Daily Event for May 3, 2015

Named in honor of Ens. Earl R. Donnell, Jr., USNR, a pilot with VS-6 from USS Enterprise CV-6 who was killed in action during the invasion of the Marshall Islands, USS Donnell DE-56 was christened by his mother and launched on Mar. 13, 1943. Her entire wartime service was spent escorting convoys from the USA to the UK across the U-boat infested North Atlantic. She made four successful round trips.

On Apr. 24, 1944 USS Donnell, under the command of Lt. Commander Gordon M. Street, USNR, left New York to escort convoy CU-22, this was her fifth escort mission. On the same day on the other side of the ocean U-473, under the command of Kapitänleutnant Heinz Sternberg, departed Lorient, France on her second war patrol. Donnell's voyage started under heavy fog making visibility near zero and causing the convoy to be spread out over 14 miles, USS Donnell took up a position astern of the convoy to watch for stragglers. U-473 had a little more eventful departure. Trying to get clear of the Bay of Biscay she was forced down twice by British aircraft. but sustained no damage or casualties. The convoy and the U-boat sailed on their opposite courses until May 3, 1944 when quite by accident they met about 675 miles west by south of Land's End.

The Germans were seemingly unaware of this convoy, at least they were not actively tracking it. Apparently the first word of the convoy was sent by Sternberg on that day. He signaled BdU that he had found a convoy of 20 steamers moving at 6 to 8 knots. The number of ships reported was low as CU-22 had about 30, and the speed was also incorrect as the convoy was moving at about 14 knots. Sternberg also signaled that he had fired a T-5 acoustic torpedo at a destroyer, but it had missed. He further stated that he was depth charged and attempted to follow the convoy through the night, but was unable to regain contact. Early the next morning he broke off and continued toward his assigned operational area. Sternberg was an inexperienced commander, and was apparently unliked by his men. He did not even realize that his torpedo had in fact hit the destroyer. This would be the only combat victory for him and for U-473.

The attacked looked different from the American perspective. At 0948 a submarine contact was made by USS Donnell, three minutes later General Quarters was sounded and the guns were manned. Two minutes after that a periscope was sighted about 600 to 700 yards away. Then at 0954 a "water slug" was sighted only 200 to 300 yards away and the gunners tried to bring the target under fire. Because the target was so close, the guns could not be trained on the target, but #2 gun fired an AP (armor piercing) round toward the target anyway.

At 0955 the stern of USS Donnell exploded, the torpedo had found its mark. The explosion was so violent that it blew three K-guns (depth charge throwers), two 20mm anti-aircraft guns and the after 3"/50 gun right off the ship, along with a number of depth charges, which exploded when they reached the correct depth. It had torn the stern off the ship along with the propellers, shafts and rudders. More important then the damaged ship was the loss of twenty-eight men and one passenger. All had been aft when the torpedo hit, either on depth charge watch or at guns. Others were below in the steering station or in berths. Two men had been blown overboard, but were picked up.

The ship was dead in the water, but had full power to engines and generators. There was no flooding of any concern as the bulkhead had held. The ship was on an even keel, but required a tow and assistance for the wounded men. USS Hopping DE-155 searched for the U-boat and made several hedgehog and depth charge attacks, but with no results. By 1333 Hopping had lost contact with the submarine, but continued to search until that evening. While they claimed several more contacts were made, they could not located the U-boat and finally gave up the chase.

In the mean time, USS Reeves DE-156 had come alongside Donnell to render assistance. They screened the ship and sent across medical supplies and personnel. Treatment was given to the wounded, of which there were twenty-five, some with serious injuries. Even though conditions were not the best, all of the wounded men would survive.

When order was restored to the ship and the thought of another torpedo hitting her had subsided, they began to make repairs. They also had the grim duty of burying the dead. Only five bodies had been found, the rest had gone down with the stern and were never recovered. The service for those lost was conducted at 1805 hours and was carried out with full military honors.

After tossing overboard the remaining depth charges and other items to make the ship lighter USS Reeves came alongside and took her in tow. This was no easy task, with no rudder, Donnell moved from side to side like a kite with no tail. Early the next morning orders were received in USS Hopping from C-in-C Western Approaches to scuttle the ship after removing the crew. At 0200 Hopping requested confirmation of those orders, but preparations were begun to abandon the ship. At 0317 C-inC U.S. Atlantic Fleet sent a message to Hopping and C-in-C Western Approaches that he wanted the ship saved, but at 0415 C-in-C Western Approaches repeated his order to scuttle.

By 0542 the sea had become too rough to transfer wounded men from one ship to another so the operation was postponed. They continued under tow throughout the day until the tow line parted at 1546. This would only be the first time this happened. At 1731 the scuttle order was rescinded and the escorts sent out, HMS Whimbrel and HMS Magpie, which had arrived on scene at 1415, were ordered to escort them in toward the south of Ireland.

