-5342 (Börchert + Fröbel) put back with technical problems the same day.
U-5354 (Streck + Niehaus) was depth-charged in the operational area, counting 259 explosions. The boat was badly damaged but got back to Ijmuiden on 16 February, finally running aground inside the harbour mole.
U-5361 (Ziepult + Reck) attacked convoy TAM 80 off North Foreland on 15 February, torpedoing and seriously damaging the Dutch tanker Liseta, 2,628 gross tons. Reck was found unconscious on the beach at Voorne island on 23 February, eight days later. There was no sign of the boat, the remains of Lt Ziepult washed up at Ijmuiden in April 1945.
U-5356 (Preusker + unknown) failed to return from this mission.
At 0830 on 16 February four Seehund left Ijmuiden to attack shipping in the western Scheldt, supported at night by 15 Linse explosive boats.
U-5363 (Buttmann + Arno Schmidt) and U-5332 (Wolter Minetzke) returned on 18 February: Wolter had attacked a convoy of landing ships but the escorts had driven him off.
U-5041 (Kretschmer + Radel) was sunk. The circumstances are not recorded. Kretschmer was captured, Radel did not survive.
U-5337 (Horstmann + Nitschke) disappeared without trace. The crew was declared dead on 23 February.
Since the Seehund was no more successful than the Biber in the Scheldt, K-Verband returned to the concept of operations on more open waters. On the afternoon of 19 February 1945 three Seehund set off for the Dumpton Buoy.
Wachsmuth + Feine in U-5097 lost their bearings in adverse weather. The boat was so severely damaged by a bomb near-miss that it could not longer submerge, and eventually drifted ashore at Egmond aan Zee, ten sea miles north of Ijmuiden. The crew was rescued by a flak detachment, the boat destroyed.
U-5342 (Böchert + Fröbel) failed to return. The crew was declared dead on 1 March 1945.
The last operations of February remain confused but there were successes. The crews had become hardened by their earlier experiences and now they had some luck. The various accounts as to the number of Seehund at sea between 21 and 26 February differ, but was probably eight.
Gaffron + Köster fired both torpedoes at a destroyer at 2300 on 22 February. A hit was observed, B-Dienst reporting a probable sinking which the British side disputes.
U-5367 (Ragnow + Vogel) fought their way through heavy seas in the Channel, breakers restricting visibility. At about 0600 on 23 February they heard Asdic. East of the Goodwin Sands visibility deteriorated. Towards evening a flashing buoy appeared on the starboard hand. Then a Hunt-Class destroyer was seen approaching bowon. Dive, torpedo ready! The destroyer pounded overhead and kept going. Lucky! The sea state was now 6 to 7. The bunkers had emptied, the batteries were drained. U-5367 drifted towards the enemy coast. The crew abandoned the boat and swam through thin ice to shore where gunners took them prisoner.
Habel + Rettinghausen were lurking near the Dumpton Buoy. Their compasses were malfunctioning, Habel was navigating by the occasional V-1 which passed over and the stars. Suddenly the destroyer Mecki appeared. Both torpedoes were fired – missed. MGBs dropped patterns of depth charges near them for twelve hours. Having escaped, off the Hook of Holland they hit a mine. Though waterlogged the boat stayed afloat. On 24 February they made Ijmuiden.
Sparbrodt + Jahnke in U-5330 had returned because of a blocked fuel line. They sailed again next day and on 23 February, five sea miles north-east of South Falls near the East Dungeon Buoy, found the French destroyer, La Combattante. At 1028 a single torpedo was fired at 600 metres range. Eighty seconds wait with bated breath then – a hit between bridge and funnel! The destroyer went down swiftly. MGBs rescued 118 members of the 184-man crew.
U-5365 (Hermann + Holst) returning from the operational area ran aground near the German artillery battery at Katwijk. Holst remained with the Seehund while Hermann paddled ashore in the inflatable dinghy. A Dutch lifeboat came out with a salvage crew and the Seehund was towed into Scheveningen.
