The patrol of U-504 under Hans-Georg Friedrich “Fritz” Poske is remarkable not only for its series of four sinkings, two of which are key to this study, but for the fact that during the week of 21st February to roughly 4th of March he and Heyse in U-128 were sharing virtually the same sea area off the Cape Canaveral / Fort Pierce region of Florida and yet seem to have had no recorded contact with each other.
Poske entered the region on Valentine’s Day 1942 and proceeded in a straight line from south of Bermuda west to north of Abaco and Grand Bahama. On arrival on the east coast of Florida on the 21st of February, Poske proceeded to sink two ships in succession: the Republic and W. D. Anderson, on the 21stand 23rd respectively. Then on his return eastwards he sank the Mamura, Captain Dobenga, about 150 miles north-northeast of Abaco Island, on the 26th, killing all of the crew including over 30 Chinese nationals.
Following the Mamura sinking, Poske turned south, proceeding about 100 miles or more off the coasts of Abaco, Eleuthera, Cat Island and San Salvador. Finding no targets on 14th of March (a month after his arrival) he headed southeast and then east, encountering the British tanker Stangarth on the 16th. There is controversy about whether U-504 or the Italian submarine Morosini sank the Stangarth– it is generally held that the Morosinisank the British ship Manaqui on a different date east of the Caribbean – see “Morosini” below.
The Mamura and Stangarth’s sinkings are remarkable inasmuch as all of the crew were killed and thus there are only the log of the U-boat and the crew’s witness reports to verify it. The Stangarthsinking has been a contentious one since Jurgen Rohwer, in his classic study Axis Submarine Successes of World War Twoaccredited the sinking of the Stangarthto the Italian submarine Morosini.
In fact the Morosini attacked the ship Manaqui several days earlier. It would have been impossible for the Morosinito have sunk Stangarth where it said it did, since the Stangarth had not yet even left New York on that date. This leftover from the “fog of war” has since been corrected by Rohwer and confirmed by the authors of Uboat.net (Rohwer and Kolbitz, correspondence with author August 2011).
Furthermore, historian Eric Zimmerman analyzed the original attack reports and concluded that U-504 must have sunk the Stangarth, based in part on the U-boat discovering crates amongst the wreckage labeled “airplane parts- Bombay”. Stangarth was bound to India with military equipment, the Manaqui, a much smaller ship, was heading the opposite direction in ballast and well to the east at a different time.
After sinking the Stangarth Poske headed northeast and back toward Lorient, from whence he came. Charted out, Poske’s patrol looks like a number 8 turned counterclockwise on its side, with a small head for the patrols off the Florida coast. On this patrol the four ships sunk aggregated 29,725 tons. Because he patrolled within fifty miles of Abaco, Grand Bahama, and San Salvador it was the most “Bahamian” expedition to date, though of course locals would not have known the submarine was there.
The patrol began on the 25th of January 1942 in league with the third wave of Paukenschlag or Drumbeat boats. After sinking the Mamura the Allied authorities were made aware of the boat’s presence and on the 28thof February a US aircraft from Key West attacked what it thought was a sub but what was in fact a whale (Wynn, Vol. 1, p.322).
Fritz Poske, a Korvettenkapitän at the time, went on to become a Kapitän zur See (Sea Captain, higher than a Fregatten or Frigate Captain), and was awarded the U-boat War Badge 1939 and the Iron Cross First Class immediately after this patrol, and the Knights Cross in November 1942. Born in October 1904, he was 37 and thus one of the older skippers of those that patrolled the Bahamian waters. His career tally over 264 patrol days on four missions was fifteen ships sunk worth 78,123 GRT and a further 7,176 ton ship damaged.
Poske began his naval career in the class of 1923 before serving on cruisers and a torpedo boat, joining U-boats in 1940. At the time of his first command he (unusually) did not have command experience. He became Chief of Staff for Marine Infantry towards the end of the war, was imprisoned by the British for nearly a year, rejoined the German Navy in 1951, and lived until 1984, dying near Bonn at 79 years of age.
SOURCES: Gudmundur Helgason, Rainer Kolbicz, www.uboat.net, 2011, Kenneth Wynn, U-boat Operations of the Second World War, Volume 1 and Volume 2, 1997