U-156/U-502 ROUNDTABLE NEWSLETTER #12
Dedicated to recording Allied and Axis engagements during WWII
(1939-1945) in the Caribbean and off coastal South America through
personal experiences, recollections, and dogged research by Roundtable
"(E)liminating Germany's oil resources would be one of their (RAF)
major contributions to shortening the war. The idea of concentrating on
Germany's oil resources was not new. Oil had been listed as a prime RAF
target as long ago as 1939...(E)veryone knew that oil was the Achilles heel
of the German military-industrial complex." ---Robin Neillands, The
Bomber War, 2001.
August 28, 2008.
Dear Fellow U-Boat Enthusiasts and Lago History Buffs:
It has been an interesting, resourceful, and resilient summer, with
the major television networks and newspapers constantly bombarding you with
primaries, caucuses, and soon to be, Democratic and Republican national
convention coverage. Well, perhaps it's time for a little respite---like
something along the lines of the U-bootwaffe.
Topics to be addressed in this and future issues of the
Newsletter include: Roundtable Recruits (would you
believe that we have enlisted Member #123?!! And to think that five years
ago we had just fifteen members)...Interview With Henri Coffi, founder,
The Lago Oil Museum, Lago Heights...Oral History vs. Documented
History, or as cited in Newsletter #11 Varied and
Informal Methods/Classifications in Reporting History by your
Editor...Correspondence From Roundtable Members...The
Spark of War (Chispa di Guera), Part 2
of 2 by Dufi Kock...Allied and Axis Warships Visit Aruba, Part
2 of 2 by Vic Lopez...Review of Ray Burson's
booklet When Lago Was Lucky...Review of
Stan Norcom's booklet U-156: From The Beginning
to Das Ende...Doug Frazier's review of Robert
Kurston's book The Shadow Divers...Bob
Griffin's Special Report on Spain's "Neutrality" During
WWII, and finally (I thought you'd never ask),
What is a "Wonker"?, Part 1 of 2 by your Editor.
Since our last Newsletter the following recruits have
joined our merry band of U-booters: Raul Colon (#120);
Jerry Barnes (our longtime host of the annual Zephyrhills
Lago Reunion; #121); John Stephan (#122); and,
Henri "Mr. Lago" Coffi (#123). Welcome aboard,
guys! May your induction into the Ubootwaffe be interesting and
(Editor's Note: Roundtable subscriber names are emboldened
throughout the Newsletter text.)
Bill Smith (02/26/08). "Don, your
computer probably got a typo imbedded in its spell checking apparatus, but
I'm pretty sure the French super-sub's name was Surcouf!...I
always enjoy your articles. Keep up the good undersea (and otherwise) work!
(Editor's Note: "You say Surcouf, I say 'Sucouf', let's
call the whole thing off." Actually, Bill caught me in a 'diphthongic'
moment. Hope I didn't leave my 'dangling participle' exposed!)
(03/05/08): "I've been fascinated by submarines all my life, ever
since U-156 left its calling cards in Aruba. Surcouf caught my
fancy because it was so pretty, and so different from all other subs I'd
read about. My wife's Britzius ancestors came from Bisterschied, Germany, in
the Platz, near where I was stationed in the Army, and we visited there to
look for family records. The first thing we saw in the little town was a
'Denkmal' obelish bearing the name of Otto Britizius, and the year of his
death. I visited (Otto's) father and learned young Otto had been in a sub
that was thought to have been sunk off Dakar. The old man blamed himself for
the boy's death because he had signed a special permission slip due to Otto
being under age. Otto's mother died young, probably partly out of heartbreak
over losing both her sons because of Hitler's idiocy. The father remarried
and I eventually corresponded with Otto's much younger half-sister who
married an American soldier and moved to Maryland. She wrote me when Otto's
sub was discovered---the 'mystery sub' lying offshore New Jersey, beneath
the tanker traffic lane. A wonderful book was written about it, and a short
TV documentary was made...(Harry Cooper, founder and
editor of Sharkhunters) carried a long story about Surcouf,
but I thought the author of the article said the Surcouf was sunk
'near Panama', which I didn't assume was very near Aruba."
Dufi Kock (02/15/08): "Tomorrow (February 16, 1942)
is exactly 66 years ago that Lago and Aruba were lucky when U-boats U-156
and U-502 torpedoed several tankers, etc.
