- Jimmy Launders
Infobox Military Person
name=James "Jimmy" Stuart Launders
allegiance= United Kingdom
battles=World War II
awards= Distinguished Service Order & Bar
Distinguished Service Cross & Bar
James "Jimmy" S. Launders DSO & Bar, DSC & Bar (1919-1988) was an officer in the British Royal Navy during and after World War II. He retired from the service in 1962, but continued to serve in an unofficial capacity on training programs until his death in 1988.United Kingdom Royal Navy Museum, Commander Launders' Service Record, Public Records] In addition to his reputation amongst his crew, colleagues, and historians as a brilliant, highly skilled, and courageous commander, Launders is remembered as the first and only submarine commander in history to have successfully engaged and destroyed an enemy submarine during time of war using only his own vessel (un-aided by any surface vessels, aircraft, other submarines, or any external tracking assistance) while both his and the enemy vessel were fully submerged. "U864: Hitler's Deadly Last Secret", Discovery Communications, 2006] In addition to the unique manner in which the engagement occurred, the specific nature of the enemy submarine's mission (
U-864) has provided one of the more enduring and interesting footnotes to the war, thus further cementing the notoriety of Launders, HMS "Venturer", and her crew for their wartime actions.
Early Royal Navy career
Launders joined the Royal Navy as a cadet on January 1, 1938. Upon completion of his training, he was posted as a
midshipmanto the battlecruiserHMS|Repulse|1916|6 on January 1, 1939. He was serving aboard "Repulse" when the war broke out.
World War II service
Assignment to "Venturer" and reputation
Though he would continue to serve aboard "Repulse" for more than two years, it was to be his last assignment to a surface vessel for some time. On 1 April, 1941 (after the war had been raging for about a year and a half and the Battle of the Atlantic was well underway), Launders was posted to his first submarine assignment aboard HMS|P35. In recognition of his outstanding service during that critical phase of the Battle of the Atlantic, Launders was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross on December 22, 1942. He was subsequently promoted to
Lieutenanton April 1, 1943. His career was on a "fast track", and on May 18, 1943, he received his first command, which was the one that would make him famous: HMS|Venturer|P68|6.
"Venturer" was Launders' first submarine posting, but his intellect, quick thinking, and leadership had put him in position for just such a challenging command. "Venturer" was a fast-attack "hunter-killer" sub, the mission of which was to hunt for shipping and other submarines, attack them, and to affect a speedy getaway without engaging in a prolonged action or sustaining any damage to itself or its crew. Launders was a "rising star" in the
Royal Navysubmarine command at the time. a "boy-wonder with a genius for mathematics," which gave him a tremendous edge in making the necessary vector calculations that were part of submarine warfare tactics of the day (i.e., manual or minimally mechanical-computer assisted figuring of speed and trajectories for targets, torpedoes, attacking vessels, currents, etc., as opposed to later solid-state computer controlled systems and guided weapons).
The Royal Navy staff's opinion of Launders' capabilities was apparently shared by his crew. Regarding his time aboard "Venturer" with Launders, former Royal Navy Sub Lieutenant John Frederick Watson (a retired geologist who served with Launders during the war aboard the "Venturer" and was decorated "Awarded for Great Keaness and Devotion to Duty" for his actions during that time) stated:
"It was very much a Band of Brothers. Only 37 in the crew and Launders was "way" ahead in terms of his experience, his knowledge, his abilities; it was obvious to the rest of us. Nobody thought to question what he decided to do."
Former Able Seaman and retired Royal Navy instructor Henry James Plummer also served aboard "Venturer" during the war with both Launders and Watson. Himself decorated ("Awarded for Courage, Cheerfulness, and Alertness"),] Watson said of Launders:
"We trusted him. We knew he was a good commander. We’d have gone to the end of the Earth with him…because he was "that" good."
King George VIhad praise for Launders, declaring him:
Action aboard "Venturer"
Although she had sunk some 13 German vessels during 10 patrols over the previous 12 months, including the destruction of the Type VIIc U-Boat "
U-771" off Norway's Lofoten Islandson November 11, 1944 [ [http://www.mikekemble.com/ww2/britsublist.html Listing of British Submarines of WW2 ] ] , some convert|7|nmi|km East of Andenes, Norway, the most notable entry in the Venturer's log was the sinking of " U-864" on February 9, 1945, off Bergen, Norway, "while both vessels were simultaneously submerged". That was the first time that such an action occurred in naval warfare, and Launders became the first, and to date the "only" submarine commander in history to be publicly acknowledged as having sunk another submerged vessel in combat with both vessels operating simultaneously in submerged mode.
inking of the "U-864"
He was the commander of the HMS|Venturer|P68|6 when, on 9 February 1945, in the
North Seawest of Bergen, Norway, his submarine torpedoed and sank the " U-864", commanded by KrvKpt. Ralf-Reimar Wolfram. The "U-864" was a Type IX U-Boat, designed for long, ocean-going voyages far from home ports with limited re-supply. It was on a highly-sensitive, long-range, covert mission codenamed "Operation Caesar" to deliver highly sensitive technology to their wartime ally, the Empire of Japan. The "U-864's" top-secret manifest included jet-engine parts from the German Me-262jet fighter plane that the Japanese were going to try to clone, missile guidance systems from Peenemünde, of the type used on the V-2 Rocket, and several tonnes of mercury, a raw material that was in short supply in Japan but that was vital to the industrial production of ordnance since it was a necessary component in the fabrication of detonators.
