- Convoy SC 26
Convoy SC 26 Part of World War II Date 2-5 April 1941 Location North Atlantic Result German victory Belligerents Germany United Kingdom Commanders and leaders Admiral Karl Dönitz Comm: G Swabey
SOE: Cdr J Cresswell
Cdr J Rowlands
Strength 8 U-boats 23 ships
Casualties and losses 1 U-boat destroyed 10 Ships sunk
2 ships damaged
1 warship damaged
SC 26 comprised 23 ships and was escorted only by the Armed Merchant Cruiser (AMC) Worcestershire (Cdr J Cresswell). At this stage of the campaign escorts against U-boat attack could only be provided in the Western Approaches; the Ocean escort, usually an AMC, was provided to give some protection against surface raiders.
SC 26 was opposed by a patrol line of 9 U-boats, positioned at the limit of endurance to intercept east-bound convoys before the Western Approaches escort had joined. These were U-46, U-69, U-73, U-74, U-97, U-98 and U-101. Two other boats, U-94 and U-76, were moving west to join the line. This patrol line was un-named; at this stage of the campaign patrol lines did not carry identifying names, as they did later, though if a wolfpack formed it was referred to by the name of the sighting captain.
On 1 April 1941 an outbound U-boat, U-76 (Hippel) on her way to join the newly formed patrol line south of Iceland sighted a west-bound convoy in the North-West Approaches. This was OB 305, of 51 ships. Hippel reported this, but U-boat Command (BdU) was reluctant to engage so close to Britain and within range of Coastal Command aircraft; he ordered Hippel to shadow OB 305 westwards and moved the patrol line to intercept. U-76 followed the convoy during the day, but lost contact when she was forced to dive by approaching trawlers. Hippel was ordered to follow west to try and regain contact. As they did so , one of the boats on the patrol line, U-74 (Kentrat), made contact with an east-bound convoy, SC 26, which BdU determined to attack. After sending a sighting report, Kentrat commenced shadowing, and was joined throughout the day by 3 other U-boats that were nearby.
After first sighting on 2 April 1941 U-74 commenced shadowing, while the other boats in the area were drawn in for the attack. By evening of 2 April BdU had gathered a pack of 4 U-boats, (U-46, U-69, U-74 and U-76) who commenced a devastating attack.
The first assault, during the night of 2/3 April, was made by U-46 (Endrass) just after midnight; She fired on British Reliance, which sank; Alderpool, which was damaged, to be sunk later by the newly arrived U-73; and Thirlby, which had stopped to pick up survivors, but escaped harm.
Just after 4am the pack attacked again; Leonidas Z Cambanis was hit by U-74 and sank, followed a few minutes later by Westpool and Indier, both hit by U-73.
With the loss of 5 ships already, nearly a quarter of the convoy, Swabey determined the ships would be less vulnerable if they were dispersed, and at 4.21 am the decision was made to scatter the convoy. As the convoy started to scatter, a 6th ship, the tanker British Viscount, was hit by U-73 and burst into flames, illuminating the scene. Shortly after, Worcestershire was hit by U-74; she was sustained severe damage, but remained afloat.
At dawn on 3 October saw ships and U boats scattered across a wide area; ships were heading east, pursued by U-boats seeking to regain contact, while the warships detailed to escort SC 26 hurried west. During the morning Swabey in Magician met a number of ships which he gathered together, to reform the convoy; these eight ships were met later in the day by destroyers Wolverine (LtCdr J Rowlands, as Senior Officer Escort), and Veteran. Worcestershire, moving under her own steam, was met by the destroyer Hurricane, which escorted her back to Liverpool. Two other destroyers, Havelock and Hesperus, arrived at the battle site and searched for survivors.
Six other ships remained scattered; just before midday U-98, newly arrived, found Helle, which she stalked and sank. In midafternoon U-98 found and sank Welcombe, also travelling alone.
