03 18 July 1943
Back to the battle of 18 July 1943: Itwas short. K-74 launched at 1909h from Naval Air Station Richmond. The assignment of July 18 was only her fourth combat patrol. At 23.40h July 18, K-74 encountered a radar contact at Longitude 23 degrees 59 minutes North/Latitude 080 degrees 49 minutes west. The K-74 settled into the water 23.57h. The battle lasted only 17 minutes from first radar contact with U-134 to hitting the water.
03 01 The Battle
On 10 June 1943 U-134 sailed once more to the Florida coast on her ninth and final patrol. In July she arrived near the Florida Keys.
K-74 departed together with
K-32. The specifics of K-74’s patrol were that the K-74 would depart the mainland and patrol south by southwest from the starting point of Key Biscayne. The K-32 meanwhile would patrol south by west across Florida Bay, make a round turn over the Marquesas, and then patrol east to rendezvous with K-74 below Marathon.
K-74 detected U-134 on RADAR in the Straits of Florida at 23:40 on 18 July 1943. The night was bright with almost a full moon. United States Navy doctrine required blimps to stay out of range of surfaced submarines and guide aircraft or ships to attack. The blimp pilot Lieutenant Nelson Grills USNR disregarded this doctrine in an attempt to prevent U-134 from reaching three ships, which passed unescorted through the Florida Straits that night, the
SS Atlantic Coast,
SS Settler and the
SS Northumberland, all directly ahead of the submarine.
The blimp went to 250-feet altitude and commenced a bombing run. Almost simultaneously the submarine spotted the blimp. The blimp crew observed yellow-orange lights begin to flash aboard the submarine indicative of gunfire tracer rounds. An incoming round punctured the Plexiglas windshield of the blimp. The blimp machine gunner returned fire. At about the same moment the submarine was observed to turn portside, thus presenting the slimmest target to the oncoming blimp. The blimp starboard engine nacelle was observed to receive battle damage, and display sparking and flaming. Engine rpm’s abruptly decreased, throwing the blimp into drift. The blimp machine gunner expended an entire belt of ammunition, reloaded and continued firing.
With the blimp practically closed on the target, the pilot commanded bombs away. There are articles with the opinion that K-74's two Mark XVII depth charges failed to release, but that’s wrong. Two depth charges went straight down and hit the target, exploding in close proximity to the U-boat at the depth they were set to, fifty feet. The anti-aircraft gunfire of the U-boat now resumed. There are other articles mentioning that the boat used her 8.8 cm cannon to fire at the blimp also, causing big holes, but that’s wrong too, as the boat did not have such a cannon on deck. Fact is that U-134 used her 2 cm Flak only. The range was point-blank and deadly. The blimp went out of control. It assumed the attitude of standing on its tail; that is, it swung perpendicular to the ocean with the nose of the blimp pointing skyward. The crew was thrown about the blimp cabin as it began to gain altitude, rushing straight up. It rose to an altitude of approximately 1,000 feet, accompanied by severe shaking of the cabin. The blimp threatened to flip over.
To regain control the pilot pulled the releases jettisoning the two outboard fuel slip tanks. These two 380 pound fuel tanks separated and fell away from the underside of the gondola without incident. This loss of weight momentarily renewed buoyancy. The blimp stabilized in a horizontal attitude. It began to descend. The anti-aircraft fire had done severe damage to the blimp’s outer envelope, inner helium-filled ballonets and sinews of cabling. The port engine continued to function but the rudder and tail elevators appeared to be shot away. The blimp was going down tail first and unresponsive to control.
The U-boat continued firing. The blimp envelope continued to be riddled by the submarine’s anti-aircraft guns as it descended. The pilot and navigator hastily agreed to make for North Elbow Cay. Grills ordered the crew to jettison everything possible to stay aloft. A few toolboxes and bits of spindle drift were tossed overboard. The crew braced for emergency landing at sea. As the blimp neared the water the starboard engine turned over. The tail of the blimp touched the water. The propeller blades sliced into the sea and cut out. The blimp car began to settle onto the water at 23.57h.
None of the ten-man crew was injured (according to the reports, though three of them received the Purple Hart?) and all moved away from K-74 to avoid anticipated depth charge detonations when it sank. K-74 remained afloat for eight hours, however. The remaining two depth charges exploded next morning only. Set for a depth of 50-feet and still attached to the blimp, they went off as the blimp car wreckage settled to that depth.
Lt. Grille’s Report
03 02 After the Battle
All but one of K-74's crew were rescued the following day by
the destroyer USS Dahlgren(DD-187/AG-91, Clemson Class,
(Lt.Cdr. Maurice Mortimer “Doc” DeWolf, USN) and the submarine chaser
USS SC-657 (rescued Grills, who was detected by AMM3c Max May of blimp K-32). Aviation Machinist's Mate second class Isadore Stressel, the bombardier, drowned shortly before rescue, probably attacked by sharks, and became the only United States Navy airshipman to die as a result of enemy action. About 13.47h
Coast Guard Patrol Craft 464 (CG- 83314) and
Coast Guard Patrol Craft 466 (CG- 83316) joined USS Dahlgreen. At 15.45h they were reinforced by
the brand-new destroyer USS Reuben James II (DE-153, Buckley-class,
Lt.Cdr. Frank Daniel Giambattista, USN, ship named in honor of the
USS Reuben James I (DD-245, Clemson-class,
LtCdr. Heywood Lane Edwards, USN, torpedoed and sunk in action before war was declared 31 October 1941 while escorting the British convoy HX-156). United States Navy Sub Chaser 511
(SC 497 Class, later USCGC Air Cardinal WAVR 413) and Sub Chaser 657 (later Soviet BO-307) arrived soon after.
