Battle of Atlantic Phase 3 file photo

Black May

29 Apr 1943 - 24 May 1943

Contributor: C. Peter Chen

The German Navy was successful in hunting Allied shipping in the Altantic Ocean in the month of Mar 1943, sinking more than 70 ships. Although German submarine activity decreased in Apr 1943 as many of the submarines active in Mar were back in their home ports for repairs and replenishment, the month still saw more than 30 sinkings of Allied ships in the Atlantic Ocean. In May 1943, however, the table completely turned in favor of the Allies. Between 29 Apr and 6 May, German submarines attacked Allied convoy ONS 5 in the North Atlantic, sinking 12 ships; however, the convoy's escorts were able to sink 6 submarines and damage 7 others, making it the first convoy to inflict heavy damage among the attacking wolfpack. Later in the month, Allied convoy SC 130 was unsuccessfully attacked with the loss of 5 submarines. Although May 1943 represented the month in which German Navy had its greatest strength of operational submarines (240 total; 118 on patrol at sea during this month), it was only able to sink about 30 Allied ships in the Atlantic Ocean, meaning that the German Navy was only able to maintain the low rate of sinking from the previous month rather than improving it. This alarmed German Admiral Karl Dönitz, who scaled back submarine operations on 24 May in order to regroup and re-evaluate tactics. The Allies would attribute their success to increased number of vessels available for escort duties and technological advances in anti-submarine weaponry.

The German submarines would never regain the level of success it previously achieved.

Source: Wikipedia

Black May Timeline

21 Apr 1943 Allied convoy ONS 5 consisted of 42 ships departed from Liverpool, England, United Kingdom for a 3-week journey to Halifax, Nova, Scotia, Canada; it was escorted by 7 warships (2 destroyers, 1 frigate, and 4 corvettes) and supported by 2 trawlers and 1 tanker. The convoy was under the command of J. Kenneth Brook of the British Royal Navy Reserve; he was aboard Norwegian freighter Rena. The convoy was to grow in size from mid-journey rendezvous with other ships departing from other ports.
24 Apr 1943 In the North Atlantic, Escorts of Allied convoy ONS 5 spotted and sank German submarine U-710 10 miles ahead of the convoy.
27 Apr 1943 Admiral Dönitz issued a new order to his submarine commanders, instructing that they were to cross the Bay of Biscay submerged during the night and to resurface during the day only long enough to recharge their batteries. This proved something of a mistake for the Germans as it permitted some 12 RAF Squadrons to contribute to daylight anti-submarine operations.
28 Apr 1943 German submarine U-650 sighted Allied convoy ONS 5 in the North Atlantic at 0800 hours. During the day U-375, U-386, U-528, and U-537 sailed toward U-650 and began planning the attack. Radio chatter between these submarines alerted commander of ONS 5 escorts Captain Peter Gretton.
29 Apr 1943 Starting at midnight, German submarines U-650, U-375, U-386, U-528, and U-532 attacked Allied convoy ONS 5 in the North Atlantic. They scored no hits until around 1200 hours when US freighter McKeesport sunk by a torpedo from U-528; three attacking submarines were damaged during the attacks and were forced to return to base to receive repairs. Upon learning the attacks, the British Admiralty dispatched additional destroyers to reinforce the escort force.
4 May 1943 German submarine U-625 spotted Allied convoy ONS 5 in the North Atlantic at about 1200 hours local time. Several German submarines gathered and began attacking at dusk and lasted through the night into the next date, sinking 7 ships (British freighters L'Orient, North Britain, Harbury, Harpurley, Bristol City, and Wentworth; US freighter West Maximus). U-630 was lost during the attacks.
5 May 1943 German submarines continued to attack Allied convoy ONS 5 in the North Atlantic, sinking British freighter Dolius and US freighter West Makadet during the day; German submarine U-358 was damaged during the attacks. After dark, German submarines lost contact with the convoy, sinking British freighters Selvistan and Gharinda and Norwegian freighter Bonde, but the radar-equipped Allied escorts continued to fight back, sinking U-638, U-125, and U-531.
6 May 1943 British corvette HMS Loosestrife sank German submarine U-638 with depth charges, which was attempting to attack Allied convoy ONS 5 in the North Atlantic; two other submarines were also destroyed on this date. Realizing the convoy was now well escorted, Admiral Karl Dönitz ordered the attacks on this convoy to cease.
7 May 1943 Hitler announced in a speech to Reichsleiters and Gauleiters that submarine warfare was to be stepped up as the surest way to cut enemy supply lines, even as the German submarine fleet was being pounded in the Atlantic Ocean.
11 May 1943 Allied convoy SC 130 (37 ships) departed Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada for Liverpool, England, United Kingdom.
18 May 1943 After sundown, German submarine U-304 spotted Allied convoy SC 130 in the North Atlantic.
19 May 1943 In the North Atlantic, as German submarines began to form an attack formation against Allied convoy SC 130, Liberator bombers of No. 120 Squadron RAF pre-emptively struck them, breaking up the attack. The convoy was met by additional 3 frigates and 1 sloop as reinforcement.
24 May 1943 After suffering many submarine sinkings during May 1943, German Admiral Karl Dönitz ordered a temporary halt to submarine operations in the North Atlantic to regroup and re-evaluate tactics.
26 May 1943 Allied convoy SC 130 arrived in Liverpool, England, United Kingdom without losses despite German submarine attacks en route.
31 May 1943 Adolf Hitler expressed extreme dismay at the withdrawal of German submarines from the American coast.
5 Jun 1943 German submarine U-217 was attacked and sunk by a TBF Avenger torpedo bomber assisted by a Wildcat fighter from escort carrier USS Bogue.

Photographs

Crew of USS Spencer cared for rescued U-175 sailors, North Atlantic, 500 nautical miles WSW of Ireland, 17 Apr 1943, photo 1 of 2Crew of USS Spencer cared for rescued U-175 sailors, North Atlantic, 500 nautical miles WSW of Ireland, 17 Apr 1943, photo 2 of 2Obersteurmann Helmut Klotzch of U-175 yelled for help after the submarine sank in the North Atlantic, 500 nautical miles WSW of Ireland, 17 Apr 1943U-175 forced to surface after being depth charged by USCG cutter Spencer, North Atlantic, 500 nautical miles WSW of Ireland, 17 Apr 1943
See all 6 photographs of Black May



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Visitor Submitted Comments

  1. AM says:
    20 Sep 2010 12:29:39 PM

    Any article that uses Wikipedia as a source is unreliable. Sorry Peter.
  2. Anonymous says:
    12 Nov 2011 08:43:44 AM

    Enjoyed The Black May Article, I was a Radio Officer on The Baron Elgin in Convoy
    ONS 5.

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More on Black May
Participant:
» Dönitz, Karl

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» U-175


Black May Photo Gallery
Crew of USS Spencer cared for rescued U-175 sailors, North Atlantic, 500 nautical miles WSW of Ireland, 17 Apr 1943, photo 1 of 2
See all 6 photographs of Black May



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