USS CORRY (DD-463) -- U-801 Sinking First-hand Account

Thomas L. "Red" Groot
Boatswain's Mate, 1st class,  USS Corry (DD-463)

(email: t l g 5 7 1 9 @ s h e n t e l . n e t )   

German Submarine Fires Torpedoes at USS Corry
Sinking of U-801

As Observed by the NO.3, 5-inch Gun Captain
Thomas “Red” Groot BM1c     March 17, 1944

“Submarine Off the Starboard Quarter!”

The USS Corry was hunting a German sub southeast of Azores that was first sighted in the area by a plane from the USS Block Island CVE-21, a baby carrier, that we were attached to. [Task Force 'TO 21.16']  A plane from the carrier had spotted a submarine on the surface and strafed it as it submerged and then dropped a smoke marker to spot the sub's location. After reporting the sighting to his carrier operation base -- the USS Block Island -- the destroyer Corry and a destroyer escort Bronstein, operating in the area with the task force, were dispatched to the marked sub's location.  

When we arrived at the scene, the USS Bronstein was there and had already dropped her smaller charges on her. Then the Corry took over. She located the sub, dropped charges on her, waited, relocated her and dropped more charges. After the second run of charges an oil slick and some trash surfaced. However, Captain Hoffman thought it was a trick by the sub to make us think we had sunk them, but he wasn't fooled by their stunt; they were known for tricks of that type.

The Captain, not convinced she was sunk, kept searching for her. She succeeded in eluding us for the rest of the day. Using his skill in maneuvering with an ever-widening search, we picked up a sonar contact on the sub early in the morning the next day.  General Quarters was sounded and the crew went to battle stations. This time the Captain tried a different approach of dropping the cans on the sub. Steering in the direction of the sonar bearings to the sub, taking ranges and plotting her course and speed, the Captain maneuvered the Corry directly over her, matching her speed.  The Fathometer, (depth finder), registered its depth and as being over the sub. The charges for a full pattern were set to that depth. The Captain brought the ship to a full stop over her, ordered 'fire depth charges' and at the same time ordered "flank speed ahead" to get away from the shock-wave and surface eruption of the exploding charges before they went off.  Our ship still took quite a shock from the explosions, but no damage was reported. From past experience when the charges are about to go off you raise your heels up off the deck or you could have some broken heel bones, it's like a sledgehammer hitting your feet from underneath. The Captain turned back to search the area. The sonar was a little erratic at the site where the charges exploded but no definite contact was made for some time after that.

I imagined that the sub skipper was desperate by now; he fired two torpedoes at the Corry. The Ocean was dead calm and with the ship’s engines stopped wasn't making any headway in the water at that time.  With my head phones on, I had left my gun mount and was standing at the safety rail to starboard on the after deck house to search the water for anything floating. It was several minutes since we had dropped the last depth charge pattern on her. I was looking straight out on the beam to starboard and saw these two porpoises! At least that is what my first thoughts were when I saw them. It seems the two of them broached the surface about fifty yards out on the starboard beam. Seeing wakes following them I instantly knew that they were torpedoes coming straight at the ship, directly toward where I was standing on the after deckhouse. As I watched the torpedo wakes on the surface coming at me, getting closer by the second, I was thinking RUN but knew it wouldn't do any good so I leaned over the rail to follow them and watch them go off when they hit the ship's side exactly under me. An instant thought crashed through my mind that I would always remember what that explosion would look like. I was expecting a flash and explosion, but nothing! What a rush hit me, I was still alive. As if from a distance I could hear myself hollering. They had run directly under the ship where I was standing without exploding. I then turned to the port side of the ship to see them going away from the ship on the other side. Unbelievable! Talk about sitting ducks and luck.

If the torpedoes had hit the ship at that point it would have blown up the magazines of guns three and four taking the whole after section of the ship with it and no doubt about it we would have been sunk. 

Then I heard a signalman, Dom Banuelos, standing out on the wing of the bridge waving his arms and hollering down to me, "Did you see the torpedoes go under the ship?"  I turned to him and hollered back , “Yeah and there they go” and pointed with my arm to where the torpedoes were going out to sea. He was probably trying to warn me before that, but I had frozen watching them coming at me and didn't hear anything else but the swish of the wakes. I could see the air froth coming off the torpedo propellers turning into wakes on the surface. Did I actually see the torpedoes? No, but I saw two dark shadows moving fast, side by side a six or eight foot spread between them producing twin wakes. I knew they were torpedoes.

