Date of Action: 17 December 1942
USCG Units Involved: USCGC Ingham
Location: 55° 00' N x 35° 01' W
Credit by U.S. Navy? Yes; full credit (USN credit given for attack on 15 December 1942 -- USCG recognizes 17 December 1942)
Enemy Warship's Commanding Officer: Leutnant zur See der Reserve Hans-Botho Bade
Enemy Casualties: 47 killed in action; all hands lost
USCG Casualties: None
After finishing her shakedown and training cruises, U-626, a Type VIIC U-boat, departed on a patrol in the North Atlantic on 8 December 1942 from Bergen, Norway. At 1333 (Zulu) on 16 December, a U-boat, probably the U-626, sailing south of Greenland, radioed U-boat Command with an oncoming convoy contact message. The message, although never received by the U-boat Command, was detected by an Allied high frequency direction finder. The escorts of convoys ON-152 and SC-112, which were sailing through waters near Greenland, were alerted to the presence of the nearby U-boat.
Ingham, in concert with USS Leary (DD-156) and USS Babbit (DD-128) in Task Force 24.6.4., were conducting an anti-submarine sweep ahead of Convoy SC-112. In a bit of luck, the three escorts had joined SC-112 that same day, having just finished escorting convoy ONSJ-152 from Iceland to a meeting point with Convoy ONS-156 two days previously. During the escort of ONSJ-152, on 15 December, Ingham had attacked a sound contact, later determined to be "doubtful," with a single 600-pound depth charge. Lookouts then sighted a school of porpoises and a whale near the attack site. This attack is of interest due to the crediting of the sinking of U-626 which is explained below.
At the time of the radio direction finder [RDF] intercept, the escorts were about 350 miles south-southwest off the southern tip of Greenland. Knowing that a U-boat was in the area, Ingham patrolled at 12 knots well in advance of the convoy. Ingham's commanding officer, CDR George E. McCabe, USCG, had been developing a theory on anti-submarine warfare [ASW] that contradicted established US Navy ASW practice as espoused by the Anti-Submarine Unit of the U.S. Atlantic Fleet. McCabe believed that U-boats, with their sensitive hydrophones, could detect the "pinging" of an active sonar long before a sonar would be able to detect the U-boat. The submarine could then maneuver to avoid the escort and get into a position to attack a convoy undetected. He believed that the surface ship's sonar operated in the passive mode (hydrophones) only, could pick up the sound of a U-boat's propellers without the U-boat detecting the presence of the warship. As he wrote: "With the listening apparatus on this vessel we can hear pinging of escort vessels well beyond their range of obtaining an echo. It is only reasonable to assume that U-boats can do the same." In the following action, McCabe got the chance to test his new theory.
Less than two hours after the RDF intercept, Ingham's sonar operator detected a "fast screwbeat" at 2315 on 17 December. Picked up by the cutter's passive hydrophones, the sound of the screws were crossing from port to starboard ahead of Ingham's bow at about 1,100 yards. The sound, McCabe noted, was distinctive of two propellers and they seemed to be increasing revolutions. Then the contact changed course and increased speed in an apparent attempt to lose Ingham. As Ingham closed with the fleeing target, she dropped one 600-pound Mark 7 depth charge set to explode at 100 feet and followed that charge with two more. McCabe noted that the contact was "clear and solid." The Ingham then came about at flank speed and turned on her active sonar. Echo ranging immediately acquired the target, again at 1,100 yards. Unfortunately the cutter's attack recorder was out of action due to the vibrations caused by the exploding depth charges. Nevertheless Ingham closed and released six 300-pound Mark 6 and four Mk 7 depth charges in a "diamond pattern." Nine charges were set to explode at 100 feet, with one of the Mk 7s dropped in the middle of the pattern and set to explode at 300 feet to create a "hammer effect" on the submerged U-boat. McCabe pulled the bridge lever to propel a charge himself, noting "I dropped one more on the bastard myself. This war is too impersonal." A water-light was also dropped in the position of the last 600-pound depth charge to mark the middle of the search area. Ingham sailed off and again came about as the ten depth charges exploded.
