USCGC Campbell (WPG-32) Sinks U-606 While Guarding a Convoy
USCGC Campbell (WPG-32), off the coast of Maine, 1944
(Unless otherwise indicated, all illustrations are from Wikipedia)
Today in Military History: February 22, 1943
Well, you know I'm getting desperate for postings when I come into the 20th century for a battle report for this blog. Today's story involves a Coast Guard cutter and German unterzeeboot who met in the frozen North Atlantic during World War II.
The Campbell was built in the Philadelphia Navy Yard between 1935 and 1936. It original name was the George W. Campbell, named for the Secretary of the Treasury under President James Madison. [Remember, dear readers; prior to the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Coast Guard was assigned to the Treasury Department.] It was launched in June of 1936 and commissioned two weeks later. After a shakedown cruise in the Atlantic in October and November later the same year, the cutter was homeported to Stapleton, NY and assigned to search and rescue and law enforcement patrols.
When the Second World War erupted, President Franklin D. Roosevelt proclaimed American neutrality in the conflict on 5 September 1939. He also ordered the formation of a neutrality patrol by the Navy to report and track any belligerent air, surface, or submarine activity in the waters off the United States east coast and in the West Indies. The Navy determined that its destroyers were not capable of extended cruises in the North Atlantic and asked that the Coast Guard conduct these patrols. The Coast Guard assigned the Campbell to conduct the first of the Coast Guard neutrality patrols, which were referred to as "Grand Banks Patrols." Campbell would perform five such cruises, each lasting approximately two weeks, the last such cruise returning to New York on 29 January 1940.
Campbell was the first Secretary Class cutter to transfer for duty with the Navy (on 1 July 1941) and the first to sail on escort of convoy duties when she escorted Convoy HX-159 which sailed on 10 November 1941. The Campbell's permanent station was changed from Stapleton to Boston in February, 1942. When the British and Canadians assumed full responsibility for convoys in the North Atlantic in mid-1943, the US took control of all mid-Atlantic and Mediterranean convoys, where the cutters faced a constant threat from U-boats and the Luftwaffe. Campbell sailed as an escort for Mediterranean convoys in 1943–1944 and saw considerable action.
Incident with U-606
On February 21, 1943 Campbell was escorting the 48-ship Convoy ON-166 when the convoy was surrounded by a U-Boat "wolfpack." Two U-Boats torpedoed and sank the NT Nielsen Alonso. Dispatched to assist, Campbell rescued fifty survivors and then turned to attack U-753, damaging it so badly that it had to withdraw. Throughout the 21st and 22nd, Campbell attacked several U-Boats inflicting damage and driving off the subs.
Later on the 22nd, U-606, having sustained heavy damage, surfaced in the midst of the convoy to attempt a surface attack. However, the sub surfaced so close to the Campbell that their deck guns could not be depressed enough to fire on the enemy. As a result, the captain ordered an attempt to ram the U-Boat. Spotting the American ship's attempt at an ancient sea tactic, the sub's commander ordered his vessel to turn to avoid the ramming attempt. The German sub's turn was not fully successful, as the Campbell struck the sub a glancing blow. At the same time, the sub's diving planes were still fully extended, and they gashed Campbell's hull in the engine room below the waterline. The cutter continued to attack, dropping two depth charges which exploded and lifted the sub out of the water.
The crew brought all guns to bear on the subs, fighting on until water in the engine room shorted out all electricity. As the ship lost power and the searchlights illuminating the sub went out, the U-Boat commander ordered the sub abandoned. Campbell ceased fire and lowered boats to rescue the sub's survivors, and then the U-Boat sank after scuttling charges were detonated.
As a result of the day's action, the Campbell floated in the middle of the Atlantic for nine days, without power, unlit, with only emergency battery power for its radio. The captain decided not to try to radio for help, as it would likely draw as many German U-Boats as rescuers. During that torturous nine days, several sub periscopes were sighted, but no attacks were made on the disabled American ship. [It is speculated that the Germans believed the Campbell was being used as a decoy, to lure U-Boats to the surface.] During that time, temporary repairs were made to try to keep the ship afloat. As the repairs were underway, it was discovered that the U-606's diving plane which had ruptured the Campbell's hull was still lodged there. On March 3, the Polish destroyer Burza came upon the Campbell and towed it back to harbor. It was repaired and returned to escort duty.
The Campbell remained on duty serving in the Korean and Vietnam wars, and was finally decommissioned in 1982.
USCGC Campbell sinking after taking a Harpoon missile strike, Nov. 1984
(Photograph courtesy of the U.S. Coast Guard via Wikipedia)
Footnote #1: USCGC Campbell was sunk on November 29, 1984 as a target in the mid-Pacific Ocean by the United States Navy, northwest of Hawaii, and rests at 2,800 fathoms. A final message was transmitted as the ship, which remained largely intact after a Harpoon missile strike, went down. It said:
"1. I SERVED WITH HONOR FOR ALMOST FORTY-SIX YEARS, IN WAR AND PEACE, IN THE ATLANTIC AND PACIFIC. WITH DUTY AS DIVERSE AS SAVING LIVES TO SINKING U-BOATS, OCEAN STATIONS TO FISHERIES ENFORCEMENT, AND FROM TRAINING CADETS TO BEING YOUR FLAGSHIP. I HAVE BEEN ALWAYS READY TO SERVE.
2. TODAY WAS MY FINAL DUTY. I WAS A TARGET FOR A MISSILE TEST. ITS SUCCESS WAS YOUR LOSS AND MY DEMISE. NOW KING NEPTUNE HAS CALLED ME TO MY FINAL REST ...
3. MOURN NOT, ALL WHO HAVE SAILED WITH ME. A NEW CUTTER CAMPBELL BEARING MY NAME, WMEC-909, WILL SOON CONTINUE THE HERITAGE. I BID ADIEU. THE QUEEN IS DEAD. LONG LIVE THE QUEEN."
Footnote #2: The newest Campbell (WMEC-909) was commissioned in 1988 and is still in service, based in Kittery, Maine. On January 5, 1992 the Campbell interdicted the freighter Harbour with 10,422 lbs of cocaine on board. The freighter's crew attempted to burn and scuttle the ship, but crewmen from the Campbell successfully salvaged the vessel and the evidence on board. This was one of the largest drug seizures in Coast Guard history. It was also the command ship for the recovery efforts after the crash of TWA Flight 800 in July of 1996.