By David Balme
From: Sub/Lieutenant D.E.Balme. R.N.
Date: 11th May, 1941.
To: The Commanding Officer, H.M.S.Bulldog.
Subject: Boarding Primrose.
At 1245 9th May, I left ‘Bulldog’ in charge of a boarding party to board an enemy submarine which had surfaced. The crew consisted of 6 seamen, 1 telegraphist and 1 stoker. ‘Bulldog’ was lying to windward of U boat and there was a heavy swell running so to save valuable time I made for the weather side (Port). There were numerous holes in the Conning Tower casing caused by ‘Bulldog’s’ 3′ and Pom-pom.
As no small arm fire was opened up at the whaler from the U boat, I was fairly confident that there was no one in the Conning Tower. This proved correct after having entered conning tower through opening on starboard side. The hatch down was closed tight. (This hatch was 18′ to 24′ in diameter, spherical surface with wheel for screwing down; on unscrewing this the hatch sprung open as soon as a clip was released).
I went down the ladder to the lower Conning Tower where there was a similar closed hatch. On opening this hatch I found the Control Room deserted! hatches leading forward and aft were open and all lighting on. On the deck there was a large splinter from the conning tower. There was a slight escape of air in the control room but no sign of Chlorine so gas-masks which had been taken were now discarded. So also were revolvers which now seemed more of a danger than an asset.
The U-boat had obviously been abandoned in great haste as books and gear were strewn about the place. An chain of men was formed to pass up all books charts etc. As speed was essential owing to possibility of U boat sinking (although dry throughout) I gave orders to send up ALL books, except obviously reading books, so consequently a number of comparatively useless navigational books etc were recovered. All charts were in drawers under the chart table in the Control Room; there were also some signal books, log books etc here. The metal sheet diagrams were secured overhead.
Meanwhile the telegraphist went to the W/T office, just forward of the control room on starboard side. This was in perfect condition, apparently no attempt having been made to destroy any books or apparatus. Here were found C.B’s., Signal Logs, Pay Books, and general correspondence, looking as if this room had been used as ship’s office. Also the coding machine was found here, plugged in and as though it was in actual use when abandoned. The general appearance of this machine being that of a type writer, the telegraphist pressed the keys and finding results peculiar sent it up the hatch. This W/T office seemed far less complicated than our own-sets were more compact and did not seem to have the usual excess of switches, plug holes, knobs, ‘tally’s’ etc on the outside.
Forward of the W/T office was the Hydrophone Office. This was about the same size as the W/T office and about twice as large as the A/S Cabinet in ‘Sealion’, the only I have been out in.
The Hydrophone set was still running and the sensitivity could be increased or decreased by a control knob and the bearing on the gyro dial could be altered.
The first quick look around below took about 5 minutes after which I went up the conning tower and signalled to ‘Bulldog’ that the U boat seemed seaworthy and towable, and requested that an E.R.A. might be sent over to see if any machinery would work. Meanwhile our whaler had been carried on to the U boat by the swell and was now firmly lodged between the conning tower and the steel guard rails; it was eventually a total loss.
During this time I had two hands on the Fxle who located the towing bollards which were hollow steel 6′ diameter flush with the deck but could be pulled up to a height of about 18′ and clipped in position. They had also located wires and hawsers in a porous locker. The only wire was an old and rusty 2′ F.S.Wire.
‘Bulldog’ now came up my port side and stopped with her stern just off the U boat’s bows and the end of the 2′ was sent over to her. I had hoped that this would hold while we got the proper tow secured but as soon as any tension came on it the wire parted. The heavy swell and wind made it impossible for ‘Bulldog’ to remain very close for long as she was drifting to Leeward faster than the U boat. However a grass was now being hauled in but I still only had my original party of 8 men and by the time we had got the end of the wire ‘Bulldog’ had been carried some-way off which made the wire heavy to man-handle. Two turns were then taken around the bollard but we did not have a shackle to secure the thimble of the wire back on to its own part; the end of the 2′ wire was used as a temporary seizing.
