The end of the M.V. Putney Hill
26th June 1942: U boats are pushed out into the Caribbean as the rich pickings of the US East coast come to an end
The second "Happy Time" for U-boats was drawing to a close as the US Navy instituted a convoy system along the East coast of America. U-boats now shifted their attention towards the Caribbean, where they lay in wait for ships sailing up and down the known routes.
Admiral Donitz's objective was simple - to sink ships at a faster rate than the Allies could build them - an overall reduction in Allied shipping capacity would restrict the ability for the United States and Canada to supply Britain and Russia. The sinking of any Allied ship, anywhere, whether in cargo or not would contribute to this strategy.
German calculations greatly underestimated the rate at which ships would be built - but this made no difference to those in the cross-hairs of a U-boat periscope.
Alan Shard1 was an Apprentice Deck Officer on the Putney Hill en route from Cape Town to New York. On the 25th June they were about 500 miles north of Puerto Rico in the Caribbean.
The time was 2325. It was a brilliant moonlit night, warm, with little breeze and slight sea and swell. The lookout in the port wing of the bridge was a young Apprentice from Radcliffe, Lancashire, who was scanning an area from right ahead to right astern on his side. The Third Mate was keeping a similar lookout on the starboard side and an Able Bodied Seaman at the wheel. The fourth member of the watch, on Standby, had just made the coffee for the Middle Watch coming on at midnight. (Coffee on a British Ship in wartime consisted of throwing a few handfuls of grind into a converted 5lb jam tin with a wire handle and letting it stew on the galley stove).
Keep reading with a 7-day free trial
Subscribe to World War II Today to keep reading this post and get 7 days of free access to the full post archives.