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The only thing that ever really frightened me during the war was the U Boat peril.
Winston Churchill

JUNE 1940

Battle of the Atlantic - The Allied loss of Norway brings German warships and U-boats many hundreds of miles closer to the Atlantic convoy routes and in time within close range of the Russian convoys that follow the June 1941 German invasion. Britain's blockade line from the Orkneys to southern Norway is simply outflanked and a new one has to be established between the Shetlands and Iceland. The Royal Navy starts the massive task of laying a mine barrage along this line. Within a matter of days the first U-boats are sailing from the Norwegian port of Bergen, while others are sent to patrol as far south as the Canary and Cape Verde Islands off northwest Africa.

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A fine Second World War “sub-on-sub” D.S.M. group of seven awarded to Petty Officer Samuel Patterson, Royal Navy

Distinguished Service Medal, G.VI.R. (A./P.O. S. Patterson, D/JX. 145012); 1939-45 Star; Atlantic Star, clasp, France and Germany; Africa Star, clasp, North Africa 1942-43; Pacific Star; War Medal 1939-45; Imperial Service Medal, E.II.R. (Samuel Patterson), together with a Submariner’s badge and a set of related miniature dress medals (excluding the I.S.M.); and related full-size group of three to William Patterson, comprising Defence and War Medals, and Imperial Service Medal, E.II.R., these mounted as worn, the first with an edge bruise, otherwise generally good very fine and better

D.S.M. London Gazette 15 August 1944. The original recommendation states:

‘Petty Officer Patterson is the Torpedo Gunner’s Mate of Satyr but has only been in the boat for a few months. He has been responsible for the good running of the torpedoes recently fired in Satyr. He is an efficient and responsible rating and has carried out his duties to my entire satisfaction.’

The Rear-Admiral (Submarines) covering remarks state:

‘Fully concur. The importance of the efficiency of the torpedo department in a submarine cannot be over-emphasised, and this rating has contributed a great deal to the successes achieved by the efficiency with which the torpedoes have been maintained.’

Samuel Patterson, a native of Belfast, was decorated for his services in H.M. Submarine Satyr on the occasion of the destruction of the U-987 off Narvik on 15 June 1944 (Seedie’s refers). The Satyr, commanded by Lieutenant T. S. Weston, D.S.C., R.N., had already completed seven operational patrols off Norway prior to this classic “sub-on-sub” encounter, when she fired a full bow salvo of six torpedoes, two of which found their mark. There were no German survivors - the U-987’s captain was 28 year old Hilmar Karl Schreyer, one time an enlisted Quarter-Master on Gunther Krech’s highly successful U-558. The following narrative of the action formed part of the subsequent recommendation process for Honours and Awards:

‘H.M. Submarine Satyr was on patrol in an area North of the Faroe Islands on 15 June 1944 when a U-Boat was sighted in poor visibility and an attack started; but, observing that the range was opening, Lieutenant T. S. Weston, R.N., the Commanding Officer, decided to surface and endeavour to close. On surfacing the visibility cleared and it was obviously hopeless to continue the chase without being observed. Lieutenant Weston rightly appreciated that the U-Boat was on passage and that others might pass close enough for attack.

At 1907 another U-Boat was sighted at some four miles, being astern of Satyr at the time of sighting, the latter being on the U-Boat’s port bow. Whilst Satyr was turning to attack the U-Boat altered course away, necessitating a further alteration of course and a burst of speed to decrease the range. Lieutenant Weston decided to anticipate any further zigs on the part of the enemy by firing as soon as practicable and eight minutes after the original sighting a salvo of six torpedoes was fired.

As the fifth torpedo left the tube the enemy was observed to be altering course and Lieutenant Weston withheld firing his last torpedo for a few seconds. Two torpedoes exploded prematurely but 25 seconds later two torpedoes were seen to hit the target, one just abaft the bow and the other below the conning tower, and the U-Boat appeared to break in half. There was sufficient time before she sank for several persons to see the bows sticking out of the water, through Satyr’s periscope.

This well executed attack carried out in a short period on a zigzagging target certainly resulted in the destruction of a German U-Boat and is in accordance with the general efficiency now expected of H.M. Submarine Satyr under the able command of Lieutenant Weston.’