"At my request, TeleAruba will present a special program
tomorrow...from a four-minute video which they made in 2002.
"The reason I asked TeleAruba to come up with this special program
was that I insisted that they show this program every year in order to
remind everyone as to what could have happened to Lago and Aruba..."
(02/24/08): "Excellent job on your U-156/U-502 Roundtable
Newsletter #11...Keep up the excellent work. It takes a lot of hard
work and dedication to do all that. Hopi pabien!
(04/11/08): "Some months ago I asked my friend in Curacao, Mr.
Bregilo ('Bubba') Wanga to take some pictures of the WWII monuments in
Bonaire and Curacao. Mr. Wanga was a policeman in Aruba at one time and is
now retired in Curacao.
"I am still having contact with Minister Ramon Lee in Aruba to try
and get a monument in the Lago Colony. It takes time and patience, but I am
not giving up."
(Editor's Note: Those who know Dufi are aware of his dogged
persistence. He does not give up easily.)
Mary Jean (Owen) Thomas (02/25/08): "Thanks so much
for your Roundtable Newsletter. It's amazing, I think, that so many
of us Lago young'uns would be so intent on recording our history. You are
one of the spearheads of this movement and we gratefully thank you for this.
As we putter around our daily activities you are the one keeping the record
straight for all of us. Again, masha danki!!"
Jak Showell (04/04/08): "Many thanks for the
Newsletter which has arrived at the U-Boat Museum in
Cuxhaven-Altenbruch, Germany. Horst Bredow (the Museum's executive director)
asked me to send you his thanks and best wishes. He is well, but busy. I am
here for a few weeks helping out."
Clyde Harms (03/25/08): "(In your Newsletter) you
refer to the USAAF B-18 depth charging the U-502's wake, but according to
comments I remember being made that memorable day, the USAAF did not yet
have depth charges (for active use on patrols) in Aruba. I don't remember
that this had ever come up before in Roundtable discussions. Do you have an
(07/31/08): (Clyde's response is to a 07/23/08 e-mail from Tony
T and Rebecca Goldstone who are gathering information for a book on WWII in
the Caribbean and so state in their e-mail to Clyde, "(W)e are having a go
at finding contributions from veteran sailors in Venezuela who crewed aboard
the [Lake Fleet's] shallow draft tankers". Clyde's 07/31/08 response:
"When I searched for the names of sailors who lost their lives during the
1942 attack, I did not find one Venezuelan among the crews."
(Editor's Notes: I [once again] stand corrected. Early on our
defensive air corps in Aruba did not have depth charges at
their disposal. Bombs, yes. Depth charges, no. Depth charges would come
somewhat later. Can anyone provide us with an answer as to the
approximate date depth charges replaced or supplemented aircraft bombs in
(The "no Venezuelan crew issue" is similar to the "no Aruban
crew issue" on Lake Tankers, which was addressed by Clyde in Newsletter
Bryan McCall (03/07/08): "The idea that the U-156,
or any other U-boat, came alongside Lake Tankers to ascertain the ship's
name, tonnage, port-of-call, etc., from the U-boat's officer on watch, is
"The Lake Tankers were not only very maneuverable, they
(also) had twin propellers and twin rudders, and therefore did not require
the use of tugs in and out of (San Nicolaas) Harbour. They also never used
pilots to enter or exit San Nicolaas Harbour. The Harbour was under the
control of the ship's captain, and therefore no pilot boats!"
(Editor's Note: Bryan has provided us with some new "wrinkles"
to consider, i.e. U-boat back-and-forth's with torpedoed ship lifeboat
survivors, no pilots required on Lake Tankers, the unique maneuverability of
Lake Tankers, etc. I take exception to [only] one of Bryan's observations:
The confab between the U-boat's officers and the torpedoed ship's lifeboat
survivors. I cannot verify that Lake Tanker crews experienced U-boats
surfacing and asking pertinent/logical questions of the tanker's survivors,
but back-and-forth's did occur on the high seas with torpedoed ocean-going
tanker personnel (ref. Ships of The Esso Fleet in WWII, Standard Oil Co.[New
Jersey] publisher, 1946; and, Stan Norcom's U-156: From The
Beginning to Das Ende, [pg. 37], 2007).
Dan Jensen (02/24/08): "...Keep up the good
Iris Rozencwajg (02/29/08): "Thanks to all of you
for keeping (us informed). It's fascinating and I forward the Newsletter
to people who've never set foot in Aruba."
