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