Daily Event for April 23

While conducting a patrol northeast of Oran, Algeria on April 23, 1943 a Lockheed Hudson of 500 Squadron RAF made a radar contact at 12 miles away around 2309 hours. At first the target could not be seen, but after a star shell was dropped slowly the silhouette of a surfaced U-boat was seen. They flew over the submarine and came around, approaching the boat from astern on the starboard side and opened fire with the forward machine gun. The gunners on the U-boat responded and opened fire hitting the aircraft and killing the pilot.

Under great distress Flight Sergeant Alfred S. Kempster immediately took the controls and saved the aircraft from crashing into the sea as the other crewmen removed the body of their pilot. When this gruesome task was completed Sergeant Arthur F. Blackwell, RAAF took over the controls, claimed to have dropped several depth charges and made an escape back to base. The U-boat commander, Kapitänleutnant Freiherr Egon Reiner von Schlippenbach, made no mention of bombs or depth charges having been dropped against his boat by the aircraft.

Schlippenbach could see the aircraft trailing smoke until the star shell burnt out, then reported seeing a parachute falling toward the sea. He turned his boat toward the parachute and seemed to have every intention of rescuing the "armen Teufel" [poor devil] as he put it, but a second aircraft was reported approaching and he made the "hard decision" to submerge so as not to endanger his boat. It seems the decision to leave the man in the parachute to his fate bothered Schlippenbach a great deal. There was however no man in a parachute. This could have been the star shell's parachute as nobody bailed out of the aircraft.

When the damaged aircraft neared her base at Tafaraouir, Algeria the crew were ordered to bail out and Blackwell set the aircraft on a course due west and then jumped himself, the plane went down and the remains of the pilot were later recovered. For their actions Kempster was awarded the Distinguished Flying Medal and Blackwell was awarded the Conspicuous Gallantry Medal.

The U-boat, at first thought to be U-602, was actually U-453, and she was not sunk. U-453 survived for over a year being lost on May 21, 1944. The story of U-602 is a little different, for years it was thought that this attack sank U-602 as she was missing near that area, however in 2005 it was reported that her wreck had been found northeast of Ibiza. The last message the boat sent was on Apr. 19 from about 55 miles northeast of where this encounter took place.
© 2013 Michael W. Pocock

Roll of Honour
In memory of
Warrant Officer Ronald Obee
who lost his life in
Hudson "N" (AM781)
500 Squadron RAF
"As long as we embrace him in our memory, his spirit will always be with us"