World War II Caribbean Islands: Jamaica (1939-45)


Figure 1.--Here we see some of the U.S. sailors deployed on Jamaican making friends with the locals.

Jamaica like other British colonies was immediately involved in World War II when after Germany invaded Poland, Britain declared war on Germany (September 1939). Britain applied the the Defence of the Realm Act. This gave the Governor the authority to regulate prices of all commodities to prevent profiteering from war time shortages. The Governor also imposed press censorship as well as controls on mail and telegraph and cable messages. Jamaica was far from the war in Europe and Germany's small U-boat fleet was not at first active in the Caribbean. The U-boats were, however, a major concern for Britain's over streached Royal Navy. The War did not go well for the Allies and after the fall of France (June 1940), it looked for a time that Britain itself might also fall. America at the time was neutral, but President Roosevelt moved to help Britain as much as possiblents of the Neutrality Acts and public opinion. One of those steps was the Bases for Destroyers deal (August 1940). Britain gave the United States the right to build bases in British possessions in return for 50 moth-balled World war I destroyers. This arrangement was more for U.S. public consumption than a real deal as Britain at the time welcomed American deployment to its overseas possessions. President Roosevelt could justify this aid to Britain as a step in protect the outer perimeter of the United States. The bases in the Caribbean were primarily air and naval bases. The two major American bases were Vernamfield Air Base and Goat Island Naval Base. Some of the other Caribbean islands proved of more strategic importance than Jamaica. Even as the German U-boat fleet grew, the Caribbean was not well suited for U-boat operations. Jamaica also benefitted from Lend Lease (March 1941). The American servicemen deployed to Jamaica was the first major contact beyween Jamaicans and Americans. Jamaicans volunteered for military service. They served with British units. Some trained in the United States. There were some problems as both the British anand American military at the time was segregated. Some British civilans refugees from the Mediterranean were cared for in Jamaica.

Involvement

Jamaica like other British colonies was immediately involved in World War II when after Germany invaded Poland, Britain declared war on Germany (September 1939). Britain applied the the Defence of the Realm Act. This gave the Governor the authority to regulate prices of all commodities to prevent profiteering from war time shortages. The Governor also imposed press censorship as well as controls on mail and telegraph and cable messages.

Early Period

Jamaica was far from the war in Europe and Germany's small U-boat fleet was not at first active in the Caribbean. The U-boats were, however, a major concern for Britain's over-streached Royal Navy.

Economic Importance

Jamaica has an important bauxite resource, the raw material needed for aluminum production. Aluminum was needed for aircraft production. The need for strategic materials to fight the War caused a search for resources. This lead to exploration and development work for Bauxite in Jamaica (1940s). Alcan, Reynolds, and Kaiser were all active. Jamaican bauxite was not used during the war, but the three North American companies came to the island to survey, acquire reserve lands, and set up operations. Reynolds began exporting bauxite from Ocho Rios (1952), and Kaiser (1953) followed a year later from Port Kaiser on the southern coast. Alcan built Jamaica's first alumina processing plant near its mines at Kirkvine, Manchester, and in early 1952 began shipping alumina from Port Esquivel. This was the beginning of the industry in Jamaica.

American Bases

The War at first went disaterously for the Allies. After the fall of France (June 1940), it looked for a time that Britain itself might also fall. America was neutral, but President Roosevelt moved to help Britain as much as possible within the limits of the Neutrality Acts and public opinion which was strongly against America entering the War. One of those steps was the Bases for Destroyers deal (August 1940). Britain gave the United States the right to build bases in British possessions in return for 50 moth-balled World War I destroyers. This arrangement was more for U.S. public consumption than a real deal as Britain at the time welcomed American deployment to its overseas possessions. It also allowed the British to redeploy their men to where they were more urgently needed. President Roosevelt could justify this aid to Britain to still isolationist-minded Americans as a step in protecting the outer perimeter of the United States security zone. The bases in the Caribbean were primarily air and naval bases. The two major American bases were Vernamfield Air Base and Goat Island Naval Base. Vernamfield was located at Sandy Gully in Clarendon. It was named after an American World War I aviator. American First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt visited Vernamfield (1944). Vernamfield is today a popular motorcar racing facility. Goat Island was located in Old Harbour Bay. The Americans ran submarine training maneuvres from the base. Many of the submariners were deployed to the Pacific after Pearl Harbor (1941). They were part of the U.S. Navy's highly suceesful submarine Pacific campaign. The U.S. Navy abandoned Goat Islnd after the War (1949). American servicemen enjoyed Kingston's night life. The Glass Bucket was especially popular. The American servicemen deployed to Jamaica were the first major contact between Jamaicans and Americans.

Strategic Importance

Some of the other Caribbean islands proved of more strategic importance than Jamaica. Jamaica is set in middle of the Caribbean south of Cuba. Island bases in the Antilles facing the Atlantic like Barbados and Trinidad were of greater importance. From these bases air and naval assetts could be projected into the Atlantic to participate in the all importanht Battle of the Atlantic. Even as Dönitz expanded the German U-boat fleet, Caribbean was not well suited for U-boat operations, especially as Allied anti-submarine warfare (ASW) capabilities improved. The long distances from french bases, the relatively shallow depths, and clear water were not ideal conditions for U-boat operations.

Lend Lease

Jamaica was one of the many colonies that benefitted from Lend Lease (March 1941).

Jamaican Servicemen

Jamaicans volunteered for military service. They served with British units. Some trained in the United States. There were some problems as both the British anand American military at the time was segregated.

Gibraltar Refugees

With the fall of France and Italy's entry into the War (June 1940), the Mediterranean went from a backwater of the war to a hot spot. Franco's Spain was close to the Axis and the Germans expected him to bring Spain into the war. Elements of the German military, especially the Kriegsmarine, tried to convince Hitler to attack Gibraltar. It became Plan Felix which was never executed. It was a strong position, but could not have withstood a strong Spanish-German land attack. Hitler met with Franco on the French-Spanish border (October 1940). The British thus evacuated most of the civilian population from Gibraltar. There were also evacuees from Malta. Some British civilans refugees from the Mediterranean were cared for in Jamaica. About 2,000 civilians were evacuated to Jamaica. Evacuees were also sent to England and Madeira. The evacuees to Jamaica were housed at what became Gibraltar Camp, now the grounds of the University of the West Indies.







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Created: 9:23 AM 2/9/2011
Last updated: 11:04 PM 7/14/2018