"U-864" had originally set in to the U-Boat Pens in Bergen to repair damage from having run aground during their first attempt to set off on the mission (they had to take very round-about routes that were often less safe and not well charted to avoid the deadly mass of Allied anti-submarine warfare patrols in the main shipping channels). During the boat's layover there several days earlier the pens were targeted by an Allied bombing raid, but while the pens were hit the "U-864" itself escaped serious damage. When the grounding-damage was repaired, the "U-864" once again began underway for Japan.
During this voyage, however, their normally quiet engine started to make an abnormally loud, rhythmic noise that could be easily detected by any ASW equipment in the area. Since the area was crawling with Allied (primarily British) ASW ships, submarines, and aircraft, KrvKpt. Wofram decided to return to the pens at Bergen to repair the problem.
Little did he know (nor did anyone in Germany's U-Boat Command, for that matter) that the
Enigma code, Germany's naval encryption system, had been broken by British mathematician Alan Turingand his cryptanalytics team at Bletchley Parkusing a device called the Bombe. Unbeknownst to the Germans, all naval communications to the Nazi U-Boat fleet were being read by Allied commanders, and they indeed knew of "Operation Caesar". Wanting to avoid giving the Japanese any advantage that might allow them to extend the duration of the war in the Pacific, Royal Navy submarine command dispatched "Venturer" to intercept and destroy "U-864".
Launders' received a brief message from Royal Navy Submarine Command as to the estimated whereabouts of "U-864" (with reasonable precision, somewhere near the island of
Fedje, off Norway's Southwest coast, just North of the Pens at Bergen), along with instructions to destroy her. Launders set about the task, making one risky but calculated decision: he decided to switch off the Venturer's ASDIC(an advanced form of sonarof the time), which would severely limit their ability to detect other submarines, but would greatly reduce the chance of being detected themselves by the enemy. They would rely purely on the "Venturer's" hydrophone(a common, long-used, and far less sophisticated than ASDIC underwater acoustic detection device) to try to detect U-864 along the course that the intercepted "Operation Caesar" Enigma-encoded traffic suggested. It was none-the-less a huge gamble.
Those intercepts led Launders' commanders to direct him to search for the "U-864" near Fedje; however, "U-864" had already left the area on her mission to Japan. Unfortunately for the U-Boat and very fortunately for Launders and the British, "U-864's" commander had decided once again to set in for repairs at the
U-Boat PensBergen to fix the abnormal engine noise problem. The decision would bring "U-864" right back past Fedje and the area where HMS "Venturer" was lurking, waiting to pounce on her prey.
As "Venturer" continued her patrol of the waters around Fedje, her
hydrophoneoperator noticed a strange sound which they couldn't identify. The hyrdophone operator thought that the noise originally sounded as though some local fisherman had started up a boat's diesel engine. Launders decided to track the strange noise. Then fortune favored Launders when, due to poor adherence to proper periscope usage protocol on the part of "U-864's" crew, the officer of the watch on "Venturer's" periscope noticed another periscope poking up above the surface of the water. Combined with the hydrophone reports of the strange noise, which he determined to be coming from a submerged vessel, Launders surmised that they had found "U-864".
Launders tracked the U-864 by hydrophone (in itself a difficult feat), hoping it would surface and allow a clear shot. But the U-864 itself detected the presence of an enemy submarine, remained submerged, and started to zig-zag. This made the U-864 quite safe according to the assumptions of the time.
Launders continued to track the U-Boat. After several hours it was obviously not going to surface, but he needed to attack it anyway. It was theoretically possible to compute a firing solution in three dimensions, but this had never been attempted in practice because it was assumed that performing the complex calculations would be impossible. Nevertheless, Launders and his crew made the necessary calculations, made assumptions about U-864's defensive manoeuvers, and ordered the firing of all 4 torpedoes on-board (being that she was a small, fast-attack boat, "Venturer" carried a full complement of only 4 "fish"), with a 17.5 second delay between each shot, and at variable depths. U-864 performed a crash dive, straight into the path of the 4th torpedo. The result was catastrophic damage to the "U-864's" completely submerged hull, causing the vessel instantly fill with seawater and go down immediately with the loss of all hands. "U-864" sank a mere convert|31|nmi|km|0 from the relative safety of the U-Boat Pens in Bergen, where she was headed in order to repair the abnormal noise problem that she was experiencing. Ironically, the very attempt of the crew of "U-864" to avoid enemy ASW detection by repairing the noise problem is what put them and their vessel in harm's way, as it caused her to attempt to return for repairs to the Pens in Bergen, which took her past the waters around Fedje, where "Venturer" was lying in wait.
