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 Caribbean was a quiet theater during the first year of War. The German Western Offensive (May-June 1940) meant that France and the Netherlands were overrun. The Dutch Islands declared loyalty to the London Government in Exile, but the French islands declared loyalty to Vichy which was collaborating with the NAZIs. Elements of the French fleet were moved to Martinique. And it believed that some German U-boats resupplied there, but we have not been able to find any actual documentation on this.
Many of the bases involved in the Anglo-American Bases for Desroyer deal (August 1940) were in the Caribbean. Major action in the Caribbean did not occur until Hitler declared war on America (December 1941). The Caribbean naval campaign occurred in connection with Operation Drumbeat off the American East Coast (1942). The Caribbean naval campaign despite in closeness to the United States and importance is perhaps the most poorly covered of all the different sea campaigns. In fact only dedicated students of World War II are aware that an important naval campaign was fought there. The Caribbean was important for three basic reasons, but primarily because of oil. 1) The largest oil refinery in the world was located on Dutch Curaçao and a smaller but still important one on Aruba. It was here that Venezuelan oil was being refined. And Britain's largest refinery was located on Trinidad--much larger than the Middle Eastern refineries. Mexican oil as well as the all-important American Gulf of Mexico production had to come from the same general area. (The American oil transport problem and need for tnkers was eased by constructing pipelines during the War.) But Caribbean oil was vital to Britain at the beginning of the War and continued to be important throughout the War. And it is why German and Italian U-boats targeted tankers in the area to some effect, especially in 1942. The U-boat hot spots not surprisingly were around Trinidd, the Dutch West Indies (DWI) and the Windward Passage (between Cuba and Haiti). the tankers, buxite crriers and utimately the convoys formed around Trinidad, ran west to the DWI, and then north to the Windward Passage where they entered the Atlantic. This is the routes where the U-boats primarily attacked. The merchant shipping could be conformed to basically carry any cargo. To transport oil you needed a more expensive purpose-built tanker. And as the War unfolded, they became in perilously short supply. And the Axis submarines managed to sink quite a number of tankers in the Caribbean and along the American Atlantic seaboard. This could have seriously affected the Allied war effort had Henry Kaiser's Liberty Ships not solved the problem. Altogethr, about 400 merchsnt shios were sunk in the Caribbean. 2) The Caribbean was also of considerable importance is the fact the bauxite was produced in the Caribbean area and had to be shipped through the Caribbean to reach smelters in the United States and Canada. Bauxite was the ore needed to produce aluminum, which was vital in the Air War. 3) In addition, American naval and merchant shipping destined for the Pacific had to transit the Caribbean to reach the Panama Canal. There wee other valuable resources obtained from the Caribbean, but the above reasons are why it was so important. The U.S. Navy did not prepare for a naval campaign off its Atlantic Seaboard or in the Caribbean. And its reaction to the German and Italian attacks was slow, in part because of the crisis in the Pacific. Once American resources were deployed to the Caribbean and personnel trained in ASW tactics, the Axis submarines were doomed. They operated under severe disadvantages. The Caribbean is much more shallow than the North Atlantic and the water clearer. The entire Caribbean was within the range of Allied air cover. Most of the tanker losses occurred in 1942. We have some individual island pages.
Anguilla was a bttlefield in ghe Npoleonic Wrs, but we hve been unble to find ny jnfiormtion bout either Wirkjd war I or WoldWr II operations.
One authir describes Antigua as situated "... in the heart of the Caribbean, almost equidistant from Florida and Venezuela." [Rollinson, p. 79.] Venezuekla of course was where the Caribbean's great oil rsource was located and why the Gerrmans targeed the
As part of the Anglo-American Bases for Destoyers Del (Auhgust 1940), the Americans built two bases on Antigua, on the eastern and western sides of Parham Harbour. The U.D. Army built an air base on the west of the harbor -- Coolidge Air Field. The runway was later used as Antigua’s national airport. Th U.S. Navy built a nval iur station east of the harbor on Crabs Peninsula. It was used as a Caribbean communication and tracking center as part of the operations ginst Germn U-boats. The bases were fairlky smll in Wirkd War II terns, but the largest in the Lesser Antilles. [Matthews] The Antigua Trades and Labour Union (ATLU) was founded (1939) and is closely related to the Antigua Labour Party. shoirtages devlooed on the ikbd s was common thioughout the Caribben durng the War s norml econoikmiv nd trding patterns weere duisrupoted, The ATLU orgbized strikes and puhed for remedial actions. Critics criticised the Americans for taking up housing and bringing prositution to the island. In fact, the United States brought inmvstmnt and neded infrstructure to a moribund, poverty stricken colonial backwater. The merican presence on the island laid the fundation for the island' modern toutuist economy. “Sugar Casualty – The US in Antigua Since World War II” - by Gelien Matthews
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,
The Cayman Islands are located in the western Caribbean south of Cuba, between Cuba and Jamaica. This meant it was not of major importanceed. This asrea of the Caribbean was not a U-boat hot spot and could be covered by ships and aircraft based in Cuba and Jamaica. In addition, the Caymans are a very small colony with limited space and infrstructure capable of supporting a major base. The Cayman Islands for the first time since the fighting in the Spanish Main faced a real security threat as the Gerrmans deployd U-boats in the Caribbean. The British thus deciuded some defense measuyres were needed. they raised a company of the Jamaican Home Guard in Grand Cayman (1942). It became known as the Cayman Company Home Guard and consisted of 44 officers and men. [Tossini] Dobson Hall, the main barracks was located in George Town. There assignmnt was to conduct coastal patrols to lookout for German U-bots. Britain set up six lookout points throughout Grand Cayman. The United States arranged with the British Goverbment to establish a small Naval Station on Grand Cayman with some 60 Navy personnel. After German U-Boat activity was reduced, the naval base was turned over to the United States Coast Guard (1945). The Coast Guard Station was eventually disbanded after the War. The Home Guard was also disbanded after the War.