USS Dahlgren and the rest continued to hunt for the submarine, closing up the line to 2,000 yard intervals. During this time they were joined by three destroyer escorts:
USS Brennan (DE 13, (ex HMS Bentinck, BDE-13), Evarts class,
Lt.Cdr. Mark Edwin Dennett, USN),
USS Edgar G. Chase (DE 16, Evarts class,
Lt.Cdr. James J. Morony, USNR),
USS Andres (DE 45, Evarts class, Lt.Cdr. Clayton Rogers Simmers, USN) and
Patrol Craft 613 (CG- 83362, later Dominican De Febrero P 101).
They did not find the submarine.
Daily Mirror Frontpage, 31 July 1943
After the U-134 submarine debacle LT Nelson Grills was not considered a hero, but it was thought about to court martial him. In the meantime he was sent around to all the blimp bases on the east coast, and maybe elsewhere to describe to all pilots what happened and what went wrong. His talk and Q and A took over an hour and was repeated often enough so that all pilots got the message.
03 03 Photos of the wrecked K-74
Many articles mention that U-134 came back that night and pulled part of the wreckage aboard for photographs and evaluation. The authors write that U-134 had passed the images of K-74 to another U-boat prior to being sunk and the United States Navy was unaware K-74 had been boarded until the photographs were discovered in 1958. The
photos were published in the January 1958 issue of the PROCEEDINGS Magazine.
Fact is that U-134 had not met any other U-boat on its return passage and the published photos were taken from another U-boat, salvaging a barrage balloon hull, but were used as propaganda photos for illustrating the success of U-134. This is very easy to determine, as one salvage photo shows a deck-gun on the submarine and U-134 had none, as can be seen on the photos made during the airplane attacks.
As said before U-134 had no lucky
journey. I partly quote from the (reconstructed)
war diary of the boat.
8 July 1943
The boat was attacked by 8 depth charges from a Bermuda based US Navy aircraft
Martin PBM 3C Mariner P-3
(pilot Lieutenant William Wolcott Soverel,crew members co-pilot Lt. (Jg) Thomas John Hitchcock, navigator Ensign W. S. Wade, flight engineer L. E. Smith and gunner J. P. Brown, Aviation Radioman Third Class G. N. Levaklis) of
Squadron VP 201 (plane P3). The bombs fell short and boat survived the attack undamaged.
The plane was badly hit by the U-Boat Flak, but managed to return.
Report of Lt Soverell
July 8 1920 Hrs DD9475 Attacked by a low flying seaplane using 6-8 bombs and gunfire without effect. We got good shots into the flying boat. 108 cubic meters (of fuel remaining).
18 Jul 1943
Aircraft attack, aircraft shot down: American Blimp K-74 (squadron ZP-21) (ZP = Zeppelin Patrol)
July 19 at DM5216 night attack by a Navy airship with five bombs and gunfire. Main ballast tank #5, starboard quick diving tank, and starboard #4 damaged. Shot down the airship. Many 2-centimeter ammunition misfires.
(Remark: U-134 states an attack with five bombs, which is impossible, as K-74 had only four and dropped only two. But in addition Lt. Grills released the two outboard fuel tanks, which might have been considered as depth charges also. So the error of the submariners is only one “bomb”.)
19 July 1943
During an all-out hunt for the U-134 an American
VenturaAircraft PV-1 (pilot John C. Lawrence) (of bombing squadron VB-132 under
LtCdr. Thomas Hinman Moorer) from NAAS Boca Chica Key West found and attacked the boat twice with 3 depth charges causing serious damage to the forward battery.
0603 Longitude 24 degrees 10 minutes North/Latitude 79 degrees 40 minutes west.
Must fall back to mid-Atlantic for repairs. Damage from the attack of July 19 and night of the 20th surprise attack by fast land airplane at DM2925. That aircraft put three bombs under my forecastle. Battery No. 2 and torpedo tube No. 4 are out of service. Our attack periscope only has partial visibility. 71 cubic meters (18,900 gallons of fuel) remaining.
Last edited by kh; 06-07-2012 at 03:09 AM.
