The history of one of World War II ' s most successful submarines, U-124, is chronicled in GREY WOLF, GREY SEA, from its few defeats to a legion of victories. Kapitanleutnant Jochen Mohr commanded his German submarine and navigated it through the treacherous waters of one of the most destructive, savage wars the world has known.
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January 01, 2003
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Excerpt from Grey Wolf, Grey Sea by E. B. Gasaway
It was April 2, 1943. And at last, Commander Rodney Thomson of the Royal Navy reflected, the war news had taken a definitely brighter turn. The German thrust deep into Russia had dissolved into the debacle at Stalingrad; and in North Africa, American and British forces had the Desert Fox Rommel between them. The German army that had seemed so nearly invincible was suffering major setbacks and the land war on all fronts now looked hopeful.
But at sea, he knew, U-boats still prowled, and struck, and killed.
Commander Thomson stared anxiously into the blackness that surrounded his ship, the HMS Black Swan. It was a clear night, but quite dark, and he could not see any of the merchant ships that lumbered along in ragged rows behind him. A feeling of great anxiety, mingled with helplessness, hung over the convoy. The sense of lurking menace was so strong that it was almost a tangible thing.
The two freighters, Gogra and Katha, had been sunk since midnight, and the U-boat that had torpedoed them was still somewhere out there. Thomson knew he was waiting in the dark for another chance to attack.
Black Swan swept on in wide zig-zags ahead of the convoy, as the twenty-odd merchantmen behind her struggled to keep station in the dark. Convoy OS 45, now even with the Portuguese coast, had covered roughly a quarter of its long voyage from England to Freetown. As always, the U-boat Command would have known the approximate size and position of the convoy, and would have ordered a scouting line of U-boats to intercept. At least one boat had already found them. Thomson knew that other sleek grey hulls would be silently converging on them as the wolf pack gathered.
Strange how long a man could fight these predators without ever getting a glimpse of one. A U-boat could leave a convoy riddled with sinking and burning ships and not once be actually seen.
Survivors of sunk ships saw them sometimes. Thomson remembered stories about surfaced U-boats with odd emblems painted on their scarred conning towers--a playful dolphin, red devils, a fox's mask, and one with a flower--the edelweiss.
He glanced impatiently at his watch. Not too much longer until dawn.
"Radar reports a stray echo, sir."
Thomson was instantly all attention. "Give me the range and bearing."
The answer came back immediately. The radar operator was Able Seaman D. Hutson, clear-headed and competent. He had plotted the position of the convoy ships, and this contact now was ahead and to starboard. Hutson had recognized it for what it was--a surfaced U-boat.
"Hard starboard!" called Thomson, and braced himself as the sloop heeled over sharply to take the turn. Her engines hummed with a higher pitch and her hull shuddered with the increased vibrations as Black Swan headed toward the stray echo on a closing bearing. Her sharp prow sliced through the black water which foamed up in white and sparkling bow waves on either side, and her curving wake trailed out behind her.
HMS Black Swan was the first of the "Black Swan" class of anti-submarine sloops, a tough and fast 2,000-tonner, designed specifically for ocean escort duty. She was fitted with the latest in radar gear, eyes that could penetrate the blackest night to see a U-boat riding low on the surface. Black Swan also carried a formidable array of guns, including 6.4" high-angle/low-angle guns in twin mountings. There were two of these forward and one aft, and they had radar incorporated in their aft control. She also carried a number of Oerlicon and Bofors guns, as well as other anti-submarine weapons. She was designed and built for just one purpose--to kill U-boats.
Making her best speed of about 20.5 knots, Black Swan passed close ahead of the starboard wing ship which had loomed up suddenly in the dark. And with every man ready at his post, and every eye straining to penetrate the inky darkness, Black Swan raced toward the ominous echo.