GERMAN U-BOAT ATTACKS
OFF THE AUSTRALIAN COAST
DURING WW2

 

In December 1944 an American liberty ship was sunk off the New South Wales coast and another vessel was attacked off the South Australian coast. The RAAF stepped up its anti-submarine patrols around the Australian coastline with Beaufort bombers, Catalina flying boats and Kingfisher floatplanes.

In November 1944, a rogue German U Boat, U-862, captained by Korvetten Kapitan Heinrich Timm, left Batavia (now known as Jakarta) on 18 November 1944 headed for Germany. U-862 was a type IXD2 boat of 1800 tons. The Captain of U-862 had sailed in Australian waters before the war as a merchant service officer. He ended up visiting his old stamping grounds for more hostile activities before returning to Germany. 

U-862 sailed down the West Australian coast turned east and sailed across the Great Australian Bight. At 12.00 noon on 9 December 1944, Kapitan Timm shelled the Greek tanker "S.S. Illios" (4724 tons) at a location of 130 miles south east of Adelaide."S.S. Illios" returned fire with her 4 inch gun. U-862 then submerged and left the area. Southern Area ordered Beauforts from 1 Operational Training Unit (1 OTU) at East Sale, in Victoria to locate and destroy U-862.

At that time HMAS Lismore, HMAS Burnie and HMAS Maryborough were returning from Colombo via Fremantle and were located off Cape Nelson, Victoria, about 130 miles south east of where "S.S. Illios" had been shelled by U-862.The three corvettes were headed for Melbourne at 7 knots in some bad weather conditions. At 1.00pm on 9 December 1944, Andrewartha on board HMAS Burnie was ordered to lead all three corvettes to search for and attack the German submarine. HMAS Lismore then suffered a failure of the port engine and was ordered by Andrewartha to proceed to Melbourne on the one remaining engine. HMAS Burnie and HMAS Maryborough reached "S.S. Illios" at 7.00pm on 9 December 1944. The two corvettes searched until midday on 10 December 1944 with no results. They were then ordered to proceed to Port Phillip.

U-862 then sailed south under Tasmania. Then she turned north and sailed up the New South Wales coast. Off Montague Island she sank the Robert J. Walker using six torpedoes in December 1944. 

U-862 then sailed for New Zealand. She entered New Zealand waters at North Cape and exited past South Cape. Then she sailed back across the Tasman and reversed her previous course back to Jakarta. 

On 6 February 1945 , U-862 made its third attack in Australian waters at 1540 GCT in the Indian Ocean (34 deg 19 min South / 99 deg 37 min East). The "SS Peter Sylvester" was en route alone from Melbourne, Australia to Colombo, Ceylon with a cargo of US. Army supplies and 137 US Army mules. 

U-862 fired 6 torpedoes into the motor vessel "Peter Sylvester" about 700 miles south west of Fremantle, off the Western Australian coast. The ship was ordered abandoned at 1620 GCT (4:20pm).

Fifteen survivors were picked up on 9 February 1945. 25 Squadron RAAF Liberators helped to search for more survivors. They located about fifty survivors on 12th and 13th February 1945 on some rafts and in a lifeboat. They dropped rations to these survivors who had by then been drifting at sea for a week. 

Cyril Conway was one of the 26 Armed guards on the "SS Peter Sylvester". Cyril and fourteen others had been on a raft for 38 days, 6hrs and 10 mins before they were found. He was in one of the last group of survivors to be found. At one stage a school of dolphins had chased off a school of circling sharks. American Submarine USS Rock (SS-274) found the Cyril's raft at 2235 (10:35pm) on 9 March 1945. The 15 survivors were landed at Exmouth Gulf. 

Another Liberator setting out on a third search, crashed after takeoff from Cunderin airfield in Western Australia on 14 February 1945. This attack by U-862 was the last attack by an enemy submarine on the Australian station and in the Indian Ocean.

