The Cold-Blooded Way the Allies Sank Hitler's U-Boats One by One

Warfare History Network

Key point: Subs threatened Allies' supply lines and Britain's population with starvation. So the Royal and U.S. Navies found a way to beat them.

Cut off in mid-transmission, this contact report came from a U.S. Navy patrol bomber operating over the Atlantic Ocean some 95 miles north of Cape Peñas, Spain, at 0316 hours on November 12, 1943. Repeated attempts to restore radio communications with the Consolidated PB4Y-1 Liberator, nicknamed Calvert n’ Coke, all went unanswered. Controllers finally listed the aircraft as overdue—presumed missing.

When Air Sea Rescue planes reached the Liberator’s last reported position, no evidence of the bomber or its 10-man crew could be spotted. Searchers did discover two fresh oil slicks—one large and one small—five miles apart. A fight to the death had occurred there, but it would take years for investigators to learn the truth about this fateful nighttime encounter.

The mysterious disappearance of Calvert n’ Coke marked just one incident in the three-year Bay Offensive, fought between Allied antisubmarine forces and the U-boats of Admiral Karl Dönitz’ Kriegsmarine during World War II. From June 1941 until August 1944, thousands of airmen and sailors patrolled the Bay of Biscay, an Atlantic gulf along the coast of France and Spain. Most of these sub hunters wore British Commonwealth uniforms, but several groups of American aviators also played an important role in this campaign.

Ugly interservice rivalries, however, almost grounded the effort before it began. Senior officers in the U.S. Navy and Army Air Forces, deeply suspicious of each other and at odds over even the most minor matters of doctrine and tactics, seriously undermined the nation’s antisubmarine effort. Hard-pressed British commanders stood by helplessly while their American counterparts quarreled and postured. In the meantime, long-range strike aircraft pledged by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to join the Bay Patrol instead sat parked on U.S. runways.

The Bay of Biscay: “the Trunk of the Atlantic U-Boat Menace”

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