06 May, 2012

06 May 1945

438th AAA AW BN
APO 230 % Postmaster, N.Y.
6 May, 1945     0845

My dearest sweetheart –

It’s Sunday morning again – but it’s a gloomy one. It’s cold, grey, and drizzling outside – a good day to stay indoors. We’ve had rotten weather for about two weeks now, and we should be due soon for some nice balmy Spring. I had planned to go up to Battalion today but it’s not good weather for jeep driving and I’ll just stick around here. I don’t’ think I’ll be here much longer, though; things are pretty well organized and besides – in the last arrival of Russian, there were two Russian doctors. The plan is – as much as possible – to have the ex-prisoners run their own camps. So I’ll be going back one of these days, although there isn’t a damn thing to do there.

The news, of course, continues to be excellent, and each news broadcast, it seems – has some important development announced. There’s not much left now – but we’re all waiting for the actual statement from Shaef that all hostilities have ceased. Then – darling – anticlimax or not – battalion headquarters is going to get pie-eyed, and no doubt, the rest of the Army too. We’ve planned this from back in Normandy and not long ago we came across a cache of liquor that we’ve put away. There’s enough for every officer and man in the battery and it will be passed out at the appropriate time.

Talking about Normandy reminds me, dear, that not a heck of a lot of troops around here have been on the continent longer or as long as we. The fact is that most of the outfits fighting around here didn’t get going until sometime after the breakthrough at St. Lo.

Well yesterday, sweetheart, I really got some good distribution in my mail. They sent it down to me. There was a letter from you, 25 April, one from Eleanor – same date, one from Dad A in Ohio – same date, and one from Lawrence – 20 April. Now that’s the kind of mail a fellow can’t complain about, – so I didn’t complain. I was sorry to read that you were still apparently run down after your trip to New York. And what in the world did you eat that put your stomach on the bum for so long?

You philosophized a bit in that letter – about time, separation and change. Yes, darling – it will be two years soon, but unlike you, I don’t feel we’ve changed – or I should say “I”. I really mean that, too, although when I get home – I suppose I’ll be told differently. I feel about the same, weigh about the same – and have pretty nearly the same outlook on life. How much energy I have in comparison to what I had when I first joined the Army, I can’t exactly say, because it has been some time since I had to expend any; by that I mean that Army life kills one’s incentive, but I‘m pretty sure I’ll have all I used to have when I’m a civilian once again. I don’t know in what other respects I may have changed. Mature? I think I was mature before; Affected by the horrors of war? I haven’t been affected – I’ve just had my eyes opened, but it hasn’t made the ruffian out of me that almost everyone expects you to become. I honestly think I’m about the same. The one thing I’ll never get over though is the fact that this damned war has cheated me of some very valuable time – cheated us, darling – but when you consider that so many others have been cheated of life itself – well – I have to stop complaining. I pray only, darling, that I get home safely as soon as possible so we can see each other, talk, discuss, plan – and if possible – get married without delay. Like you, dear – that is foremost in my mind these days – but I’m doing the best I can to be patient.

And now – over to the Infirmary for a couple of Russian lessons. I can now say in Russian “2 tablets every 3 hours” – and everybody, dear, is getting the same instructions, regardless of the tablet or the disease.

Love to the folks – and

All my everlasting love –


about The East Coast Battle of the Atlantic

Ship attacked by a U-Boat off North Carolina

The last actions of the Battle of the Atlantic in American waters took place on 5-6 May 1945. There were two such actions, against U-853 off the Rhode Island coast, and U 881, south of Cape Race, Newfoundland, both sunk during the same period.

Following Nazi Germany’s declaration of war on the US on 11 December 1941, the U-boat Arm of the Kriegsmarine attacked American shipping in earnest, beginning in January 1942 with "Operation Drumbeat". While the nation was still stunned by the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, German U-boats began prowling the waters off the Atlantic East Coast.The U-boat Arm continued to make offensive patrols against US coastal shipping, while German wolf-packs searched for and attacked convoys in mid-ocean.

For seven months, from mid-January to early August 1942, German U-boats would take control of America’s East Coast waters, sinking freighters and oil and gasoline tankers—anything and everything steaming off the coast. Ship by sinking ship, the Nazis achieved a victory over the United States comparable to and even more devastating than the one the Japanese had enjoyed at Pearl Harbor a few weeks earlier. For months, the US Navy failed to come up with a plan to end the slaughter.

Here is a link for an excellent write-up on the first six months of U-Boat warfare in 1942:

Meanwhile, the American people were not being told how close they were to disaster. Concealed by censorship, it was a crisis that embarrassed Washington, panicked Britain, frightened coastal communities and nearly changed the course of history. Three hundred ninety-seven ships -- tankers, freighters and transports --- were sunk or damaged in just half a year. Nearly 5,000 people burned to death, were crushed, drowned, or simply vanished into the vast, endless sea. Few people realized how close to home the war had come, but Outer Banks residents became used to hearing explosions and seeing ships on fire off the coast. Hundreds of ships were blown from the water off Virginia and North Carolina. Coast Guardsmen, Navy crews and civilians saw the evidence firsthand, as beaches became coated with oil from stricken tankers and bodies washed ashore. Survivors would tell horrifying stories of shipwreck and flames. The unlucky ones would drift for days and weeks, dying one by one of starvation and exposure. Bloated corpses would wash ashore or simply disappear beneath the gray Atlantic.

Here is a video of interviews with some who saw the results of some U-boats:

Several ships were torpedoed within sight of East Coast cities such as New York and Boston; indeed, some civilians sat on beaches and watched battles between U.S. and German ships. At the end of April of 1942, Commander in Chief of the US Navy Ernest King and Admiral Adolphus “Dolly” Andrews, commander of the Eastern Sea Frontier of the United States, agreed that Andrews would take direct control over tanker sailings. All tanker traffic on the coast was ordered into port to await further orders. While Andrews worked on what to do next, the seaborne hauling of oil was halted, which hampered the Allied war effort from the oil-hungry factories of New England all the way to the empty petrol tanks of old England. A solution was needed fast.

By mid-May planning was coming together for a true convoy system for the Eastern Sea Frontier. As convoys were implemented, U-boat skippers began to notice that sightings of individual ships occurred much less frequently. When ships were sighted, they were found in clusters with trawlers, cutters, and destroyers scurrying about in escort. Overhead, Army and Navy patrol planes kept an eye out for subs. The risks of attacking grew as the waters and skies filled with sub-hunters. The rejuvenated American effort began to take a toll on the Germans. The coast guard’s Icarus sank U-352, and army pilot Lieutenant Harry Kane dropped two depth-bombs on the U-701 in a perfect attack.


In May and June 1942, as the convoy system was still being phased in (with increasing enthusiasm from King, a former foe of convoys), there were 87 attacks on Allied shipping. In July and August, with well-escorted convoys moving under air cover and with the coast finally blacked out at nighttime, there were only 26. But in the first half of 1942, the U-boats had scored the most one-sided and damaging victory against the United States of any foreign naval power. Every month of Operation Drumbeat German subs had destroyed 3.5 percent of the tanker fleet for a total of 22 percent. The operation caused major disruptions in war-material production and in the shipping of supplies to the war fronts.

By 1945 U-Boat actions had been reduced to pin pricks, but their potential forced the Allies to maintain large naval and air forces, and expend considerable resources, to counter the threat. During the first five months of 1945, the U-boat Arm dispatched 19 U-boat patrols to American waters, including seven sailings constituting group Seewolf, the last wolf pack of the Battle of the Atlantic.

On 4 May 1945, U-boat Headquarters sent a signal to all U-boats ordering the end of attacks on Allied shipping effective 8 AM May 5th. That day there were just nine still at large; six off the US coast, and three Seewolf boats in mid-ocean. Of these, two were involved in action with the United States Navy, the last actions in American waters during the Atlantic campaign. At 5:40 PM. On 5 May, U-853, lying in wait off Point Judith, Rhode Island, sighted and fired on SS Black Point, a collier underway for Boston, Massachusetts. Her torpedoes struck, and within 15 minutes, Black Point had capsized in 95 feet (29 m) of water, the last US-flagged merchant ship sunk in World War II. Twelve men died and 34 were rescued.

SS Black Point

According to former President of C.H. Sprague & Son Co., which operated the SS Black Point:
Her Captain at the time she was sunk was Charles Prior, now deceased, from South Portland, Maine. It was a little after 1800, and he had just come onto the Bridge. The ship was coming out of Long Island sound, about 3 miles from Point Judith, Rhode Island headed for Boston Edison with 8,000 tons of coal. He had just reached in his pocket for a cigarette when the explosion occurred. He told us later, "I can't remember whether I lit that cigarette, or swallowed it!"
One of the rescuing ships — SS Kamen — sent a report of the torpedoing that was picked up the destroyer USS Ericsson, destroyer escorts USS Amick and Atherton, and frigate USS Moberly; they discovered U-853 bottomed in 108 feet (33 m), and dropped more than 100 depth charges through the night.

U-853 and crew

USS Moberly dropped hedgehog depth charges and an explosion ensued.

The next morning, on 6 May 1945, two blimps from Lakehurst, New Jersey — K-16 and K-58 — joined the attack, locating oil slicks and marking suspected locations with smoke and dye markers. K-16 also attacked with 7.2 inch (180 mm) rocket bombs. Finally, planking, life rafts, a chart tabletop, clothing, and an officer's cap floated to the surface, indicating destruction with all 55 men. U-853 was destroyed at sometime between midnight, when success was first claimed, and 1225, when it was confirmed.

On 6 and 7 May 1945, Navy divers attempted to enter the wreck to recover the captain's safe and the papers within, but failed. Recreational divers first visited the site in 1953. In 1960 a recreational diver brought up a body from the wreck. This provoked former Navy admirals and clergy to petition the US government for restrictions on disturbing the dead. The German crewman was buried with full military honors in Newport, Rhode Island. At least two recreational divers have died from exploring the wreckage. Renowned deep sea diver Stephen Hardick perished in 2005 while filming the U-boat.

"Remains" remain in wreckage of U-853

Also on 6 May, shortly after day-break, the destroyer escort USS Farquhar — assigned to the Mission Bay hunter-killer group — detected U-881, a Seewolf boat running submerged 300 miles (260 nautical miles; 480 km) south-east of Cape Race, Newfoundland. Making a sudden attack, Farquhar closed and dropped 13 depth charges in a single attack, which destroyed U-881 with the loss of all hands.

These were the last U-boats destroyed in action in American waters.

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