knows how many of these sightings were of actual submarines or U-boats as they were known, it's pretty well established that there were German submarines along the Atlantic coast. England, already engaged in a war with Germany, was being supplied with raw materials, munitions and equipment by America. Until the U.S. destroyer Reuben James, loaded with primed depth charges, was mistakenly sunk off Iceland in November of 1941, the U.S. had not been targeted. The sinking, a month before Pearl Harbor, became a rallying cry for those who wanted to enter the war against Germany. After America entered the war in 1942, Germany began sinking American ships. In the first six months after entering the war, 495 U.S. ships were sunk along the Atlantic coast by a handful of U-boats.
German U-boat captains found it hard to believe how unprotected shipping was there. They targeted the coast from the Caribbean to Canada, particularly the outer waters of the Gulf of Maine. In the early years merchant ships were simply told to sail without lights at night and to stay close to shore. Often it was a well lit shore which silhouetted ships in German periscopes.
Convoy assaults more than anything else heightened awareness of the presence and threat of U-boats. Convoys were organized in a rectangular pattern of 50 or 60 merchant ships, 6 miles wide and 2 miles long with 5 or 6 military escort ships around the perimeter. Ships with munitions, tanks and planes were kept in the center and raw materials ships on the edges. In rough weather or during U-boat attack, the spacing was tough to maintain.
Eventually Germany had 1300 U-boats with over 100 dedicated to the east coast of the U.S. U-boats hunted these convoys in groups they referred to as wolf packs - an appropriate name given the way they operated. A dozen U-boats would set upon a convoy, positioning themselves strategically. A U-boat would sink a ship and flee. The response to the sinking ship by others in the convoy would open opportunities for attack and others would be sunk. Another wolf pack may be drawn into the chaos sending many ships to the bottom.
It is not certain that a U-boat was ever captured or sunk in the Gulf of Maine as a result of a coastal sighting. Since the government classified information of this kind during the war, an event like this may remain classified.
There were U-boats out there and the Navy had to take reported sightings seriously.
A U-boat sighting and the events that followed were recorded in government documents, declassified and released to the public in 1991. On July 2, 1944 Earnest Stanley and Merrill Stanley, fishermen on the Frolic out of Southwest Harbor, reported seeing a submarine at 10:45 that morning. They saw a periscope traveling at about 12 knots at a distance of 300 yards from their boat which was located 13 miles southeast by south from Baker Island at the entrance of Frenchmans Bay. The periscope disappeared soon after they had sighted it. They saw "a hull 60 to 90 feet long, approximately 20 feet under water, making a straight wake 25-35 feet wide with patches of oil. They observed the wake for one-half hour."* The weather was clear, the seas calm and practically no wind. The Navy responded by sending vessels and a K type blimp, the K-14, to investigate the report.
Blimps were used to hunt U-boats in conjunction with ships. They carried depth charges, could fly slow, low, and were fairly quiet. The K-14 blimp was searching between Matinicus Rock and Mount Desert Rock and southeast of this line. At 4:30 p.m. the blimp was sent to search an area 7 miles southeast of Great Duck Island, about 18 miles out of Southwest Harbor, where a search vessel reported a sound contact. At 8:45 p.m. one of the search vessels was recalled to Rockland. "The last contact with the K-14 was at 9:20 p.m."* After frequent attempts by surface craft and air bases to contact the K-14 were not successful, surface vessels were requested to be on the alert for the blimp at 4 a.m. the next morning. At 4:55 a.m. the Navy received word that the K-14 had crashed in 300 feet of water, about 25 miles south of Bar Harbor at 44.05 N, 67.55 W. The time of the crash would be set at approximately 10 p.m. Several naval vessels were sent to assist in rescue and salvage. Preliminary examination revealed two depth charges missing from the blimp and 15 or 20 holes in the underside of the bag just aft of the car, which appeared to have been made by bullets.
