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Operation Drumbeat: German Nazi U-boats Off the American Coast, 1942

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Drumbeat, at least in theory, had been planned as far back as 1897. Germany had always been fascinated with attacking America, a land insulated and buffered by two oceans. There was a desire to “break” this immunity. Thus, in 1897, when Hitler was a mere boy of eight years, the German military planners first proposed a mostly naval operation against the East Coast of the U.S. Planning continued and by 1898, a more detailed vision had been constructed that focused on a naval bombardment and landing troops on Long Island along the Chesapeke Bay.

Captain Adolf Golzen, a German military attaché in Washington D.C., had seen such plans and was so taken by the discussions or writings in 1899, wrote his own detailed and serious plan. In his plan, which he presented, made New York city the primary target for a large naval blockade. One naval task force would blockade the harbors at the east end of Long Island as another large task force would enter New York Bay. The German armada entering would bombard FortHamilton and FortTompkins. Other ships would bombard Manhatten. Once completed, several infantry battalions and one engineer battalion would invade Long Island to establish a bridgehead to America. These units would subsequently attack across into the Manhatten area.

Beginning in 1917, the concept of attacking America with aircraft and airships seemed to take over the concept of using ships. The concept would require the use large bi-planes to reach the eastern U.S. seaboard. The idea went into remission in 1919 when Germany lost WW1. However, the idea remained and simmered on the back burner of high ranking minds until 1929, when a report by Major Wilberg, an Army Weapons Officer, mapped out a secret requirements document for bomb carriers. This remained secret until 1933. It then resurfaced with the rise of Hitler and taken quite seriously. The requirement was to have a four engine aircraft, with a crew of eight, armed with two 20mm cannon and five MGs. Its operational height was 6000 m and a top speed of 300 km per hour. Its range would be 2000 km. Other long range aircraft were also in various planning stages, but as Hitler rose to power, the Reich Air Ministry was more interested in the Bf 109 and Bf 110 fighter. One such long ranger bomber was the Do 19, which first flew in 1936.

In 1936, the Reich Air Ministry requested a long range bomber capable of flying 5000 km with a 500 kg bombload (the east coast of America is 6500 km from Europe). Eventually, Heikel produced the He 177. Competition was keen and Focke-Wulf present its FW 200, and in August, 1938, one flew non-stop from Berlin to New York! Then, in 1937, Hitler met with Willy Messerschmitt where he presented to Hitler’s surprise, the Messerschmitt long range bomber program. He had already worked up specifications for the Me 261, an aircraft that could fly 6700 km and 5000m and one ton bombload.

As 1940 turned in 1941, Hitler became more adamant in his desire to bomb to ashes New York City in order to teach the Jews a lesson on terror. The aircraft designs were valid and plentiful, what lacked were the engines! In April, 1941, the Air Ministry demanded that 50 Me 264s be built and tested, with 10 aircraft to have top priority so the air offensive against America(along with Drumbeat) could begin. Hitler wanted to target heavy industry (20 industrial sites had been identified). Messerschmitt had already six prototypes unbeknownst to Hitler by March 1941, with another 18 to be built. These could fly 12000 km and carry 3-5 tons of bombs. In a conference on May 22, 1941, Hitler was informed that if Germany seized the Azores in the middle of the Atlantic, it would provide a launch pad from with the He 177 and FW 200 could bomb from.

On December 7, 1941, the German High Command received word that the Japanese had attacked at Pearl harbor. For Admiral Karl Donitz, the commander of all U-boats based in France, the time was ripe. Even as a young officer, Donitz had been fascinated about attacking the US. Looking at the map, the distance from France to the waters off the US east coast is 3000 nautical miles. Unlike the Luftwaffe, Donitz had two submarines capable of attacking the US: Type IXB and IXC. When Donietz requested the use of 12 IX Type U-boats for his operation, he received a lukewarm response, in fact, all of the available U-boats were already in use and on station—but for five, which happen to be the advanced IX Type! These were: U-123, U-130, U-66, U-109, and U-125. Two were IXB types, the remaining were IXC types. Their captains were briefed and told to not expose themselves unless the target was at least 10000 tons while in American waters. The fishing ground was from CapeHatteras to St. Lawerence. The U-boats secretly made their way across the Atlantic between Dec. 16-24.

