** World War II -- island territories Caribbean

World War II Island Territories: The Caribbean

Figure 1.--Here sailors from the battleship 'USS Colorado' are enjoying a leave in Puerto Rico. The phoyograph was taken in Myaguez during 1939. At the time, the United States Navy did not have a major base on Puerto Rico. As a result, of stunning German victories in Europe, President Roosevelt began preparing for a major naval base near Celebs along the eastern coast--Rooevelt Yards. 'Colorado' was not one of the bttleships at Pearl when the Japanese struck.

The Caribbean was not a major area of World War II operations, although some German U-boats did operarte there withnsomje success, mistly in 1942. Unlike South America, there were no Caribbean countries with Axis sympathies and many islands were colonial possessions of Allied countries (America, Britain, France and the Netherlands). The French islands after the fall of France were controlled by pro-Vichy-authorities, but they theadmiralminvolved was not about to challenge the Americans by lendung support to German submarunes. American Caribbean bases were primarily located in Puerto Rico asnd Cuba (Guntanamo). Many more bases were aadded by the Anglo-American Bases for Destroyers deal (1940). The hard pressed British did not have the resources need to expand the bases on iys numerous Caribbean possessions. The United States did. The Dutch West Indies and close-by Dutch Guiana were the only Dutch territory not occupied by Axis forces. Refineries there processed Venezuelan crude. The primary importance of the Caribbean was that it was connected to the Panama Canal, vital for the American war effort. Thus the Caribbean Islands were important for the defence of the Canal. Here Vichy control of Guadalupe and Martinique for a time was a concern. The Germans planned an attack on the Canal from U-boats operating in the Caribbean, but never carried it out. American anti-submarine patrols were conducted from several islands. Puerto Rico and Trinidad were especially important. The Caribbean was, however, not a major area of U-boat activity. The shallow clear waters were not idea for U-boat operations and the ring of Allied island air bases made the Catibbean dangerous for U-boats once America enteredc the War. The islands were a source of raw material. Cuba was a major supplier of sugar.



The Bahamas is actually located north of Cuba outside the Caribbean, but it is so close to the Caribbean that for our purpses makes more sence to consider as a Caribbean Island. The Duke of Windsor (former Edward VIII) was assigned to France during the first months of the War. With the German invasion (May 1940), his behavior was of deep concern to the British Government. Finally he was made Govenor General of the Bahamas where he was safely out of the way for the remainder of the War. He was out of favor with the Royal family and his behavior bother even Primeminister Churchill who had supported him during the accension criis before the War. He managed to escape the Germans by entering Spain. He and the Duchess arrived in the Bahamas during the Battle of Britain (August 1940). They were not happy to be shunted aside. He complained about their new quarters in Government House which were not up to their stabndards. They did, however, try 'to make the best of a bad situation.' [Higham, p. 300-02.] The Duke beleve the oposting was beneath him and was unhappy abouit it throughout the War. He referred to the Bahamas as "a third-class British colony". [Bloch, p. 364.] The Duke opened the Bahamian Parliament (October 29, 1940). True to form, his stay there was not without controversy. The Duke and Duchess conducted a tour of the 'Out Islands' (November 1940). He used a yacht owned by Swedish magnate, Axel Wenner-Gren. American intelligence wrongly believed that Wenner-Gren was close to Reichmarshal Hermann Göring. [Higham, pp. 307-09.] The British Foreign Office strenuously objected. [Bloch, pp. 154–59 and 230–33. Despite his personal beliefs and behavior, the Duke did serious work to reduce poverty. The Duke made no secret about his racial prejudice. The Bahamian population was mostly black. The Duke had similar attitudes toward other non-white people in the Empire. [Ziegler] A riot erupted in Nassau, primarily because of low wages (June 1942). . He is generally praised for his intervention to resolve the unrest. [Higham, p. 331-32.] This performance was marred by statements made about the rioting. The Duke blamed the unrest on 'mischief makers – communists' and 'men of Central European Jewish descent, who had secured jobs as a pretext for obtaining a deferment of draft'. [Ziegler, pp. 471-72.] The Duke resigned his post (March 16, 1945) just before the War in Europe ended. The Allies extensively used the Bahamas for flight training. It was also used for antisubmarine operations in the Caribbean.


