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Second Happy Time was an informal name given to Operation Drumbeat (“Paukenschlag”), a German operation in January and February, 1942, during the Second Battle of the Atlantic. During this operation, five German submarines (U-boats) attacked and sank merchant shipping off the coast of the north-eastern United States, without loss. It is notable because this was the first time in World War II that German u-boats were allowed to attack within U.S. territorial waters. In a few weeks, the five U-boats inflicted significant damage with little risk to themselves.

The operation was followed by further waves of u-boats until August that attacked shipping in the U.S. protected waters of the Eastern, Gulf and Caribbean Sea Frontiers. A total of 397 ships[1], totalling over 3 million tons were sunk; roughly one fifth of all shipping sunk by U-boats during the entire Second World War[2]. Five thousand seamen and passengers died. The U-boat campaign during early and mid 1942 off the U.S. coast constituted, by far, the most serious defeat ever suffered by the US Navy [3].

The name[edit]

Drumbeat was the first wave of five u-boats that patrolled off the United States east coast from 12th January to 7th February 1942 [4] although sometimes the name is used to include the whole campaign that lasted until August. Admiral Karl Dönitz envisaged the first wave as a sudden shock, like a drumbeat and at least one of the u-boat captains, Hardegen, was clear that “Drumbeat” referred only to the operation by the first five boats[5] - U-123, U-130, U-66, U-109 and U-125.

German submariners named it “Second Happy Time”, or the golden time, because U.S. defence measures were weak and disorganised[6]. The first "Happy time" - “Die Glückliche Zeit” - had been between May and December, 1940, in British waters[7].

Strategic background[edit]

Britain’s continued participation in World War II was dependent on the ship-borne cargoes that crossed the north Atlantic. This route carried much of its food, military materiel and all of its oil[8]. If this supply line had been broken, Britain would have had to surrender, or starve. Without Britain as an off-shore base, a western front, such as occurred in Normandy in 1944, would have been impossible, allowing Germany to concentrate its forces against the Soviet Union.

By late 1941, however, u-boat “kills” in the north Atlantic had been reduced, not just by British actions and the diversion of U-boats elsewhere, but also by United States intervention as part of the “all-bar-war” policy promulgated by President Franklin D. Roosevelt [9]. The U.S. had declared a large part of the Atlantic as a "Pan-American Security Zone", extending as far as Iceland. Within this zone, U.S. Navy warships escorted - and defended - convoys bound for Britain and effectively reported U-boat sightings to the Royal Navy[10]. Germany tolerated American interventions for fear of provoking the U.S. to declare war: U.S. cargo ships were left alone even when they were plainly carrying munitions for British use[11]. Nonetheless, there had been increasingly violent confrontations between U.S. escorts and German u-boats, leading to an exchange of fire between USS Greer and U-562 on September 4, 1941[12] and the sinking of the USS Reuben James on October 31, 1941[13].

Warnings & indications[edit]

After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the German leader, Adolf Hitler chose to honour a promise and he declared war against the United States on December 11 1941. The German U-bootwaffe no longer had any political reasons to limit its actions against the U.S. and their commander, Admiral Dönitz, saw the entry of the U.S. into the war as a golden opportunity to strike heavy blows in the "tonnage war".

The possibility of German attacks on U.S. coastal shipping routes was known: it had happened before, in World War I, and at least a probing attack could have been foreseen[14]. Indeed, once the five Drumbeat u-boats were en route, the British tracked them, day-by-day, across the Atlantic, using Ultra decrypts, radio direction finding and informed assessments[15]. Submarine estimates were forwarded daily to COMINCH (Admiral Ernest King), with an appreciation of the probable German intentions[16].

Each U-boat made routine status signals when it left the Bay of Biscay; these were intercepted up by the British Y service, decoded at Bletchley Park and plotted in the London Submarine Tracking Room, under Lieutenant Commander Rodger Winn, thus following the progress of the u-boats across the Atlantic. Working on the slimmest of evidence, Winn correctly deduced the target area – the U.S. eastern seaboard - and passed a detailed warning to Admiral Ernest King (recently appointed to command of the U.S. Navy) of a "large concentration [of u-boats] proceeding to or already arrived on station off Canadian and northeastern US coasts", including the five Drumbeat boats[17]. Rear-Admiral Frank Leighton of the US Combined Operations and Intelligence Center then informed the responsible area commanders[18]. Daily situation reports were also passed on[19] and the u-boats’ advance was confirmed by the sinking of the Cyclops, 450 miles off the U.S. coast acted as confirmation of Winn’s information[20].

