The Saga of the 'Peter Charlie' PC Boats

By Veigele, William J. | Sea Classics, February 1999 | Go to article overview

The Saga of the 'Peter Charlie' PC Boats


Veigele, William J., Sea Classics


Hard riding, wet and cramped, the plucky all-steel 'PC' sub chasers of WWII proved invaluable pinch hitters on war torn seas.

ALLIED STRATEGY

After the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor the Allies lanned a strategy for fighting the war against the Axis. Their priority was to protect England from Nazi Germany while fighting a holding war against Japan. Without food, medicines, arms, men, and the essentials of life and war from other countries, especially the United States, England could not survive. The first goal, therefore, was to pry open the sea lanes to England that Nazi U-boats were squeezing shut.

THE BATTLE OF THE ATLANTIC

German Grossadmiral Karl Donitz planned Great Britain's defeat with a U-boat campaign labeled Operation Paukenschlag (Operation Drum Beat). It was an all-out attack by submarines on merchant vessels. His campaign started with five U-boats that prowled the Atlantic coast of the United States almost without opposition or detection and had an easy time sinking merchant ships.

When the United States entered the war, its antisubmarine warfare (ASW) force and tactics were not adequate to stop the German submarines. During the first six months, U-boats sank almost 600 ships in American waters, half the United States' merchant fleet.

Donitz requested more submarines. Hitler agreed but did not allow their construction until later because he expected that US destroyers would protect the merchant ships. Hitler, therefore, geared German submarine construction to stay ahead of,th conexpected that US destroyers would protect the merchant ships. Hitler, therefore, geared German submarine construction to stay ahead of the construction of destroyers in the United States. Hitler did not know that the United States would rely on smaller, quicker-to-build, ASW ships until they could build more destroyers. Among these new ships planned were the patrol craft designated PC.

THE ALLIES REVIVED THE CONVOY SYSTEM

While America geared up to build more Navy ships, naval leaders revived the convoy system. Allied ships shared responsibilities for escorting convoys from the new world to the old world switching responsibilities at a Mid-Ocean Meeting Point. This procedure helped but did not keep U-boats from sink;ng many ships, because the US Navy did not have enough escorts for all convoys. As evidence of the shortage, only four US Navy destroyers picked up a convoy of 35 ships near Iceland in February 1942. Despite vigorous depth charge attacks on U-boats by the destroyers, German torpedoes sank 22 ships in one day. Two days later the U-boats sent four more ships to the bottom. For the convoy system to succeed, the Allied navies needed more small escort ships to handle the coastal convoys. This would allow the US Navy to shift more destroyers to the Atlantic convoys

THE HAPPY TIME FOR U-BOATS

In January 1942, the Nazis operated 93 U-boats in the Atlantic and sank ships off the American coast at the rate of one per day. From December 1941 until June 1942, U-boat torpedoes and gunfire destroyed 495 ships. During the first ten months of 1942, U-boats sank 800 ships totaling 4,000,000 tons, For all of 1942, a total of 1200 ships went to the bottom. German submariners called this the happy time."

Early in 1943 100 U-boats prowled the Atlantic using wolf pack tactics (Rudeltaktik) with up to ten submarines in a pack destroying convoys. For example, in January 1943, of nine tankers that sailed from Trinidad for Gibraltar, only two survived.

DEATH ALONG THE EAST COAST

To protect these Atlantic convoys, the US Navy sent big Coast Guard cutters and destroyers with them That tactic, and the training of crews in ASW, helped get some supplies to England. However, it left few escorts to protect shipping along the Atlantic seaboard and in the Caribbean. A few U-boats that operated in this theater littered the ocean bottom with ships and sent hundreds of men to their death.

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