MARINERS-L ArchivesArchiver > MARINERS > 2008-01 > 1199209641
Subject: [MAR] Submarine Warfare around Cuba during WWII
Date: Tue, 1 Jan 2008 09:47:21 -0800 (PST)
One submarine was sunk by the Cuban Navy A description is found in
Kelshall, Gaylord T. M. 1994 The U-Boat War in the Caribbean United States
Naval Institute Annapolis Maryland ISBN: 1557504520
A German spy also executed he was not considered to be very competent. The
book the "Voyage of the Damned" mentions the midget Otto Ott as running a
bordello to collect such information (I have not been able to verify this
independently). Hemingway's much touted naval patrols were apparently
My notes on the matter, are mostly taken from the notes of others(in
general I have some misgivings about Cuban government sources, however,
these are included here without further comment):
It was within that context that the Cuban Navy participated in the Battle
of the Caribbean. When Cuba entered the modern war, its Navy only had a
few old and inefficient vessels.
At the end of December, 1941, and the beginning of 1942, several
agreements were signed between the governments of the US and several Latin
American and Caribbean countries, including Cuba .
Those agreements aimed at strengthening the defensive potential of Latin
America and the Caribbean while, in reciprocity, they should continue to
provide the required raw materials for the US military industry.
Due to Cuba 's strategic location, recognized historically as the Key to
the Gulf of Mexico and the center of the maritime routes that cross the
Caribbean Sea, it was of great interest to the US that the Cuban Navy
participate in the Battle of the Caribbean escorting the freighter convoys
and patrols in the surrounding waters.
Thus, the old cruiser Cuba , which was the largest Cuban warship, and the
school-ship Patria were sent to the shipyard in Galveston , Texas , where
they were totally transformed and modernized. These works took almost a
Also, the gunboats Baire, Yara, Juan Bruno Zayas, Pinar del Rio, 4 de
Septiembre, Matanzas, Santa Clara, Camagüey, Oriente and Donativo , as
well as the auxiliary vessels BA-1, BA-2, BA-3, BA-4 BA-5, BA-6 and BA-7
were modernized in Cuban and US shipyards.
As part of these agreements, the US established an Air Base in San Antonio
de los Baños, 20 kilometers South of Havana, and another one in San Julian
near the Western tip of Cuba. In addition, they built a landing field in
Camagüey, a zeppelin base in Caibarien, and another one in the Isle of
The main target for all of these installations was the struggle against
Another step was to provide the merchant marine vessels of the allied
nations, including Cuba , with artillery. In many cases, US personnel
operated the artillery on the merchant ships.
At the same time, through the Law of Loans and Leasing enacted by the US
Administration, 12 leased patrol craft were transferred to the Cuban Navy,
forming a fleet of 4 squadrons and 3 units each. The crew for these
vessels received a three-month training course in several bases and
training centers in the US .
The patrol craft fleet began operations in April, 1943. It was assigned to
escort the merchant vessels that moved between Cuban ports and, one of the
squadrons, escorted the daily Seatrain ferry that operated between Havana
and Florida ports.
The efficacy of the fleet was soon described as outstanding. US Senator
Kenneth McKellar, referring to the fleet's performance during the first
trimester of operations, expressed before the US Congress:
The Patrol Craft Fleet of the Cuban Navy, during this period (April, May
and June, 1943), has had a loss of only 0,027% T, while convoying during
enemy attacks and one of the patrol craft has had an outstanding success.
The operation of these units of the Cuban Navy had prevented the US Navy
from using a considerable number of its Navy personnel for those same
The outstanding success -which was also the greatest one achieved by the
small Cuban Navy- was the sinking of a German submarine in the Old Bahamas
Canal, not far from Cuba's Northern coast.
Sunk a German Submarine in WWII (Part II) By Cervera Cubanow.-
Gustavo Placer Cervera, a former Commander in Cubas Revolutionary Navy,
has a Ph.D. in History and has done extensive research in naval wartime
operations and written several books.
On May 15, 1943 a squadron of Cuban patrol craft, formed by the CS-11,
CS-12 and CS-13, navigated from Isabela de Sagua toward Havana escorting
the merchant vessels Wanks (from Honduras) and Camagüey (from Cuba), both
loaded with sugar.
