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Torpedo Squadron Four - A Cockpit View of World War II - Revised, Updated Edition, 2011

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Air Group 4 - Casablanca to Tokyo

Dedicated to those who
served in VT-4, VB-4, VF-4,
VMF-124 and VMF-213

Von Bulow Decorated for Sinking USS Ranger

By Gerald W. Thomas, VT-4

It was on April 25 of 1943 that the German radio popped off with more than its usual fervor. "Achtung! Achtung! We are proud to announce that a German submarine has sunk the United States aircraft carrier Ranger in the North Atlantic!"

Following this broadcast, German news releases reported that Commander Otto Von Bulow of the U-Boat U-404, personally decorated by Adolf Hitler with Oak Leaves to the Knight´s Cross, had "in addition to torpedoing four steamers, caught and sank the American aircraft carrier Ranger."

Captain Rowe Views Photo of Von Bulow, USS Ranger

Captain Gordon Rowe, Commander of the USS Ranger, holds up a German press photo of Lt Otto Von Bulow after he was decorated by Hitler for sinking the Ranger.

Otto Von Bulow, U-404

Photo published by German press. The caption reads:

Lt Otto Von Bulow, holder of the Oak Leaves to the Knight´s Insignia.

This U-boat commander in addition to torpedoing four steamers, caught and sank the American aircraft carrier Ranger on the same voyage with the result that he returned to his base somewhat later than expected. Little Henning, whose birthday it was, was naturally very proud of his father. He and all the children who had been invited to the party begged for the postponement of the celebration until the father came home. This was done and the joy later was all the greater.

The US Navy, concerned about the impact of the German announcement on families of Ranger crewmen, issued a denial of the German claim. I was aboard the Ranger at the time but do not believe my family knew where I was assigned. No corrections were made in the German press, and when Torpedo 4 pilot John Palmer was taken prisoner after being shot down during OPERATION LEADER, he stated:

     "As a POW I was taken to Stalag Luft Three. I was the only Navy guy in this camp, and the other prisoners thought I was a German plant because they had seen the German news account of the sinking of the Ranger. Of course, I told them that I was off the Ranger, and they didn´t believe me. They believed the newspaper."

A major question remained with us all during the war. Were these news releases designed as propaganda or did Von Bulow really believe he sank the Ranger? German and American war records now reveal the rest of the story.

When the Ranger returned to the States--still afloat after OPERATION LEADER-- Quentin Reynolds, noted Foreign Correspondent of CBS, interviewed Captain Gordon Rowe, Skipper of the Ranger, about the German report and the Ranger´s involvement in attacks on German shipping along the Norwegian coast. In the radio broadcast dated February 15, 1944, Captain Rowe stated:

    "The story that we were sunk was a coward´s trick--spreading anxiety and fear among the innocent.... The next day we issued a denial and ... on October 4 we spread panic and chaos in the Norwegian shipping lanes. Only one thing we regret. We kept looking for the Tirpitz but either she wouldn´t or couldn´t come out.... Meanwhile the Ranger, still very much afloat, is doing her job."

The full text of this interview is available in "Captain Gordon Rowe Interview."

German records on U-404 commanded by Otto Von Bulow now state that his attack on 25 April 1943 was against the British carrier HMS Biter and not the USS Ranger. The U-Boat fired two FAT and two G7e torpedoes at the British carrier. All torpedoes detonated some distance away from the British warship.

H. M. S. Biter, 1943

British aircraft carrier HMS Biter in Placentia Sound, Newfoundland. April 1943.

Von Bulow left U-404 after this patol in the North Atlantic to accept several other assignments with the German Navy. U-404 was sunk on 28 July 1943 by depth charges from a US Liberator aircraft (A/S Sqdn 4) and from a British Liberator (Sqdn 224) with all 50 crew members lost. Von Bulow survived the war. He is credited with sinking 14 ships, including the British destoyer HMS Veteran.

