Second Happy Time

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Dixie Arrow torpedoed off Cape Hatteras by U-71, 26 March 1942 Allied tanker torpedoed.jpg
Dixie Arrow torpedoed off Cape Hatteras by U-71, 26 March 1942

The Second Happy Time, also known among German submarine commanders as the "American shooting season", [1] was the informal name for a phase in the Battle of the Atlantic during which Axis submarines attacked merchant shipping and Allied naval vessels along the east coast of North America. The first "Happy Time" was in 1940–41 in the North Atlantic and North Sea. Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini declared war on the United States on 11 December 1941 so their navies could begin the Second Happy Time. [2]

Battle of the Atlantic longest continuous military campaign in World War II

The Battle of the Atlantic was the longest continuous military campaign in World War II, running from 1939 to the defeat of Germany in 1945, and was a major part of the Naval history of World War II. At its core was the Allied naval blockade of Germany, announced the day after the declaration of war, and Germany's subsequent counter-blockade. It was at its height from mid-1940 through to the end of 1943.

Axis powers Alliance of countries defeated in World War II

The Axis powers, also known as "Rome–Berlin–Tokyo Axis", were the nations that fought in World War II against the Allies. The Axis powers agreed on their opposition to the Allies, but did not completely coordinate their activity.

First Happy Time

The early phase of the Battle of the Atlantic during which German Navy U-boats enjoyed significant success against the British Royal Navy and its Allies was referred to by U-boat crews as "the Happy Time", and later the First Happy Time, after a second successful period was encountered.


The Second Happy Time lasted from January 1942 to about August of that year and involved several German naval operations including Operation Paukenschlag (or Operation Drumbeat) and Operation Neuland. German submariners named it the happy time or the golden time as defense measures were weak and disorganized, [3] :p292 and the U-boats were able to inflict massive damage with little risk. During this period, Axis submarines sank 609 ships totaling 3.1 million tons and the loss of thousands of lives, mainly those of merchant mariners, against a loss of only 22 U-boats. Although less than losses during the 1917 campaign of the First World War, [4] it was roughly one quarter of all shipping sunk by U-boats during the entire Second World War.

U-boat German submarine of the First or Second World War

U-boat is an anglicised version of the German word U-Boot[ˈuːboːt](listen), a shortening of Unterseeboot, literally "underseaboat." While the German term refers to any submarine, the English one refers specifically to military submarines operated by Germany, particularly in the First and Second World Wars. Although at times they were efficient fleet weapons against enemy naval warships, they were most effectively used in an economic warfare role and enforcing a naval blockade against enemy shipping. The primary targets of the U-boat campaigns in both wars were the merchant convoys bringing supplies from Canada and other parts of the British Empire, and from the United States to the United Kingdom and to the Soviet Union and the Allied territories in the Mediterranean. German submarines also destroyed Brazilian merchant ships during World War II, causing Brazil to declare war on the Axis powers in 1944.

World War II 1939–1945 global war

World War II, also known as the Second World War, was a global war that lasted from 1939 to 1945. The vast majority of the world's countries—including all the great powers—eventually formed two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis. A state of total war emerged, directly involving more than 100 million people from over 30 countries. The major participants threw their entire economic, industrial, and scientific capabilities behind the war effort, blurring the distinction between civilian and military resources. World War II was the deadliest conflict in human history, marked by 50 to 85 million fatalities, most of whom were civilians in the Soviet Union and China. It included massacres, the genocide of the Holocaust, strategic bombing, premeditated death from starvation and disease, and the only use of nuclear weapons in war.

Historian Michael Gannon called it "America's Second Pearl Harbor" and placed the blame for the nation's failure to respond quickly to the attacks on the inaction of Admiral Ernest J. King, commander-in-chief of the U.S. fleet. Others however have pointed out that the belated institution of a convoy system was at least in substantial part due to a severe shortage of suitable escort vessels, without which convoys were seen as actually more vulnerable than lone ships. [5]

Michael V. Gannon was a historian, educator, priest, and war correspondent.