The crews of the merchant ships, as well as those of the warships were on
full alert. Just before their departure, a warning had been received that
a surfacing submarine had been detected off the northern coast of Matanzas
The merchant vessels sailed in forward lines 500 yards apart. The Camagüey
was on the flank nearest to the coast. The escort navigated at a distance
of 750-1000 yards. The CS-12 was in front, followed by the CS-11 with the
squadron chief on board and, finally, the CS-13 was at the rear guard.
At 5:15 pm , when the convoy navigated at 8 knots off of Cayo Megano, a US
mono-motor hydroplane, type OS2U Kingfisher, appeared in the sky coming
from the Northeast. The plane went into a nosedive and, flying at low
altitude, circled twice, swaying, and turning on and off its engine.
According to an established code, these maneuvers were used to announce
the presence of a German submarine. To show the exact position, the plane
dropped a gas bomb.
Then the squadron chief of the patrol craft ordered the commander of the
CS-13, Second Lieutenant Mario Ramirez Delgado, to explore the area
pointed out by the plane. After this incident, he continued in Cuban Navy
until 1952. In January of 1959, he resumed his services in the Cuban Navy
until 1962, when he transferred to the Merchant Marine.
I still remember him as Lieutenant Commander of the Merchant Navy, with a
vibrant voice, when he addressed the students and professors at the Naval
Academy formed for a review that I helped organize honoring the 40 th
anniversary of his deed and in remembrance of the Cuban seamen who died
during World War II. Mario Ramirez Delgado died in Havana at the end of
the 80s. Before passing away, h e told me what actually happened that day.
Once the order was received, the CS-13 sailed speedily toward the area,
where the patrol boats hydro-acoustic means of detection received a clear
and precise contact at 900 yards: it was the submarine maneuvering to
The seaman operating the sonar, Norberto Collado Abreu, was glued to the
equipment, without missing a sound. Then the attack started: three deep
charges set to explode at 100, 150 and 250 feet were dropped from the
stern, in accordance with the calculated immersion speed of the submarine.
Four explosions were clearly detected. The fourth explosion was so strong
that the stern of the Cuban patrol boat was submerged and water came in
through the hatchway of the engine room.
At that time the hydrophones reported a sound similar to a liquid bubbling
when it comes from a submerged container that is suddenly opened. Its
intense whistling slowly decreased. These sounds indicated that the
submarine had been hit.
To finish off, the patrol boat launched two more deep charges, set to
explode at 250 feet. A few minutes later, a dark stain was observed on the
water surface. A spurt of a black and viscous substance smelling like
gasoline came from the deep. According to Ramirez, he ordered to take a
sample of the substance as proof of the sinking of the enemy submarine.
Thirteen years later, Norberto Collado Abreu, the efficient sonar
operator, had a transcendental appointment with Cuban history: he was the
helmsman of the Granma yacht in its historical 1958 crossing.
At the present time, more than 80 years old, he is still an active
Lieutenant Commander in charge of the Granma yacht at Havana s Museum of
The exploration of the area with the hydro-acoustic equipment continued
shortly after, but no sound was detected. The patrol boat then joined the
convoy again and continued its crossing. Upon arrival in Havana and after
personally informing the Head of the Navy, the CS-13 Commander talked on
the phone with the President (Fulgencio Batista), who ordered him to keep
absolute silence about what had happened. The incongruity of this order
was manifested that same night when the station of the US Naval Base
broadcasted the news of the encounter and possible sinking of a German
submarine. London s BBC also broadcasted the news. Some authors have
speculated about a possible smuggling of gas and provisions with the
German submarines, but there has been no proof to that respect.
For some unknown reason the sinking of the German U-176 remained a secret
to the Cuban public opinion until after the end of the war, according to
Mario Ramirez Delgado.
When World War II ended and the files of the German Navy were seized, it
was confirmed that the submarine which was operating in that area and
whose contact had been lost in those days was the U-176 commanded by
Kapitänleutenant Reiner Dierksen. This submarine had sunken 11 ships for a
total of 53,307 T.
