U-Boat ace Reinhard Hardegen died this week at age 105. Although America’s WWII enemy, Hardegen appears to have been an honorable warrior, revered by many today who are fascinated by the mystique of U-Boat warfare.
Captain of the infamous U-123 in the Battle of the Atlantic, Reinhard Hardegen was the role model for the fictitious U-Boat captain Rainer Hartmann in my book The Osprey and the Sea Wolf ~ The Battle of the Atlantic 1942 to be released soon.
Here is an excerpt from my book about a refueling encounter at sea with a Milchkuh (milk cow) submarine:
Rainer smiled as he surveyed the approaching submarine tanker, now bathed in pale moonlight. Although much wider, the Milchkuh resembled his own boat with one major difference. The Milchkuh had neither torpedoes nor deck cannon. Designed only to resupply other U-Boats and defend itself, the Milchkuh had no offensive role. Despite two formidable antiaircraft Flak cannons, the Milchkuh was especially vulnerable to air attack during refueling operations. Disconnecting equipment and refueling hoses took time, and the bulky submarine tanker was a slow diver. The refueling process was also dangerous for Rainer, since the standing order was no diving before the Milchkuh had safely submerged.
Soon, the U-023 and the Milchkuh were running parallel courses, at three knots with a distance between them of 25 meters. The commander of the Milchkuh called out to Rainer from his bridge with a megaphone. “Guten Abend, Herr Kommandant. Fertig? Are you ready?”
“Fertig!” Rainer yelled back, touching the brim of his cap with a brisk salute.
What followed was like a slow-motion ballet between two whales far out to sea. With a signal from Rainer, Wolf’s crew on the aft deck began hurling thin lines, weighted at the tips, toward the crew of the Milchkuh. At the same time, Milchkuh crewmen threw lines toward the U-023. After a brief, friendly competition, a cheer arose from Wolf’s crew as a line they’d hurled was secured by Milchkuh deckhands. Eight seamen on the aft deck of the U-023 tended a highline between the two U-Boats, adjusting its tension as the U-Boat commanders maneuvered to maintain a safe distance between each other.
On the Milchkuh, crewmen packed rubber rafts with food and water and general supplies. The rafts were then attached to pulleys on the highline and hauled in by crew of the U-023. The transfer of seven-meter long torpedoes involved more elegant maneuvers. Four torpedoes were wrapped in life jackets and floated off the Milchkuh as the submarine submerged enough to flood the deck. The torpedoes were then pulled through the water to be corralled and stowed by the crew of the likewise flooded-down U-023….