Also on 3rd U-76, still moving west, encountered Daphne, a Finnish freighter sailing independently, and sank her.
At dusk on the evening of 3/4 April U-94, also newly arrived, found the main body again. She attacked, sinking Harbledown, but all further attacks were driven off.
During 4 April there were no further attacks on Swabeys group, and SC 26 was joined by 3 more destroyers (Verity, Vivien and Chelsea) and a corvette (Convulvulus)
During the night of 4/5 April another ship from SC 26, Athenic, was travelling alone ahead of the main body. She was intercepted by U-76 and sunk. All of her crew were saved, including survivors from the Liguria, whom Athenic had rescued some days before. Another SC 26 ship, Thirlby, also sailing alone, was found and fired on by U-69. She was damaged, but not sunk, and was able to reach port. In the main body, Eelbeck was damaged, but there were no other casualties.
At dawn on 5 April U-76 was running on the surface when she was sighted by Wolverine. As Rowlands approached U-76 dived, and Wolverine attacked, assisted by Scarborough and Arbutus. Wolverine dropped 2 depth-charges, followed almost immediately by a full pattern of 8 from Scarborough. U-76 was forced to the surface, and the crew abandoned her. Arbutus rushed in to attempt to secure and capture the boat and its prized cypher equipment, but the boat was filled with chlorine gas from the batteries, and she quickly sank. All U-76 crew but one were rescued.
The pack made no further attacks on the ships of SC 26, who made their way to port. Swabey’s group of 8 ships arrived in Liverpool on 8 April 1941; Worcester and Hurricane arrived in port the same day. Thirlby, which was damaged, in company with Loch Ewe, docked three days later on the 11th. Tennessee, carrying survivors from British Reliance, put into port in Ireland, while Tenax and Ethel R docked in Britain.
Nearly half of SC 26 had been lost; 10 ships sunk, for 51,969 tons, with 2 ships and the ocean escort damaged. Nearly 100 sailors lost their lives. Against this one U-boat was destroyed; most of it’s crew were picked up./rescued.
The U boat arm had scored another victory, and by managing to shift its point of interception further west, beyond the range of the anti-submarine escorts, ensured a series of successes until Western Approaches Command could adjust.
Arbutus had been unable to capture U-76 and her prized Enigma machine, but this breakthrough was just 4 weeks away with the seizure of U-110 in May, with a profound effect on the course of the Atlantic campaign.
Allied ships sunk
Date Name Nationality Casualties Tonnage Sunk by… 2/3 April 1941 British Reliance Brit none 7000 GRT U-46 2/3 Alderpool Brit none 4313 GRT U-46, U-73 2/3 Leonidas Z Cambanis Grk 2 4274 GRT U-73 2/3 Westpool Brit 35 5724 GRT U-74 2/3 Indier Belg 42 5409 GRT U-73 2/3 British Viscount Brit ? 6895 GRT U-73 3 Apr Helle Nor none 2467 GRT U-98 3 Welcombe Brit 15 5122 GRT U-98 3/4 Apr Harbledown ? 3 5414 GRT U-94 4 Apr Athenic Brit none 5351 GRT U-76
Allied warships hit
Date Name Nationality Casualties Type Fate Hit by… 2/3 April 1941 Worcestershire British ? AMC damaged U-74
Date Number Type Captain Casualties Fate Sunk by… 5 April 1941 U-76 VIIB O/L F v Hippel 1 destroyed Wolverine,
- Clay Blair, Hitler’s U-Boat War Vol I (1996). ISBN 0-304-35260-8
- Arnold Hague, The Allied Convoy System 1939-1945 (2000). ISBN 1-55125-033-0 (Canada) . ISBN 1-86176-147-3 (UK)
- Stephen Roskill, The War at Sea 1939-1945 Vol I (1954). ISBN (none)
- David White, Bitter Ocean (2006). ISBN 0-7553-1088-8
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