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Operation Neuland (New Land) was the Kriegsmarine code name for the extension of unrestricted submarine warfare into the Caribbean Sea during World War II. U-boats demonstrated range to disrupt United Kingdom petroleum supplies and United States aluminum supplies which had not been anticipated by Allied pre-war planning. Although the area remained vulnerable to submarines for several months; U-boats never again enjoyed the opportunities for success resulting from the surprise achieved by the submarines participating in this operation.


Map of the Caribbean Sea.

The Caribbean was strategically significant because of Venezuelan oil fields in the southeast and the Panama Canal in the southwest. The oil refinery on Dutch-owned Aruba, processing seven million barrels per month, was the largest in the world; the refinery at Pointe-à-Pierre on Trinidad was the largest in the British Empire; and there was another large refinery on Dutch-owned Curaçao. The British Isles required four oil tankers of petroleum daily during the early war years, and most of it came from Venezuela after Italy blocked passage through the Mediterranean Sea from the Middle East.[2] The Caribbean held additional strategic significance to the United States. The southern United States Gulf of Mexico coastline, including petroleum facilities and Mississippi River trade, could be defended at two points. The United States was well positioned to defend the Straits of Florida but was less able to prevent access from the Caribbean through the Yucatán Channel. Bauxite was the preferred ore for aluminum, and one of the few strategic raw materials not available within the continental United States. United States military aircraft production depended upon bauxite imported from the Guianas along shipping routes paralleling the Lesser Antilles.[3]

United States Navy VP-51 Consolidated PBY Catalinas began neutrality patrols along the Lesser Antillies from San Juan, Puerto Rico on 13 September 1939.[4] The United Kingdom had established military bases on Trinidad; and British troops occupied Aruba and Curaçao soon after the Netherlands were captured by Nazi Germany. The French island of Martinique was perceived as a possible base for Axis ships as British relationships with Vichy France deteriorated following the Second Armistice at Compiègne. The September 1940 Destroyers for Bases Agreement enabled the United States to build bases in British Guiana, and on the islands of Great Exuma, Jamaica, Antigua, Saint Lucia and Trinidad.[5]


Declaration of war on 8 December 1941 removed United States neutrality assertions which had previously protected trade shipping in the Western Atlantic. The relatively ineffective anti-submarine warfare (ASW) measures along the United States Atlantic coast observed by U-boats participating in Operation Paukenschlag encouraged utilizing the range of German Type IX submarines to explore conditions in what had previously been the southern portion of a declared Pan American neutrality zone. A 15 January 1942 meeting in Lorient included former Hamburg America Line captains with Caribbean experience to brief commanding officers of U-156, U-67, U-502, U-161 and U-129 about conditions in the area. The first three U-boats sailed on 19 January with orders to simultaneously attack Dutch refinery facilities on 16 February. U-161 sailed on 24 January to attack Trinidad, and U-129 followed on 26 January. U-126 sailed on 2 February to patrol the Windward Passage between Cuba and Hispaniola; and five large Italian submarines sailed from Bordeaux to patrol the Atlantic side of the Lesser Antilles. These eleven submarines would patrol independently to disperse Allied ASW resources until exhaustion of food, fuel or torpedoes required them to return to France.[6]



The second patrol of U-156 was under the command of Werner Hartenstein. In coordination with the attack on Willemstad U-156 moved into Aruba's San Nicolaas harbor shortly after midnight on 16 February 1942 to torpedo three tankers. U-156 withdrew from the harbor as the damaged tankers spilled burning fuel, but returned that evening to shell the refinery. A nervous gunner failed to remove the tampion from the muzzle of the 10.5 cm SK C/32 naval gun, and the first shell detonated within the barrel. One gunner was killed, another seriously injured, and the muzzle of the gun barrel was splayed open. The injured crewman was put ashore in Martinique where he recovered after one leg was amputated. The crew used hacksaws to shorten the damaged gun barrel by 40 centimeters, and used the sawed-off gun to sink two ships encountered after all torpedoes had been expended sinking two other ships. U-156 started home on 28 February 1942.[7]