At 0438 on May. 5 Donnell picked up a voice transmission sent from HMS Starling, the message was not directed to them, but it was interesting. Starling was attacking a U-boat, of course they could not know it was the same U-boat that had attacked them two days before.

The ships continued to make way, but the tow lines parted several more times. Nevertheless they reattached the line and moved ahead. On the morning of the 6th HMS Samsonia and HMS Lochy had arrived and it was decided to transfer the majority of the crew off the ship. This was done with great difficulty and a few injuries. By the afternoon HMS Samsonia had taken over the towing duty while USS Hopping, USS Reeves, HMS Whimbrel and HMS Magpie detached from the group. This left HMS Cam as the screen ahead with HMS Lochy as screen astern.

Through extraordinary efforts the uncooperative ship was towed to Dunstaffnage Bay in Scotland, they moored alongside at 1016 on May 12th. USS Donnell would never see active service again, she was repaired only to make her watertight, her screws were not replaced. She was used as an accommodations ship at Plymouth, England as well as other ports, later she was towed to Cherbourg and used to provide power ashore. After the war she was towed home and finally scrapped in 1946.

In a later interview Lt. Cdr. Street stated that he believed that his ship had been hit by an acoustic torpedo, in fact he had warned USS Hopping, while they were chasing the U-boat, to "Be sure to put your over your noise makers - that was our trouble." The "noise maker" was a devise called Foxer which was designed to defeat the acoustic torpedo. It was towed behind the ship and sent out a loud noise and therefore directed the torpedo to it rather than to the screws of the ship. He was correct of course, they had indeed been hit by an acoustic torpedo, but Hopping was in no danger of attack.

As soon as Sternberg fired the torpedo he went deep (to 590') and therefore did not see the torpedo hit the ship. Survivors from U-473 later stated that the depth charge attack followed immediately after they fired the torpedo, they counted 34 depth charges in all. And since several depth charges were blown off the Donnell and went off it could explain why Sternberg thought he had missed the ship and just came under immediate attack. We can never know for sure what Sternberg was thinking for he did not live to tell the story. It was his U-boat that was under attack by Starling on the 5th, and at midnight the next day Starling and others sank her when she surfaced for air. Sternberg was killed on the bridge by a shell and twenty-two of his men perished with U-473.
© 2015 Michael W. Pocock

Roll of Honor
In memory of those who lost their lives in
USS Donnell DE-56
"As long as we embrace them in our memory, their spirit will always be with us"

Beaumont, Jr., James B.
Fireman 1st Class (USNR)
Burdue, Eugene D.
Electrician's Mate 2nd Class (USNR)
Cohen, Harold
Seaman 1st Class (USNR)
Coleman, Guy R.
Signalman 1st Class (USNR)
Coppinger, John E.
Shipfitter 1st Class (USNR)
Corzine, William E.
Seaman 1st Class (USNR)
Danner, David W.
Torpedoman's Mate 3rd Class
Dellinger, Lloyd A.
Watertender 1st Class (USNR)
Ellison, George R.
Seaman 2nd Class (USNR)
Ferrario, Henry
Machinist's Mate 1st Class (USNR)
Fisher, Robert E.
Gallotto, Victor T.
Seaman 2nd Class (USNR)
Buried at sea
Guy, Jr., Edgar L.
Torpedoman's Mate 3rd Class (USNR)
Buried at sea
Hanrahan, Robert C.
Machinist's Mate 3rd Class
Buried at sea
Haworth, James K.
Torpedoman's Mate 2nd Class (USNR)
Hendrix, Lando H.
Watertender 3rd Class
Buried at sea
Jackson, Cortes D.
Fire Controlman 3rd Class (USNR)
Johnson, William R.
Watertender 2nd Class (USNR)
Buried at sea
Johnston, Richard H.
Machinist's Mate 1st Class (USNR)
Kashner, Jr., Alonzo R.
Machinist's Mate 3rd Class (USNR)
Mason, James H.
Seaman 1st Class (USNR)
Matelak, Thomas C.
Soundman 3rd Class (USNR)
Moskal, Edward I.
Seaman 2nd Class (USNR)
Ryan, Edward F.
Gunner's Mate 2nd Class (USNR)
Scheff, Arthur H.
Seaman 2nd Class (USNR)
Staton, Thomas K.
Machinist's Mate 3rd Class (USNR)
Sykes, Harry H.
Seaman 1st Class (USNR)
Wilklow, Frederick
Yeoman 2nd Class (USNR)
Wright, James L.
Signalman 2nd Class (USNR)
On passage to USS Arkansas BB-33.

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