UP News Story Announcing the Sinking of the USS Ranger

LONDON, April 26, 1943 (UP) -- The German radio said today that the American aircraft carrier Ranger blew up and sank in the North Atlantic early yesterday when a U-boat scored four torpedo hits on the 14,500 ton warship.

A Berlin broadcast statement attributed to the headquarters of Grand Admiral Kark Doenitz, Nazi naval commander-in-chief, purporting to give the first details of the sinking of the Ranger, as claimed earlier by a special German communiqué.

The Doenitz statement said the U-boat sent four of its torpedoes into the Ranger, "tremendous" flames shot into the sky, and with a heavy explosion the carrier went down. All escorting destroyers were busy picking up survivors, it added, and did not chase the submarine as it escaped on the surface.

AP News Story Giving US Response to German Announcement of the Sinking of the Ranger

Navy Denies Carrier Ranger Sunk: Nazis Repeat Claim

WASHINGTON, April 26, 1943 (AP) -- The navy denied today German claims that the aircraft carrier Ranger had been torpedoed and sunk in the North Atlantic.

"Neither the Ranger or any other United States carrier has been sunk or damaged in any ocean," a navy spokesman said.

The Berlin radio claimed Sunday night that the 10-year-old aircraft carrier had been sunk by a German submarine in the North Atlantic.

Today the German high command repeated its claim that the Ranger had been sunk and added in a second special announcement that the vessel went down with "more than one thousand men and 50 planes aboard."

The Ranger is a 10-year-old, 14,500 ton vessel.

The original German broadcast of the nazi high command's special communiqué said:

"The supreme command of the armed forces announces from the fuehrer's headquarters: Our submarine, commanded by commander Von Bulow, has sunk in the middle of the North Atlantic the United States aircraft carrier Ranger, which was employed for the guarding of a convoy line across the Atlantic."

The announcement added Hitler had conferred the oak leaves to the knight's insignia of the iron cross on Von Bulow.

The Ranger, America's first naval vessel designed as an aircraft carrier, was launched in the James river at Newport News, Va, February 25, 1933, and was christened by Mrs. Herbert Hoover in one of her last official acts as first lady. The ship was built to carry a complement of 1,788 men, including flying personnel.

According to Jane's Fighting Ships, the Ranger has a normal capacity of 72 aircraft but "81 are usually carried." Jane's states the carrier's aircraft complement consists of four squadrons of "bomber-fighters," the remainder of the units being composed of amphibian planes. She has an overall length of 728 feet, a beam of 80 1/2 feet, and a mean draft of 19 2/3 feet. She mounts eight five-inch and 40 smaller guns.

AP News Story about Von Bulow Sinking Ranger

Ranger Sank Five Nazi Ships After Hitler Had `Sunk´ Her

WASHINGTON, Feb 9, 1944--She´s a ghost ship on Nazi records, but the aircraft carrier Ranger is very much alive and a continual threat to German shipping. Ten months ago Adolf Hitler boastfully reported the Ranger had been sunk by torpedoes and decorated Lieut. Otto Von Bulow for the exploit.

Today the Navy made the decoration look more than a little ridiculous by releasing an account of the Ranger´s war exploits since then.

Six months after she was "sunk" the Ranger daringly struck into enemy waters off Norway, the Navy reported. When her planes returned, more than 40,000 tons of Nazi shipping, including four merchantmen and a tanker, lay on the bottom, two enemy planes had been shot down, the Ranger itself had not been damaged, and only three of her raiding planes had been lost.

"It was a very fine attack, and many German troops were killed," said Capt. Gordon Rowe of Seattle, commander of the Ranger at the time. "My pilots drove home their attacks in the face of strong anti-aircraft fire. We struck quickly and departed before the Germans knew what had hit them."

That was last October, while the 14,500-ton flattop--the first ever built specifically as a carrier by the United States Navy--was operating with a British task force.

In many months of Atlantic service the Ranger has ferried hundreds of American pilots and their planes to the European warfronts; slipping through submarine-infested waters with her flight and hanger decks packed. On one such trip Army Warhawk fighters were transported to within forty miles of Africa, where they flew from the carrier´s deck to prepared airfields.


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