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75 Years Ago, the Submarine U-199 Was Sunk off the Rio de Janeiro

On July 31, 1943, the German submarine U-199 was surprised on the surface of Rio de Janeiro. It was attacked and sunk in position 23º54’S – 42º54’W. It met its destiny with an American PBM Mariner and two Brazilian planes. It resulted in 49 dead and 12 survivors.

The Catalina that attacked and sank the German submarine U-199 was baptized as Arará on August 28, 1943. It happened at a ceremony held at Santos Dumont airport. It later won a submarine silhouette to mark a submarine the done.

The name Arara was given in honor of one of the ships sunk by the German submarine U-507. The plane also received in the tail the inscription: “Donated to the FAB by the Carioca people.”

Reflecting very well the spirit of the time, the ceremony of the baptism of the Arará had patriotic songs and inflamed speeches. Among those present was the commander of the merchant ship Arará, Jose Coelho Gomes. There was also the crew of the Catalina.

The seaplane was baptized with seawater by a girl, Miriam Santos. She was an orphan of her father, Second-Commissar Durval Batista dos Santos. He was killed at the time the Arara was sunk. The merchant had 20 dead. It happened the moment it was helping the victims of Itagiba on August 17, 1942.

Another ceremony would be repeated a month later in the Rio Grande do Sul, with the baptism of another Catalina. It happened with the name of Itagiba. It was a merchant ship sunk on August 17, 1942. There were 38 dead, between crew and passengers. Among the survivors were the soldiers of the Seventh Artillery Group of Dorso. Some of them went to fight in the Italian Campaign in 1944.

The Catalina garrison on the occasion of the sinking of the U-199 submarine was as follows:

  • Commander José Maria Mendes Coutinho Marques
  • Pilot Luiz Gomes Ribeiro
  • Co-pilot José Carlos de Miranda Corrêa. 
  • Crew:
  • Aviator Aspirant Alberto Martins Torres and Sergeants Sebastião Domingues
  • Gelson Albernaz Muniz, Manuel Catarino dos Santos
  • Raimundo Henrique Freitas
  • and Enísio Silva.

The U-199 submarine

Throughout World War II, Nazi Germany produced more than 1,500 submarines. These boats became known as U-Boats. The term originated from the German word Unterseeboot (boat underwater). With this weapon, Germany practically strangled the maritime trade in England.

When the conflict became worldwide, the German war effort needed to send its submarines to more distant points. It is in this scenario that better and larger submarines arise.

In 1942, Germany launched the IX-type U-boat D. It intended to block further the flow of raw materials necessary for the war effort of its enemies. The submarine type IX D 2 (long-range) of the 12th fleet – Bordeaux, began operating in November 1942. They were able to execute attack patrols in regions far away from South America. They reached important ports such as Santos and Rio de January.

In their patrols, they were supplied on the high seas by submarine support units. They were called “dairy cows,” thus extending their radius and time of action.
But the United States entered the war. Due to the strong development of patrol aviation, everything would change. It settled in Brazil on bases like Aratu and Rio de Janeiro.

The U-199 was built at the AG Wesser shipyards in Bremen and commissioned on November 28, 1942. It was a submarine model IX D2 (long-range), with dimensions of 87.58 meters long by 7.5 meters mouth, submerged about 1,800 tons.

It had a cruising speed of 20.8 knots on the surface with two electric motors. It was propelled by two diesel engines and 6.9 knots when submerged. It could carry 24 torpedos of 533 mm, for 4 tubes of the bow and two of stern or 44 mines. His crew could range from 55 to 63 men.

It was launched in July 1942 and began operating in November of the same year. Considered at the time a state-of-the-art submarine, its commander was Captain Lieutenant Hans Werner Kraus. It intended to do in Southeastern Brazil devastation similar to that Captain Schacht of the U-507 had made 11 months earlier. It happened on the coast of Serbia.