The Spark of War (Chispa di Guera) - Part 2 of
2, compiled and edited by Dufi Kock with video tape
provided by Jorge Ridderstaat, Jr.
The following is a continuation of "Interviews Regarding The
U-156/U-502 Attack, February 16-17, 1942", initially appearing in
Anthonie Hijmering - Mr. Hijmering lived in
the Tank Farm area, is the son of Andries and Olga Hijmering, and whose
house was hit by an "object" during the early morning hours of February 16,
- Prelude -
"In the early days Lago built a block consisting of four wooden
barracks and a Fire Station for the policemen to guard Lago just outside of
the Tank Farm area. In those days there was no housing available for the
policemen. The Dutch police were guarding Lago's refinery gates. The
policemen and families who were living there during the war were the
Geerenstein family (Bungalow #9); the Pieter Baptist family (Bungalow #10);
the Andries Hijmering family (Bungalow #11; and, the Gerrit Lugthart family
"The Hijimering, Baptist, and Geerenstein families each consisted
of three children; and the Lugthart family consisted of two children.
"Our next door neighbors who were adjacent to us were the Baptist
family. These houses were separated by a wooden wall and as Fred (Baptist
family) said, 'You could clearly hear everything that was going on at your
"Tony (Hijimering family) said, 'Early one morning, while everyone
was asleep, the alarm at the Fire Station sounded. It was customary that
whenever the alarm went off young kids would immediately stop what they were
doing or get out of bed and see what was happening. The manual alarm was
cranked by hand to alert the policemen that something unusual was happening.
The alarm was installed close to the home of policeman van Balen and he was
responsible for sounding the alarm. He had to wind the handle and hold it
for a few minutes. When everything got back to normal he again sounded a
shorter alarm to inform everyone that things were back to normal. In case of
fire the alarm would be sounded and all the policemen who were either on or
off duty had to report to the Fire Station to assist the firemen. Later the
crank alarm was replaced with an electrical alarm.
"On this particular morning (February 16, 1942) the alarm went off
and we got out of bed and saw several policemen running to the Fire Station.
Some of their wives were running behind their husbands with shoes in hand.
Why? Because it was customary for the first policeman who reached the
station to receive a prize.
- Object Hits Roof
of Hijmering Home -
"...All of a sudden we heard an object fall on the roof of our
house with a very loud noise. It kept rolling on the roof and we thought
that it couldn't be a rock. We all got scared...Everybody went running
outside while the alarm was still sounding. We saw some policemen coming
back to see what was happening at our house. My uncle, Jules Reeder, was
also there and we all decided to wait until morning to look at the
ceiling/roof (in the clear light of day).
"The following morning I heard the police tell Jules Reeder and
neighbor Arie Baptist to go on the roof of our house to ascertain if there
had been any fire. There had not. Arie went to inspect the roof and said the
hole was large enough that he could put his head and shoulders through it.
He saw a lot of debris in the ceiling which also had several holes. The
largest part of the 'grenade' went through our roof. (Editor's Note:
'Grenade' should be interpreted as either 'projectile', 'spent round' or
'object'). Other smaller parts of the object were found in our
neighbor's barrack, #10. The grenade went through the ceiling and then into
our bedroom. Mrs. Olga Hijmering was in a rocking chair with her baby boy
(Evert) on a pillow, trying to put him back to sleep when the grenade
hit, and a piece of metal drilled the pillow near the baby. Mrs. Hijmering
was also hit on the leg by another piece of metal and suffered a long time
thereafter. Another piece of the object landed on my father's pillow in the
"We determined that the objects were made of either copper or brass.
We gathered the pieces together, whereupon Hijmering and Baptist took them
to the Police Station. It was determined that 75% of the grenade was
recovered and it was approximately 7cm long by 3cm wide. The
Hijmering family kept the projectile for some time, but it was 'lost'
sometime afterwards. (Editor's Note: Approximate dimensions of a 37mm
projectile? or not?)
(From Stan Norcom's booklet U-156: From The
Beginning to Das Ende, pg. 17, "This may have been the casing of the star
shell fired from the U.S. destroyer Winslow on the 19th of February.
The evidence and testimony stands as it is without conclusion....")