Ingham then swept the area with active sonar and did not regain contact. Two other convoy escorts, the Canadian corvettes HMCS Brandon and Collingwood, also searched the area with negative results. As the convoy was closing his position he was concerned about a collision with the oncoming merchant ships, and still expecting an imminent attack from a wolfpack, Ingham ceased her search and resumed her position in the van, leaving the two corvettes hovering near the burning water-light. McCabe noted that "This action of resuming station was against every desire of this vessel as we naturally want to obtain proof of a kill or at least stay with a known contact and make a real kill." He regretted that his ship did not have hedgehog or mousetrap equipment installed, as that was one way to insure that a kill had been made. Nevertheless, he was certain that his cutter had destroyed or at least seriously damaged a U-boat. In conclusion of his report, he made a rather extraordinary claim. He hoped, after the war, that the Navy would "check with the German authorities if any remain after the war concerning loss of a submarine in this location on this date in order that the personnel of this vessel may have confirmation of their positive record." He then forwarded his report up the chain of command after safely reaching the United Kingdom.
The Navy brass that read his report were not satisfied with Ingham's performance and certainly did not concur with McCabe's flouting of standard ASW doctrine. The Atlantic Fleet's Anti-Submarine Warfare Officer criticized Ingham's method of attack, and in particular the depth settings of the depth charges, which he argued were set too deeply. He did note that Ingham's sound team was well trained and that the target they identified was probably a submarine. Nevertheless, he believed that Ingham misjudged the U-boat's speed and course, and therefore he concluded that "in the absence of concrete evidence. . .it is believed that the submarine escaped" with "no damage."
The commander of Task Force Twenty-Four pulled no punches in his assessment of Ingham's attacks. He accused McCabe of a ". . .lack of understanding. . .of the principles of Anti-Submarine Warfare." He accused the cutter of exposing "the convoy and herself to attack by not instituting an immediate attack in lieu of attempting to 'sneak' up on an enemy who is justly renowned for his skill and cunning." He concluded that "INGHAM lost a golden opportunity to seriously damage or reduce by one the ever growing number of U-boats available to our enemy" and invited his attention to "Appendix 'A' of 'Instructions for Anti-Submarine Warfare (Surface craft).'" These assessments, however, were not always correct. In the most egregious example of error on behalf of those who evaluated ASW attacks, the Navy's Anti-Submarine Warfare Assessment Committee admonished the crew of USS PC-566 for their poorly executed attack on the submerged U-166 on 30 July 1942, concluding that there was no possible way they could have sunk a U-boat. Recent evidence proved the Assessment Committee's opinion to be in error.
The "German authorities" mentioned by McCabe were in fact checked at the end of the war. According to surviving German records, the U-boat Command received a last message from U-626 on 14 December in the general area of Ingham's operations and her attacks made on 15 and 17 December. The U-boat Command did not hear from U-626 again and so listed her as missing after 14 December 1942. They had not received what was probably the U-626's 16 December radio message that was intercepted by the Allies. Since the Kriegsmarine listed the U-boat as missing in the general area of Ingham's two attacks, the U.S. Navy and the British Admiralty in their post-war assessment gave credit for the sinking of the U-626 to Ingham and her crew. But the official credit was given for Ingham's 15 December attack, not that of 18 December.
Dr. Axel Niestlé, an authority on Germany's U-boats and a scholar who researched and wrote German U-boat Losses During World War II: Details of Destruction (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1998), argues that in both instances the Ingham's attacks "were directed against non-sub contacts." In his examination of German communications between U-boat Command and the U-626, he concluded that the U 626 sent a weather report to Command on 14 December 1942 from 59°N x 21°W. This was the last message U-boat Command received from U-626. Nevertheless U-boat Command continued to radio U-626 almost daily, ordering the U-boat to send weather reports and to join a wolf pack "Büffel" and then "Ungestüm" which had been ordered to attack Convoy HX-218.Dr. Niestlé wrote:
In attributing the loss of U 626 both the [Allied Assessment] Committee and the US Coast Guard obviously were unaware that the attacks on 15 and 18 December 1942 in all probability were directed against non-sub contacts. Apart from the fact that the maneuvers of the reported contact on 18 December 1942 were against all standard doctrines for German U-boats during nighttime encounters, none of the boats returning from patrol reported the attacks and U 626 is unlikely to have stayed in the attack positions in accordance to previous orders by U-boat Control. Moreover, until the time of attack early on 18 December 1942 U 626 had already failed three times to report its position. Therefore the loss of U 626 can no longer be attributed to these attacks. According to the available records the loss of U 626 must have occurred in the North Atlantic SE of Greenland at some time between daybreak on the 14[th] and midnight on the 16[th] December 1942 at latest.