21 August 1943
The boat was attacked by a
Grumman F4F Wildcat FM-3
(pilot Lieutenant (Jg) Ygnacio 'Nat'T. Toulon III) and a
Grumman TBF 1 Avenger T-9 of squadron VC-25 (pilot Lieutenant (Jg) Morris LaVerne Nelson, crew members radioman W. A. Clark and gunner Petty Officer First Class L. H. Hellwig or Helwig) from the escort-carrier
USS Croatan (ACV-25, redesignated CVE 25 July 15, 1943, Captain John B. Lyon (or Lyons?), USN). This was first war cruise of the USS Croatan together with this “Hunter-Killer” group, consisting of the
destroyers USS Paul Jones (DD 230, Clemson class,
Lt.Cdr. John Joseph Hourihan, USN),
USS Belknap (DD 251, Clemson class, Lt.Cdr. Sylvius Gazze, USN) and
USS Parrot (DD 218, Clemson class, Lt.Cdr. John Nelson Hughes, USN), to make up Task Group 21.15, escorting convoy UGS 14 (between North African ports and the U.S.). Returning from the skirmish to USS Croatan, the Wildcat FM-3 crashed on landing, sweeping away the barrier and damaging propeller and landing gear. So did a second FM returning from patrol to refuel. By the time the deck was cleared and a second strike launched in the right direction the target was gone. USS Paul Jones was sent ahead to attempt to hold-down and regain contact, but failed. At dawn a new search for the boat was launched. It was planned to send four pairs of Avengers and Wildcats, but after the Avengers had been catapulted a catapult failure occurred during the launching of the first Wildcat. This completely disabled the catapult. Due to light winds it was impossible to launch by other than catapult which resulted in the search being made by Avengers only without fighter assistance. This search revealed no further trace of the submarine.
August 21(last message of U-134)
1959 Hours Attacked (again) by an aircraft.
B.d.U. Closing Assessment
U-134 does not signal its return to home base. U-134 does not respond to order to report position on September 6. U-134 probably destroyed during the attack reported August 21. As a result of September 6, 1943, effective September 15 she is listed missing in action with “One Star.” As of June 3, 1944 missing in action with “Two Stars.”
Total loss is to be assumed. For the Commander, U-boats Chief of Operations
24 August 1943
U-134 was still alive after 21 August, but was finally sunk on 24 August 1943 near Vigo, Spain, by six depth charges from a British
Vickers Wellington XIV aircraft (pilot Canadian Flying Officer Donald Farquhar McRae, serial number J9405, crew: Flight Officer R. K. Senior, Royal Australian Air Force,as captain and wireless operator air gunner, Flight Officer R.W. Hegan, Flight Sergeants G.V. Cormack and J. Stead British and Flight Sergeant D.E. McKenzie, Royal New Zealand Air Force) of
No. 179 Squadron RAF from Gibraltar. All 48 men on board of the submarine died.
To be continued with the question if Blimp K-14 was also shot down....
The 2 hangers are still at Moffet Field, and one is in use by commercial blimps, but one is at least partly disassembled to replace the PCB contaminated exterior. Five other WWII wooden blimp hangers survive.
By the time of this incident there were no "Zepplins" in the USN. The Los Angeles, ZR-3, built as war reperations for the US by Zepplin at Friedrichshafen, 1923-24, had been scrapped in 1939. The ZMC-2 metalclad, really an experimental aluminum blimp, had been scrapped in 1941. Calling it a rigid airship was a stretch as its .08 in. thick alclad riveted shell would have buckled and collapsed in a heap unless kept pressurized by its ballonets. When the engines were turned off in the hanger it had to be hung from the overhead by a large number of guy wires.
The ZMC-2 was the prototype blimp left over from the Akron/Macon program,. The Metalcald Airship Corporation, formerly the Aircraft Development Corporation, had proposed it for the USNs rigid airship program, but bcause of its novel construction it was relegated to one small experimental blimp. To cut the costs it was made short, with a low fineness ratio, and thus had some control problems.
BTW the loss rate from accidents and storms were very high for blimps. Of the 166 blimps built for the USN from the K class of WWII on, 126 were lost. Most common causes were weather and ground proximity, usually handling, takeoof, landing. One former blimp pilot told me that sometimes thunderstorms were unavoidable. Then you couldn't go around them or come close to climbing over them, and didn't have the power to control where you went in them. All you could do was hope it spit you out the other side in one piece.
I swear by Jupiter Optimus Maximus .... in the army of the consul Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus and for 10 miles around it I will not steal anything worth more than a sestertius in any one day.
05 Blimp K-14 also shot down?
There are rumours that a second blimp was shot down by a submarine. A U-boat sighting and the events that followed were recorded in government documents, declassified and released to the public in 1991. On July 2, 1944 Earnest Stanley and Merrill Stanley, fishermen on the Frolic out of Southwest Harbor, reported seeing a submarine at 10:45 that morning. They saw a periscope travelling at about 12 knots at a distance of 300 yards from their boat which was located 13 miles southeast by south from Baker Island at the entrance of Frenchmans Bay. The periscope disappeared soon after they had sighted it. They saw "a hull 60 to 90 feet long, approximately 20 feet under water, making a straight wake 25-35 feet wide with patches of oil. They observed the wake for one-half hour." The weather was clear, the seas calm and practically no wind. The Navy responded by sending vessels and a K type blimp, the K-14, assigned to
ZP-11 based at
NAS South Weymouth
(CO Capt James L. Fisher), Shea Field, South Weymouth, MA, to investigate the report.
Later the crew of the airship K-14 failed to report in as scheduled while looking for a German sub off Mount Desert Rock, 20 miles offshore from Mount Desert Island. Just a handful of survivors from the crew were found clinging to
wreckage the next day. While the U.S. Navy’s reports claim the crash was caused by pilot error, there are many airship experts who believe that there is ample evidence to prove the blimp was shot down and the truth hidden to prevent panicking the citizenry.
