75 years ago the US Navy lost its first ship in World War II.
A year after that, American policy toward the European war was influenced by the desire of the overwhelming majority of the country's citizens to remain out of this conflict. Moreover, at almost any cost.
At that time in the United States, the prevailing view was that the French army and the British fleet would be able to cope with Hitler without any help. The blitz campaign that Hitler conducted in the spring of 1940 strongly shaken this confidence. And in order for the public to begin to realize the meaning of what is happening, it took the fall of France (1).
After the end of the First World War, America turned its back on Europe, indulging in vain dreams of eternal peace. All her thoughts were directed at disarmament.
The presidents of the interwar period, from Wilson to Roosevelt, reaffirming the Americans' commitment to the idea of world peace, were engaged in taking initiatives for disarmament, signing agreements on arms limitations, canceling the construction of new ships and cutting already built ones, the Kellogg Briand pact, outlaw war (2).
During this period, the fleet received the completion of a few units, and such ships as battleships and destroyers were not built at all. The powerful pacifist propaganda of that time, reinforced by the anti-fleet sermons of General Mitchell, in the conditions of general lack of money caused by the crisis of the economy, did not allow to build even what was permitted by the treaties. At the hearing of the Congress, officers who tried to get several million dollars for the needs of the army and navy were greeted with a whistle and a trample (3).
At the same time, ships under construction, for which 300 million dollars had already been spent, were scrapped (4).
Stagnation in shipyards stopped the progress of the science of military shipbuilding. The screaming defects of guns, ammunition, torpedoes and combat tactics went unnoticed.Nobody was interested in the problems of logistics of the fleet and the question of naval bases.
The number of personnel of the fleet in 1935 was barely more than 100 thousand officers and sailors, only 80% of the normal number of crews of cash ships.
Everything was lost, and, compared with the fleet, the army was still in a more terrible condition. But, the American people believed that this path would lead them to eternal peace. In fact, he only led to the decline of his armed forces.
Although in this dark realm for the fleet, rays of light flashed, such as the appointment in 1931 of the House of Representatives Carl Vinson’s post as Chairman of the Committee on Naval Affairs, the beginning of the revival of the US military power, and in particular the military fleet, during the First World War, and the President of the United States since March 4, 1933, Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
The Roosevelt rearmament program started almost from scratch and could not get a significant acceleration before the start of the war. For example, the Vinson-Trammel Act of 1934 provided for the implementation of a program that, only after 8 years, allowed the achievement of fleet-authorized sizes.And the situation in the American army and navy by 1939 was such that for almost 2 years the United States could be vulnerable if Hitler won a victory in Europe (5).
The situation with the Far Eastern threat was no better. Japan has already announced the "Great East Asian Sphere of Prosperity Sphere", announcing claims to military, political and economic hegemony in the region. The program of conquests of the Imperial government was the most ambitious and far-reaching in history, it even surpassed Hitler. In addition, under the terms of the Axis Triple Agreement, which Japan signed on September 27, 1940, if it goes to war with the United States, the other two states will support it. For the American fleet, this meant the problem of waging war on two oceans, while barely enough forces for one.
By 1939, despite the fact that over the past few years, sea power has definitely increased, the fleet still did not look brilliant. For example, on July 1 of this year, the US Navy had only 2 vehicles and 1 tanker that could accompany the main forces during the crossing of the Pacific Ocean if war broke out.
President Roosevelt’s "On the Eve of War" policy had a goalfirstly to help keep the battling England afloat, and secondly to gain time for the rearmament of the American army and navy. Diplomatic events were also held to appease Japan (6).
After the fall of France, the British Commonwealth of Nations remained the only force fighting the fascists, so it was extremely important to keep it strong and combat-ready. The aid of England, and after June 1941, and the USSR, meant the violation of all laws on neutrality. But the actions of Hitler in Denmark, Norway, Holland, Belgium, where he completely violated international laws, invading these states, deprived Germany of the right to demand the observance of some neutrality from others.
One of the first acts of mutual aid between the United States and Britain was the deal "Base - Destroyers." The United States handed over to Britain 50 chetyrehtrubnyh destroyers built by the First World War or immediately after it, and in exchange received for 99 years the right to use the naval, military and air bases in the Bahamas, on Fr. Jamaica, Antigua, Saint Lucia, Trinidad and British Guiana (7).
Another measure of aid to Britain, far from neutrality, was Lend-Lease. Congress passed the first Lend-Lease Act on March 11, 1941.After that, President Roosevelt said: "This decision puts an end to all attempts at pacification on our part, puts an end to attempts to convince us to stay away, puts an end to a compromise with tyranny and the forces of despotism."