From available information no anti-submarine attacks, apart from those by Ingham, are known to have taken place during this time span along the assumed outbound route of U 626 in the North Atlantic. Thus it is probable that the loss of the boat was caused by non-combat action. In its war diary for 20 December 1942 U-boat Command expressed the possibility that the boat had been lost due to sea damage during the previous heavy weather period.
Based on the information presented above it is proposed to amend the records to show that U 626 was lost to unknown cause in the North Atlantic SSE of Greenland at some time between the 14[th] and 16[th] December 1942. [Quoted with the permission of the author, April, 2006.]
As in many cases of anti-submarine attacks based solely on sonar or hydrophone targets, the very nature of that type of attack, particularly at night, often precluded the acquisition of any direct evidence of a contact or a successful attack. Typically the only sure evidence that confirmed a submarine kill were large secondary explosions, survivors, human remains, pieces of a submarine that would float to the surface such as wooden items (U-boat interiors were trimmed in quite a lot of wood), uniforms, escape gear, etc., or large amounts of diesel fuel or any combination thereof. Therefore, without any contradictory information coming to light and no evidence in existence to explain the loss of U-626 to another cause, it remains plausible that Ingham did indeed sink the U-626, a U-boat on her first patrol and confirmed to be in the area of Ingham's attacks on either 15 or, more probably, 17 December. The evidence that Ingham did encounter and attack a submarine on 17 December is strong. The Navy's top ASW officer noted in his assessment of the attack that Ingham's hydrophone and sonar contact obtained on 17 December was in fact a submarine. This is strong corroboration of McCabe's claim that he did in fact locate and attack a submerged U-boat on that date. The Coast Guard recognizes this 17 December 1942 attack by Ingham as having sent the U-626 to the bottom of the North Atlantic. Retired Coast Guard officer and Ingham veteran John Waters, in his Bloody Winter (Princeton: D. Van Nostrand Company, Inc., 1967, pp. 108-112) agrees that Ingham's 17 December attack sank the U-626.*
In any case, the fact remains that Ingham received official credit for the kill by the authorities responsible for granting that credit. Unless positive evidence to the contrary surfaces, the demise of the U-626 in combat will continue to be attributed to the attacks made by the USCGC Ingham and her crew.
Historian, U.S. Coast Guard
Updated: April, 2006
"Action Report: USCGC INGHAM, 23 December 1942, Escort of Convoy SC-112, 15-21 December 1942; Report of Operations While Acting in Escort of Convoy SC-112 Out of Iceland. Submarine Attacked Night of 17 December 1942. 45735." [With attachments, photo-copy of original in possession of USCG Historian's Office, USCG HQ.]
*Blair, Clay. Hitler's U-boat War, Volume II: The Hunted 1942 - 1945 (New York: Random House, 1998. [Blair, on pages 127-128, discusses the attacks of both dates and the controversy surrounding which attack actually accounted for the U-626's loss.]
The Coast Guard at War V: Transports and Escorts. Part I [Escorts]. Washington, DC: U.S. Coast Guard, 1 March 1949. p. 37.
Ingham Cutter File. USCG Historian's Office, USCG HQ.
Axel Niestlé. German U-boat Losses During World War II: Details of Destruction. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1998, p. 230, n. 71.
Axel Niestlé. "Re-assessment of German U-boat losses in World War II. UR-Report No. 001/2006, The loss of U 626." 30 January 2006.
"War Diary of U.S. Coast Guard Cutter INGHAM." [Friday 11 December 1942 through Monday 21 December 1942 entries. Photo-copy of originals in possession of USCG Historian's Office, USCG HQ.]
John M. Waters, Jr. Bloody Winter. Princeton, NJ: D. Van Nostrand Company, Inc., 1967, pp. 107-112.