British experience in World War I and in the first two years of World War II, which included the horrendous losses incurred by British shipping during the "First Happy Time" in 1940 had confirmed that ships sailing in convoywith or without adequate escort— were far safer than ships sailing alone[21]. Other British recommendations were that merchant ships should avoid obvious standard routings wherever possible; navigational markers, lighthouses, and other aids usable by the enemy should be removed, and a strict coastal blackout (or at least a "brownout") enforced[citation needed]. In addition, any available air and sea forces should perform daylight patrols, concentrated in suitable areas, to at least restrict the u-boats' operational flexibility by denying them the opportunity to recharge their batteries on the surface.

The British had given the U.S. Navy its experience and expertise; there was a constant flow of reliable intelligence; the USN had been involved aggressively in the north Atlantic. There was every expectation that they could and would provide effective defence of their coastal waters and protection for the merchant ships upon which Britain’s survival depended[22].

Preparations[edit]

Immediately after Japan’s attack on the United States, Dönitz began to plan Operation Drumbeat, proposing that twelve Type IX U-boats be assigned to it[23]. The German Naval Staff (Oberkommando der Marine - OKM), however, insisted that six of the Type IX boats should be retained for the Gibraltar and Mediterranean theatre (for which they were considered unsuitable[24]). One of the allocated six boats had mechanical troubles, leaving five long-range submarines for the operation.

The German Navy no longer had tankers with which to refuel submarines in the North Atlantic (these had been sunk after Ultra intelligence revealed their locations) and the Type VII U-boat was thought to have insufficient range for patrols off the United States coast. The only suitable boats available to Dönitz were the larger Type IX ones. These, however, were less manoeuvrable and slower to submerge, making them much more vulnerable[citation needed] than the Type VIIs. There were also few of them[25].

The first of the five Type IXs left Lorient on 18 December 1941, fully laden with fuel, food and ammunition, the others followed over the next few days. Each captain had sealed orders to be opened after passing 20°W, directing them to different parts of the North American coast. No proper maritime charts or sailing directions were supplied: Kapitanleutnant Reinhard Hardegen of U-123, for example, was provided with two tourist guides to New York, one of which contained a fold-out map of the harbour[26].

The target area for Drumbeat was the Eastern Sea Frontier, formerly the North Atlantic Coastal Frontier, commanded by Rear-Admiral Adolphus Andrews, which covered 1,500 miles of coast from Maine to North Carolina. Andrews had practically no modern forces to work with: he commanded seven Coast Guard cutters, four converted yachts, three 1919-vintage patrol boats, two gunboats dating to 1905, and four wooden submarine chasers[27]. About 100 aircraft were available, but these were all short-range and few of them suitable for anti-submarine action[28]. As a consequence of the antagonistic relationship between the US Navy and the Army Air Forces, all larger aircraft remained under Army control, and in any case, air crews were neither trained nor equipped for anti-submarine work[citation needed].

The United States had had the opportunity to learn about modern anti-submarine warfare by observing the conflicts in the North Sea and the Mediterranean and through its close relationship with the United Kingdom. The U.S. Navy had already gained significant experience countering U-boats in the Atlantic[29], particularly from April 1941 when President Roosevelt had extended the 'Pan-American Security Zone' east almost as far as Iceland.

None of the British recommendations regarding convoys, navigational aids, coastal blackouts, etc, were implemented. Coastal shipping continued to sail independently along marked routes and often showed normal navigation lights[30]. On 12 January 1942 Admiral Andrews was warned that “three or four u-boats were about to commence operations against coastal shipping[31], but he declined to organise a convoy system on the grounds that this would only provide the U-boats with more targets[citation needed].

