U-128 under Ulrich Heyse, Bermuda patrol February 1942

U-128          Heyse 7-Feb-1942

Between 24 December 1941 and January 8th, 1942 U-128 was supplied and provisioned. Her torpedoes were all offloaded, checked, and re-loaded. A lighter (barge) came along side and pumped diesel oil aboard, and provisions were loaded for an extended patrol to the Americas. On the 8th of January a minesweeper and two patrol boats escorted her into the Bay of Biscay, starting at 11 am. The crossing of the Atlantic was apparently uneventful, probably punctuated by a series of diving drills.

U-128’s patrol in the greater Bahamas region lasted 24 days in sum. Beginning on the 13thof February, the submarine entered the area by crossing a line between Bermuda and Anegada. In fact Heyse came quite close to the southeast coast of Bermuda, perhaps using Saint David’s Light located there as a navigational “fix” (given his later experience of being attacked by aircraft from Bermuda he would do well to give the island a wider berth).

On the 14th of February U-128 turned south for a day, then turned back east-southeast, leaving the area briefly on the 15th and performing some kind of patrol line south of Bermuda. On the 15th the boat reversed course and motored due west for th next four days, passing north of Abaco and Grand Bahama and arriving off the coast of Florida near Cape Canneveral on the 18th of February.

On the following day, the 19th of February and slightly to the north of Canneveral, U-128 made the first kill of the war off the Florida coast when it sank the US tanker Pan Massachusetts. From there the boat headed southeast across the Gulf Stream, finding no targets. It returned to the coast of Florida and three days later it followed on this success by sinking the Cities Services Empire off Cannaveral. It again headed southeast, to the north of Walker’s Cay, Grand Bahama, before returning to the Florida coast. It patrolled the Florida coast fruitlessly for a week, from the 22nd of February to the third of March 1942.

 A week after sinking the Cities Service Empire, U-128 steamed east on the 2nd and 3rd of March north of Grand Bahama. On the third the submarine made a feint to the northeast towards Bermuda before turning south towards the Northeast Providence Channel and shipping coming out of the Straits of Florida for Europe from there. On the 4th it rounded Abaco for its fateful encounter with the O. A. Knudsen, which it took the whole day of the 5th of March to sink.

Heyse had intended to utilize the Northeast and Northwest Providence channels to re-enter the Straits of Florida and essentially circumnavigate Abaco and Grand Bahama, however he used the last of his 15 torpedoes on the stubborn O. A. Knudsen, and decided instead to head back to home base in France. To do this the sub steamed northeast towards Bermuda on the 6th, and 7th, when it was attacked by aircraft. On a map the patrol looks roughly like the letter “U” turned clockwise on its side. This patrol began in Lorient on the 8th of January and ended there on the 23rd of March 1942.

Kapitänleutnant Ulrich Heyse, born in Berlin-Friedenau on the 27th of September in 1906 and thus aged 34 at the time of U-128’s commissioning and 35 when he patrolled the Bahamas (he would survive the war and live to 1970 and the age of 64). A member of the Crew of 1933, he sank 12 ships for 83,639 tons over his career, which is the same tally for U-128 since he was one of only two commanders of the sub and the only one to confirm sinking enemy ships on her (Stienert was seen as much more hesitant and was, according to survivors, much less liked than Heyse).

          Here is a description of Heyse taken from interviews of survivors of the sub after it had been sunk by US aircraft and destroyers off Brazil in mid-1943:

“He was popular with his crew; on occasion he would sit down with the kitchen detail, whip out his pocket knife and while peeling potatoes would talk about and discuss with crew members any subject which interested them.  He also would now and then have several glasses of beer with his crew, when on shore.  No doubt, his leadership contributed to the success of U-128 while under his command; most prisoners expressed their belief that U-128 would not have met with its fate on May 17, 1943, had Heyse been its commander.  Heyse belongs to the 1930 [1933 actually] term and, prior to his entry into the German Navy, had served on merchant ships. 

To this background many of his men attribute the sympathetic attitude of Heyse toward crew members of torpedoed ships.  Foodstuff, cigarettes, and even rum, if necessary, were supplied, and in more than one instance Heyse explained that he was sorry that his duty compelled him to sink their ships.  While in the Navy, Heyse had served as executive officer on a destroyer and had made a cruise as commander pupil in another U-boat.  He is now reported to be company commander at the Gotenhafen U-boat school.” (Jerry Mason, uboatarchive.net/U-128INT, pp. 3-4)

…After sinking O.A. Knudsen, a prisoner reported, the U-boat commander looked up in his ship recognition book which tanker he had sunk.  Finding it was O.A. Knudsen, he remarked that she had been built in Germany which “accounted for her slow sinking” (Ibid, p.11).

Ulrich Heyse rose from Offiziersanwärter in 1933 to Korvettenkapitän on 1 April 1943. Having served in the merchant marine, he then went to the surface fleet of the Kreigsmarine, serving on the destroyer Theodor Riedel. During 1939 – 1940 Heyse undertook an impressive twelve patrols on the Riedel before transferring to U-Boats in July. His first U-boat was U-37, which he lead on one short (presumably non-offensive) patrol as Kommandantenschüler (commander-in-training) (Uboat.net). . Over his career he served 311 war patrol days over five war patrols, all of them in U-128.

In 1940 Heyse was awarded the Iron Cross 2nd Class, and on the day he returned from the Bahamas patrol this was increased to 1st Class. The same day (March 24, 1942) he also received the U-Boat War Badge of 1939. Roughly half a year later, based on a reported tonnage of 98,000 tons (actually it was 83,639 which is not as much of an exaggeration as some other skippers’), he received the Knights Cross, one of the highest awards of the German military, making him a Knight of the Wehrmacht. To give an idea of the rarity of this award, he was only the 143rd recipient in the Kriegsmarine and the 78thin the U-boat arm at the time he received it.

A year after his return from the Bahamas, in March 1943, and after two patrols to Brazil, Heyse moved ashore to become an instructor in U-boat learning divisions called Unterseebootslehrdivision. Two years later, in March of 1945 he rose to command the 32nd (training) Flotilla. The war would end within two months and Heyse would survive it.


SOURCES: Gudmundur Helgason, Rainer Kolbicz, www.uboat.net, 2013, Kenneth Wynn, U-boat Operations of the Second World War, Volume 1 and Volume 2, 1997, R. Busch, and H.-J. Röll, German U-boat Commanders of World War II, 1988, Franz Kurowski, Knights Cross Holders of the U-boat Service, 63-page report by the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) at Jerry Mason’s, uboatarchive.net/U-128INT, Gudmundur Helgason, uboat.net/boats/patrols/u128