Daily Event for October 18, 2015

Desperate times call for desperate measures, this was definitely the case in the early years of the Second World War for the British. In 1940 the Royal Navy was struggling to keep up with the threat of German submarines. Escorts, minesweepers and training ships were in high demand, but in short supply. They used outdated vessels for all sorts of tasks, training of new crews of course, but operational uses as well, including surveillance.

One of the craft used was the submarine HMS H-49. This boat was built just after the Great War and was commissioned on Oct. 25, 1919. One of 23 H-class submarines built, she was part of the group built in the U.K. (The others being built in Canada and the U.S.A.) Of the 23 boats built 2 were lost in the Great War, 3 others were lost in collisions in the 1920's and 2 were lost to enemy action in World War II.

H-49 had been used to observe the Dutch coast and give early warning of any German ship movements. She sailed for the area again on Oct. 17, 1940, this time with a new commander, Lt. Richard E. Coltart, D.S.C., R.N. Early on the morning of the October 18, 1940 H-49 submerged for the day, but in the mid afternoon she surfaced off Texel Island. The area was covered in mist and nobody had seen the German sub chasers which were nearby. The soundman on H-49 apparently had not even picked up the screws of the ships.

Once outside the boat Coltart or one of his men, sighted the Germans straight away and ordered the boat to dive. However a very observant German on Uj-116 had seen the submarine only 3,000 yards away and reported the sighting to his commander, Kapitänleutnant d. Res. Wolfgang Kaden, who ordered an immediate attack. Kaden in Uj-116 and a second sub chaser, Uj-118, searched the area until they found the boat. Four separate depth charge attacks were made against the target. A fifth was called off when a man was seen in the water.

Kaden had the man picked up and interrogated. Leading Stoker George W. Oliver, who had been in the engine room of H-49, was the only survivor. He was blown out of the boat through a hatch or through an opening in the hull, it is unclear which was the case. Oliver spent the rest of the war as a prisoner of the Germans.

The possible loss of H-49 was reported to the War Cabinet the following week, but not reported to the public until Nov. 11th. Forty-four years later the wreck of H-49 was located in 30 feet of water west of Texel, the site is now a war grave. The decision to surface during the day and why the German ships were not heard on the sound gear are questions that can never be answered. The only survivor was in the engine room at this time and could have no idea why these decisions were made.

As for Kplt. Kaden, he was awarded the Ritterkreuz on Dec. 18, 1940 for sinking H-49 and was soon promoted to Korvettenkapitän. He was killed on July. 9, 1942 when his Uj-1110 was sunk by a mine laid by the Russian submarine K-21.

© 2015 Michael W. Pocock

Roll of Honour
In memory of those who lost their lives in
HMS H-49
"As long as we embrace them in our memory, their spirit will always be with us"

Amery, Jack
Engine Room Artificer 3rd Class
Boyles, Alexander
Stoker Petty Officer
Caie, Ernest J.
Leading Telegraphist
Mentioned in Despatches
Carew-Hunt, Adrian
Coleman, Frederick G.
Able Seaman
Coltart, D.S.C., Richard E.
Commanding Officer
Cotton, D.S.M., William A.
Chief Engine Room Artificer
Cripps, Ronald V.
Engine Room Artificer 2nd Class
Mentioned in Despatches
Davidson, D.S.M., James H.
Chief Petty Officer
Dearden, Lionel H. L.
Edmonds, Charles W.
Able Seaman
Feary, Ernest W.
Petty Officer
Gasser, Thomas J.
Goffe-Wood, William F.
Stoker 1st Class
Herrett, Donald
Stoker 1st Class
Hills, Fred G.
Leading Signalman
Mentioned in Despatches
Hobbs, Henry T. B.
Able Seaman
Hull, John
Knowles, August C.
Leading Signalman
McKay, Stewart N.
Able Seaman
Peterkin, D.S.C. Claude H.
Simpson, Frank D.
Stoker 1st Class
Soar, Patrick J.
Stoker 1st Class
Stevens, Robert
Able Seaman
West, Ernest F.
Leading Stoker
White, Clifford W.
Able Seaman

HMS H-49, date and location not available.
Kapitänleutnant Wolfgang Kaden.

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