The USN was desperately short of specialised anti-submarine vessels. The shortages arose from several causes: President Roosevelt's 1941 decision to "loan" fifty obsolete World War I-era destroyers to Britain in exchange for foreign bases; the new naval construction programme had prioritised other types; the destroyers that were available remained inactive in port[citation needed] or were diverted to convoy escort duties away from the threatened coast[citation needed].

Twenty-one well-equipped destroyers with experienced crews had been recalled to ESF waters to provide anti-submarine defence[32]

British successes in the submarine war had been based upon effective gathering, assessment and use of intelligence. In the USN, however, the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) had been the poor relation in the organisation. Information was diverted elsewhere and its assessments were either ignored or presented as other’s successes[33].

Events[edit]

Drumbeat[edit]

The first Drumbeat sinking was the Cyclops sunk by U-123 in the early morning of 12th January, south-east of Nova Scotia. This served to confirm British assessments of the German position and intentions[34]

U-123 sank the 9,500 ton Norwegian tanker Norness within sight of Long Island in the early hours of 14 January, but no warships were dispatched to investigate[citation needed]. On the following night, U-123 sank the 6,700 ton British tanker Coimbra off Sandy Hook before moving south towards New Jersey. At this time there were 13 destroyers available in New York Harbour, yet none were deployed to deal with the immediate threat and over the following nights U-123 was presented with a succession of easy targets, most of them burning navigation lamps. At times, U-123 operated in shallow coastal waters that barely allowed it to conceal itself, let alone evade a depth charge attack.

For the five u-boats of Operation Drumbeat, it was a bonanza – a happy time. They waited off the coast during daytime, safely submerged and then surfaced at night to select the best targets from the merchant vessels that were outlined against the lights of the shore[citation needed].

Second wave[edit]

By ?, the second wave of Type IX U-boats had arrived in American waters, and the third wave had reached its patrol area off the oil ports of the Caribbean[citation needed]. With such easy pickings available and all Type IX U-boats already committed, Dönitz sent shorter-range Type VII U-boats to the US East Coast as well. This required extraordinary measures: cramming every conceivable space with provisions, filling fresh water tanks with fuel, and crossing the Atlantic at very low speed on a single engine to conserve fuel[citation needed].

In the United States there was still no concerted response to the attacks[citation needed]. Overall responsibility rested with Admiral King, but he was preoccupied with the Japanese onslaught in the Pacific[citation needed]. Admiral Andrews' North Atlantic Coastal Frontier was expanded to take in South Carolina and renamed the Eastern Sea Frontier[35], but most of the ships and aircraft needed remained under the command of Admiral Royal E. Ingersoll, Commander-in-Chief, Atlantic Fleet, who was often at sea and unavailable to make decisions[citation needed]. Rodger Winn's detailed weekly U-boat situation reports from the Submarine Tracking Room in London were available but ignored[citation needed].

Popular alarm at the sinkings was dealt with by a combination of secrecy and misleading propaganda[citation needed]. The Navy confidently announced that many of the U-boats would "never enjoy the return portion of their voyage" but that, unfortunately, details of the sunken U-boats could not be made public lest the information aid the enemy. All citizens who had witnessed the sinking of a U-boat were asked to help keep the secrets safe. None had, in fact, taken place[citation needed].

The first U-boat sinking by a US Navy ship off the north American coast occurred on April 14 1942, when the destroyer USS Roper sank the U-85[36].

The decision to implement convoys and blackout coastal towns to make ships less visible came slowly. The situation began to change in April when Andrews implemented a limited convoy system in which ships travelled only during daylight hours[37]. Full convoys were in operation by mid-May, resulting in an immediate reduction of Allied shipping losses off the East Coast as Dönitz withdrew the U-boats to seek easier pickings elsewhere. The convoy system was later extended to the Gulf of Mexico with similar dramatic effects, thus proving that King's initial rejection of the convoy system was wrong.

In March, 24 Royal Navy anti-submarine trawlers and 10 corvettes were transferred from the UK for the defence of the US East Coast. The British also transferred 53 Squadron, RAF Coastal Command to Quonset Point, Rhode Island to protect New York Harbor during July 1942. This squadron moved to Trinidad in August, with a U.S. squadron, to protect the critical sea lanes from the Venezuelan oil fields and then back to Norfolk, Virginia until the end of 1942 [38] [39]. Royal Navy ships took over escort duties in the Caribbean and on the important Aruba - New York tanker route.


