Three war crimes, two Sunderlands and one Ashley Wilkes (6)

My father Fred, during his spell in the RAF from 1941-1946 had relatively little direct contact with the pilots and crews of the huge Short Sunderland flying boats of Coastal Command:

He was certainly well aware though, that, because their patrols were of such long duration, these planes were extremely well appointed. They actually had galleys on board, where members of the crew could make cups of tea, or other hot beverages, or cook themselves proper meals. No luxuries like those of the Sunderland were ever afforded to the crews of the much more Spartan four engined heavy bombers such as the Lancaster or the Halifax.

The huge flying boat even had a number of bunks, where the crew could have a sleep if they were feeling particularly weary. And the Sunderland was so incredibly spacious. Here is the pilot on his way to the Library and the Sun Deck:

Enough room to swing a Catalina round ! Well almost.

My Dad was used to the Lancaster which was very much a tight fit for everyone:

The biggest problem was the main spar:

From 1952 onwards the French Aéronavale had eighty ex-RAAF Lancasters. How on earth did they get on, carrying out searches of the Atlantic Ocean which lasted ten hours or longer ?

It’s difficult to imagine waitress service in a Lancaster. In a Sunderland, the difficulty would merely have been finding the waitress as she wandered through the built in wardrobes:


One thing that Fred did discover, however, was what happened at the end of the war, when the U-boats came in to British ports to surrender. The cessation of hostilities was not quite as clear cut, black and white, as it should have been, and neither was it always carried out in as civilised a fashion as might have been hoped. The members of two Sunderland crews told him, for example, how they had found U-boats sailing along on the surface, on their way to surrender in the nearest British port, possibly in the River Foyle bound for Derry-Londonderry or in the Firth of Firth-Forth making their way to the naval base at Rosyth.

They immediately attacked and sank both of the submarines with all hands. Here goes the first one:

And here goes the second one:

Was this a war crime? We’ll look at that next time.

14 Comments

Filed under Aviation, Bomber Command, Criminology, History, Personal, Politics

14 responses to “Three war crimes, two Sunderlands and one Ashley Wilkes (6)

  1. The Sunderland is one massive aircraft! Mind you, being in the air for as long as it was, you’d hope there would be a lot of room and home comforts for those weary crews. It was a remarkable aircraft.

    • I think that the key to it all is that the Sunderland used originally to be a civilian aircraft, designed to transport people who were very rich and who wouldn’t necessarily come back as a returning customer when they had the luxurious transatlantic liners to use as an alternative. I can’t imagine either, that the ships which took people to Australia, New Zealand, South Africa or South America were of a low standard if you had the money to go first class.
      Converting that kind of luxury aircraft to a warplane is always going to provide one or two perhaps unforeseen plusses for the crew!
      Things are always very different though, when the conversion goes the other way, warplane to civilian airliner. I am just writing about a B-24 Liberator which crashed, killing 22 men including an Old Boy of the school. Things were very different there, with cramped conditions, and many other negatives.
      This website shows the risks you take when you start putting canvas seats in the bomb bays of large bombers:
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_fatal_accidents_and_incidents_involving_Royal_Air_Force_aircraft_from_1945#1940s

      • That’s certainly a list of disasters isn’t it! Of course an aircraft with passengers always makes for worse reading as there are so many involved, a car crashes and it doesn’t even make the local village magazine! Thank you for the link.

  2. jackchatterley

    The French also used the Sunderland, so I suppose that those who were to fly the “navalised” and narrow Lancs were to do so to atone some unspeakable crime…

  3. It would be interesting to learn more about these tales of after-surrender attacks on U-Boats. Some records must exist somewhere.

    • All I can say is that my Dad was told the tale by members of a Sunderland crew, who were probably a little freer with their stories with a couple of pints of beer inside them. Such episodes may well have happened with surrendering U-boats though. Even now, fifty U-boats remain unaccounted for.

      You can frequently see a barely disguised hatred between the Royal Navy and U-boat crew. There is a news film I have seen where the high ranking German officer surrenders his U-boat fleet in a very correct, formal way but at the end he makes the gesture of offering to shake the British admiral’s hand. The latter, though, cuts him dead and totally refuses any contact with the German.
      I suppose the reason for that is that the U-boat crews killed thousands of Allied sailors. But that was their job, after all!

