America’s second Pearl Harbor

To the Editor:

I have always been fascinated by submarine warfare–my Dad served from 1942-1945 on a Navy PBM “Martin Mariner” seaplane crew hunting German U-Boats off the coast of Brazil during World War 2. Nazi Germany was allied with Argentina. My favorite submarine war movies are “Run Silent, Run Deep” starring Clark Gable, and “Das Boot” (The Boat), a powerful movie that showed submarine life from the German perspective.

Just before the Japanese commenced the air raid against Pearl Harbor December 7, 1941, a Japanese submarine was sighted, reported, and sunk near the U.S. Navy base that was soon to be decimated by Japanese bombs and bullets.

Did you know about America’s “Second Pearl Harbor,” so-named by historian Michael Gannon in his book Operation Drumbeat: The Dramatic True Story of Germany’s First U-Boat Attacks along the American Coast in World War II ?

On December 11, 1941, Germany and Italy declared war on the United States followed hours later by the U.S. Congress reciprocal declaration of war. Anticipating impending hostilities against the United States (Germany already considered America an enemy due to our Lend-Lease support of Great Britain since 1939), U-boats began moving closer to America’s eastern coast earlier in 1941. During 1940 and 1941 (called the “Happy Time” by German submariners because they met little organized resistance), hundreds of merchant marine vessels were attacked and sunk.

During “Operation Drumbeat,” called the “Second Happy Time,” from January to August, 1942, U-boats sank 609 ships totaling 3.1 million tons and the loss of thousands of lives while losing only 22 U-boats. One U-boat commander, Captain Reinhard Hardegen, called the “Ace of the Deep,” sank 22 ships while skippering the U-147 and U-123.

Despite British experience with U-boat attacks prescribing using non-routine shipping routes, convoy operations and “lights out” on navigational lighting as well as warnings by Rodger Winn’s London Submarine Tracking Room, the American admiralty’s response to these attacks (some of which were within sight of American shores) was weak and disorganized. 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.S. Army Air Forces.

The U.S. government urged civilians to keep sightings of U-boats secret and issued propaganda so that vacation recreation would not be disrupted in east coast cities like New York, Boston, Baltimore, and Charleston. The U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary had been formed in 1939 for life-saving, safe boating, and as watch-standers, but offers by operators of civilian ships and aircraft to serve as “eyes” for the Navy were repeatedly turned down.

Between January and April, 1942, 80 Allied ships were lost along America’s eastern coast while only one U-boat (U-85) was sunk.

Finally, on May 9, 1942, 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.S. Coast Guard 165 foot patrol boat Icarus, spotted U-352 on sonar, out-smarted German commander Hellmut Rathke, and using depth charges disabled and sank the U-352 taking Captain Rathke and 32 survivors prisoner. Jester was promoted to Lt. Commander and awarded the Navy Cross. He was featured on the cover of Life magazine.

History is not so long ago! Following a post-war life as a German politician and businessman, ace U-boat Captain Hardegen died on June 9, 2018, (age 105) and in late 2017 the U.S. Coast Guard announced that a new Sentinel-class fast response cutter, the USCGC Maurice Jester would beat Lt. Commander Jester’s name.

My wife, Susan, and I are members of the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary (part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security) flotilla based in Blue Ash. If you would like to join 30,000 members assisting in the Auxiliary’s missions of boating safety, patrol, and watch-standing, contact HR Officer Carol Stroup at 513-309-8845 or cgauxohio@yahoo.com or see http://www.cgaux.org.

Respectfully submitted,

Randy Kleine
Milford