Dudley Reynolds was 3rd Radio Officer on the ammunition ship "ASIS Darvel" (or SS Darvel) attached to the British Pacific Fleet. "ASIS" stands for Armament Stores Issuing Ship. On 28th January 1945, the ship departed Trincomalee headed for Fremantle in Western Australia. Enroute a message was received to the effect that zig zagging was no longer required in the southern Indian Ocean as it was considered safe from attacks from Japanese submarines. They evidently were not aware of German submarine U-862 based in then Batavia. Later another message stating that the SS Peter Sylvester had been torpedoed and they were to proceed to the position to assist. Also to expect an aircraft overhead to point us in the general direction. The aircraft did not turn up. On reaching the position they sighted floating slicks of oil and bloated mules floating nearby. An American destroyer "USS Corpus Christie" was in attendance so they continued on their way to Fremantle.

Years later as a sequel to the above, Dudley Reynolds was exchanging war experiences with a fellow worker in the communications room at DCA Mascot, NSW. He revealed that he was a survivor from a crash of a long range B-24 Liberator taking off from Cunderdin in Western Australia. Their mission was to guide the "SS Darvel" to the survivors of the "SS Peter Sylvester".

U-862 arrive Jakarta on 15 February 1945. U-862 arrived back in Singapore on 27 February 1945. Her crew were taken prisoners of war by the Japanese and its crew were interned following the German surrender. U-862 was then surrendered to the Allies in Singapore in August 1945 where the crew were held by the British in Changi prison. By then U-862 ha been renumbered as I-502 by the Japanese. The crew were then taken to England in July 1946 and then finally repatriated in 1947. U-862 was eventually scuttled in the Strait of Malacca on 15 February 1946 by the British.

Clem Klausen's father, Bob Klausen, worked on the Bathurst class minesweeper's engines in Sydney and Jervis Bay. He was not a sailor. Bob Klausen was on board a ship being repaired at Jervis Bay when U-862 attacked a ship off the coast. The ship Bob was on was immediately ordered to chase the German submarine.  So off went the ship with Bob Klausen on board. When he got back Bob had to have a week off to get over his sea sickness. 

How did U-862 manage to avoid being sunk? The answer might lie in the fact that The Royal Australian Navy had divided Australia into a number of naval zones which more or less ignored each other. The zones were:-

Cin C East Indies to the West of West Australia
NOIC Fremantle
NOIC Port Melbourne 
NOIC Hobart
NOIC Sydney 
NOIC Brisbane
NOIC Townsville
NOIC Darwin
NOIC New Guinea

Where I believe NOIC stands for Naval Officer in Charge.

Lee Chapman told me that his father's German mate had a brother who had been a crew member of U-862. This crew member visited South Australia after the war and stayed with Lee's father. They went fishing in the Coorong area near the Princes Highway south east of Adelaide. He commented commented that the place had not changed since he and some fellow submariners went ashore in the middle of the night looking for fresh water!!! 

 

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Subject:   Submarines
Date:            Thu, 2 Mar 2000 17:49:19 -0500
From:          "Stephen Jaggers" <jagawaga@mindspring.com>

Photo's of the rescue of some survivors from the Peter Sylvester.

USS Corpus Cristi picked up 62 from the 6 rafts and #4 lifeboat Feb 13.

My father was a veterinary and the ship had a cargo of pack mules. One half of the ship sank quickly, the other half had to be shelled several days later as it became a hazard to shipping.

My father was on a raft for 7 days along with 4 other rafts. The rafts were "overloaded".

I was told that the captain and first mate left on a large life boat and were court martialled.

I have a few more photos if you are interested

Stephen

 

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Newspaper article

 

German Commerce Raiders mine Australian Waters
 four ships sunk and one severely damaged

 

Japanese submarine activities off the Australian Coastline during WW2

 

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

I'd like to thank Dudley Reynolds, Clem Klausen, Lee Chapman and Gordon H. Steer (crewman of HMAS Lismore) for their assistance with this home page.

 

REFERENCE BOOKS

Brennan, R., "HMAS Lismore, an Australian Corvette"

Gill, Hermon, "Royal Australian Navy 1942 - 1945"

Nelmes, Michael V., "Tocumwal to Tarakan - "Australians and the Consolidated B-24 Liberator"

Stevens, David, "U Boat far from Home", by  Allen and Urwin, ISDN 1-86448-267-2.

Worledge, G.R., "Contact! - HMAS Rushcutter and Australia's Submarine Hunters 1939-1946", The Anti-submarine Officer's Association, 1994

 

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 Peter Dunn 2015

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This page first produced 12 September 1999

This page last updated 28 July 2015