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CUBANS SUNK A GERMAN SUBMARINE IN WWII

3rd Herd

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An interesting story worth following.

The usual disclaimer:

CUBANS SUNK A GERMAN SUBMARINE IN WWII
(PART I) 
By Gustavo Placer Cervera
Gustavo Placer Cervera, a former Commander in Cuba’s Revolutionary Navy, has a Ph.D. in History and has done extensive research in naval wartime operations and written several books.

Cubanow.- Following the unexpected Japanese attack on the US base of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, and with the US entering World War II, Cuba also declared war on the powers of the Axis (Germany, Japan, Italy).

The story of the battles that took place in Cuban waters during World War II is hardly known. Throughout the years of the conflict, the waters surrounding the Cuban Archipelago, as well as the entire Caribbean , became a scenario for naval actions. The Cuban Navy played a modest but significant role in that struggle.

During the first two months after the US and most countries in the region entered the war, the Caribbean enjoyed peace. The war quite distant. In January, 1942, the oil refinery in Aruba , the biggest in the world at that time, worked at full capacity and produced 7,100,000 barrels of gas-oil, aviation gasoline, natural gasoline, kerosene and lubricants. This production was essential for the belligerent countries.
The war came to the Caribbean like lightning in a clear sky. At dawn on February 16 th German submarines appeared almost simultaneously off of Curaçao, Aruba, and the entrance to Lake Maracaibo ( Venezuela ).

Before daybreak several missiles fired by a submarine struck the Aruba refinery but, miraculously, there was no major catastrophe of unpredictable consequences. Seven oil tankers had been torpedoed. However, the psychological effects caused by the submarine attacks that night were even greater than the material damage. The crews of the oil tankers became terrified and refused to put out to sea without the escort of warships.

During seven days not a single ship came in or out of Aruba or Curaçao. Venezuelan gas production ceased because the storage tanks located at Lake Maracaibo were completely full. The refineries were closed due to lack of crude oil. The crew members were arrested by the Dutch authorities of Aruba and Curaçao, who were desperate. On February 21 st , they convinced some of the crew members to return to work, but that same day a Norwegian oil tanker was torpedoed and again the sailors refused to go out without escort.

The Germans not only attacked the oil routes. Almost all the bauxite production of the Western Hemisphere was concentrated in the British and Dutch Guyanas. Two days after the attack off Aruba, on February 18 th , at dawn, a submarine surfaced in the Gulf of Paria (Trinidad) and torpedoed two merchant vessels right outside of Port of Spain .

On March 9 th , three weeks later, another submarine sank two vessels in front of Saint Lucia . In February and March, German submarines sank 23 oil tankers in the Caribbean . In April, there were only 11 sinkings, mainly because the submarines were returning to Europe to re-fuel and, by that time, the German submarine fleet did not have enough units to continue its operations.

In May, the Germans returned and intensified the attacks: 38 vessels were sunk during that month and, in June, they reached the highest figure in the Caribbean , 48 vessels went to the bottom of the sea. During June, two German submarines were detected near the access to the Panama Canal and, during two consecutive weeks, one vessel was sunk daily.

In July, the number of vessels sunk dropped to 17 because the submarines were again returning to their European bases for fueling. It was during that month that the Germans lost their first submarine. And it was also during that month that they placed mines in Castries Bay , in Saint Lucia .

The US Navy, in response to the threat of German submarines, organized a system of convoys in July. But the shortage of escort warships increased the number of attacks during those months, and then the main task was to rescue shipwrecked persons. There was a time in Barbados when there were so many surviving sailors that the island ran out of provisions to assist them.

As a result of the great number of sunken vessels near Trinidad , the US Navy decided to escort the merchant marine ships up to 200 miles from that island. But, in response, the submarines concentrated their forces near the point where they would begin to navigate un-escorted. As soon as the escorts went away they started their attacks.

In August, 46 vessels were sunk. From then on, a new type of German submarine, displacing 700 T and with a greater autonomy and torpedo load, joined the fleet of 500 T subs operating in the Caribbean . On August 27 th , a second German submarine was sunk in the region. A 110 foot patrol craft used at that time by the US Navy had many limitations. It was impossible to install on them the new multiple deep bomb launching called “hedgehog” because their structure did not allow the launching of the 24 missiles. It was impossible to cook with turbulence and even the fresh water was rationed.

