The Kriegsmarine begins Operation Drum Beat, the first coordinated attack carried out by five U-boats initially against US shipping along the East Coast of the United States. Their first victim is the 9,000 ton British steamer Cyclops which is sunk by U-123 (Kptlt. Hardegen), 300miles to the east of Cape Cod.
Hitler orders Admiral Otto Ciliax, who commands the battleships Scharnhorst and Gneisenau and the cruiser Prinz Eugen at Brest, to prepare to return to Germany. The new German battleship Tirpitz, sister ship of the Bismarck is ordered to Norway.
The German battleship Tirpitz, arrives at Trondheim in Norway, to threaten the Arctic convoys, but is wasn't until the 23rd January that the British became aware of this threat.
RAF Bomber Command mount an attack to sink the Tirpitz, while she is at anchor in Trondheim. The raid is unsuccessful as the Tirpitz survives unscathed.
All U-boats adopt an new Enigma cipher known as 'Triton'. The new cipher replaces the previous cipher, 'Hydra' and has an additional rotor in the Enigma machine. This meant that the British were unable to read U-boat coded communications traffic until much later in the year, seriously affecting there ability re-route their convoys around U-boat wolf packs.
At 23.00 hours, Admiral Ciliax orders his squadron, which includes the battleships Scharnhorst and Gneisenau and the cruiser Prinz Eugen, to leave Brest and dash through the English Channel for the safety of Kiel in Germany.
At 11.00 hours, British aircraft spot the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau and Prinz Eugen as they enter the straits of Dover. At 12.00 hours the British launch MTB attacks against Admiral Ciliax's squadron, but were forced to fire at extreme range and so missed. An hour later at 13.00 hours the British again launch torpedo attacks, this time using six Swordfish aircraft, but five were shot down and all torpedo's missed. At 14.30 hours the battleship Scharnhorst hits a mine off the Dutch coast. The mine inflicts only minor damage and the Scharnhorst is able to continue towards Germany. A short time later the British again launch attacks against the three German ships, this time using destroyers from the port of Harwich and aircraft from both Bomber and Coastal commands, but without success. At 20.35 hours the battleship Gneisenau hits a mine, while at 20.55 hours the Scharnhorst hits its second mine of the day, although both ships are able to continue towards Kiel.
In the early hours of the morning, the Scharnhorst puts into Wilhelmshaven, while the Gneisenau and Prinz Eugen reach Kiel a short while later.
Dönitz orders all available U-boats in the Atlantic to attack British and American shipping off the US eastern seaboard. German U-boats, with their deck guns, bombard oil storage facilities and refineries on the Dutch islands of Aruba and Curacao in the southern Caribbean.
German vessel disguised as a British merchantman is reported sunk by a U-boat off Azores.
The British submarine HMS Trident, torpedo's the cruiser Prinz Eugen which is sailing to Norway from Kiel, forcing its return to Germany for substantial repairs.
The RAF launch an attack against the battleship Gneisenau, which is being repaired at Kiel's floating dock. The damage caused is severe and the battleship is never again put to sea under her own power.
A US Hudson of squadron VP-82 which is based at Argentia, Newfoundland sinks U-656 off Cape Race.
Churchill declares that the Tirpitz is 'the most important naval vessel in the situation today' and believes her destruction would 'profoundly affect the course of the war'.
German reconnaissance planes locate the British convoy PQ-12 bound for Murmansk.
Having received permission from Hitler, the Battleship Tirpitz and 3 destroyers set sail from Trondheim to intercept convoy PQ-12, but is spotted by a British submarine which relays the information onto the British Admiralty. However, bad weather means that the Tirpitz is unable to locate PQ-12 and so heads back to base. Enroute to Trondheim the Tirpitz is spotted and attacked by aircraft from HMS Victorious, but is not damaged.
Convoy PQ-12 arrives unscathed at Murmansk, earning the distinction of being the last PQ convoy to sail without losses.
U-503 is sunk near the Grand Banks, off Newfoundland, by another aircraft from the US squadron, VP-82.
Escorts of the Arctic convoy PQ13, beat off a German destroyer attack, sinking Z26.
The RAF make a second unsuccessful attempt to sink the Tirpitz while in port at Trondheim.
As a result of the immense loss in shipping along the US eastern seaboard, since January 1942, the US authorities instituted a partial convoying system, known as the 'Bucket Brigade'. This meant that ships would sail in convoy as close to the coast as possible during daylight hours and anchor in protected harbours at night. Due to the shortage of escort vessels, continuous convoying was not possible and the 'Bucket Brigade' system did not apply to the Caribbean or Gulf of Mexico.
The US destroyer USN Roper, sinks U-85 south of Norfolk, Virginia. This is the first success of the war by a US warship against a U-boat.
The entire US eastern seaboard is ordered to black-out its lights at night, in an attempt to reduce the success of the U-boats at night.
The first U-boat tanker or ' Milch cow', U-459, sets sail for the Atlantic. Her role was to prolong the time that U-boats could spend in US waters by refueling and re-arming them at sea.
