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Battle of Kasserine Pass Group Build: U-81 Revell 1/350th (The U-Boat That Sank my Great Uncle Artie)

Operation Torch, and the arrival of British and US troops on the French North-African coast in November 1942, was the invasion that established the basis for the Tunisian campaign; the defeat of Rommel; and ultimately the opening of a route to Sicily. Shortly after that arrival, of course, came the Battle of Kasserine Pass.

A little after David conceived this group build I decided to make the Revell 1/350 kit of U-81, a type VIIC U-boat, laid down in the Bremen-Vegesack shipyard in 1940. The whole of the African campaign can be viewed as a tactical conflict broadly defined by the effectiveness or otherwise, of ‘lines of supply’. A key element for Axis forces in disrupting the supply for the Allied forces was the use of U-boats. Anti-submarine strategies ultimately made convoys viable and therefore gave the Allies the supply chains needed to succeed .

While the choice to build this tiny kit was made in the light of the lack of maritime subjects in the group, it also reflected the fact that my great uncle Artie had been on the aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal when, on November 13th 1941, commander Friedrich Guggenberger, fired torpedoes from distance to cripple and eventually sink her as she headed to Gibraltar. Despite the destroyer escort of The Ark delivering around 130 depth charges in retaliation, U-81 slipped away. All bar one of the crew of The Ark were saved, including my great uncle Artie.

Guggenberger continued as a successful commander being awarded the Knights Cross with Oak Leaves in January 1943. His next six patrols in the Mediterranean, included attacks on the Torch Convoy in November 1942 and patrols off Tunisia in February 1943 around the time of The Battle of Kasserine Pass.

The first map shows the route of U-81 as it attacked the Torch convoy. On November 10th U-81 sank the Garlinge, a British steam merchantman, with a spread of four torpedoes. Of the crew of 40, 25 were lost. On November 13th U-81 contacted four freighters and 5 escorts returning from Operation Torch, Northwest of Oran (Algeria). Two torpedoes were fired and it is thought that both hit The Maron, a British motor merchantman which sank quickly. On this occasion, the crew of 80 were all safely accounted for, having been picked up by HMS Marigold and put ashore in Gibraltar.

The second map shows a much less eventful patrol at the time of the battle of Kasserine pass!

Shortly after these patrols with Wolfpack Wal, Guggenberger left U-81 to become a member of Admiral Dönitz’s staff. His story however was far from over. He returned to the Kriegsmarime as commander of two more U-boats. The first never saw active duty, and his final command, U-513, was sunk in Brazilian waters by US aircraft in July 1943. He was fished out of a life-boat, badly wounded, with 6 other survivors, by the US seaplane tender USS Barnegat. After surgery and then interrogation at Fort Hunt, his final destination for the war was due to be the POW camp at Papago Park near Phoenix, Arizona. However, on the 12th of February 1944 Guggenberger and four other U-boat commanders escaped from this camp. Guggenberger and August Maus were recaptured a day later in Tucson, Arizona. Guggenberger clearly took his duty to escape very seriously and he was one of 25 who escaped from the same camp during the night of 23-24 December, 1944. He and his companion, on that occasion Jürgen Quaet-Faslem, were caught on 6 January 1945, less than 10 miles from the Mexican border.

In February 1946, Guggenberger transferred to Camp Shanks, New York, and then to a POW compound in the British Zone of Germany near Münster. He was released from Allied captivity in August 1946.
The story of Guggenberger’s love of the sea and service didn’t end there. In 1956 he rejoined the Federal German Navy, the Bundesmarine. He graduated from the Naval War College in Newport (USA). At the peak of his long career Konteradmiral Guggenberger served as Deputy Chief of Staff on NATO command AFNORTH (Allied Forces North Europe) for four years. He retired in October 1972.

After Guggenberger, U-81 continued to patrol under new commander Johann-Otto Krieg, another who saw out the war and who also rejoined the Bundesmarine post-war. He too was awarded the Knights cross. In total U-81 sank 24 ships at a total tonnage of 41,754 GRT. Of course, the greatest victory was the sinking of The Ark at 22,600 GRT.

U-81 was sunk at 11.30 hrs on 9 January 1944, while making final preparations to sail at 16.00 hrs on its 18th war patrol from the harbour of Pola in Croatia. The U-boat was hit by one bomb from the 319 tons dropped by 107 B-17s of the 2nd, 97th, 99th and 301st BG, 15th AAF. The bomb hit the U-boat near the aft torpedo hatch and passed completely through the pressure hull, killing two men on watch. Flooding of the stern compartments caused U-81 to fill so fast that the crew had no time to close the ontrol room bulkhead, and she went down, capsized to port in shallow enough water for the remaining 44 crew to survive the sinking.