Attack on Pearl Harbor Surprise attack by the Imperial Japanese Navy on the U.S. Pacific Fleet in Pearl Harbor in Hawaii

The Attack on Pearl Harbor was a surprise military strike by the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service against the United States naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii Territory, on the morning of December 7, 1941. The attack, also known as the Battle of Pearl Harbor, led to the United States' formal entry into World War II. The Japanese military leadership referred to the attack as the Hawaii Operation and Operation AI, and as Operation Z during its planning.

Convoy group of vehicles traveling together for mutual support and protection

A convoy is a group of vehicles, typically motor vehicles or ships, traveling together for mutual support and protection. Often, a convoy is organized with armed defensive support. It may also be used in a non-military sense, for example when driving through remote areas. Arriving at the scene of a major emergency with a well-ordered unit and intact command structure can be another motivation.



Upon Germany's declaration of war on the United States on 11 December 1941 just after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the U.S. was, on paper at least, in a fortunate position. Where the other combatants on the Allied side had already lost thousands of trained sailors and airmen, and were experiencing shortages of ships and aircraft, the U.S. was at full strength (save for its recent losses at Pearl Harbor). The U.S. had the opportunity to learn about modern naval warfare by observing the conflicts in the North Sea and the Mediterranean, and through a close relationship with the United Kingdom. The U.S. Navy had already gained significant experience in countering U-boats in the Atlantic, particularly from April 1941 when President Franklin D. Roosevelt extended the "Pan-American Security Zone" east almost as far as Iceland. The United States had massive manufacturing capacity, including certainly the largest and possibly the most advanced electrical engineering industry in the world. Finally, the U.S. had a favorable geographical position from a defensive point of view: the port of New York, for example, was 3,000 miles to the west of the U-boat bases in Brittany.

North Sea A marginal sea of the Atlantic Ocean located between the United Kingdom, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and France

The North Sea is a marginal sea of the Atlantic Ocean located between the United Kingdom, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and France. An epeiric sea on the European continental shelf, it connects to the ocean through the English Channel in the south and the Norwegian Sea in the north. It is more than 970 kilometres (600 mi) long and 580 kilometres (360 mi) wide, with an area of around 570,000 square kilometres (220,000 sq mi).

Franklin D. Roosevelt 32nd President of the United States

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, often referred to by his initials FDR, was an American statesman and political leader who served as the 32nd president of the United States from 1933 until his death in 1945. A Democrat, he won a record four presidential elections and became a central figure in world events during the first half of the 20th century. Roosevelt directed the federal government during most of the Great Depression, implementing his New Deal domestic agenda in response to the worst economic crisis in U.S. history. As a dominant leader of his party, he built the New Deal Coalition, which realigned American politics into the Fifth Party System and defined American liberalism throughout the middle third of the 20th century. His third and fourth terms were dominated by World War II. He is often rated by scholars as one of the three greatest U.S. presidents, along with George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.

Pan-American Security Zone

During the early years of World War II before the United States became a formal belligerent, President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared a region of the Atlantic, adjacent to the Americas as the Pan-American Security Zone. Within this zone, United States naval ships escorted convoys bound for Europe. In practice, this greatly aided the United Kingdom, which was largely dependent upon the Atlantic convoys.

U-boat commander Vizeadmiral Karl Dönitz saw the entry of the U.S. into the war as a golden opportunity to strike heavy blows in the tonnage war and Hitler ordered an assault on America on 12 December 1941. The standard Type VII U-boat had insufficient range to patrol off the coast of North America; the only suitable weapons he had on hand were the larger Type IX boats. [6] These were less maneuverable and slower to submerge, making them much more vulnerable than the Type VIIs. They were also fewer in number.

Karl Dönitz President of Germany; admiral in command of German submarine forces during World War II

Karl Dönitz was a German admiral who played a major role in the naval history of World War II. Dönitz briefly succeeded Adolf Hitler as the head of state of Nazi Germany.