RAF Bomber Command again attack the Tirpitz at Trondheim, without success. Wing Commander Bennett who led the raid crashes in Norway, but manages to escape to Sweden.
Off the northern coast of Norway, German destroyers sink the British cruiser Edinburgh which was escorting Convoy PQ-15.
Convoy PQ-15 arrives at Murmansk.
The damaged British escort cruiser HMS Trinidad returning from Murmansk is sunk by Luftwaffe dive-bombers off the northern Norwegian coast.
The Royal Navy's Fleet Air Arm attacks and hits the German heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen off Norway, but she makes it back to Kiel. Despite increasing losses, Churchill remains determined to continue the Artic convoys to Russia.
In the Barents Sea, Convoy QP-12 is on its way home to Britain with 15 ships, while Convoy PQ-16 is en-route to Murmansk with 35. Some 260 Luftwaffe aircraft, including He 111 torpedo bombers, swing in to attack, joined by U-boats, amid appalling weather. QP-12 emerges unscathed, but PQ-16 feels the teeth of a running five-day battle, losing an acceptable six ships.
The Luftwaffe bombers sink 5 ships of Convoy PQ-16 off the northern coast of Norway.
Since the start of Operation Paukenschlag (Drum Beat) in January, the U-boats operating along the US eastern seaboard have sunk 111 vessels.
U-boats begin laying mines off Boston, Delaware and Chesapeake Bay.
U-552 (Kptlt. Topp) sinks 5 ships of Convoy HG-84 in the northern Atlantic.
Convoy PQ-17 sets sail from Iceland. It consists of 35 merchants, 3 rescue ships and 2 tankers for refueling and is heavily loaded with 297 aircraft, 594 tanks, 4246 lorries and gun carriers, plus an additional 156,000 tons of cargo. The convoy is to be guarded by 21 close escorts, 7 warships from a cruiser covering force and a further 19 warships in a distant covering force. All told 1 aircraft-carrier, 2 battleships, 6 heavy cruisers, 23 destroyers, 4 corvettes, 3 minesweepers, 2 AA ships, 4 ASW trawlers are to protect the convoy. Additionally, 15 submarines, six of them Russian are placed ahead of the the convoy.
2 freighters and 1 tanker from convoy PQ-17 suffer accidental damage and are forced to abort.
Returning from a successful patrol in the Gulf of Mexico (12 ships sunk), U-158 (Kptlt. Rostin) is destroyed by a US Mariner flying boat off Bermuda.
U-456 spots PQ-17 and flashes an alarm, but is driven under almost immediately by the destroyer HMS Leamington. However U-408, U-255 and U-703 locate and shadow the convoy in order to provide reports on the convoy while reinforcements are sent to the area.
PQ-17 and its reverse convoy QP-13 (35 freighters and 15 escorts) pass each other. U-88 spots and reports this, but German forces are told not to attack QP-13 as it is an empty convoy. Rather, they are to concentrate there whole strength on PQ-17.
11 U-boats in the area begin to close in on convoy PQ-17 or place themselves along the route of the convoy. 6 U-boats make attack runs throughout the day, but have no success and either lose contact or fall behind the convoy.
Convoy PQ-17, now reinforced with the 7 warships of the cruiser force which had come up during the night, comes under heavy attack from Luftwaffe dive-bombers and torpedo planes during the morning. An American merchant (7,200 tons) was badly hit by a torpedo and had to be abandoned, although U-457 found and sank it. U-457, also incorrectly reported that it had seen a battleship with the convoys escorts. Because of this report, Admiral Raeder believed that the British distant covering force, which included an aircraft-carrier had arrived to help the convoy. He therefore refused permission for the German battleship Tirpitz, pocket battleship Admiral Scheer, heavy cruiser Hipper, 7 destroyers and 2 E-boats to put to sea until the British aircraft-carrier had been sunk. In the afternoon, larger numbers of Luftwaffe planes attacked convoy PQ-17 twice, severely damaging 3 merchants, two of which later sank. Later that day, the British First Sea Lord Dudley Pound, thought that the German surface force had sailed to attack the PQ-17 and would in all probability wipe out the convoy along with the covering cruiser force. He therefore made the catastrophic decision to withdraw the cruiser force and "scatter" PQ-17 in the hope that this might save most of the convoy. Almost immediately, the U-boats benefited, with U-703 sinking 2 merchants for 12,100 tons, U-88 sank 2 merchants for 12,300 tons, U-334 sank 1 merchant for 7,200 tons and U-456 sank a merchant for 7,000 tons. On the downside the Luftwaffe, having difficulty in spotting friend from foe, damaged U-334 and U-456 forcing them to return to Norway for repairs.
