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Seehund Operations

Neger, Molch and Seehund

Seehund operations

It was December 1944 before the first Seehund were dispatched to Ijmuiden in the Netherlands. Six were sent by road on 24 December followed by a further eighteen so that by the end of the month there were twenty four operational Seehund. Their operational debut was on New Years Day 1945 when seventeen sailed to attack an Allied convoy off the Kwinte Bank. Seven were later found beached and two returned. Of the remainder the destroyer HMS and the frigate Ekins accounted for one each, another was found abandoned at Domberg while a fourth was found without a crew, by an MTB. The remaining four disappeared -probably victims of bad weather. The sole gain from the operation was the sinking of the trawler Hayburn Wyke. It was not an auspicious start. Bad weather interfered with further operations throughout January 1945, a sortie on 3 January having to be called off together with another on the 6th. However, on 10 January five Seehund were dispatched to the Kentish coast off Only one reached the operational area but later returned to base with her torpedoes unfired. Two days later all operations were suspended on account of the weather.

Seehund view 03 By 20 January reinforcements had brought the January ten Seehund -number of available back to twenty six. On 21 January ten Seehund were dispatched to Ramsgate, the North Foreland and the swept channel off Lowestoft. Of these boats seven returned with defects and two returned having sighted nothing. The story of the third constitutes something of an epic. This boat suffered a compass failure and after attacking a ship in the Thames estuary on 22 January, was driven north-wards by the tides until by the 24th she was off Lowestoft where she was attacked by ML-153 but managed to escape. However, in doing so the craft had drifted even further to the north and was now off Great Yarmouth-unknown to the crew. When they tried to set course to the east and home, the Seehund went aground on Scroby Sands where she remained for two and a half days. Eventually the exhausted crew fired distress flares and were taken off by the Trinity House tender Beacon. This episode illustrates the considerable fortitude displayed by Seehund crews. The fact that the Seehund was found so far from home was another fact not lost on the Admiralty. The final Seehund sortie in January 1945 was on the 29th when ten boats sailed from Ijmuiden, five for the area off and the remainder for the South Falls area. Only two reached their operational area, the rest returning with mechanical problems.

The Seehund faired a little better in February. Operations on the 5th and 10th were unsuccessful but on the 12th five boats were sent out to the North Foreland. On 15 February the 2628-ton Dutch tanker Liseta was damaged off the North Foreland while in convoy TAM80. At least two boats were lost in these sorties and several were beached but recovered. A new departure for the Seehund was an attempt to use them in the Schedlt estuary in a combined operation with Linsen explosive motor boats. On 16 February four sailed for the Scheldt which were followed by fifteen Linsen that night. The operation was a failure: of the four Seehund two vanished without trace, one beached without having made an attack while the last beached after an abortive attack on a small convoy of landing craft. Since the Seehund were no more successful in inland waters than the Bible/Molch, they were redeployed back to open waters. On 20 February three boats sailed for Ramsgate, on the 21st four sailed for the South Falls followed by a fourth on the 23rd. This group had some results: on 22 February LST-364 was sunk while in convoy TAM87 together with the cable ship Alert sunk off Ramsgate on 24 February. All eight returned, one of them surviving an attack from Beaufighter J of 254 Squadron east of Orfordness. A summary of Seehund operations in 1945 is given in Table 19.

Table 19: Seehund operations January/February1945

Sorties Losses Results
January 44 10 1ship sunk (324 tons)
February 33 4 2 ships sunk (3691 tons)
1 ship damaged (2628 tons) 

In March 1945 there were a total of twenty-nine Seehund sorties of which nine boats failed to return. MTBs sank two, the frigate Torrington another, three were claimed by aircraft, one was sunk by HMS Puffin and the fate of the other two is unknown. The sinking by Puffin was a pyrrhic victory: on 26 March the Puffin rammed the Seehund off Lowestoft. However, in the collision both the Seehund's torpedoes exploded and Puffin was so badly damaged that she was not repaired. But three ships totaling 5267 tons were sunk: the 2878-ton Tauber Park on 13 March off Southwold, the 833-ton Jim on 30 March south-east of Orfordness and the 1556-ton on the 26th off the North Foreland.