Date[8] Ship[8] Flag[8] Tonnage (GRT)[8] Notes
16 February 1942 Pedernales  United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland 4,317 Tanker torpedoed in San Nicolaas harbor, but later repaired
16 February 1942 Oranjestad  United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland 2,396 Tanker torpedoed in San Nicolaas harbor, and capsized in 48 seconds[9]
16 February 1942 Arkansas  United States 6,452 Tanker torpedoed in San Nicolaas harbor, but later repaired
20 February 1942 Delplata  United States 5,127 Freighter torpedoed at 14°45′N 62°10′W / 14.75°N 62.167°W / 14.75; -62.167[10]
25 February 1942 La Carriere  United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland 5,685 Tanker
27 February 1942 Macgregor  United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland 2,498 Freighter sunk by gunfire
28 February 1942 Oregon  United States 7,017 6 crewman killed aboard tanker sunk by gunfire at 20°44′N 67°52′W / 20.733°N 67.867°W / 20.733; -67.867[11]


The third patrol of U-67 was under the command of Günther Müller-Stöckheim. In coordination with the attack on Aruba U-67 moved into Curaçao's Willemstad harbor shortly after midnight on 16 February to launch six torpedoes at three anchored tankers. The four bow torpedoes hit, but failed to explode. The two torpedoes from the stern tubes were effective on the third tanker.[12]

Date[13] Ship[13] Flag[13] Tonnage (GRT)[13] Notes
16 February 1942 Rafaela  Netherlands 3,177 Tanker torpedoed in Willemstad harbor, but later repaired
21 February 1942 Kongsgaard  Norway 9,467 Tanker
14 March 1942 Penelope  Panama 8,436 Tanker


The third patrol of U-502 was under the command of Jürgen Von Rosensteil. In coordination with the attacks on Aruba and Willemstad, U-502 waited to ambush shallow draft Lake Maracaibo crude oil tankers en route to the refineries. After three tankers were reported missing, the Chinese crews of surviving tankers refused to sail; and Associated Press broadcast a report that tanker traffic had been halted in the area. U-502 moved north and started home via the Windward Passage after launching its last torpedoes on 23 February.[14]

Date[15] Ship[15] Flag[15] Tonnage[15] Notes
16 February 1942 Tia Juana  United Kingdom 2,395 Shallow-draught 'Lake Maracaibo' crude oil tanker
16 February 1942 Monagas  Venezuela 2,650 Shallow-draught 'Lake Maracaibo' crude oil tanker
16 February 1942 San Nicholas  United Kingdom 2,391 Shallow-draught 'Lake Maracaibo' crude oil tanker
22 February 1942 J.N.Pew  United States 9,033 Tanker torpedoed at 12°40′N 74°00′W / 12.667°N 74°W / 12.667; -74, 3 survivors[10]
23 February 1942 Thallia  Panama 8,329 Tanker
23 February 1942 Sun  United States 9,002 No casualties aboard. Tanker damaged by torpedo at 13°02′N 70°41′W / 13.033°N 70.683°W / 13.033; -70.683[16]


The second patrol of U-161 was under the command of Albrecht Achilles. Achilles and his first watch officer Bender had both visited Trinidad while employed by Hamburg America Line before the war. U-161 entered Trinidad's Gulf of Paria harbor at periscope depth during daylight through a deep, narrow passage or Boca. An electronic submarine detection system registered its passage at 0930 on 18 February 1942, but the signal was dismissed as caused by a patrol boat. After spending the day resting on the bottom of the harbor, U-161 surfaced after dark to torpedo two anchored ships. U-161 then left the gulf with decks awash and running lights illuminated to resemble one of the harbor small craft; and then moved off to the northwest before returning to sink a ship outside the Boca. After sunset on 10 March 1942 U-161 silently entered the shallow, narrow entrance of Castries harbor surfaced on electric motors to torpedo two freighters at dockside; and then raced out under fire from machine guns. The two freighters had just arrived with supplies to construct the new US base; and the harbor previously considered immune to submarine attack was later fitted with an anti-submarine net. U-161 started home on 11 March 1942.[17]

