USS Buckley DE-51
On 6 May 1944, USS Buckley DE 51 engaged U-66 in an Epic Battle that included hand-to-hand combat.
0322 - Range 500 yards. The gun flashes were blinding and deafening, an earsplitting roar. The blasts of the 3", 40mm and 20mm blended into something unreal, as though all the demons of hell had been released simultaneously. Above the roar, the shouts of gun captains exhorted their crews to load and reload ever faster and faster. Blood was drawn. The quarry was at bay. The hunter was out to kill and to keep from being killed. The U-66 was buried under a hail of withering point blank fire.
0328 - The u-boat was 20 yards to starboard, zigzagging violently at 19 knots. Skipper Abel had to make a decision, one that could cost him his ship, his crew, his life. The U-boat was badly hurt. Buckley might have stood off and pounded it to bits. But, supposing the sub did aim a torpedo into Buckley and get away to be repaired and fight again? Buckley was expendable; transatlantic shipping was not. A DE captain had to know what to do at a time of decision. He decided to ram the U-boat!
0329 - "Right full rudder!"
Then there occurred one of the most remarkable incidents of the Atlantic War as attributable to an extraordinary courage on hte part of the enemy as to the valor of the Buckley crew. Men began swarming out of the conning tower and forward hatch of the submarine and up onto the foc's'1 of Buckley. Because the sub was now below the maximum depression of the DE's guns, a bitter fight had suddenly become man-to-man for the possession of Buckley!
The Buckley crew rallied quickly and found their enemy with objects, fists and guns. Still the enemy persisted in boarding. Captain Abel had to make another decision. Engines were reversed as Buckley backed away from the sub. "All engines ahead full!" Guns crews returned to their stations pouring a living hell of fire into U-66. Alongside the U-boat to starboard, range 25 yards, Captain Abel fully intended to ram again, but he didn't. The sub rammed the DE! U-66 veered sharply to port and struck under the after engine room of Buckley. The shaft and propeller were sheared clean off. The Buckley's deck crew could look right into the conning tower which as a flaming shambles.
With a twisting, scraping and groaning of steel plates, the sub drew aft and cleared under Buckley's stern. She popped up right under number three 3" guns which scored three hits on the conning tower.
U-66 rode under the sea to her end.
For the next three hours, Buckley steamed about the area and recovered thirty-six prisoners, including four officers.
Miraculously, there were no casualties on board the Buckley. With her starboard shaft gone, flooded compartments and widespread damage, Buckley proceeded to the New York Navy Shipyard, a trip which she made on her port screw without incident.
LCDR Brent Abel, USNR, receives Navy Cross