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U.S. Navy Vought SBU-1 dive bombers of scouting squadron VS-42 flying the Neutrality Patrol in 1940

At the beginning of World War II, when the Nazi invasion of Poland on 1 September 1939 began hostilities in Europe, President Franklin D. Roosevelt immediately declared the United States’ neutrality.

The Neutrality Patrol, organized on September 4, 1939 as a response to the war in Europe, was ordered to track and report the movements of any warlike operations of belligerents in the waters of the western hemisphere. To augment the fleet units already engaged in the Neutrality Patrol which President Roosevelt had placed around the eastern seaboard and Gulf ports, the United States Navy recommissioned 77 destroyers and light minelayers which had lain in reserve at either Philadelphia or San Diego.

The Neutrality Patrol led to U.S. warships assisting British Royal Navy vessels in convoying merchant shipping across the Atlantic Ocean. This placed U.S. naval personnel at considerable risk, as shown by the sinking of the destroyer USS Reuben James from Convoy HX-156 by U-552 on 31 October 1941.

In spite of its name the Neutrality Patrol was clearly favoring the British side. For instance, they tended to shadow German ships in neutral waters and communicated their location back without encryption so they could be intercepted by British ships[citation needed].

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