The numbers of the other boats cannot be determined. The following enemy ships were sunk:
22 February, 17 sea miles east of North Foreland, a Seehund attacked convoy TAM 87 and sank the armed landing ship LST 364, 2,750 gross tons.
24 February, 0930, 3 sea miles off North Foreland, the British cablelayer Alert, 941 tons, was torpedoed by a Seehund and sank immediately with all hands.
26 February 0530. The steamer Rampant from convoy TAC sank following an explosion near buoy NF8. Ships of the convoy saved 46 crew.
26 February 0955. The steamer Nashaba was sunk near buoy NF7. 24 survivors were picked up.
In February, there were 33 Seehund voyages sailed and only four boats were lost. For the first time, midget submarines had inflicted important losses. At Ijmuiden it rained decorations. On 27 February in a reshuffle at Staff Operations, Lt Hullmann relinquished the chart room to Oblt Seiffert who held the post until 20 April, when Lt Sparbrodt took over.
In March K-Verband Command began to feel the pinch. Fuel was becoming scarce. The number of Seehund operations declined and were only sailed in small groups or singly as rolling operations. SKL could not, or would not, recognize the disastrous war situation. On 27 February the Chief of Torpedo Production addressed Dönitz on the subject of equipping the Seehund with the so-called Spinne torpedoes. Tactical trials had been carried out with this weapon at Neustadt and had been assessed as promising. The main difficulty was the inadequacy of torpedo production.
SKL demonstrated the extent to which it had become a stranger to reality by proposing Seehund operations in the Mediterranean. Following a request by C-in-C South West on 1 March 1945, OKM thought it should set up a base on the coast of the Ligurian Sea by the beginning of April from which 80 Seehund would operate. Immediate steps would have to be taken to install heavy duty bilge pumps because of the different specific gravity of seawater in the Mediterranean. Nothing came of this idea.
The successes at the end of February must have encouraged FKpt Brandi to continue the struggle with much greater numbers. In favourable weather on 6 March a number of Seehund sailed in a joint operation with seven Biber to attack shipping in or bound for the Scheldt. The Seehund were to find their targets off Great Yarmouth near the Elbow Buoy and off Margate where the Thames-Scheldt traffic assembled into convoys.
The boats of Ross, Gaffron, Göhler, Drexel and Markworth returned shortly after sailing with the usual variety of technical problems.
A Seehund was sunk on 7 March 26 sea miles east of Ramsgate by MTB 675, another fell victim on 10 March to a Beaufighter off Goerre. The same day the frigate HMS Torrington and MTB 621 sank two Seehund off the South Goodwin lightship, one of these being U-5374, Siegert + Keilhues being taken prisoner.
At 0951 on 11 March a British escort vessel sank Lt Neubauer’s boat half a mile off the Kellet Buoy, the crew being rescued. The same day two other Seehund were lost, one off Ramsgate, the other 17 sea miles north of Dunkirk.
On their first voyage, on 11 March Huber + Eckloff damaged or sank the freighter Taber Park, 2,878 tons, during an attack on convoy FS 1753 off Southwold (naval grid square AN 7668).
At 1125 on 12 March John + Teichmüller were surprised in fog by the coastal patrol vessel HMML 466. John was captured, Teichmüller gunned to death.
U-5336 (Hauschel + Hesel) was surfaced in a strong gale, the hatch continually swept by high seas. The Seehund crashed from wave to wave and icy cold reigned in the boat. They dived. Suddenly Asdic and screw noises were heard. Down came the depth-charges. Hauschel came to periscope depth, sighted a warship and fired a torpedo. It stuck fast in the retaining grabs, its propellor speeding the Seehund towards the enemy ship. Sweating with the effort and panic, they finally managed to steer the boat away and ran for it to the north-east. After being at sea seven days their oxygen was very low. Land came into sight. Soldiers with foreign steel helmets were seen. Artillery rounds greeted their arrival – the boat was off the Canadian-held island of Walcheren. With their last reserves of strength Hauschel and Hesel steered away from the hostile coast and made Ijmuiden on 12 March. The engineer had to be lifted out and stretchered ashore.