Barbados did not play a major role, but there were air and naval based that played a role in the Battle of the Atlantic. Barbados is located outside the Caribbean of the Lesser Antilles, well into the Atlantic. This helped to project Allied air cover over a substantial area of the Western Caribbean. Actual participation was minimal. The British Royal Air Force recruited 12 men. They composed the Second Barbados Contingent of Volunteers for the Armed Forces. They were shipped to Britain (November 1940 to join the battle with the Germn Luftwaffe. A German U-Boat was patrolling off Barbados where it spotted and topedoed SS Cornwallis near Bridgetown (September 1942). The ship was brought ashore an repaired. It was subsequently orpedoed a second time and sank. The shipwreck has been converted into a reef and Marine park. There was some economic hardship felt in Barbados after established sea lanes and trading patterns were disrupted by World War II and the German U-boats. Barbados also contributed raw materials to the Allied war effot, primarily sugar,


Cuba first played a role in the move toward war in Europeand th Holocust. Cuba denied entry to Jewish refugees attempting to escape the NAZIs on the SS St Louis months before the War began. Cuba and much of Ltin merica are proof that you can have anti-Semitism wihout Jews. Cuba joined the Allies immediately after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor (December 8, 1941) and Germany and Italy after those countries declared war on the United Sttes a few days later. The United States already had a naval station at Guantanamo Bay in eastern Cuba. This was an important base protecting the Panama Canal and protecting Allied shipping in the Caribbean. The Cuban Navy sank a German U-boat near Havana.(May 15, 1943). The Government initited conscription, but the draftees were never committed to the War. Cuba was a source of raw materials to the Allied war effort, especially sugar and nickle. Like other Latin American countries, the economy benefitted from the Allied war purchses.


Dominica was a British colony located between French Guadeloupe to the north and Martinique to the south. Administration of Dominica was transferred from the British Leeward Islands to the British Windward Islands (1940). Dominicans volunteered in British and Caribbean forces. The French islands were Vichy cntrolled until 1943. Thousands of Free French refugees from Vuchy Martinique and Guadeloupe escaped to Dominica, staying in Roseau and various villages.

Dutch West Indies

The Neterlands attempted to remain neutral as it did during World War I. German without warning invaded and occupied the country (May 1940). Queen Wilhemina escaped to Britain and set up a Government-in-Exile. Colonial officials were loyal to this government. The Dutch West Indies and Surimame after the Japsnese invasion of the Dutch East Indies were the only Dutch territories that were not occupied by Axis forces.


After the NAZI victory in France (June 19400. Guadeloupe was loyal to the Vichy government of Nazi-occupied France during World War II (1940–43). Guadeloupe was ruled from Martinique. The popoulatiion was began shifting to the Free French, but Vichy loyalists maintained control for 3 years. The population were increasingly pro-Allied and by 1943 100 or so refugees (civilian and military) were arriving in nearby Dominica every day. When Adm. Robert on Mzrtinique resigned (March 1943), Guadeloupe like Msartiunique enthusiastically joined the Free Frenbch movenent.


Jamaica like other British colonis was immediately involved in World War II when after Germany invaded Poland, Britain declared war on Germany (September 1939). Britain applied thge 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 werw, 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 59 moth-balled World war I destroyers. This arrangement was more for U.S. punlic 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 Cubans. 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.


Martinique was one of the two principal French Caribbean possessions. The other was Guadeloupe. After the fall of France, Martinique authorities led by Adm Robert remained loyal to Marshall Petain's Vichy government. Elements of the French fleet, including an aircraft carrier, were interned at Marinique. The situation on the island, however, was volitile. Unlike France itself, support for Vichy seems limited on Martinque. Vichy was neutral in the War, but in many ways cooperated with the NAZIs. This was of considerable concern tamong American authorities over Martinique because of the security of the Panama Canal, vital in American defense strategy. French French support grew on the island. At for a time an insurection was possible. The United States prepared to intervene. The United States organized a joint Army-Marine Corps task force on Puerto Rico (the 295th Infantry and the 78th Engineer Battalion). American intervention proved unecessary. Adm. Robert was never pro-German, he was loyal to Marshal Pétain. The situation began to unravel for Adm. Robert after two weeks of anti-Vichy demonstrations in Cayenne, the capital of French Guiana, the ither majorvFrencg oossession the Americas. He resigned and sought prorectiin in Puerto Rico. Tthe colony immediately declaring its support for Giraud (notat fursr for de Gaulle). br>

