January 31 This Day during the World War ll

January 31, 1942 – The German support ship Spreewald, disguised as British Royal Mail steamer Brittany, was carrying 200 British seamen captured from sunken merchantmen when German submarine U-333 found her. Believing she was indeed a British ship, Spreewald was torpedoed and sunk off Bordeaux, France. Only 24 crewmen and 58 POWs were rescued. The U-boat captain, Peter Cremer, was exonerated by a Royal Navy inquiry because he identified the ship as the Royal Mail steamer, Brittany, which was precisely what the Spreewald’s captain had disguised his ship to resemble. At the outbreak of World War II, the ship was interned at Port Arthur, China. In 1941 she was brought back into service and sailed on 21 October 1941, loaded with 3,365 tons of rubber, 230 tons of tin and 20 tons of tungsten, and quinine. While en route to Germany she rendezvoused with the German supply ship Kulmerland and embarked 86 British prisoners, survivors of ships sunk by the auxiliary cruiser Kormoran. On 31 January 1942 Spreewald was on her approach to Bordeaux in France when she was torpedoed by U-333, whose commander, Kapitänleutnant Peter-Erich Cremer, believed her to be a British ship. The U-333 fired two torpedoes, which hit the vessel amidships, causing it to burn furiously and slowly sink in position 45°12′N 24°50′WCoordinates: A search for survivors was promptly launched in which U-333, U-575, and U-123, were joined by U-701, U-582, U-332, and U-105, as well as five Fw 200 Condor long-range patrol aircraft from France. U-105 picked up 25 crewmen and 55 prisoners in lifeboats and rafts. Of the 152 aboard the Spreewald, 72 were killed.

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