The First U-boat to be Sunk in World War II
the 11th September 1939 the Ark Royal with six destroyers left Scapa
Flow, for an exercise west of the Orkneys, HM ships Firedrake, Foxhound,
Faulknor, Eskimo and two other tribal destroyers were to do Anti
U-boat sweeps and to give protection to the Ark Royal.
The German submarine U39 had been attacked the day before in the
North Sea, and had dived to a depth of 100 mts, to escape detection,
a lot of time was spent on the bottom waiting for the depth charge
attack to pass, some of the crew
if they would ever surface again, but pass it did, and later that
night they surfaced to recharge there batteries and carried on with
Erwin Prügel was a sailor onboard U39 this is his story. Before
leaving there base in Germany they were told that the torpedoes
they had on board were experimental and on previous tests some had
not exploded so adjustments had been made to the firing mechanism,
they left port hopeful that the problem had been sorted out.
On the 14th September at 15.12 hrs off the Rockall Bank U39 fired
two torpedoes at the Ark Royal, Both exploded before hitting there
mark. There were the three tribal class destroyers on the starboard
side of the Ark Royal and Firedrake Foxhound and the Faulknor on
the port side, Immediately HMS Foxhound picked up a contact on the
ASDIC equipment, Bob Larner was the operator on watch, the position
of the contact was reported to the skipper and signaled to the Firedrake
and Faulknor who confirmed that position.
Foxhound went strait into the attack followed by the Faulknor and
then the Firedrake, all three destroyers dropped a pattern of depth
charges over the same area, Firedrake was the last to lay her pattern,
seconds later the U-boat came slowly to the surface the Ark Royal
with Eskimo and the other two tribal class destroyers had by now
raced away to safety, Foxhound was nearest to U39 as she surfaced
and was about to ram her but men were seen jumping into the sea
from the conning tower so the rescue started. The Foxhound picked
up 25 of the U-boat crew.
Firedrake picked up 8, the rest of the survivors were picked up
by the Faulknor, all 43 of the crew were taken prisoner with only
one of them having a slight injury, while the prisoners were being
given dry cloths and hot food the U-boat sank, there was no time
to board her, so there was no chance of getting any information
about any other U-boats in the area. All the prisoners were transferred
to the Foxhound so they could be landed at Kirkwall on the Orkneys
the next day.
the Foxhound before the prisoners had been landed they were entertained
by one of the prisoners who played an accordion lent to him by one
of the crew of the Foxhound this helped to relax the prisoners,
who had been told that if they were captured they would be treated
very harshly. All the prisoners were treated very well, one of them
on the Firedrake gave his autograph to Joe Curbishley an able seaman
at the time, Joe survived the war as a Petty Officer and is still
alive today and he still has that autograph.
Photo left a British sailor onboard the Foxhound plays a
tune on the accordion for the prisoner of U39 just before they were
landed at Kirkwall on the Orkneys.
time later it was decided that there wasn’t a secure enough place
to put the U-boat men, so they were transferred to the mainland,
they found them selves locked in the Tower of London for a time,
but were soon moved a prison camp in Oldham and then later shipped
to Lethbridge Canada to spend the rest of the war as lumber jacks.
Erwin Prügel is alive today and has provided many of the photos,
his daughter, Doris very kindly came to the HMS Firedrake Association
memorial service for the Firedrake which was lost with the loss
of 168 of her crew on the 17th December 1942. She laid a wreath
for the crew and wished to thank the crews of all the destroyers
involved for treating the prisoners of U39 so well.
Photograph left is Erwin Prügel a sailor from U39 pictured with
his niece in Germany, this photo was taken just before the war started
in September 1939.
Photograph right is Bob Larner who was the ASDIC operator that detected
U39 after her failed attempt to sink the Ark Royal, later Bob was
awarded the DSM for his action that day, Bob survived the war but
has now has sadly pass on his photo was supplied by his son who
is also called Robert (Bob) being the nick name.
U39 was the first U-boat to be sunk in the second world war. Credited
to the three destroyers Firedrake, Foxhound and Faulknor.
A photo of the crew of U39 taken just before leaving there base
to go on which was to become there last patrol.
The photos below
Left to right are: The famous Tower of London where Erwin Prügel
and the rest of the crew from U39 sent some time before being sent
to a prison camp in Oldham, later they were shipped to Canada there
they spent the rest of the war as lumber jacks, Erwin Prügel is
the tractor driver in in this picture, And thirdly the autograph
of of one of the prisoners from U39 given to Joe Curbishley who
was on the Firedrake.
two photos above were taken by Able Seaman Maurice Stevenson
on board HMS Faulknor, the 8th flotilla's leader.
