Message Area
lblHidCurrentSponsorAdIndex =

  < Back to Table Of Contents  < Back to Topic: They Served

article number 684
article date 09-28-2017
copyright 2017 by Author else SaltOfAmerica
Dragged Across the Atlantic: Transport vs. the German Navy, 1940-1944
by Admiral Jonas Ingram and other many other [Authors Unknown]

From the book, Battle Stations! Your Navy in Action.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Pictures are placed after the text which refers to them.

* * *


The Front page of “L’Intransigeant” headlines the news that England has already been at war since eleven o’clock and that France’s ultimatum to Germany will expire at five o’clock in the afternoon.

But already events were in motion that were to bring the war home to America. On the first day of the war the British liner ’Athenia’ was suddenly torpedoed by a German U-boat and 30 Americans were lost. All America was shocked by the news.

The French newspaper “L’lntransigeant” headlines the British declaration of war and the French ultimatum.


Survivors of the ’Athenia’ being brought to Ireland on a tender.



Part of the elaborate system of protection for our harbors and offense against enemy raiders that might try to sneak in, were the minefields, the location and extent of which were top secrets. A “swept channel” was kept open for the entrance and exit of friendly vessels who depended upon specially briefed pilots to take them safely through.

Laying mines in sight of land. Mines were of various types. Magnetic mines were detonated when their magnetic field was disturbed by the passage o a metal ship. The acoustic mine was activated by the noise of a ships propellers. But we learned counter measures for all types.



The British aircraft carrier ’Courageous,’ seen here from the deck of the great battle cruiser ’Rodney,’ had but little time to live after this picture was taken. Putting to sea on the declaration of war, she was sunk by a German submarine in the North Sea on September 17, the submarine in turn being sunk by British warships.

So the battle between submarines and surface ships that had been lost by Germany in World War I was resumed still more bitterly in World War II. Again U-boats harried the seas, preying on British, French, and ultimately American shipping in the Atlantic; and again British surface ships set up their strangling blockade on the ports of Germany and German-occupied countries.

But warships cannot be built in a day, and Britain had unfortunately permitted her Navy to decline during the long years of peace. The lesson was not wasted on the United States, and American Naval officers strove earnestly to bring the Navy to strength.

H.M.S. ’Courageous’ in the North Sea photographed from the British Battle Cruiser Rodney.



On November 4, 1939, only two months after the outbreak of the war in Europe, President Roosevelt asked Congress to repeal the Arms Embargo, a provision of our Neutrality Act which prohibited the sale by Americans of arms and munitions to belligerent countries.

America’s first thought had been to stay out of the European War, and hence the United States, in concert with the other American republics, had in October established a neutral zone around the Americas, excepting belligerent Canada, and the U.S. Navy was already patrolling this neutral zone which extended some 300 miles to sea. In all sorts of weather our destroyers and other patrol craft searched the seas inside the zone, reporting all belligerent vessels found therein.

But it was obvious that our fellow democracies in Europe needed all the help they could get to withstand the terrific assault of the Axis armies—and the thing they needed most was arms and ammunition.

By repeal of the Arms Embargo, Britain and France could buy American arms and munitions and take them home in their ships, whereas Italy and Germany, not having control of the sea, could not. This was the first step taken by the United States to show its sympathy and desire to aid the democracies of Europe and its antagonism to the Axis powers and their ruthless dictators.

President Roosevelt, seated at his desk, reads the Repeal Bill, while Vice President Garner, Secretary of State Hull, and other prominent government officials and legislators look on.



Under the terms to the Treaty of Versailles, Germany’s Navy had been limited in numbers and sizes of warships. In an effort of evade the limitations, German Naval engineers had constructed “pocket battleships”—small battleships of great speed, gunpower, and armor.

With the outbreak of war Hitler sent these “pocket battleships” as well as his U-boats to prey on enemy shipping. Most famous of the pocket battleships was the ’Admiral Graf Spee,’ commanded by Captain Hans Lansdorf.

In late 1939 this ship was raiding in the South Atlantic when her presence was reported and three British cruisers under the command of Commodore Harwood were sent to intercept her.

The pursuers finally came up with the German raider off the South American coast but well inside the Neutrality Zone which the American republics had requested the belligerents to respect.

Although armed only with six and eight inch guns against the Graf Spee’s 11-inch main battery, the British ships resolutely closed for action. While the British cruiser ’Exeter’ was put out of action, the two remaining cruisers pressed the attack home.