When the US Naval forces were informed of the impending attack by the British, the US Navy based in Virginia did little and remained idle as it was expected that these forces would be used to confront the German Navy. Thus, the entire US East Coast was defended by a polyglot force of the US Coast Guard. This force consisted of:

51 Old training aircraft

18 Scout aircraft

6 Patrol aircraft

3 Fighter and 3 Torpedo Aircraft

4 Subchasers ( Nos. 102, 330, 412, 437)

4 Armed Yachts (Sylph, Coral, Tour, Slean)

2 Old gunboats (Nos. 17 and 18)

3 Patrol boats

7 Coast Guard Cutters (Dione, Dix, Active, Frederick, Antieram, Jackson, Rush) Of these, only three were operational.

The US Army Air Force, like the USN, had its own agenda and planning, which prevented helping defend America’s east coast by air reconnasiance. The following were based in from Virgina, New York to Massachusetts:

9 B17

6 B18

31 B25

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Because of maintenance and no communications between the three organizations, on average, the USN could only allow two destroyers to hunt for U-boats from Jan. to March every day. The US Army Air Force could only allow six aircraft (usually B25s) to make sorties every day. To defend Florida, in February, only 14 Scout aircraft and 2 B18’s were operational!

Drumbeat arrived unannounced and remained secret. Many Americans did not know German U-boats were waiting off shore.

The pace of Drumbeat grew with the passing of every month as subs rotated out and back to Franceand those just arriving. Doneitz continued to add all available submarines and more began to arrive off of Florida or in the Caribbean to intercept vital oil pumped from Aruba. Replacing the first wave in February were: U-103, 106, 107, 108, all IX Type. Also arriving now were the lesser U-boats, VIIC Type: U-432, 564, 578, 653. These were positioned up and down the East Coast from Norfolk to Boston. Others like the U128 and 504 hunted off the Florida coast Appearing in the warm tropics near Aruba and Trinidad raomed U67, U129, U156, U161, U502- all IXC Type. Each of these subs could linger around for 2-3 weeks time before returning.

U-Boats were deadly. For example, in a period of 3 days, in a sector assigned to three sub hunter ships, 14 ships had been sunk and 90,500 tons went to the bottom of the sea. None of the subs had been found or destroyed. Spotting a surfaced sub from the air by a B18 or B24 bomber was like finding a needle in a haystack. In the six months that Drumbeat was happening, less than five aircraft had spotted a surfaced submarine.

On June 13th, just after midnight, U-boat 202 crept as close as it could to the beach area at Amagansett, Long Island. From the sub were four German men who deployed a collapsible boat and paddled onto America. The first German troops had fulfilled a 45 years dream! These four men were part of Doenitz’ plan to land saboteurs who spoke perfect English. U-boat 202 then silently disappeared. Unbeknownst to the Germans, they happened to pick the only beach that the Coast Guard patrolled 24 hours a day and very close to the Coast Guard Station and the 113th Mobile Infantry Unit! Actually, a week had gone by before the first German saboteur had been captured. It was Georg Johann Dasch, a German national that had been a US resident for many years and married to a US citizen!

On June 17th, U 584, off Ponte Vedra, Florida, the story was retold, as four Germans landed onto an isolated beach unobserved. With them, they carried a considerable amount of explosives which they hid. Two of the saboteurs went to New York, the other two went to Chicago.

It was not until May, 1942, that the convoys departing from the US East Coast were in convoys escorted by US Destroyers. For some reason, the American authorities remained a very stubborn attitude about not mandating that ships travel in convoys as the British transports had done.

In all, around 40 U-boats participated in Drumbeat. The pickings were good and by June, over 400 ships had been sunk and 2,000,000 tons of war material went to the bottom of the ocean along with 5000 men. Drumbeat was very cost effective, only seven U-boats were lost. Had the Germans focused on the refineries at Aruba, which provide 75% of the aviation fuel Canada and the US used, by destroying it, the ramifications would have been detrimental. However, only two subs arrived there and shelled it causing fire but that was about it.



Anne Bidez Schumann on May 30, 2017:

Many thanks for this article I have just read for a second time. My father, Earle Calhoun Bidez, was stationed in Savannah, GA in Naval Intelligence because of his intricate knowledge of the local waterways. I do wish I knew exactly what he did during that time.

Anne Bidez

sidneys2d on May 30, 2017:

Thank you for this information on Germany's WW II relationship with the East coast of the US. My father was in Naval Intelligence during the war, stationed in Savannah, Georgia because of his

intricate knowledge of the waterways.

