The German submarine glided through the icy water past New York City, its captain noting the glowing skyscrapers of Manhattan and then Coney Island’s brilliantly-lit Ferris wheel. Soon his lookouts spotted a large oil tanker, steaming ahead without escort. Maneuvering into position, the captain easily acquired his target, framed by the city’s lights, and fired a torpedo into the vessel, sending a fireball into the sky worthy of America’s most dazzling city.
It was January 1942, the beginning of one of America’s most important, and underappreciated, campaigns to defend the homeland. Peak operations would continue – below, on and above the seas from Florida to New England – through the summer, influencing the fate of World War II and interring ships and sailors from several countries in watery graves off what are now some of America’s most popular beaches and harbors.
This is the gripping story told in Ed Offley’s newest book, The Burning Shore: How Hitler’s U-Boats Brought World War II to America (Basic Books, 2014).
While the circumstances of this battle are unique, the oft competing roles played by bureaucratic infighting, intelligence collection, combat leadership and blind luck will be familiar to students of America’s most recent conflicts.
The German submarine, or “U-boat,” threat of early 1942 certainly came as no surprise to America’s political and military leadership. Indeed, the U.S. Navy and German subs had joined battle months earlier, even before war was declared, when President Roosevelt ordered the Navy to protect allied shipping.
When official hostilities began, top brass recognized the “imminent probability of submarine attack” along the East Coast, thanks in large part to British intelligence. Yet the admirals failed to respond effectively. See our review at Real Clear History...