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Oral History- Battle of the Atlantic, 1941-1945

Recollections by Lieutenant (junior grade) Harold G. Bradshaw, USN, an "Avenger" torpedo-bomber pilot on escort aircraft carrier USS Bogue (CVE-9), concerning attacks on German submarines, including the sinking of U-172 and the capture of 46 of its crew members on 13 December 1943

Adapted From: Harold Bradshaw interview in box 3 of World War II Interviews, Archives, Naval History and Heritage Command.

We went aboard the [escort aircraft carrier USS] Bogue [CVE-9] the first part of November (1943) and our first contact was not made until, oh, it was towards the latter part of November and the first attack was sighted on a routine patrol and an attack group was sent out and a submarine submerged. We dropped sonic buoys and tracked him [the submarine] with sonic buoys. Eventually [we] heard an explosion and assumed that he [the submarine] was killed. The destroyers came into the area sometime later and shortly after I left the area the destroyer picked up sound contact and continued to attack that sound contact all afternoon. The contact was decided later by the destroyer commander to have been a pinnacle in the middle of the Atlantic ocean and no submarine at all. It is believed that in the original attack the submarine was sunk and when the destroyers came in, due to the fact that the pinnacle was there, they attacked it all afternoon.

The next contact was made three days later, just at sunset under very murky conditions, by Lieutenant Ogle. He wired [radioed] his contact in, and myself and two other TBF [TBF "Avenger," single-engine Navy torpedo-bomber manufactured by Grumman] pilots were vectored [directed] from different search areas into his search area. Lieutenant Gibson arrived in the area first, and with him was Lieutenant Carter E. Fetsch, flying a fighter. As soon as Fetsch and Gibson arrived on scene, Ogle took charge and immediately attacked. The submarine was hit, and hit hard, and oil and debris was discovered by destroyers which arrived in the area a couple of hours later. On this particular attack, it was dark before the attack was completed, so we were unable to get any pictures, but the destroyers picked up plenty of debris which gives us definite evidence of a kill there.

All the planes had to come back and land [on the Bogue] after dark that night and [carrier personnel] used fighter direction to get some of them back and [did] a marvelous job, the Fighter Director Officer, Lieutenant Commander Ben Fuqua, on the Bogue, brought one boy [pilot] back who had a broken oil line, oil in his eyes and couldn't see at all hardly. When he got back [to the carrier] he crashed into the barrier [a crash netting stretched across the flight deck of the Bogue] and ruined the prop[eller]--that's all, no other damage done.

The next attack we made was [against a] sound contact. A moving oil slick was picked up by one of the planes, and it dropped sonic buoys to ascertain if there was a submarine there. A submarine was definitely established [there] that day. At that time we hit him with hedge hogs, got several explosions, and all indication of the submarine in the are ceased. However, we got a lot more oil up [on the water's surface] in that particular spot, and that's about all, we continued searching the area all afternoon. There was nothing more there to indicate the presence of a submarine.

The ship went into Casablanca [Morocco, North Africa], had a couple of days there, rested up and then the Cominch [communications intelligence] report showed a concentration of [German submarine] refuellers down south of the Azores. Captain Dunn [Commanding Officer of USS Bogue] headed [the ship] down there, and we had a report that there were two submarines there so we went down and sunk the submarines. One of these submarines [U-172] was the one which we chased for 27 hours and finally captured 46 prisoners.

The way we tracked this thing was we used sonic buoys to locate his [the German submarine's] position and then vectored the destroyers in between the sonic buoys and after hammering on him for quite awhile he began to leave an oil trail and then with a combination of the sonic buoys and the oil trail, well, it was pretty easy to keep the destroyers on them. When it got dark, due to the fact that the weather was pretty rough, why the destroyers were going to maintain contact at night and the planes were going to join them fueling at daybreak and they were going to continue the attack.

Around about 11:30 the sub came to the surface and the destroyers started shooting at him, and he submerged. They made a depth charge attack and they held contact until 2:30. At that time we lost contact. Captain Dunn launched me [i.e., launched him in his aircraft from the carrier] to go out and see if I could relocate the sub, or least keep him under the water until daybreak, when we could start a more thorough search for him. So I went out and threw an expanded square [for searching the ocean] around the place where he submerged after the destroyer attack and he was definitely under the water all night, and the next morning I found a lot of oil slicks in the area. So I started investigating all the likely looking ones with sonic buoys and then about 8:30 I found one that had a submarine under it, so I called for the destroyers. The destroyers came over and immediately made contact. About this time I was about out of gas and had to land and get more gas, and Lieutenant Ogle relieved me [in his aircraft flying over that patrol area].

The destroyers attacked, continued depth charge attack until about 11:30 when the submarine gave up and came to the surface. We had two fighters that were flying over the ship just for such an occasion as that. They immediately attacked with all guns blazing, and the destroyers attacked with their gun fire, and the submarine [commander] gave up, abandoned ship and [the submarine] sank [on 13 Dec 1943].

In this particular attack we got 46 prisoners, including the Captain [Hermann Hoffmann], the Executive Officer, the Engineering Officer and one midshipman, and 42 ratings [submarine crewmen of various skills and ranks]. The morale of this crew seemed to be very high. The men were all young, healthy looking and after the battle they'd had they were pretty tired, but their morale was pretty high, they came up fighting, they did not give up [although 13 crew members were killed in this attack]. A very good indication of the fact that the morale in Germany is [was] not killed yet.