Lend-lease cargo began to be transported to Britain, but since the spring of 1941, attacks by German submarines on trans-Atlantic convoys increased markedly. The latter suffered heavy losses, including cargoes sent under the Lend-Lease to the bottom. Under these conditions, it was decided to connect the American fleet to the convoy escort by the US Atlantic Fleet (8) (9).
Although until November 1941 American ships were forbidden to enter the combat zone, in accordance with the law on neutrality and, in turn, tried to avoid incidents with the US fleet and Germany, the likelihood of a military collision as a result of an error was extremely high.
On June 20, 1941, I was hardly able to meet the torpedoes of the German U-203 battleship USS Texas (BB-35), located in the area between Newfoundland and Greenland. The commander of the boat, believing that the battleship had been transferred to Britain by Land-Lease, attempted an attack, but was unable to reach the distance of the shot.
On September 4, 1941, the American destroyer USS Greer (DD-145) and the U-652 submarine launched mutual attacks on each other with depth charges and torpedoes. Both ships remained unharmed, but President Roosevelt after this incident, gave the order to fire ships that threaten American shipping (10).
The answer came on the night of October 17th. The destroyer USS Kearny (DD-432), accompanied the low-speed convoy "SC-48" and was torpedoed. The ship remained afloat and reached the port, but the crew lost 11 people.
The first combat ship of the US Navy was sunk in this war on October 31, 1941. The destroyer USS Reuben James (DD-245), under the command of Lieutenant Commander G.L. Edwards was sunk by a German U-562 submarine during the posting of the high-speed convoy HX-156 from Halifax. 115 sailors died, only 45 people were rescued, among whom there was not a single officer (11).
Activities in the North Atlantic in the autumn and winter are very hard for people and ships. The allotted to the Americans section between Newfoundland, Greenland and Iceland in the winter was the most turbulent area of the ocean. Hurricane winds, enormous waves, penetrating cold, thick fog and blinding snow charges were common conditions in the area.Continuous pitching along with the need to remain vigilant day and night, in order to avoid an enemy attack or not to encounter a neighboring ship, exhausted people.
The so-called “rest periods” in Hvalfiord and Argencia were only rest from enemy attacks, but not from the weather. The ground in both ports was bad for the anchorage and the winter storms literally carried the destroyers along with the anchors along the harbor. Enormous efforts were required in order not to run into other ships or jump ashore.
Having endured incredible physical exertion in the sea, the sailors had to feel no less psychological stress, returning to their native shores. Having been in the ice hell, officers and sailors returned to the port and saw the same young people who quietly make much more money than their salaries in warm, peaceful conditions, and football stars and popular artists were considered national heroes. At the same time, they themselves were forbidden to talk about their actions in the service, even to mention where they were and what they did. They were deprived even of simple national recognition and gratitude.
In addition, the isolationists and enemy agents, who worked well in Boston, convinced the sailors that it was not their war, that it was a battle for England, but there was no threat to America and, at the same time, they called for their desertion.
One can only pay tribute to the sense of duty and the spirit of the sailors who, after all this, returned to their destroyers in order to continue their participation in a fierce struggle, which for them has not yet been called a war.
(1) Some could not "see the light" until December 7, 1941.
After about an hour and a half after the attack at Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt held a meeting with his advisers, discussing the next steps the administration would take under the circumstances.
At the same time, the America First Party held a large gathering in Pittsburgh. This political force was created in the late 30s and advocated for keeping the United States outside of World War II.
A large audience, decorated with national colors, was filled with fiery party supporters who were confident that Roosevelt was trying to lead America to war. They whistled and shouted their slogans that the Americans do not want new wars, and even more so, they do not want to participate in foreign wars where the militarist president wants to drag them.
At this time, a young local reporter found out about the events in Pearl Harbor, and went to this meeting to get a reaction to the news of the party leaders.
The meeting was to be delivered by the North Dakota senator Derald Nye, known for his isolationist position and desire to participate in only one war - the war with weapons manufacturers around the world. The reporter found the senator backstage, just before his release to the podium and told the news.
Nye ignored the message, went out to the public and delivered his usual speech against Roosevelt.
During his speech, he was handed a note in which it was said that Japan declared war on the United States. Nye threw away the sheet and continued to talk for another 45 minutes, never ceasing to curse the president.
It was only at the end of the speech that Nye finally told the public that Japan seemed to have attacked Pearl Harbor, but hinted that Roosevelt somehow manipulated the situation.
