Fritz Lemp Really Fouls It Up This Time

As Alister lay in bed off Halifax with HX-126, about to sail one of the most significant events of World War II was occurring 1,400 Nautical miles to his East in the middle of the Atlantic. It was so important few would know about it till 1975.

Convoy OB-318 was steaming West towards Halifax. On 7-10 May it was badly attacked loosing seven ships with two more damaged. (Three more OB-318 ships were sunk much later on 23-27 May off West Africa.) On 9th May 1941 U-110 was one of the successful attackers sinking the Bengore Head and the Esmond.

U-110 was itself attacked initially by HMS Aubretia and then by HMS Bulldog and HMS Broadway. Damage from depth charges forced U-110 to surface and the crew abandoned the ship as HMS Bulldog approached to ram. The Bulldog captain Joe Baker-Cresswell realised they had a capture and turned aside largely missing U-110.

U-110's Captain Fritz-Julius Lemp had assumed his boat was going down with its secrets, something he should have ensured. However the Bulldog was able to board U-110 with 20 year old Sub-lieutenant David Balme leading the party and was able to retrieve much of the contents. This included code books and an Enigma machine, a fantastically valuable capture as these were of great use to the Bletchley Park code breakers in providing the Ultra intelligence source.

Many sources indicate that this one event was responsible for shortening the war by at least a year and it may have even changed the victor in the Atlantic and hence the war overall.

It was vital that the capture was kept secret. U-110 was taken in tow but conveniently sunk within a day. Its Captain, Lemp had not survived the original capture. The story is that when he realised his boat was not actually going to sink he tried to swim back with the intention of ensuring that it did. He may have been shot while trying to do this but he certainly perished somehow, the British say that he must have committed suicide by drowning because they fired no shots.

Thirty two U-110 crew did survive as prisoners but the secret was kept. Only one Axis POW ever escaped and he had already gone by May 1941. It is interesting however that the story of the Enigma's capture did not come out until 1975, maybe the surviving crew were unaware of the events of did not want to highlight their part in such a national calamity after the war.

Captain Fritz-Julius Lemp was something of a liability to his country. On 3rd September 1940 he Captained the U-boat that sank the first ship of the war. This might have been to his credit however U-30 had mistakenly sunk the unarmed and unescorted Athenia.

The Athenia carried 1103 passengers and 315 crew. Nineteen crew members and 93 passengers (28 of them US-citizens) were killed. Germany was frightened that this incident would bring the USA into the war and they denied involvement. They suggested that Great Britain had sunk the Athenia to turn the USA against Germany.

It is surprising that Lemp though that capture would have been a good option for him given his history but he had good reason to suppose that his involvement in the Athenia was a secret unknown to the Allies as the German involvement had been suppressed.

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