Category Archives: North West

5 May 1943 – A Turning Point in the Battle of the Atlantic

SS Harperely, sunk by U 264 on the night 4-5 May 1943
SS Harperely, sunk by U 264 on the night 4-5 May 1943, her master was Captain J E Turgoose

“Both torpedoes struck almost simultaneously on the port side, the first one in the vicinity of the engine-room, whilst the 2nd torpedo struck in the way of the fore-mast. The explosion was not very violent, and appeared to be more of a dull thud. I did not notice a flash, neither was there a column of water thrown up, although I later learned from survivors of another vessel that they saw a big flash. Neither the submarine, nor the track of the torpedoes was observed.  I was in the wheel-house at the time, and was surprised to find that apparently there was practically no visible damage. Even the glass windows of the wheel-house were unbroken, the only visible damage being that one of the port boats was destroyed and No. 4 raft had carried away. The ship listed very heavily to port, submerging the holes in ship’s side, thus making it impossible to see the extent of the damage.    Owing to the heavy list I ordered “abandon ship”. A W/T message was sent out, and the rockets fired, one of which failed to function. I endeavoured to ring the engine-room telegraph but found that it was jammed, although the engines must have stopped when the first torpedo struck as it was the first”  Extract from the Master’s Report on the loss of SS Harperley 4-5 May 1943

On the 5th May 1943  Slow Outbound Convoy Convoy ONS 5, outbound from Liverpool to Halifax lost eleven merchant ships to U Boat attack in a force 6 seas in the mid Atlantic.  The Battle of the Atlantic was the most important naval campaign waged by Britain in WW2 and the only matter which Winston Churchill said kept him awake at night

By the time the week long voyage n the course of a week, ONS 5 had been the subject of attacks by a force of over 40 U-boats. With the loss of 13 ships totalling 63,000 tons, the escorts had inflicted the loss of 6 U-boats, and serious damage on 7 more.

This battle demonstrated that the convoy escorts had mastered the art of convoy protection; the weapons and expertise at their disposal meant that henceforth they would be able not only to protect their charges and repel attack, but also to inflict significant losses on the attacker.

U264
U264, a type VII C U Boat. The SS Harperley was one of three ships sunk by this U Boat. over two years. She was sunk by depth charges dropped by the British sloops HMS Woodpecker and HMS Starling on 19 February 1944. There were no deaths, fifty-two men survived.

ONS 5 marked the turning point in the battle of the Atlantic. Following this action, the Allies inflicted a series of defeats and heavy losses on the U-boat Arm, a period known as Black May. This culminated in Dönitz withdrawing his forces from the North Atlantic arena.

The official historian, Stephen Roskill commented: “This seven day battle, fought against thirty U-boats, is marked only by latitude and longitude, and has no name by which it will be remembered; but it was, in its own way, as decisive as Quiberon Bay or the Nile”(1)

More on the battle here 

The ships lost on 5th May are shown in the following table from the U Boat Net. 

5 May 1943 U-264  Hartwig Looks Harperley 4.586  br
5 May 1943 U-264  Hartwig Looks West Maximus 5.561  am
5 May 1943 U-266  Ralf von Jessen Bonde 1.570  nw
5 May 1943 U-266  Ralf von Jessen Gharinda 5.306  br
5 May 1943 U-266  Ralf von Jessen Selvistan 5.136  br
5 May 1943 U-358  Rolf Manke Bristol City 2.864  br
5 May 1943 U-358  Rolf Manke Wentworth 5.212  br
5 May 1943 U-584  Joachim Deecke West Madaket S 5.565  am
5 May 1943 U-628  Heinrich Hasenschar Harbury 5.081  br
5 May 1943 U-638  Oskar Staudinger Dolius 5.507  br
5 May 1943 U-707  Günter Gretschel North Britain S 4.635  br

Although the battle has no name or location other than a track over points of latitude  and longitude, there are places to see the U Boat war in Britain.

It is possible to see a U Boat in Birkenhead on Merseyside. This is a type XI larger than the type VII Uboats used by the German wolf packs against ONS 5.

U boat conningtower
U 534 preserved in Birkinhead

The Western Approaches control room in Liverpool is where the Atlantic war was fought.

The  Commonwealth War Grave Commission lists 736 fatalities on 4-5 May 1943, a time when there were operations on  land in Burma and Tunisia  and in the air over Germany. Of these 114 were lost at sea, most oif them in the battle for ONS-5

The merchant marine sailors who lost their lives on ONS 5  are recorded on the Tower Hill memorial to the missing.    The Royal Artillery and Royal Navy Gunners are listed on the Chatham , Portsmouth and Plymouth Memorials.

Unknownsailor
Tower Hill Merchant Marine Memorial

If you would like to visit any of the places associated with this battle contact British Battlefields