A Board of Inquiry at the First Naval District in Boston convened three days after the tragedy on July 5, treating Ensign William J. McDonnell, the K-14’s senior pilot, and Ensign Ernest A. Sharp, also a pilot, as defendants. The Board sought to determine whether the loss of the blimp was due to personnel failure, mechanical failure or enemy action. Among those who testified was Ensign Carl M. Levine, another pilot, who was asleep during the mishap and saw little of what happened. The fourth survivor, Aviation Machinist’s Mate Chesley M. Johnson, who was eating in the galley at the time of the crash, told a grim tail of struggling in the night sea, looking for the fins of sharks and trying unsuccessfully to reach Drzewiecki, who apparently became entangled in fabric from the bag and drowned.
The six men who perished were Lt. Carl W. Kluber, Aviation Machinist’s Mate Second Class John V. Oldar, Aviation Radioman Second Class John B. Powles, Aviation Electrician’s Mate Walter P. Ozesky, Aviation Radioman Third Class William H. Munro and Aviation Metalsmith Third Class Edward J. Drzewiecki. In the aftermath of the nocturnal crash, Drzewiecki escaped alive and clung to the fins of the blimp protruding above the water, but he could not be saved. Munro’s body was not recovered immediately.
There are some evidences that K-14 did not crash because of a pilot’s error, but after a battle. One was the fact that inside the gondola, salvagers found numerous empty bullet casings from the .50-caliber machine gun that was part of the blimp’s standard armament. Two depth charges were missing and, from the placement of the wires used to arm them when they were deployed, officials state they appeared to be live and ready to explode at a depth of 50 feet when they left the cab. There were holes in the gondola and the balloon, which might have been caused by 20 mm bullets. Several independent observers on the night of 2 July reported hearing two big explosions, and gunfire, in the vicinity of the blimp’s patrol.
But the blimp pilots McDonnell and Sharp never claimed to have spotted or engaged an enemy submarine and did not comment on the possibility that a U-boat might have fired on them without being seen first. Another problem is that no German ship seems to have been around there. Especially
U-233, a large 2710 tons type XB boat under Kapitänleutnant Hans Steen of the
12th flotilla under
Fregattenkapitän Klaus Scholtz, which often is credited with having shot down K-14, did not report anything of a battle with a blimp. Neither did the U-boat survivors during their interrogation on board USS Card.
U-233 had left Kiel, Germany on 27 May 1944 for a planned mine-laying patrol outside of Halifax.
U-233 was sunk three days after the K-14 accident 5 July 1944 south-east of Halifax, in position 42.16N, 59.49W, i.e. very far away from the K-14 wreck, by ramming, depth charges and gunfire from the US destroyer escorts
USS Baker (DE 190, Cannon-class, Lt.Cdr. Norman Cutten Hoffman, USNR) and
USS Thomas II (DE 102, Cannon-class,
Lt.Cdr. David M. Kellogg, USNR). 32 submariners died, among them
Kapitänleutnant Hans Steen, who was buried at sea, and 29 survivors.
The destroyers were from HUK Task Group 22.10, consisting of
USS Card (CVE 11,
Capt. Robert Cummings Young, USN) and the Escort Division 48, Commander George A. Parkinson, U.S.N.R. (on U.S.S. Thomas), with USS Thomas II, USS Baker,
USS Bostwick (DE 103, Cannon-class, Lt.Cdr. John Henry Church, Jr., USNR),
USS Breeman (DE 104, Cannon-class, Lt.Cdr. Edward N. W. Hunter, USNR) and
USS Bronstein (DE 189, Cannon-class,
Lt. Sheldon Hoard Kinney, USN).
No one up to now seems to have had the idea that the blimp might have been a victim of friendly fire, but this is speculation also.
To be continued with other K-Blimp successes during WW2 ........
Last edited by kh; 06-06-2012 at 01:20 AM.
06 Other K-Blimp successes during WW2
During four years of war-service
34 K-ships were lost because of errors and faulty equipment design, and 77 officers and men were killed.K-ships facilitated rescue to hundreds of shipwrecked mariners, downed aviators and stranded personnel. They bombed literally hundreds of suspected submarine contacts, but they never got credit for sinking one.
06 01 U-94
It appears highly probable, though, that on 12 March 1942 the
airship K-6 under the command of Lieutenant George R. Lee inflicted the first (minor) damage upon an enemy submarine in US waters in WW II, the
Oberleutnant z.S. Otto Ites.
06 02 U-1226 orType XI-B boat
Due to a submarine sighting by a commercial Pan-Am Plane on 25 October 1944, the Naval Airship Squadron ZP-11 under
lieutenant commander Cecil Austen Bolam, USN, based at South Weymouth, Massachusetts ordered one of its eight airships, the Naval Blimp
K-25, to divert from its escort patrol 60 miles to the northeast and to investigate the reported sighting. Local vessels of the Northern Ship Lane Patrol are also ordered to the scene, which included
two Coast Guard 83-footers and
two 110 foot Sub-Chasers. Joseph F. Fallon III, the former U.S. Navy blimp K-25 pilot, says he dropped a bomb that
blew a hole in the just submerging submarine behind the conning tower off Cape Cod. Veteran interviews indicate that the subject U-Boat was
probably sunk by K-25, with the small surface vessels conducting a 48 hour surface search for survivors and debris. The official records support the follow-up search for debris.
