The Seaweed

USS Champlin DD-601  

Winter 2000

The Ordronaux went on to fight at Anzio, southern France and the Pacific, and Wittenberg spent the rest of the war in an Arizona POW camp.

Years later, when Ordronaux crewmen held a reunion, Wittenberg sent a letter to the men who pulled him from the sea.

It read in part:

"The first time we met, we fought one another, but warfare at sea has its own rules. The Austrian writer, James Taylor, says in his book, "Prisoner of the Kormoran': "The brotherhood of the sea is the unwritten code, under which sailors in distress are sustained and helped by their more fortunate fellows, irrespective of nationality, politics and war"


The following information was provided by David R. Owen, Executive Officer of the USS Ordronaux ('O') on April 7, 1994, in a letter dated August 27, 1999 to William D. Gustin.

"....I shall now fill you in on what happened aboard the "O" on April 7 and 8 and what I have learned since 1990. Melson was now Commandore of DesDiv32 on Boyle. He promptly ordered "O", and I presume Nields as well to pick up survivors. This was a brave order because we had been warned of the possible presence of another U-boat. It was also a difficult operation because the sea was extremely rough. Indeed, once we came dead in the water and were pitching violently, I saw some of the survivors go right under the ship: they were literally "keel-hauled". I left the bridge and went down to the quarter deck which was virtually submerged. The gate was removed from the bulwark as we prepared to pull the survivors aboard. However, I had recalled a previous incident in the war when the survivors of a U-boat sinking tried to take over the destroyer which was trying to save them. Indeed this happened to the Buckley (DE) only a week after our episode. I had stopped in my cabin and strapped on my .45 and had called for the carpenter's mate to produce the ship's tommy gun. So he stood there on one side of the gangway with his gun and I on the other with my pistol in my hand when the first man was dragged aboard. Although filled with water, he pulled himself to attention, a tall blond handsome 26 year old man who turned out to be the captain. Now, Bill, listen to this. I had my pistol pointed at him but he did not blink. He just pointed back at it disdainfully and said in perfect English: "I don't think you'll be needing that today." What a put-down! That was Fritz Wittenberg, now one of my best friends. I stayed there until we got the last of the 17 aboard.

David R. Owen then discussed some of the details of his reunion with Fritz Wittenberg. He said. . .'Thus I learned that after the war he had studied architecture and was then retired professor of Architecture and City Planning at the Technical University in Bremen. We had plenty of time to reminisce about submarine operations from which I learned a lot, and he learned a lot. He could not understand why you rammed him, so I explained that this was standard operating procedure with us and that our destroyers had

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reinforced bows for that very purpose. He amazed me by saying that during the attack he had gone down to 200 meters, which equates to 650 feet! My distinct recollection is that at the ASW school in Londonderry, Northern Ireland, which I went through several times, the British used 400 feet as 'deep'. I have verified that by the end of the war our best diesel boats were good for approximately 400 feet. I believe that the explanation for all of this is that the Type IX U-boars had titanium hulls. What this has to do with U-856 was a depth charge exploding under his stern, knocking off one or more propellers and rudders and forcing him to the surface. I do not remember at what depth this occurred but I do not believe that our charges had 'deep' settings of anything close like 600 feet. In any event, the deeper this occurred, the greater the impact on the boat.

Owen continues: "An interesting thing came out of that dinner when I asked the former Doenitz staff officer (another guest) why U-boats continued through-out the war to transmit at least several times a week to U-boat command in Berlin which gave our high frequency direction finding system their location (including U-856). I mentioned that neither the U.S. Navy nor the Japanese Navy did any such thing; indeed ours was known as the 'Silent Service'. He replied that they did not know until after the war that we were capable of DF'ing their transmissions. I was amazed at this and while I do not remember his reasons for their so believing, it must have been that they had a special code allocating frequencies to each boat for each day and this code had been broken at the famous English facility at Bletchley Park. Also implicit in their mistake was that they thought they had perfected the technique of 'spurt transmission' so that one that would ordinarily take five minutes was reduced to five seconds. They apparently did not know that our experts had learned how to handle this."

Owen concluded his letter by describing Wittenberg's imprisonment. "They ended up in a POW camp in Arizona, now a popular resort. When asked if they ever talked about trying to escape, Fritz said: 'Yes, but not seriously. Why should we escape when we had warm bunks, good food, cigarettes, movies and English lessons, while outside there were rattlesnakes, scorpions, coyotes and mountain lions?

I last heard from Fritz in a letter dated January 19, 1998 which began: 'Dear David, I know that this is your 84th birthday...' That ends one of the few nice stories to come out of WWII. I'm very glad I didn't have to shoot Fritz. All the best to the Champlin crew"


The USS Champlin was one of thirty Benson Class destroyers sharing the following characteristics:

Length overall: 347" 10", Length between perpendiculars: 341" 0", Extreme Beam: 36' 1", Limiting draft: 13" 6", Standard Displacement: 1,620 tons, Full Load Displacement: 2,525 tons. Fuel capacity: 2,912 barrels Armament: Four 5"/38 caliber guns, Two 40mm twin anti-aircraft mounts, Two 21" quintuple torpedo tubes. Complement: 16 Officers, 260 Enlisted. Propulsion: 4 Boilers, 2 Bethlehem Turbines: 47,000 horsepower. Highest speed on trials: 36.7 knots.

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