He was duly awarded the D.S.O., his Number One the D.S.C. and four crew members, including Patterson, the D.S.M. Four other ratings were mentioned in despatches.

Sold with original Buckingham Palace forwarding letter for the D.S.M., in the name of ‘Petty Officer S. Patterson, D.S.M.’


P 214
Built by: Scotts Shipbuilding & Engineering Co. (Greenock, Scotland)
Laid down: 8 Jun, 1940
Launched: 28 Sep, 1942
Commissioned: 8 Feb, 1943
End service:

History: During 1944-1945 HMS Satyr was disarmed, streamlined and given more powerful batteries to serve as a high speed target submarine.
Loaned to the French Navy and served as Saphir from February 1952 until returned in August 1961. Sold to be broken up for scrap on 4 April 1962. Scrapped in June 1962

S class

66 ships

640 / 927 BRT
Length 202.5 feet
Complement 4 officers + 29 men men
Armament 1 3" gun
6 21" torpedo tubes
12 torpedoes
Max speed 13.75 / 10 knots (surfaced/submerged)
Engines Diesel / electric, 2 shafts
Power 1550 / 1300 HP (surfaced/submerged)
Notes on class The S class was a medium sized patrol submarine, designed with the proposed international restriction of 600 tons displacement in mind. Intended for use in north European or Mediterranean waters, they were highly manoeuvrable and fast diving with a heavy armament of torpedoes. This allowed large salvoes to be fired from long range in an effort to counter the improved A/S techniques.
This proved to be a very successful design that was put back into production during the war, 62 boats of this class being built. Some boats were partially welded and the later ones fully welded construction, improving the strength of the pressure hull and consequently increasing their diving depth.

The specifications as given above is for the first group.

Further specifications on the later groups; 2nd Group;
Same as the first group except;
Displacement: 670 / 960 BRT
Complement: 4 officers + 35 men.
Lenght: 208.75 feet
Sunfish had more powerful diesel engines 1900 HP instead of 1550 HP. Therefore her surface speed was 15 knots.

3th Group;
Same as the first group except;
Displacement: 715 / 990 BRT
Complement: 6 officers + 42 men.
Lenght: 217 feet
1 3\" gun
7 21\" torpedo tubes (6 bow, 1 external stern)
13 torpedoes
Speed: 14.75 / 9 knots
Power: 1900 / 1300 HP

4th Group;
Same as the first group except;
Displacement: 715 / 990 BRT
Complement: 6 officers + 42 men.
Lenght: 217 feet
1 3\" gun
6 21\" torpedo tubes (6 bow)
12 torpedoes
Speed: 14.75 / 9 knots
Power: 1900 / 1300 HP
The fouth group was actually the same as the third group but without the external stern torpedo tube. Although some early units of this group were fitted with the external stern tube.

Some ships in the third or fourth group carried a 4\" gun istead of a 3\" gun.

Numerous wartime documents reveal that the British, and especially Rodger Winn, discouraged the Americans from overtly using special intelligence to coordinate hunter-killer attacks against U-tankers and U-boats, such as in the capture of U-505. Like many of his superiors at the Admiralty, Winn worried that the Germans might realize that their codes and ciphers were compromised.

Throughout World War II, German naval leaders used radio communications extensively to maintain constant contact with the forces at sea. As a result, Allied radio intercept stations had almost constant access to the flow of signals being transmitted between U-boats and shore-based headquarters. At far left, a signalsman monitors the "Afrika II" Communication Circuit in the main radio transmitting and receiving center in the Commander of U-Boats headquarters near Lorient in occupied France.

Photo of H.M.S. Satyr shows here a typical war time deck gun arrangement for class. In the Mediterranean and later in the Far East many targets were too small to use torpedoes on. This is where the 3” gun came into it own, Carricks, schooners, junks and other small coasters could be dealt with efficiently. The 20mm Oerlikon was for the ever increasing menace of surprise attack by aircraft. The device on the casing aft of the conning tower is a D F aerial


Captain: Hilmar-Karl Schreyer

Born on 28 Aug, 1914 in Manebach, Thüringen.
Oberleutnant zur See (1 Apr, 1943)
Died on 15 Jun, 1944, Norwegian Sea.