"Both Messrs. van Meeteren and Franken said that one shell
from U-156 scraped Tank 112 and then hit a house. But according to Captain
Schram de Jong who stood guard at Weg Kustbatterij in San Nicolaas, sixteen
37mm grenades were fired and that they had glided between the oil storage
tanks. (Schram de Jong) said, 'We lived behind the Tank Farm and one hit the
roof of our backdoor neighbor (the Hijmerings). Another perforated the roof
of an officer's car.'
(Dufi Kock's Note: According to other sources one object hit
Mrs. Geerman's house in Lago Heights, but I am unable to confirm this. It
could well be that this is the same house because all this area at the time
was called 'Lago Heights', and the name 'Geerman' might also be wrong.)
"Family Hijmering was very fortunate that the grenade most probably
'lost its strength' or the explosive mechanism did not function properly
based on the fact that the grenade did not explode on/in the ceiling, but
only scattered little pieces of metal through the roof. Mr. Andreis
Hijmering was also lucky in that when the Fire Station alarm sounded he had
just gotten out of bed, whereupon a piece of metal struck his pillow.
"The news of U-156's torpedo and limited barrage attack is
well-known through various media sources and through the dedication and
determination of several people, especially our friends, the Arucanos. But
few know of this grenade attack and the whereabouts of other projectiles
that were fired.
"Due to the continuous efforts by these people we wish to cooperate
with this historical information on the grenade attack, which could have
resulted in the loss of many lives."
Fred Baptist, Master Engineer
Anthonie "Tony" Hijmering, Aruba Polis (retired)
February 17, 1992.
Allied and Axis Warships Visit Aruba - Part 2
of 2, by Vic Lopez.
The famous author and radio announcer Lowell Thomas, had a book
published in 1927, Count von Luckner, Sea Devil. Luckner was the
commander of a German naval ship---a raider that preyed on Allied shipping
during WWI. He sank British and Italian ships and carried their personnel
aboard his ship, Sea Adler (Sea Eagle), as prisoners. He was a
highly decorated Kriegsmariner after the Great War and received a
commendation from the Pope for his humane treatment of prisoners. His
motto---the motto of the sea---"Don't jump overboard. Stay with the ship."
(Felix von Luckner was in Oranjestad Harbour July 20-23, 1937; Gilbert
Brooks, Jr. was there at the time and he recounts visiting the small Dutch
submarine that was docked in Oranjestad at the same time.)
Do you remember?
The whaler mother ships that visited Aruba on their way to
the "happy hunting grounds" in the Antarctic? The ships were based on
Africa's west coast.
The five mast schooner with a cargo of timber from Mobile,
Alabama, on February 18, 1934?
The ten convicts who visited Aruba on November 4, 1934, via open
boat after escaping from Devil's Island?
On March 27, 1934, the tanker Ruth that carried
Leon Trotsky to Mexico was in Aruba. The Ralph Watson's were good friends of
the ship's captain.
The French cruiser Jeanne d' Arc which carried the
French Marines to Martinique, July 6, 1940?
Spain's Alleged "Neutrality" During WWII. A
synopsis by Bob Griffin.
Several of the comments (in Newsletter #11) are
interesting, especially those that Dufi Kock put together
from first person interviews (in Aruba). With regards to your mention of
ongoing research as to Spain and its so-called neutrality during WWII, may I
suggest that you look into another aspect that quite probably led to some of
Spain's so-called violations.
I don't remember the story exactly, but I remember my father
mentioning that Standard Oil of New Jersey had certain contacts with German
companies (I.G. Farben I remember as one) which stemmed from processes that
Standard Oil obtained from I.G. Farben and were paying for oil products.
During the late 1930's and early 1940's, until December 7, 1941 (Pearl
Harbor) , it was not illegal per se to trade with Germany as long as it was
not war material. Further, it is my belief that the trade was further
insulated by putting a Spanish Company in the middle (to sanctify or
"cleanse" the deal?---Editor's Note). Hence, feedstock from Lago could
be sold to a Spanish intermediary, shipped on Spanish tankers to Spanish
ports, and then loaded into rail tank cars for on-carriage to Germany to
become feedstock in the I.G. Farben Chemical Works, a company akin to E.I.
I am sure arguments could be made that eventually some of these
final products could be considered war material, and I am sure the British
and the Dutch, who were already at war (with Germany), would claim
such. Nevertheless, it might be interesting to look from the German and U.S.
sides and see what sort of data might exist....
(Editor's Note: A little bit of "neutrality" goes a long way.