This boat might have been U-1226, a 1545 tons type IXC/40 boat under Oblt. August-Wilhelm Claussen. Fact is that the boat probably was lost that day, at least it was listed as lost missing 28 October 1944, but the U-boat register seems to suggest that the last known position of that U-boat was just off Iceland.
There have been reports though (originating in 1993 and not confirmed up to now!) that a boat has been found in 41ft of water only 4 miles off Cape Cod, USA. According to those reports the boat was sunk by US Navy aircraft on October 28, 1944.
Scans of the boat showed it is huge, much larger than any other WW2 boat. So rumors go on that it is a3630 tons
Type XI-B boat, U-112, which officially never was commissioned, if ever built.
06 03 U-879 or U-857
14 April 1945 U-879 (Type IXC-40,
Kapitänleutnant Erwin Manchen) or
U-857 (Type IXC-40, Kapitänleutnant Rudolf Premauer), both belonging to 33rd flotilla under
Korvettenkapitän Günther Kuhnke, sank
the Belgian Steam Merchant SS Belgian Airman (6959 BRT, Master E. Cailloux) north of Cape Hatteras. 18 April one of those boats sank
the US Tanker SS Swiftscout (8300 BRT, Master Peter Katsaris) and damaged
the Norwegian Tanker SS Katy (6825 BRT, Master Reidar Thorn) 23 April east off Cape Hatteras. It is not clear which boat did what.
Trying to attack convoy KN-382 one of the boats was detected 29 April by
the frigate USS Natchez (PF-2). The task group 02.10 with the escort destroyers
USS Coffman (DE 191, Cannon-class,
Lt.Cdr. William H. Putnam, USNR), USS Bostwick (DE 103, LtCdr.Church, Jr., USNR) and USS Thomas II (DE 102, Lt.Cdr. Kellogg, USNR) arrived and sank the boat with depth charges east of the Delaware Bay.
Most probably the other submarine was detected 18 April east of Norfolk by the US blimp K-72 of
NAS Weeksville, NC, armed with two depth charges and two “FIDO”-Mk. 24 homing torpedoes (called the Mark 24 Mine), and sunk with a torpedo. 52 dead (all hands lost). However the military has never officially acknowledged this claim and as it stands, there is still no official explanation for why U-857 (or U-879) went missing in April 1945.
Goodyear ZNP-K, K Class Airship K-72 BuNo 30194 seen here 1954 when based at Lakehurst, NJ, at Dayton, Ohio, air show.
Report from blimp K-72
Naval Message– 18 April 1945 [from 10th Fleet, Nat’l Archives]
MY 182100 POSITION SHOULD READ 36-56 74-27 X
AT 221552 K 72 MADE ATTACK ON POSITIVE CONTACT IN *VE AREA X EXPLOSION OBSERVED PBM REPORTS
DISAPPEARING RADAR CONTACT AT 19102 IN 36-17 73-48 X NEGATIVE RSB X EVALUATION DOUBTFUL X
C O N F I D E N T I A L
Report from USS ANNAPOLIS (PF-15) (Tacoma-class frigate, Cdr. M. F. Garfield, USCG, from 24 November 1947 Mexican ARM General Vicente Guerrero)
TESTIMONY GIVEN BY SIBLEY, MOTT S. ON REPORTED SUBMARINE CONTACT 18 APRIL 1945:
COMDR. GARFIELD: “In what capacity were you serving during General Quarters on 18 April, 1945?”
SIBLEY: “I was Quartermaster of the Watch, Sir.”
COMDR. GARFIELD: Tell in your own words the chronicle of events of the attack made on the 18th of April, 1945.
SIBLEY: We were called to General Quarters at 1610, at 1612 we changed course to 110^ true. Speed was reduced to Standard, 140 RPM, and then at 1615 we changed course to 45^ True and dropped eleven (11) Mark & Depth Charges on Pattern Able. At 1616 all engines at flank, 175 RPM. And then at 1617 we were ordered to cease dropping Depth Charges and one (1) minute later decreased speed to Standard. At 1620, the order was given to stand-by the Hedgehogs. Speed was decreased to two-thirds (2/3), 110 RPM., at 1622, we increased to Standard. Then at 1623 we increased to full and then decreased to two-thirds (2/3) at the same time. We changed the course to 275^ True. At 1623 we changed course to 290^. At 1624 we were ordered to Steer Gun Training Bearings which was 280^ True. At 1626, we fired twentyfour (24) Hedgehogs (7.2 projectiles). Then we were given left full rudder we increased to Standard. We then searched the area at various courses and speeds, which are part of the ship’s log. At 1659 all engines stopped, we were lying to. The Navy blimps dropped a mile square pattern of sonar buoys in the vicinity of the first Depth Charge Contact between 260 and 275^ True. At 1830 a concussion was felt throughout the entire ship, origin unknown. (probably the Homing Torpedo detonated) At 1845 all engines were ahead full preparing to drop Depth Charges at the request of the Navy Blimps. At 1848 all engines stopped while the Navy Blimps dropped the two (2) additional Sonar Buoys. Our Heading at the time being 300^ True.
