U-539 under Hans-Jürgen Lauterbach-Emden would sink the last ship of the war in this region during a patrol of fifteen days there, starting on the 1st of June 1944, when the sub entered from south of Bermuda and motored for the Mona Passage. U-539 was a large Type IXC/40 boat based out of Lorient with the Tenth Flotilla. However on this 145-day patrol it left from St Nazaire and returned to Flensburg, Germany, via Bergen, Norway.
North of Puerto Rico on the 2nd of June U-539 was attacked by a USN Mariner piloted by Lt. J. G. Tomkins but managed to evade damage (Wynn, Vol. 2, p.21). On its arrival off Puerto Rico on the 5th of June, Lauterbach-Emden detected a small convoy and several other ships coasting along the shore and moved in for an audacious daytime attack. The Panamanian-flagged, US-manned tanker Pillory of 1,517 tons was the U-boat’s first of three victims on this patrol. Though several were killed when the bridge was blown into the sea and the tanks exploded, the US Coast Guard was able to rescue many survivors (see details of the attack in the Allies section). The Allies counter-attacked with both surface and air attacks but the damage inflicted was not severe.
U-539 then proceeded through the Mona Passage undetected and went on to damage the Dutch Casandra (2,701 tons) and the US Kittanning (10,195 tons) in the Caribbean for a patrol total of 14,413 tons – an impressive tally considering the allied counter-measures in effect at the time. Near Panama Lauterbach-Emden’s boat was attacked by the deck gun of the Cassandra, causing minor damage and forcing the U-boat to break off the attack before the tanker could be sunk. And the following day, on the 12th of June 1944, a US Mariner aircraft attacked the submarine but once again escaped, this time unscathed (Blair, Vol. 2, p.564).
On the way back to Germany Lauterbach-Emden opted to utilize the Mona Passage again, entering on the 17th of July. Hugging the eastern coast of the Dominican Republic, the boat headed northwest past the Silver Banks at first, east of the Turks & Caicos, and then on the 19th turned east-northeast for a point north of Puerto Rico. On the 22nd of July U-539 turned more northerly and eventually exited the region south of Bermuda on the 26th.
The route home was uncertain and circuitous, given that the Allies were blockading the Bay of Biscay. As a result U-539 had to obtain its precious fuel for the return leg from U-858 roughly 400 miles southwest of Iceland. Though bound for Flensburg after a patrol of extraordinary length – nearly five months – U-539 was forced to call first at Bergen on the 17th of September. This makes it the only submarine covered in this study which began or ended a patrol in that port. It made Flensburg, Germany on the 22nd of September 1944.
The three vessels of this patrol would amount to all ships attacked or damaged by Lauterbach-Emden over a career total of three patrols and 267 days at sea which he spent on U-539, which he commissioned.
As alluded to above, the boat was surrendered in Bergen Norway at the end of the war and destroyed by scuttling in Operation Deadlight by the British. Though the boat was scuttled by the British after the war, its commander is still alive. Hans-Jurgen Lauterbach-Emden joined the Navy as a member of the Crew B of 1937 and made Kapitänleutnant in March of 1944. He was 24 years of age when he sank the Pillory.
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, Clay Blair, Hitler’s U-boat War, The Hunted, 1942-1945, 2000