Surcouf Article

October 30, 2011


I just read your article on the Surcouf, and found it a good read.  However, I found several of the allegations to be unsupportable.

According to what I've found, the Surcouf was only at New London from sometime after November 11th to November 27th 1941, after it had completed a 3-month refit at Portsmouth Naval Yards:

According to uboat.net's losses lists for 1941 and 1942, no U-boats were lost anywhere near New England during or near this time frame: http://www.uboat.net/fates/losses/1941.htm

Also, this statement is not entirely accurate: "US tankers were being sunk off the North East coast of the United States, and Surcouf  had been caught fueling a German U-Boat. Some think that after sailing in January, the Surcouf was in the vicinity of the Panama Canal, where she was run down accidentally by the US freighter Thompson Lykes, but this ship had a tonnage not a great deal more than the French Submarine. When viewed in dry dock after the freighter had hit some object, the damage to her bows looked somewhat minor, much less than would be expected if she had collided with Surcouf."  

US tankers were indeed being sunk off our eastern coast, thanks to bad security on our part, but no solid evidence exists that Surcouf refueled any U-boats. The U-boats operating off our eastern coast were mostly Type IXB's
and C's, which needed no help operating off our coasts thanks to their long range. If the ram damage to Thompson Lykes was seemingly minor, bear in mind that another seemingly minor ram resulted in the loss of HMS Victoria
while on maneuvers in 1893 with most of her crew.



My thanks for your comments.

Of course we will never know the truth about the demise of Surcouf, unless her wreck turns up to perhaps throw some light on her sinking.

In the meantime, most written about Surcouf remains conjecture.

I am afraid from personal experience in HMAS Australia being involved with de Gaulle's debacle at Dakar in September 1940, and losing our Walrus aircraft and her three crew to Vichy fighters.

Taking two hits onboard from French cruisers, I am loath to trust the French.

Here is an interesting comment:

James Rusbridger (Who Sank Surcouf?) examines some rather wild conspiracy theories on her demise. All are easy to dismiss except one. He states the records of the 6th Heavy Bomber Group operating out of Panama show them sinking a large sub the morning of the 19th. Since we know that no Axis submarine was lost in that area on that date, it could only have been Surcouf. He postulates that damage from the collision short-circuited the radio and the stricken boat could only limp blindly toward Panama and hope for the best.

Inquiries into what happened were haphazard and tardy. Frankly, the disappearance of one French submarine was of minor import to the United States and the British Empire, engaged as they were in a global war. A later French inquiry would support the sinking due to “friendly fire.” This is conclusion was supported by Rear Admiral Jean Auphan in his excellent The French Navy in World War II in which he states “for reasons which appear to have been primarily political, she was rammed at night in the Caribbean by an American freighter.” Yet it is interesting to note that Charles de Gaulle never one to shy away when he felt misused or diminished by the Anglo-Saxon world, simply stated in The Call to Honor that Surcouf “had sunk with all hands.” A memorial to the brave but ill-starred submarine stands today in Cherbourg harbor, overlooking the sea. The sea has many mysteries, and is an unforgiving mistress. May her crew rest in peace, whatever final fate befell them. Vive La France!

Best wishes,

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