Bob cites Spanish sea going tankers and Spanish rail tank cars as product
transports. It is "rumored" that Spanish tankers shipped refined product
from Lago to one of its coastal ports and then transferred the product
to German U-boats. Allied to that, it is also rumored that Spanish tankers
were re-supplying German U-boats at sea with diesel fuel.
(There is more to be said about the "neutrality of nations"
during wartime. We will follow-up on Bob's interesting take
on "trading with the enemy" in a future issue of the Newsletter.)
Interview by your Editor.
While in Aruba this past summer I had the opportunity to interview a
well-known Aruban, Mr. Henri Coffi, aka "Mr. Lago", at his
Lago Oil Museum ("Researchers welcome!") in Lago Heights. If ever there was
a repository of Lago memorabilia, this is it! Undoubtedly the most extensive
collection of artifacts, papers, payroll sheets, albums and photographs from
the early 1940's through the '80's, and other items from memory lane, ever
assembled. (Not to take away from the University of Texas, Austin).
If I remember correctly, many years ago when Lago was
rolling-up-the-carpet in early 1985, Henri had his office in the
Administration Building. One day, as the story goes, he was leaving the
building when a pile of "trash" caught his eye near the Dempster Dumpster.
In that pile of trash were hundreds of glossy photographs from the early
days at Lago. Something on the order of a treasure trove for memorabilia
collectors. That trash pile was the inspiration for, and beginning of, The
Lago Oil Museum. (A side note: Several years ago I remember Coastal
Petroleum's Wynn Norris escorting me and several others on a tour of the
refinery. In the Main Office lobby display case was a sizeable check value
emboldened with a raised German swastika, undoubtedly acquired by Lago prior
to late 1941.)
Henri is at a loss as to what to do with the Lago memorabilia. At
this time, the University of Texas at Austin, as a repository for the
historical items, is not feasible. Henri would like to keep or bequeath the
collection to a local (Aruba) institute for safe keeping so that
Aruba's youth would have immediate access to the material. But to whom? And
where? There is one public facility in Aruba, which will go unnamed, where
"researchers" have a habit of slicing, dicing, and underlining articles for
which they have a particular "professional" interest. This facility (the
identity of which you have probably already guessed) requires greater
security and oversight of research material. It has improved over the past
Henri is reluctant, and reasonably so, to "throw out" the Lago
material. This is the sign of a good historian/collector. (Just ask my
wife.) Never throw anything away because tomorrow is the day that you will
If you desire a real look at Lago's past, drop by Henri's historic
Lago Oil Museum (#30 Quelstraat, Lago Heights, one block north of the Lago
Heights Club) on your next visit to the island. Call (584-8456; cell phone
563-3511) or e-mail Henri
) to schedule an appointment for reviewing the
Henri spent almost 25-years with Lago and is a founder of one of
Aruba's minor political parties (one party member elected to Parliament). He
is good company and enjoys talking about Lago times and Aruba politics.
Henri Coffi is also our latest U-156/U-502 Roundtable member (#123).
Categorizing History by your Editor.
Approximately 2-1/2 years ago Roundtable member and long time friend
W.E. "Ted" Gibbons and I got into an e-mail discussion
about what was, and what was not, considered the reporting of history. The
following is a synopsis of what we discussed in February, 2006.
Researched History. Pro: For the record. Con:
Unfortunately, documents are written and recorded by humans which sometimes
result in human error.
Long, slow, tedious, and plodding, but probably as close as one can
get to the actual event without "being" the event. I would rank fellow
U-156/U-502 researchers Stan Norcom, Ray Burson, Jerry Casius, Clyde
Harms, and Dufi Kock in the "Researched History" category.
Eyewitness Accounts. Pro: Instantaneous; On the scene.
Con: There can be embellishment and varying accounts of the event "in
the eye of the beholder".
At one time I would have classified this as the number #1 category,
but came to realize that time can play tricks on memories. USAAF airman Ira
V. Matthews story of sighting a U-boat between the mangrove reef
and the end of the Dakota Field runway is an example. I'm fairly certain
that Matthews believed what he claims to have seen in his B-12 "...bombing
raid of a German U-boat off Oranjestad Harbour" on February 18, 1942.
There's just one problem. Matthews wrote the article for the 40th Bomb
Group Association Memories' Newsletter 43-years after the event!