Cuba's geography made it of some importance in World War II. It is the largest Cribbean islnd--780 miles im length. This meant it dominates entranc to the Gulf of Mexico and Some Caribbean passages. This was imoortabr because this meant oil coming from Venezuela, Mexico, and the American Gulf states. In addituin, Havana was the principal trading port in the West Indies. Cubaalso had natyral resiurces. Cuba first played a role in the move toward war in Europe and the Holocaust. Cuba denied entry to Jewish refugees attempting to escape the NAZIs on the SS St Louis only 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 States 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 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 and Lend-Lease deliveries.
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. Dominica sffered the grisly matter of having decomposing corpses of mostly Allied seamen, and a few German seamen wash up on the beaches. [Honeychurch, p. 171.]
The largest such experience was 16 bodies hat washed up from the Carib Reserve. YThis was a Spanish ship sunk by a German U-boat 60 miles east of Dominica. The U-boat apologized for sinking neutral ship, actually from a country oriented toward the Gemns. He said that he sunk the Spanish ship by mistake. He thought it was a disguised British merchant ship.
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. They were of some importnce, because the refinrries processing Venezuelan oil were located there. And the beginning of the war, Venezuelan oil was of great importance, supplyonmg Euripe (including Britin, frnce, and Germany). Europe hada very limited oil resource. Coal was the major energy source, but armies, air forces, and navies needed oil.
We know vey little about Grenada in Wprld War II. The Grenada Volunteer Force and Reserve, which had remained active in the years between the wars, was amalgamated with the Police Force and put under one Commanding Officer as the Grenada Defence Force 1939). The GDF was deployed to protect vulnerable points in accordance with the Defence Scheme for the island.
The Southern Caribbean Force was formed with both Btitish and Caribbean Officers (1944). Some Grenadians enlisted in the British Armed Forces. The War Office allowed West Indians who volunteered couls serve in the British Army. As far as we know, there were no American bases opened in Grenada, probbly becuse of the foicus on nearby Trinidad. We know Grenada like other Cribbean islands was adversely affected by shifting trade patterns, especilly tha declining availbility of needed imports. There was a tragedy when the Islnd Queen disppeared, presumasbly sunk by a German U-boat lte in tyhe War wsith 67 passengers lost (1944). [Steele]
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 with a smaller population . 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. Adm. Somerville at Oran offered Adm Gensoul options for the French fleet he commnded, including internment at Martinique, but he ejected them all. For a time, ships sailing to Martinique were a rare avenue of escape fo Jews and anti- NAZIs.
There wert was no pleasure cruises amd the refugees were harshly interrogated upon arrival on the island. Vichy authiorities st up internment camps. Vichy suthirities were divided. Most were happy to get rid of Jews and disidents. Others saw allowing the disidents to reach Martiniqie would destbikise the situation on the island. In the end, the British settled the issue (summer 1941). The last refugee ship out of Marseilles was the Arica (May 1941). The situation on Martinique was volitile. Unlike France itself, support for Vichy on the island was limited. Vichy was offially neutral in the War, but in many ways cooperated with the NAZIs. Many young peole, les dissidents, slipped over to the nearby British islands of Dominica and Saint Lucia so they could join up with the Free French. Vichy's NAZI orientation was This was of considerable concern among American authorities because of the security of the Panama Canal, vital in American defense strategy. American policy was constauned by a desire to work with Vivhy. Support for Vichy, never strong, dclined over time. An insurection was possible. The United States prepared to intervene and organized a joint Army-Marine Corps task force on Puerto Rico (the 295th Infantry and the 78th Engineer Battalion). American intervention proved unecessary. Martinique maintained its Vichy orientation for over a year after America entered the War. 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, a French possession on the South American mainland. A military mutiny broke out (July 1943). Robert resigned and sought prorection in Puerto Rico. The colony immediately declaring its support for Giraud (not for de Gaulle).
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. Kitts did not have bny major vases. Some men volunterrerd to serve wih the Bitish forces. The islanders like the rest of the Caribbean were adversely affected by the shifting trade ptterns, primarily the reduced vilbiklity of imports bd rising pfics.
St. Lucia was another part of the nglo-merican Bses fir Destoyers deal (August 1940). 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)> The purpose was to defend the Panama Canal and carry out anti-Uboat patrols. The 5th Bombardment Squadron (9th Bombardment Group) and 59th Bombardment Squadron (25th Bombardment Group) operated B-18 Bolo bombers from the airfield (September 1941 - March 1944), flying anti-submarine patrols. The U-boat threat had been largely defeated by 1944.
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 made the convoy assembly point for oil tankers going from the Trinidad oil refineries and the bauxite carriers from Guyana and Surinam. 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, however, 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 success early-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. The U.S. Navy used the Gulf of Paria was used for final U.S. carriers and planes exerciuses before entering the Pacific theatre.
The United States purchased the Virgin Islands (Saint Croix, Saint John, Saint Thomas, and smaller islands) east to 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).
Honeychurch, Lennox. The Dominica Story - A History of the Island (New Edition, Macmillan Education Ltd., London & Basingstoke, 1995)
Matthews, Gelien. "Sugar Casualty – The US in Antigua Since World War II, (2019).
Rollinson, David. Railways of the Caribbean (London: Macmillan Education Ltd., 2001).
Steel, Beverley . "How Grenada woin Wokd War II," (2002).
Tossini, J. Vitor. "The Caymans and the British presence in the Caribbean," UKDJ (Septmber 21, 2021).
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