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Contents

  1. New England Historical Society
  2. Battle of the Atlantic: Archaeology of an Underwater World War II Battlefield
  3. Undefended Shore
  4. About This Item

Admiral Ernest J. King, Commander of the Atlantic fleet, and his staff downplayed the U-boat threat, failed to follow British recommendations, and was unable to secure cooperation with the U. Army Air Forces. The U. Finally, on May 9, , the tide against the U-boat threat began to turn. In an amazing display of courage and skill, Lt Maurice D. Jester, commander of the U. The German Navy responded by moving most U-boats to the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, where they hunted in "wolf packs," and Hitler diverted a number of submarines to protect the German ships carrying iron ore and nickel along the Norwegian coast.

In June, , as the German Navy recognized American tactics were changing and the "happy time" of sinking unprotected merchant ships was ending, U penetrated into the Thimble Shoal channel of the Chesapeake Bay and laid a minefield. That was not a new concept; U-boats had also laid mines in World War I off different American ports that sank six ships.

The U minefield in the Thimble Shoal channel damaged or sank 5 ships in June, The last U-boat attack off the East Coast occurred on May 7, The captain of the U either did not receive the order, or ignored it. The US response to the attack was deadly.

New England Historical Society

The U was the last submarine sunk by the US Navy near the US continent, after the last ship torpedoed off the North American coast during the war had sailed out of Norfolk harbor. References 1.

Adam Lynch. Source: Library of Congress, Carry the fight The decision by top navy admirals to press on with this symbolic show of force despite the imminent U-boat attacks stripped the Atlantic coast of any effective defenses. When the five U-boats assigned to the initial attack began hunting targets in earnest late in the week of January 11, their commanders were stunned by what they found: coastal sea-lanes teeming with merchant vessels sailing independently and without escort; few patrol aircraft and no U.

Navy warships patrolling the littorals; and their targets brightly silhouetted by the lights from coastal cities and seaports.

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The embattled staff had to cope with not only the destruction on Oahu but also a daily torrent of bad news from the Pacific. Making things even more uncertain, President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Navy Secretary Frank Knox had ordered a widespread leadership change for the navy. Kimmel with Admiral Chester W. King as the new commander in chief to replace him. Commanded by Vice Admiral Adolphus A. Andrews and with its headquarters at the federal building in lower Manhattan, ESF, with few ships or aircraft of its own, had to rely on the Atlantic Fleet for any warships or patrol aircraft.

King would later recall entering his new office in late December and glumly surveying the barren office and shabby flat-top desk he had inherited. King, in particular, knew that the navy needed to organize convoys to protect the merchant ships traveling up and down the East Coast.

Like many other senior navy officers who had served in World War I, King knew only too well how German U-boats had come close to strangling the British economy in and before a robust convoy system saved the day. King would echo that assertion in a letter to General George C. Marshall, the U. On his watch, the fleet found itself by the late summer of in an undeclared shooting war with the U-boats, culminating with the damaging of the destroyer Kearny by U on October 17 and the October 31 sinking of the destroyer Reuben James as it escorted eastbound Convoy HX Each of these posts requires an organization to deal with the make-up of convoys, such as that now in force at Halifax and at Sydney, Nova Scotia.

Atlantic Fleet already had its hands full. But two factors cut deeply into that capability.

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Battle of the Atlantic: Archaeology of an Underwater World War II Battlefield

First, the destroyers were being worked hard at other tasks that precluded them from being redeployed to guard the East Coast. At that juncture, there were U. Navy destroyers plus six Treasury -class Coast Guard cutters in the Atlantic Fleet, for a total of warships. A month later, after the last of them left for the Pacific, there were Of those, only 71 were fully operational: nine new destroyers were awaiting formal commissioning; another 12 were still carrying out postcommissioning workups, and another 10 were in shipyards for repairs.

More than three-fourths of the operational fleet—53 destroyers and three of the large cutters—were assigned to Rear Admiral Arthur L. Task Force 24 and the Canadian navy also shared responsibility for protecting westbound ON Convoys sailing the reverse route from the British Isles to North America, escorting them from the mid-ocean meeting point to dispersal locations in the western Atlantic where the merchant vessels would then proceed independently to their assigned ports of call.

A Hazardous German U-Boat Mission Targets New York City

The American escorts managed odd-numbered ON convoys and the Canadians even-numbered formations. Further complicating the situation, by January 12, nine of the 53 Task Force 24 destroyers were laid up for storm damage repair, with a 10th—the Benson -class Kearny —still under repair after its October encounter with U Of the remaining 25 destroyers, 14 were operating in the Caribbean and South Atlantic, eight were assigned as escorts four apiece to the carriers Wasp and Ranger , and three were preparing for a patrol mission to Bermuda.

Undefended Shore

A second factor restricting any major diversion of Atlantic Fleet destroyers concerned the two general categories of the ships in the destroyer force in early There were 43 frontline warships in seven modern classes. These had been commissioned between and Another 31 were older four-stack destroyers commissioned between and , whose limited range hampered convoying and whose poor hull design made them less maneuverable than the newer warships.

When the Atlantic Fleet began escorting convoys in secret in September , King and Bristol balanced out each group with at least two frontline destroyers and three or four of the old four-stack models.


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Once in the U. But an urgent meeting in Washington, D. Just after the United States entered the war, Churchill pressed FDR for a face-to-face meeting to hammer out a joint strategy for upcoming military operations. Crossing the North Atlantic on the British battleship Duke of York , the British delegation met with their American counterparts beginning on December 22 in what was later called the Arcadia Conference.

About This Item

It would become a three-week marathon of decision making. One item on the Arcadia agenda would, in the end, make the formation of a coastal convoy system impossible. Army soldiers. While crossing the Atlantic, Churchill dictated a memorandum for the upcoming conference in which he argued that the presence of three U. Roosevelt and his top military aides had in fact been discussing the idea of an Iceland troop swap with the British for several months. At Arcadia, Roosevelt made no secret of his desire to get the United States into the war against Germany as quickly as possible to show support for the embattled Soviet Union as well as to shore up civilian morale at home and in the United Kingdom.

Sending troops to Iceland and Northern Ireland would be an effective first step. If either King or Marshall had doubts about sending soldiers to Iceland—which would also allow the return to the United States of a provisional regiment of 4, marines that had joined the British troops on Iceland five months earlier on July 7, —no objections were entered in the official conference record. The operation would begin on January 15 with the sailing from New York of Convoy AT10, consisting of 10 troopships carrying 8, soldiers from the 5th Infantry Division to Iceland, and another 14, troops from the 34th Infantry Division as the vanguard for the four divisions that Churchill wanted in Northern Ireland.