Daily Event for July 27

July 27, 1944 the Soviet submarine V-1 was sunk in error by an RAF Liberator bomber in the Norwegian Sea.
V-1 began her life nine years and five days before her loss when the S Class boat was laid down at the Chatham Dockyard in Chatham, England on July 22, 1935, her name was HMS Sunfish.

As Sunfish she served with the Royal Navy sinking five merchant ships before being transferred to the Soviet Navy on Apr. 10, 1944. Now in Russian hands she was commissioned V-1 on June 26, 1944. She sailed from Scotland bound for Murmansk and was ordered to follow a route designated as a haven along the way. The haven was a no attack zone which moved with the submarine and included a 20 mile (on either side) buffer to allow for navigational errors.

British aircraft had orders restricting attacks on submarines in these zones and never to bomb a submarine at night. This was of course to keep from sinking friendly boats. There were other safeguards in place including the use of recognition rockets, which were to be fired to warn the pilot that the boat was a friendly.

The V-1 never arrived at her destination but the V-2 (ex HMS Unbroken) did. The British liaison party on board the V-2 later reported to his superiors that the Soviet commander on the V-2 failed to stay on his assigned route and did not keep the rockets easily available making it difficult to send the proper signal to an attacking aircraft. This was apparently the case for the V-1.

It was not for a few days, until a report was filed by a bomber pilot that the fate of the V-1 was established. The pilot reported attacking and sinking a submarine on the 27th of July. It is generally assumed that both the sub and the aircraft were off course but, the attack could have been prevented by firing the recognition rockets, which did not happen, possibly because of the placement of the rockets in the boat as mentioned earlier.

The third mistake, this one made by the submarines commander, was to dive in broad daylight after spotting the bomber. This sent a message to the pilot that the boat was a belligerent and therefore fair game.  It is possible that the commander of the V-1 misidentified the aircraft as a FW-200 Condor which was a four engine German bomber sometimes used in a anti-submarine roll. This however is just speculation on my part.

The blunders by the submarine commander whether deliberate or accidental, caused the loss of the boat. The pilot of the Liberator, even if he had strayed into the haven, had justification in attacking the sub due to the lack of a signal and the fact that the boat made a crash dive to avoid the plane. The conclusion to this episode is a sad one for none of the men on the V-1, including the British liaison party, survived the attack.

© 2006 Michael W. Pocock

HMS Sunfish seen in 1940.