Date of Action: 22 February 1943
USCG Units Involved: USS Campbell CG
Sinking/Capture/Assist? Assist in sinking
Location: 47.44N x 33.43W
Credit by U.S. Navy? Credited for an assisted sinking with the Polish destroyer ORP Burza
Enemy Warship's Commanding Officer: Oberleutenant Hans-Heinrich Döhler
Enemy Casualties: 36 killed in action; 11 survivors
USCG Casualties: None
Misc: Campbell damaged, engine room flooded, later repaired and returned to service.
The U-606, a Type VIIC U-boat, under the command of
Oberleutenant Hans-Heinrich Döhler, departed Brest on 4 January 1943 for a
patrol in the North Atlantic. On 22 February 1943, she torpedoed three
merchant ships from the westbound convoy ON-166, sinking one and damaging
the other two. The convoy was under the protection of Escort Group
A-3, which consisted of a number of Coast Guard cutters, including Spencer
and Campbell. The Campbell was commanded by CDR James
A. Hirshfield, USCG. Also among the escorts was the Polish destroyer
ORP Burza, commanded by Kapitan Marynarki (LCDR) F. Pitulko, which
reinforced the escort group during the voyage across the Atlantic.
In the running battle that took shape in and around convoy ON-166, Campbell engaged numerous U-boats, forcing them to submerge and damaging at least two. Her crew then rescued 50 survivors from a torpedoed Norwegian tanker. As the cutter returned to the convoy she detected a contact on radar. The Campbell raced toward it and soon made visual contact. It was the surfaced U-606, earlier disabled by depth charges from the Burza. The Campbell closed to ram while the cutter's gunners opened fire. The Campbell rammed the U-boat with a glancing blow and one of the submarine's hydroplanes sliced open the Campbell's hull, flooding the engine room. The crew dropped two depth charges as the submarine slid past, and the explosions lifted the U-boat nearly five feet. Hirshfield later noted, "I felt sure he was ours."
The Campbell illuminated the U-boat with a spotlight and the gunners continued to fire into the submarine's conning tower and hull. The two vessels were so close, one crewman said that, "You just couldn't miss." Hirshfield was hit by shell fragments but remained at his station. When he realized the Germans had given up, he ordered his men to cease firing. The crew then rescued five of the U-606's crew.
The U-606 was finished, but so was the Campbell for the immediate future. The cutter was dead in the water with a flooded engine room. Hirshfield directed the repairs while the Burza, and later a corvette, screened it from an attack by a U-boat. A tug arrived nearly four days later and towed the crippled cutter to Newfoundland. She was later repaired and returned to service.