COMDR. GARFIELD: Do you remember seeing any unusual amount of smoke in the vicinity of the buoys?
SIBLEY: Yes, one of the buoys on the port bow at about 3000 yards distance had an unusual amount of smoke.
COMDR. GARFIELD: What do you mean by an unusual amount of smoke? Could two of these smoke bombs have done the same thing?
SIBLEY: No sir, there was more smoke than two of them should have made.
COMDR. GARFIELD: Do you think the amount of smoke bombs the blimps dropped could have created that much smoke?
SIBLEY: I don’t think I would be qualified to say.
06 03 U-853, the Battle of Point Judith
The last blimp attack against a German submarine happened 6 May 1945. The victim was
U-853 (Type IXC/40,
Oblt. Helmut Frömsdorf). The boat was nick named by her crew “Der Seiltänzer” (“Tightrope Walker”). She departed on 23 February 1945 and was on her 3rd war patrol. 23 Apr 1945 she sank
the patrol craft USS PE-56 "Eagle" (430 tons, Lt James Early, USNR).
The destroyer USS Selfridge (DD-357, Porter-class,
LtCdr. Lewis Levi Snider) approached and depth-charged a possible contact. However, after scouring the area, the task group commander concluded that the sinking was not the result of a submarine attack.
So 5 May 1945 the submarine sank another ship, the American steam merchant
Black Point (5,353 tons, Master Charles E. Prior). Twelve men lost their lives in the sinking, while 34 crew members were rescued by ships that soon converged upon the area. One of these ships, the SS Kamen, immediately sent an SOS report of the torpedoing and the hunt for the U-853 began.
The nearest warships were the vessels of TF60.7, five vessels under the command of Cdr Francis C. B. McCune on USS Ericsson, escorting convoy GUS 84, with
the destroyers USS Ericsson (DD 440, Gleaves-class,
Lt.Cdr. Charles Alexander Baldwin),
USS Atherton (DE 169, cannon class, Lt.Cdr. Paul L. Mansell, Jr., USNR, some references say LtCdr. Lewis Iselin),
USS Amick (DE-168, cannon class, Lt.Cdr. Francis Creath Brewer McCune, USN, some references say Lt.Cdr. E. L. Barsumian), and
USS Moberly (PF-63, Tacoma class Frigate, Lt.Cdr.Leslie B. Tollaksen, USCG). Those ships carried out probably
devastating attacks with more than 200 depth charges against U-853 on 6 May 1945. The struggle was a perilous one. In fact, shortly after midnight on May 6, the Moberly and the Atherton both damaged themselves by failing to avoid the explosions of their own depth charges.
Two blimps from ZP-12 in
NAS Lakehurst took off and localised the submarine. Those were the Blimp K-16, piloted by Lt. (jg) John T. Clark, and Blimp K-58, piloted by Lt. (jg) Max I Zabst. Both Blimps also dropped depth charges against the contact they gained, but it can't be ascertained which attack, by ship or by air, actually sank U-853.
USS Atherton and
USS Moberly received credit for the kill
For years after U-853 was sunk, there were stories of her being loaded down with gold bullion, she sits at about 130 feet down off Block Island, is easily accessible to divers, but despite many salvage attempts over the intervening years, divers have penetrated the wreck, but no treasure trove has been recovered.
There is just some debris, picked up immediately after the battle. Divers later also found some more
and some papers.
No senility or beer damage, I am sure, Marcus!
Especially Blimp L-8 would have been an interesting article also, but a L-class blimp did not really fit into the article on K-class blimps.
For those who do not know about the “Ghost Blimp” here are some notes and photos and a link.
ZP-32 from Moffett Field used Naval Air Facility Treasure Island as a forward base for antisubmarine patrols of the approaches to San Francisco Bay. A few hours after its morning launch from Treasure Island on 16 August 1942,
the blimp L-8
floated back to shore -
minus its two-man crew Lt. (Jg) Ernest D. Cody and Ens. Charles E. Adams - prompting one of the greatest mysteries (never solved) of World War II.
L-8 landed a few miles away on a street in nearby Daly City, Calif., after hitting a house and two cars.
Questions, more additions, criticism and remarks are very welcome!
On the loss of the K-14 the best source of information would be the incidence reports all of which should be in the official report of the Board of Inquiry.
Often when popular writers and the press gets done with them the resulting accounts of what really happened vary widely from the facts. An example of this is the infamous "Lost Squadron" of 5 TBMs, off Florida on Dec 5, 1945. This tragedy was sucked into the vortex of the Bermuda Triangle myth, but I found the real story in a copy of the Board of Inquiry report in the NAVAIR library.
The squadron leader on a bombing and navigation training mission had just transferred from Key West, had been out, apparently drinking, until about 4AM, had a hangover and little sleep, but insisted on taking the mission. He lost his bearings after a compass failure, started to fly north, normal procedure to reach the mainland in the Keys, found nothing but water, reversed course in a panic, and in worsening weather led his aircraft back and forth until they crashed from fuel exhaustion. All of this was tracked on radio and some of the other pilots recognized the mistake, wanted to fly west to the mainland, but followed the leader until it was too late.