The sooner an eyewitness event is transcribed to paper the closer
the account is to reality. Even then, as we know from newspaper reporting,
eyewitnesses invariably come up with different versions of the same story.
Unfortunately, sometimes it's in the "eye of the beholder".
Speculative or Alternative History. Pro: Can get the
gray matter working. Con: Don't take them too seriously.
These are the "what if" books. What if the Confederates had won on
the third day at Gettysburg? What if the Germans had developed super size
U-boats, advanced rockets, and long range aircraft much earlier in the war?
What if U-156 had been successful in its attack against the Lago refinery?
These make for fantasizing and fairly good reading, that is, if you're into
speculation. Speculative history can be an interesting novelized part of
history, provided it is noted as such.
Revisionist History. Pro: "Fairy tales can come
true.... Con: Can get the gray matter turned into a bucket of
I consider these the "baddies". They want you to believe what they
tell you. Motive and objective? To "set things right" as they see it and to
deny, deny, deny. And to attempt to rebut researched history and replace it
with their history. For example, David Irving's claim that the
Holocaust, with its numerous death camps, never happened. The Allies just
made it up, don't you know. All those Movietone Newsreels and
documented research in the U.S. Archives is just a bunch of hooey! These
people have either been sucking the grape too long or have taken up
residency in Michael Jackson's Never Land. Thankfully, their audience is
Shadow Divers, by Robert Kurston. Random
House @ 2004, ISBN 0-375-20858-9.
It is the factual account of the discovery and exploration of a
U-boat (U-869) found off the New Jersey coast. The boat, in 230' of water,
was first explored using compressed air, then later with tri-mix. The
exploration claimed three lives (from probably less than two dozen divers),
and, as there was no historical record of the loss of a U-boat in the
immediate New Jersey area, the principal story is the almost obsessive quest
by the two principal divers to identify the vessel. In doing so, they found
major errors in the accepted history of the U-boat fleet.
Well written, on par with Junger's The Perfect Storm. I
highly recommend the book to all of the Roundtable participants, not only
for the story, but for the detailed story of the historical research and
resources, some of which might benefit the Roundtable.
----Reviewed by Doug Frazier, July 31, 2008.
When Lago Was Lucky, by Ray Burson,
Now here's what researched history is all about. Ray has obviously
spent many hours on the telephone, computer, and in the library, researching
this particular event. I do not know of any other publication regarding that
period (prior to and during February 16-19, 1942) which amplifies the
decisions and consequences of the Allied and Axis actions. Ray has put it
all into perspective: he provides us with dates, names of ships,
officials directly and indirectly involved in the event, response from both
sides, and precisely "why Lago was lucky".
Ray's When Lago Was Lucky complements other publications on
the subject of German U-Boat 156's raid on the Lago refinery. But by saying
it "complements" does not do Ray's work justice. He joins a short list of
journalists* "who (finally) got it right".
----Reviewed by your Editor.
If you wish a signed copy of When Lago Was Lucky
contact Ray at
or write to him at P.O. Box 608, Doniphan, Missouri
U-156: From The Beginning to 'Das Ende',
by Stan Norcom, September, 2007.
Stan has taken the U-156 and described everything about it. Its'
commissioning, patrols, ships sunk, its' part in the "Laconia Incident"
rescue attempt, and its final demise March 8, 1943 off Barbados. The only
thing Stan didn't do was to count the number of rivets in the U-boat's hull.
The booklet's forty-nine pages are chock full of photographs from the
Stan describes in great detail each of U-156's five patrols. The
most memorable patrol involved the "Laconia Incident", where Hartenstein
attempted to rescue 1083 survivors from the British troopship Laconia
which U-156 had just sunk. The episode is well known in the ranks
of WWII rescue attempts at sea. Unfortunately, Hartenstein's U-156 and other
rescue vessels from French West Africa and Dahomey were fired upon by an
American B-24 Liberator out of Ascension Island. The Axis U-boats had
displayed 6.5' X 6.5' Red Cross rescue flags draped on their decks.
Hartenstein had sent out an all-points-bulletin in English saying "If any
ship will assist the ship wrecked Laconia crew, I will not attack
her, provided I am not attacked by ship or air force." Well, the B-24
received orders from base to attack (the rescuing) U-boats. Consequently,
all lines from the rescue vessels to survivor lifeboats were cut and the
rescue attempt was abandoned.
