Canucks Cripple U-Boat, Hoist White Ensign,
Boarders and Nazis Both Swim As Raider Sinks
Details of a dashing action in the North Atlantic more than a year ago when officers and men from three Canadian corvettes boarded a badly-battered German sub and tried to "bring her back alive," have been revealed by the Navy.
Sinking of the sub, in a lengthy action that involved five Canadian warships, was announced previously, but to-day the RCN disclosed for the first time the story of how Canadians attempted to raise the White Ensign -- only to find her too seriously damaged to stay afloat and also to find that she lacked a flag-staff so that no flag could be raised.
The attack involved chilly swims in the North Atlantic for crewmen of HMCS Chilliwack, Fennel and St. Catharines, all of which sent whalers along side the injured sub, and the whalers later capsized -- but no Canadian lives were lost and 39 Nazis were rescued from the sea.
"Fire-ball" of the whole incident, according to Lt.-Cdr. Tony Coughlin, RCNVR, Commanding officer of the Chilliwack, was Signalman Jack Starr of Winnipeg, who has been awarded the Distinguished Service Medal for his part in the attempt.
The whole thing started when a U-boat was detected near a convoy that the three corvettes, along with other Canadian ships, were escorting.
The sub surfaced near Chilliwack, and Lt.-Cdr. Coughlin, who was standing on the bridge spotted the undersea raider dead ahead.
"Man that ruddy Oerlikon!" he shouted to Signalman Starr who was on duty on the bridge.
"I'd never fired an Oerlikon In my life," Starr grinned, "but I leaped to lhe port bridge and fired like hell. It was easy to handle, and I could see my bursts hitting right on the conning tower."
Soon lhe entire armament of the corvette was brought to bear on the surfaced sub, and Nazi crew members who attempted to man their own guns were cut down. When a regular gunner took over from Starr, he snatched up a rifle and kept on pumping bullets into the U-boat.
Then the order came "Away Sea-boat," as Chilliwack prepared to lower a whaler and send a boarding party to the enemy craft.
Starr grabbed a White Ensign from the bunting locker and leaped into the boat. Lt. Tim Dunn RCNVR. of Quebec City, was in charge of the boat and he found that the sea had risen so high that it was almost impossible to get his whaler alongside the Nazi. On the third try, the whaler swamped, and her crew had to swim aboard the U-boat.
One of the first to get aboard was Sub-Lt. Tom Atherton of Parry Sound, who seized a Sten gun and went to the entrance hatch on the conning tower.
"I met a German just coming up the hatch," he related. "At first he refused to go down ahead of me, but he changed his mind when threatened with the gun."
Below in the sub, things were in a mess. Chlorine fumes were bad, there was no air, and as Sub-Lt. Atherton's flashlight had gone out, he had to grope around in the dark.
When he went back upon deck again, he found the members of the whaler crew floating around in the sea -- so he helped pull them aboard. Then he sat down to take off his boots -- and a big sea washed him over the side.
Signalman Starr, meanwhile, had hoisted himself to the top of the conning tower, White Ensign in hand.
"There were some dead Germans there -- one was the U-boat captain. But there was no Jack-staff, and no Nazi flag flying so I had to elevate one of their anti-aircraft guns and drape the flag over that."
CHEER GOES UP
"All the fellows in the ships that were circling the U-boat let out a cheer when they saw that. I got quite a kick out of it."
By this time. Lt. Dunn had decided that it was no longer safe for him and his men to remain aboard the sinking sub. He ordered "Everybody off," along with four or five men, tried to get the waterlogged whaler to float. The boat capsized and they had to swim back to the U-boat again.
They couldn't stay long. The sub was slowly submerging, and Sub-Lt. Atherton and others had been washed into the sea. Lt. Dunn ordered all his men into the water.
By this time, whalers from Fennel and St. Catherines had been launched, and both had capsized, so that there were three whaler crews and a handful of Nazis floating around together.
To the rescue came the motorboat of the Canadian destroyer Chaudiere, which had also been escorting the convoy, and was now standing by. Badly smashed in the heavy seas, the boat yet carried on and managed to pick up the men in the water.
Lt. Charles Rathgeb, RCNVR, of Toronto, in charge of the Chaudiere's boat, reported that he heard firing from aboard the sub as he drew near.
"I opened fire myself, then." he said, "and that silenced them, I don't know what all the firing was for."
Six medals and 18 mentions in despatches were awarded to those taking part in the sinking, including: DSCs to Lt.-Cdr. Coughlin and to Lt. W.G. Gooderham, RCNVR, Toronto, of the St. Catharines.
DSM's were given to Signalman Starr, Petty Officer Edward Badger of Toronto, Chief ERA A. Longbottom, Moose Jaw; AB F.D. Craig of Kamsack, Sask.
Many thanks to
Scott McMurdo for these photos and news clippings.
Scott's father, Wilson Reginald McMurdo, served on HMCS Chilliwack during the war.
Local Man Is
For good service in destroying an enemy submarine, Engine Room Artificer Arthur Longbottom, R.C.N.V.R. of this city has been awarded the Distinguished Service Medal.
He received the medal from the Commander-in-Chief, Canadian Northwest Atlantic, Rear Admiral L.W. Murray. C.B., C.B.E., R.C.N., at a recent investiture in the admiral's office.
E.R.A. Longbottom, who serves in the Royal Canadian Navy corvette H.M.C.S. "Chilliwack" was a member of the boarding party which went aboard a German U-boat which "Chilliwack" had blown to the surface. The submarine began to sink and the boarding parly had to abandon attempts to keep it afloat. Their seaboat capsized and E.R.A. Longbottom and others in the party were forced to swim for their ship as the U-boat sank.
He joined the navy in May, 1941, and has served in the "Chilliwack" for two and one-half years.
His wife and two children reside at 204 Lillooet Street West.
Can you provide names, details or corrections?
Please email Charlie Dobie.