In trying to dodge the ’Exeter’s’ torpedoes, the Graf Spee took two heavy six-inch broadsides from the ’Ajax’ and the ’Achilles.’

The damaged German turned and ran full speed for the safety of the territorial waters of Uruguay and dropped anchor in the harbor of Montevideo. Under the rules of International Law the Graf Spee could not remain long in neutral waters, nor make battle repairs there, and she was thousands of miles away from any assistance from a German base.

The pocket battleship remained in Montevideo harbor for the three days allowed under International Law, but then was forced by the Uruguayan government to put to sea. Rather than fight again, the German captain stopped in the Rio de Ia Plata, opened the sea-cocks, and set the ship afire.

The destruction of the Graf Spee brought home to Hitler what American naval officers have always known—the value of far-spread naval bases from which ships can operate and to which they can return for repairs and renewing stores.

And it also brought home to Hitler the fact that even the strongest army in the world cannot take the place of a Navy.

The picture shows the scuttled and flaming raider in her death throes. She was described by the British commander as “. . . . ablaze from end to end, flames reaching almost as high as the top of the control tower, a magnificent and most cheerful sight.”



Advances of the Germans in Norway were met by continued resistance. British planes and warships sped to the battle where, in the harbor of Narvik, they, together with other Allied sea forces, inflicted a severe defeat on the Germans by destroying seven destroyers and practically clearing the harbor of German craft.

From the newly acquired bases in Norway German bombing planes raided the Scapa Flow area where they attacked three cruisers and the battleship ’Rodney’ upon which they scored a bomb hit.

The Germans in southern Norway, after consolidating their gains, began dividing the region into isolated pockets by a series of panzer movements as they had done in Poland.

German sea planes float calmly on a mirror-like lake at Stavanger before being attacked by British Royal Air Force bombers from which the picture was taken. The German planes had been used to ferry troops by way of Denmark.


German and Norwegian officers salute the mast as the Norwegian flag is lowered on a Nazi-captured vessel in this photograph from German sources.



From the start of the war Germany, in floods of propaganda, had proclaimed brotherhood with her Northern neighbors.

How much this meant to the Scandinavian countries can be seen in this picture where four Danish submarines lie next to their mother ship ready for action in any emergency.


The emergency finally struck April 9, 1940. Germany, still proclaiming “benevolent protection" of the Northern countries against the designs of the Allies, sent hordes of her troops pouring into Norway and Denmark by air, sea, and by land.

Norway reciprocated Germany’s “spirit of fraternity” by sinking the German cruiser ’Bluecher’ laden with troops and 800 Gestapo men and the cruiser ’Karlsruhe.’


On May 10, 1940, Neville Chamberlain was forced to resign as Prime Minister of Great Britain and was succeeded by Winston Churchill. He was to lead the English people through the most terrible time in their history and was to go down as one of England’s greatest war leaders.

Here he is shown leaving Number Ten Downing Street to make his statement to the House of Commons on the capitulation of France. This was one of Churchill’s speeches in which he represented the indomitable spirit of the British.


A month later he spoke again to Commons after Dunkirk, when England was in danger of invasion—this time his immortal “. . . We shall fight them on the landing grounds, we shall fight them in the fields and in the streets . . . . We shall never surrender . . ."


At the beginning of the war Great Britain had suffered severely from the attrition of operations at sea, particularly in destroyers. Faced with this situation, Great Britain entered into an agreement with the United States under the terms of which 50 of our older destroyers were exchanged for the right to establish naval bases on British territory in the Atlantic.

In addition we were granted long leases for bases in New Foundland and Bermuda.

This map shows the Atlantic bases leased from Great Britain by the United States.


Winston Churchill signing the agreement, watched by Mr. Winant, left, the American Ambassador, and Mr. Vincent Massey, the Canadian High Commissioner, right.



The acquisition of bases operated to advance our sea frontier several hundred miles in the direction of our potential enemies in the Atlantic and gave us added security not only for the present, but for many years in the future.

The bases thus leased by the United States were, briefly:
• Antigua, B.W.l. (British West Indies), Naval Air Station;
• British Guiana, S.A. (South America), Naval Air Station;
• Jamaica, B.W.l., Naval Air Station;
• St. Lucia, B.W.l., Naval Air Station;
• Bermuda, B.W.l., Naval Air Station;
• Great Exuma, Bahamas, Naval Air Station;
• Newfoundland, Naval Operating Base and Naval Air Station; and
• Trinidad, Naval Operating Base and Naval Air Station combined with a Lighter-than-Air Base radio station.

