Fairwing Brazil

Tales of the South Atlantic
By John R. Harrison PhoM2/c-USNR







This photo shows the German anti-aircraft crew of the U-848, an IXD2 type U-Boat commanded by Wilhelm Rollmann attempting to avoid gunfire and depth charges from a VB-107 Liberator (PB4Y) of Fairwing 16 during a battle which took place between Brazil and Africa on November 5, 1943. This particular battle lasted about 6 hours and primarily featured attacks by PB4Y’s from Ascension Island piloted by Lieutenants C.A. Baldwin, W.R. Ford, W.E. Hill, and Samuel K. Taylor. After hours of battle, a final attack by VB-107-B-4 piloted by Lieutenant Taylor finally blew up U-848. Twenty survivors were spotted, life rafts were dropped, and a nearby British freighter was notified of the location but only one German crewman was eventually rescued 30 days later. While this photo was taken during a battle in which planes of Fairwing 16 were the victors, in other engagements the anti-aircraft gunners on the U-Boats shot down the attacking planes and the entire air crews were killed.

In the introduction a notation refers to Clay Blair’s books entitled “Hitler’s U-Boat Wars”. (1) In a photograph four pages beyond page 288 (in Volume II, “The Hunted”), Mr. Blair captioned a photo of the attack on U-848 with the sentence, “note the unmanned anti-aircraft array on the U-Boat’s bridge”. This was incorrect as the cover photo clearly shows there were at least four German sailors crouching down behind the two dual sets of anti-aircraft cannon on the bridge of the U-Boat.

In general, Mr.. Blair’s book has excellent detail but he also tended to downplay the serious nature of the U-Boat war. Winston Churchill is quoted as saying that the U-Boat menace was the only thing that really frightened him during World War II.

After the war, the British people and government diverted much of the Marshall Plan aid to purchase much needed foodstuffs to feed a malnourished populace. As a British colleague told me many years later, “we should have used the aid to rejuvenate industry but we were so hungry, we ate most of it.” They were hungry because of the U-Boat activities. Their military forces also suffered serious shortages of supplies during the 1940-43 period due to the successes of the German submariners.

The capability of Admiral Doenitz’s small U-Boat fleet was severely restrained by diversion of U-Boats to the Mediterranean because of land battles, otherwise the total of 23,351 Allied ships sunk in the 1939 through 1945 period would have been much greater and the final outcome more problematic.

Fortunately for the Allied powers, Hitler was land minded and had inadequate knowledge of the importance of sea power and essentially little comprehension of Naval strategy. Morison (Ref. 5) has a particularly relevant section on this subject:

“Military men are often accused of planning every new war in terms of the last one. Now the pattern of World War II in the Atlantic turned out to be very similar to that of World War I; yet nobody planned it that way. Hitler had endeavored to build up a high-seas (surface) fleet and neglected U-Boats, while Britain, France, and the United States were far better prepared to deal with a surface than an underwater Navy. Until the German Admiralty records were examined, almost everyone in the United States and Great Britain thought that the U-Boat campaign had been prepared long in advance. Nothing could be further from the truth.

“Submarine warfare was unwanted and unexpected by Hitler, unprepared for by the German Navy; when adopted perforce it was improvised until well on into 1943 when all German Naval effort and large share of production was concentrated on making it a success”.

When the war started Admiral Doenitz had only 43 U-Boats. After the war a justifiably bitter Doenitz said, “Germany was never prepared for a Naval war against England, a realistic policy would have given Germany a thousand U-Boats at the beginning.” One can only say, “God looks after fools and the United States of America.”






John R. Harrison

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