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.