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SHIPS HIT GERMANY 25* - BLOCKADEBRECHER

5)LAST VOYAGE OF ANNELIESE ESSBERGER


                                   LAST VOYAGE OF ANNELIESE ESSBERGER 


[ONI NOTE: Interrogation results in this chapter have been supplemented by deductions from faint pencil markings on captured charts and from the third officer's notebook, where impressions had been left after the first 10 pages, containing the actual writing, had been torn out. It was possible, by special treatment, to obtain a number of positions and times from the notebook, but the complete accuracy of this reconstruction of the voyage cannot be guaranteed.] 


According to a captured document and to prisoners' statements, Anneliese Essberger finally sailed from Bordeaux on November 1942. The vessel cast off all lines at 1340; the voyage began at 1350; the pilot was taken on at 1145 and dropped at 1945 at Buoy No.11 (ONI NOTE: Believed to be at Royan, in the mouth of the Gironde River). The time of departure (1340) was confirmed by interrogation, with the added observation that this was in order to reach the Bay of Biscay at dusk. A mine-destructor ship ("sperrbrecher") and a patrol boat preceded the vessel down the river.


From the mouth of the Gironde, Anneliese Essberger's course was approximately west and then southwest to position (believed to have been taken at 1200 on November 6th) 45.02 N.--05.45 W.

On November 6th, between 1000 and 1400, the vessel was subjected to air attack. General quarters was sounded by signaling by Morse Code the letter "F" for "Flieger" (Aircraft) over the ship's loudspeakers. Prisoners stated that they were first sighted by a Liberator bomber which dropped 8 bombs, and later by a Whitley which made two attacks, dropping first two bombs and later, one.


All guns were used to counter the attacks, including the 105 mm. aft, which fired barrages of high explosive and shrapnel shells. It was believed that the Whitley was damaged by a shell from the 105 mm. No direct hits were sustained by Anneliese Essberger, but a near miss is stated to have jarred the propeller shaft causing a slight reduction in speed.

At dusk on this day, a submarine was sighted on the horizon. This was thought to be British, judging be her silhouette and by the fact that she did not flash a recognition signal, which, there is some reason to believe, should have been the Morse letters "MS". This sighting caused an alteration of course which is revealed in the chart markings as : 45.00 N.--06.47 W. to 45.07 N. --06.23 W. to 44.46 N.--06.23 W. , from which position the vessel resumed her course. These markings are timed at 1625, 1845, and 1915 respectively. A later position shows the vessel on an almost true westerly course at 44.47 N. - 09.18 W.


It is thought that this position was fixed by a D/F bearing from Lorient (Ile de Groix). On November 7th, at 1400, there was another attack, this time by a Sunderland aircraft which allegedly dropped 8 bombs and one depth charge, scoring no hits and no uncomfortably near misses. A fix at 0630, on November 7th, reveals the ship to have been at 44.47 N.--09.40 W. The noon position of the vessel was 44.47 N.--11.52 W., making the 24-hour run from the previous day's noon position approximately 330 miles. Further positions for the 7th of November are indicated as 44.54 N. --13.35 W. (1830), 45.00 N.--15.20 W. (2400).

For the 8th of November, the following positions are indicated: 45.00--16.55 W. (0600(?)), 45.00 N. --18.05 W. (1200), 44 45 N.--19.00 W. (1800(?)), 44.45 N.--22.30 W. (2400 (?)). For the 9th of November, the following positions are given: 44.45 N. --23.15 W. and 44.50 N. --26.30 W.


From the notebook of the third officer, additional positions were established. This notebook had the first 10 pages torn out, but it was possible to decipher impressions of positions left on the first remaining page. These, while not always clear, are definite enough to establish that the vessel continued her westerly course to a point northwest of the Azores before heading south. The notebook contained several positons for this area, which reads as follows:

43.58 N.--31.51 W. 43.39 N. --32.40 W  .39 W. 43.3? N. -- 42.52 N.-- 44.47 N. --36.35 W.


These positions are believed to be in the order as shown. About 10 days out, a twin-funneled merchant vessel was sighted hull down on the horizon, by the masthead lookout. According to instructions, Anneliese Essberger at once turned away and fled for some hours before returning to her original course. No indications have been obtained as to the actual positions of Anneliese Essberger from the last position shown above until shortly before her sinking. In the third officer's diary, there is a pencil entry of the position 01.00 N. --23.00 W. This position is to the northwest of the position of her sinking and falls approximately upon one of the two lines drawn on a chart (German Admiralty No. 384) of the South Atlantic taken from prisoners. This position is likewise marked on the chart.


