Army Air Forces Antisubmarine Command - Operations - Origins

Origins

The USAAF began flying antisubmarine patrols along the Atlantic coast immediately after the Pearl Harbor Attack. Initial patrols over the approaches to New York harbor were flown by First Air Force, I Bomber Command from Mitchel Field. Patrols over Boston were flown from Otis Field. However, despite the Battle of the Atlantic raging for the previous two years, the United States was not prepared for war against U-Boats. The United States lacked ships, aircraft, equipment, trained personnel, and a master plan to counter any serious submarine offensive.

The Navy's air arm in 1941 was as inadequate as its anti-submarine surface fleet. Initially, the Navy had no escort carriers, a type that eventually was very effective against the German submarines. It also lacked aircraft capable of long range patrols over the ocean to attack submarines when sighted. Prewar plans called for the USAAF to support naval forces in case of an emergency. To supplement its meager anti submarine forces, the Navy turned to the USAAF. Air Force doctrine, however, emphasized strategic bombing, and the Army Air Force had no equipment or trained personnel for the specialized job of patrolling against, detecting, and attacking submarines from the air.

Also, the sudden entry of the United States into World War II caught Kriegsmarine Admiral Doenitz by surprise, with no submarines immediately available to send to American coastal waters. Doenitz quickly allocated five long distance submarines, all he could quickly make ready, to Operation DRUMBEAT, his code name for operations against shipping in U.S. coastal sea lanes. These sailed from Lorient, France, between 23 and 27 December 1941.

On 31 December 1941 a Coast Guard cutter reported a periscope in Portland Channel, and on 7 January 1942 an Army plane sighted a submarine off the coast of New Jersey. On that same day the Navy reported the presence of a fleet of U-boats in the waters south of Newfoundland. The British merchant ship SS Cyclops was sunk off Nova Scotia on 11 January, 125 miles south-east of Cape Sable. Cyclops was the first ship sunk in the German U-boat campaign against the East Coast of North America. Three days later the tanker Norness went down southeast of Nontauk Point, Long Island.

These sinkings of merchant vessels along the Atlantic coast made it clear to the American public the grim realities of war. These attacks on commercial shipping were not only a drain on supply lines of our British Allies, which was perilously thin at best, but the attacks virtually on our Atlantic seaboard threatened the coastal commerce as well. In the remaining days of January 1942, 13 more ships were sunk by U-Boats off the Northeast Atlantic coast.

War had arrived in the territorial waters of the United States.

Read more about this topic:  Army Air Forces Antisubmarine Command, Operations

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