Operation Drumbeat – U-Boat Happy Days On The USA East Coast

Pennsylvania_Sun

The tanker SS Pennsylvania Sun, torpedoed by U-571 on 15 July 1942 (was saved and returned to service in 1943)

The first attack occurred on January 14th 1942, when a German submarine, call-signed U-123, sank a Norwegian and a British tanker. In the first wave of the Operation Drumbeat, Nazi U-boats managed to sink as many as 23 vessels with a loss of more than 100,000 tons of supplies and hundreds of  Allied lives were lost. It was later stated in a report of the German Kriegsmarine (War Navy) that the ships were made completely visible by the lights coming from the coast, which made them sitting ducks.

It was later stated in a report of the German Kriegsmarine (War Navy) that the ships were made completely visible by the lights coming from the coast, which made them sitting ducks.

After the initial success, Admiral Donitz ordered a second wave of attacks, this time including the mid-range submarines which were reorganized so they could make the trip. To some extent, they even used the drinking water reservoirs to carry the diesel fuel, as the Admirals ambition to sink as many ships as he can grew larger.

The Germans called the operation the Second Happy Time, or the American shooting season.

U-505, a type IXC U-boat. Photo Credit.

U-505, a type IXC U-boat. Photo Credit.

One group was sent to lurk the oil ports of the Caribbean, as part of a sister operation code named Neuland. The Americans were so concentrated on the war against the Japanese, pursuing their revenge for Pearl Harbor, that they had neglected the danger in their own backyard. To keep the public calm against an obvious U-boat threat, the Navy used a variety of propaganda methods.

They encouraged the civilians who have witnessed submarine activity to keep quiet about it for the morale of the population and avoiding panic. At this time the Government had devised a parolle, stating: ,,Loose lips sink ships”.

Allied_tanker_torpedoed

The tanker “Dixie Arrow”, torpedoed off Cape Hatteras by U-71 on 26 March 1942 during the height of the Second Happy Time

It was not until April 1942, that the situation started to change. The first German submarine to be sunk by an American Navy vessel was the U-85. The ship responsible for its sinking was the USS Roper. Coastal cities began to conduct blackout during night and ships were restricted to travel only during daylight with armed escort.

Full convoys produced an immediate reduction of Allied shipping losses off the East Coast as Dönitz withdrew the U-boats to seek easier pickings elsewhere. The Allies managed to destroy 9 U-boats in 1942, which made Donitz to rethink his hunt, for the prey was not as helpless as before. In August 1942, the “happy times” for the Nazis were over.

Historian Michael Gannon called this period “The Second Pearl Harbor”. Thousands of lives were sacrificed due to lack of caution and the underestimating of the enemy. A total count of 609 ships was sunk and more than 3.1 million tons of desperately needed supplies were laid on the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean.