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Submarine Net Being Made Ready, Cape Henlopen, Delaware, 1942

Submarine Net Being Made Ready, Cape Henlopen, Delaware, 1942

In order to protect the entrances to Delaware and Chesapeake Bays, submarine nets were put in place during the early months of 1942 to keep submarines out. The U-boats often did their dirty work close inshore, almost on the beaches. In addition to the anit-submarine nets, friendly mines, Navy magnetic loops and hydrophones were used at the bay’s entrances. Constant watch was maintained to deter the possibility that commerce raiders, disguised as merchant ships could attack unsuspecting coastal shipping, lay mines, or be scuttled to block shipping channels. On the Delaware Bay, facilities were built and manned at Cape May and at Cape Henlopen to take care of those operations. Coastal defenses had not been worked out for submarine detection in 1942. In January 27, 1942 a tanker was torpedoed by a U-boat at the mouth of the Chesapeake. On February 4 and 5, twin ships, SS India Arrow and SS China Arrow, both out of Beaumont Texas and heading for New York with shipments of oil, were torpedoed and sank. The India Arrow was lost off Atlantic city. The China Arrow sank off Lewes, Delaware. Many other ships were lost to enemy fire and torpedoes along the New Jersey and Delaware coastlines during the early months of 1942. On March 4, 1942, (when I was only 18-days-old), the British freighter Gypsum Prince was sunk just 1.1 miles off the Cape Henlopen, DE. The British tanker Voco, sailing out of Philadelphia, collided with the Gypsum Prince, under conditions of poor visibility. The Gypsum Prince had been trying to avoid detection by running without lights and keeping radio silence since U-boats were known to be lurking in the area. The Gypsum Prince sank, with a loss of six crew members. Twenty of her crew were saved and taken in to Lewes, Delaware. The SS Hvoslep, a Norwegian freighter, was torpedoed on March 10, just two miles east of the Fenwick Island Shoal buoy. The John R. Williams was sunk in the Delaware River on June 24, after German U-boats had begun laying mines in the Delaware Bay on June 11. They had also laid mines off Boston Harbor and in the Chesapeake Bay. Remors spread among the residents about U-boats dropping off spies and saboteurs. It was strongly believed by my family living at the farm that one had even gotten up the Cohansey River, close to the farm, for that purpose. Feelings and fears ran high. There was some basis for believing such rumors. During World War I, German freighter submarines traded with the DuPont Company during the period when the United States was still technically neutral. The submarines carried dyestuffs and other chemicals from the German-owned firms Bayer and/or I.G. Farben to the DuPont plants on the lower Delaware River. That action came to an abrupt halt when the United States joined the Allies in 1917. Many Salem County residents, including my father and grandfather worked for the DuPont Company and heard from older employees that those transactions had taken place. Adding fuel to the WWII rumor mill were true reports of 8 Nazi saboteurs who were actually landed on the East Coast in June, 1942. Before they could carry out their destructive missions, though, those men were all in the custody of United States officials. Six of the eight of them, after undergoing a Military Tribunal trial, were found guilty and executed. For the grown-ups of my family it was a very stressful time.

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