The U-199 on mission

The U-199 departed from the port of Berger in Kiel for its first mission in South America on May 13, 1943. Its crew consisted of 61 men and was under the command of Lieutenant Captain Werner Kraus. There were seven officers, two naval guards, six noncommissioned officers, and 41 sailors.

He crossed the equator in early June. Kraus’ strong discipline did not allow his men to celebrate the crossing of the equator. He believed that the party distracted the crew from crossing the Atlantic from Freetown to Natal.

During the crossing, the U-199 was sighted by an American Hudson A-28. However, it was unarmed. There was no combat.

200 miles off the coast of Brazil, Kraus was ordered to intercept and destroy enemy ships. Only then did the commemoration of the crossing of Ecuador. After the celebration, the U-199 changed course to bypass the coast of Brazil.

On June 18, 1943, the U-199 reached its operational area between the south of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. The tactic was to remain submerged at a periscope depth of 20 meters during the day. They raised the periscope at regular intervals for recognition.

During the patrol of this area, Commander Kraus was frustrated by the low number of targets. Few freighters crossed the coast from countries neutral in the conflict, like Spaniards and Argentines.
After a few days of patrol, Commander Kraus received permission from the German high command to change the patrol area.

On June 26, U-199 spotted the American merchant ship. It was Charles Willian Peale. It sailed the scout alone 50 miles from Rio de Janeiro. The U-199 threw a bow torpedo, but this one missed the target. It is not known why Commander Kraus gave up the attack.

On July 3, U-Boat was on the surface. Around 9 pm, it was located by a US Navy BPM Mariner. Lieutenant Carey piloted it. The plane began to circulate, searching for the submarine on the surface with its headlights.

Commander Kraus immediately ordered full speed ahead and rigged the guns on the deck. The Mariner plunged into the attack to the Germans’ surprise, but he hit the exploding surface violently.

After their capture and interrogation, the U-199 crew members declared that they had not fired on the plane. Although a surface search had been done, no survivors were found.

With few targets, Commander Kraus decided to change the hunting area again. It was without orders from Germany due to the radio silence. They changed to the south of Rio de Janeiro, extending the patrol line for 300 miles.

On July 4, U-199 sailed on the surface in its new area. During the night, he located the mat of the Brazilian ship Bury. Commander Kraus positioned the U-199 and fired three torpedoes from the front tubes. Two torpedoes made a mistake, and Bury immediately responded with a salvo of cannon shots from his deck. Cargo ships in the second half of the war were also trimmed with two guns – bow and stern. The Bury suffered malfunctions. Although the U-199 communicated to the German command it was sinking. The steam arrived at the port of Rio de Janeiro.

75 Years Ago, the Submarine U-199 Was Sunk off the Rio de Janeiro

After the failed action, Commander Kraus decided to change the patrol area again. He deduced that Bury would report the position of the attack, and patrol planes would be sent to his hunt.

On July 25, Commander Kraus located the English freighter Henzada by the periscope. It happened around 9:00 AM. This 4,100-ton freighter sailed from Santos to the north and was a perfect target at only 10 knots.

U-199 fired 3 torpedoes from the bow, but all failed. The commander repositioned his submarine in front of the Henzada and waited for the moment of a new attack. At 12 o’clock, the commander ordered the firing of two forward torpedoes. One of them struck the steam in the middle, breaking the ship in two and causing it to sink in less than ten minutes.

At dawn on July 31, U-199 approached the heavily patrolled zone of the entrance of Guanabara Bay in Rio de Janeiro. His goal was to reach the line of 100 fathons (192 meters). He would submerge and watch the passage of the ships at the exit of the train JT 3 (Rio de Janeiro-Trinidad) scheduled for that day.

The action of German espionage in the main ports of Brazil was already known at the time. Some of its agents had been arrested. Much information about the transit of boats was passed to the submarines of the axis.