It goes without saying, that anybody who has thus far been involved in the Battle of Kasserine Pass group build will agree that we owe massive thanks to David who has shown incredible knowledge and outstanding skill in ‘curating’ the group. His own current build is also shaping up to be sensational! Add to that a massive variety of armour, aircraft and ‘expert research and discussion’, and it has been a brilliant group and a fantastic experience. The best of it, is that it continues until the end of May (when the campaign ended) and that this gives anyone with a yearning to build anything from the African campaign time to join the group and add their piece to the collection. Speaking of which, I have a ‘taxi’ to build….

1 additional image. Click to enlarge.

32 responses to Battle of Kasserine Pass Group Build: U-81 Revell 1/350th (The U-Boat That Sank my Great Uncle Artie)

  1. Cool wee Sub, Paul! Those are SO tiny – you could have an entire early-war Wolfpack in your shirt pocket!

    Seriously, it’s a great model and the history & narrative are VERY interesting.

  2. Wow. I can’t imagine the difficulty in modeling a submarine in that scale with such detail as you’ve done. Amazing work!

  3. Well done Paul !!!

    Giving the narrative on the actions the sub was involved in really helped bring it to life. Having a personal connection with a family member being sunk by this U-Boat, brings it up a notch or two………….

    I especially like the maps and the photography of your build. Placing the model on a map of the Mediterranean to photograph it is a nice touch.

    I am very impressed with the details you have managed to incorporate into such a tiny little model.

    What a way to kick off the Kasserine Pass Group Build reveals !!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Two thumbs up Sir !!!

  4. A great build, and a fine history lesson.

  5. Fantastic work. I was really absorbed in the narrative; great story and amazing modeling skills, even better presentation –

    Bravo Zulu.

  6. What a fantastic story Paul. Your Uboot is terrific also, even more considering the scale you built. Convoy fighting in the MTO is full of heroic stories and some tragedies along the way, still it’s a side show scenario obscured by the Atlantic convoy fightings, so thanks for getting such unique subject on these pages.

  7. Excellent build, and a great story to go with it. Well done………

  8. Well done Paul, inserting an excellent recounting of the history behind U-81 really enhances your build. Nice touch to have some family involved in that history as well. Absolutely excellent work on such a small subject, I really couldn’t do something that small. Hand salute.

  9. Love it all – the model, the staging on the maps, the story – masterful work all the way around!

  10. Modeling skills… presentation… historical narrative (and personal connection)…

    What’s not to be knocked out by?

    Great work here and a real contribution. I always like learning things I didn’t know before. I did know about the POW escapes – there were in fact over 400, the last of whom turned himself in to US authorities in 1975 after 30 years and a life and family here in the US. German POWs in the US is little-known by most and highly interesting.

    • Thank you so much, Tom, that means a lot. The escapes amazed me, I never imagined that German POWs made it to the US – unless of strategic/intel value. Where my parents lived in the UK is surrounded by ‘plant nurseries’ run by descendants of Italian POWs – it is amazing what displacement throws up!

  11. Paul, I must agree with other posters and particularly well put by Tom Cleaver: this post is the total package. Your rendition of the U-Boat (particularly at that scale) is simply remarkable; the photography is crisp, well-conceived, and well-framed; the pics artfully spaced; the research and narrative impeccable.

    I am especially gratified to have a naval submission for the Kasserine Pass GB. We have some fabulous aircraft and armor, but Paul helps us remember that the entire conflict played out in the context of the Mediterranean. Well done, Paul!

  12. Thank you David, for the Kasserine Pass group, and the kind comments. If I knew relatively little about Midway, I knew even less about this battle (most of my fragmented understanding of the campaign came from Spike Milligan books!). Once the group has finished (and you have recovered !) and you have built some more gems like the one that was rightly recognised in the current list of monthly masterpieces, you’ll have think of another!

  13. Great build! I enjoyed the story as well as the fantastic model. I even had to squeeze my eyes to see all the details!

  14. I enjoyed reading the story so much that I almost forgot about the model. A terrific posting and great model, a wonderful addition to this group build.

  15. Cheers to you mate! Great subject, build and presentation! Glad to be part of the Kasserine GB!

  16. Paul, I really enjoyed the story behind the model, usually I just skim over the narratives, but with this I couldn’t turn away. I had to find out what happened to these guys.
    The model is very well done, looks as sea worn as the real thing. Well done !

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