The mystery of why we had not suffered another bombing attack was obvious: floating just 30 meters off our starboard bow was the scattered wreckage of a large enemy aircraft. The mutilated body of one of its crewmen was sprawled lifelessly across the fragment of a wing. After a few moments the wing sank, taking the man’s body down with it. The aircraft had been destroyed by the blast of its own depth charges! We didn’t have time to think about the death of the enemy flier or our good fortune; we were much too busy fighting to keep ourselves afloat!
Only many years after the attack did I discover exactly what happened to us that day. According to Gaylord Kelshall’s excellent book The U-boat War in the Caribbean, the aircraft that attacked us was a Lockheed Hudson, number PZ/L, one of the big two-engined bombers the British Coastal Command operated out of Trinidad’s Edinburgh airfield on anti-submarine patrols. The pilot of the aircraft was Flight Sergeant Ronald Sillcock, a veteran Australian aviator generally regarded as the top submarine hunter in #53 Squadron.
Sillcock and his seasoned multinational aircrew had already scored hits against two other U-boats in recent weeks. In one attack, he heavily damaged Kapitänleutnant Piening’s U-155 off the coast of Martinique. Just a few days later, Sillcock once again demonstrated his superb bombing accuracy by attacking and nearly sinking Schweichel’s U-173. It was said that Sillcock, using the Hudson’s unique depth charge spreading device to maximum effectiveness, had never missed a target.
The Flight Sergeant’s fabulous success was based on a bombing tactic he personally developed, one that neatly turned our increasing reliance on the Metox radar warning device to his advantage. Over the course of several days, the crafty Sillcock would repeatedly patrol the suspected location of a U-boat using his ASV airborne search radar turned on, pinpointing the sub’s position, but not attacking. This lulled the sub into a false sense of security by leading it to believe that its Metox would be 100% reliable in warning of any plane in the vicinity. Then, when cloudy conditions limited the ability of German lookouts to spot the approach of his aircraft, Sillcock would patrol the boat’s location with his radar turned off. Once his lookouts had visually spotted the U-boat, Sillcock would dive out of the sun with his engines feathered, silently and invisibly gliding down towards his target like a giant hawk. At the last minute, he would turn his engines on again, drop his bomb load, and pull out of the dive.