Later, after the sub was sunk, I talked to several shipmates about why or how the torpedoes did not find their target. I talked to Matt Jayich of Gun number Two mount, which is higher up and forward on the ship bow. He told me he saw the torpedoes pass under the ship at about where the Quarterdeck is located (Amidships). The number four Gun Captain, BC Mills, saw them go under the ship at his gun mount. It seems to me that the torpedoes must have gone under the ship a little forward of his gun mount or he was standing on the main deck directly below me and we both saw the torpedoes pass under the ship below us. The Corry's draft is 15 foot 8 inches, which would mean that the torpedoes likely cleared our bottom within inches, directly under gun mounts number three and four magazines. It's a good thing the Corry was dead in the water at that time, pardon the pun; if she had been under way she would have been down by the stern. Then there would have been - "POOF" a lot of smoke and a big glory hole in the Ocean. I guess it just wasn’t meant to be my fate.  

After the torpedoes went under the ship, the Corry kicked up speed and went after the sub; establishing a good sonar bearing and laying a depth charge pattern of several 600 pounders over the suspected sub's position as the Corry charged over the contact. Then nothing on sonar, and a long wait. (Sonar 60/65 years ago wasn't what it is today the debris from the depth charge had to clear off before contact in the area could be made.) The Captain secured from G. Q. and the condition watch was set. That put me on my watch at the helm on the bridge. The Captain wasn't through looking for the sub; he was giving different courses for me to steer. We continued the block search and back over the location that the last depth charges were laid down. The Captain sat on the front edge of his chair and took up the course that the ship was on at the last time the charges were dropped over the sub. After a few long moments and holding it steady on that course, making about ten knots, a lookout on the starboard wing of the bridge called out 'there is a whale off the starboard quarter." I heard another man yell in a more excited manner, "that's not a whale it's a submarine" and at the same time I heard sonar getting strong return pings. As I remember, sonar was hollering, "Contact, bearing 170 degrees at 350 yards."

Things move into action now. The captain swings out of his chair calling for "General Quarters" and "Man your battle stations." G.Q is sounded throughout the ship and at the same time the helm is given orders, "right full rudder". All this takes place in seconds. The Captain is making a dash for the starboard wing, I answered back  "Aye, aye sir, right full rudder," turning the wheel at the same time, hard to starboard. Everett Howard, the quartermaster, takes over the helm, that's his G Q station. I didn't have to relay my last orders to him, he was standing right in back of me and said, "I got it". I made a dash to my G Q station, Gun-mount three, down the ladders from the bridge, two decks down and aft along the main deck. I could see the sub's bow cutting through the water a little abaft the starboard beam now cutting the water as it was surfacing. It's on the same course the Corry was on. As I hit the main deck running, I’m gonna guess she was making 20 knots, for a damaged sub that’s pretty darn good. With the Corry’s 10 - knot speed the sub is almost abreast of us, and just into the turn to starboard I gave it when I left the Helm and gaining speed. I'm at my Gun Three now on the after deckhouse. My gun crew is already there and I'm putting on my headset as the word comes over them "Action starboard" and "Fire when ready" is given. I give the orders to my gun crew, "Load-match up and shift to automatic". In seconds I hear my pointer and trainer say, “On automatic” and on top of their voices I’m calling “Commence firing.” My gun crew managed to get off three 5 inch rounds at the sub before the gun trained to the stops -- due to the ship’s swing to starboard, that stopped the gun from firing. All this happened from the time I left the bridge after giving the wheel that full right rudder.  Before, the ship, in its swing toward the sub, my gun had trained in a position against the stops as the sub passed in front of our bow, that stopped my gun from further firing. Now that's how fast our Corry gun crews act going into action.

When our gun was firing I saw a large hole appear in the bow of the sub. You could see daylight through it. The conning tower was also being hit as the Germans came spewing up out of her and jumping overboard. That was BC Mill's, gun Captain of Gun Four that hit the conning tower. They never had a chance to man their guns. That's something the Corry wasn't going to let happen. We couldn't have taken the chance for them to get to their deck guns. Guns One and Two had been firing rapidly but had to check firing when the Corry came too close for the 5-inch guns to train and fire on the sub. Still, the small arms fire from our ship’s crew raked her. The Corry, still swinging around, must have virtually passed over the sub's stern.

The right turn we were making took us away from the sub. Continuing the turn opened the distance to the sub to where all our guns could train on it again. We then commenced firing from starboard, hitting it continually. If it wasn't damaged enough by our depth charges to sink it, the shellfire did the job. To make sure it was going down, Captain Hoffman was going to ram it and announced over the intercom “ Stand by for a ram.” He had a collision course set for the ram but the sub slipped back under the surface; her bow rose straight up out of the water and she settled stern-first with fountains of water and air bellowing up from her bow. She was sinking. The Corry charged right over the top of her as she went down. I heard sometime later there were some quiet comments made about the ramming thing by a couple of the Officers on the Bridge.