The next attack was actually the most dramatic of any attack we made. It was interesting due to the fact that the boy [U.S. pilot] who made the sighting did not realize that his transmission was going on the air and he was setting out there wondering what to do and didn't know that the ship knew that there was anything out there and he had expended his charge and he was in kind of a spot. We just sat there and let him keep shooting at them [the German U-boat] until the ship [approached], [and] the attack group finally got out there. Actually what had happened was his transmitter [antenna,] which was struck down but was working fine, the ship got the report the first time he sent it and immediately launched an attack group which consisted of myself, Lieutenant Kenneth Hance, who is now a squadron commander, and Ensign Goodwin and Lieutenant Cookroft.

We flew 70 miles to the attack, and attacked at 1330. We sent two fighters in with Goodwin, ahead of Goodwin, who had 4 depth charges in his plane's armament, and he went straight in and made a fore and aft attack [an attack made along the long axis of the submarine's hull]. The submarine was heading just about directly towards him and he made a perfect straddle [depth charges landed on either side of the submarine's hull], a beautiful straddle and I came around from 120 degrees [from north, or 0 degrees] about on his starboard quarter [right rear side] and made my attack, and my first two depth charges dropped slightly over [above the point of aim] and I immediately went into a sharp turn and the submarine started to submerge, and so I came back and dropped the rest of my ordnance on it. At the same time the pilot who made the original contact came in and dropped the ordnance he had left. The submarine came back to the surface, although he was hit pretty bad, and the submarine came back to the surface. Both my second [ordnance] drop, LeRoy's second drop, hit right on his stern and completely broke him in two. The destroyers got into the area about two and half to three hours later. They found a shoe with a foot in it, and lung tissue and kidneys, life belt, a few and various and Sundry other things, pieces of wood with numbers on them, very definite evidence of a kill. That's about the sum and substance of the cruises made on the Bogue. Got back to Norfolk on the 29th of December [1943]. All in all a very successful cruise.

That was the 29th of December 1943?

Lieutenant Bradshaw:
That's right, that is correct.

Do you mind spelling us the name of this Fighter Director Officer, the one you said did a particulary good job of getting a man back to the ship?

Lieutenant Bradshaw:
Ben Fuqua.

Not too sure?

Lieutenant Bradshaw:
No, I'm not exactly sure how he spells that. Fuqua, I think. I'm sure that's correct. From Tampa, Florida.

Did you want to say something for the record about how ably Captain Dunn handles this CVE so that you think it is as good as a CV [large aircraft carrier] from the standpoint of a TBF man?

Lieutenant Bradshaw:
Definitely! Captain Dunn is one of the most aggressive Captains I've ever served under, and also one of the most able. He's absolutely not afraid of anything. He made a statement one time, that he'd take his ship within 8,000 yards of any submarine and so help me, he'd do it. When this particular submarine came to the surface and started shooting it out, Captain Dunn was well in sight of it, steering the ship, heading for it full speed, standing on his bridge just pushing it. That kind of spirit in the captain goes all the way down through the ship. He has one of the finest fighting ships in the Navy, I think. Not a man that serves under Captain Dunn can't help but admire him. He's big bull but we all like him.

Were any of those prisoners brought aboard the CVE or were all of them taken on the DD's [destroyers]?

Lieutenant Bradshaw:
They were all immediately taken aboard the DD's, but they were picked up by the DD's and transferred to the CVE. We brought them all back on the CVE.

From your experience do you conclude that the Nazi subs are pretty toughly built and hard to sink?

Lieutenant Bradshaw:
Definitely. The experience with the one that we took so long on proves that depth charges are not too effective a weapon, when a sub is very deep. But the other which we sank in such a short time, we sank in three minutes, proves that if you can catch them on the surface and hit him with depth charges and some other ordnance why they kill pretty easy.

I'm not sure that it was recorded quite plainly on her how fast that last attack was.

Lieutenant Bradshaw:
The original contact was at 1305 [1:05 p.m.], the attack group was launched at 1309, he was sighted and we commenced the attack at 1330 and I reported back to the ship that he was sunk at 1333. I think that is about the fastest a U-boat's ever been sunk.

When the CVE's first came out, there seemed to be a lot of people afraid they couldn't operate in low wind conditions or bad weather conditions. Of course, they are not as good as the big carriers, but have seen some very bad weather, some very, very bad weather, and we've continued to operate with no trouble. I might take the statement that in the two cruises, totaling about 3,000 hours, we lost only one airplane and that was not due to bad weather, or operation of the ship, but was due to gasoline failure and the plane had to land away from the ship. We operated in some of the roughest weather you can find in the north Atlantic. We had 18 to 20 degrees pitch [tilt of the ship toward the bow or stern] and roll [tilt of the ship from side to side] and wind conditions anywhere from 30 to 50 knots down to zero wind.

A lot of credit that we had such good luck is due to the fact that our Signal Officer [who stood on the flight deck to signal the approaching aircraft with hand-held flags] is very capable and would give us a wave off if the ship was pitching too much. We would go around and make another approach. As far as bad weather conditions goes, with the present radar and radio installations we had in the TBF, there's not too much danger from fog and such as that. The men have to be well trained. We have operated in weather so bad [so as] to make a real tight circle around the ship, [and] we could not keep the ship in sight, [but] of course, all we could do was to make radar searches, but it may or may not prove very valuable. As far as night operations go, they are very, very feasible aboard these little ships because we made a total of 113 landings at night and we had two barrier crashes, neither of which were very serious. One barrier crash was due to the fact that the boy had the oil in his eyes, which I mentioned earlier, and the other was due to the general tough luck, I guess--come in high and held off and hit the barrier, but neither of them were serious. One hundred and thirteen landings, why, I think is impressive proof that night flying is feasible on small carrier. We'll further prove that in our future operations.

Thank you very much, Lieutenant Bradshaw.

12 December 2000

Published: Tue Sep 22 06:36:41 EDT 2015