      I found an interesting website about the U-boat surrender:

      https://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/scottish-news/highlander-submarine-secret-33-ww2-5999984

  4. I never heard about surrendering U-boats being sunk with all hands. You are always educating me.

  5. The Germans signed unconditional surrender documents at Rheims on 7 May 1945. I understand that those documents provided for an effective date of surrender for German units of 8 May 1945 at 2301.

    According to naval historian Paul Kemp’s book U-Boats Destroyed, the following U-Boats were attacked on 8 May. No U-Boats are listed as being attacked after that date; however, that does not preclude that happening. On 8 May, U3503 was attacked by Liberator “K” of No. 86 Squadron off Gothenburg in the Baltic. Damage was such that the crew scuttled the boat and went into internment in Sweden. U2538 hit a mine on 9 May off Marstal southwest of Aero Island. The crew drove it ashore. Those are the only two losses reported on the day of surrender or after.

    On 7 May, a Catalina “X” of No. 210 Squadron attacked U320 in the Norwegian Sea west of Bergen. Heavily damaged, the boat was scuttled on the Norwegian shore two days later.

    On 6 May, U1008 was so damaged during an attack by Liberator “K” of No. 86 Squadron in the Skagerrak that her crew scuttled her. That same day, U2543 was sunk by Liberator “K” of No. 86 Squadron in the Kattegat. Also on 6 May, Liberator “G” of No. 86 Squadron destroyed U3523 southeast of Aarhus.

    The day before, on 5 May, U534 was sunk after being attacked by Liberator “E” of No. 547 Squadron and Liberator “G” of No. 86 Squadron. Liberator “E” was shot down during the attack. The same day, Liberator “K” of No. 547 Squadron attacked and sank U-579 in the Little Balt strait near the Baltic.. Also on 5 May, Liberator “S” pf 224 Squadron attacked U2365 near the Kattegat. Heavily damaged, the crew scuttled the boat. U2521 was sunk southeast Aarhus after being attacked by Liberator “K” of No. 547 Squadron RAF.

    These U-Boats and others attacked and sunk in the same general area in the preceding days in May appear to have been attempting to reach Norwegian ports where U-Boats were congregating. kIn addition to the Liberators of the squadrons previously listed, Typhoons of No. 245, 175 and 184 Squadrons, Mosquitoes of Banff Wing (Nos 143, 248, 235, 333 and 404 Squadrons with Mustang fighter escort), Beaufighters from No. 236 and 254 Squadrons, along with Avenger/Wildcat teams of Naval Air Squadrons 846, 853 and 882 operating from escort carriers Queen, Searcher and Trumpeter were set upon them and feast they did.

    • “These U-Boats and others attacked and sunk in the same general area … appear to have been attempting to reach Norwegian ports where U-Boats were congregating”. If I were a betting man, this would be where I would put my money.
      At the time of the war’s end, I think my Dad was at Lossiemouth in north eastern Scotland and I believe that there were Sunderlands operating from bases in roughly that same area. As with most of my Dad’s tales, nothing contradicts what he told me, but equally nothing proves it either!

  6. Chris Waller

    The Sunderland really was a remarkable aircraft, and slightly eccentric, in its own way. It still amazes me that it could remain airborne for so long. Despite appearances it must have been a very efficient airframe from the standpoint of air flow and drag.

    • I’m sorry Chris, but I don’t have the scientific knowledge to make any valid comment about the efficiency of the Sunderland’s airframe. It was originally an old design but it had tried and trusted engines, which developed a good deal of power (4 × Bristol Pegasus engines at 1,065 hp each) It was also designed to take off quickly and not waster fuel doing it. Its range was 1,770 miles.
      We could contrast it with the Consolidated Catalina which had two Pratt & Whitney Twin Wasp engines at1,200 hp each. Range was 2,520 miles which I would say was more or less entirely down to the use of the more or less uninterrupted and clean “Davis” wing, the same wing as used on the P-51 Mustang. It always gave enormous range.

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