Because he died so young, we were never able to find out exactly what he did during the war. I have tried to get information for most of my adult life.

Again, thank you,

Anne Bidez Schumann

Trevor on May 27, 2017:

Thanks for the info, the kreigsmarine even then were very adept at playing the "long game"

perrya (author) on April 09, 2016:

thanks, it is lost history that many know little about today on April 08, 2016:

Fascinating article! I consider myself quite well informed when it comes to military history, especially during the 20th century like the Amerika Bomber, but I never knew about this - great work!

tom on August 02, 2012:

Good article - too many exclamation points though.

sidneys2d on July 23, 2012:


perrya (author) on July 23, 2012:

I can only guess that it may have had something to do with real or imagined U-boat sightings.

sidneys2d on July 23, 2012:

I've been looking for information concerning my father's roll during WWll. Navel Intelligence stationed him in Savannah GA (his hometown) because of his knowledge of the waterways in the area. I haven't been able to get any 'declassified' information, all I have obtained are requisitions for gasoline, etc. My mother told us he'd get up in the middle of the night and get on shrimp boats in Thunderbolt, GA but, of course, he never told her what he did. His office was in the Savannah Bank Building. Since he died in an automobile accident soon after the war was over we were never able to hear his 'stories'. Do you have any idea of what he did or of how we can get information? Thank you, I loved reading this.

perrya (author) on May 18, 2012:


David Hunt from Cedar Rapids, Iowa on May 18, 2012:

perrya, very thorough article on Drumbeat. I try to vet my proposed hubs against existing hubs, but in this case, I didn't find your hub until after I published. I think we can co-exist-- mine being more of an overview of the operation, while yours is an excellent detailed study even covering its inception! Voted up and awesome.

Eric Wiberg on April 17, 2012:

I've researched the U-boat activity south of Savannah - Bermuda during Operation Drumbeat and later Operation Neuland at - should have a book coming out end 2012 / early 2013. Enjoy!

cgag27 on April 05, 2012:

Long Island is not along the Chesapeake Bay.

Robert Anderson on February 23, 2012:

The uss jacob jones was sunk off the cost of NJ by u-578 28Feb1942 my uncle was aboard

pilbin on January 25, 2012:

My grandfather once told me that U Boats got into NY Harbor almost up to the Statue of Liberty.They would enter the Narrows, shut off their egines and allow the tide to carry them in. They wanted to see what was going on at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. I was also told that they were seen off Coney Island and Rockaway Beaches.

perrya (author) on October 22, 2011:

Must be a misspelling then.

Maureen Marks on October 04, 2011:

My dad was on the "Santa Bula" going from Cristobal to Tampa 5/18/42-5/23/42. The ship was attacked by Nazi U-Boat in the Gulf of Mexico on 5/20/42 at 11:21 PM.

The survivors were picked up the next day at 6:15 AM by a ship(don't know which one) that had been torpedoed by the same U Boat. I found your information very informative. I should have listened to his stories while he was alive!

Do you have any

ThoughtSandwiches from Reno, Nevada on October 03, 2011:

Excellent study of this under-studied theater of operations. Also...I really loved the pictures! Thanks.

perrya (author) on March 31, 2011:

Muy bueno, gracias.

Kelsey on March 31, 2011:

Fascinating subject. I live on the Georgia coast near where a German sub sunk some ships during WWII. I learned a lot more on the German strategy from your hub.

perrya (author) on February 24, 2011:

yes kiwi. the scout aircraft were at first, B25 bombers since they had range.

tcstec on February 05, 2011:

You mentioned "scout" aircraft protecting the Florida coast. Could you provide any details -- or point me to a reference source -- regarding the type of aircraft used, where they flew out of, etc. I am working on a novel that includes a pilot involved in these U-boat patrols, and I am hunting for some background details to make this episode more authentic. THANKS!

Lofie on January 25, 2011:

I was a young teenager during WW II and lived just a short distance from the Narrows-where the Verrazzano bridge now stands. My father was a policeman in the 64th Pct drove a squad car and Fort Hamilton was on his beat. From time to time we would hear canon fire from Fort Hamilton. The story was that they were conducting practice. My father wouldreport on occasion that the Fort Hamilton Guns were firing at a suspected German submarine. Whether there were any submarines off of Fort Hamilton was never verified, but the Police Department was certainly under that impression.