A tonnage war is a military strategy aimed at merchant shipping. The premise is that the enemy has a finite number of ships and a finite capacity to build replacements. The concept was made famous by German Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz, who wrote:

"The shipping of the enemy powers is one great whole. It is therefore in this connection immaterial where a ship is sunk—it must still in the final analysis be replaced by a new ship".

Opening moves

Immediately after war was declared on the United States, Dönitz began to implement Operation Paukenschlag (often translated as "drumbeat" or "drumroll", [7] and literally as "timpani beat"). Only six of the twenty operational Type IX boats were available, and one of those six encountered mechanical trouble. This left just five long-range submarines for the opening moves of the campaign. [8]

Timpani musical instruments in the percussion family

Timpani or kettledrums are musical instruments in the percussion family. It is a type of drum categorised as a semispherical drum, they consist of a membrane called a head stretched over a large bowl traditionally made of copper. Most modern timpani are pedal timpani and can be tuned quickly and accurately to specific pitches by skilled players through the use of a movable foot-pedal. They are played by striking the head with a specialized drum stick called a timpani stick or timpani mallet. Timpani evolved from military drums to become a staple of the classical orchestra by the last third of the 18th century. Today, they are used in many types of ensembles, including concert bands, marching bands, orchestras, and even in some rock bands.

Loaded with the maximum possible amounts of fuel, food and ammunition, the first of the five Type IXs left Lorient in France on 18 December 1941, the others following over the next few days. Each carried sealed orders to be opened after passing 20°W, and directing them to different parts of the North American coast. No charts or sailing directions were available: Kapitänleutnant 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 harbor. [3] :p137

Each U-boat made routine signals on exiting the Bay of Biscay, which were picked up by the British Y service and plotted in Rodger Winn's London Submarine Tracking Room, which were then able to follow the progress of the Type IXs across the Atlantic, and cable an early warning to the Royal Canadian Navy. Working on the slimmest of evidence, Winn correctly deduced the target area and passed a detailed warning to Admiral Ernest J. King, the commander-in-chief of the U.S. fleet, [9] of a "heavy concentration of U-boats off the North American seaboard", including the five boats already on station and further groups that were in transit, 21 U-boats in all. Rear-Admiral Edwin T. Layton of the U.S. Combined Operations and Intelligence Center then informed the responsible area commanders, but little or nothing else was done. [3] :Chapter 9

The primary target area was the Eastern Sea Frontier, commanded by Rear-Admiral Adolphus Andrews and covering the area from Maine to North Carolina. Andrews had practically no modern forces to work with: on the water he commanded seven Coast Guard cutters, four converted yachts, three 1919-vintage patrol boats, two gunboats dating back to 1905, and four wooden submarine chasers. About 100 aircraft were available, but these were short-range models only suitable for training. As a consequence of the traditionally antagonistic relationship between the U.S. Navy and the Army Air Forces, all larger aircraft remained under USAAF control, and in any case the USAAF was neither trained nor equipped for anti-submarine work. [3] :p182

Allied response

Animation simulating a tanker silhouetted against lights of a city. When partial blackouts were introduced towards the middle of 1942, skyglow continued to be a problem in coastal cities. Noblackout.gif
Animation simulating a tanker silhouetted against lights of a city. When partial blackouts were introduced towards the middle of 1942, skyglow continued to be a problem in coastal cities.

British experience in the first two years of World War II, which included the massive losses incurred to their shipping during the "First Happy Time" confirmed that ships sailing in convoy — with or without escort – were far safer than ships sailing alone. The British recommended that merchant ships should avoid obvious standard routings wherever possible; navigational markers, lighthouses, and other aids to the enemy should be removed, and a strict coastal blackout be enforced. In addition, any available air and sea forces should perform daylight patrols to restrict the U-boats' flexibility.

For several months, none of the recommendations were followed. Coastal shipping continued to sail along marked routes and burn normal navigation lights. Boardwalk communities ashore were only 'requested' to 'consider' turning their illuminations off on 18 December 1941, but not in the cities; they did not want to offend the tourism, recreation and business sectors. [3] :p186 On 12 January 1942, Admiral Andrews was warned that "three or four U-boats" were about to commence operations against coastal shipping (in fact there were three), [3] :p212 but he refused to institute a convoy system on the grounds that this would only provide the U-boats with more targets.

