The U-boat Onslaught

In early 1942 I was twelve years old and living on the coast at Carolina Beach, 15 miles north of Cape Fear and about 100 miles south of  Cape Lookout..  There are said to be more than two thousand shipwrecks along the North Carolins coast, some dating from the very first century of European exploration.  The shifting reefs of the Outer Banks have taken their toll, and wars also have had a significant impact – especially the Civil War and World War II.

With our entry into World War II in December 1941, ship sinkings in this region increased at an alarming rate, just as they did all along the Atlantic coast of North America.  In the winter and spring of 1942 the seas off the Carolina capes aa well as those fronting New York, New England and Nova Scotia were particularly hard hit.   The German high command labeled it Operation Drumbeat and their German submariners called it the “happy times.”  Our unescorted ships were easy pickings. We were totally unprepared for the ferocity of the U-Boat onslaught.

The following is a list of ships sunk by U-boats ship along the North Carolina coast in World War II.  The information is derived from secondary sources, and I cannot be certain of its accuracy.

          Date                                        Name of Ship Sunk

18 Jan 1942                             SS Alan Jackson

19 Jan 1942                             SS Norvana

19 Jan 1942                             SS Ciltvzira

19 Jan 1942                             SS City of Atlanta

22 Jan 1942                             SS Olympic

22 Jan 1942                             SS York

24 Jan 1942                             SS Empire Gem

03 Feb 1942                             MV Amerikaland

15 Feb 1942 SS Bumque

27 Feb 1942                             SS Marore

07 Mar 1942                           SS Arabutan

11 Mar 1942                           SS Caribsea

12 Mar 1942                           SS John D. Gill

14 Mar 1942                           USS Margaret

15 Mar 1942                           SS Ario

16 Mar 1942                           MV Australia

17 Mar 1942                           SS Kassandra  Loulouda

18 Mar 1942                           SS E. M. Clark

19 Mar 1942                           SS Liberator

19 Mar 1942                           SS San Delfino

21 Mar 1942                           SS ESSO Nashville

23 Mar 1942                           SS Naeco

26 Mar 1942                           USS Atik

26 Mar 1942                           SS Dixie Arrow

27 Mar 1942                           SS Equipoise

01 Apr 1942                            SS Tiger

06 Apr 1942                            SS Lancing

07 Apr 1942                            SS British Slendour

09 Apr 1942                            SS Atlas

09 Apr 1942                            SS Malchace

10 Apr 1942                            SS Tamaulijon

14 Apr 1942                            SS Empire Thrush

29 Apr 1942                            SS Ashkhabad

02 May 1942                           USS Cythera

04 May 1942                           SS Byron D. Benson

11 May 1942                           HMT Bedfordshire

24 Jun 1942                             SS Ljubica Matkovic

25 Jun 1942                             SS Nordai

25 Jun 1942                             SS Manuela

28 Jun 1942                             SS William Rockefeller

15 Jul 1942                             MV Bluefields

15 Jul 1942                             SS Chilore

The German U-boats would wait off the North Carolina capes, from Cape Fear to Cape Hatteras, as merchant ships steamed north around these promontories toward New York, Boston and Halifax.  As the list of sinkings shows, the toll of ships was very heavy in the winter and spring that first year of the war.  Suddenly, however, despite their initial successes, the Germans shifted their tactics.  Beginning in April 1942, four U-boats were sunk off the Outer Banks in rather short order.  At the same time, merchant ship sinkings in that area decreased.  The German naval command then switched tactics.  U-boats left that area and began concentrating their efforts in the North Atlantic shipping lanes and around the British Isles.  They were highly successful until late in 1943, at which point British and American countermeasures began to turn the tide.

Those of us living along the coast were well aware of the 1942 U-boat depredations, and evidence sometimes washed up on shore.  Blackouts were initiated to avoid silhouetting ships against the coastal lights.  Though these measures served little purpose after 1942, they remained in effect until late in the war.

U-boats were a fearful weapon in the hands of skillful German submariners, and thousands of Allied merchant ships fell prey to their torpedoes.   Tens of thousands of merchant marine sailors, British, American or others, were either incinerated or died in the sea.  Those were brutal, bloody times.  Never forget the horror of war or trivialize its effect on those involved.  Certainly, there was no glory in it.

One thought on “The U-boat Onslaught

  1. Thank you, Sandy, for that excellent piece. Growing up in Southeastern North Carolina, my grandfather regaled me with Tales of U-boats off the coast of our state. While I was familiar with this seemingly forgotten aspect of the war near our shores , I was stunned to see the sheer number of ships that were lost in 1942 off the Carolina coast. Thank you for bringing to life the remembrance of the ships and crews that fell victim to these German U-Boat attacks.


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