Date[18] Ship[18] Flag[18] Tonnage[18] Notes
19 February 1942 British Consul  United Kingdom 6,940 Tanker torpedoed in Gulf of Paria, but later repaired
19 February 1942 Mokihana  United States 7,460 No casualties aboard freighter torpedoed in Gulf of Paria, but later repaired[19]
21 February 1942 Circe Shell  United Kingdom 8,207 Tanker
23 February 1942 Lihue  United States 7,001 No casualties aboard freighter torpedoed at 14°30′N 64°45′W / 14.5°N 64.75°W / 14.5; -64.75[20]
7 March 1942 Uniwaleco  Canada 9,755 Tanker exploded with no survivors[21]
10 March 1942 Lady Nelson  Canada 7,970 Freighter torpedoed in Castries harbor, but later repaired
10 March 1942 Umtata  United Kingdom 8,141 Freighter torpedoed in Castries harbor, but later repaired
14 March 1942 Sarniadoc  Canada 1,940 Freighter exploded and disappeared 30 seconds after torpedo impact[22]
15 March 1942 Acacia  United States Coast Guard 1,130 USCG lighthouse tender sunk by gunfire south of Haiti

Luigi Torelli

Luigi Torelli under the command of Antonio de Giacomo sank two ships.[23]

Date[24] Ship[23] Flag[23] Tonnage[23] Notes[23]
19 February Scottish Star United Kingdom 7,300 GRT freighter
25 February Esso Copenhagen Panama 9,200 GRT tanker


Under the command of Nicolai Clausen U-129 spent its fourth patrol intercepting bauxite freighters southeast of Trinidad.[25] The unexpected sinkings caused a temporary halt to merchant ship sailings. The Allies broadcast suggested routes for unescorted merchant ships to follow when sailings resumed. The U-boats received the broadcast and were waiting at the suggested locations.[26]

Date[27] Ship[27] Flag[27] Tonnage[27] Notes
20 February Nordvangen Norway 2,400 GRT tanker sunk with no survivors[28]
23 February George L. Torian Canada 1,754 GRT freighter
23 February West Zeda United States 5,658 GRT no casualties aboard bauxite freighter[29] torpedoed at 09°13′N 69°04′W / 9.217°N 69.067°W / 9.217; -69.067[10]
23 February Lennox Canada 1,904 GRT bauxite freighter
28 February Bayou Panama 2,605 GRT freighter
3 March Mary United States 5,104 GRT bauxite freighter[30] torpedoed at 08°25′N 52°50′W / 8.417°N 52.833°W / 8.417; -52.833[31]
7 March Steel Age United States 6,188 GRT sole survivor taken captive from freighter torpedoed at 06°45′N 53°15′W / 6.75°N 53.25°W / 6.75; -53.25[31]

Leonardo da Vinci

Leonardo da Vinci under the command of Luigi Longanesi-Cattani sank one Allied ship and the neutral Brazilian freighter Cabadelo. There were no survivors from the Brazilian ship, and the sinking was not revealed.[32]

Date[30] Ship[30] Flag[33] Tonnage[23] Notes[33]
28 February Everasma Latvia 3,644 GRT freighter torpedoed at 16°00′N 49°00′W / 16°N 49°W / 16; -49


U-126 patrolled the Windward Passage under the command of Ernst Bauer.[34]

