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Heroes and Villians: STUBBS vs KOHLAUF


On Aug. 6, 1942, Acting Lieutenant-Commander John Stubbs was aboard HMCS Assiniboine, which was escorting a North Atlantic convoy, when the ship engaged a U-boat at close range. After an exchange of fire seriously damaged both boats, Stubbs’ vessel rammed and sunk U-210.

Naval historical officer Gilbert Tucker described first-hand how Stubbs “never took his eye off the U-boat, and gave his orders as though he were talking at a garden party.” Tucker added that Stubbs’ handling of Assiniboine was “a masterpiece of tactical skill,” carried out while the bridge was “deluged [by] machine gun bullets.” Stubbs was awarded a Distinguished Service Order for his actions. He was promoted to lieutenant-commander on May 1, 1944, following a year ashore and returned to sea at the helm of Tribal-class destroyer Athabaskan.

Stubbs swam among the sailors, rallying them by singing “Wavy Navy Roll Along.”

On April 25, 1944, Task Force 26 sailed from Plymouth, England. It consisted of the cruiser HMS Black Prince and four Tribals—HMS Ashanti and the Royal Canadian Navy’s Athabaskan, Haida and Huron. At 2:10 the following morning, the force intercepted three Type 39 torpedo boats (Elbings) of the 4th Torpedobootsflotille commanded by Korvettenkapitän Franz Kohlauf.

Although designated torpedo boats, Type 39s were actually small destroyers. Their main armament consisted of four 4.1-inch guns and six 21-inch torpedo tubes, making them formidable opponents. In a chaotic action, Athabaskan and Haida engaged Kohlauf’s command vessel, T-29—turning its decks into a mass of flames. Joined by the other destroyers, the combined gunfire sent T-29 to the bottom.

“Stubbs never took his eye off the U-boat, and gave his orders as though he were talking at a garden party.”

—Naval historical officer Gilbert Tucker

Three nights later, Athabaskan and Haida met the two remaining Elbings. In an exchange of torpedo salvos, Athabaskan was struck on the port side. At the same time, shellfire from Haida caused so much damage to T-27 that its captain deliberately ran the vessel ashore. An explosion, meanwhile, set Athabaskan’s main fuel bunker aflame.

“It looks quite serious. Am steering aft,” Stubbs radioed Haida. With the fire spreading rapidly, Stubbs ordered the crew to abandon ship just before a magazine of 4-inch ammunition exploded. Those sailors not killed in the explosions, took to the sea. The badly burned Stubbs swam among the sailors, rallying them by singing “Wavy Navy Roll Along.”

Haida rescued 42 men before Stubbs warned it off, shouting: “Get away Haida. Get clear.” Haida’s motor cutter picked up six others and the Germans rescued 85. The remaining 128 men—including Stubbs—perished. He was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for the April 26 sinking of Kohlauf’s T-29.



On the night of Oct. 22-23, 1943, Korvettenkapitän Franz Kohlauf’s 4th Torpedobootsflotille was escorting German blockade runner Münsterland through the English Channel. Alerted by Allied intelligence, the British dispatched a strike force led by the cruiser HMS Charybdis and accompanied by two U-class destroyers, Grenville and Rocket, as well as four Hunt-class destroyers, Limbourne, Wensleydale, Talybont and Stevenstone.

Kohlauf had five Type 39 torpedo boats (Elbings) under his command. Detecting the British force by hydrophone, Kohlauf raced to make contact. Although there was bright moonlight, Kohlauf used the backdrop of a rain squall for partial concealment. At a range of just 2,000 metres, Kohlauf spotted Charybdis.

Thinking the cruiser was engaging, Kohlauf ordered a battle turn to starboard with T-23 and T-26 unleashing 12 torpedoes. One struck Charybdis on the port side. Losing power, it began to list. Kohlauf’s remaining Elbings were still turning and two fired their torpedo complements. This salvo finished Charybdis and also sunk Limbourne.

Kohlauf was awarded the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross. His citation noted that, “by way of a clever battle maneuver, [Kohlauf] was able to bring his ships to…where their torpedoes would be certain to hit. Through his personal bravery, Kohlauf was…able to overcome the critical situation and accomplish a tactical success of extraordinary proportions.”

During early 1944, even after suffering some losses, Kohlauf’s flotilla remained a constant threat to Allied shipping in the Channel. The losses, however, meant that when his
flotilla was intercepted on April 25, it numbered only three Elbings.

Soon the Elbing was ablaze from bow to stern. Shells destroyed its bridge, killing Kohlauf.

Surprised, Kohlauf attempted to escape by increasing speed and reversing course. At 2:20 a.m. on the 26th, HMS Black Prince fired illumination rounds that enabled the destroyers to see and engage the Elbings.

At around 3 a.m., Kohlauf’s T-29 was struck by a full salvo fired by either HMCS Athabaskan or Haida. Its rudder damaged, T-29 veered out of control. The two destroyers circled with guns blazing from a range of 4,000 metres. The gun crews on T-29 lashed back, but were unable to match the Canadian rate and accuracy of fire.

“Through his personal bravery, Kohlauf was…able to accomplish a tactical success of extraordinary proportions.”

—Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross citation for Franz Kohlauf

Soon the Elbing was ablaze from bow to stern. Shells destroyed its bridge, killing Kohlauf. The surviving crew scuttled the boat. T-29 was the largest enemy vessel to that date sunk by Canadian forces. The commander of Black Prince wrote that “this…engagement had done much to enhance the already high morale of the ships and men of the ships companies engaged.”


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