Despite the urgent need for action, little was done to try to combat the U-boats. The USN was desperately short of specialized anti-submarine vessels. President Roosevelt's 1941 decision to "loan" fifty obsolete World War I-era destroyers to Britain in exchange for foreign bases, was largely irrelevant. These destroyers had a large turning circle that made them ineffective for anti-submarine work; however, their firepower would have been a significant defense against surface attack, which was the major threat in the early part of World War II. The massive new naval construction program had prioritized other types of ships. While freighters and tankers were being sunk in coastal waters, the destroyers that were available remained inactive in port. At least 25 Atlantic Convoy Escort Command Destroyers had been recalled to the US East Coast at the time of the first attacks, including seven at anchor in New York Harbor. [3] :p238

When U-123 sank the 9,500-ton Norwegian tanker Norness within sight of Long Island in the early hours of 14 January, no warships were dispatched to investigate, allowing the U-123 to sink the 6,700 ton British tanker Coimbra off Sandy Hook on the following night before proceeding south towards New Jersey. By this time there were 13 destroyers idle in New York Harbor, yet none were employed 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 was operating in coastal waters that were so shallow that they barely allowed it to conceal itself, let alone evade a depth charge attack.

Operation Drumbeat

For the five Type IX boats in the first wave of attack, known as Operation Drumbeat, it was a bonanza. They cruised along the coast, safely submerged through the day, and surfacing at night to pick off merchant vessels outlined against the lights of the cities.

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

When the first wave of U-boats returned to port through the early part of February, Dönitz wrote that each commander "had such an abundance of opportunities for attack that he could not by any means utilize them all: there were times when there were up to ten ships in sight, sailing with all lights burning on peacetime courses."

A significant flaw in U.S. pre-war planning was the failure to provide ships suitable for convoy-escort work. Escort vessels travel at relatively slow speeds; carry a large number of depth charges; must be highly maneuverable; and must stay on station for long periods. The fleet destroyers equipped for high speed and offensive action that were available were not the ideal design for this type of escort work. When the war started, the U.S. had no equivalent of the more effective British Black Swan-class sloops or the River-class frigate in their inventory. This blunder was highly surprising since the American Navy (USN) had previously been involved in anti-submarine work in the Atlantic (see USS Reuben James) and at the time was marginally aggravated by the loss of the destroyers "loaned" to Britain through Lend-Lease; however, these vessels would have been largely obsolete for anti-submarine purposes due to their counter-attack vulnerability and inherent inability to maneuver as required to combat submarines. The U.S. also lacked both aircraft suitable for anti-submarine patrol and any aircrew trained to use them at that time.

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 admiral's claims[ who? ] to the contrary had become discredited.

Operation Neuland

Meanwhile, the second wave of Type IX U-boats had arrived in North American waters, and the third wave (Operation Neuland) had reached its patrol area off the oil ports of the Caribbean. With such easy pickings available and all Type IX U-boats already committed, Dönitz began sending shorter-range Type VII U-boats to the U.S. East Coast as well. This required extraordinary measures: cramming every conceivable space with provisions, some even filling the fresh water tanks with diesel oil, and crossing the Atlantic at very low speed on a single engine to conserve fuel.

In the United States there was still no concerted response to the attacks. Overall responsibility rested with Admiral King, but he was preoccupied with the Japanese onslaught in the Pacific. Admiral Andrews' North Atlantic Coastal Frontier was expanded to take in South Carolina and renamed the Eastern Sea Frontier, 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. Rodger Wynn's detailed weekly U-boat situation reports from the Submarine Tracking Room in London were available but ignored.

U.S. propaganda

Popular alarm at the sinkings was dealt with by a combination of secrecy and misleading propaganda. The US 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.

