U-boat captain who shot down NZ VC-winner found

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Jun 4, 2005
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uboat.net - Boats - U-468

U-boat captain who shot down NZ VC-winner found

The captain of the U-Boat whose anti-aircraft fire shot down New
Zealand Victoria Cross winner Lloyd Trigg's Royal Air Force Liberator
more than 60 years ago is still alive in Germany, an Auckland
aviation researcher has discovered.

Arthur "Digger" Arculus has also unearthed fresh details about the
fierce Atlantic action that cost the lives of Trigg, his seven crew
and many of the submarine's complement.

Uniquely, it was the testimony of the enemy skipper, Klemens
Schamong, and the other few survivors from U-468, destroyed by
Trigg's exploding depth charges as his aircraft plunged into the sea,
that led to the posthumous award of the Commonwealth' s highest award
for bravery.

Trigg and his men perished on August 11, 1943, 386km off Dakar, West
Africa, as they attacked U-468 on the ocean surface. Shells from the
German vessel's flak guns ripped into the Liberator but the sheets of
flames that erupted did not deter Trigg.

The depth charges released moments before the aircraft crashed
exploded alongside the submarine with devastating effect. Schamong
told Arculus they "damaged the boat to death".

Now 90, the old seaman lives in a small town not far from Kiel where
his U-Boat was built, and commissioned exactly a year before its
sinking.

When Arculus began researching Trigg's story for young Australian Sam
Biddle, an eight-year-old grandson of a Trigg cousin, who wanted to
know more about his famous relation, he decided to try to find out
what had happened to Schamong.

Arculus, 80, started his Schamong quest by e-mailing a German
contact. The man's detective work eventually turned up a John
Schamong, a Captain in the German Navy. More checks showed he was
indeed the son of the old submariner and, yes, his father was still
alive.

Schamong Senior responded to an Arculus letter with a short note
about the sinking and several enclosures, among them an old letter
from the Canadian navigator of the RAF Sunderland that found the U-
Boat survivors.

Schamong remembered the Atlantic action vividly: "We opened deadly
fire from our `two 20mm cannons' and the first salvo at a distance of
2000m set the plane on fire. Despite this, Trigg continued his
attack. He did not give up as we thought and hoped. His plane. . .
flew deeper and deeper. We could see our deadly fire piercing through
his hull. And when Trigg was almost over us we saw his `ash cans'
coming down on us and (they) exploded and damaged the boat to death."

It was not surprising Schamong expected Trigg to "give up" because on
an earlier patrol the sub's flak frightened off a Grumman Avenger
from a US carrier escorting an Atlantic convoy.

Schamong told Arculus that he informed interrogators after his rescue
that "such a gallant fighter as Trigg would have been decorated in
Germany with the highest medal or order".

The letter said little else so Arculus asked Horst Ahrens, a friend
in Kiel, to put a handful of questions to Schamong. Unfortunately the
ex-skipper did not wish to go further.

It might have ended there but Arculus has since received a copy of
the now declassified October 1943 Naval Intelligence Division (NID)
report disclosing what had been learned from the interrogation of
Schamong and the other survivors after their arrival in Britain as
POWs.

The report said the U-Boat's shooting was so accurate the Liberator
was on fire before she had properly lined up the sub.

"She nevertheless ran in to attack with great determination and
without deviating to avoid the U-Boat's sustained and heavy fire."

The aircraft crossed the submarine behind the bridge at a height of
just 15m, hit the sea 300m away and blew up. But as she roared over
the U-Boat the depth charges tumbled down, two exploding with
tremendous force within 2m of the submarine.

"The whole U-Boat was thrown violently upward and suffered
catastrophic damage."

The massive blasts ruptured the hull, tore engines, motors and
transformers from their mountings, blew the fuel tank above the
diesels down and shook equipment off bulkheads.

Water poured into the battery compartment and the sub filled with
clouds of choking, killing chlorine gas, submariners' worst
nightmare.

The U-Boat went down inside 10 minutes, leaving 20 swimming crew
battling the horror of sharks and barracuda, attracted by blood
leaking from wounds.

