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Second Happy Time

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Dixie Arrow torpedoed off Cape Hatteras by U-71, 26 March 1942

The Second Happy Time (German: Zweite glückliche Zeit; officially Operation Paukenschlag ("Operation Drumbeat"), and also known among German submarine commanders as the "American Shooting Season"[1]) was a phase in the Battle of the Atlantic during which Axis submarines attacked merchant shipping and Allied naval vessels along the east coast of North America. The First Happy Time was in 1940–1941 in the North Atlantic and North Sea. Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini declared war on the United States on 11 December 1941, and as a result their navies could begin the Second Happy Time.[2]

The Second Happy Time lasted from January 1942 to about August of that year and involved several German naval operations, including Operation Neuland. German submariners named it the "Happy Time" or the "Golden Time," as defense measures were weak and disorganized,[3]: p292  and the U-boats were able to inflict massive damage with little risk. During this period, Axis submarines sank 609 ships totaling 3.1 million tons, against a loss of only 22 U-boats. This led to the loss of thousands of lives, mainly those of merchant mariners. Although fewer than the losses during the 1917 campaign of the First World War,[4] those of this period equaled roughly one quarter of all ships sunk by U-boats during the entire Second World War.

Historian Michael Gannon called it "America's Second Pearl Harbor" and placed the blame for the nation's failure to respond quickly to the attacks on the inaction of Admiral Ernest J. King, commander-in-chief of the United States Navy (USN). Because King also refused British offers to provide the US navy with their own ships, the belated institution of a convoy system was in large part due to a severe shortage of suitable escort vessels, without which convoys were seen as actually more vulnerable than lone ships.[5]



German intentions


Upon Germany's declaration of war on the United States on 11 December 1941 just after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the US was, on paper at least, in a fortunate position. Where the other combatants on the Allied side had already lost thousands of trained sailors and airmen, and were experiencing shortages of ships and aircraft, the US was at full strength (save for its recent losses at Pearl Harbor). The US had the opportunity to learn about modern naval warfare by observing the conflicts in the North Sea and the Mediterranean, and through a close relationship with the United Kingdom. The USN had already gained significant experience in countering U-boats in the Atlantic, particularly from April 1941 when President Franklin D. Roosevelt extended the "Pan-American Security Zone" east almost as far as Iceland. The United States had massive manufacturing capacity and a favorable geographical position from a defensive point of view: the port of New York, for example, was 3,000 miles to the west of the U-boat bases in Brittany.

U-boat commander Vizeadmiral Karl Dönitz saw the entry of the US into the war as a golden opportunity to strike heavy blows in the tonnage war and Hitler ordered an assault on America on 12 December 1941. The standard Type VII submarine had insufficient range to patrol off the coast of North America (although, in due time, Type VII submarines were successfully able to patrol off the eastern seaboard of North America, due to refueling, rearming, and resupply logistical support by Type XIV submarine tender); the only suitable weapons he had on hand were the larger Type IX.[6] These were less maneuverable and slower to submerge, making them much more vulnerable than the Type VIIs. They were also fewer in number.

American deficiencies

Animation simulating a tanker silhouetted against lights of a city. When partial blackouts were introduced towards the middle of 1942, skyglow continued to be a problem in coastal cities.

The American response in early 1942 was hampered by poor organization and doctrine, and a lack of anti-submarine warfare (ASW) aircraft, ships, and personnel.

