WE KNOW where most of the Second World War U-boat wrecks lie and how they met their watery graves but life histories can sometimes add to their memories. I had the good fortune of speaking to Lt-Cdr Henry Lehmann RN rtd who served on HMS Wensleydale as a Petty Officer, under the ship’s Captain, Lt-Cdr Goodfellow RNVR, when she was involved in the sinking of two U-boats, U671 and U413 in August 1944. Both have been dived and identification confirmed by Innes McCartney (Lost Patrols, Periscope Publishing, 2002). Henry was able to give me first hand accounts of his recollection of the encounters together with the demise of HMS Warwick (this is an edited version and I have added the pics):
“On the 5th August 1944, we were off Normandy protecting landing craft and heard that HMS Stayner had contact with a U-boat some miles off Beachy Head, on the Sussex coast but, I think, it had run out of depth charges/hedgehogs. I was in the plotting room receiving information from the Asdic operator. We lost contact after our second attack but picked it up again shortly afterwards. A final depth charge attack was made and the U-boat was destroyed. We picked up four survivors but one died. Stayner rescued another one. Although a sad loss of life, it was satisfying to take out one of these menacing machines. If we had not have destroyed him, he may have done for us one day.
Lt Wolfgang Hegewald, captain of U-671, sadly died when she was sunk
“The Asdic operator was awarded the DSM and I was ‘mentioned in despatches’ for our part in regaining contact with U671 and our Captain received the DSC. On returning to Portsmouth the crew received shore-leave for the day and night as a reward – always a welcomed gesture.’
“It was Sunday, 20th February 1944, around midday, off Trevose Head, north Cornwall. I was standing beside the middle machine gun mounting on the shelter deck of Wensleydale, smoking my pipe, when I saw a destroyer approach. It was HMS Warwick. I gave her a cheer and a wave. When she was some 100/200 yards astern, I saw a small mushroom of smoke rise from her followed, a split second later, by an explosion. Warwick had been hit by a U-boat. Men began jumping overboard and we turned in her direction. I moved to the stern guards and saw she had slowed down and began to settle by the stern. The stern and after compartments broke away with both propellers still turning and with the ‘A’ brackets to which they were attached, it floated along the starboard side of the ship, passing the bridge before sinking some distance forward of the ship. Warwick, itself, sank after about ten minutes.
“We approached the men in the water but suddenly turned away. In the space of a few minutes we had received a message from Mount Wise, HQ Plymouth, to rejoin and protect the convoy. As I turned to run to my action station I saw the track of a torpedo coming towards us. It missed us by 30 feet – luck was on our side at that moment. The survivors from the Warwick were later picked up by a Belgium trawler but the U-boat escaped.
Crew of Wensleydale – Henry is third row back, last man on the left (with beard)
“U413 was responsible for the sinking of HMS Warwick and she had sunk the Warwick Castle two years earlier and so was certainly a target to be found and destroyed. It was the 20th August 1944, at around 0900, when we were again off the Normandy coast and asked to assist HMS Forrester who had located the U-boat. We rendezvoued around mid-channel off the coast of Brighton in Sussex, not far from where we had sunk U671. I believe Forrester had fired her depth charges and had missed but HMS Vidette had followed up with hedgehogs and succeeded in hitting the U-boat.
“At the time, I was at the plotting table in the wheelhouse, oil had been spotted and we were following its course. Naturally we were at action stations. As we were making an approach on the U-boat, I heard a shout, ‘man in water’. The attack stopped whilst he was rescued. He turned out to be Karl Hutterer, the U-boat’s Chief Engineer. He was questioned and tried to convince our Captain that the U-boat had been destroyed. It is possible that he genuinely believed this may have been the case which would have accounted for his decision to escape from the submarine alone.
Karl Hutterer, sole survivor of U-413
“However, our Captain did not accept this and the attack continued. Wensleydale dropped four pattern depth charges. I moved out of the wheelhouse into the open, heard a massive explosion and saw the largest fire flash on the sea that I have ever seen. Masses of paper came to the surface, some of which, I later heard, were confidential documents. I also saw large pieces of debris rise from the depths indicating severe damage to the U-boat.
Ob-Lt Dietrich Sachse, captain of U-671, died when she was sunk
“Sadly, there were no other survivors and we returned, with our single prisoner, to Portsmouth. Our Captain was mentioned in despatches but the crew received no shore-leave reward this time. However, the Warwick could now rest easy.”
Also sadly, Henry died the year before last (2012) at the age of 93 but his memory and oral history live on.
Henry with the ‘recovered’ Wensleydale ensign in 2008
Next week: Glastonbury Abbey: fact and fiction
Artemus Smith’s Notebooks
I continue my research of the notebooks of Dr Artemus Smith, archaeologist of great courage, determination and fiction. Here is another extract:
One of my students had cancelled his tutorial due to sickness. I then happened to notice in the following day’s local paper a photo of him having won a golfing tournament the very day he alleged sickness. I called him to my office, showed him the newspaper and asked for an explanation. Without a falter he replied, “I think I was lucky. Just think of the score I could have got had I not been sick.”