Then miraculously a rating found an RAF rubber dinghy floating in the
aircraft's debris, inflated it and climbed in with two other seamen.
Eventually, Schamong, his first lieutenant and an engineer officer
supporting a wounded rating on his back were hauled in – seven
survivors from a crew of 39.

A Sunderland, searching for the missing Liberator crew, spotted the
dinghy the following day, its crew understandably jumping to the
conclusion the waving men were their RAF mates.

Arculus' research trail led recently to Patrick Dempsey, 84, the
Sunderland's Canadian navigator, now living in Florida.

Dempsey says he remembers watching sharks circling the dinghy and
some swimming under it. "We could see them very plainly from the
air."

He worked out the position of the dingy, radioed it to base "and then
we prepared to drop two emergency supply packs which were about the
size of a man each".

The Sunderland made two runs, the first so accurate the package
almost hit the dinghy, scaring the Germans out of their wits. The
second was much further away – too far away to recover because there
were no paddles in the survivors' dinghy.

The patrolling aircraft dropped marker dye and headed home. HMS
Clarkia arrived the next day and took the Germans aboard.

The NID report called Schamong "a civilised type with considerable
poise and charm, in marked contrast to many U-Boat officers. He
nevertheless had very firm ideas of the duties of a German officer in
captivity, was constantly on his guard and divulged nothing
concerning his boat except the story of the sinking".

Arculus was unable to discover anything about Schamong's postwar life
until he got an unexpected e-mail recently from Wolfgang Schamong, a
nephew, who unravelled this small mystery.

The younger man revealed his uncle became a lawyer after the war,
eventually joined Germany's Defence Ministry and in the mid-1970s
headed a liaison team in Paris working on German-French naval ships.
He and his wife had son John and twin daughters.

Schamong also told Arculus an astonishing story about his uncle's
mother, a devout Catholic.

"Now, the same day when the `Atlantic' fight took place she was at
home in Cologne asleep and suddenly woke hearing the noise of water
streaming into the room. She first thought of some damage to the
water pipes but then said to her husband, `It's not here. I see
Klemens' U-Boat sinking but he and some others are safe'."

A mother's intuition perhaps.

Oberleutnant zur See Klemens Schamong, who joined the German navy in
1938, was the only skipper of U-468 and it was his first and last
command.

The U-Boat didn't have much luck as she hunted with submarine packs
in the North Atlantic during her first two patrols, sinking only one
Allied ship, a small empty west-bound tanker.

She left La Pallice, on France's Atlantic Coast, on her third patrol
on July 7, 1943, and was sunk by Trigg barely a month later.
Schamong's fuel-short boat was returning to base when Trigg found
her, creeping along the West African coast.

Flying Officer Lloyd Allan Trigg, born at Houhora, Northland, in May
1914, was about four years older than Schamong. He farmed, then
became a salesman before enlisting in June 1941.

Trigg trained in Canada and after reaching England was posted to 200
Squadron in West Africa flying Hudsons.

He did about 50 operations – shipping reconnaissance, convoy patrols,
anti-submarine flights – on the twin-engined aircraft before flying
to the US in May 1943 for a conversion course to fly Liberators, much
bigger four-engined American bombers.

The New Zealander died not knowing he had already been awarded the
Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) for two determined attacks on U-
Boats in March 1943. Notification had not reached his squadron before
his death.

Four of the other seven airmen killed with him were New Zealanders –
Ivan Marinovich (navigator), 26, from Auckland, Arthur Bennett
(wireless operator), 29, Lower Hutt, Lawrence Frost (gunner), 22,
Auckland, and Terry Soper (gunner), 21, Takaka.

Marinovich and Bennett were in Trigg's original Hudson crew and
together the five hugely experienced New Zealanders collectively
totalled more than 250 ops. Frost had done no fewer than 65. Two
Britons and a Canadian made up the rest of the crew. All eight are
commemorated on the Malta Memorial to the air war dead.

The final two sentences of Trigg's citation declare that the
Liberator captain's exploit stood out in the Battle of the Atlantic
as an "epic of grim determination and high courage. His was the path
of duty that leads to glory".

The same could be said too of all his crew.
 

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