14 December 2016
Companion book: “Normandy: a Father’s Shi and a Son’s Curiosity” coming out 2017
This week in 1942 the U.S.S. PC 552 launched a depth charge attack on a suspected German U-boat off the Atlantic coast. The results were inconclusive. What did you do this week?
Few people realize how badly the Americans lost the opening stages of the #BattleoftheAtlantic in #WorldWarII. All that was available at the start in the Atlantic were a few obsolete destroyers, some yachts converted to antisubmarine service (precursor patrol crafts), and a few coast guard cutters.
The initial role of the United States was to gather men and war materiel (primarily diesel fuel) from the Americas (New Orleans and Venezuela) and transfer them to the U.K. in the face of serious opposition from German U-boats; a major undertaking.
In the opening stages, the Americans did not have the equipment or experience. Oil tankers ran along the Atlantic coast at night with their navigation lights on. American cities did not black out so that when the running lights were off, the ships were silhouetted against the city lights. The U-boats even used the American lighthouses to help in navigation.
So many ships were sunk off Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, that it earned the nickname “Torpedo Junction”. The residents got used to hearing distant explosions almost any time of day or night and the houses would shake and the walls would crack. They had no choice but to get used to it. This culminated in the sinking of the oil tanker, the Dixie Arrow.
Flaming hulks often illuminated the night skies along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts and wreckage and bodies washed ashore in the morning. People going to the beach in Jacksonville, Florida on 10 April, 1942 watched a U-boat rise in broad daylight and use its deck guns to attack and sink the ship Gulf of America with no consequences. On 15 June two American ships were torpedoed in broad daylight, witnessed by swimmers at Virginia Beach, VA, ships burning and men dying in the waters.
The Germans referred to this period as the “Second Happy Time”. They could not believe their good fortune. They inflicted enormous damage at little cost to themselves.
This initial phase for the Battle of the Atlantic was finally over about August of 1942. By the end, Germany had sunk over 600 ships off the east coast and in the Gulf of Mexico, killed more than 5,000 sailors, and destroyed 22% of America’s tanker fleet. It was a major strategic win for the Axis powers.
This is the reason the PC 552 and ships like it were built, launched and crewed around the clock on an emergency basis.
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We will be sending these posts out each Wednesday. Please enjoy these posts about the U.S.S. PC 552, its crew, and its times.