The USN entered the war without the equivalent of the British Black Swan-class sloop or the River-class frigate despite previous involvement in the Atlantic (see USS Reuben James.) The massive new naval construction program prioritized other types of ships. Fleet destroyers did not have the qualities for ASW; the ideal ASW escort had relatively low speed; carried a large number of depth charges; was highly maneuverable; and had long endurance.[citation needed] The 50 World War I-era destroyers transferred to Britain in the 1941 Destroyers for Bases Agreement would have been poor ASW escorts, even had they been retained, due to poor maneuverability.[7]

The USN had some destroyers available on the east coast at the time of the first attacks. It had previously recalled at least 25 Atlantic Convoy Escort Command Destroyers, including seven at anchor in New York Harbor. It initially refused to use them as escorts even as losses mounted.[3]: p238  When the first destroyers were finally released, their employment was hampered by poor doctrine. They were assigned to offensive patrols rather than escorting convoys due to public and political pressure. As late as March, USN escort doctrine was aggressive with an emphasis on destroying attackers, rather than stopping losses.[8][page needed] The option of pressing small civilian ships into service as rudimentary convoy escorts in early 1942 was not exercised.[9][page needed]

Even if escorts had been available, the USN was unprepared to perform "Naval Control of Shipping" (NCS), the control and tracking of shipping (in convoy or sailing independently), although it had already received the reference material from Canada. Without escorts, the US could not take advantage of the existing Allied NCS. For shipping in the western Atlantic north of the equator, NCS was handled by the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) since the start of the war; the RCN only passed the responsibility to the USN in July 1942.[9]

Operationally, the USN's ASW effort was fragmented. In theory, Admiral King was responsible for coordinating all ASW activities, including the development of doctrine. In practice, King's many other responsibilities prevented him from doing an adequate job. Therefore, the three Atlantic operational commands – the Atlantic Fleet, the Eastern Sea Frontier, and the Gulf Sea Frontier – were left to develop their own ASW tactics individually.[10][page needed] The issue was not resolved until May 1943 with the formation of the United States Tenth Fleet.[11][page needed]

British experience in the first two years of World War II, which included the massive losses incurred to their shipping during the First Happy Time confirmed that ships sailing in convoy – with or without escort – were far safer than ships sailing alone. The British recommended that merchant ships should avoid obvious standard routings wherever possible; navigational markers, lighthouses, and other aids to the enemy should be removed, and a strict coastal blackout be enforced. In addition, any available air and sea forces should perform daylight patrols to restrict the U-boats' flexibility. For several months, none of the recommendations were followed. Coastal shipping continued to sail along marked routes and burn normal navigation lights. Boardwalk communities ashore were only 'requested' to 'consider' turning their illuminations off on 18 December 1941, but not in the cities; they did not want to offend the tourism, recreation and business sectors.[3] : p186 

The primary target area was the Eastern Sea Frontier, commanded by Rear-Admiral Adolphus Andrews and covering the area from Maine to North Carolina. Andrews had practically no modern forces to work with: on the water he commanded seven Coast Guard cutters, four converted yachts, three 1919-vintage patrol boats, two gunboats dating back to 1905, and four wooden submarine chasers. About 100 aircraft were available, but these were short-range models only suitable for training. As a consequence of the traditionally antagonistic relationship between the USN and the Army Air Forces, all larger aircraft remained under USAAF control, and in any case the USAAF was neither trained nor equipped for ASW.[3]: p182 



Opening moves


Immediately after war was declared on the United States, Dönitz began to implement Operation Paukenschlag (often translated as "drumbeat" or "drumroll",[12] and literally as "timpani beat"). Only six of the twenty operational Type IX boats were available, and one of those six encountered mechanical trouble. This left just five long-range submarines for the opening moves of the campaign.[13]

Loaded with the maximum possible amounts of fuel, food and ammunition, the first of the five Type IXs left Lorient in France on 18 December 1941, the others following over the next few days. Each carried sealed orders to be opened after passing 20°W, which directed them to different parts of the North American coast. No charts or sailing directions were available: Kapitänleutnant Reinhard Hardegen of U-123, for example, was provided with two tourist guides to New York, one of which contained a fold-out map of the harbor.[3]: p137 