On the chart, the courses on which are described in detail in Chapter IX, Tactics and Strategy (b), two apparently alternate routes are shown: the one, skirting the coast of South America; the other, down the African Coast, proceeding around the Cape of Good Hope. It was established during interrogation that the majority of prisoners believed that the intended course of their vessel from Bordeaux to Kobe (Japan) was to be around Cape Horn. However, it is indicated by the chart and by the position of the sinking that the vessel may have had orders to proceed around the Cape of Good Hope.


On November 20, the day before sinking, an aircraft was sighted which was believed to be a commercial Clipper. It is believed by prisoners that their position was betrayed by this aircraft, since it was heard transmitting radio signals in code shortly after it was sighted. All prisoners were emphatic that throughout their cruise they kept no rendezvous with any other German vessel. The only time when Anneliese Essberger was stopped on the high seas was one short interval of 15 minutes to change an oil jet.


                                           SINKING OF ANNELIESE ESSBERGER


At 0516 G.C.T., on November 21, 1942, Task Group 23.2, consisting of Milwaukee (Commander Cruiser Division Two), flagship, Cincinnati and Somers, were in latitude 01.00 N., longitude 22.00 W. ; on base course 269 degrees T. speed 11 knots, proceeding toward point of origin for the day's search, latitude 01.00 N. longitude 23.00 W. ; order of ships from ahead: SomersMilwaukeeCincinnati, zigzagging in accordance with approved plan, conducting operations in search for blockade runners. Visibility was excellent with diffused moonlight, wind was from 140 degrees T., force four.


According to Milwaukee's report, at 0532, Cincinnati reported a Radar contact bearing 302 degrees T., distance 22,000 yards and at 0533 advised that target was a surface ship. At 0538, a ship, which proved later to be Anneliese Essberger, was sighted from Milwaukee by high-position lookout on bearing 309 degrees T., and at a distance of 17,800 yards, obtained by FC Radar. At 0540 crews went to General Quarters. By 0546 the range of the strange ship had closed to 14,600 yards. At 0551, the Task Group Commander ordered an emergency turn of all ships to the right to course 315 degrees T., and immediately thereafter directed Somers to investigate the strange ship whose course at the time was estimated to be 095 degrees T. The Task Group Commander then directed a column movement of the cruisers to the left to 090 degrees T. in order to parallel the strange ship's course.


At 0600  Milawaukee challenged the ship with AA. The ship replied with call letters L-J-P-V, the international call of steamship Skjelbred, a Norwegian freighter. At this time, the strange ship appeared to have changed course to 160 degrees T. The strange ship was then called with the appropriate Allied secret identifcation signal to which there was no reply. At 0638, course of Milwaukee and Cincinnati was 090 degrees T,. and cruisers were zigzagging, speed having been increased to 18 knots. At this time Somers and the strange ship bore about 080 degrees T. The strange ship now altered course to approximately 030 degrees T., and headed toward a small rain squall. At 0651, at a distance of about 4 miles smoke and flame were observed coming from the strange ship''s superstructure and almost simultaneously Somers reported that the ship was afire and  was lowering boats. At 0656, the first of 3 heavy explosions was observed on the freighter; one forward, one just abaft the deck house, and one aft. The explosion aft was tremenedous and hurled wreckage 100-200 feet feet in the air.


Prisoners from the ship later stated that their captain had been anxious ever since they had been sighted by the commercial aircraft on the previous day. No drastic alteration of course had, however, been made.