The tanker MS Pennsylvania Sun, torpedoed by U-571 on 15 July 1942.

Outcomes[edit]

When the Drumbeat’ U-boats returned to port in early February, Dönitz wrote that each commander "had such an abundance of opportunities for attack that he could not by any means utilise them all: there were times when there were up to ten ships in sight, sailing with all lights burning on peacetime courses". Dönitz reiterated his opinion that an opportunity had been wasted and that more u-boats would have made an even greater impact[citation needed]. The Drumbeat boats had sunk 25 ships totalling 156,939 tons[40]

Offers of civilian ships and aircraft to act as the Navy's "eyes" were repeatedly turned down, only to be accepted later when the situation was clearly critical and the Navy's claims to the contrary had become discredited. The use of small naval ships had been discounted[citation needed].

  • Reinhard Hardegen in U-123 sank seven ships totalling 46,744 tons before he ran out of torpedoes and returned to base,
  • Ernst Kals in U-130 sank six ships of 36,988 tons,
  • Richard Zapp in U-66 sank five ships of 33,456 tons, and
  • Heinrich Bleichrodt in U-109 sank four ships of 27,651 tons.
  • Ulrich Folkers on his first patrol in U-125 sank only a single 6,666 ton vessel, for which he was criticised by Dönitz (though he would later win the Knight's Cross.)

The Kriegsmarine, while enormously effective during the United States campaign, did not go without losses. Sinkings of German U-boats at the hands of United States forces during this time included:

Note that five sinkings were obtained by “small ships”.

Assessment[edit]

Despite the urgent need for action, little was done to try to combat the u-boats, even while freighters and tankers were being sunk in coastal waters. The 1941 decision to "loan" fifty obsolete destroyers to Britain, in exchange for foreign bases, cannot be accepted as a reason for American inaction. Available warships lay idle or were diverted: at least 21 destroyers of Atlantic Convoy Escort Command had been recalled to the US East Coast at the time of the first attacks, including seven at anchor in New York Harbour. British offers of escort and ASW ships were refused at the time[citation needed].

A significant failure in US pre-war planning was lack of any ships suitable for convoy escort work. Escort vessels travel at relatively slow speeds, carry a large number of depth-charges, must be highly manoeuvrable and must stay on station for long periods. Fleet destroyers are equipped for high speed and offensive action and are not the ideal design for this type of work. There was no equivalent of the British Black Swan class sloops or the River class frigate in the U.S. inventory when ‘'Drumbeat’’ started. This omission is highly surprising given that the USN had been involved in anti-submarine work in the Atlantic (see USS Reuben James) and war had been expected.

King is widely held to blame for the slow U.S. reaction (not the lack of specialised ASW warships, which was a longer term failure) at the time of the Drumbeat attack and the ensuing u-boat campaign[41]. The reasons for such a failure are not clear, but the following have been suggested: concentration of attention on the post-Pearl Harbor situation in the Pacific, arrogance towards proffered British advice, intelligence analyses and help, distrust towards intelligence in general, underestimation of the u-boat threat’s potency or just inattention[42].

Some sources do, however, defend King’s performance. The Mariners’ Museum directs attention to papers that show King’s encouragement of intelligence and cooperation with British counterparts[43]. While true, this occurred late in the day and was a response to the attacks, not an anticipation of them. Furthermore, King had not only gutted his own intelligence department but had not acted upon British intelligence, events or advice.