Adding to the tragedy a search and rescue PBM apparently caught fire and blew up, with the loss of its 13 man crew, on its way to the estimated location, a flash being seen from the shore. All debris from the crashes disappeared in the storm that had come up late in the day.
Further obscuring the true story the mother of the squadron leader used her political pull to get him exonerated in 1947 by the Board for Correction of Naval Records.
I swear by Jupiter Optimus Maximus .... in the army of the consul Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus and for 10 miles around it I will not steal anything worth more than a sestertius in any one day.
kw, you have been outdoing yourself lately. The last few quizzes have been most excellent with so much info that the average person would otherwise never see. (Actually, they all are that way but these have been even better.)
This one was a favorite especially since I just saw my first blimp hangar last month on a tour of the west coast.
08 K-14 again
In this case the conclusion of the Board of Inquiry might be questioned. It states “pilot error”, but many researchers have another opinion and think, the blimp was shot down. There are many articles dealing with K-14, but instead of doing an own article (which was my intention for this quiz first) I quote from „Noon Balloon“ “The Official Newsletter of THE NAVAL AIRSHIP ASSOCIATION, INC.” No. 74 Summer 2007 (with some additional photos and information):
“…… the submerged K-14 is all the more upsetting knowing we have no realistic way of researching what really happened.
Our team’s most baffling action began off Bar Harbor, Maine, on 2 JUL 44 when (per ZP-11 War Diary) a fisherman used his Navy supplied radio to report he had “sighted the wake of a submerged submarine.” Already aloft, “The K-14 had been ordered to make a MAD search for a submarine…” At 2115 hours “The K-14 was conducting a MAD search at an altitude of between 200 and 250 feet…” A vessel nearby, the APc-94, recorded in its log that her crew felt two depth charge concussions about 2130. The Board of Inquiry’s (BofI) Finding of Facts stated “…the arming wires were still attached to the bomb racks, indicating that the bombs left their racks armed…” Three fishing vessels in nearby waters reported feeling the detonations. ZP-11 Diary recorded “…the two Mark 47 bombs which the blimp had carried outboard were missing. The fuse arming wires were still secured to the bomb rack, proving that the two bombs sank armed, and undoubtedly detonated.” Eastern Sea Frontier - Northern Group Reports (ESF-NG) noted later “No off hand explanation could be given for the failure to find two known depth charges in the after racks and no [other] accounting was given for the dead fish in the area...”
Machine gun fire was also noted. A Coast Guard watchman ashore reported hearing gunfire and seeing flashes. Inside the K-14, the 5th of July salvage diver reported... “a lot of .50 caliber shells all strewn around...” inside the car. ESF-NG Reports: “There have been numerous reports of heavy explosions and gunfire and machine gun fire at or about the time the K-14 crashed which may have been responsible for the crash.”
Though it does not speculate why, the ZP-11 Diary states: “Ensign Sharp shouted that the ship was going to crash. The ship crashed into the water, throwing Ensign McDonnell against the Navigator’s table… The blimp car immediately filled with water…” Kluber, Oldar, Ozesky and Powles were trapped inside the sinking car, and drowned.
When the K-14 could not be raised on radio, the Ypc-94 proceeded toward her last known location, logging that it encountered a half-mile long heavy oil slick. When they found the K-14 wreck, two more crewmen had perished. An Army crash boat photographed the bow of the envelope lying on the surface (below) later scribbling the caption on the photo’s back,
“Wreckage of the Navy blimp K-14, was shot down by a U-boat.” (Dairy) “…the four remaining survivors were taken aboard the Patriot.”
ZP-11 scrambled to the scene: K-25 flew out from South Weymouth and joined the K-34 to continue the search into the night of 4 July. “The K-15 on hove Patrol sighted what resembled a periscope and beather [breather] 200 yards astern for a period of approximately 20 seconds…” Rumors abounded back at the base. Shipmate Lou Prost: “The skipper CDR Bolam… informed us that we should not blame [pilot at controls] Ernie for the crash but he could not tell us any more… Ernie Sharp was transferred out of the squadron immediately.” Command pilot McDonnell’s roommate Bob Forand told us, “While at Bar Harbor, I observed a lot of activity going on, with meetings in small groups, with dignitaries and reps from the Eastern Sea Frontier, the Squadron, and Bar Harbor command.”
Meanwhile the car was cut loose and the envelope towed back to shore (below).
Whenever a ship is lost, a Board of Inquiry is formed to determine the cause. Their ‘Finding of Facts’ also states “…examination of the bag showed there were about 40 feet of the after section missing. Numerous small holes were found…” The Diary repeats, “The entire tail section of the envelope was missing.” ZP-11's Grant Southward found and examined holes in the envelope, cutting out samples for tests submitted to a Navy facility. Test results to determine the weapon caliber, if run, were never released.
The Board of Inquiry nonetheless ruled K-14’s loss and her crew’s deaths an accident, specifically ‘pilot error,’ blaming command pilot McDonnell. The decision was not unanimous and did not sit well with some people aware of the action. In 1977 Commander Alex W. Moffat, USN (Ret.) published his memoir A NAVY MAVERICK COMES OF AGE (Bantam Books, 1977): “It was obvious that the court wanted no record of any sub attack in those waters. At the hearing they admitted no evidence except that obtained from interrogating the survivors. It would not even accept in evidence the written statement of the technicians that they found many bullet holes in the fabric... When the bag was spread out on the field they were able to determine that the bullets entered the bag aft of the car and exited at the top amidships.”
