The final patrol of the twenty-two into the region in 1943 was brief: Hans-Rutger Tillessen ducked out of the Anegada Passage on Christmas day heading home bound for Lorient, though the boat, Type IXC U-516 had left Brest as part of the Tenth Flotilla based in Lorient. The boat had sustained an attack by unknown aircraft the week before, on 19th December, which damaged it and proved highly disruptive. Tillessen was forced to request fuel and help from other U-boats in the Caribbean to enable it to reach port. Offensive measures were put on hold and the mission aborted.
However before those disruptions the boat led a highly successful patrol off Venezuela and Panama. On the 8th of November the boat was attacked by a Ventura aircraft but was unscathed. In the month between 13 November and 16 December U-516 dispatched six ships of 24,745 tons; the Pompoon and Colombia off Panama, Ruby off Columbia, and the American-flagged ships Elizabeth Kellogg, Melville E. Stone, and McDowell. Considering the dearth of prey that his colleagues had encountered in recent months it was an even more respectable accomplishment.
However the counterattack was so significant that U-516 received permission to change its assigned patrol area. On the 8th of December a number of aircraft searched the boat out, and on the 18th a USN Mariner under Lt. R. E. Pearce shone its light on the boat, dropped depth-charges, and exchanged gunfire with her. The following day a Ventura under Lt. P. J. Townsend attacked again and observed bubbles on the surface, but the boat got away. The boat was low on fuel and no doubt the crew was on a taught wire as well.
On the way back to France U-129 and U-516 were to obtain fuel from U-544 on the 16thof January 1944 northwest of the Azores. At the rendezvous the subs both heard propeller noises and explosions. When the mother ship did not appear U-516 sought fuel elsewhere and U-129 made base without it. U-516 managed to meet U-539 on the 19th of January for much-needed replenishment near the Azores. Both submarines were attacked by carrier-borne aircraft as well as depth-charges from destroyers. On the 21st they were finally successful in transferring oil and U-516 returned to Lorient on the 26thof February 1944 (Wynn, Vol. 2, p.8).
Kapitänleutnant Tillessen, of the Crew of 1934, sank one other ship and his total was 34,632 GRT over a career of three patrols of 344 days. He began his naval career in the heavy cruisers Deutschlandand Prinz Eugen before joining U-boats in November 1942, where he served under Würdemann on U-506. He commissioned U-516, a sister boat to U-506, in June 1943. As Uboat.net put it, “His successes, starting in November 1943 were well above the average for the time.”
At the time of the surrender Tillesen was in command of a midget submarine flotilla. His father, an Admiral, had fought in the Battle of Jutland in the First World War. After World War Two Tillessen joined the Bundesmarinefrom 1960 to 1969 and lived until age 73 in 1986. He was awarded the German Cross in Gold following his patrol to the Caribbean in February 1944. U-516 was surrendered in Loch Eriboll, Scotland on 14 May 1945 and was sunk less than a year later in Operation Deadlight northwest of the UK.
In contrast to the eighty-two Axis patrols into the greater Bahamas region in 1942 and then twenty-two in 1943, there were only seven patrols there in 1944 and none in 1945, though allegedly a U-boat was en route to the Caribbean at the time of the surrender. Of course in 1939, 1940 and 1941 there were no submarine patrols to the area, only Axis merchant ships like the Columbus and Hannovertransiting homewards and naval or Armed Merchant Cruisers patrolling through the far eastern expanse of the patrol area.
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