The large type VIIC boat U-751 (commissioned in October 1939) arrived in the region for the Seventh Flotilla from Saint Nazaire France on the 14th of May 1942 under Kapitänleutnant Gerhard Bigalk. Proceeding south from Hatteras the boat headed in a straight line for the Caicos Channel and the Windward Passage, pausing on the 16th long enough to send the US fruit carrier Nicarao to the bottom just east of the central eastern coast of Eleuthera.
Nicarao was to be the only ship sunk so close to that island of the war. The 31 survivors of the Nicarao (eight were killed in the attack) observed so many sailing schooners and local craft on their voyage around the Bahamas (she was bound from Kingston Jamaica to Jacksonville via the Windward Passage), that they suspected that the sailing craft must have vectored the U-boat to its position.
Given that schooners at the time (as we shall see with the Vivian P. Smith, Wawaloam, Cheerio, Sande, James E. Newsom and Helen Forsey) were rarely equipped with radio equipment, this conspiracy theory can be discounted as baseless. The Nicarao survivors were rescued by the US-flagged tanker Esso Augusta the following day and landed at Norfolk Virginia on the 20th of May.
On the 19th of May Bigalk dispatched the 3,110-ton American freighter Isabela of Point Gravois, the southwestern tip of Haiti, for a total patrol tonnage of 4,555 GRT. After ten days in the Caribbean proper U-751 exited the region via the Anegada Passage on the night of the 28thand 29th of May and began the trans-Atlantic voyage back to France. She returned to Saint Nazaire on the 15th of June 1942.
Born in 1908, Gerhard Bigalk was a member of the crew of 1933 who joined the navy from the Merchant navy of Germany. He then joined the naval air force, fighting over Spain in its civil war before joining the U-boats in November 1939, commissioning U-751 in January 1941. He was awarded the Knights Cross in December 1941 after sinking the British escort carrier HMS Audacity of 11,000 tons. Bigalk was killed at age 33 on 17th July 1942 by British aircraft which sank U-751 off the northwest coast of Spain’s Cape Ortegal – there were no survivors. His total over seven patrols of 218 days was five ships destroyed for 21,412 GRT, the Audacity, and a ship damaged for 8,096 tons.
The Audacity had an interesting history inasmuch as it began the war as the German merchant ship Hannover. It was captured in the Mona Passage by the Canadian destroyer Assiniboine and boarded by crew of the HMS Dunedin on 7th March 1940 to prevent its being scuttled like the Columbus before it (see Otto Giese’s Shooting the War for a first-hand account of this colorful story). These German ships were trying to make it back to their homeland through Allied blockades at the outset of war. The Hannover was renamed Audacity after being named Sinbad, and converted to an auxiliary aircraft carrier.
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, Otto Giese, Shooting the War: The Memoir and Photographs of a U-Boat Officer in World War II, 1994