Aftermath of the "U-864" engagement
Discovered in 2003, "U-864's" wreckage rests beneath convert|460|ft|m of water some convert|2.2|nmi|km|1 West of the island of Fedje, which is located off Norway's Southwest coast, some convert|31|nmi|km|0 North of the city of Bergen. Since she went down with all 73 hands on board, the wreck is classified as a
War Grave, and all maritime operations relating to the wreck (including environmental cleanup efforts) must adhere strictly to the international protocols dealing with treatment of such sites.
For their actions, several crew aboard "Venturer" were decorated by the Royal Navy and the young Launders' career in Navy continued well after the war. As for "U-864", in addition to being the last German U-Boat being sunk as the result of enemy action prior to the end of the war on [V-E Day|May 8, 1945, she also maintains her notoriety for two other reasons:
First, it was on a very historically interesting mission which was to carry top-secret military parts to
Imperial Japan, Germany's Axis ally. The manifest included jet engine parts from a Germany Messerschmidt Me-262, the world's first operational jet fighter aircraft. Although the parts would have likely arrived too late in Japan to have made much of a difference in the outcome of the Pacific Theatre of the war (in fact, U.S. troops occupying the Japanese home islands after the war found Japanese iterations of an Me-262-like craft, the " Karyu", hidden under camoflauge) [ [http://www.vectorsite.net/avme262.html The Messerschmitt Me-262 Schwalbe / Sturmvogel ] ] , the attempted mission still provides an interesting event for war historians to analyze.
The other reason that "U-864" maintains its notoriety is because it was also carrying in its keel steel bottles containing a total of between 60-65 metric tonnes of mercury, a bio-toxic metal that was used at the time in the industrial manufacture of ordnance detonators and firearms cartridge primers. Some of the mercury-containing steel bottles were probably broken open during "U-864"'s demise and others were probably compromised over time due to the corrosive effects of being submerged in salt-water for years. As the mercury was exposed to that particular environment, it became converted to
methylmercury, CH3Hg, which has even more toxic potential than straight mercury in an environmental/ecological sense since it is more readily propagated through the food-chain than pure Hg, meaning that it spreads to a greater degree and therefore affects a greater quantity and variety of organisms. It is innately toxic as well since it indistinguishable to certain transport proteins in the human body from a vital amino-acid, and is therefore transported freely throughout the body with devastating toxic results. [ [http://toxics.usgs.gov/definitions/methylmercury.html Methylmercury Definition Page ] ] Due to mercury and methylmercury contamination, the particular area where "U-864" came to rest is currently off-limits to fishing while the Norwegian government determines the best course of action for remedying the ecological disaster that resulted from the release of the mercury that was being carried aboard "U-864" when it was sunk by "Venturer".
After the War
After Victory in Europe on May 8, 1945, Launders did not muster out of the Royal Navy, but continued to serve, receiving promotions to Lieutenant Commander in 1949 and Commander in 1957. In the post-war years he was posted to a number of different vessels and shore stations, held a number of staff posts, and was even posted to
NATO(see "Service Jacket" section below). Launders retired from the Royal Navy in 1962 at the rank of Commander.
Jimmy Launders passed away in 1988 of natural causes at the age of 69.
*Cadet - 1 January 1938
*Midshipman - "HMS Repulse" - 1 January 1939
*Posted to "HMS P35" - 1 April 1941
*"DSC" - war patrols in the Mediterranean, 22 December 1942
*Promoted Lieutenant - 1 April 1943
*Posted to "HMS Venturer" 18 May 1943. He remained with her until the end of the war.
*"Bar to DSC" - war patrols, 18 July 1944
*"DSO" - For destruction of "
U771", 1 November 1944
*"Bar to DSO", for destruction of "U864", 9 February 1945
*1946 - off active service
*Posted to "HMS Dolphin" - Submarine depot, Portsmouth. January 1947
*Posted to "HMS Dryad" - Training unit, Navigation officer. 1949.
*Promoted Lieutenant Commander, 1 April 1949
*Posted "HMS Alcide" - A class submarine, 5 July 1951
*Posted to "HMS President" - Shore station, London - 1953
*Posted to "HMS Terror" - Far East Station, 1955, Staff
*Promoted to Commander, 30 June 1957
*Posted to "HMS Vanguard" - Reserve Fleet, 1959. Officer specialising in seamanship training.
* Captain HMS Forth and Commander 7th Submarine Squadron at Singapore 1968 to 1970–
title=U-864: Hitler's Deadly Last Secret
*cite web|accessdate=2007-07-08|url=http://www.vectorsite.net/avme262.html|title=The Messerschmitt Me-262 Schwalbe / Sturmvogel
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