Page 1 Sinking of U-371  |  Page 2  Photos  |  Page 3 USS Pride Action Report  |  Page 4 Interrogation of U-371 POWs


The Interrogation of U-371 POWs

Excerpts from:

NAVY DEPARTMENT
OFFICE OF THE CHIEF OF NAVAL OPERATIONS
WASHINGTON
FINAL REPORT – G/SERIAL 40
REPORT ON THE INTERROGATION OF SURVIVORS FROM U-371
SUNK 4 MAY 1944


It is believed that U-371 made about eighteen patrols during her career, however little information is available about early history of U-371. In April 1944, U-371 was under the command of Oberleutnant zur See Horst Fenski.

The submarine left Toulon on 23 April 1944 heading toward her operational area off the coast of Africa where she patrolled between Cape Bengut and Cape Sigi,10 to 15 miles off shore.

On 29 April, she received a signal from Control giving details of three convoys. One convoy was Eastbound and thought to consist of 97 vessels, including 8 tankers and 15 escorts. About the time of the signal, the sub had been at periscope depth and had spotted 3 aircraft nearby her area. Fenski took the sub to 100 meters and waited for the threat to subscide. No attack from the aircraft developed and she later came up to 30 meters.

On the night of 2 May Fenski decided to surface and top up his batteries as he expected to contact the convoy some few hours later. When U-371 came up she found herself almost in the middle of the convoy, and immediately crash-dived to about 100 meters. Fenski surfaced once again in about an hour and headed toward the convoy, assuming his batteries would be charged by the time he was able to make contact again. Shortly thereafter it was reported to Fenski that U-371 had been detected by surface craft, so he immediately changed course and attempted to escape on the surface, wishing to avoid contact until his batteries were fully charged. U-371 remained on the surface until the destroyer had closed to about 3,000 meters. She then fired a T-5 from her stern tube, and immediately dived to over 100 meters. After about five or six minutes an explosion and sinking noises were heard, and they assumed the pursuing destroyer had been sunk. (O.N.I. Note: The U.S.S. MENGES was hit by a torpedo in position 37.03 N. – 05.24 E. at about 0142 on 3 May. She was later able to make port.)

When Fenski gave the order to return to the surface, faint screw noises and distant depth-charge explosions were heard when they reached about 60 meters. AS the screw noises became more audible, Fenski took his boat down again to about 160-180 meters and headed toward the coast at slow speed, thinking that this was just the opposite of what would be expected of him. Soon, however, a very accurate series of depth-charges exploded around the boat, putting out all lights, damaging the hydroplanes, and rupturing the trim tanks. Finally Fenski was forces to blow the No. 3 diving tank to level the boat off at about 200-215 meters. The glans leaked badly at this depth and the water entry increased as the attacks continued at about 30-minute intervals, each one being more accurate than the one before.

As the attack developed the starboard propeller shaft was thrown out of line, the armature of the starboard motor ran excessively hot, and the motor/generator supplying the current to the gyro-compass became noisy, necessitating turning off the gyros.

The last series of depth-charges during this stage of the attack, and also the closest, came at about 0600 on 3 May, and shortly thereafter Fenski decided to bottom to make detection by Asdic more difficult and to save his batteries. Having been submerged most of the day, and having had only a very short time to charge them the night before, the batteries were becoming dangerously low and were a cause of great concern to Fenski.

U-371 first bottomed out at about 170 meters at a rather steep angle and had to back off and bottom again, this time considerably deeper (about 240 meters), but where a more level trim was possible. Although water entry through the glans was quite heavy at this depth, they lay there unmolested all day long, hoping that their attackers had given up the hunt. Late that night, however, surface craft were again heard in the vicinity, and with air in the boat rapidly getting worse, the emergency lighting system out, and about 15 tons of water throughout the boat, Fenski decided that his only hope was to surface and attempt to escape on his Diesels in the darkness.

They tried to blow their tanks but the boat was so heavy by this time that the 40 kilos of high pressure air that remained was insufficient to do the job, and the maneuver resulted only in attracting the destroyers which began dropping depth charges again. The situation was now becoming desperate with the control room knee-deep in oil and water. The whole crew was ordered aft, and the electric motors run full speed ahead. Again the boat failed to budge, so the crew was sent forward and the engines set astern full. After repeating this procedure several times the boat finally freed itself and began rising to the surface at a 600 angle. All tubes were loaded and made ready for firing, and when the boat finally reached the surface all guns were manned and U-371, with her batteries practically exhausted, ran for open water.

Nothing was sighted for about fifteen minutes, when surface craft were detected coming up astern. Almost immediately Fenski shouted, “Prepare to scuttle ship”. They were immediately engaged by gunfire from the pursuing destroyers which scored several hits, and though fire was returned at first, the situation was considered hopeless and several of the crew began jumping overboard. The engine room personnel and torpedomen remained below, however, as Fenski still had hope of sinking the attacking ship and making good his escape.

It was then found that, although all tubes were loaded and ready, two of them had been damaged and could not be fired. A T-5 was then fired from the stern tube, after most of the crew had left the boat. The shot was a very hurried one, and little, if any, aim was taken. But, due partly to luck and partly to the qualities of the T-5, a hit was scored on one of the destroyers. (O.N.I. Note: The F.F. SENEGALAIS was torpedoed at about 0400 on 4 May 1944 while pursuing a surfaced submarine about one mile off Djidjelli.)

By this time only Fenski, who was on the bridge, and two others, the Engineering Officer and a control room petty officer remained aboard. The latter two remained below to flood tanks 1, 3 and 5 which caused U-371 to sink so rapidly that they were not able to escape. Scuttling charges were not set, and though an attempt was made to signal Control about U-371’s fate, it is believed that no contact was made.
 

Information courtesy of U-boat Net with special Thanks to Capt. Jerry Mason for his assistance to DESA.

Page 1 Sinking of U-371  |  Page 2  Photos  |  Page 3 USS Pride Action Report |  Page 4 Interrogation of U-371 POWs
 

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