Each U-boat made routine signals on exiting the Bay of Biscay, which were picked up by the British Y service and plotted in Rodger Winn's London Submarine Tracking Room, which were then able to follow the progress of the Type IXs across the Atlantic, and cable an early warning to the RCN. Working on the slimmest of evidence, Winn correctly deduced the target area and passed a detailed warning to Admiral King,[14] of a "heavy concentration of U-boats off the North American seaboard", including the five boats already on station and further groups that were in transit, 21 U-boats in all. Rear-Admiral Edwin T. Layton of the US Combined Operations and Intelligence Center then informed the responsible area commanders, but little or nothing else was done.[15]

On 12 January 1942, Admiral Andrews was warned that "three or four U-boats" were about to commence operations against coastal shipping (in fact, there were indeed three),[16] but he refused to institute a convoy system on the grounds that this would only provide the U-boats with more targets.

When U-123 sank the 9,500-ton Norwegian tanker Norness within sight of Long Island in the early hours of 14 January, no warships were dispatched to investigate, allowing the U-123 to sink the 6,700-ton British tanker Coimbra off Sandy Hook on the following night before proceeding south towards New Jersey. By this time there were 13 destroyers idle in New York Harbor, yet none were employed to deal with the immediate threat, and over the following nights U-123 was presented with a succession of easy targets, most of them burning navigation lamps. At times, U-123 was operating in coastal waters that were so shallow that they barely allowed it to conceal itself, let alone evade a depth charge attack.

Operation Drumbeat


The first attack wave, Operation Drumbeat, consisted of five Type IX boats. Their first victory upon arriving in the coastal region of North America was the Canadian freighter Cyclops, sunk on 12 January off Nova Scotia. According to Robert Fisher, 26 more ships were sunk in the following nine days.[17] The boats cruised along the coast, safely submerged through the day, and surfacing at night to pick off merchant vessels outlined against the lights of the cities.

When the first wave of U-boats returned to port through the early part of February, Dönitz wrote that each commander "had such an abundance of opportunities for attack that he could not by any means utilize them all: there were times when there were up to ten ships in sight, sailing with all lights burning on peacetime courses."

The RCN immediately organized coastal convoys when Drumbeat began despite the difficulty in finding escorts. 37 ships were lost in January and February, and only 11 in March and April. The RCN noted that by March and April the U-boats preferred hunting in US waters.[18]

U-boats in the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico

The tanker Pennsylvania Sun torpedoed by U-571 on 15 July 1942 (was saved and returned to service in 1943).

The second wave of Type IX boats had arrived in North American waters, and the third wave (Operation Neuland) had reached its patrol area off the oil ports of the Caribbean. With such easy pickings and all Type IX boats already committed, Dönitz began sending shorter-range Type VIIs to the US East Coast as well. This required extraordinary measures: cramming every conceivable space with provisions, some even filling the fresh water tanks with diesel oil, and crossing the Atlantic at very low speed on a single engine to conserve fuel.

In the United States there was still no concerted response to the attacks. Responsibility rested with Admiral King, but he was preoccupied with the Japanese onslaught in the Pacific. Admiral Andrews' North Atlantic Coastal Frontier was expanded to take in South Carolina and renamed the Eastern Sea Frontier (ESF), but most of the ships and aircraft needed remained under the command of Admiral Royal E. Ingersoll, Commander-in-Chief, Atlantic Fleet, who was often at sea and unavailable to make decisions. Rodger Winn's detailed weekly U-boat situation reports from the Submarine Tracking Room in London were available but ignored.[citation needed] By April, Allied forces along the US east coast included 80 small patrol ships in the USN Eastern Sea Frontier, 160 US aircraft, 24 RN ASW trawlers, and one British Coastal Command squadron. By British and Canadian standards these were enough to begin convoying, but no comprehensive convoy system was implemented that month.[19] Instead, on 1 April the US implemented a partial convoy system where convoys moved along the coast in short hops, moving during daytime and stopping in protected anchorages during nights; these were slow and ineffective.[20][19]

