Daily Event for April 25, 2012

Launched Jan. 4, 1941 at Friedrich Krupp Germaniawerft in Kiel U-203 when commissioned was placed under the command of Kapitänleutnant Rolf Mützelburg. Under his leadership U-202 sank nineteen ships for a total of over 81,000 tons of Allied shipping, for this he was awarded the Eichenlaub zum Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuz (Knight's Cross with Oak Leaves). On Aug. 27, 1942 U-203 sailed from Brest, France on her 8th war patrol, sinking no ships by Sept. 11 Mützelburg stopped his boat and allowed his men to take a refreshing a dip in the Atlantic. A welcome break in the middle of a brutal war, Mützelburg decided to join his men in the water. As he dove into the Atlantic the boat moved and Mützelburg hit the casing or another part of the submarine head first, he was recovered and taken below, but died of his injuries. Oberleutnant zur See Hans Seidel assumed command and the boat returned to Brest.

When she went to sea again on Oct. 15, 1942 she had a new commander, Oberleutnant zur See Hermann Kottmann, a former gunnery officer in Admiral Graf Spee. He was with the Spee during the Battle of the River Plate and was interned in Argentina, but escaped and returned to Germany. After serving in the SS, he joined the submarine service. U-203 was his first command, he had been the executive officer when Mützelburg died so he had some experience in submarines, but in 1943 the Germans were putting less and less experienced men in submarines due to the great losses suffered.

His first patrol was unsuccessful, and he sank only two ships on his second patrol, his third patrol began Apr. 3, 1943 at Brest. U-203 was directed to act in a wolfpack against convoys in the north Atlantic, but by late April this pack was disbanded. Attached to another wolfpack, Kottmann still had nothing to show for his patrol, but on April 25, 1943 he thought that would change.

Convoy ONS-4 bound from the U.K. to Halifax, was passing through his area, the convoy was protected by a screen of destroyers and HMS Biter, an escort carrier. Kottmann was apparently planning to torpedo Biter, but his boat was picked up by a DF operator in HMS Hesperus H-57 and a Swordfish of 811 Squadron was sent to investigate the target. The boat was sighted diving and two depth charges were dropped on the target. During the crash dive one of the diesel exhaust valves had failed to close properly, perhaps damaged by the depth charges, and the boat was taking on water. The leak was not terribly bad and Kottmann remained submerged, but kept his depth shallow.

HMS Pathfinder G-10 was sent to the area and directed by the aircraft dropped a series of depth charges, as many as forty were dropped on the U-203 and while there was no direct hit, the leaking valve got worse. Fearing his boat would founder, Kottmann surfaced and ordered the boat abandoned. When they broke the surface men poured out of the boat into the sea, however the engineer remained inside to open the valves to be sure that the boat would sink and not fall into enemy hands. He was successful and the boat went down with the enigma machine, the codebooks and the engineer. Another nine crewmen died in the water from various causes, but Kottmann survived. Thirty-eight men were pulled from the water and taken prisoner.
© 2012 Michael W. Pocock

April 3, 1943: U-203 seen departing Brest, France on their last voyage.

Roll of Remembrance
Zum Gedenken an die Gefallenen des Unterseeboot 203
"In memory of the fallen crewmen of U-203"

Albutat, Friedrich
Oberleutnant (ing) L1
Büsing, Gerhard
Gräbnitz, Günter
Hayn, Alfons
Hoffmann, Wilhelm
Hoske, Werner
Neukirchen, Hugo
Schaffer, Hubert
Verw. Obergefreiter
Tiefenthaler, Hermann
Witte, Ewald

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