He had joined the Navy as a boy at 16 and stayed in until 1950.
L/R this photo shows the damaged conning tower of U39 just above
the waves, the second photo shows the Faulknor's lifeboat returning
with some of the crew of U39, and HMS Foxhound in the background.
The HMS Firedrake association would like to thank Gareth
Smith, Maurices grandson for kindly sending us the photos.
Left and right Erwin Prügel and Joe Curbishley
meeting after 63 years. In April 2002 Bob Lawrence 82 years
of age, who was the Leading signalman aboard HMS Foxhound in September
1939, one of the destroyers involved in the detection and sinking
of U39, the first U-boat to be sunk in World War II, visited Erwin
Prügel at his home in Heimerdingen Germany.
The meeting was covered by the local news paper reported by Marcus
Stradinger. Erwin and Bob gave the interview at his home in
Heimerdingen. Bob stayed at Erwins house for ten days, they got
on together very well, talking over old time well into the night,
Bob stayed in the Royal Navy after the war till 1949 then worked
for Telecom till he retired. The news paper report was a full page
spread, much of which is mentioned in our web-site, I have managed
to get a brief outline of what was said:
Sunken U-boat Unites Them.
There is nothing special about two men in their 80s sitting
in their lounge and chatting about the past. However for Erwin Prügel
from Heimerdingen and the Englishman Robert (Bob) Lawrence the situation
is different. They had been enemies in W.W.II. Furthermore Bob Lawrence
was the signalman on the British Destroyer Foxhound which was one
of the destroyers that detected and depth charged the U39, sending
her down to a 100 Mts. Marcus reports that Erwin who was 22 years
old at the time and the rest of the crew had just about given up
when the U-boat started to lift, the leading engineer had managed
to blow the flooded diving tanks with the last of the compressed
air. So the U-boat slowly surfaced and all the crew were rescued
by the three destroyers taking them prisoner, seconds later U39
slipped under the waves for ever.
photo on the left is
Bob (left) and Erwin (right) meeting for the first time in 63 years
at the railway station.
The photo on the right is the one printed by the local news paper,
Both Erwin (left) and Bob (right) look as if they are enjoying themselves.
are two of the many war time photos that Bob took with him to Germany,
the one on the left is some of the crew of U39 standing on the quay
at Kirkwall in the Orkney islands, where they were landed before
being taken to London, where they would be kept in the famous Tower
of London till a place was found for them in the north of the country.
Later they were transferred to Canada where they finished their
captivity. The photo on the right shows three sailors on the bridge
of the Foxhound Bob Lawrence being the one in the middle.
Vittorio Rappini 1940
Rappini R .T. 52358, was taken prisoner on the 18th October
1940 in the Mediterranean east of Gibraltar. Vittorio was an R.T.
Rating on Italian submarine Durbo when she was spotted by two Saunders-Roe
London flying Boats of 202 Squadron RAF, the destroyers HMS Wrestler
and HMS Firedrake went strait into the attack with depth charges
Durbo was forced to the surface, all the crew were take prisoner,
and the Submarine sunk, there were no casualties they were landed
at Gibraltar the same day. The Durbo’s crew were made comfortable
and given dry clothes food and cigarettes.
Vittorio remembers how kind and friendly the crew were to him. Soon
they were transferred to the UK and then to a prison camp in America
where he stayed till the war ended in 1945. While he was in the
prison camp he learned to write and speak English. So after the
war he worked with the U.N.R.R.A. The United Nations Relief and
Rehabilitation program. He later emigrated to Canada where he died
in August 1994.
Left: The crew of the Durbo being taken prisoner in October 1940.
Photo Right: This Picture taken in May 1940 of some of the
crew of the Durbo Vittorio is on the extreme right standing at the
on the right and his friend Lorenzo
Pisciotta was one of the last to leave the sinking submarine
after being ordered by the captain to open the sea valves so the
sub would not be taken into tow. Because he was not listed on the
first list of prisoners he was listed as missing presumed killed
in action and his parents receive a telegram to that effect, it
wasn't till six months later that they received a letter from the
red cross telling of his capture and that he was in a prison camp
in Britain, later because of over crowding he was moved to a camp
in the USA where the conditions were a lot better.
Antonio had been in one of the prison camps in Scotland, Scotland
in the winter is very cold and damp and with the added discomfort
of being away from their families and shortage of food one of his
comrades could not stand the conditions and committed suicide.
the war, Antonio return home to Italy in 1946. He felt that there
were many opportunities in America and returned in 1951, settling
in San Diego with his wife Rosalie and 3 children who later gave
him three grandchildren.
The Durbo prisoners in USA.
The Durbo prisoners in Scotland were kept at a castle, but the conditions
were not good so were taken to the USA.