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U-442 Wehrpass


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#1 Kevin H

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Posted 01 September 2012 - 09:10 AM

Heinz Halbleib was born on 12th January 1923 in Frankfurt am Main. When he was registered for military service at the Wehrbezirkskommando in Passau in April 1941 he was 18 years old, Halbleib having originally volunteered for service in January 1941. On 16th May 1941 Halbleib arrived at 9 Schiffsstammabteilung at Stralsund for his basic military training, swearing his oath of allegiance on the 7th June and completing his basic training 3 weeks later. His next period of training took him to 2. Unterseeboots-Lehr-Division where he remained for 6 months before moving to his final training assignment with 2. Baulehrkompanie for 4 months. I’m not entirely sure what type of training unit this was but believe it could have been a U-Boat familiarisation unit (Baubelehrung). Up to this point Halbleib had been in training for his front line service for 10 months but before he would see combat Halbleib would still have a phase of training to undertake although this time it would be with a U-Boat intended for service.

On 21st March 1942 Heinz Halbleib joined U-442, a Type VIIC. This U-Boat was currently serving under the 5 Unterseebootsflottille which was a training flotilla. U-442 was a brand new boat, having been launched on 17th January 1942 and commissioned on 21st March 1942 under the command of Korvettenkapitän Hans-Joachim Hesse. Hesse was a long serving Naval officer having joined the Reichsmarine in 1925, aged 19. From July 1939 to April 1940 he served as a gunnery officer on the cruiser Königsberg which was sunk on 10th April 1940 by aircraft of the Fleet Air Arm while in Bergen. While he had commissioned U-654 in July 1941 he was assigned for his first frontline command when he was posted to U-442, at the time still undergoing construction in Danzig.

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#2 Kevin H

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Posted 01 September 2012 - 09:12 AM

U-442 remained with 5. Flottille until August/September 1942 upon which it was finally assigned to a frontline flotilla, namely 7. Unterseebootsflottille based at St Nazaire, Halbleib having been promoted to Maschenengefreiter on 1st August.
It was 7. Flottille and St Nazaire that formed the backdrop for the novel and film Das Boot, based on the life & work of photographer Lothar-Günther Buchheim who arrived at St Nazaire in October 1941 to join U-96.
However to get to St Nazaire U-442 would need to undertake a war patrol and so on 17th September 1942 she set sail from Kiel for a patrol that would last for 61 days and would prove to be a patrol of mixed blessings. Passing south east of Iceland, on 25th September she came across her first victim, the steam ship Empire Bell of Convoy UR-42 which was heading from Loch Ewe in Scotland to Reykjavik with a cargo of coal. At 1616 U-442 launched her attack and torpedoed the merchant ship which sunk with the loss of 10 sailors from her complement of 37.
Moving on from her first success, U-442 resumed her patrol and experienced the bad weather that the North Atlantic is known for, with one crewmember being badly injured on 10th October 1942.
It would be a few more weeks before U-442 tasted success again but it would prove to be a bitter sweet moment, although the Captain & crew of U-442 probably knew nothing of the effects of her second kill.
In the early hours of 4th November U-132 attacked the merchant ship Hatimura of Convoy SC-107. Damaging the ship, which was carrying a highly volatile cargo which included 200 tons of TNT, 250 Tons of gunpowder and 300 Tons of incendiary bombs, U-132 watched and waited for her victim to sink. Becoming a straggler to the convoy, Hatimura was abandoned by her crew but at 0332, U-442 approached the scene and fired a torpedo into the ship. The subsequent torpedo hit detonated the explosive cargo and the ship exploded in a thunderous roar. But unknown to U-442, Hatimura’s original attacker U-132 was still very near to her victim and was in fact sunk by the debris from the explosion, going down with all hands. Only 4 crewmembers of the Hatimura,out of a crew of 90, were killed in the attacks no doubt being lost in the first attack by U-132.
Twelve days after this event, U-442 finally entered her new home at St Nazaire on 16th November 1942 but her next patrol wasn’t long in coming. After a month in her new base port with the crew no doubt undertaking training and rest periods and the boat undergoing some maintenance, U-442 set sail again on 20th December for what was to be another patrol of mixed blessings as it was also to be her last.

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#3 Kevin H

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Posted 01 September 2012 - 09:15 AM

Having set sail U-442’s hunting grounds were to be a complete contrast to her first patrol as she headed southwest through the Bay Of Biscay for the waters around the Azores and off the coast of western Africa.
It proved to be a wait of nearly 3 weeks before U-442 tasted success again but on the 9th January 1943 as a component of Wolfpack Delphin she came across Convoy TM-1 made up of 9 ships heading from the West Indies to Gibraltar. West of the Canary Islands U-442 fired at two tankers in the convoy but only managed to hit one, the Empire Lytton which was carrying 12,500 Tons of aviation spirit. The ship burned fiercely and from a crew of 48, 14 were killed. Having attacked the tanker in the early morning, U-442 stayed and waited for her to sink but she remained afloat, although the surviving crew had been picked up by the escorts. At this time one of the escorts, HMS Havelock tried to sink the damaged ship with gunfire but had no success. In the mid-afternoon U-442 fired another torpedo at the drifting ship but again she remained afloat and it wasn’t until in the early evening that a third torpedo from U-442 finally caused the Empire Lytton to slip beneath the waves.

