UBOATS IN THE GULF OF MEXICO
Not every day has been a day in paradise along the Texas coast. Unknown to many, in the early days of U.S. involvement in World War II, German U-boats clouded Gulf waters with an ominous presence. With over 70 naval and merchant ships falling victim to Germany's “Gulf fleet,” there was cause for real concern -- and for the safety of sailors and even residents of the Texas coast
By Logan Hawkes
It's hard to imagine as we look out across the sparkling waters of the Gulf on a sunny morning that there has ever been much to fear on our peaceful coast and its surrounding blue waters -- other than an occasional shark encounter or a brush with unexpected weather. But it wasn't always so.
Not long after Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto launched his fateful surprise attack at Pearl Harbor in late 1941, the High German command ordered the 10th U-boat flotilla to begin war time operations in the Gulf of Mexico. The primary objective was to disrupt the vital flow of oil carried by tankers from ports in Texas and Louisiana and to impede the flow of military hardware and supplies to the European front.
The Germans were exceedingly successful in their Gulf campaign sending 56 vessels to the bottom; 39 of these are now believed to be in state or Federal waters off the Texas, Louisiana, and Florida coastline. In fact, naval historians tell us that Germany's concentrated war effort in the Gulf of Mexico in 1942 and early 1943 represent one of the most celebrated sea campaigns of all time. At least two U-boat Captains earned Germany's Distinguished Iron Cross for their efforts, and the campaign is credited with effectively disrupting U.S. oil and gas supplies for the first half of the war.
Scary Times in the Texas Valley
Ask many Valley old timers about the “war days” in South Texas and you'll get assorted stories and tales, enough to fill a book and far too many to recount here. But unlike many parts of the country, South Texas was a hot bed of conspiracy theories, real and present dangers, and a fear of direct war time threat. Apparently the concerns were not without foundation.
For one, the political climate in neighboring Mexico was extremely volatile. Agents of the German war machine were known to be active throughout Mexico. Nazi Germany was the leading importer of Mexican oil, accounting for just over half the country's annual production. Italy, another member of the Axis coalition, imported another 25-percent of Mexico's crude. To counter the measure, oil and gas production in Texas and Louisiana was elevated. Port Isabel, for example, was the site of large oil refinery and a shipping point for oil and gas headed to the war, and as such was considered by many as a possible target for U-boat shelling or even a shore scurry.
While U-boat activity was largely limited to 1942-43, there was at one point no less than a fleet of 20 U-boats that patrolled Gulf waters regularly in search of allied supply ships. To prevent widespread panic, the U.S. War Department decided to keep the lid on the threat, but it wasn't long before merchant sailors and fishing vessel crews spread the word that not all ships in the Gulf were friendly. The U.S. Army, Navy and Coast Guard were assigned to beaches of Padre Island and the waters surrounding her, watching and listening posts for U-boat activity and possible ground landings on U.S. soil.
So great was the fear of U-boat activity in the Gulf that residents along the lower Texas coast of the time would jokingly remark “there are so many German U-boats in the Gulf, it's a wonder they don't torpedo each other.”
The Nazi-Mexico Connection
In the book “Who Are We, The Challenges to America's National Identity”, authored by political activist Samuel Huntington, a Harvard professor and former advisor to Lyndon Johnson, we are warned of another major terrorist attack on U.S. soil in the near future under what he terms “Hispanic cover.” Huntington and supporters warn of the dangers presented by the Union Nacional Sinarquista (UNS-National Synarchist Union) in Mexico, an organization created in 1937 by Germany's Nazi Party, operating through the Spanish Falange. Although vastly diminished in numbers today compared to then, this same organization continues to actively organize in Mexico and in the United States.
U-103 -- IXB -- One ship sunk
U-508 -- IXC -- Six ships sunk
U-507 -- IXC -- Eight ships sunk
U-506 -- IXC -- Eight ships sunk
U-106 -- IXB -- Five ships sunk
U-504 -- IXC -- No ships sunk
U-753 -- VIIC -- Four ships sunk
U-67 -- IXC -- Eight ships sunk
U-129 -- IXC -- Six ships sunk
U-134 -- VIIC -- No ships sunk
U-154 -- IXC -- One ship sunk
U-157 -- IXC -- No ships sunk
U-158 -- IXC -- Six ships sunk
U-509 -- IXC -- No ships sunk
U-171 -- IXC -- Three ships sunk
U-571 -- VIIC -- Three ships sunk
U-84 -- VIIB -- Five ships sunk
U-166 -- IXC -- Two ships sunk
U-600 -- VIIC -- No ships sunk
U-183 -- IXC/40 -- One ship sunk
U-155 -- IXC -- Two ships sunk
U-527 -- IXC/40 -- No ships sunk
U-518 -- IXC -- No ships sunk
U-193 -- IXC/40 -- One ship sunk
Huntington suggests the Nazi efforts of the `30s and `40s are still alive and well in Latin America and continue to pose a threat as more Hispanic intellectuals and activists are introduced to its Marxist philosophies.
But that's a story for another time.
As for the U-boats of the Gulf, only one was officially sunk by Allied forces, the U-166, who still sits nearly a mile below the Gulf surface just a few miles from the mouth of the Mississippi river, a few hundred yards away from her last victim, the passenger ship SS Robert E. Lee.
Merchant shipping received the full weight of the U-boat blitz, which gave the Gulf the melancholy distinction of having the most sinkings in May (41 ships, 219,867 gross tons) of any area in any month during the entire war.
The last ship sunk by a U-boat in the Gulf was Dec. 4, 1943. U-193 was patrolling off the southeastern Florida coast when she encountered the brand new tanker “Touchet,” which was carrying 140,000 barrels of oil. At 2:30 a.m., the first of three torpedoes struck the ship.
In early 1943, U.S. Naval ships were assigned convoys of freighters and passenger ships and the threat of U-boats quickly diminished.