Date of Action: 16 April 1944
USCG Units Involved: USS Joyce; USS Peterson
Sinking/Capture/Assist? Sinking; both shared credit with US Navy's USS Gandy
Location: 40.09N x 69.44W
Credit by U.S. Navy? Yes
Enemy Warship's Commanding Officer: Kapitänleutnant Klaus Hänert
Enemy Casualties: 44 killed in action; 12 survivors
USCG Casualties: None
The U-550, a Type IX C-40 U-boat under the command of Kapitänleutnant Klaus Hänert, departed on her first patrol on 6 February 1944. She sailed from Kiel for the North Atlantic and conducted weather reporting duties before sailing for Newfoundland and later the northeast coast of the United States. On 16 April, south of Nantucket Island, she located convoy CU-21, bound for Great Britain from New York. The tanker SS Pan Pennsylvania, one of the largest tankers in the world, was unwisely straggling behind the convoy and the U-550 torpedoed her. The tanker quickly caught fire and began to sink. As the tanker settled, the submerged U-boat sailed underneath her in an effort to hide from the inevitable counteract by the convoy's escorts.
Convoy CU-21 was escorted by Escort Division 22, consisting of Coast Guard-manned destroyer escorts reinforced by one Navy DE, the USS Gandy, which took the place of the USS Leopold, which had been lost in action the previous month. The escort division's flagship, USS Joyce and the USS Peterson rescued the tanker's surviving crew, and then the Joyce detected the U-boat on sonar as the Germans attempted to escape after hiding beneath the sinking tanker. The U-550's engineering officer later said, "We waited for your ship to leave; soon we could hear nothing so we thought the escort vessels had gone; but as soon as we started to move-- bang!" The Joyce delivered a depth-charge pattern that bracketed the submerged submarine. The depth charges were so well placed, a German reported, that one actually bounced off the U-boat's deck before it exploded.
The attack severely damaged the U-550 and forced the Germans to surface, where they manned and began firing their deck guns. The Joyce, Peterson, and a Navy destroyer escort, the USS Gandy, returned their fire. The Gandy then rammed it abaft the conning tower, and the Peterson dropped two depth charges which exploded near the U-boat's hull. Realizing they had little chance, the U-boat's crew prepared scuttling charges and abandoned their submarine. The Joyce rescued 13, one of whom later died from wounds received during the fire-fight. The remainder of the U-boatmen went down with their submarine. Joyce delivered the prisoners of war and the Pan Pennsylvania survivors to the authorities in Great Britain.
There is a grisly postscript to the sinking of the U-550. According to the Eastern Sea Frontier's War Diary account of the sinking of the U-550, some of the crew actually survived the sinking and were trapped in a forward compartment of the U-boat. The survivors apparently attempted to escape from the U-boat as it lay on the ocean floor using their escape lungs. At 1515 on 5 May 1944, the Coastal Picket Patrol CGR 3082 recovered a body from the sea in 39° 51' North x 71° 58' West, about 93 miles ESE of Ambrose. The body was clothed in a German-type life jacket. From the markings on his clothing it was possible that them man's name was "Hube." A German escape lung was found near his body as well. An autopsy performed on the body indicated that the individual died only five days before his body was discovered -- the U-550 had been sunk on 16 April and the body was found 19 days later. Two other bodies were subsequently found. The first, picked up by another picket boat, CGR-1989, at 1730 on 11 May, was fully clothed, had an escape lung and life jacket on. He was found in a rubber raft. Identification marks indicated the man was a German sailor named Wilhelm Flade, age about 17. The body was transferred from CGR-1989 to CGR 1338 on the morning of 12 May 1944 and was brought to Tompkinsville. On 16 May a third body was sighted and picked up by USS SC-630. It was stated that the uniform and insignia indicated the victim had been a German crewman, although he carried no identification; that he had been in the water more than 18 days.
The War Diary report continued:
"Further evidence is lacking to complete the apparent story of successful attempts made by certain men to escape from compartments in the vicinity of torpedo tubes or escape hatches. Curiously, the area was not entirely deserted by patrol vessels. On the day following the torpedoing of the PAN PENNSYLVANIA, a vessel was sent to the area to effect salvage operations or to sink the derelict [tanker] in order to remove such a menace to navigation. This vessel spent some time in trying to sink with gunfire the still buoyant and burning hulk of the PAN PENNSYLVANIA. No survivors were sighted during these operations. Questions were raised as to the possibility of some survivors having been able to reach the southern shore of Long Island, since the sub sank only 150 miles from Montauk Point; only 70 miles from Nantucket. Although such considerations should not be dismissed, it is doubtful that men aboard the smallest type rubber rafts would be able to cover so great a distance without being detected before they reached shore."
The U-550 surfaces after being depth charged by the Joyce. Her victim, the tanker SS Pan Pennsylvania, burns in the background, 16 April 1944.
The U-550 on the surface after being depth charged by Joyce and taken under fire by Joyce and the other DEs . Her victim, the tanker SS Pan Pennsylvania, burns in the background, 16 April 1944. Note the German crewman gathered on the U-boat's conning tower.
"SINKING OF GERMAN SUBMARINE U-550 (Type IXC40), 16 April 1944. Crewman of U-550 abandon ship after being depth charged, rammed and shelled by escorts of an Atlantic convoy she attacked. Photographed from USS Joyce (DE-317), which rescued 13 of her survivors. Joyce had a Coast Guard crew."; NP 26-G-2556; photographer unknown.
No caption/date/photo number; photographer unknown (copy negative of original photo now at NARA).
"LAST PLUNGE OF A NAZI RAIDER: U.S. Coast Guardsmen aboard a destroyer escort watch the fatal plunge of a German submarine which was trapped in the Atlantic by American DEs and depth-charged to the bottom. The DEs were Coast Guard and Navy-manned. The Coast Guard ships hauled in 12 German seamen, foundering in the sea, after their undersea vessel had 'tailed up' and vanished forever."; 16 April 1944; CG Photo No. 2551; photographer unknown.
A photo provided by CAPT Robert Wilcox, USCG (Ret.), the Joyce's commanding officer during her battle with the U-550. CAPT Wilcox wrote the following description on the back of the photo:
"Funeral services on board USS Joyce (DE-319) in North Atlantic Ocean, 18 April 1943, for ex-German Navy Machinist Wanz who died aboard Joyce from wounds received in fire fight between U-550 and USS Joyce, Gandy and Peterson on 16 April 1944.
Crewmembers of Joyce and U-550 attended ceremony conducted by C.O. of Joyce, LCDR Robert Wilcox, USCG, on voluntary basis. It was well attended. Former U-550 crew members are off camera below U.S. flag-draped body."
No caption/date/photo number; photographer unknown (copy negative of original photo, "10th Fleet Assessment #5992", now at NARA).
Photo of five of the 12 survivors of the U-550 aboard Joyce. One of the 12, a Machinist Wanz, died aboard Joyce of wounds received during the battle (see the previous photo).