It was not until September that the so-called PC went into service. The convoys were reorganized in a system called interlocking . Now, the great Caribbean convoy route was Trinidad-Aruba-Guantanamo (from where, taking special measures, they continued on to New York ).

In September, the number of sinkings dropped to 25 and, in October, to 15, but in November it increased again to 25. Another two German submarines were sunk. In November, most of the submarines were called back Europe due to the Allied landing in Northern Africa . In December, there were no sinkings in the Caribbean .

The period from February to December 1942 was the most intense in the Battle of the Caribbean . In nine and a half months, the German submarines sunk 263 merchant vessels for a total of 1,362 278 T of gross register. This figure is superior to the sum of the sinkings during the same period in the North Atlantic , the US East Coast and the Canadian coastal routes.

Meanwhile, the Germans only lost 4 submarines. During the above-mentioned period, two Cuban merchant ships and one fishing boat (plus a merchant vessel with a Honduran flag) were sunk in Cuban waters.

It was within that context that the Cuban Navy participated in the Battle of the Caribbean . When Cuba entered the modern war, its Navy only had a few old and inefficient vessels. At the end of December, 1941, and the beginning of 1942, several agreements were signed between the governments of the US and several Latin American and Caribbean countries, including Cuba . Those agreements aimed at strengthening the defensive potential of Latin America and the Caribbean while, in reciprocity, they should continue to provide the required raw materials for the US military industry.

Due to Cuba 's strategic location, recognized historically as the Key to the Gulf of Mexico and the center of the maritime routes that cross the Caribbean Sea, it was of great interest to the US that the Cuban Navy participate in the Battle of the Caribbean escorting the freighter convoys and patrols in the surrounding waters.

Thus, the old cruiser Cuba , which was the largest Cuban warship, and the school-ship Patria were sent to the shipyard in Galveston , Texas , where they were totally transformed and modernized. These works took almost a year.

Also, the gunboats Baire, Yara, Juan Bruno Zayas, Pinar del Rio, 4 de Septiembre, Matanzas, Santa Clara, Camagüey, Oriente and Donativo , as well as the auxiliary vessels BA-1, BA-2, BA-3, BA-4 BA-5, BA-6 and BA-7 were modernized in Cuban and US shipyards.

As part of these agreements, the US established an Air Base in San Antonio de los Baños, 20 kilometers South of Havana, and another one in San Julian near the Western tip of Cuba . In addition, they built a landing field in Camagüey, a zeppelin base in Caibarien, and another one in the Isle of Pines .

The main target for all of these installations was the struggle against the submarines. Another step was to provide the merchant marine vessels of the allied nations, including Cuba , with artillery. In many cases, US personnel operated the artillery on the merchant ships. At the same time, through the Law of Loans and Leasing enacted by the US Administration, 12 leased patrol craft were transferred to the Cuban Navy, forming a fleet of 4 squadrons and 3 units each. The crew for these vessels received a three-month training course in several bases and training centers in the US .

The patrol craft fleet began operations in April, 1943. It was assigned to escort the merchant vessels that moved between Cuban ports and, one of the squadrons, escorted the daily Seatrain ferry that operated between Havana and Florida ports. The efficacy of the fleet was soon described as outstanding. US Senator Kenneth McKellar, referring to the fleet's performance during the first trimester of operations, expressed before the US Congress: “The Patrol Craft Fleet of the Cuban Navy, during this period (April, May and June, 1943), has had a loss of only 0,027% T, while convoying during enemy attacks and one of the patrol craft has had an outstanding success. The operation of these units of the Cuban Navy had prevented the US Navy from using a considerable number of its Navy personnel for those same purposes.”

The outstanding success -which was also the greatest one achieved by the small Cuban Navy- was the sinking of a German submarine in the Old Bahamas Canal, not far from Cuba's Northern coast. 
August , 2005
http://www.cubanow.net/global/loader.php?&secc=5&item=586&cont=show.php


 

AJFitzpatrick

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Interesting stuff, but I note they don't even give a number to the Cuban sunk German submarine.

Also this line caught my eye

" In addition, they built a landing field in Camagüey, a zeppelin base in Caibarien, and another one in the Isle of Pines "

Zeppelins?
 

