The U-boat offensive

Today marks the 70th anniversary of the start of the German U-boat offensive along the U.S. East Coast. On January 13, 1942, U-boats began attacking American and Allied tanker ships in a brilliantly conceived plan that was remarkably successful at the outset. From January to August, German U-boats sank more than 600 merchant ships right off the coast of the United States. From Maine to Florida, residents saw U-boats destroy Allied shipping. Bathers on Cape Cod, Virginia Beach, the Outer Banks of North Carolina, and the Florida coast watched in horror many times as ships were sunk and U-boats surfaced to finish off tankers or ships that were already crippled by torpedoes. With most of the American Navy having been destroyed at Pearl Harbor, the U.S. was defenseless during this period. It wasn’t until later in 1942 and into 1943 that the tide began to turn. The U.S. began producing enough ships and planes to go on the offensive against the U-boats. By late 1943, and into 1944, U-boat crews suffered enormous casualties. In my book, Due to Enemy Action (now available exclusively as an e-book), I tell the story of one of the U-boats that slipped through Allied defenses in April 1945 — the U-853 — and sank the USS Eagle 56 four miles off the coast of Maine, killing 49 men. Thirteen survivors — the ‘Lucky Thirteen” — lived to tell the story.