Original German Submarine Badge

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Oblt. Hilmar-Karl Schreyer

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Enigma and Ultra- the Cypher War

It would not be until some thirty years after the end of World War II and the Battle of the Atlantic that details of the vital role played by Allied code-breakers began to be revealed.

Whilst many German military and naval communications were transmitted by normal media such as wireless and telephone, many of the messages of most vital importance were exchanged in code by means of the so-called "Enigma" machines.

The German "Enigma" machine was initially developed after World War I as a commercial encrypting device, but the military were quick to recognise its value, and developed it for their own uses. In basic terms, the "Enigma" resembled a typewriter, which scrambled the text typed into it by means of notched wheels or rotors. The messages could be unscrambled by a similar machine with its rotors adjusted to the same settings as the sender. German cypher experts refined the basic machine by adding plugs with variable electronic circuits, whose settings operators changed approximately every 24 hours, according to code books, listing the daily variations, with which they were issued.

With millions of possible code variations, the German High Command remained convinced until the end of the war that "Enigma" was unbreakable, and indeed, with the limited technology then available to Allied code-breakers, this confidence might have have been well-placed, had it not been for a series of mistakes committed by the Germans themselves.

The first "leak" came in 1931, when a German Defence Ministry official, Hans Thilo Schmidt, sold some manuals to French Intelligence. Neither Britain nor France recognised the significance of the material which Schmidt continued to sell them, and such progress as there was in the inter-war years in breaking "Enigma" was largely the work of the Polish Intelligence services, which had obtained an "Enigma" machine in 1929. They developed a type of primitive computer, known as a "Bomby", which had some limited success in deciphering "Enigma", although German refinements, such as the addition of extra rotors, prevented any major breakthrough.

In July 1939, as war approached, the Poles revealed their successes to British and French intelligence, and gave them replica Enigma machines.

Britain and France largely worked independently in attempting to pierce the secret of Enigma, and with France's defeat, the main burden fell on Britain.

The Battle of the Cyphers

During World War I Britain's code-breakers had known as ID 25 or more popularly, "Room 40". In 1920 they became part of the Secret Intelligence Service, and a few days before the outbreak of World War II changed their title from the Code and Cypher School to Government Communications Head Quarters. They were based at a large country house, Bletchley Park, whose extensive grounds provided space for the vast collection of huts erected to house a workforce which would eventually number several thousand.

A concerted drive was made to enlist the services of leading mathematicians from British universities, and, thanks largely to the pre-war work of the Poles, the Enigma codes used by the Luftwaffe were fairly quickly and comprehensively broken, as were some of those employed by the Wehrmacht. Those used by the Kriegsmarine, however, proved a much tougher proposition.

Thanks to the refined "bombes" developed by the brilliant mathematician Alan Turing, the first complete "Enigma" message was deciphered in January 1940, and by April some messages were being read within 24 hours of despatch. The intelligence data provided by these and other means were given the codename "Ultra". The first significant breakthrough in reading the Naval Enigma came in February 1940, when, after U-33 was sunk off the Scottish coast, three rotor wheels found in the possession of survivors gave Bletchley a partial insight into the Naval Code. More captured enemy material was needed to progress any further, and this was provided in April 1940, when some "Enigma" documents were found on board the German armed trawler, "Polaris", taken off Norway. This enabled Bletchley to make its first, brief, reading of the Naval code, and provided Turing with material to work towards a more comprehensive breakthrough. Unfortunately, by the time that he made any real progress, new codes had been introduced, rendering messages once more unreadable.

The introduction by Donitz, from late 1940 onwards, of "wolf-pack" tactics, gave the "Enigma" codes still greater importance. In order to rendezvous U-boats had to signal their positions to Donitz's operations room. If these messages could be deciphered, it would be possible to divert convoys away from known ambushes. But it was becoming clear that little progress could be made without further captures of enemy material, itself a hazardous procedure, for if the Germans became aware that "Enigma" material had fallen into enemy hands, their whole cypher system might be changed.

