U-654 under Ludwig Forster Bermuda patrol April 1942

U-654          Forster        11-Apr-1942         19 days

Oberleutnant zur See Ludwig Forster brought U-654 on a complicated 19-day patrol literally around Bermuda, passing so close to the island on the 29th of April 1942 that it must have seen Saint David’s or Gibbs Hill lights. On April 10th U-654 entered northeast of the island and headed west for five days until the 14th of April.

Less than a week later, on the 20ththe boat approached from the west going northeast and sank the Steel Maker (US flagged, 6,176 tons) and then the same day the Agra (Swedish, 4,569 tons) Before leaving the Steel Maker Forster promised the merchant skipper the sub would radio the survivors’ position, however he failed to do so and two men died in the lifeboat voyage.

The following day Forster changed course heading south until the 22nd to a point just west-northwest of Bermuda. Then he headed west for two days, south until the 25th, and due east until the 28th of April. At that point U-654 turned north to pass very close to the east of Bermuda, and then north-northwest until the 1st of May. Thereafter Forster opted to head northeast until the 3rd of May at which point it exited the region to the northeast of the island.

The next patrol into the greater Bahamas area was also conducted to and from Brest and was similar to Schnee’s in that it was a dip south from Hatteras, crossing an imaginary line between Bermuda and Savannah for a few days before exiting home bound. The commander of this type VIIC boat on its third of four patrols was Ludwig Forster, aged 26, in U-654. On the 24th of April, 1942 roughly a third of the distance between Savannah and Bermuda the boat entered the area heading straight south, which it did for one day.

The boat headed directly east towards Bermuda between the 25th and 28th of April, at which point another 90-degree turn saw her head northwards and skirt the west coast of Bermuda homeward bound on the 29th of April. No ships were sunk during this entry, however he had destroyed three ships of 17,755 tons between the 10th and 20th of April (they were the Empire Prairie, Steel Maker, and Agra). Wynn notes that Forster is said to have promised the survivors of the Steel Maker that he would radio their position in order to accelerate or assure their rescue and that he did not do so (Wynn, Vol. 2, p.111). Having left there on the 21st of March, U-654 returned to Brest on 19 May 1942.

At the time and for the balance of his career Ludwig Forster’s rank was Oberleutnant zur See. He achieved the Iron Cross Second Class on the first month of the war, and was killed on 22 August 1942 in the Caribbean Sea north of Colon, Panama. All 44 men were killed when a US B-18 Digby aircraft attacked the submarine. Aside from the successes on this patrol he sank a 900-ton Allied warship in a total of four patrols of 162 sea days.

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