Date[35] Ship[35] Flag[35] Tonnage[35] Notes
2 March Gunny Norway 2,362 GRT freighter
5 March Mariana United States 3,110 GRT no survivors from freighter torpedoed at 22°14′N 71°23′W / 22.233°N 71.383°W / 22.233; -71.383[31]
7 March Barbara United States 4,637 GRT freighter torpedoed at 20°00′N 73°56′W / 20°N 73.933°W / 20; -73.933[36]
7 March Cardonia United States 5,104 GRT freighter torpedoed at 19°53′N 73°27′W / 19.883°N 73.45°W / 19.883; -73.45[36]
8 March Esso Bolivar Panama 10,389 GRT tanker damaged by torpedoes within sight of Guantánamo[37]
9 March Hanseat Panama 8,241 GRT tanker
12 March Texan United States 7,005 GRT freighter torpedoed at 21°32′N 76°24′W / 21.533°N 76.4°W / 21.533; -76.4[38]
12 March Olga United States 2,496 GRT freighter torpedoed at 23°39′N 77°00′W / 23.65°N 77°W / 23.65; -77[38]
13 March Colabee United States 5,518 GRT freighter damaged by torpedoes at 22°14′N 77°35′W / 22.233°N 77.583°W / 22.233; -77.583[38]

Enrico Tazzoli

The large 1,331-ton Enrico Tazzoli under the command of Carlo Fecia di Cossato sank six ships.[23]

Date[33] Ship[33] Flag[33] Tonnage[33] Notes[33]
6 March Astrea Netherlands 1,406 GRT freighter
6 March Tonsbergfjord Norway 3,156 GRT freighter torpedoed at 31°22′N 68°05′W / 31.367°N 68.083°W / 31.367; -68.083 with 1 killed
8 March Montevideo Uruguay 5,785 GRT freighter torpedoed at 29°13′N 69°35′W / 29.217°N 69.583°W / 29.217; -69.583 with 14 killed
10 March Cygnet Greece 3,628 GRT freighter torpedoed at 24°05′N 74°20′W / 24.083°N 74.333°W / 24.083; -74.333 with no casualties
13 March Daytonian United Kingdom 6,434 GRT freighter torpedoed at 26°33′N 74°43′W / 26.55°N 74.717°W / 26.55; -74.717 with 1 killed
15 March Athelqueen United Kingdom 8,780 GRT tanker torpedoed at 26°50′N 75°40′W / 26.833°N 75.667°W / 26.833; -75.667 with 3 killed

Giuseppe Finzi

The large 1,331-ton Giuseppe Finzi under the command of Ugo Giudice sank three ships.

Date[39] Ship[23] Flag[23] Tonnage[23] Notes[23]
7 March Melpomene United Kingdom 7,000 GRT tanker
7 March Skane Sweden 4,500 GRT freighter
10 March Charles Racine Norway 10,000 GRT tanker torpedoed with no survivors[37]


Marcello class submarine Morosini under the command of Athos Fraternale sank three ships.

Date[33] Ship[33] Flag[33] Tonnage[33] Notes[33]
12 March Stangarth United Kingdom 5,966 GRT freighter torpedoed at 22°45′N 57°40′W / 22.75°N 57.667°W / 22.75; -57.667
15 March Oscilla Netherlands 6,341 GRT tanker torpedoed with 4 killed
23 March Peder Bogen United Kingdom 9,741 GRT tanker torpedoed at 24°53′N 57°30′W / 24.883°N 57.5°W / 24.883; -57.5 with no casualties


The Aruba refinery was within deck gun range of deep water. Großadmiral Erich Raeder would have preferred shelling the refinery as the opening action of Operation Neuland. On the basis of experience with the relative damage caused by deck guns in comparison to torpedoes, U-boat officers chose to begin by torpedoing tankers to cause large fires of spreading oil. Results of the initial attacks on Aruba and Curaçao were diminished by weapon failures; and subsequent attempts to shell the Aruba refinery were discouraged by defensive fire from larger numbers of larger caliber coastal artillery and patrols by alerted aircraft and submarine chasers.[40]

An important link in petroleum product transport from Venezuelan oil fields was a fleet of small tankers designed to reach the wells in shallow Lake Maracaibo and transport crude oil to the refineries. Approximately ten percent of these tankers were destroyed on the first day of Operation Neuland. Surviving tankers were temporarily immobilized when their Chinese crews mutinied and refused to sail without ASW escort.[41] Refinery output declined while the mutineers were jailed until sailings could resume.[42]