On March 4th 1941, during a Commando raid on the Lofoten Islands off Norway, the Royal Navy captured the German trawler "Krebs", along with two "Enigma" machines and the current settings for use in home waters. This allowed another partial breakthrough, allowing some messages to be read. Donitz, whilst concerned by increased British naval successes, was assured by his cypher experts that "Enigma" was unbreakable, and tended to suspect that the problem was due to increasingly effective tracking by means of HF/DF signals.

It was in the spring of 1941 that Britain made an important breakthrough in the battle for "Enigma". Harry Hinsley, one of the Bletchley code breakers, realised that the network of German weather and supply ships currently operating in the Atlantic, would carry code information. The problem lay in capturing some of these without betraying to the enemy exactly what was going on. On May 7th, in a highly secret operation, Royal Navy ships intercepted and captured the weather ship "Munchen", seizing the code books to be used in June. Two days later, in one of the most dramatic episodes of the war at sea, depth charges fired by British destroyers forced to the surface U-110, whose commander, Lemp, had sunk the liner "Athenia" on the opening day of the war. Believing his vessel to be sinking, Lemp failed to destroy either his "Enigma" machine or its codes. Whilst sailors opened up on the U-boat crew with rifles and machine guns to panic them, and prevent any returning below deck, HMS "Bulldog" closed in and boarded U-110. Both machine and codes were seized. Lemp was not among the survivors of the U-boat crew, and once again the extent of their success remained a carefully guarded British secret.

The capture of U-110 was not in fact as decisive as sometimes claimed, but it provided useful additional information which would eventually be of considerable help in the breaking of "Enigma". More significant, in fact, was the capture next month of the German weather ship "Lauenberg", with the keys for June and July. This would enable Bletchley to break the German Home Waters code virtually until the end of the war, normally within 50 hours of transmission.

Once again the problem lay in how to make use of the information provided by the code breakers without arousing enemy suspicion. This almost happened during the comprehensive elimination of the German surface supply and weather ship network, which was intended to be a gradual process, but went rather too quickly when the Royal Navy stumbled across two enemy vessels by accident.

From the second half of 1941 onwards, information from "Enigma" was one of the key factors enabling the Royal Navy to divert convoys away from waiting wolf packs. Decoded messages went initially to the Royal Navy section at Bletchley Park, then, if relevant, were passed on to Submarine Tracking Room in the Admiralty and later to the HQ Western Approaches, in Liverpool. The German practice of changing their rotor settings every day or two meant that messages were often at least several days old when deciphered. Before sending them on, analysts would add notes on any significant content, such as the identities of persons mentioned. The gist of the information contained in the signals, carefully edited to conceal its source, was passed on to operational commanders, only a very few of the most senior of whom were let even partially into the secret of "Enigma".

The "Enigma" material, known as "Ultra", was, of course, combined with intelligence from a wide variety of other sources, including HF/DF and wireless intercepts and reconnaissance reports, into a body of information known collectively as "SIGINT".

The effect of the improved flow of intelligence information was apparent during the second half of 1941. Increasing numbers of convoys were being diverted away from waiting U-boats. In July, for example, not a single convoy was sighted by the Germans over a period of three weeks, and during July and August monthly sinkings went below 100,000 tons, the lowest for over a year.

Not all of this improvement could be put down to Ultra and SIGINT. Among other factors involved were the diversion of U-boats to the Mediterranean and Arctic, and increasingly effective Allied air patrols. It was also fortunate in the long term, if the Germans were to remain ignorant of Allied success in breaking "Enigma", that inability fully to understand a newly introduced code meant that not all merchant shipping could avoid U-boat ambush.

Even as it was, Donitz had recurring suspicions about the security of "Enigma", as, for example, when the U-570 was captured, and it seemed likely that some codes might have been taken. However German naval analysts eventually decided that only one codebook had been captured, providing insufficient material with which to penetrate "Enigma". His cypher experts assured Donitz that the Naval Enigma was "one of the most secure systems for enciphering messages in the world." Even so, the Royal Navy faced the constant dilemma of how much advantage to take of their knowledge without the risk of revealing their source to the enemy. Though every effort was made both to limit the circulation of information, and to disguise its origins, there were times that the breaking of "Enigma" came dangerously close to discovery.