In April the Seehunde were the only K-craft which could make the journey from Germany to Holland by sea, now that Holland was virtually encircled by Allied armies.Seehund view 04 Twenty-nine boats remained at Ijmuiden on 8 April of which only 50 per cent were operational. Four more Seehunde arrived from Wilhelmshaven on 20 April and fourteen more by 1 May together with two more from Heligoland. In April thirty-six sorties were made for the loss of three craft. In return Seehund succeeded in torpedoing the cable ship Monarch on 16 April. Nine Seehund operated in the Scheldt where they sank the 800-ton US Navy oiler Y17 on 17 April for the loss of three of their number. From 17 April seventeen boats were ordered to the Dover-Dungeness area where one sank the 7219-ton Samida on 19 April and damaged the 7176-ton Solomon Juneau on the same day, both ships being in convoy TBC123. However, ML-102 accounted for one Seehund, Beaufighter W of 254 Squadron another, while a third ran ashore east of Calais. On 11 April another Seehund attacked Convoy UC63B east of Dungeness and damaged the 8580-ton Port Wyndham. This craft may have been the one sunk by MTB-632 later that day. Yet another was sunk off the Hook of Holland on 12 April and a third on the 13 April by a Barracuda of 810 Naval Air Squadron in the same area. Seehund operations ceased on 28 April but they continued to be employed running supplies into Dunkirk. Four boats made this increasingly perilous voyage before the German capitulation.

A summary of Seehunde operations shows that there were 142 sorties which resulted in the loss of nine ships totaling 18,451 tons sunk and three ships of 18,354 tons damaged. Against this thirty-five craft were lost. This is a relatively low figure especially considering that twenty of these losses were due to bad weather. Had their crews been better trained and with more experience, a far higher total of shipping would have been sunk. As one commentator has concluded: 

Fortunately for the Allies, the Seehund came too late. A little earlier and Allied ships and landing craft might have suffered disastrously from the attentions of the anti-submarine defenses would have been swamped if large groups had been able to make coordinated attacks. It has to be asked whether the situation would be markedly different today.

Seehund view 02 In retrospect it has to be said that that all the effort expended by the Germans on the K-Verband were wasted and never justified in terms of the results achieved. The sheer loss of life in these operations can only be compared with that of the Japanese Kamikazes. Any better results could hardly be expected, given the hurried design of the various craft, the hasty training of their operators and the nature of Allied counter-measures. Their sole 'success' (if such a term can be used) could be in the huge numbers of Allied forces deployed to guard against the menace posed by the K-Verband. It is estimated that over 500 ships and 1000 aircraft were specifically tasked with hunting German midget craft. Obviously these units and the man-power could have been employed elsewhere. However, playing the part of the 'fleet in being' was no substitute for sinking Allied ships. The following comments on the Biber by one perceptive observer are an epitaph for all the weapons. 

The failure of the Biber and, in spite of the courage displayed, of the K-Force reflects the failure of the Kriegmarine's and ultimately, Nazi Germany's ability to wage war successfully at sea. The organization of the K-Force came at a time when the Third Reich, through its flawed strategy was being assailed on three fronts-in Italy, in Russia and from the air-by a combination of the most powerful nations on earth. K-Force and the remaining ships of the Kriegmarine failed to stop the invasion of Normandy in June 1944 and the opening of a fourth front. The creation of Force was a desperate and unsuccessful bid to challenge the Anglo-American invasion fleet . . . the failure of the Biber programme and others of Nazi Germany's midget submarine projects reflects the failure of the Third Reich's naval strategy.

A extract from the Book : Midget Submarine of the Second World War by Paul Kemp
ISBN : 1-86176-042-6 - Chatham Publishing




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