Coastal forces were reinforced from the Mid-Ocean Escort Force (MOEF) before March. The US contribution to the MOEF fell to part of one group. Five RCN corvettes were withdrawn to escort the new Boston-Halifax convoys, the first convoys along the American seaboard.[21] In April, a Royal Navy (RN) group redeployed to the Caribbean to defend tankers.[19] The RCN attempted to reinforce the MOEF by using training ships in supporting roles.[21]

Allied tanker losses were alarming. Losses along the North American coast and in the Caribbean accounted for most of the 73 American tankers lost in the first half of 1942, and 22 British tankers lost in March; three out of the four largest Canadian tankers were also lost from February to May. In March, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill urged the USN to organize coastal convoys, to little effect. The next month, British tankers from the Caribbean avoided the US coast and sailed east to Freetown in Africa,[17] while between 16 and 29 April the US ordered US and Caribbean coastal waters closed to commercial tanker movement.[18] On 26 April, the US agreed to allow Britain to redeploy a MOEF group to establish Caribbean convoys, but the US refused to start its own Caribbean convoys or to provide escorts.[22]

Eastern Canada was dependent on imported oil from the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean.[23] The crisis led to gasoline rationing on 1 April, and the potential consequences of the US-ordered halt to tanker movements were severe. On 28 April, the RCN started ad hoc convoys to bring Canadian and Canadian-charted tankers trapped in the US and the Caribbean back to Halifax. On 1 May, the Government of Canada insisted that Canadian tankers be escorted, leading the RCN to organize formal convoys to the Caribbean through US coastal waters.[18] The RCN had only enough escorts to run convoys from Halifax to Trinidad (coded as TH); the loss of supply from other regional suppliers had to be accepted.[22] In July, Trinidad was replaced by Aruba to accommodate British tanker movement. From May to August, fourteen convoys – including 76 tankers and 4 million barrels of oil – were run without a single ship lost. The convoys were discontinued in August with the advent of the US's comprehensive convoying system.[24] Canada also began convoys between Nova Scotia and Quebec City in May.[25]

The search for Allied tankers and the support of U-459, a Type XIV, pushed the U-boat offensive into the Gulf of Mexico.[22] On 21 April, U-459 was 600 miles north-west of Bermuda; it refuelled fourteen U-boats through 6 May, including Type VIIs, headed for the Gulf and the Caribbean. In May, they sank 115 ships (of which 101 were steaming independently), about half being in the Gulf, with half of that tonnage being tankers. In June, they sank 122 ships, of which 108 were sailing independently. The Gulf Sea Frontier, formed in early February, had barely any resources and was ineffective.[26]

US convoys arrive


The first organized US coastal convoy sailed on 14 May 1942 from Hampton Roads for Key West; convoys eventually extended to Halifax.[20] The US sought another 15 to 20 corvettes from Britain.[27] By this time, two British escort groups were already in the Caribbean and the MOEF was under strain. Nonetheless, Britain and Canada responded to US requests by reducing the size of the remaining MOEF groups. The MOEF and the RCN had no further slack. The RCN struggled to meet its commitments even with 90% of its escort fleet being operational, as opposed to being used for training or being refitted;[25] the negative effects of this over-extension would be felt well into 1943.[28] By comparison the RN escort fleet was merely two-thirds operational.[25] The weakening of MOEF contributed to difficulties in the mid-Atlantic in August.[21]

The US convoy system effectively brought the crisis to an end. By early-July most U-boats only operated along the perimeter of the Caribbean. German attention returned to the mid-Atlantic.[29]



Popular alarm at the sinkings was dealt with by a combination of secrecy and misleading propaganda. The US Navy confidently announced that many of the U-boats would "never enjoy the return portion of their voyage"[citation needed] but that unfortunately, details of the sunken U-boats could not be made public lest the information aid the enemy. All citizens who had witnessed the sinking of a U-boat were asked to help keep the secrets safe.[citation needed]




SS Dixie Arrow torpedoed on 26 March 1942 south of Hatteras Island
SS Byron D. Benson torpedoed on 4 April 1942 east of Southern Shores, North Carolina.




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