Enemy Submarine in Tasmanian waters WW11

Fearing the mine-laying exploits of German surface raiders in 1940 and suspecting that U-862 might attempt the same, HMAS Burnie, Maryborough and HMAS Lismore were ordered to sweep the shipping routes in Bass Strait. With the reduction in the Japanese threat, the local convoy system around Australia had ceased in February 1944, but other safety measures were now reintroduced. These included routing all shipping, except local traffic, south of Tasmania and ordering ships in southern Australian waters to zigzag and darken ship at night.


U-Boat Commander Timm had meanwhile moved to a position south of Tasmania where U-862 encountered a tanker on a course for New Zealand. The target was moving quickly and the U-boat again surfaced to try to move into an attack position. With night and heavy rain making the approach more difficult, the attack was finally thwarted by the appearance of an aircraft that, apparently mistaking the U-boat for the tanker, attempted to exchange recognition signals. U-862 crash-dived and waited, but the expected counter-attack never came.



Timm then turned north and while passing east of Bass Strait, his hydrophone operator listened to what sounded like a large group of ships moving at high speed. It was this detection that inspired Timm to pen his comments about an Australian Paukenschlag. Only one ship was actually sighted, but it was too far away for U-862 to reach a firing position. With no other U-boats in the area to assist, the opportunity to attack was lost.



The U-boat continued moving up the coast and on Christmas Eve intercepted the American Liberty ship Robert J Walker off Moruya. The attack began at 02:55 on Christmas Day and continued for more than three hours. Liberty ships were well sub-divided with watertight bulkheads and five torpedoes were eventually needed to ensure the ship was finished. At least two of the German torpedoes ran slow, one so slowly that it was destroyed by gunfire from the freighter before it could hit.


The first RAAF aircraft arrived in the area ten minutes after the last torpedo exploded, beginning a massive submarine hunt that would last for more than a fortnight. Also included among the searchers were several RAN and USN warships from Sydney and the Royal Navy’s 4th Destroyer Flotilla, which had put to sea immediately from Melbourne. It was to be the largest and longest submarine hunt ever conducted off Australia. The searches all proved negative and, although some attacks were made on suspicious objects, U-862 managed to keep well clear. HMAS Quickmatch recovered the 68 survivors of Robert J Walker on 26 December, two men having been lost during the attack.

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Comments: 1
  • #1

    Bernard (Sunday, 27 February 2022 21:33)

    Quite a story. I first heard of it watching an episode of a National Geographic documentary on subs. I'm pleased to be able to find some further information about it in this posting. Thanks, well done.