According to prisoners, preparataions for abandoning ship were made as soon as the cruisers were sighted at about 0550 G.C.T. on November 21, 1942. When challenged with AA at 0600 by Milwaukee, reply was made by with the international call of the Norwegian freighter Skjelbred, in accordance with sealed orders which Captain Prahm had received in Berlin during his visit to the German Operations Directorate. Following these instructions Prahm also ordered that the Norwegian flag be broken at the mast head. These subterfuges were performed less with the object of escaping interception and more in the hope of gaining time for the collection and destruction of secret documents and codes. The chief radio officer stated that he had been previously instructed to send out a radio signal should Anneliese Essberger be intercepted, but in point of fact he was so occupied with other work that he had no time to get the set in operation. It is doubtful whether this statement can be accepted, as a full hour elapsed from the time of sighting the cruisers to the final scuttling of the vessel. 


At about 0640, when it became apparent that the ship was doomed  to either sinking or capture, piles of inflammable material which had been hurriedly prepared were ignited and the crew ordered into the boats. The captain, the first officer, the chief engineering officer, and the naval warrant officer remained behind to explode scuttling charges in the engine room and in the after hold. It appeared that the Merchant Marine officers attended to the engine room charges and the naval warrant officer to the hold, where firing of the scuttling charge caused the major explosion observed from the cruisers. At 0700 the German merchant Swastika flag was raised at the mainmast and the Norwegian flag hauled down. The final act of the officers before abandoning ship was to put a revolver bullet through a dog, belonging to one of the seamen, which had travelled on the ship as mascot. It was apparently thoought by the senior officers that they might not be picked up by the cruisers and this explains why charts, which proved in plotting the ship's final cruise, were taken into the boats.


Following the explosions aboard Anneliese Essberger, group commander directed the cruisers to act independently and maneuver to avoid submarines, Cincinnati to go northward, Milwaukee to southward of the ship. Cruisers were also ordered to send a salvage party, immediately thereafter. The freighter was now observed to be settling by the stern. Heavy black smoke appeared coming from the funnel and superstructure. At 0709 a boat from Somers was observed alongside. Steam and smoke could be seen coming from the forward and after holds, and flames had spread throughout the bridge. Explosions had apparently blown the bottom out of the target, most effectively in the after hold, as the ship was sinking rapidly by the stern. The armed boat party, which had picked up one of Essberger's junior officers from one of the survivors' boats to act as guide, went alongside the sinking vessel. Two officers  and six men of the party were able to step onto the main deck from the whaleboat, since there were only 4 1/2 feet of freeboard on the sinking vessel at this time.


Search forward was prevented by heat from the fire in the forward hold. The after hold and the engineering spaces were likewise burning fiercely. One officer, however, was able to reach the bulletin board and rip off the ship's Watch, Quarter, and Station Bill. The other boarding officer obtained an officer's notebook and several propaganda booklets from an officer's room. At 0714 G.C.T. the armed boat party was ordered to leave  the ship, at which time the freeboard at the stern was only a foot and a half. The party took along the Swastika, a Norwegian flag, a machine gun and ammunition, and a 4-inch high explosive shell, as well as clothing snaps from the cargo.


From Milwaukee it was now observed that flames were enveloping the entire superstructure of the freighter which was rapidly sinking by the stern. By 0715 flames had died down somewhat, but the stern was almost under water. Four boats of survivors were observed about a thousand yards from their ship, two other boats or rafts farther away and empty. At 0726, the stern of the freighter went under  and she heeled over to port. At exactly 0728, the ship sank by the stern in position latitude 00.54 N., longitude 22.34 W. At 0742 Somers was directed to remain in the vicinity of the survivors in the event of an attempt by an enemy submarine to approach the scene of the sinking. Milwaukee and Cincinnati then proceeded to carry out a previously arranged aircraft search.


At 0845, four planes were catapulted and Milwaukee and Cincinnati proceeded on patrol on course 230 degrees T., at 15 knots. At 1116, cruisers turned and headed back on course 052 degrees T. Planes were recovered at 1315, at which time Somers was sighted and Milwaukee headed for life boats, which had hoisted sail, to pick up prisoners. At 1505, the first boat of prisoners came alongside and personnel were taken aboard. At the same time Somers sent a boat alongside with various articles salvaged by her boarding party, including a muster roll and an abandon ship bill for the German motorship Anneliese Essberger. A total of 62 officers and men, 23 of the German navy, were received on board and this number was later found, by interrogation, to account for all hands aboard the ship. 


By Post Mortems on Enemy Ships (navy.mil)Post Mortems on Enemy Ships (navy.mil) USNHC


 

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