Upon learning that the covering force for PQ-17 had fled and the convoy had scattered. Admiral Raeder secured Hitlers approval to use the German surface force, although caution was to be exercised in order not to risk the sinking or damage of the Battleship Tirpitz, pocket battleship Admiral Scheer or heavy cruiser Hipper. Escorted by 7 destroyers and 2 E-boats, the 3 big German ships sailed from Altenfiord at 3pm. As the force left moved in to open seas, the soviet submarine K-21 saw and attacked the Tirpitz, but its torpedos missed. An hour later an RAF Coastal Command Catalina reported the force as at sea and a further two hours later HMS Unshaken, radioed in a sighting and an exact description of the force. Hearing of these allied sightings through allied intelligence, Admiral Raeder became nervous and cancelled the sortie, ordering the surface fleet to return to port leaving the Luftwaffe and U-boats to finish off PQ-17.
U-132 (Kptlt. Vogelsang) enters the Gulf of St. Lawrence on the Canadian East coast and sinks 3 merchant ships.
The first two ships of convoy PQ-17, arrive at Archangel.
Final losses for convoy PQ-17 are 24 ships sunk for 141,721 tons. 8 ships were sunk by the Luftwaffe, 7 by U-boats and another 9 were combined Luftwaffe/U-boat kills. The loss of material was likewise very heavy with 210 aircraft, 430 tanks, 3350 lorries, and 99,316 tons of general cargo going to the bottom of the Arctic Ocean. The Germans lost only 5 planes and no U-boats.
An interlocking convoy system is introduced along the entire US eastern seaboard, as well as the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean.
The British convoy, code-named 'Pedestal' leaves Britain for the strategically-important island of Malta in the Mediterranean. The convoy consists of 14 fast merchant ships loaded with fuel, food, and ammunition. The convoy is accompanied by 2 battleships (Nelson and Rodney), 3 aircraft carriers (Victorious, Indomitable, and Eagle), 14 destroyers, and 3 anti-aircraft cruisers.
Allied convoy SC-94 is sighted by German U-boat in the Atlantic, when a group of 6 ships with 2 escorts get lost from the convoy due to the fog. One ship is sunk, but two U-boats are driven off.
Convoy SC-94 lose 7 British, U.S. and Dutch ships, torpedoed by German U-boats in the North Atlantic.
The Admiralty announces the loss of the famous submarine Upholder.
Twelve British merchant seamen are awarded Russian decorations.
Convoy PQ-18 consisting of 41 merchants sets sail from Loch Ewe in Scotland bound for Murmansk. Since the slaughter of PQ-17 in July the escort system had been radically overhauled, meaning that this convoy had among others and the escort carrier HMS Avenger and 16 destroyers to protect it.
In spite of intense pressure from U-boats and the Luftwaffe, convoy PQ-18 reaches Murmansk. Its losses amounted to 1 destroyer, 1 minesweeper and 13 merchant ships. In return for this the Germans lost 3 U-boats sunk and 5 damaged, along with 41 aircraft destroyed.
The naval convoys assemble for Operation 'Torch', the Anglo-American landings in French North Africa.
The battleship Tirpitz leaves Bogenfjord and moves south to Lofjord near Trondheim, where it is to be refitted.
U-boat control in France creates wolfpack 'Battleaxe'. This will operate in the North Atlantic until it is disbanded on the 1st November 1942 and will include at one time or another U-134, U-203, U-409, U-509, U-510, U-572, U-604 and U-659.
Wolfpack 'Battleaxe' attacks Convoy SL-125 (37 ships) which is sailing from Sierra Leone to the UK. The attack begins off the northwest coast of Africa, not far from Gibraltar and continues until the 31st October 1942. During this time 12 merchants (80,005 gross tons) are sunk and 7 damaged. While the battle rages, the allies re-route all convoys associated with the 'Torch' landings in North Africa.
A British merchant seaman is hanged at Wandsworth for supplying the Germans with shipping information.
Convoy JW-51A sets sail from Lock Ewe in Scotland with 16 merchants bound for the Kola Inlet.
Convoy JW-51B (14 merchants) leaves Loch Ewe escorted by 6 destroyers and a minesweeper.
Convoy JW-51A arrives at Murmansk without loss.
The British cruisers HMS Jamaica and HMS Sheffield join convoy JW-51B south of Bear Island as its makes the dangerous passage through the Barents Sea.
The German pocket battleship Lützow, cruiser Admiral Hipper and 6 destroyers leave Altenfjord and head north to intercept convoy JW-51B.
In what is to become known as the 'Battle of the Barents Sea', the German pocket battleship Lützow, cruiser Admiral Hipper and 6 escorting destroyers are intercepted at 9.30am by the British cruisers HMS Jamaica, HMS Sheffield and five destroyers before they can reach convoy JW-51B. During the naval exchanges that follow, the British lose 1 destroyer and a minesweeper, which had been searching for stragglers from the convoy, whilst the Germans lose a destroyer. By Midday the Germans have decided to withdraw and the battle is over. Allied merchant shipping sunk by U-boats, world-wide from January to year's end 1942 is 1,323 ships, equalling 7,047,744 gross tons. 87 U-boats were lost worldwide in the same period.