Stan goes into greater detail about the Laconia Incident in his
booklet. A sidebar note: At the Nuremberg Trials consequences of the Laconia
Incident were brought up while Admiral Karl Doenitz was in the dock.
Doenitz had issued orders subsequent to Laconia's sinking which in
essence said "Every attempt to save survivors of sunken ships, and the
fishing-up of men swimming and placing them on board lifeboats, the righting
of overturned lifeboats, the handling of food and water, have to be
discontinued....Stay hard. Don't forget that the enemy didn't take any
regard for women and children when bombarding German towns."
A U.S. Navy Admiral from the Pacific Fleet came to
Doenitz's aid by saying that the U.S. was not exactly blameless in rescue
Of U-156's five patrols, the Laconia
attempt probably takes center stage. The rescue is only one part of Stan's
well documented and well researched booklet. If you wish to purchase
U-156: From the Beginning to Das Ende
, please drop Stan a note at
----Reviewed by your Editor.
(Editor's Notes: There are three books/booklets that tell
the whole story of U-156's February 16, 1942, attack against Aruba and
the Lago Oil refinery. I believe the booklets complement each other: Bill
Hochstuhl's "German U-Boat 156 Brought War to Aruba...", Ray Burson's
"When Lago Was Lucky", and Stan Norcom's "U-156: From The
Beginning to Das Ende." These treatises directly address the dilemma faced
not only by Lago Oil & Transport Co., Ltd. with its mega-producing oil
refinery, but also the U-boats which failed to successfully carry out
their secondary objective---that of destroying land targets such as oil
storage tanks and the refinery complex. [The eleventh hour change in Group
Neuland orders from destroying primary land targets to shipping targets
(rightfully) confuses (some) analysts to this day.]
(The above is not to take away from authors who have addressed
the February 16-18, 1942 wartime period. Notably, Johan Hartog's Aruba: Past
and Present; Jim & Vic Lopez's three-volume series titled
The Lago Legend---Our Stories; and most recently Jorge Ridderstaat's
The Lago Story. More WWII history about Aruba has been written in
the past several years than ever before.)
Questions Looking For Answers, Part
1 of 2 by your Editor.
Some of the following questions may have been addressed in the past,
but I don't believe they have been sufficiently addressed to the point
where you can say, "Hallelujah, mama! Pass the biscuits pappy! Gray
finally got it right."
Anyway, for what it's worth, let's "try" again so that your
editor can sleep more soundly.
1. Why the change in Operation Westindien orders at the eleventh
hour from "attack land targets" (Grand Admiral Raeder) to "attack shipping"
(Doenitz, Commander-in-Chief of U-boats)? How does
a Commander-of-U-Boats countermand a Grand Admiral? Did Doenitz "get to"
Hitler at the last moment? Was Raeder on Hitler's "short list'? (Raeder
resigned his commission in early 1943 and was succeeded by Doenitz
as commander-in-chief of the Kriegsmarine. Doenitz later became Germany's
head-of-state upon Hitler's death.)
3. U-boat attacks in the Caribbean subsequent to Operation
Westindien were few and far between. Why didn't Germany return to the "happy
hunting grounds" and attack the refineries at Aruba and Curacao? An
"opportunity" wasted? Although early 1943 was the beginning of the end for
the Third Reich, surely someone in its high command must have known the
vital importance of refined oil in order to continue the war. U-156 did
return to the Caribbean in 1943, but (again) only to concentrate on ship
The major Allied targets in Europe were the oil
refineries in Hitler's conquered territories.
Germany was far ahead in the production of synthetic fuel, but not
enough of the product could be refined sufficiently to supply its tanks,
aircraft, U-boats, etc.
The above will be followed by additional questions in Newsletter
Weigh-in, troops. Give it your best shot. Help me to sleep soundly at
What is a "Wonk"? Part 1 of
2, by your Editor.