American sailors acquainting their British comrades with the depth charge mechanism on one of the fifty over-age destroyers which were transferred.



Early in the war the Navy undertook a great expansion of its system of advance bases, many of which represented the consolidation of gains made by combat units. Depending on the circumstances, whether they were gained as a result of a raid or as a result of an advance, the permanency of their construction was varied to meet the situation.

The airbase at Bermuda, looking southwest.


A radioman stands duty in the control tower at the U.S. Naval Air Station, Argentia, Newfoundland clearing planes for take-offs and landings.


Construction Battalion (Seabee) advance base, Iceland.



With the flow of lend-lease materials from U.S. factories and farms, the Navy extended and intensified its neutrality patrol. Western Hemisphere lines were set as far east as Iceland and the United States declared all waters to the westward to be neutral. The United States was the only nation in the Western Hemisphere able to patrol this vast area.

Germany, although not at war with this nation, boldly entered these waters to torpedo the U.S. destroyers ’Kearny’ and ’Reuben James.’ It was during this period that the Navy brought occupation troops to Iceland, that the Coast Guard helped patrol Greenland, long eyed by the Nazis as a weather observation post.

Attacks by Germany on the warships and on merchant ships flying the U.S. flag led Congress to authorize the arming of merchant ships. The first guns on merchant ships were mounted just a few months before Pearl Harbor.

English docks piled high with Lend-Lease materials from the United States.


Reverse Lend-Lease: English goods or New York loading at a British Port under the watchful eyes of the Home Guard.



In early April, 1941, mighty Germany invaded tiny Yugoslavia and in three weeks occupied the country.

It was while Germany was over-running such helpless countries as Yugoslavia that the Congress authorized, in a series of legislative efforts, the increase of our Navy from a two-ocean Navy to a five-ocean Navy, and U. S. Naval strategists foresaw the day when Germany would have to be defeated at sea in order to defeat her on the land.

Thus began the planning which eventually won the Battle of the Atlantic. Here, in a German Army photograph, radioed to the United States, are shown Nazi troops in rubber boats fording the Drava River in the drive on Zagreb, capital of Croatia, in northern Yugoslavia.



To combat German submarine activities in the Atlantic a huge headquarters was set up in New York City, as a nerve center of operation. Here, behind guarded and locked doors, at Eastern Sea Frontier headquarters scattered reports on Nazi undersea raiders, listings of convoys and other sea and air intelligence data becomes an ever changing battle plan on the main situation board.

The control platform faces the main situation board.


Here officer experts assemble and translate reports on ship and aircraft movement along the Atlantic coast. ‘Pips” or plastic symbols indicate ships, convoys, and subs; “hamburgers” or cloth covered strips give data; colored lights show weather. These two photographs give just a hint of the infinite detail.



When the battle for the Atlantic began, the United States Coast Guard recruited large numbers of pleasure and fishing craft to supplement its own ships. These vessels patrolled for submarines and lent valuable aid to the regular fleet.

Many civilians in the Auxiliary Coast Guard donated one day or so a week to do patrol duty in their own boats. Many of the Auxiliary boats met U-boats in action.

Here a Navy gun crew aboard a U. S. aircraft carrier stand at battle stations as an Auxiliary schooner passes.



Guarding our harbors and the ships within them in wartime is a small Navy within a Navy, the men and tenders who handle the anti-submarine and anti-torpedo nets, and anti-motor boat booms, which spread across the mouth of a port making it a safe haven.

The “Net Navy” has a highly specialized job. Nets may be more than two miles long, extending from the surface of the water to the bottom. Storms and overly strong currents may tear holes in the nets, necessitating instant repairs.

Tenders notable for their two-horned prow, over which winch wires pass to raise and lower the heavy net equipment, must follow the advances of the war fleet. They spin out their web-work even while their big sisters are still blazing away in the battle for an enemy port.

And, despite their size, tenders can fight—one of them opened the war for the “Net Navy” by shooting down a Japanese Zero at Pearl Harbor.

One of these net tenders may be seen at a harbor entrance. A gate can be opened to let friendly vessels through; it is operated under the watchful supervision of the ship standing guard.