This was the last rally of this political force. The next day, the party "America first" broke up and ceased to exist.
(2) I guess you can make some exceptions for President Coolidge,who, being disappointed with the outcome of the Second Conference on the Limitation of Maritime Armaments in Geneva in 1927, which did not lead to the reduction of fleets, achieved approval of the program to build 71 new ships for 9 years (including 5 aircraft carriers and 25 cruisers). However, not a single ship was laid until 1930.
President Coolidge did not like the sea, he even refused to watch sailing regattas from the board of the presidential yacht.
(3) Brigadier General of the US Army William Mitchell was the initiator and leader of the campaign against the US Navy. He assured everyone that future battles, including those at sea, would be won by the base bombers. Manipulating the results of the exercises, during which in 1921 the immobile, unarmed, obsolete American battleships, as well as some of the former German ships, which were to be sunk in accordance with the terms of the peace treaty, were sunk, Billy Mitchell insisted on the abolition of naval forces in general with the exception of submarines.
His main views in this regard were as follows:
Aviation will completely replace the navy and the army as the first line of defense.The air force will dominate all maritime spaces;
Surface ships, including aircraft carriers, as a weapon system, are completely useless;
Currently, the main weapon of war at sea is a submarine. Submarines are the best defense against submarine attacks;
The effectiveness of anti-aircraft guns is constantly decreasing and will never increase;
Attempts to transport large numbers of troops, ammunition and equipment through the ocean with the help of ships will be impossible; Etc.
As shown by the events of the war of 1939-1945, each of these provisions turned out to be erroneous. But in the prewar period, General Mitchell succeeded in influencing both society and influential circles, where he had many friends, thanks to his father, the senator. The promotion of erroneous ideas was largely contributed by the avid press sensation.
Mitchell’s propaganda certainly contributed to the weakening of the navy, which was the first of all the branches of the US armed forces to enter World War II. His theory also found support in Congress, but only in the part where it called for a reduction in the financing of the fleet.The development of heavy bomber aircraft, it did not contribute. When the army requested permission to build the B-17 Flying Fortress, which then played a prominent role in World War II, Congress did not satisfy the request of the pilots, as it considered the long-range bombers to be an "instrument of aggression."
(4) In accordance with the Washington Treaty, the unfinished battleship (BB-47) Washington (76% readiness), 6 South Dakota type battleships (11 - 38% readiness), and 4 Lexington battlecruisers were cut into metal. In addition, the battleships of the USS Delaware (BB-28), USS North Dakota (BB-29), USS Michigan (BB-27), USS South Carolina (BB-26), and 15 old battleships went scrapping.
(5) After the Roosevelt administration came to power, Congress finally responded to the frequent requests of the President, Chairman of the Committee on Naval Affairs of the House of Representatives Carl Vinson, senior admirals and the construction of new ships for the first time in many years - light cruisers like Brooklyn, destroyers such as Craven, aircraft carriers Enterprise and Yorktown, as well as 4 submarines.
The resumption of the construction of new ships forced the fleet headquarters to show maximum ingenuity, since during the break many companies that had previously worked for the fleet were eliminated.
Between 1935 and 1940, the battleships of the classes North Carolain, South Dakota, Iowa, Atlanta-type anti-aircraft cruisers, several different types of auxiliary vessels, including new squadron minesweepers, were designed. All new developments were immediately sent to shipyards, but only USS Washington (BB-56) and USS North Carolina (BB-55) managed to enter service before the United States entered the war. These were the first American battleships in the last 18 years.
On the day of the seizure by Hitler of Paris, June 14, 1940, President Roosevelt signed a bill to increase the fleet by 25%, according to which aircraft carriers, cruisers and submarines were to be built. Three days after that, Congress responded to the appeal of the Chief of the Marine Operations, Admiral Stark, and allocated $ 4 billion to begin construction of the “Fleet of Two Oceans”. A month later, on July 19, 1940, President Roosevelt signed the law on the “Fleet of Two Oceans”, which provided for the construction of new battleships, battle cruisers, aircraft carriers, cruisers, squadron destroyers and submarines with a total displacement of 1,325 thousand tons with a displacement of 100 thousand tons and the allocation of allocations in the amount of 50 million.dollars for the construction of patrol and escort ships, as well as various small ships of other classes. At that time, the fleet had warships with a total displacement of 1,250 thousand tons. Thus, the adopted Bill increased the fleet composition by more than 2 times.