Four crew members managed to get out of the submerged car with the deflated bag draped over it. Ensign Levine, USNR recalled that he was "fighting for air and all I got was water. Bobbing up and down under the bag, I found a pocket of air." Finally, I saw a streak of light and dove toward it."* They clung to the floating tail fins and other debris, then scrambled on a section of the bag that remained afloat. Two crew members did not survive the crash.
According to the crew, while flying at 250 feet, the blimp suddenly lost altitude, did not respond to corrective attempts and crashed on the water. Ensign Sharp said, "I reached up to dim the lights, sat down and saw the indicator at 200 feet. I gave it the throttle and the nose came up a bit." I reached "to give it more gas , the first thing I knew she was going in. I hollered it was going in."*
The wreckage had to be towed to Bunkers Neck on the north side of Little Cranberry Island. The remote location was chosen to maintain security and water depth there would allow beaching. Small boats were cleared out of the cove below Bunkers Neck and lobstermen pulled their traps. The Coast Guard patrolled the beach to prevent photographing and cleared the beach of observers. The wreckage was beached and examined by divers. They found the car 95% wrecked, holes in the bag and two bodies in the car, which was still submerged below the bag.
As a result of the investigation of this incident it was discovered that others had witnessed events in the area of the crash at about the same time. The report also evaluated witnesses in some cases. "Earnest Stanley, owner of the Frolic has been fishing in the area for about 30 years. Merrill Stanley has been employed as an engineer aboard coastal freighters and stated that he has seen many submarines in and out of the water. Both men are considered very reliable."*
Lieutenant Hoyt, USNR commanding officer, reported that on July 2 at 9:30 p.m. while on patrol between Schoodic Point Whistle and Petit Manan Island, "he and all hands on his ship heard the explosion of two depth charges to seaward of them." While screening salvage operations of the blimp he reported "a large slick of heavy oil, quantities of dead fish and debris"* at 44-10 N, 67-55 W. The report of these depth charges is about 40 minutes before estimated time of blimp crash.
Warrant Officer W. Meytrott, stationed at Bar Harbor stated that on July 2 at 9:52 p.m. his ship was stationed off Schoodic Point and that he and three men "distinctly heard what sounded like six pom-pom shots, possibly from a 20mm gun. He had seen the blimp a half hour earlier headed from Schoodic Point to the point of the crash and estimated it would have been in the area where he heard gun fire."*
Roger Stanley and Louis Bishop of Southwest Harbor, after setting their trawl 7 miles east of Schoodic Island, stated they saw flashes to the west of their position. About a mile off they saw a dozen flashes. Then many "very bright flashes at the waterline and two distinct explosions." Following the explosions they felt their fishing boat rise in the water twice. They also saw the K-14 just before the explosions.
At Otter Cliff on the southeast coast of Mount Desert Island, three men stationed there reported hearing gunfire fire from the crash area and an explosion that shook the weather station structure. Residents at Winter Harbor, Prospect Harbor and Corea heard explosions on July 2 at about 10:30 p.m. They were "heavy, sounded like depth charges and shook their houses."*
The information in the Northern Group Reports (War Diary) referred to here, does not conclude that a U-boat was definitely out there or that the blimp was shot down by one. There was in fact no sub captured, although it might be on the bottom off Matinicus Rock. The depth charges were not accounted for by the crew or the investigators. They may have been dropped as a safety measure in the seconds when a crash was imminent, they may have fallen off or they were used in combat. They were set for a depth of 25 feet. It's the gunfire so many people heard that suggests a U-boat engagement. The K-14 crew might conceivably not have heard a sub's deck gun over the sound of their own engine running just a few feet away.
The investigation and subsequent report gathered more information and organized it in one place more than was typical of coastal U-boat sightings. Ironically, it is still not able to be definite about what happened, but it does in a way lend credibility somehow, to sightings that were reported, either casually or officially, but never investigated.
*Eastern Sea Frontier - Northern Group Reports (War Diary) July, 1944, National Archives and Records Administration.