Contemporary reactions[edit]

The famous "Loose Lips Sink Ships" propaganda campaign in the US that started in 1942 was not so much designed to deny German agents knowledge of vessels' sailing times (there were no such agents anyway) but rather to keep American civilian morale high and avoid public criticism by reducing communication about how much shipping was being sunk during Operation Drumbeat[44] [45]

"The massacre enjoyed by the u-boats along our Atlantic Coast in 1942 was as much a national disaster as if saboteurs had destroyed half a dozen of our biggest war plants." Naval Air Station Quonset Point training manual[46]. Churchill Winn Roosevelt Marshall

See also[edit]

External links[edit]

References and notes[edit]

  1. ^ Gannon, Michael (1991). Operation Drumbeat. New York: Harper Collins. pp. p.389. ISBN 0-06-092088-2. 
  2. ^ Ireland, Bernard (2003). Battle of the Atlantic. Barnsley, UK: Pen & Sword Books. pp. p.87. ISBN 0 84415 001 1 Parameter error in {{isbn}}: Invalid ISBN.. 
  3. ^ Gannon, Michael (1991). Operation Drumbeat. New York: Harper Collins. pp. p.389. ISBN 0-06-092088-2. 
  4. ^ Gannon, Michael (1991). Operation Drumbeat. New York: Harper Collins. pp. p.296. ISBN 0-06-092088-2. 
  5. ^ Gannon, Michael (1991). Operation Drumbeat. New York: Harper Collins. pp. p.436. ISBN 0-06-092088-2. 
  6. ^ Gannon, Michael (1991). Operation Drumbeat. New York: Harper Collins. pp. p.296. ISBN 0-06-092088-2. 
  7. ^ Purnell, Tom. "The "Happy Time"". Canonesa, Convoy HX72 and U-100. Retrieved September 1, 2007. 
  8. ^ Gannon, Michael (1991). Operation Drumbeat. New York: Harper Collins. pp. p.93. ISBN 0-06-092088-2. 
  9. ^ Gannon, Michael (1991). Operation Drumbeat. New York: Harper Collins. pp. pp.82–84. ISBN 0-06-092088-2. 
  10. ^ Gannon, Michael (1991). Operation Drumbeat. New York: Harper Collins. pp. p.83. ISBN 0-06-092088-2. 
  11. ^ Gannon, Michael (1991). Operation Drumbeat. New York: Harper Collins. pp. p.51. ISBN 0-06-092088-2. 
  12. ^ Gannon, Michael (1991). Operation Drumbeat. New York: Harper Collins. pp. pp.86–87. ISBN 0-06-092088-2. 
  13. ^ Gannon, Michael (1991). Operation Drumbeat. New York: Harper Collins. pp. pp.91–92. ISBN 0-06-092088-2. 
  14. ^ Gannon, Michael (1991). Operation Drumbeat. New York: Harper Collins. pp. pp.187–188. ISBN 0-06-092088-2. 
  15. ^ Gannon, Michael (1991). Operation Drumbeat. New York: Harper Collins. pp. pp.145–151. ISBN 0-06-092088-2. 
  16. ^ Gannon, Michael (1991). Operation Drumbeat. New York: Harper Collins. pp. p.165. ISBN 0-06-092088-2. 
  17. ^ Gannon, Michael (1991). Operation Drumbeat. New York: Harper Collins. pp. pp.210–212. ISBN 0-06-092088-2. 
  18. ^ Gannon, Michael (1991). Operation Drumbeat. New York: Harper Collins. pp. p.412. ISBN 0-06-092088-2. 
  19. ^ Gannon, Michael (1991). Operation Drumbeat. New York: Harper Collins. pp. pp.173–174. ISBN 0-06-092088-2. 
  20. ^ Gannon, Michael (1991). Operation Drumbeat. New York: Harper Collins. pp. pp.211–212. ISBN 0-06-092088-2. 
  21. ^ Gannon, Michael (1991). Operation Drumbeat. New York: Harper Collins. pp. p.386. ISBN 0-06-092088-2. 
  22. ^ Gannon, Michael (1991). Operation Drumbeat. New York: Harper Collins. pp. pp.164–166. ISBN 0-06-092088-2. 
  23. ^ Gannon, Michael (1991). Operation Drumbeat. New York: Harper Collins. pp. p.98. ISBN 0-06-092088-2. 