There was a string of men floating in her wake where she was surfacing. So that sub, the U- 801, was apparently damaged enough by our depth charges to sink her. Or they had had enough and she was making a run to the surface. Her men were abandoning the sub as she rose, using escape hatches before she broke the surface. We picked up 47 men, now German POW's. The sub’s Captain was killed when he came up on the Bridge and stopped to help his crewmembers out of the conning tower hatch. Two officers were killed with him.  Several others were killed when the conning tower was hit by shellfire from the Corry.

By questioning the POW's it was determined the sub's Captain thought that the Corry was a US Cruiser and set the depth on the torpedoes accordingly. There were four DE's with us giving him reason to think that the Corry was a Light Cruiser. Immediately after missing his target he knew he had misjudged setting the depth of the torpedoes, realizing too late that it was a US destroyer; and that by firing the torpedoes he exposed his position.    

The POWs were aboard for several hours before they were turned over to the USS Block Island, CVE-21. They were treated well while on board the Corry, given clothing, and they ate in our mess compartment. They were very young men, most in their teens; blond headed with long hair and they all wanted combs. Older crewmembers and officers were kept under separate guard away from the younger group. Captain Hoffman believed they might try to cause trouble on board our ship if kept together. The young ones thought their sub was in the Pacific Ocean and were surprised to find out they were in the Atlantic. Later the Corry pulled up to the Block Island to take on fuel and more depth charges. We transferred the prisoners over to the Block Island by makeshift breaches buoys made out of US Mailbags.  We saw several of the younger German prisoners later on, aboard the Carrier when we were along side of her. They all had their heads cut in a GI hair cut and dressed in POW uniforms. They seemed happy though the war was over for them, especially after the horror experienced with two days of being depth charged by us, thinking their sub would be their tomb.

Before transferring them to the carrier, Captain Hoffman held a burial service at sea on board the Corry for their Captain and the others killed that we had picked up from the sea. Their bodies, weighted and sewn up in canvas, slid off into the sea with prayer under the German flag. The prisoners were all present for this service.


USS Block Island, CVE-21, was an old transport ship converted to a small aircraft carrier (baby carrier) with a dozen or more planes assigned to it. The USS Corry joined with her and the four DE's at Casablanca. That comprised Submarine Hunter Killer task force TO 21.16. We were at sea for six months without seeing land with this force. This Task Force was credited with sinking seven submarines in that six-month period.

USS CORRY DD 463 sank the U-801 German Submarine by shellfire on March 17, 1944.

USS CORRY DD 463 was later sunk at the Normandy Invasion on June 6, 1944 at Utah Beach by three German 210 mm shore Battery Canons at 0633 June 6, 1944. 

USS Block Island (CVE-21) was sunk after being torpedoed by a German submarine U-549 northwest of the Canary Islands, 29th of May 1944. Ironically, that is in the same area from where the USS Corry sank the U-801 while operating with the carrier just three months and twelve days earlier from the Corry's sinking of June 6, 1944.

Thomas 'Red' Groot, BM1c                      © 2006Thomas L. Groot


~~~~Recently, (2009) looking through records I found out through the Navy Archives the Torpedoes fired at the Corry from the U-801 were type T-5 German type Acoustic Torpedoes with combination inertia and magnetic firing Pistol. The magnetic firing was always set in the on position and the T- 5 Torpedo never circles; if torpedo goes beyond acoustic range, torpedo continues on straight course. The Listening arc of the T-5 Torpedo hears 180 degrees around its nose.

          The Corry’s engines were not running when the torpedoes were fired and then passing underneath us; there was no sound to trigger the Torpedo combination inertia and magnetic firing pistol. A second reason the U-801 may have been too close to us for the Torpedoes Safety-run Pistol-arming distance between 260-270 meters (240 yards. -248 yards.) to arm their warheads. I sited them breaching the surface at 60 yards. If the torpedoes had hit the ship they still would not have went off with the German inertia pistol. This is my opinion as to why the Torpedoes never went off while passing close beneath us.  It was said by one of the crewmembers of the sub that the sub’s Captain thought the Corry was a US Cruiser and set the Torpedoes running depth for a Cruiser. Captain Hans Joachim Brans, of the Sub was a very clever man and I don’t think he would make such a mistake. They were just fired in a desperate haste maybe by using their Sonar gear for directing the firing run. It was reported that her periscope had been damaged earlier in the plane attack on the sub. ~~~~

Red Groot BM1 USS Corry DD 463

© 2009 Thomas L. Groot


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