The USS Borie (DD-215), a Clemson-class destroyer of the United States Navy, engaged in a dramatic and close-quarters battle with the German submarine U-405 on the night of October 31 to November 1, 1943.

In an intense fight characterized by gunfire, ramming, and small arms combat, both vessels suffered heavy damage, leading to the scuttling of U-405 and the eventual sinking of the Borie.

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Background

The Battle of the Atlantic was the longest continuous military campaign in World War II, running from 1939 to the defeat of Nazi Germany in 1945. For the Allies, the strategic objective was to maintain open sea lanes for merchant ships carrying vital supplies from North America to Great Britain and the Soviet Union.

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These supplies were crucial for sustaining the Allied war effort against the Axis powers. Germany, under the command of Admiral Karl Dönitz, aimed to cut these supply lines using its U-boat fleet in a strategy of unrestricted submarine warfare, hoping to starve Britain into submission and isolate the Soviet Union.

As the war progressed, both sides continuously adapted their strategies and tactics. The Allies improved their anti-submarine warfare (ASW) techniques, which included the development of more effective sonar (ASDIC), the use of air cover to patrol for submarines, and the formation of hunter-killer groups.

These groups, centered on escort carriers and supported by destroyers and destroyer escorts, roamed the Atlantic, seeking to detect and destroy German U-boats before they could attack Allied convoys.

In the case of the USS Borie’s engagement with U-405, the operational setting was defined by the hunter-killer group’s mission to proactively seek and engage U-boats. Task Group 21.14, with the USS Card as its centerpiece, was operating in the North Atlantic, a critical battleground where many U-boat attacks on Allied convoys occurred.

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The use of radar and sonar by the USS Borie to detect and engage U-405 illustrates the technological advancements that had been made in ASW. However, the battle also underscored the unpredictable and brutal nature of naval warfare, as seen in the close-quarters combat that ensued.

USS Borie Engages U-405

The USS Borie, part of Task Group 21.14, was operating in the North Atlantic with the mission to seek out and destroy German U-boats threatening Allied shipping lanes. The group was centered around the escort carrier USS Card, which provided air cover and reconnaissance capabilities to detect enemy submarines from the air.

USS Borie pictured in August, 1942.

On the night of 31 October,1943, the Borie, equipped with radar, detected an unidentified contact, which was later identified as the German submarine U-405, commanded by Kapitänleutnant Rolf-Heinrich Hopman.

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As the Borie closed in on the U-405, the challenging weather conditions, including heavy seas and poor visibility, complicated the engagement. The traditional tactics of depth charge attacks or long-range gunfire were rendered less effective under these conditions. Determined to neutralize the threat posed by the U-405, the Borie’s captain decided to close the distance to the submarine, leading to a direct and perilous confrontation.

The Unusual Duel

The decision to engage in close quarters was fraught with risk. The heavy seas made maneuvering extremely difficult, and as the Borie approached, it became clear that this would not be a typical naval engagement. The destroyer attempted to ram the submarine, a desperate tactic.

The collision was devastating, with the Borie ending up on top of the U-405. This physical entanglement between the two vessels led to an unprecedented situation where the deck guns did not have the necessary depression or elevation to inflict damage on each other. This meant the crews only choice was to engage in close quarters fighting.

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Both sides exchanged small arms fire while a spotlight from the Borie illuminated any German that dare expose themselves. The firepower available to the sailors on board the Borie was limited, leading to the attackers getting quite creative.

After all the Thompson submachine guns and rifles were taken, the crew resorted to using shotguns on board the ship which were stored for riot control. One crew member claims that he threw a knife which killed a German, there is another story of a flare gun being fired into the chest of a German sailor, and also an anecdote of a man from the Borie throwing a shell from one of the 5 inch guns which knocked one of the enemies into the sea.

An artists depiction of the bitter duel between USS Borie and U-405.

The two vessels finally seperated and a small skirmish ensued. The German crew, now only 14 of the original 49 still alive, realizing the hopelessness of their situation, ceased fire and were seen getting into life rafts.

A Tragic End For USS Borie

With the crew of the U-Boat now in the relative safety of the life rafts, U-405 finally sank beneath the waves. It is thought that the crew scuttled the ship.

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As the USS Borie began approaching to save the German sailors, they fired a star shell into the air. A second star shell was then fired somewhere in the distance. It was now clear that the crew of the U-405 were signalling to a second U-Boat their position.

A lookout on the Borie noticed an incoming torpedo, heading right for the ship. She evaded the torpedo, but in the process sailed right through the rafts filled with Germans, of which there were no survivors.

USS Borie sinking after being scuttled by her crew.

The Borie, heavily damaged from the engagement and the violent sea conditions, was unable to save itself and was scuttled by her crew the following day.