In Newsletter #11 I alluded to "....Exactly What is Wonk?"
in the "What's in The Future Mix" section of the newsletter. In order to
maintain a modicum of sanity in transcribing notes, answering e-mails,
translating from German to English back to German, and in general playing
knick-knack-polly-whack-give-the-dog-a-bone with our cat, I had to resort to
a bit of levity with some of my erstwhile U-boat companions. In so doing I
devised, melded, construed, approached, and concocted "The Wonker Society
For Empirical Research". The following is a sample of the "charter" of our
"society" and how it fell on ill times:
"Recently Stan Norcom's wife Donna asked
'Exactly what is a wonk?' Donna, not knowing the blissful and erstwhile
attributes of a Wonk, dutifully christened the three wonk charter members
Winken, Blinken, and Nod. Therefore, in order to set the record straight and
promulgate the various "attributes" of said society (e.g. secret handshake,
password, turned-up pointy shoes, dunces caps, and uncalled for promiscuous
scratching), it is with great aforethought and afterburner that the Charter
of The Wonk Society for Empirical Reserarch (W.S.E.R. or "wiser" for short)
is hereby mandated, consummated, baptized, hung-out-to-dry, and consecrated
in a vat of Jack Daniel.....forevermore. It is only fitting and proper that
we do this.
"Background of Wonkerism....
Founded: January 2005.
Location: Transylvania, possibly somewhere in the
outer reaches of Mongolia.
Habitat: Deep, dark, dank, abysmal, abandoned cave,
slab of granite for a desk, boulder for a chair, single candle for light.
Dress Code: Bear skin (preferably skinned); Eve
Arden's ("Our Miss Brooks") slippers.
Drink of Choice: Truth serum.
Modes of Communication and Calculation: Sheep's horn,
Mode of Transportation: Tyrannosaurus Rex.
Wonker Credos: ' Tis better to have wonked than never
to have wonked at all.' 'To err is inhuman. To forgive, let's think about
it.' 'To horse! To horse! The Wonks are coming!' (Note: Due to the
complexity of wonker research more than one credo has been approved by the
High Buzzard of Wonkerville. Anyway, wonkers have a difficult time
remembering who and what they are.)
Wonk Defined: One steeped in the vicissitudes of
research, research, research, fact, fact, and more fact.
Uncommon Valor Recognition Award: The
Onomatopoeia Award aka The 'Gotcha" Award. Presented only on rare,
dull, unworthy, rainy days, and ho-hum occasions."
(---- To be continued ---- Aren't
you the lucky one!)
What's in the Future Mix?
Topics to be covered in future Newsletters.
1.) Official Log of U-502 provided
by Stan Norcom and translated into English by Wilfried
2.) What is a Wonk? - Part 2.
3.) Questions Looking For Answers - Part 2.
4.) Interview with Romualdo Coffi - 95 years young,
former Lago employee, and Henri Coffi's father.
5.) Official February 16, 1942 (1:00 p.m.) telegram from
American Consul Miles Standish to U.S. Secretary of State, Washington, D.C.
6.) Special Report by Vic Lopez regarding
his mom being a "merchant seaman" on a Canadian tanker.
7.) Roundtable #6 will be held in Aruba on Tuesday,
June 23, 2009, during the Lago/Aruba Reunion. Details to follow as we get
closer to the date.
2008 Aruba Aside
In closing I have some sad news to report, guys. San Nicolaas'
house-of-ill-repute (Hija del Dia) has had its top story gutted. Is there
nothing sacred? I guess whatever residents remain will have to "take to the
And in Closing...
Newsletter #13 should be in the mail the
latter part of February, 2009.
As I've said so often, if you change your e-mail and/or
postal addresses, please drop me a brief note. We like keeping
our Roundtable members up-to-date on forthcoming historic events. In other
words, we don't want to lose you.
lives and breathes by you inquiries and experiences. Don't be shy. Ask any
question or relate any event/experience which you find interesting
and worthy. I can't think of one piece of postal mail or an e-mail that I
haven't posted in a Newsletter. You keep
the Roundtable going!
Let's not forget Dan Jensen's
web site (www.lago-colony.com
for all information past, present, and future regarding Lago and Aruba. The
last time I spoke to Danny he told me that he had 12 million "hits" last
year on his Lago web site. Yes folks, that's 12 million
. Heck, I
can't even count that high.
And Larry Riggs' Lago Bulletin Board
a backseat to no one. Drop him an e-mail at
in order to receive the latest scuttlebutt on Aruba
and correspondence related to past happenings in the Colony.
Until next time...
Your man in the trenches.....and Davy Jones'
Don D. Gray, Moderator/Editor
U-156/U-502 Roundtable Newsletter
Copyright 2008 by Don D. Gray
All rights reserved.
When I spoke to Don the hit counter was showing about 2.25 million hits
in 12 months, since then it has dropped to about 1.80 million hits per year,
still a large number.