Meanwhile ‘Broadway’s’ boat had brought over the C.E.R.A. and party from ‘Bulldog’. Having inspected the engine rooms etc, he reported that the port engine was running slow ahead and that he thought it was best not to touch any switches for fear of causing damage. I agreed with this and reported the situation to ‘Bulldog’. All watertight doors were now closed except for the two hatches down and the first one forward.
Some equipment from the Hydrophone office was now unscrewed but on trying to pass it up the hatch by heaving line it was found to be too large to go through. All officers gear was now searched and several slips of paper, wallets, cameras, etc were found and sent up. A cine-camera was found in the W/T office and with this I took a few shots of W/T and H/D offices at point blank range but as I afterwards discovered range on camera was set to 25 feet and aperture to f 2.5. I doubt if they will come out at all.
Another boat load had arrived by this time, with the Engineer Officer, Gunner (T) and party. They were sent to see if they could stop the port motor, but having turned all the switches they found they could neither do that nor start the starboard motor. They did however collect some further important documents.
The wire had now got under the U-boat’s bows and was being severely chaffed on the sharp edge of the U boat’s casing. If this had carried on it would certainly have parted, so I decided to slip the wire. This was probably just as well as ‘Bulldog’ now sighted a periscope and went off on an A/S sweep.
I had now been onboard about 5 hours during this time the U-boat had been going down very slowly by the stern and taken on a list to port as if the port after ballast tank was slowly flooding. It seemed as if all possible material had been recovered so it was decided to batten down and wait for ‘Bulldog’s’ return. On ‘Bulldog’s’ return she again came up the port side and with the extra hands and shackle having previously supplied by boat the tow was again successfully secured. All hands then returned to ‘Bulldog’.
Here are some of my impressions of the U boat. She was new and a fine ship both in the strength of the hull, in the fittings and instruments and general interior construction. Absolutely nothing ‘Ersatz’ about her. Excellent A.A. armament abaft the conning tower, consisting of a Bofors and Oerlikon type gun. Deck around the forward gun was wood.
Spotlessly clean throughout. Ward Room finished off in light varnished woodwork and all cupboards were numbered with corresponding keys to fit. No signs of a safe and there was only one cupboard for which I could not find the key; this cupboard was over the captain’s desk so I broke into it and it revealed a medicine chest. In W/T Room there were several sets of writing paper and envelopes, well printed and illustrated reading books, cards, dice, and the usual art studies. Bunks were one on top of another both in officer’ and crews spaces. An S.R. Equipment was running all round the boat with very compact S.R.E. receiver (3 feet by 1 foot by 1 foot) in the W/T office with names of about 200 stations written on its dial.
Plenty of tinned ham, corned beef, cigars, Players cigarettes (German printing on packets) and a plate of shrimps were all found in the W/room. Magnificent galley forward of W/room. No signs of voice-pipes but I think loud-speakers and telephones were used definitely a telephone in the conning tower.
1 Tommy gun was found in officer’s clothes drawer; other L.C.T. with anti-tank type of rifle. Officer gear consisted of very good clothing including well designed anti-weather garments.
In engine room I noticed a plate of mashed potatoes as if action stations had been sounded suddenly while dinner was being taken from galley to after crew’s space. Escape chamber was in C.R. just abaft the upper hatch (see plate diagram).
My original whalers crew worked splendidly throughout the time. They comprised of:
S. Pearce - A.B.
A. Hargreaves - O/Sea
C. Dolley - O/Sea
J. Trotter - O/Sea
R. Roe - O/Sea
A. Long - Tel.
K. Wileman - Tel.
C. Lee - Sto.
I submit that service revolvers are far too cumbersome and dangerous for boarding and that small police model automatics should be supplied to all boarding officers.
Possibly in addition to ransacking the W/room, the crew’s quarters should have been thoroughly searched, but owing to frequent depth charge attacks continuing in the vicinity, I considered it safer to keep these watertight doors closed.
The reason why no attempt to destroy any books or material is obviously because they thought the U boat was certain to sink at once, the necessary demolition switches or other devices had been set; this was corroborated by statements from prisoners who had no idea that U boat had been boarded. But then again, Why Were Both Conning Tower Hatches Closed?
I have the Honour to be, sir,
Your obedient servant,
D.E.Balme, Sub/Lieutenant. R.N.