Puerto Rica

Puerto Rico was American territory and as part of the United States was involved in American defense preparations as World War II broke out. America was especially concerned with the defense of the Panama Canal, a key element in American defense planning--especialy naval operations. The island was SAmerica's majot defensive position to defend the Canal. The British had ma ny importnt naval bases in the Caribbean. The Americans far fewer, the major other base beiung Guantamo Bsy in Cuba. Puerto Rico commandedcimportant tlantic approached to the Canal. The Canal allowed American ships to moce from the Atlanic to the Pacific as required. It was also vital in the movement of strategic materials. The principal American plan in event of war was Plan Orange. As part of that plan the 295th and 296th Infantry Regiments of the Puerto Rican National Guard were called into Federal Active Service and assigned to the Puerto Rican Department (October 1940). Military training were conducted at Camp Las Casas in Santurce. They were assigned to the segregated 65th Infantry Regiment. Purto Ricans assigned to the 295th and 296th regiments of the Puerto Rican National Guard were trained at Camp Tortuguero near Vega Baja. Naval authorities wanted to expand Caribbean naval facilities. Construction of a massive new naval base began--U.S. Naval Station Roosevelt Roads. The initial plans were reduced because the major naval theater became the North Atlantic. And as aesult of Americ's developing alliance with Britain, the British turned over Caribbean ports to the U.S. Navy--the 'Bases for Destoyers' deal. The United States prepared a force to intervene in Martinique because authorities there were loyal to the Vichy Government in occupied France and the location of French naval units there. This proved unecessary when authorities there went over to the Free French sise. Puerto Rican units were used both to defend the Canal and in the European theater. Some 65,000 Puerto Ricans sserved in the armed servics during the War.

St. Lucia

The United States opened Beane Field, a military airfield used by the United States Army Air Forces Sixth Air Force. Construction was completed (November 1942)> Tge ourpose was defend the Panama Canal and carry boutbanti-Ubioat opatrols. The 5th Bombardment Squadron (9th Bombardment Group) and 59th Bombardment Squadron (25th Bombardment Group) operated B-18 Bolo bombers from the airfield (September 1941 - MNarch 1944), flying antisubmarine patrols. By 1844 the U-biat threat had been kargely defeated.


Trinidad is the largest island of the Lesser Antilles. It is located off the coast of eastern Venezuela. At the time of World War II, Trinidad was a British colony. Bases on Trnidad were valuable for both protecting approaches to the Panama Canal and patrolling streaches of the Atlantic. Trinidad was one of the islands included in the important 'Bases for Destroyers' deal between America and Britain (1940). This resulted in the United States opening naval and air bases that played an important role in the Battle of the Atlantic. The first United States Army personnel arrived on Trinidad (April 1941). it was only after the United States' entry into the War, howevrr, that Allied planners, decided to attack the German U-boat threat by establishing major air and naval facilities on Trinidad. Plans for establishing an impoortant air presence on Trinidad began to take shape (early 1942). Waller Air Forse Base was was built to be the principal U.S combat airbase in Trinidad, but it evolved in a different role. The South Atlantic Air Route to Europe developed and became the most often used method of getting Americazn aircraft to the African and European theaters. Air Transport Command flew aircraft to Waller from South Florida airfields, then from Waller, aircraft were flown to Belem Airfield, Brazil, then across the South Atlantic Ocean to Freetown Airport, Sierra Leone and then to North Africa or England. Airfield congestion at Waller became so acute that the combat aircraft, the bombers actually confronting the U-Boats, had to be moved out to another Trinidad air base--Edinburgh (Carlsen) Airfield when it was finally completed. The U.S. Navy began operations out of Trniidad (August 1941), but initial ASW actions were not very successful. The German U-boat offensive in the Caribbean was codenamed Operation Neualn. The goal was to disdrupt Britiyshbpeteroleum snd Amrrican bauxite (alluminum) supplies. Elevren U-boats had some suucess rarly-1942 (March and April). he Germans were especially active around Trinidad. The Germans sank some 400 merchant ships in the Caribbeana arae, including two ships in Port-of-Spain Harbor. As Allied ASW operations expand, Triunidad becomes a keystone in Allied convoy and patrol opetations. German U-boat attacks declined as the battle in the Mid-Atlantic shaped up.

Virgin Islands

The United States purchased the Virgin Islands (Saint Croix, Saint John, Saint Thomas, and smaller islands) east o Puero Rico from Denmark (1917). A a result of the war in Europe, they were seen as a welcomed addition to the Panana Canal defenses. Lindbergh Bay and Gregerie Channel, were developed by the U.S. Navy. The Navy built a radio station and a submarine base during the War. The Marine Corps opened Bourne Field (1935). With the oubreak of World War II and the German U-boat threat, the Marine Corps expanded Bourne Field. The purpose was to prepare the base to accompdate a permanent squadron of 18 aircraft. Worl was also done at Lindbergh Bay to expand the seaplane base. Even more preparations followeed. Contracts were issued to expand the air station and to rebuild the submarine base in the Gregerie Channel (July 1941). Three new 150-foot steel radio towers and a reinforced-concrete transmitter building were constructed to replace the now obsolete World War I-era communucations station (October 1941). Two months later, the Japanrse attack onPearl Harbor thrust the United States into Eorld War II (December). The United States began regular patrol flights Saint Thomas as part of the Allied camapign against the German U-boats. The United States Army began using Water Island to test chemical warfare agents, including Agent Orange (1944).


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Created: 4:29 PM 11/22/2020
Last updated: 4:29 PM 11/22/2020