In addition, from time to time I would go fishing in from the Belt Parkway not far from the Bay 8th street exit--a 10 minute walk from my house. Quite often the shore line along the Parkway was strewn with wooden crates which we assumed came from sunken ships. I recall vividly that on one of those occasions there were numerous crates of Mah Jong tiles broken up on the boulders along the sea wall.

alphonso on January 13, 2011:

awesome! we all need to know about this

dudley on September 05, 2010:

My aunt's house on the south beach of Nantucket was owned by a movie star in 1940. After a German sub sank a cargo ship off the coast in 1941 she moved away, never to return. The US Navy then painted the house a dull grey to confuse the Germans. My aunt bought the house in 1953.

alphonsians93 from Cebu Philippines on September 02, 2010:

This is wonderful i do research on U-boats and they all have great action stories... I like your article expressing the battle of iron sharks... great job

perrya (author) on September 02, 2010:

Thanks. How about the 15000 US troops deceived in 1919 about their secret mission- to join the French and British troops landing in North Russia at Archangel to fight the birth of Communism? It was a fiasco and after a year, everyone evacuated. Google the book, Stamping out the Virus.

Tim Blackstone on September 02, 2010:

This is something that should be better known. It is strange that something as significant as this has somehow slipped through the history books and been ignored. A great hub.

mquee from Columbia, SC on August 10, 2010:

perrya, I admire the research and the facts that you have provided here. More people writing on the subject of history should take this as an example of researching and reporting the facts as they actually are. Both educational and enjoyable reading. Thank you.

perrya (author) on August 08, 2010:

True, but it was Pearl harbor that brought us into WW2 and since Japan was a German ally, we were naturally against them. Until then, America was refusing to enter.

culturespain from Spain on August 08, 2010:

Of all Hitler's crazy decisions one of the most lunatic was to 'take on' the US. This was nothing if not daft given the States' reluctance to enter the Second World War. Indeed, it is easy to forget that it was Hitler who declared war on the US rather then the other way around! Incredible...

perrya (author) on July 29, 2010:

Thanks, not many Americans under 50 yrs know about this unless they are into history.

perrya (author) on July 11, 2010:

No idea about civilian boats.

Rod Phillips on July 10, 2010:

A few years back my mom told me the story of her travel from Cape Town to New York and that her boat, some US Military vessel had to travel the gauntlet of U-boats and made it.

Question: How many civilian or "non-military" boats or casualties were the result of U-Boat attacks?

Gerald T Duckey on June 20, 2010:

I was a NYC Police Officer, every NYC Police Pct has its old desk blotters stored in a records room in each Pct.These books date back from 1900 to present.The pcts that cover the Rockaway pinuseula Queens NY have some pretty interesting entries from 1941-1945 in them.Some of them refer to Submirine sightings to beached german naval mines.These record books mak for great reading!

perrya (author) on May 02, 2010:

Thanks, but not yet. check out my wargame on this at:

DRMick on May 02, 2010:

Fascinating article, I just ran across it, looking for information about how much oil was estimated lost on the coast during the Uboat attacks. With the current BP oil leak, the media is overplaying the Valdez disaster as the worst oil spill in US history (11 million gallons). I suspect the 2 million tons of war material sunk contained a lot more oil than that disaster. Any information on that ?

WKoppin from Michigan on April 03, 2010:

I disagree. Naval manifests exist in our own national archieves showing cargo listings from a U-boat that surrendred off the coast of Maine containing enough Uranium to be weaponized. Less than two months later the first atomic test occurs in New Mexico. The project was not given enough time and resources, and thus never came to better fruition. Hitler Delaying the 262 is another one of his maniac phases of self-destruction his country, and the war was veritably "lost" after 1942 really.

perrya (author) on April 03, 2010:

The Nazis never had the bomb or was close to it. They were messing around with "heavy water" but Hitler wanted something faster timewise. Hitler himself delayed the jet fighter, ME-262, because he did not think it would be more effective. Had he not believed this, the air war would be profoundly different before 1944.

WKoppin from Michigan on April 03, 2010:

I recall reading something of a similar ilk relevant to Nazi Germany wanting to drop one of their atomic bombs on New York to have the desired effect of forcing a surrender.

perrya (author) on March 19, 2010:

well, it would have been pretty hard to do. The ocean protects us.

Matt on March 19, 2010:

Imagine if the Nazi's hadn't gone to war with Russia and had instead focused on invading the US...

Ming on July 28, 2009:

...and the U.S. military and political leaders continued to sit idle and allow invaders to have their way on 9-11.

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