The attack on U-199 By Alberto Martins Torres, a veteran of the 1st. FAB Hunting Group (10.12.1919-30.12.2001) 
From the book: Overnight Tapachula

“… On Saturday, I went effectively to the bunk where I stretched after taking off. After less than half an hour, Miranda asked me to fly. It was because I wanted to complete the plot of our route after Cabo Frio. I went to the pilot station with Major Coutinho Marques. As soon as it was ten minutes after I had taken the commands, encryption arrived from the base:

Enemy submarine activity coordinates such and such. Miranda plotted the point in the letter and set the course. I put the Arará on autopilot and the indicated course in a forced cruise regime. It was with 2,350 revolutions and 35 inches of compression. It was about 8:35 in the morning.

There was some fog. The winter sun was three-quarters of the tail per port, so in a position favorable to us at the time of the attack. All the machine guns were tested. From the four depth charges we took, we set three. It was at the intervalometer, to a distance of 20 meters between each pump after the first one was activated.

The intervalometer is graduated as a function of the speed in the dive to be true to the chosen exhaust. The depth charges were already set to detonate to 21 feet deep, approximately 7 feet from the surface. This regulation was considered ideal. It was because it kept the bombs detonating within the range in which experience had proven to be an efficient submarine attack. It is, from the moment it is navigating on the surface until a maximum of 40 seconds after the beginning of the diving. With the submarine on the surface, the bombs would detonate just below its shell perfectly within its deadly beam.

Minutes before nine o’clock, we saw our goal. Well, we saw our bow. He was sailing at full speed on a course that crossed ours. Thus we saw him in his full profile, raising a great wave of foam with his sharp bow. It was on a rough course from east to west as we came from north to south at right angles. We were about 600 meters above sea level.

We started the shallow dive. I commanded ourselves and Miranda in command of the bombs. According to the doctrine, the instructions were repeated. All machine guns should shoot for moral effect when given the order, even those without angles. We could see its artillery pieces at the height of 300 meters and less than a kilometer from the submarine. We could see the polygon tracing of its camouflage that varied from light gray to cobalt blue. We had driven a little to starboard to accompany his march. By coincidence, we were being situated exactly between the submarine and the sun behind us. Until then, no reaction from the submarine parts.

When we sharpened the dive for the actual start of the attack, the U-199 heaved strongly to starboard. It completed a 90-degree turn and aligned exactly with the axis of our trajectory, with the bow facing us. I noticed a single orange blaze from the front deck. I did some evasive action up to a hundred feet high when the plane was stabilized to allow for the perfect launch of the bombs. We were with all the machine guns firing in the last two hundred yards, face to face with the aim. We unleashed the little depth charges on the submarine’s prow.

They detonated at the exact moment when the U-199 passed on all three. It happened one on the prow, one half-nautical, and one on the stern. The bow of the submersible was thrown out of the water. It stopped within the three circles of white foam left by the explosions. The complete description of how the depth charges reached the submarine was given to me. It happened in a conversation I had with the PBM pilot. His name was Lieutenant Smith. He attended the cabin and presented me with a photograph of the U- 199, which I could not find.

We lowered it to a little less than 50 meters. Then we glued it to the water for the lowest possible risk of the antiaircraft reaction. We started the return curve to the last load thrown near the submarine’s stern, which was then slowly sinking.

In this passage, already began to jump from board some crew. As we complete this second passage, we have seen an American PBM dipped into the goal. Then we would know where he came from. In English, we transmitted the traditional SSSS – SIGHTED SUB SANK SAME with emotion. The Allies use it to say that the submarine is sighted and underwater. We await orders on the spot. Within seconds the submarine sank, with some of its crew still swimming in the rough sea. We threw an inflatable boat, and the PBM threw two. We watched the survivors embark on the three rubber boats, trapped together by train. It was twelve. Later, we would know they were the commander, plus three officers and eight sailors. “

By Coricia

Marketing manager and co-Chief Editor of Maritime Herald.