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The Liberator Versus The U-Boat

Discussion in 'German U-Boats' started by Jim, Aug 22, 2010.

  1. Jim

    Jim Active Member

    Sep 1, 2006
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    via War44
    Dӧnitz's U-boats were charged with the task of starving out the British nation, whose vulnerable convoys were forced to run the gauntlet of submarine attacks to bring in vital supplies. The men who went to sea in the convoys and the pilots who flew marathon 17 hour sorties to protect them, remember those dangerous days, and the U-boat crews who stalked them look back to their long patrols in cramped conditions under the surface of the icy oceans.

    Squadron Leader Bulloch, OSO, OFC, and his special rocket armed Liberator, BZ721. ​


    “The Liberator was a marvellous aeroplane for long range anti-submarine work especially the Mark I, which didn't have much defensive armament. Somebody had put four cannons under the nose, firing forward, and it carried eight depth charges, and we had an early type of radar which worked very well. We started operations in September 1941 in the North Atlantic. The radar was Mark II ASV Anti-Surface Vessels, with Yagi aerials under the wings and we had what was called a Christmas Tree down the top of the fuselage and beam aerials just below where the beam gunners' positions were. We only had ten Liberators, one of those got written off while taking off with a full load on. We were very pushed, and the Americans were very tight and didn't want to let us have them, even after 'Lease-Lend' went through. There was only one VLR (very long range) Liberator squadron, which was 120. We were mainly in the North Atlantic, doing convoy work and sweeps, looking for these blockade runners and also these odd cruisers and battleships that got loose out there. We escorted convoys en route from Halifax and where the convoys were you always had submarines. I had a squadron of Libs up in Iceland, end of '41 start of '42. We had to get into 'the Gap' off Greenland. No aeroplanes could get near before from the mainland, Northern Ireland, or even from Newfoundland, and we used to cover that gap. That was when everything improved and we started killing them.

    The B24 Liberator, 'scrounged' from America, fitted with Mk II ASV radar.​


    People thought I was very lucky. I was on a Liberator squadron from the middle of '41 to the end of '42 and a lot of people won't believe this either, I sighted 28 U-boats, attacked 19, and the Admiralty credited me with four as definitely sunk. I'm not going to argue with them, but I know lots of people in my own squadron who flew for two years and never saw a U-boat the entire time. It wasn't luck, it was shrewd assessment of where they would be and crew training. I had a marvellous crew. My flight engineer and two of my WOP /AGs (wireless operator/air gunner) stayed with me for the whole period two and a half years. 120 squadron was the first VLR squadron in the RAF, and it's still going today. The way I usually found submarines was by radar. My eyesight was very good, they used to call me 'Eagle Eye' and I could spot the wake of these things quite a long way off. Then we used to manoeuvre around, we didn't just go hell for leather at the damn thing, as we were instructed. I devised a different way to stalk and attack them, up and down a track at an angle of about 20°. If you were attacking at 20° across, instead of at right angles to the U-boat, you had a much better chance of getting at least three depth charges doing some damage. They were only 270 pounders, Torpex filled, and you had to plonk those down. They were set to go off at about 25 feet, so you had to get them before the U-boat went down, preferably while it was on the surface or in the act of diving. If they got below 25 feet, you hadn't a hope. Not only that, the depth charge had to explode within about 10-15 feet of the hull to do any real damage. They were very well made. So it was difficult, and we had no fancy bomb sights or anything, it was all done by eye. We used to come down to within 50 or 100 feet and the pilot used to plant a stick of six depth charges.

    The insignia of 120 Squadron, who were based in Iceland to cover 'the Gap' with their very long range sorties. ​


    We used to take photographs of every attack. You had to bring back evidence. The Navy were very hard to convince, they were so stuffy. There was one U-boat which sank in 'the Gap' behind the HX217 convoy on December 8. On that day I attacked eight U-boats and sank one. I only had eight depth charges. I sank one with six, and then had another go at another with the remaining two. With this one, there was an enormous oil patch which got bigger and bigger after it went down, then suddenly sea birds arrived and you could see bits of wood, floating about in the middle of this oil patch. We took photos of that and of the sea birds which appeared from nowhere, and that was the only evidence. One of the escorts went through the oil patch and took a sample back to Newfoundland. He said we'd killed it, they found some parts of dead bodies in the wreckage. But the Navy wouldn't credit us with it.”

    Squadron Leader Bulloch (centre front) with his outstandingly successful Liberator crew. ​


    London Gazette January 1943

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