On 14 May, a British Coastal Command aircraft spotted what turned out later to be one of the Nazis’ ace U-boats, the U-616, which had sunk Buck the previous October. Ellyson, Hambleton, Emmons and Rodman went out from Mers-el-Kébir at flank speed. Ellyson made sonar contact and immediately attacked with a depth charge pattern. Sound contact could not be regained after the sea calmed down despite a night-long box search by all four destroyers. A ten-mile-long oil slick was sighted the morning of the 15th but no submarine. Macomb, Nields, Gleaves and Hilary P. Jones were sent out to join the search, which included a sweep by Ellyson of the Spanish coast searching out likely hiding places. The British Coastal Command now spotted U-616 some 40 to 50 miles distant, probably headed for Toulon. This was just before midnight 16 May. All ships raced for the target, which would eventually send up decoy balloons to confuse radar contact.
Macomb did make radar discovery and she and U-616 exchanged fire before the sub dived and Macomb dropped depth charges followed by attacks by Nields and Emmons. Sonar contact was lost and was not regained until 0645 when Hambleton made contact about ten miles from the point of the last contact. Ellyson and Rodman commenced sonar tracking as well. A creeping attack was almost immediately organized with Ellyson and Hambleton directing Rodman on a deliberate course over the sub with other ships circling the arena. Just before Rodman’s charges were to be dropped, Ellyson reported that the sub was coming up and indeed up it came like a super-giant whale in the midst of the excitement. Ellyson commenced firing with her 5-inch guns as U-616 continued under way with the crew abandoning ship in record fashion. Shortly after the sub went down, a tremendous explosion was heard and felt by all.
Ellyson picked up 30 survivors with Rodman picking up the remaining 23. Just one survivor was injured by shrapnel. On the high-speed run back to Mers-el-Kébir, it was learned from the U-616 officers that Ellyson’s initial attack had ruptured a fuel line to the extent that many of the sub’s crew were wading in diesel fuel for the more than 72 hours of the chase.
The operation, later called “Monstrous,” ended with the destroyers’ return to “several barrels of free beer and a bushel of congratulations for a job well done,” and a “tip of the cap” to the U-616 who provided Ellyson, with over three days at battle stations, with an experience that all (including the other destroyers) will never forget.
Source: Roscoe, USS Ellyson.