Once again, it was to prove another long wait for action as U-442’s next victim wasn’t until the 27th January, 18 days after the sinking of the tanker Empire Lytton. This time her victim, the cargo ship Julia Ward Howe, was US flagged and was carrying 8000 Tons of war material including 60 tanks. A straggler due to heavy weather from Convoy UGS-4 she was transiting from New York to Oran in Algeria when she was torpedoed 175 miles south of the Azores by U-442 at 1807. She didn’t go down without fighting though as she fired her after 5” gun in the direction of the attack although without effect and she was soon abandoned before U-442 fired one more torpedo to finish off the merchant ship. The shot broke the ship in two and U-442 surfaced to question survivors, taking one on board for a more detailed questioning. Releasing him back to the lifeboats U-442 departed the scene. After 15 hours the ships survivors were picked up by a Portuguese destroyer and taken to the Azores.

Continuing her patrol U-442 headed east and started to close the Portuguese coast, quite possibly to target convoys heading for, or leaving, the Straits Of Gibraltar. However as would be expected for such a strategic area the British defences included patrolling aircraft and in December 1942 the Hudson aircraft of Coastal Commands 48 Squadron had been transferred to Gibraltar from the UK. It was one of this squadron’s aircraft that was to prove the nemesis of U-442. While U-442 was approximately 150 miles west of the Cape Of St Vincent on the 12th February 1943 a patrolling Hudson spotted the U-Boat and flew in to conduct a depth charge attack, an attack that proved successful as U-442 was sent to the bottom with all hands, just one of 18 U-Boats sunk in February 1943 and 243 U-Boats sunk in the entire year of 1943, a year that proved to be the turning point in the war against the U-Boats. In her brief frontline career U-442 had accounted for 4 merchant ships for a combined tonnage of 25,417 Tons which seems quite a respectable total for a new boat in just 2 patrols. In the paperwork of the day, the date for the loss of U-442 is credited as being the 19th February 1943. The website Ubootwaffe.net also credits U-442 with damaging two further ships, the Parthenon on 2nd November 1942 (first patrol) and also the Albert L Ellsworth on the 9th January 1943 (second patrol) which would account for the other torpedo fired during the attack on Empire Lytton but as of yet I have yet to find further confirmation for these two damaged ships.

Although - unfortunately - not a part of the Wehrpass a death card for Heinz Halbleib does exist (although I don’t know where!) The only award entered in the WP is for the U-Boat Badge and was awarded in November 1942 which would match the criteria of being awarded for two engagements with the enemy, namely the two merchant ships sunk on U-442’s first patrol.

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#4 Erwin L.

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Posted 01 September 2012 - 09:44 AM

Very nice Wehrpass and interesting write up. I hope you will able to find the deathcard from him. It will be nice when that one "surface"


#5 Kevin Grootaers

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Posted 01 September 2012 - 10:02 AM

So it was you who bought this from Klaus Butschek. :thumbup:

With kind regards Kevin


#6 Kevin H

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Posted 01 September 2012 - 10:10 AM

So it was you who bought this from Klaus Butschek. :thumbup:

Aye, it was me. Apparantly he received quite a few emails afterwards from others wishing to buy it.

#7 Spanferkel

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Posted 01 September 2012 - 02:53 PM

Nice Wehrpas and interesting back story.


Architecture is the will of an epoch translated into space. Ludwig Mies van der Rohe


#8 Brian R

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Posted 01 September 2012 - 03:26 PM

Great write-up, Kevin!! A lot of history in one little book.

It's always quite eeire to think about these boats going down with all hands. These guys really went through hell.

Always looking for interesting 1939 Iron Cross Award Documents.

#9 Eric JB

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Posted 01 September 2012 - 08:52 PM

Hi Kevin,

Nice Wehrpaß and a great description.

"Although - unfortunately - not a part of the Wehrpass a death card for Heinz Halbleib does exist (although I don’t know where!) "

The death card image that Klaus Butchek did use comes from Ubootwaffe.net, http://www.ubootwaff...3-01-12;f=Heinz ,as the card is in exact the same condition.

Best regards


#10 Kevin H

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Posted 01 September 2012 - 09:41 PM

Thanks for the comments guys and also thanks for the link to his deathcard being on Ubootwaffe. Much appreciated.

As an aside, would anyone know where (online or in a publication) there is a list explaining what the trade letters mean after the sailors Stammrollen-Nr? the example above shows 7188/41 T and while I know the significance of the numbers I can never remember what the letters mean (T, S etc). I'm not sure if T means Torpedo Mechaniker or something else (maybe along the lines of maintenance of the telegraphs). T seems to be a common one but S also seems to be fairly common.