Danjanou

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They mean blimps.  IIRC the USN used them as part of their anti submarine patrols
 

3rd Herd

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Blackadder1916,
from the "Noon Balloon"The Offi cial Newsletter of THE NAVAL AIRSHIP ASSOCIATION, INC.No. 71,Fall 2006
http://www.naval-airships.org/pdf/tnb71.pdf

"Commander Cope was the Squadron CO and ZP21 operated six detachments as follows: Banana River, FL; Key West (Astraland), FL; Isles de Pines, Cuba; San Julian, Cuba; Guantanamo Bay, Cuba; La Chorrea, Panama."(pg.7)

The History of Guantanamo Bay, Vol. II 1964 - 1982 John Pomfret, Captain, U.S. Marine Corps
U.S. Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba http://www.cnic.navy.mil/guantanamo/AboutGTMO/gtmohistgeneral/gtmohistmurphy/gtmohistmurphyvol2/gtmohistmurphyvol2ch3/gtmohistmurphyvol2ch3

"McCalla Field was built to accommodate the huge dirigibles or "Blimps as they were commonly called. The Naval Air Station was officially established on 1 February 1941 at the McCalla Air Field."

 

Blackadder1916

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3rd herd,

Not surprised that there was no mention of Cuba in the link I provided.  It also did not mention that USN airships also operated from the USN base at Argentia (Newfoundland) for a time during WW2.  They may have also operated from that base infrequently during the Cold War but I have not been able to find any reference to specific flights, but have seen reference to USN blimp flights in Canada's North in the 1950s.
 

TangoTwoBravo

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Samuel Morison's History of United States Naval Operations in World II Volume X The Atlantic Battle Won credits the sinking of U-176 by the Cuban subchaser CS-13 on 15 May 1943.  What is weird about this thread is that I just read that chapter on the weekend...

A Kingfisher airplane had just dropped depth bombs and a smoke pot on the U-Boat which attracted the subchaser. The subchaser, commanded by one Alferez Delgado, executed two depth charge attacks that destroyed the sub.  The sub was commanded by Captain Dierksen and had recently sunk two ships in the area.

Blimps (Naval Airships) were equipped with radar and were also armed, although they were not supposed to attack surfaced submarines.  At least one was shot down in a fight with a U-Boat in the Caribbean.  The Lt in charge of the blimp (K-74) was almost court-martialled for seeking battle.

Cheers
 

Danjanou

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Hemmingway also fitted out his yacht the Pilar as a “Q Ship” and went trolling for U-Boats on the north coast of Cuba in the 1941-42. They never found any, but he did get a novel out of it Islands In The Stream.
 

3rd Herd

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Blackadder1916 said:
3rd herd,

Not surprised that there was no mention of Cuba in the link I provided.  It also did not mention that USN airships also operated from the USN base at Argentia (Newfoundland) for a time during WW2.  They may have also operated from that base infrequently during the Cold War but I have not been able to find any reference to specific flights, but have seen reference to USN blimp flights in Canada's North in the 1950s.
Blackadder,
Yes I was looking at some of the flights after the Second World War.
Here is a little more on Argentia: "1-2 Apr 1943 That U.S. and Canada appoint a Joint board of officers to report on proposal to utilize non-rigid airships in anti submarine activities in Eastern Canadian waters.(p27)http://www.mdn.ca/dhh/downloads/ahq/ahq070.pdf. Byrd was attempting to fly to the North Pole somewhere around 1924-26 in a "lighter than air" craft. It also seems judging from a few articles that this idea is being re-examined such as MOVING BEYOND THE ROADS Airships to the Arctic Symposium II(http://umanitoba.ca/faculties/management/ti/media/final_proceedings.pdf )  On Page 56 their is an interview with a member of some of the 1950 flights. Also it seems DND has been playing around with this idea again too.

Tango2Bravo,
You may find this site quite interesting United States Naval Aviation 1910–1995 http://www.history.navy.mil/avh-1910/Prelim.pdf
Just keep hitting the next file and it will take you through everything, quite an extensive piece of research.

 

3rd Herd

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Tango2Bravo said:
Samuel Morison's History of United States Naval Operations in World II Volume X The Atlantic Battle Won credits the sinking of U-176 by the Cuban subchaser CS-13 on 15 May 1943.  What is weird about this thread is that I just read that chapter on the weekend...