  24. ^ Gannon, Michael (1991). Operation Drumbeat. New York: Harper Collins. pp. pp.11 & 98. ISBN 0-06-092088-2. 
  25. ^ Ireland, Bernard (2003). Battle of the Atlantic. Barnsley, UK: Pen & Sword Books. pp. p.77. ISBN 0 84415 001 1 Parameter error in {{isbn}}: Invalid ISBN.. 
  26. ^ Gannon, Michael (1991). Operation Drumbeat. New York: Harper Collins. pp. p.137. ISBN 0-06-092088-2. 
  27. ^ Gannon, Michael (1991). Operation Drumbeat. New York: Harper Collins. pp. p.176. ISBN 0-06-092088-2. 
  28. ^ Gannon, Michael (1991). Operation Drumbeat. New York: Harper Collins. pp. pp.181–182. ISBN 0-06-092088-2. 
  29. ^ Gannon, Michael (1991). Operation Drumbeat. New York: Harper Collins. pp. pp.84–88 & 90–92. ISBN 0-06-092088-2. 
  30. ^ Ireland, Bernard (2003). Battle of the Atlantic. Barnsley, UK: Pen & Sword Books. pp. p.80. ISBN 0 84415 001 1 Parameter error in {{isbn}}: Invalid ISBN.. 
  31. ^ Gannon, Michael (1991). Operation Drumbeat. New York: Harper Collins. pp. pp.210–212. ISBN 0-06-092088-2. 
  32. ^ Gannon, Michael (1991). Operation Drumbeat. New York: Harper Collins. pp. pp.189–190. ISBN 0-06-092088-2. 
  33. ^ Gannon, Michael (1991). Operation Drumbeat. New York: Harper Collins. pp. pp.160 & 211. ISBN 0-06-092088-2. 
  34. ^ Gannon, Michael (1991). Operation Drumbeat. New York: Harper Collins. pp. p.212. ISBN 0-06-092088-2. 
  35. ^ Gannon, Michael (1991). Operation Drumbeat. New York: Harper Collins. pp. p.171. ISBN 0-06-092088-2. 
  36. ^ Gannon, Michael (1991). Operation Drumbeat. New York: Harper Collins. pp. pp.380–381. ISBN 0-06-092088-2. 
  37. ^ Gannon, Michael (1991). Operation Drumbeat. New York: Harper Collins. pp. pp.386–387. ISBN 0-06-092088-2. 
  38. ^ "No.53 Squadron RAF". Royal Air Force History. Sept 2003. Retrieved September 2, 2007.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  39. ^ McNeill, Ross (March 17, 2005). "History of No. 53 Squadron". RAF Commands. Retrieved September 2, 2007. 
  40. ^ Gannon, Michael (1991). Operation Drumbeat. New York: Harper Collins. pp. p.296. ISBN 0-06-092088-2. 
  41. ^ Gannon, Michael (1991). Operation Drumbeat. New York: Harper Collins. pp. pp.411 – 415. ISBN 0-06-092088-2. 
  42. ^ Gannon, Michael (1991). Operation Drumbeat. New York: Harper Collins. pp. p.413. ISBN 0-06-092088-2. 
  43. ^ "Hunter Killers in the Atlantic". The Mariners' Museum. 2000. Retrieved September 3, 2007. 
  44. ^ Gannon, Michael (1991). Operation Drumbeat. New York: Harper Collins. pp. p.275. ISBN 0-06-092088-2. 
  45. ^ Gannon, Michael (1991). Operation Drumbeat. New York: Harper Collins. pp. p.378. ISBN 0-06-092088-2. 
  46. ^ Gannon, Michael (1991). Operation Drumbeat. New York: Harper Collins. pp. p.380. ISBN 0-06-092088-2. 

Bibliography[edit]

  • The War At Sea Vol II S W Roskill - HMSO
  • The Second World War Volume IV W S Churchill - Cassel and Co
  • The World War II Data Book John Ellis - BCA

Gannon, Michael (1991). Operation Drumbeat. New York: Harper Collins. ISBN 0-06-092088-2. 

  • Merchant Shipping and the Demands of War C B A Behrens - HMSO
  • The History of the Second World War E Baurer
  • A History of US Naval Operations in WW2 Vol I S E Morrison - US Navy
  • U-Boat War, three part Documentary - BFS Video, released in May 2001

Category:World War II Battle of the Atlantic

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