- shipwreck, Type IXC/40 U-boat, Kriegsmarine, Germany
- 1943, Germany
- ( 252 x 22 ft ) 1051 displacement tons, 48-56 crew
- Saturday May 6, 1945
sunk by destroyer escort USS Atherton - no survivors
- 110-130 ft
The U-853 claimed the last victim of the Atlantic war in US waters, and then became the last U-boat sunk in US waters - all after the official end of the war. Either her captain never got the news, or he didn't care. Towards the end of the war, when most of the older commanders had been lost, U-boats were often captained by youthful ( brainwashed ) Nazi fanatics, a number of whom fought on even after the surrender.
In any case, we'll never know, as a Navy task force that happened to be in the area turned their full attentions to the situation, and sank the U-853 in short order, with all hands lost. In fact, they did enough damage to sink her several times over. Today the sub lies intact and upright on the bottom, with two large blast holes in the hull. The first is just forward of the conning tower, with a diameter equal to the width of the hull. The second is of similar size near the stern. It is easy to drop down into either hole and look around, but penetrating further into the confines of the hull would be much more difficult.
A spread of Hedgehogs is fired at the U-853, with positive results
In early 1945, the U-853, a Type IX C/40 U-boat, was ordered to patrol the waters off the northeast coast of the U.S. along with six other U-boats to harass coastal shipping in an operation code-named "Seewolf." She departed on 23 February 1945 under the command of Oberleutnant zur See Helmut Fromsdorf. U-853 apparently had little success during the intervening weeks before attacking and sinking the patrol boat USS Eagle 56 on 23 April 1945 off Portland, Maine. On 30 April Adolf Hitler committed suicide and the former head of Germany's U-boat fleet, Gross Admiral Karl Donitz, became the Third Reich's second fuhrer. On 4 May he ordered, by radio, all of his U-boats, especially the 49 still on patrol at sea, to cease hostilities.
The U-853, by this time patrolling off of Rhode Island, probably did not receive Donitz's order or, less likely, deliberately chose to ignore it. The following day, 5 May 1945, the U-boat located, tracked, and torpedoed the steamer S.S. Black Point off Narragansett Bay. The Black Point sank, taking 11 of her crew with her. A passing vessel sighted the U-853 and reported to the authorities. With the sinking of the Black Point and the U-boat sighting in hand, the Navy quickly organized an ad-hoc "hunter-killer" group from readily available escorts. These were the destroyer USS Ericsson, destroyer escorts Atherton and the Amick, with the commanding officer of Ericsson taking overall command. The Coast Guard-manned frigate Moberly was also assigned to the group.
Moberly arrived in the area of the Black Point's sinking first, and the two destroyer escorts arrived soon thereafter. The Moberly's commanding officer, LCDR Leslie B. Tollaksen, USCG, took tactical command. The three warships then formed a patrol line abreast and began searching out to sea. The Atherton made a sound contact five miles east of Grove Point, Block Island and attacked with hedgehogs. After the third attack, the Atherton lost contact with the target. Three hours later, with each escort following a prescribed search pattern, the Atherton once again obtained a sonar contact. Once again she attacked, and this time the U-853 was hit. Oil began seeping to the surface while the Moberly also began attacking. Debris rose to the surface, including a German naval officers' hat and a piece of a chart table, indicating that the U-boat was severely damaged or destroyed. The Ericsson soon arrived in the area and each warship took turns attacking the now cornered U-853 throughout the night and into the morning of 5 May. Divers later confirmed the kill.
from Coast Guard records
Incredibly, the Atherton is still afloat and in commission as of 2015, as the Philippines' BRP Rajah Humabon, largely unchanged from her WWII fit-out. What a great museum ship she would make.
Side-scan sonar image, with exaggerated shadow.
Outside the wreck, the deck and coamings around the cylindrical pressure hull have rusted away, revealing the myriad pipes and supporting frames beneath. The pressure vessel of the conning tower is all that remains, not quite the same shape as the drawing above. The conning tower is topped with a shiny stainless steel spike, perhaps a radio aerial.
Fish life is almost exclusively cunners, with a few Sea Ravens and Ling. Conditions tend to be dark and often murky. The wreck is a war grave, and any human remains found inside must not be disturbed.
A diver ascends near the conning tower.
Looking up at the same from a different angle.
Bubbles rise from inside the wreck where a diver has penetrated.
The comical cunners were actually trying to eat them.
Framings along the side of the hull that once supported the deck.
The aft torpedo loading hatch.
The conning tower again.
A diver swims near the bow.
Looking inside one of the blast holes.
The bow of the U-853
A diver swims alongside
The conning tower
Inside the control room
The hatch to the engine room
Inside the engine room
A decaying torpedo
Overhead loading rail, and torpedo tube hatch
A closing shot of the conning tower
Underwater photographs courtesy of James Lee / DeepScape.com.
- shipwreck, collier, USA
- 1918, Camden NJ USA
- ( 369 x 55 ft ) 5353 displacement tons
- Saturday May 5, 1945
U-853 - 12 casualties
- 85 ft
broken in two, otherwise intact
SS Black Point Sailor Recalls Freighter's Sinking
Former crewman Howard Locke, now 73, attends a memorial ceremony to remember the Black Point, sunk by a German U-boat off the Rhode Island coast 53 years ago.