Friend or foe, the Coast Guard rescued all possible survivors. Coast Guard planes scouted the oceans looking for submarines and survivors. Here, alongside a United States Coast Guard rescue plane, four oil-smeared U-boat survivors of the crew of a destroyed submarine wait to be helped aboard. The life raft had previously been dropped by a patrol blimp.



by Admiral Jonas H. Ingram, USN.

* * *

MORE THAN TWO YEARS BEFORE the formal entry of the United States into World War II, the Atlantic Fleet began to support the British Fleet. This was done by the Neutrality Patrol, established in September 1939.

Fifteen months before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, fifty Atlantic Fleet destroyers were turned over to Great Britain in exchange for base rights, and the rapid development of these outposts during 1941 permitted the Atlantic Fleet to prepare a series of valuable stepping stones for wartime operations.

Another vital extension of our defenses occurred in May 1941 when Brazil authorized the Atlantic Fleet to build and use advanced bases for planes and surface craft at Recife, Bahia, and Natal.

Aggressively committed to the task of maintaining the war-making capacity of the British Isles, the United States could not afford to let German submarines sink lend-lease supplies en route, and the Atlantic fleet joined British and Canadian naval forces during the summer of 1941, with orders to “shoot on sight” at any ships, planes or submarines which threatened this steady flow of war materials through the Western Atlantic.

By the time the attack on Pearl Harbor occurred, the Atlantic Fleet had already completed and had begun to use a destroyer base in Londonderry, Ireland.

In the far-flung struggle to maintain convoy lanes which soon stretched from the United Kingdom to Halifax, New York, Trinidad, Aruba, Recife, and Rio de Janeiro, Admiral Doenitz’s ruthless offensive maintained a decided edge.

But in May 1943, Allied team-work with long-range planes, surface ships and baby flat tops succeeded in sinking 43 U-boats and this stunning defeat was the climax of the Battle of the Atlantic. Thereafter, the initiative in that phase of the conflict passed to the Allies and was never again lost.

Admiral Jonas H. Ingram, USN.

SUPPORTING THE EUROPEAN LANDINGS. Closely interlocked with the submarine war were the overseas movements of great armadas to launch those major amphibious operations which led to the final defeat of the Axis: the landings in North Africa, the Sicilian and Italian campaigns, and the invasions of Normandy and Southern France.

To assist the British and Canadians in all of these difficult tasks, the Amphibious Force of the Atlantic Fleet provided extensive training to our Army troops. The important part played by Atlantic Fleet ships in transporting these specially trained troops, in landing them successfully on hostile shores, and in supporting their initial assaults, won the grudging praise of an enemy who had never understood the importance or true function of sea power.

All of these landings required preliminary build-up of supplies and subsequent feeding of additional materials and troops from the United States—responsibilities which continued to be taken by units of the Atlantic Fleet. Shipments for the initial invasion of Normandy alone piled up more than 16 million tons of supplies in Britain during one year before D-day.

Another important aspect of the Battle of the Atlantic was the Allied campaign against blockade runners which shuttled high priority minerals and rubber from Japan to Germany, high grade steel and precision instruments from Germany to Japan.

During 1941 and 1942, the enemy sent out 49 blockade-running freighters or tankers from Europe, and 40 of them made the round trip successfully. An Allied “barrier” of ships and planes across the narrows of the South Atlantic (greatly strengthened by our Army-Navy air base on Ascension Island) was gradually developed to maximum efficiency toward the end of 1943 and the beginning of 1944.

Climax of this “barrier” strategy was achieved during the first week of 1944, when planes and surface craft of the Atlantic Fleet’s South Atlantic Force pulled off a triple play and sank three blockade runners in three consecutive days.

Forced to abandon such costly and fruitless endeavors, the enemy resorted to using his largest supply-submarines, and again suffered heavy losses. The only Japanese submarine sunk in the Atlantic was one of these supply-submarines, loaded with raw rubber, which was nailed by coordinated attacks of an Atlantic Fleet killer group built around a baby flat top and operating south of the Azores.

Final tabulations revealed that 126 enemy submarines were sunk by Atlantic Fleet units.

On the defensive side of the ledger, Atlantic Fleet ships escorted 17,707 ships in convoy, of which only 17 were sunk and 14 damaged by enemy action.

As the Battle of the Atlantic drew to successful conclusion, more than 800 ships, trained in the Atlantic Fleet, passed through the Panama Canal to join forces in the Pacific between 1 January and 16 May 1945.

Chart 0f the Atlantic showing convoy lanes and protective air patrols.
< Back to Top of Page