Captain Franz had a long hard look at all those who were present at the briefing session.
“Men, we are embarking on a long range mission under the Bismarck task force and we are going hunting for two British battle cruisers”
When the word “hunting” was mentioned, there seem to be glitters in the eyes of the men. For seasoned sailors who joined Wolf Packs hunting and attacking Allied ships, another opportunity to go hunting was most welcomed. But Captain Franz was not too excited as his men.
“Some of you seem to be happy but I must raise the dangers of this mission. Unlike before we only went for short range missions, this time around is going to different. Long range mission means we may run of supplies, fuel and weapons. At the wrong place and at the wrong time, this could mean the death for us. Further, long range mission means going away from family for a long time – some of you may feel the loneliness whilst at sea. It is not something to amuse about – I have been there once and it is not nice”
The men became silent now.
“The X Wolf Pack U Boats has undergone major fittings for this long range mission”. Captain Franz then explained about the new propulsions and new weapons.
“There is less than half an hour to go before we leave. I am sure most of you have rested well for the long journey ahead. Until we reach deeper waters, we will sail together. The Bismarck task force will be about 10 miles behind us at times. This buffer zone may increase or decrease during the mission later. Between U Boats, it will be 10 miles range as well. We need the space to manoeuvre if the situation gets off hand”
“For communication, there will radio silence once we reached deeper waters but we have received the newer communication set from Berlin. We were to understand that the Allied had cracked the Enigma coding, so we have to discard the old communication set. Communicate only if necessary”
“Our mission is to plough the way for the Bismarck task force – so if we find any naval or merchant ships that is on the path of the task force, we have been given the go ahead to launch the torpedoes. For this mission, we are carrying additional torpedoes so the living quarters for the men will be compromised. I suggest that men be on duty on shift basis. That way, two men can take turn to sleep on the same bunker. I want all men to remain sharp and focussed – the Wolf Pack’s and the task force’s survival depends on us getting the job done”
“Everything clear so far?”
The men replied in unison a resounding “YES!”
“One main objective is to seek the HMS Hood and HMS Walter. We hope to disable the ships so that the Bismarck task force can take them out for good. We will provide the protection cover should the task force encounter the Allied ships and had to engage in a battle”
“Further details will be provided once we are out on deeper sea. Dismiss – good luck everyone”
All the men saluted Captain Franz and ran to the respective U Boats. The Base Commander Voss was standing near U 133 and was waiting for Captain Franz.
“All the best Captain, we will be waiting for the good news”
Captain Franz nodded and caught a glimpse of the Bismarck and the supporting naval ships was also preparing to leave the port. The U Boats need to leave first, so Captain did not waste any more time at the pen. He joined his men in U 133 and gave the order to sail. The remaining X Wolf Pack followed U 133 with a 10 miles buffer range. Up ahead, the Luftwaffe’s long range reconnaissance planes flew ahead and reported back to the task force on any Allied ship movements. There was none for the time being.
On board U 133, Captain Franz excused himself to his quarters to study the maps and the navigation charts was given by the head of the mission planning whilst his second in command Ernst divided the tasks to this men and commanded the bridge. He divided the men into two groups and placed them on a shift duty – each shift duty last twelve hours – sufficient for the other group to take rest and be ready for battles.
Once done, Ernst joined his Captain for discussion on the navigation chart.
“This is the latest navigation chart – it points out the port where HMS Hood and HMS Walter were last reported. It is not easy to reach this port for the waters rest too close to Allied territories and heavy Allied ship patrols. We have to take a longer route which will take us direct into the path of the merchant ships, plying between Great Britain and America. We need to be careful not to disengage these merchant ships unless they are in the path of the Bismarck task force”
“What’s that marked on the chart, Captain?
“That is Captain Vern’s B Wolf Pack – currently on a long range mission to attack merchant ships. They should be returning to their base by the time we reach this area in another 3 days. So we need…” Captain Franz did not complete the sentence – there was a knock on the door.
Ernst opened it and saw the U 133’s communication officer was standing in front of the Captain Franz’ quarters.
“Message from Saint-Nazaire, Captain” the officer said whilst handing over a printed message to Captain Franz.
“Bismarck had left the port and is maintaining the 10 miles buffer zone between us and the task force. There have not been any new reports on the movement of HMS Hood and HMS Walters – they are still in the last reported port”
Captain Franz jotted down the next course to be taken and asked his second in command to dispatch to the Wolf Pack. The captain then made his way through to the engine room.
“How’s the new propulsion system, B?”
Boris or B as he wants himself to be called was busy with his men at the engine room. B turned around and saw the Captain.
“I don’t know what the guys in Berlin did but the new propulsion system works beautifully. The engine is quieter and using less power to provide the same rate of speed. With this, we don’t have to surface that often to replenish oxygen and air for the battery system. I am studying the new propulsion system but for now, it seems like we are holding a big advantage over the other U Boats when it comes to the new engine systems”
The Captain then made his way to the torpedo room – it was little cramp with torpedoes taking much of the space. There was a small space in the middle for the crew to load the torpedoes. The sight of the torpedoes tacked so close caused the Captain to be a bit concerned on the safety but the weapons officer, Hans was a dedicated and a careful leader. He makes sure that the safety takes the priority in the weapons room. To add to the safety, all torpedoes have been disabled and the firing mechanism is stored away in the safety locker.
“Is everything in order, Hans?”
“We got extra torpedoes this time around Captain and had a hard time storing them. It was a good thing that the maintenance crew made small modifications at the living quarters to accommodate the additional storage. The torpedoes are new class torpedoes – I have heard about them but this is first time I am seeing them. Based on the specifications and the chat that I had with the weapons development team from Berlin, these new class torpedoes should give an edge. It is faster, quieter and packs a large explosive in a smaller warhead.
“Yes, we will see them in action soon”
The Captain went back to his quarters to take a short nap – he will be relieving Ernst at the bridge in a couple hours time and their final destination is far away. He stopped by the mess room for a snack. Becker was on duty and the dinner time had ended but he wiped something for the Captain to eat. The only concern that Becker had is that due to the long range mission, he need to save the provisions as much as possible. So, having something luxurious is out of the question.
The Captain decided to make his way to the bridge to check the status before heading back to the bridge.
Ernst was discussing something with the sonar operator when the Captain walked in.
“How are things, Ernst?”
“Everything is under control, Captain. No sight of any enemy ship. We are cruising at 25 knots and the Wolf Pack is maintaining the 10 miles buffer. The Bismarck task force is maintaining the same”
“Alright Ernst – I am going back to my quarters. Wake me up if anything comes out”
Captain Franz entered his quarters and lied on the bed for a short nap.
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