According to this law, four of the six planned Iowa-type battleships, Essex-type aircraft carriers, Alaska and Guam battlecruisers, Baltimore-type heavy cruisers with 8 "artillery, most of Clevelend-type light cruisers with 6" artillery, Atlanta-type cruisers were planned to be built the first of the squadron destroyers of the Fletcher type, with a displacement of 2,100 tons and most of the destroyers of the Bristol type, with a displacement of 1,700 tons. By December 7, 1941 construction contracts were concluded.
At this time, began to lay the foundation of the colossal combat capabilities of the US Navy, which appeared during the Second World War.
(6) Unlike the US Pacific foto, the Japanese Joint Fleet was well balanced and prepared.
After the expiration of the agreements that provided for restrictions on the construction of the navy in 1936, intensive military shipbuilding began in Japan.Because of this, an advantage over the Pacific Fleet in all classes of ships was gained.
On the eve of the war in 1941, the total tonnage of modern ships of the Japanese fleet was 71% higher than the tonnage of the US fleet, and the overall balance of forces of the American and Japanese fleets was as follows: battleships 9:10; aircraft carriers 3:10; heavy cruisers 13: 18; light cruisers 11:17; destroyers 80: 112; submarines 55: 64. The Japanese had superiority, even if British and Dutch ships were added to the American forces.
In addition to warships, Japan had a sufficient number of cargo ships that could be turned into transports, squadron tankers and auxiliary ships of the fleet. The Japanese naval specialists, first of all, the gunners and the navigator were perfectly trained and trained, this was facilitated by the naval maneuvers conducted annually. Torpedoes exceeded the torpedoes of any other fleet in range, speed and power of charge. Japanese aircraft carrier dive bombers and torpedo bombers were also the best in the world.
For the United States it was extremely important to delay the start of the war in the Pacific before the restoration of the power of its fleet.But after the imposition of an embargo on the supply of American oil to Japan, the clock began to count down to Pearl Harbor.
All US diplomatic efforts to prevent Japan from entering the southwestern Pacific Ocean were answered on November 20, 1941, when the Japanese ambassador in Washington presented an ultimatum in which Prime Minister General Tojo announced his price for peace. America had to give Japan complete freedom of action in China and Indochina, cease all support for Chiang Kai-Shek, restore trade relations with Japan and not send more troops to the south of the Pacific Ocean and the Far East, even the Philippines. In exchange for such demands, Japan pledged only to not send additional forces to Southeast Asia and to evacuate troops from Indochina, after peace was established in China. These were the conditions that can be applied only to the country that lost the war.
After that, the negotiations continued, although they no longer had any sense. The Roosevelt government still hoped to avoid a war with Japan at least until spring. The last American proposals were handed over to the Japanese ambassador in Washington on November 26, 1941.On this day, the Japanese aircraft carrier strike under the command of Vice-Admiral Nagumo sailed from Tankan Bay in the Kuril Islands.
(7) Argenshia (Newfoundland) and Bermuda were handed over to the Americans as a gesture of goodwill.
(8) By the beginning of the war, Germany had only 49 submarines, of which only 18 were suitable for combat operations on the Atlantic lines. Construction of new submarines went very sluggish - up to 2-4 per month. Therefore, the Germans spent the first months of the submarine war unconvincingly.
The order to begin hostilities against England was given to the submarine fleet on September 3, 1939. Although five categories of ships and ships that could be attacked without warning (ships and ships directly involved in hostilities) were identified, 12 hours after the outbreak of the war, U-30 was sunk by unarmed and unguarded English passenger transport Athenia.
In 1939, the ships of neutral countries, especially those of Germany’s friendly states, were not included among the ships to be attacked by submarines. But at the end of the year, at the suggestion of Raeder, Hitler authorized the strengthening of the submarine warfare, which was that any ship, with the exception of fully lit ships belonging to Italy,Japan, Spain and Russia, could be sunk if it was in a war zone.
The situation in the submarine war has changed dramatically after the fall of France. The seizure of control over the ports of Brest, Lorient, Saint-Nazaire, La Pallis enabled Dönitz to double the operational radius of his submarines, whose number had increased significantly by this time.
In the last months of 1940, German submarines began to advance into the central part of the Atlantic Ocean, using the new attack tactics Die Rudeltaktik, which was later called the wolf pack attack.
In the first months of the war (1939–1940), the merchant fleets of England, allies and neutral countries lost 585 vessels from submarine attacks in a tonnage of 2,607,314 tons.
The summer of 1940 was the period of the greatest successes of the German submarines that they had achieved during the entire war. Despite the fact that the losses inflicted by submarines in 1940 were significantly less than in 1942, the average tonnage of English ships sunk by each submarine was almost 10 times greater.
