The Sinking of U-boat 864

Nov 9, 2023 0 comments

During World War II, German U-boats wrought havoc upon Allied supply lines and commercial shipping inflicting heavy losses on merchant convoys. Lurking stealthy beneath the waves, these deadly submarines operated with great secrecy and surprise, attacking merchant vessels and warships using torpedoes and, at times, surface guns, resulting in considerable economic and military losses for the Allies.

By the end of the war, German U-boats had sunk almost 3,000 Allied ships. In response, Allied submarines and warships managed to sink approximately 785 of these U-boats. Remarkably, only one of these kills were made when both submarines were submerged.

HMS Venturer. The only submarine in history to have sunk another while both were submerged.

On 5 December 1944, the German submarine U-864 left Kiel on the Baltic sea with 67 short tons of metallic mercury destined for Japan to be used in military industry. U-864 also carried parts and engineering drawings for German jet fighter aircraft and other military supplies for Japan. While en route to Bergen, U-864 ran aground and had to stop in Farsund for repairs, arriving in Bergen on 5 January 1945. While docked in the U-boat pens, U-864 received minor damage when the harbor was attacked by the Royal Air Force on 12 January.

After repairs were completed U-864 resumed her voyage and on 6 February, she passed the Fedje area without being detected. Unfortunately, one of her engines began to misfire and the noise produced by the faulty diesel engine was picked up by a British submarine HMS Venturer on 9 February. The 25-year-old captain of the Venturer, Jimmy Launders, decided not to use sonar since it would betray his position. Instead, he started tracking the U-boat using hydrophone alone. About forty minutes later, Captain Launders spotted the U-boat's periscope as it carelessly scanned the horizon. Upon realizing they were being followed, the U-boat began zig-zagging underwater in an effort to throw off its pursuer but in vain.

How HMS Venturer tracked and sank U-boat 864. Image credit: Submarines versus U-Boats, William Kimber

Without the use of sonar, Captain Launders only had an approximation of the enemy U-boat’s distance and position. Trusting the ASDIC operator’s estimate and his own judgment of the range of the target, Captain Launders drew up the firing solution and ordered the firing of all four of his bow torpedo tubes. The U-864 attempted to evade once it heard the torpedoes coming but lacked maneuverability in dives and turns. The first three torpedoes were avoided, but U-864 unknowingly steered into the path of the fourth.

Two and quarter minutes after firing, a loud explosion was heard followed by breaking up noises as the U-boat split in two and sank with all hands. At that time, the U-boat was only 35 miles short of Bergen.

This is the only known attack by a submarine on a U-boat when both were submerged during the encounter.

Launders was awarded a bar to his Distinguished Service Order (DSO) and several members of his crew received awards. The Venturer survived the war and in 1946 joined the Royal Netherlands Navy as Utstein.


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