Information available through Internet has allowed us to determine that
the sunken submarine was of the IX-C type: 76, 8 m length, 6, 8 m beam, 4,
7 depth and 9, 4 m depth of hold. Its total displacement was 1,540 T,
1,120 on the surface and 1,232 submerged. They reached a speed of 18, 3
knots on the surface and 7, 3 submerged, and had 6 torpedo-launching tubes
(4 in the bow, 2 in the stern) and carried 22 torpedoes. They also had a
105 mm. cannon and another one of 45 mm. Their engines had 4,400 HP on the
surface and 1,000 HP submerged. Their operating range reached 13,450
miles. The U-176 had been launched at the AG Wesser shipyards in Bremen on
February 6, 1941 .
In 1946, Mario Ramirez Delgado, already promoted to Lieutenant, was
awarded the Navy Merit Medal with a red distinctive. Rear Admiral Samuel
E. Morison, official historian of the US Navy, recognized his success in
his work History of US Naval Operations in World War II, where he also
praised the ability and efficiency of the Cuban seamen.
The CS-13 patrol boat, commanded by Second Lieutenant Mario Ramirez
Delgado, turned toward the gas, made good contact through the sonar and
launched two perfect attacks with deep charges which annihilated the
U-176. This was the only successful attack against a submarine done by a
surface unit smaller than a PCE of 180 feet, thus, the sinking is properly
considered with great pride by the small but efficient Cuban Navy.
The year 1943 marked the end of the Battle of the Atlantic and, therefore,
of the Caribbean . During that year the improvement of the anti-submarine
forces and means decreased the sinking of transport ships and increased
the destruction of enemy submarines.
During the spring of that year, the German submarine fleet made an
enormous effort by having almost 400 units operating in the Atlantic.
During the first three weeks of March, the losses of merchant ships
reached 750,000 T. But later, they began to decrease rapidly. The
submarine offensive started to loose strength while the anti-submarine
forces grew dramatically.
In May 1943, 42 German submarines were sunken and, during the whole year,
the losses in the Atlantic reached 237. What was even worse for them was
that they had lost their best crews and commanders.
In spite of this, the German submarines were still a danger in Cuban
waters. During 1943, two Cuban and one American merchant ships were sunk
in waters off of Cuba . In February 1944, when the outcome of the Battle
of the Caribbean was defined and the anti-submarines forces were
dramatically superior in the region, the German submarines were still able
to sink several ships, among them two Cuban merchant ships.
During the war, the Cuban Navy surface units rendered their services as
escort of merchant ships in Cuban waters and on the routes between Havana
and Florida ports. The total amount of escorted ships was 414, which
amounted to 2,268,680 T. The losses were 0.19% of the tonnage.
While rendering several services, the Cuban Navy vessels navigated 399,755
miles (134,206 in convoy escorts; 66,778 in patrols; and 12,032 in aid
services: they rescued 221 shipwrecked persons).
The cruiser Cuba , the biggest of the Cuban ships, navigated during the
war 27,974 miles and escorted 89 allied merchant ships with a total
displacement of 712,000 T. The school-ship Patria sailed 21,178 miles and
escorted 70 merchant ships with a displacement of 450 000 T.
The Cuban Navy Aviation escorted during World War II 114 vessels for a
total of 500,000 T., flying 83,000 miles rendering services as convoy and
patrol without loosing any ship to the enemy.
The above-mentioned Rear Admiral Morison said to that respect: Cuba was,
with the exception of Canada , our most useful ally in North America ; its
fleet of small gunboats was in charge of the coastal traffic and
collaborated escorting the ferries between Florida and Havana
Due to the favorable conditions created by the action of the Cuban naval
forces during 1944, 39 Cuban ports registered 5,655 entries of vessels, of
which 2,670 were Cuban ships and 5,602 departures, of which 2,117 were
During the war, the tiny Cuban merchant marine lost six ships, amounting
to 10,296 T., which represented 17, 44% of its total tonnage, and 79 Cuban
seamen lost their lives in the sinkings by German submarines. There is a
monument located at Havana s Avenida del Puerto in their honor.
US Senator McKellar had said in his speech (mentioned in Part I): The
Cuban seamen have behaved as steel men on wooden ships.