Low flying black helicopters rises silently higher into the night air ;D

Edit to add:

At first reprimanded for his attack on the U-boat, Lt. Grills would later be awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-vetscor/903762/posts



 

TangoTwoBravo

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3rd Herd said:
Low flying black helicopters rises silently higher into the night air ;D

Edit to add:

At first reprimanded for his attack on the U-boat, Lt. Grills would later be awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-vetscor/903762/posts

I must have being wearing my tinfoil hat inside out... 8)

In all seriousness, court-martialling someone for seeking battle is probably not the best way to foster the necessary offensive spirit required in war.  One thing I learned reading the book this weekend was that the battle of airplane vs submarine was not the one-sided affair that I thought it was.  U-Boats had AA weapons and would battle on the surface.  Several planes were lost and damaged in these battles. Diving might seem the better solution, but then again the U-Boat would be defenceless and perhaps just as vulnerable if they dove too late.
 

1feral1

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3rd Herd said:
Before daybreak several missiles fired by a submarine struck the Aruba refinery but, miraculously, there was no major catastrophe of unpredictable consequences.

Missiles? Hummm, lets hope this was a poor choice of words perhaps lost somehow in translation from spanish to english?

Perhaps he meant the deck gun, as missles on WW2 subs is a decade or two early.

Please correct me if I am wrong.

Cheers,

Wes
 

Trooper Hale

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He'd be meaning torpedoes fired at the superstructure under water wouldnt he? Either that or the Germans had the help of Alian Space bats. Damn those space bats
 

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Aircraft vs Submarine:

Flight Lieutenant David Ernest Hornell, VC (posthumous)
Shetland Islands, UK, 24 June 1944 

http://www.vac-acc.gc.ca/remembers/sub.cfm?source=history/secondwar/citations/hornell

Citation
"Flight-Lieutenant Hornell was captain and first pilot of a twin-engined amphibian aircraft engaged on an anti-submarine patrol in northern waters. The patrol had lasted for some hours when a fully-surfaced U-boat was sighted, travelling at high speed on the port beam. Flight-Lieutenant Hornell at once turned to the attack.

The U-boat altered course. The aircraft had been seen and there could be no surprise. The U-boat opened up with anti-aircraft fire which became increasingly fierce and accurate.

At a range of 1,200 yards, the front guns of the aircraft replied; then its starboard gun jammed, leaving only one gun effective. Hits were obtained on and around the conning-tower of the U-boat but the aircraft itself was hit, two large holes appearing in the starboard wing.

Ignoring the enemy's fire, Flight-Lieutenant Hornell carefully manoeuvered for the attack. Oil was pouring from his starboard engine which was, by this time, on fire, as was the starboard wing; and the petrol tanks were endangered. Meanwhile, the aircraft was hit again and again by the U-boat's guns. Holed in many places, it was vibrating violently and very difficult to control.

Nevertheless, the captain decided to press home his attack, knowing that with every moment the chances of escape for him and his gallant crew would grow more slender. He brought his aircraft down very low and released his depth charges in a perfect straddle. The bows of the U-boat were lifted out of the water; it sank and the crew were seen in the sea.

Flight-Lieutenant Hornell contrived, by superhuman efforts at the controls, to gain a little height. The fire in the starboard wing had grown more intense and the vibration had increased. Then the burning engine fell off. The plight of the aircraft and crew was now desperate. With the utmost coolness the captain took his aircraft into the wind and, despite manifold dangers, brought it safely down on the heavy swell. Badly damaged and blazing furiously, the aircraft rapidly settled.

After ordeal by fire came ordeal by water. There was only one serviceable dinghy and this could not hold all the crew. So they took turns in the water, holding on to the sides. Once, the dinghy capsized in the rough seas and was righted only with great difficulty. Two of the crew succumbed from exposure.

An airborne lifeboat was dropped to them but fell some 500 yards down wind. The men struggled vainly to reach it and Flight-Lieutenant Hornell, who throughout had encouraged them by his cheerfulness and inspiring leadership, proposed to swim to it, though he was nearly exhausted. He was with difficulty restrained. The survivors were finally rescued after they had been in the water for 21 hours. By this time Flight-Lieutenant Hornell was blinded and completely exhausted. He died shortly after being picked up.

