With knowledge of our operational orders, combined with their burgeoning numbers, the enemy gradually moved from the strategic defense to the strategic offense in the Battle of the Atlantic. Our massed wolfpack attacks against enemy convoys, which should have reaped us tremendous harvests of tonnage, became instead opportunities for the enemy to overwhelm and sink our boats. Of course, we had no way of knowing any of this at the time, but one thing was crystal clear: the “Happy Time” for Germany’s U-boats was over.
Our experience in U-505 was mirroring the wider strategic picture. Because of the intense air activity over our heads, Kapitänleutnant Zschech decided to flee from the area as quickly as feasible. As soon as repairs on our ballast tank were complete, we attempted to make a run for it. We didn’t get far. Virtually every time we surfaced to use our diesels, the Metox device would sound the alarm that a radar-equipped enemy plane was stalking us. All day long we played the old roller coaster game of surfacing to run the diesels and recharge batteries, only to find that we must once again dive to escape air attack. In this regard, the Metox was proving to be a mixed blessing. True, it protected us from surprise, but because the mechanism was unable to measure the distance of enemy signals, we could not distinguish between attacking aircraft from those merely passing by at long range. As a result, every enemy radar contact forced us to emergency dive. The constant alarms jangled our nerves, exhausted our bodies, and prevented our boat from fully replenishing our air supply and recharging our battery power.
During this period, on the night of November 9th to be specific, I was on duty in the control room of U-505, bemoaning the fact that the air alerts had once again robbed me of my chance to eat supper. At exactly midnight, our Chief Navigator Alfred Reinig crawled through the control room hatch and walked over to my station. He stopped in front of me, grabbed my hand, and began shaking it vigorously.
“Congratulations, Hans! Today you are nineteen, right?”
I had forgotten it was my birthday! “Jawohl, Herr Obersteuermann,” I stammered.
“Come on, Hans, stop calling me Chief! Especially since we’ve been working so well together for the past year. Besides, who knows where we will be in another year.”
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