By MARK ARSENAULT
Journal-Bulletin Staff Writer
NARRAGANSETT -- On May 5, 1945, merchant seaman Howard Locke !eft the crew quarters in the stern of the freighter Black Point as it steamed past Point Judith. Locke was 19, a tall, wiry kid from Georgia, who shoveled coal for four-hour shifts to feed Black Point's gluttonous boilers.
Forty minutes into Locke's evening duty shift, about 5:40 p.m., a German torpedo blew away the Black Point's crew quarters, killing the sailor Locke had just relieved. The Black Point shuddered and the power cut out. Glare from the furnace lit a wave of ocean water rushing up from the stern. Locke scurried up to the main deck. The bow of the 369-foot transport was tilted up at about a 45-degree angle. The back third of the boat was gone.
After six years of fighting in Europe -- and just days before Germany's surrender -- World War II had come to Rhode Island, delivered by a 24-year-old at the helm of a German U-boat. The Black Point had a pet chimpanzee on board -- a ship's mascot. As Locke leaped feet-first from the bow, "The last thing I remember was that monkey hollering" from inside the ship.
Minutes later, Locke and 16 other crewmen, "stacked like cord wood" on a crude life raft, watched their ship go under, less than three miles off Point Judith. "It stood straight up and the last thing I saw was the belly of it, " Locke said. The Black Point sank straight toward the bottom, sucking down floating oil drums, parts of a splintered lifeboat, and the howls of the chimpanzee.
HOWARD LOCKE, now 73, a retired Georgia farmer and former school-bus driver with creased, meaty hands, came back to Point Judith yesterday, on the 53rd anniversary of the Black Point's sinking. It was the first time he's been back since his ship was torpedoed by the German submarine U-853 on May 5, 1945. Twelve men on the Black Point died in the attack; Locke was one of 34 who survived.
At the U.S. Coast Guard Station at Point Judith yesterday morning, Locke wore a windbreaker and Georgia Bulldogs cap. He stood by a plaque that honors the sailors of the Black Point, and looked out into a white fog. "I had only been on the ship five days and I didn't know the guys, " he said in a gentle Georgia accent. "But it's been on my mind for 53 years, and I just wanted to see if it looks the same around here." He'll be in Rhode Island for a few days, he said. He wants to find other survivors of the Black Point. "And I just want to walk around a while."
Locke had the worst job on the Black Point in 1945 -- feeding the furnaces that gorged on coal in the dark, oily bilge of the boat. It was not what he expected. Drafted into the Army, Locke was allowed to switch to the merchant marine to help fill a sailor shortage. "I figured anything had to be better than the Army, " he said. He trained on oil-burning boats, which did not require back-breaking labor in the boiler room. But after his cousin was killed in fighting on Iwo Jima, Locke was devastated, and took the first assignment he could "just to get away."
He left his post in Virginia to join the crew of the Black Point, a transport ship carrying 7,000 tons of coal from Virginia to Boston. The old boat, built in 1918, burned coal to heat its boilers to 500 degrees. Locke shoveled the oily rocks into the furnace on a brutal schedule: four hours on, then eight hours off. Off the coast of New Jersey, Locke got seasick during a storm. He was hollered at for resting on duty when the ship needed to maintain its power. "I feel like I'm going to die, " Locke yelled back. "Let the dang thing sink."
HELMUT FROEMSDORF was a young German captain with big shoes to fill in 1945. A year earlier, Froemsdorf had accepted command of the 252-foot U-853 submarine from Gunter Kunhnke. a winner of the prestigious "Knights' Cross, " one of the rarest honors in the German military. Froemsdorf was 18 when he entered the German navy, and 22 when he became watch officer on the U- 853. After two months of commander training, he was given the helm of the deadly submarine on Sept. 1, 1944. He was then 23.
The U-853 left port in Nazi-occupied Norway with a crew of 55 on Feb. 23, 1945, for a patrol along the North American coastline. A day before the attack on the Black Point, the German high command -- realizing the war was lost ordered its U-boats to stop all hostile activities. It's unknown if Froemsdorf ever received the message, but Locke believes he did. "He knew they done lost the war, " Locke said. "He wanted to get one more."
On that night, when Locke felt the ship shudder, "I thought right away maybe it was a torpedo, or maybe we hit a mine, " he recalled. The rush of water into the boiler room sent Locke and a crewmate up an escape ladder. "Neither one of us knew where it went to, but it was going up, so we took it, " he said.
Two lifeboats had already been launched by the time Locke scaled 25 feet to the main deck, he said. Locke and another sailor used fire axes to free a stuck life raft. The raft, a 6-by-8-foot platform on pontoons, was tethered to the ship with a thick rope. Locke jumped "40 or 50 feet" from the bow to the water, and pulled the raft next to the sinking ship, he said.
Others climbed down a net and piled onto the raft. One sailor cut the tether with a hunting knife and Locke pushed the raft away by leaning a long pole against the Black Point's sinking hull. "It was a little choppy and the waves just carried us away, " Locke said. "It was a miracle we survived."
They drifted about 45 minutes before a Yugoslav freighter picked them up. A rescuing sailor warmed Locke with a tall glass of schnapps. American war boats sank the U- 853 a few hours later, killing all 55 men on board. Sympathy for the German crew comes hard to Locke. Froemsdorf, the young German captain, "really done us bad, " Locke said. "When we got him, I felt good about it. Yeah, I did."
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