The Hunt for U-223

In the early hours of March 29, a three-ship British hunter-killer group searching north of Sicily found by sonar the U-223, commanded by Peter Gerlach. The Three destroyers, LAFOREY, TUMULT, and ULSTER, commenced a relentless chase that lasted about twenty hours. During the day the group was reinforced by three other British destroyers (BLENCATHRA, HAMBLETON, and WILTON), two American destroyers (ERICSSON and KEARNY), and three American PC's (264, 556, and 558). In this hunt, the various Allied warships carried out twenty-two separate depth-charge attacks, but Gerlach went deep (772 feet) and the boat survived.

Among others, the biggest problems for Gerlach and his crew were the lack of oxygen and battery power. Finally, after about twenty-five hours submerged, Gerlach surfaced in the darkness, aired the boat, and tried to creep away on his diesels while charging his batteries. Four British destroyers (BLENCARTHA, HAMBLETON, LAFOREY, and TUMULT) detected U-223 and opened fire with guns. Thus trapped, Gerlach shot a T-5 at LAFOREY; which hit and blew her up. The other ships rescued only sixty-nine of the LAFOREY crew; 189 men perished.

Concluding that U-223 was doomed, Gerlach ordered the crew to assemble on deck in life jackets and abandon ship. The engineer, Ernst Sheid, age twenty-one, who set the scuttling charges, was the last man out of the boat. Skipper Gerlach told Sheid that he, Gerlach, was "no good without his boat" and elected to go down with her. While the boat was under way at full speed, Sheid and the others leaped over the side. As the destroyers hammered the U-boat with gunfire, it suddenly circled back through the men in the water. Her propellers and the gunfire killed almost half of the German crew. BLENCATHRA, HAMBLETON, and TUMULT found only twenty-seven of the the fifty Germans, included was engineer Sheid.

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