The sub, which explorers found had attacked a straggler from convoy CU-21, the tanker SS Pan Pennsylvania, which was bound for Britain with a cargo of gasoline, according to the US Coast Guard
, and NZ Herald
both report the discovery by a group of explorers was made last Monday.
Joe Mazraani, a New Jersey attorney who funded the search, and his team has been rewarded with a victory, despite the lack of clear military records of where the attack had occurred.
Garry Kozak was the sonar operator using side-scan sonar on the most recent attempt who first spotted just the bow of the sub on a sonar pass. Kozak wasn't able to hide the find from the rest of the team when they asked if the sub had been found.
"They could see it with the grin (on my face) and the look in my eyes,"
On that day in 1944, the SS Pan Pennsylvania was quite a bit too far behind the rest of the convoy, a very dangerous place to be, since the protection by Coast Guard and Navy forces always remain with the main body of the convoy.
When the Pennsylvania was torpedoed by U-550 however, three ships came back immediately and the Coast Guard Destroyer Escort USS Joyce engaged in the rescue of survivors from the Pennsylvania while the USS Peterson and the US Navy DE Grundy provided a screen defense for the rescue.
The sub meanwhile had taken position under the tanker, which was sinking. As recorded from the surviving U-550's engineering officer:
"We waited for your ship to leave; soon we could hear nothing so we thought the escort vessels had gone; but as soon as we started to move-- bang!"
The USS Joyce had gotten a ping on the sonar of the sub leaving, and then very precisely bracketed the sub with depth charges. One of the sub's sailors noted that the barrage was so accurate, one of the depth charges actually bounced off the hull before exploding. (USCG military history website)
The depth charge attack by the Joyce, with the Peterson following her, along with the Grundy forced the sub to the surface. On surfacing, a contingent of German sailors attempted to man the sub's deck guns and were cut down by return fire from the three DE's.
One group of Germans eventually managed to offer machine gun fire, but were also killed in the attempt, and it was then when the USS Grundy cut between the USS Peterson and the sub, to affect a ramming maneuver, the Grundy cut across the sub just abaft the conning tower and when the Grundy cleared the target, the Joyce and Peterson began firing again.
The sub's commander ordered his men to abandon ship, but many were stuck below as the sub settled to the stern and went down.
13 Germans were rescued, although one died from his injuries and was buried at sea by the Joyce's Commanding Officer LCDR Wilcox. The story for the Germans didn't end there though. Despite the depth at which the sub sank, and the persistent search the next day by various Coast Guard picket boats off the coast, some of the German sailors were able to exit the sub.
Using a German "escape lung" apparently several of the Germans were able to make it to the surface, some of them were found 19 days later on May 11, and a third body was found on May 16. All of the survivors from the attack appear to have died at sea from exposure and dehydration.
On a side note, after the war, former LCDR Wilcox of the USS Joyce and a junior officer of U-550, Hugo Renzmann, met in New York City in 1960. As is often the case, all enmity was forgotten and the men shook hands, with each eager to relate their version of the first day they had met.
The team of explorers who made the find have no certain prospects of making any money off the search for and subsequent finding of Kapitanleutnant Klaus Hanert's U-550. Mazraani suggested the only possibility is if someone writes a book about the exploration and the trials they went through, across two years of searching.
Brad Sheard, Steve Gatto, Anthony Tedsechi, Tom Packer, and Eric Takakjian are the other team members in the crew of explorers.
Mazraani plans to try to find any surviving members of the crews from the ships or their families to share the pictures of the sub with.