Throughout the war there would be occasional breaks in the flow of information, when the Germans changed some of the cyphers, but these were usually solved either by the increasingly sophisticated "bombes", by the growing experience of the cryptologists, or by further captures of enemy material. Even so, such breaks could cause serious problems; one such temporary inability to decipher enemy signals played an important part in the heavy losses suffered by Arctic convoy PQ17.

A major crisis began on February 1st 1942, when a new rotor was added to the machines used on the Atlantic U-boat network. Known to the Germans as "Triton", and to the Allies, with sinister aptness, as "Shark", this additional refinement allowed 26 times as many different code combinations. The introduction of the new rotor coincided with greatly increased shipping losses due to the German "Happy Time" following the entry into the war of the United States. Though dire in other respects, the slaughter which the U-boats were making along the eastern seaboard of the USA at least prevented German Naval Command from linking their increased success to the refinement of "Enigma".

The British Admiralty had always been reluctant to share "Enigma" derived information with the USA, mainly, it appears, because of fears of security breaches. But in the current crisis, it was recognized that potentially much greater US resources, in for example, the construction of "bombes", would be invaluable. However no US "bombes" would be online before May 1943, and in the meantime the level of sinkings threatened to become unbearable.

Once again the situation was saved by captures from the enemy. In October 1942, the British destroyer HMS "Petard" commanded by the slightly crazy Commander Mark Thornton, depth-charged to the surface U-559, and, although two British seamen were lost when the U-boat sank, captured the latest code books. These provided invaluable aid in penetrating "Shark", aided as on previous occasions, by German carelessness and lapses in security.

A further break in deciphering occurred in the spring of 1943, but in March, again in the nick of time, more captured codes enabled "Shark" to be broken again. The crisis of the Battle of the Atlantic came in May. By then, although reading "Enigma" messages remained important, the greatly increased numbers of sea and air convoy escorts, with better detection equipment, were playing an increasingly predominant role in the defeat of the U-boats.

Though there would be other short breaks in the ability to decipher the Naval "Enigma", by now the worst of the U-boat threat was over. None of the interruptions lasted for long. One such difficulty was resolved on June 4th, 1944, when the USS "Pittsburg" captured and boarded the U-505, taking her code books. Unlike some previous occasions, the U-boat crew were aware of the failure to destroy "Enigma" material, and as a result they were denied access to the International Red cross, or any contact with their families. Kept in isolation in the US, they were not released until 1947. Ironically the commander of the Us naval task group involved was almost court-martialled by Admiral Ernest King, who feared, groundlessly as it proved, that the failure to sink the U-505 might have alerted the Germans to the breaking of "Enigma" on the eve of D-Day.

By the time of the D-Day landings, the Naval "Enigma" was being broken almost instantly by the improved knowledge of the codes and the greater number of "bombes" available in the UK and USA. Only in the very last days of the war did the Germans introduce another code variation which threatened Allied supremacy in this field, and by then it no longer mattered.

Britain had 54 serviceable submarines at the outbreak of WWII, including 12 H and L class boats which were of 1914-1918 vintage and of riveted construction. The H class boats were used operationally in 1940 but were withdrawn soon afterwards, following two early losses in the Bay of Biscay. An emergency submarine building programme was instigated and 164 boats were contructed in UK yards during the war.

British Royal Navy submarines were responsible for sinking 15 U Boats, 3 Japanese submarines and 17 Italian submarines. Six battleships were sunk, sixteen destroyers and 119 smaller vessels. In addition, 493 merchantmen were destroyed of about 1,800,400 gross registered tonnage. Total tonnage of all ships accounted for by H. M. Submarines was probably in the region of 16,000,000 grt.

Britain's war at sea and use of the submarine was substantially different in strategy from the U Boat offensive. The Royal Navy sought to protect the trade and raw material import routes and to clear the seas of hostile warships. This strategy was eventually successful and led to freedom of the seas in the run up to the Operation Overlord.