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 off Rio de Janeiro, attacked and sunk in position 23º54’S – 42º54’W, by depth charges, by an American PBM Mariner (VP- 74 – US Navy) and two Brazilian planes (Catalina “Arará” and Hudson), resulting in 49 dead and 12 survivors.

The Catalina (model PBY-5) that attacked and sank the German submarine U-199 was baptized as Arará on August 28, 1943, at a ceremony held at Santos Dumont airport, and later won a submarine silhouette to mark a submarine the done.

The name Arara was given in honour 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, and the crew of the Catalina.

The seaplane was baptized with sea water by a girl – Miriam Santos – an orphan of her father, Second-Commissar Durval Batista dos Santos, killed at the time the Arara (the merchant had 20 dead) was sunk, at the moment 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, with the name of Itagiba, merchant ship sunk on August 17, 1942, with 38 dead, between crew and passengers. Among the survivors were the soldiers of the Seventh Artillery Group of Dorso, some of whom 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 like U-Boats, the term originated of the German word Unterseeboot (boat underwater). With this weapon, Germany practically strangled the maritime trade of England.

When the conflict becomes 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 with the aim of further blocking the flow of raw materials necessary to 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, reaching important ports such as Santos and Rio de January.

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

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, propelled by two diesel engines and 6.9 knots when submerged, with two electric motors. 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 as a state-of-the-art submarine, its commander Captain Lieutenant Hans Werner Kraus intended to do in Southeastern Brazil a devastation similar to that Captain Schacht of the U-507 had made 11 months earlier on the coast of Serbia.

The U-199 on mission

The U-199 departed from the port of Berger in Kiel, Germany, 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. seven officers, two naval guards, six noncommissioned officers and 41 sailors.

He crossed the equator in early June, but Kraus’ strong discipline did not allow his men to celebrate the crossing of the equator, believing 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, but it was unarmed and 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, and the tactic was to remain submerged during the day, in depth of periscope (20 meters), raising 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, Spaniards and Argentines, countries neutral in the conflict, crossed the coast.
After a few days of patrol, Commander Kraus received permission from the German high command to change the patrol area.

On the night of June 26, U-199 spotted the American merchant ship Charles Willian Peale, who 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, when around 9 pm it was located by a US Navy BPM Mariner, piloted by Lieutenant Carey. The plane began to circulate, searching with its headlights for the submarine on the surface.

Commander Kraus immediately ordered full speed ahead and had the guns rigged on the deck. The Mariner plunged into the attack, but to the Germans’ surprise, 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 and that although a surface search had been made, no survivors were found.

Still, with the presence of few targets, Commander Kraus decided, without orders from Germany due to the radio silence, to change again the hunting area, now to the south of Rio de Janeiro, extending the line of patrol 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 and although the U-199 communicated to the German command it’s 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, as he deduced that Bury would report the position of the attack and patrol planes would be sent to his hunt.

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

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 which struck the steam in the middle, breaking the ship in two and causing it to sink in less than ten minutes.

Finally, 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), 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 and although some of its agents had been arrested, many information of 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

“… After taking off, on Saturday, I went effectively to the bunk where I stretched. After less than half an hour, Miranda asked me to fly because I wanted to complete with Major Coutinho Marques the plot of our route after Cabo Frio. I went to the pilot station. As soon as it was ten minutes after I had taken the commands, an 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 the autopilot and on the indicated course, in forced cruise regime, with 2,350 revolutions and 35 inches of compression. It was about 8:35 in the morning.

There was some fog, and the winter sun was three-quarters of the tail per port, so in a position favourable to us at the time of the attack. All the machine guns were tested and, from the four depth charges we took, we set three, 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 the chosen exhaust. The depth charges were already set to detonate to 21 feet deep, ie approximately 7 feet from the surface. This regulation was considered ideal because it kept the bombs to detonate within the range in which experience had already proven to be efficient submarine attack by aircraft, that 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 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. The instructions were repeated so that, when given the order, all machine guns should shoot, even those without angle, according to the doctrine, for moral effect. Already at a height of 300 meters and less than a kilometre from the submarine we could clearly see its artillery pieces and the polygon tracing of its camouflage that varied from light gray to cobalt blue. To accompany his march we had driven a little to starboard, being situated, by coincidence, 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 completing 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, and so 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. With all the machine guns firing in the last two hundred yards, face to face with the aim, we unleashed the little depth charges to the prow of the submarine.

They detonated at the exact moment when the U-199 passed on all three, one on the prow, one half-nautical, and one on the stern. The bow of the submersible was thrown out of the water, and there 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 in a conversation I had with the PBM pilot, Lieutenant Smith, who attended the cabin, and who even presented me with a photograph of the U- 199 which, unfortunately, I can not find.

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

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. We transmitted with emotion the traditional SSSS – SIGHTED SUB SANK SAME – in English, used by the Allies to say: submarine sighted and sunken – and 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. We would know later that they were the commander, plus three officers and eight sailors. ”


Source: Poder Naval