U-boatsin the Gulfof Mexico
U-boat 507, commanded by Korvettenkapitan Harro Schacht, snuck into the Gulf of Mexico via the Florida Straits on 1 May 1942 with orders to sink as many US ships as possible.
U-506, commanded by Kapitanleutnant Erich Wiirdemann, followed on 3 May.
The Uboat commanders were to proceed toward the mouth of the Mississippi,
where they might be able to send enough ships to the bottom to block river traffic.
Schacht was given plenty ofleeway on where to operate, depending on the defenses he encountered and the opportunities he might come across.
He was instructed to use his torpedoes wisely, targeting oil tankers and large freighters.
The mastermind behind this patrol was 4,500 miles away at his headquarters in Lorient, France, then occupied by the Nazis.
Fifty-year-old Admiral Karl Donirz was a rail, thin, tight-lipped serious man, who worked tirelessly to extract maximum efficiency from his U-boats.
A submarine commander in the First World War, Donirz was promoted to full admiral during the initial attacks on America’s east coast.
He rose through the ranks to become the commander of all U-boats, and in 1943 was made Grand Admiral in charge of the entire Kriegsmarine (German Navy).
U-507 was the perfect vessel to send into the Gulf; built in 1939 in Hamburg, it was one of the larger U-boats, a longrange class called Type IXC.
Measuring 249 feet in length with a beam of 22 feet, it usually carried 22 torpedoes, which could be loaded in one of six different tubes (four at the bow and two at the stern).
Mounted on deck were a 4.1-inch gun and a 37-mm anti-aircraft gun.
A second anti-aircraft gun was mounted in the conning tower.
The IXC could dive to a maximum depth of755 feet, protected by an outer steel hull and an inner pressure hull.
Two nine-cylinder diesel engines powered the U-boat when traveling on the surface.
These same engines recharged the enormous batteries for the electrical systems that powered not only the lights and radio,
but also electric motors that allowed the U-boat to stay submerged for brief periods.
Submerged, the vessel could only travel 63 nautical miles at four knots before it had to surface to Admiral Karl Donitz,
known as “The Lion” to his U-boat men, launched Operation Drumbeat against the United States.
He later achieved the rank of Grojadmiral
(the equivalent of Grand Admiral) in 1943 and became commander-in-chief of the German Navy.
When Hitler committed suicide near the end of the war, Donitz became his successor as head of state.
both recharge the batteries (by running the diesel engines) and replace built-up co2 gases with fresh air. Crews typically averaged fifty-two men.
Despite the limits of its capacity to stay submerged,
the range of this sub was an incredible 13,400 nautical miles when the vessel cruised on the surface at ten knots.
Maximum surface speed was 18.3 knots, while maximum submerged speed was 7.3 knots.
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