SM U-66 - Grand Fleet Ambushes

Grand Fleet Ambushes

In mid-May, Scheer completed plans to draw out part of the British Grand Fleet. The German High Seas Fleet would sortie for a raid on Sunderland, luring the British fleet across "'nests' of submarines and mine-fields". U-66 was one of nine U-boats that put out to sea beginning on 17 May to scout the central North Sea for signs of the British fleet. Completing five days of scouting, U-66, along with U-63, U-51, U-32, sister boat U-70, U-24, and U-52, took up position off the Firth of Forth on 23 May. The other two other boats, U-43 and U-44, were stationed off Pentland Firth, in position to attack the British fleet leaving Scapa Flow. All the boats were to remain on station until 1 June and await a coded message which would report the sailing of the British fleet. Unfortunately for the Germans, the British Admiralty had intelligence reports of the departure of the submarines which, coupled with an absence of attacks on shipping, aroused British suspicions.

A delayed departure of the German fleet for its sortie (which had been redirected to the Skagerrak) and the failure of five U-boats, including U-66, to receive the coded message warning of the British advance caused Scheer's anticipated ambush to be a "complete and disappointing failure". Although she had not received the advance warning of the coded message, U-66 was one of the two ambush U-boats that actually saw parts of the British fleet. At 09:00 on 31 May, U-66 sent out a wireless report of eight battleships, light cruisers, and destroyers on a northerly course 60 nautical miles (110 km) east of Kinnaird Head. U-66 was unable to make any attacks on the ships she reported because of the screening ships. The failure of the submarine ambush to sink any British capital ships allowed the full Grand Fleet to engage the numerically inferior High Seas Fleet in the Battle of Jutland, which took place 31 May – 1 June.

The next mention of U-66 in sources is on 11 August, when she sank Inverdruie, a 613-ton three-masted Norwegian bark. Inverdruie was carrying a load of pit props from Sandefjord to Hartlepool when she was sunk some 160 nautical miles (300 km) east of Aberdeen.

Later in August, the Germans set up another ambush for the British fleet, when they drew up plans for another High Seas Fleet raid on Sunderland (as had been the original intention in May). The German fleet planned to depart late in the day on 18 August and shell military targets the next morning. U-66 was one of 24 U-boats that formed five lines (German: Standlinie) in the expected paths of any Grand Fleet sorties. Standlinie II, consisting of U-63, U-49, U-45, U-66, and U-64, formed a 35-nautical-mile (65 km) front 12 nautical miles (22 km) off Flamborough Head. The other four Standlinie formed similar lines to the north and south; all were to be in place by 08:00 on 19 August. Once again, British intelligence had given warning of the impending attack and ambush, causing the Grand Fleet to sortie at 16:00 on 18 August, five hours before the German fleet sailed.

At 04:45 on 19 August, U-66 fired a spread of two torpedoes at the British light cruiser Falmouth from a distance of 1,000 yards (910 m). Both torpedoes scored hits on Falmouth's starboard side, flooding the warship forward and aft. The cruiser's mechanical spaces—located amidships—remained intact and in working order, so she was steered to the Humber with an escort of three destroyers and an armed trawler. U-66 tried repeatedly to deal the stricken cruiser a coup de grâce, but narrowly missed with torpedoes on several further attacks. U-66 broke off her pursuit after two hours, having endured multiple attacks from Falmouth's screening destroyers. One depth charge attack blew out all the lights on U-66 and knocked clips off two hatches that caused the boat to flood with a considerable quantity of water before the leaks could be sealed. Falmouth continued under tow at 2 knots (3.7 km/h) until she crossed Standlinie II and was attacked and sunk by U-63 around noon the next day.

Records on U-66 next appear in late 1916, when she is reported as one of the U-boat escorts assisting the German merchant raider Wolf into the North Atlantic. Wolf, under the command of Karl-August Nerger, began a 15-month raiding voyage on 30 November that took the ship into the Indian and Pacific Oceans before a safe return to Germany. U-66's specific locations for this duty are not reported, but on 11 December she sank a Norwegian steamer and a Swedish sailing ship. U-66 shelled the 1,090-ton Norwegian steamer Bjor 4 nautical miles (7.4 km) southwest of the Norwegian island of Ryvingen. The ship and her general cargo, headed from Göteborg to Hull, were sent to the bottom without loss of life, and her crew was safely landed by 14 December. The same day, U-66 also sank the 311-ton Swedish sailing ship Palander off the island of Oxö, near the town of Tornio on the Sweden–Finland border.

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