Flight-Lieutenant Hornell had completed 60 operational missions, involving 600 hours' flying. He well knew the danger and difficulties attending attacks on submarines. By pressing home a skillful and successful attack against fierce opposition, with his aircraft in a precarious position, and by fortifying and encouraging his comrades in the subsequent ordeal, this officer displayed valour and devotion to duty of the highest order."

 

3rd Herd

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Wesley  Down Under said:
Missiles? Hummm, lets hope this was a poor choice of words perhaps lost somehow in translation from spanish to english?

Perhaps he meant the deck gun, as missles on WW2 subs is a decade or two early.

Please correct me if I am wrong.

Cheers,

Wes

Wes, no you are right.
"The battle of the Caribbean, heralded by the attack at Aruba, took the form of a sustained and extremely damaging U-boat assault against shipping. Its first victims were five tankers -four of them British ships and the other a Venezuelan- that were torpedoed and sunk during the early morning hours of 16 February 1942. Insult was added by the fact that two of the ships were sent down while lying at anchor in San Nicolas harbor, Aruba, by a U-boat that entered the anchorage, sank the two tankers, then came boldly to the surface and lobbed a few shells at the Lago oil refinery. Fifteen or twenty minutes after the attack, a guard at the airfield, about ten miles away, reported that a fire had broken out at the refinery, and the air commander immediately placed his unit on the alert. Ten minutes later a plane was sent up to reconnoiter. It reported ships on fire in the harbor and oil burning on the water, although nothing about gunfire or submarines. Shortly afterwards, the airfield received a request for an air patrol over the refinery area until daylight; but still no indication was given that hostile action had taken place or might be impending. An hour and a half after the attack the first report of U-boat activity reached the commander of the air unit. An antisubmarine patrol was instituted at once. While the planes were investigating a questionable contact forty-five miles off the island, an American tanker that was tied up at the Eagle refinery dock, only four miles from the airfield, was torpedoed and severely damaged. Reinforcements amounting to six additional planes soon arrived from Puerto Rico and Trinidad, and patrols were extended to cover the tanker route between Aruba and Maracaibo. During the next two days at least seven U-boats were reported sighted in the vicinity, one of them not more than four hundred yards off the airfield. Five of them, according to the air unit's reports, were attacked by the planes; but without radar, with crews untrained in antisubmarine warfare, and armed only with 300-lb. demolition bombs, the planes had little luck against the wily U-boats. Possibly the mere presence of the planes forced the submarines to a more cautious approach than they would otherwise have made, for General Andrews, who was making an inspection tour of the Caribbean and happened to be in Aruba during the attack, wrote to General Marshall that "it was fortunate that we had airplanes there, otherwise the oil plants would have been in for a good shelling."

"Actually only three U-boats were responsible for all the havoc, and a prematurely exploding shell in the deck gun of U-156, which seriously wounded two of the crew and forced the raider to retire, was of greater good fortune to the oil refineries of Aruba than the presence of American planes. When one of the other U-boats attempted to shell the oil installations the following night, Aruba was completely blacked out. This and the air and surface patrols during the day made further shelling of land targets impossible. Two attempts on the part of the third U-boat to shell Curacao were frustrated by naval patrol vessels. The primary object, however, was to destroy shipping, and in this the operation was an unqualified success. Reinforced during the next two or three days by the arrival of two more U-boats, the German raiders sank 21 ships totaling about 103,000 tons in the space of two weeks.............."(The Caribbean in Wartime, http://www.army.mil/cmh-pg/books/wwii/Guard-US/ch16.htm)

The other aspect of this is
"The next day, I did the afternoon dive to the Antilla wreck. On the far south east corner of the island is an oil refinery. During World War II this was important because it supplied the RAF with aviation fuel. This made Aruba the target of U-boat operations and the Antilla was a U-boat supply ship. When Germany invaded Holland on May 10th 1940, it was anchored off Aruba. The captain was given 24 hours to surrender. He decided to fire up the boilers, put everyone ashore and open the sea cocks. When the cold water hit the hot boilers, they exploded sinking the ship". http://www.scuba-addict.co.uk/aruba2003.html I did the dives in 96 and again in 97. I will endeavour to hunt up my photo's.

VP
 

Spencer100

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I love info like this, we do not hear enough of the other Allies actions and support  in WWII.  Thanks you for the link and story.
 

3rd Herd

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Here is a photo of the oridginal newspaper front page from Aruba. They have several other artifacts in this display.
 
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