During World War II, German U-boats, or submarines, were a major threat to Allied ships in the Atlantic Ocean. The U-boats were responsible for sinking thousands of cargo ships, oil tankers, and naval vessels, which significantly hindered the Allies’ wartime efforts. But just how close did these deadly submarines get to American shores?
The answer is that German U-boats got much closer to American shores than many people realize. In fact, U-boats were able to sink ships off the coast of the United States within sight of land. The first such attack occurred on January 14, 1942, when the U-123 sank the tanker R.P. Resor off the coast of North Carolina. This was followed by other attacks, including the sinking of the tanker SS Venore off the coast of Virginia on April 8, 1942, and the torpedoing of the tanker SS Gulfamerica off the coast of Florida on May 10, 1942.
The U-boats were able to get so close to American shores for several reasons. First, the United States was not initially engaged in the war, so its coastal defenses were not as strong as they would later become. Additionally, most of the cargo ships and tankers sailing in American waters were unarmed, making them easy targets for the U-boats. Finally, the U-boats were able to operate with relative impunity in the Gulf of Mexico and the waters off the east coast of the United States, as their tracks were not being monitored by American aircraft or surface vessels.
However, the U-boats’ success in attacking ships off the coast of the United States eventually led to a change in tactics. The United States began to deploy more aircraft to patrol its coastal waters, and it also began to institute convoy systems, in which a group of ships would sail together, escorted by naval vessels and aircraft. These measures made it much more difficult for the U-boats to operate in American waters, and their attacks declined significantly in the latter half of 1942.
Overall, the U-boats were able to get dangerously close to American shores during World War II, and their attacks had a significant impact on the war effort. However, thanks to improved defenses and tactics, the United States was ultimately able to prevent the U-boats from inflicting greater damage on its naval and commercial fleets. Today, the memory of the U-boat threat serves as a reminder of the dangers of unrestricted submarine warfare, and the importance of strong coastal defenses.