Torpedoing ships within defended harbors was relatively unusual through the battle of the Atlantic. U-boats more commonly deployed mines to permit a stealthy exit. Although results were perceived as less significant, the difficulty of attacks in the Gulf of Paria and Castries by U-161 was comparable to Günther Prien's penetration of Scapa Flow.[43]

Patrol of the Windward Passage by U-126 was well timed to exploit dispersion of ASW forces north and south. U-126 sank some ships within sight of Guantanamo Bay Naval Base.[44]

Operation Neuland and Operation Paukenschlag were opened with similar numbers of U-boats; but the effectiveness of Neuland was enhanced by coordination with Italian submarines. The level of success by Italian submarines against a concentration of undefended ships sailing independently was seldom repeated and marked a high point of effective Axis cooperation in the battle of the Atlantic.[23]


  • Blair, Clay Hitler's U-Boat War: The Hunters 1939-1942 Random House (1996) ISBN 0-394-58839-8
  • Cressman, Robert J. The Official Chronology of the U.S.Navy in World War II Naval Institute Press (2000) ISBN 1-55750-149-1
  • Kafka, Roger & Pepperburg, Roy L. Warships of the World Cornell Maritime Press (1946)
  • Kelshall, Gaylord T.M. The U-Boat War in the Caribbean United States Naval Institute Press (1994) ISBN 1-55750-452-0
  • Morison, Samuel Eliot, History of United States Naval Operations in World War II (volume I) The Battle of the Atlantic September 1939-May 1943 Little, Brown and Company (1975)


  1. Morison p.145
  2. Kelshall pp.7-22
  3. Kelshall pp.7-18
  4. Scarborough, William E. "The Neutralitv Patrol: To Keep Us Out of World War II?" pp.18-23 NAVAL AVIATION NEWS March–April 1990
  5. Kelshall pp.4-24
  6. Blair pp.503-509&728
  7. Kelshall pp.26-31,42,47-48&57
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 "Patrol info for U-156". Guðmundur Helgason. Retrieved 2012-07-29. 
  9. Kenshall p.29
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 Cressman p.77
  11. Cressman p.79
  12. Kelshall pp.26&32
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 13.3 "Patrol info for U-67". Guðmundur Helgason. Retrieved 2012-07-29. 
  14. Kelshall pp.26,33,35,43-44&54
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 15.3 "Patrol info for U-502". Guðmundur Helgason. Retrieved 2012-07-29. 
  16. Cressman p.78
  17. Kelshall pp.26,35-42,44,49-51,60-64&67
  18. 18.0 18.1 18.2 18.3 "Patrol info for U-161". Guðmundur Helgason. Retrieved 2012-07-29. 
  19. Cressman p.76
  20. Cressman pp.77-78
  21. Kelshall p.59
  22. Kelshall p.66
  23. 23.00 23.01 23.02 23.03 23.04 23.05 23.06 23.07 23.08 23.09 23.10 23.11 Blair p.508
  24. Kelshall pp.45&56
  25. Blair p.507
  26. Kelshall p.55
  27. 27.0 27.1 27.2 27.3 "Patrol info for U-129". Guðmundur Helgason. Retrieved 2012-07-29. 
  28. Kelshall p.47
  29. Kelshall p.53
  30. 30.0 30.1 30.2 Kelshall p.57
  31. 31.0 31.1 31.2 Cressman p.80
  32. Kelshall p.56
  33. 33.00 33.01 33.02 33.03 33.04 33.05 33.06 33.07 33.08 33.09 33.10 33.11 "Regia Marina Italiana". Cristiano D'Adamo. Retrieved 2012-07-31. 
  34. Kelshall p.52
  35. 35.0 35.1 35.2 35.3 "Patrol info for U-126". Guðmundur Helgason. Retrieved 2012-07-29. 
  36. 36.0 36.1 Cressman p.81
  37. 37.0 37.1 Kelshall p.60
  38. 38.0 38.1 38.2 Cressman p.82
  39. Kelshall pp.58&60
  40. Blair pp.504-505
  41. Blair pp.505-506
  42. Kelshall p.43
  43. Blair p.506
  44. Kelshall pp.58-60

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