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58 Squadron Versus The U-Boat

Discussion in 'German U-Boats' started by Jim, Aug 22, 2010.

  1. Jim

    Jim New Member

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    Air Vice Marshal Wilfrid Oulton, CR, CRE, DSO, DFC, was a trained fighter pilot then chose to change to flying boats. However, he found himself Wing Commander in charge of 58 Squadron of Halifaxes, facing the marauding U-boats.

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    “Submarines were operating mainly from French ports, so they had to get through the Bay of Biscay before they could get into the Atlantic to do their job. They couldn't go all the way through the Bay without surfacing because they could only go so far on their electric batteries. Then they must surface for a number of hours to recharge their batteries by running their diesel engines, then they could dive again. Our plan was to cover the area with aircraft that they could not stay on the surface long enough to charge their batteries. If they did try to stay on the surface, we had to try to catch them and attack. There were two squadrons of Halifaxes at St Eval in Cornwall (there was one Liberator squadron too).

    A stick of Death Charges dropped by Wing Commander Oulton on 31 May 1943, on a U-boat in the Bay of Biscay. The camera is triggered by the Death Charges release.

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    The Halifax hadn't got a very long range, so in one squadron, 502, Zulu Squadron, they took out the main gun armament, which was a four-gun turret in the top (really for defending against fighters on bombing raids) and it gave them an extra fuel tank, so they went further out. My squadron, 58, kept all its guns and would operate close in to the French coast and tangle with the German fighters as necessary. The first day with the squadron I said, 'Show me how this aeroplane works', and the second day I flew by night, making sure I could do that. The third day I went on a long trip with the maximum load, because there's a lot of difference between a light aeroplane and one that's absolutely loaded up, that could just clamber off the ground. On the fourth day I was on operations. Then, after a week or so, I decided to go out with each of my crews in turn, because it wasn't for me to be glorious, I wanted the whole squadron to be glorious. I said 'Right, I'm going to judge every captain by the way his crew performs, so I'll leave the captain out, I'll be captain, and see how the crew works with me'. I flew with each crew in turn and they were awfully good. May 8, I was off with a couple of good chaps and a crew of ten manning the guns, radar, wireless, taking turns, as after a while your eyes get tired and you can't see any more, at least you don't see, and you think you see what isn't there. Just as dawn was breaking, there in the murk was a submarine. It was much too close to get in a reasonable attack, and the depth charges missed, but we were going round in a D pattern, what is called a creeping line ahead, and you fly a rectangular box, then you move beyond a few miles, and then move on again a few miles, so that you sweep the way through an area. With aircraft on each side, we swept through the whole of the Bay westward, to cover the whole area in which a submarine would have to surface. You stood a fair chance of one of the aircraft spotting one or two submarines.

    The three-picture sequence shows a successful attack by Wing Commander Wilf Oulton on 15 May 1943. The photos are conclusive evidence, both for the Navy and Coastal Command, that U-463 was sunk in the Bay of Biscay.

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    Then about two hours after the first attack, there was another submarine, in fact it turned out to be the same one, and we attacked it. It turned out that this attack was successful. I was having kittens doing this, because as I stalked it and then came up and dived at it, there was a light flashing at me. I thought, 'Oh my God, is this one of theirs or one of ours?' There had been one nasty incident when one of our aircraft had sunk one of our own submarines. I looked at this thing, and it was just a steady flashing light it wasn't a recognition letter so I went on. Then a piece fell off the aeroplane, so I thought, 'It looks as though it's not one of ours', and I carried on with a successful attack. What it was, in fact, was the 3-inch gun, firing at us. When you're looking right down the barrel, what you see is the flashing light as it is fired.

    The insignia of Coastal Command's 58 Squadron, formerly part of Bomber Command. During the battle against the submarines, the squadron was based at St Eval in Cornwall.
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