Chronology of attacks

Allied counter-measures

The decision to implement convoys and blackout coastal towns to make ships more difficult to see came slowly. The situation began to change on 1 April when Andrews restricted ships to traveling only during daylight hours between protected anchorages. On 14 May 1942 the first coastal convoy sailed from Hampton Roads for Key West; and convoys later extended northward to Boston, where they connected with the BX convoys to Halifax initiated by the Royal Canadian Navy in March. [41] Full convoys produced 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 [42] and Andrews' 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 defense of the U.S. East Coast. The British also transferred 53 Squadron, RAF Coastal Command to Quonset Point, Rhode Island to shield 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 back to Norfolk, Virginia until the end of 1942. Royal Navy and Royal Canadian Navy ships took over escort duties in the Caribbean and on the Aruba–New York tanker run. Fast CU convoys were organized to maintain petroleum fuel stockpiles in the British Isles. [43]

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

See also

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  1. Miller, Nathan: War at Sea: A Naval History of World War II. Oxford University Press, 1997, p. 295. ISBN   0-19-511038-2
  2. Duncan Redford; Philip D. Grove (2014). The Royal Navy: A History Since 1900. I.B. Tauris. p. 182
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Michael Gannon, Operation Drumbeat: the dramatic true story of Germany's first U-boat attacks along the American coast in World War II, 1990, Harper and Row publishers, ISBN   0-06-016155-8
  4. Churchill, Winston (1950). The Hinge of Fate. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company. p. 111.
  5. Timothy J. Ryan and Jan M. Copes To Die Gallantly – The Battle of the Atlantic, 1994 Westview Press, Chapter 7.
  6. Blair p.438
  7. Fairbank White, David – Bitter Ocean – The dramatic story of the Battle of the Atlantic 1939–1945, 2006, Headline Publishing Group ISBN   978-0-7553-1089-0, p. 146
  8. Blair pp.438–441
  9. Fairbank White, p. 147
  10. Cressman (2000) p.69
  11. 1 2 3 4 Cressman (2000) p.70
  12. 1 2 3 4 Cressman (2000) p.71
  13. 1 2 3 4 5 Cressman (2000) p.72
  14. 1 2 3 4 Cressman (2000) p.73
  15. 1 2 3 Cressman (2000) p.74
  16. Cressman (2000) p.75
  17. 1 2 Cressman (2000) p.76
  18. 1 2 3 4 Cressman (2000) p.77
  19. 1 2 3 Cressman (2000) p.79
  20. 1 2 3 4 Cressman (2000) p.81
  21. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 Cressman (2000) p.82
  22. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 Cressman (2000) p.83
  23. 1 2 3 4 5 Cressman (2000) p.84
  24. 1 2 3 Cressman (2000) p.85
  25. 1 2 3 4 5 Cressman (2000) p.86
  26. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Cressman (2000) p.87
  27. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Cressman (2000) p.88
  28. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Cressman (2000) p.89
  29. 1 2 Cressman (2000) p.90
  30. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Cressman (2000) p.91
  31. 1 2 Cressman (2000) p.92
  32. Cressman (2000) p.93
  33. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Cressman (2000) p.94
  34. 1 2 3 4 Cressman (2000) p.95
  35. 1 2 3 4 Cressman (2000) p.96
  36. Cressman (2000) p.97
  37. 1 2 Cressman (2000) p.98
  38. 1 2 Cressman (2000) p.99
  39. 1 2 Cressman (2000) p.100
  40. 1 2 3 Cressman (2000) p.103
  41. Churchill, Winston (1950). The Hinge of Fate. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company. pp. 122&123.
  42. Fairbank White, p. 149
  43. "The Battle of the Atlantic".
  44. Cressman (2000) p.106
  45. Cressman (2000) p.108
  46. Cressman (2000) p.109
  47. Cressman (2000) p.110
  48. Cressman (2000) p.112
  49. Boyle, Alan (6 May 2015). "How an Expedition to Study a Sunken Nazi U-Boat Rescued a Reputation". NBC News. Retrieved 7 May 2015.


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