Fred Morin, a South Weymouth activist, had pursued the K-14 case with the Navy. In November of 2003 W. S. Dudley, then the Navy Department’s Director of Naval History, wrote to Fred discussing the case. A strong argument is made based on various records showing there is no record of a U-boat in the area of Bar Harbor, Maine 2-4 JUL 44.
U-107 (Lt. z.S. Karl Heinz Fritz), which had been there, was mid-Atlantic by then and U-233, while inbound, never got close. (Survivors of both boats were reached directly or indirectly by the chairman and both verified they were not involved in a fight with an airship.) However those cited records also showed no U-boat was lost in Atlantic waters not far from Lakehurst – but one was found there anyway, torpedoed. It turned out to be the
U-869 (Kapitänleutnant Hellmut Neuerburg), long “known” to have been sunk a thousand miles away (near Gibraltar). In fact, submarine history is one of continual revision as new information (and wrecks) comes to the surface.
The Dudley letter states, “In reading the survivor’s statements, it appears that the consensus was that the blimp simply crashed into the water.” Many K’s struck the water accidentally, flying low for MAD, but they recovered. Heavy takeoffs knocked off wheels and whole fins in the dirt, let alone water, without ship loss. K-ship history would seem to have no case where an intact blimp buoyant in the air could quickly sink in the water. In his arguments over the crash of the ZPG-3W years later, experienced command pilot Lundi Moore pointed out an airship could not be deliberately nosed down and flown into the water with such speed as to burst a good bag. Can we detail a combination of actions where McDonnell worked his wheel, pedals, dampers and throttles to cause “The entire tail section of the envelope was missing” when Ernie Sharp was at the controls? Though at the radar, McDonnell was blamed; what specific inaction of his caused the stern come off so the car would sink like a rock, drowning four men? Unlike airplanes, the K-34, K-57, and even shot-up K-74, settled slowly into the water and allowed the crew to egress. Not surprisingly, investigators suggest K-14 was not only pilot error, but that in combination with ‘mechanical failure,’ though the Navy never suggested such. Yet even when the K-60’s rotten patches caused a fin loss, again the ship only settled.
The Dudley letter suggests the “…blimp arrives on station the weapons were cleared from the safety position and test fired. Perhaps, this could account for the gunfire heard by several fishermen that were interviewed.” By day, certainly; at night, with fishing vessels known to be about, firing the .50-cal into the darkness just to see if it worked seems rather irresponsible. Next, in spite of the literature stating the witnesses heard gunfire and felt concussions, the Dudley letter sidesteps any connection. So, in total, by co-incidence we had a test-firing of the gun just before some undefined miss-piloting and some unexplained mechanical failure caused the stern to separate, setting up what Dudley describes as “…the two Mk 47 bombs, carried by K-14 and torn off by the impact. Evidence found shows that the bombs sank armed and most likely detonated when they reached the preset depths.” Take a look at the K-14 car, (below) with stern damage from dragging on the bottom while suspended from the bag nose:
Does this car look like 700 pounds of Torpex bombs exploded about 50 feet away? And what of the little pink bodies inside, escaping into the water? Not even a headache?
If the twin 350-lb Torpex detonated near their intended target, then a U-boat was likely damaged; indeed, the APc-94 logged encountering a long heavy oil slick as it approached the scene hours later. The Dudley letter sets that aside, and further suggests the holes in the envelope were caused by a grappling hook - that obviously came after the ship lost most of its helium so as to plummet.
Several years ago your chairman joined a group of submarine fans based here in Florida, Sharkhunters, and started enjoying their monthly magazine. When I asked for help on our mystery of 22 JAN 42, they ran my piece and one of their activist members, attorney Paul Lawton, responded with a plausible explanation that we could verify, solving the mystery. Lawton, you may have heard, spearheaded the fight that resulted in the Navy finally reclassifying the loss of Eagle boat #56, supposedly lost the following year to a “boiler explosion,” to a torpedo attack. K-14 was under the same sea frontier command, and when I asked, Sharkhunters again devoted space to the inquiry and discussion. The fact no U-boat is shown in the area at the time was revisited. Further, Mr. Lawton writes in their following issue, “Had the other four survivors taken the truth of some big cover-up to their graves? I believe not, particularly since my experience with the PE-56 survivors not only proved their willingness to set the record straight, but to doggedly pursue the correction of the official record… What possible national security concern could keep those men quiet for sixty years, that none would have made a deathbed confession that their mates died as a result of enemy action? As a practicing attorney for 16 years, I know that silence of such a tragic event is not genuinely within reasonable human nature.”
Hard to argue with that; since it’s unlikely someone from Germany will come forward as in the K-74 case, we are beaten. Fred and I may be the only non-ZP-11 members who refuse to believe the K-14 was lost due to pilot error, but we have to admit we have run out of ideas to get the Navy to award these brave men the Purple Heart. That, plus the complete lack of response to the K-72 case, means we are less likely to completely correct the airship’s score in World War II."
Very enjoyable reading KH, & great photos, the story of K-14 was especially interesting !