The ships and ships of the United States did not enter the zone of military operations under the terms of neutrality. The ban was lifted November 7-13, 1941 by amendments to the law on neutrality.Changes in the law adopted by the votes of the Senate 50 against 37 and House of Representatives 212 against 194, allowed now to arm the US merchant ships, and allowed them to enter the zone of military operations. American ships were thus given the right to defend themselves against attacks by the Axis powers and to transport goods to and from ports in the UK.
To avoid fighting with American ships and ships, Hitler also tried, since he understood perfectly that any such incident could shorten the period of American neutrality, and the warring United States would be much more powerful than the United States preparing to fight. In July 1941, after the invasion of the USSR, he still declared to his fleet commander: "It is vital to keep America from entering the war for 1 to 2 months."
However, the American cargo ship Robin Moor, which sailed from the USA to South Africa with consolidated cargo, was sunk on May 21, 1941 by a German submarine in the southern Atlantic Ocean. A total of the destroyer destroyer and five US merchant ships died as a result of a mine explosion and strikes by German aircraft and submarines before Germany declared war.
(9) Atlantic Fleet, under the command of Admiral Ernest J.Kinga, was organized in February 1941. Its core was the Atlantic squadron of ships of the US Navy, which since the fall of 1939 performed tasks to patrol the Pan-American neutral zone. To strengthen this compound, in April-May 1941, USS Yorktown (CV-5), 3 battleships - USS Idaho (BB-42), USS Mississippi (BB-41), USS New Mexico (BB -40), 4 light cruisers - USS (CL-41) Philadelphia cruisers, USS Brooklyn (CL-40), USS Savannah (CL-42), USS Nashville (CL-43), as well as two squadrons of squadron destroyers.
The ships from the Atlantic Fleet began to take part in the escort of merchant ships, regardless of the flag, as part of the convoys, from the ports of the East Coast to Iceland from July 19, 1941, after the occupation by the last US armed forces. From September 16, 1941, US Navy ships began to help Canadians, escort convoys to a point in the middle of the ocean south of Iceland, where they were met by the Royal Navy.
The first transatlantic convoy, headed for the western hemisphere, accompanied by American ships, was "ON-18". His escort, which began on September 24, 1941, was carried out by the destroyers USS Madison (DD-425), USS Gleaves (DD-423), USS Lansdale (DD-426), USS Hughes (DD-410) and USS Simpson (DD- 221).
To place fleet escort operations within the framework of the still-existing neutrality law,The US government explained the presence of its ships in the convoys with the need to protect transports with cargoes for the US occupation forces in Iceland.
(10) On 10 April 1941, the destroyer Niblack (commander - Lieutenant Commander Dergin) performing a reconnaissance mission off the coast of Iceland, picked up from the water several people who escaped from a Dutch cargo ship sunk by a German submarine. At that moment, when the last man was taken aboard, the squadron destroyer made contact with the submarine by a sonar. The destroyer commander decided that the boat was going to attack the ship. Fulfilling orders commander battalion Commander Ryan, Lieutenant Commander Dergin attacked the submarine depth charges.
As far as can be established, this bloodless battle, was the first combat contact of the American and German armed forces in World War II.
As for the battle between USS Greer (DD-145) and U-652, there could have been no such thing if the British plane had not provoked it. The American and German ship discovered each other, but did not take any active actions until the English plane that arrived in did not drop a couple of depth charges.After that, the submarine commander, probably believing that this was the work of an American, attacked him with torpedoes. The destroyer, in turn, responded with depth charges.
(11) Although the American gunboat Ranau was sunk on the Yangtze River by Japanese pilots on December 12, 1937, the intention of this act was categorically denied by the Japanese government, which reimbursed the US government for all losses associated with it. Therefore, this incident is not considered a military action. The sinking of the destroyer USS Reuben James (DD-245) was a deliberate act, committed in an environment where the state of war between the United States and Germany had not yet been declared.
The first American ship to open an account in anti-submarine warfare was the old destroyer USS Roper (DD-147) (commander Lt. Commander Howe). This ship, on the night of April 13-14, 1942, not far from Norfolk, sank the U-85.
Convoy WS-12 en route to Cape Town, November 27, 1941
The convoy was one of many escorted by the US Navy, before the US officially entered the war.
A close-up of the SB2U Vindicator, a deck diving bomber from the USS Ranger (CV-4) aircraft carrier aircraft group, performs anti-submarine patrols.