U-156/U-502 Roundtable Newsletter #5  By Don Gray Copyright 2005 by Don D. Gray. All rights reserved   (Newsletter # 5, 3/21/2005)
From History's Notebook: "The strategic task of the German Navy is to wage war on trade; its objective is...to sink as many enemy merchant ships as (possible). The sinking of ships is the only thing that counts. (Therefore), any diversion...which results in a reduction of the number of ships being sunk is inadmissible."---Grand Admiral  Karl Doenitz, Memoirs, 1958.  
                         This Newsletter is dedicated to Tom Tucker (1929-2004), teacher, 
                         underwater explorer, and stalwart friend.
March 21, 2005.
Dear Fellow U-Boat Enthusiasts:
       Sorry that I have been delinquent in corresponding, but a physical set-back in December prevented me from putting words to paper. Physically and mentally I am where I "should be", although the wife might take exception to the latter.
       Newsletter #4 brought some mighty interesting responses regarding the sighting of U-502 in, or outside, Oranjestad Harbor, February 17, 1942. Speaking of U-502, you'll note that the Newsletter caption has been changed to include U-502. To date, we can state that "only" two known German U-boats surfaced off Aruba during the period February 16-18, 1942. If any Newsletter reader can provide proof positive that other U-boats were sighted (surfaced) offshore Aruba during this period, we would be interested in knowing.
       Other topics covered in this Newsletter include: Correspondence from our subscribers; future Roundtable meeting; final "disposition" of J.D. Piedmont's correspondence with U-156's First(?) Watch Officer Dietrich von dem Borne; Melanie Wiggins' account of February 16, 1942 in U-Boat Adventures; technical stuff; and, questions regarding the actual sighting of U-502 "in/outside" Oranjestad Harbor.
       Our latest Newsletter subscribers are Chris Cook, Member #74, Class of '74, whose dad was long time Lagoite Earl Cook; and, Kitt Rodkey, Member #75, Class of '72. Kitt works for the U.S. Department Housing and Urban Development, Washington, D.C., and lives in the Sterling, Virginia area. Welcome aboard folks!
       Doug Frazier (08/04/04): "It occurred to me that the 105mm shell found in the Tank Farm may have been the single round in (U-156's) deck gun when it exploded ...(T)he round was moving forward in the barrel (with the weather cap in place) when (the deck gun) exploded. Is it within the realm of possibilities that it was moving with sufficient velocity to tumble towards the refinery without the rotational stability to hit on the detonator and therefore fail to explode on impact?
             (11/01/05): "Just received a book titled U-Boats to The Rescue: The Laconia Incident, Leonce Peillard, G.P. Putnam and Son, New York, 1963. It includes a history of U-156 (which torpodoed the Laconia but subsequently resulted in Kapitan Hartenstein rescuing the survivors), with four pages devoted to the attack on Aruba."
Stan Norcom (10/30/04): "I (have) just joined 'International Submarine Connections U-156 Plauen'...It is primarily to the memory of Hartenstein...but has a historical research aim..."
            (02/16/05): "The U-502 (episode) seems to have taken on a 'Lt. Matthews' face' with sorting out what seems to be truthful to what isn't, and coming up with a tentative history...foot-noted with alternative opinions."
Harry Cooper (08/05/04): "The person (USAAF airman Matthews---See Newsletter #4) who tells of the U-boat in Oranjestad Harbor, saying that the boat was U-502 and describing the "German emblem" as being a swastika, would not have been U-502. U-502's emblem was a circle and inside the circle was the head of a goat eating flowers. Most U-boats did not have swastikas on their conning towers...they had emblems...i.e. goats, bulls, and other animals from German mythology."
Bob Griffin (08/03/04): "The Admiral mentioned in your recent Newsletter (#4) was Admiral Dan Gallery. Admiral Gallery was responsible for the only capture of a German U-boat during WWII...(I)t was the U-505 and is on display at the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry. The Germans tried to scuttle the U-boat but a volunteer U.S. Navy crew was able to get aboard and either disarm the explosives or turn off the sea valves. U-505 was then towed to port." (DDG Note: After 50-years of outside exposure, U-505 is being relocated from its outdoor mooring to an underground exhibit hall in the Museum; the new $35million exhibit is scheduled to open in the spring of 2005.)
Paul Baldwin (01/15/05): "I still have doubt that many (if any) of the sixteen 37mm projectiles (fired from U-156) were explosive...The one 37mm round which apparently struck one of the oil tanks (in the refinery) and left a dent and a scorched area may be explained by sheer heat of the round glancing off the tank...You will notice in the photo of the tank (see Aruba Esso News, October 18, 1946, pg. 5), that the dent is directly on top of a riveted seam...(As to) the 105mm projectile found by Jake Masters (John's father), I can only conclude that it was fired by a German U-boat. Possibly a second U-boat (as my uncle Leo Baldwin contended at the time)... the morning of February 16th, (17th) or the 18th. And remember...the 105mm projectile found by Mr. Masters did NOT explode...
       [DDG Note: This has been as much a mystery as U-502 supposedly surfacing "in" Oranjestad Harbor. If any Newsletter reader can explain how a German 105mm projectile (yes, the markings on the 105mm projectile are in German) landed in the Tank Farm, knowing that U-156 was unable to successfully fire its 105mm deck gun due to the crew's bungled explosive mishap, please contact the editor via morse code.]
Jerry Casius' 10/06/04 e-mail response to several items appearing in Newsletter #4:    (Re.John O'Brien): "The 'flatbed truck' was most likely one of the two twin-machinegun pieces of 8mm calibre that were put ashore by the French cruiser Primauguet and French merchant-cruiser Barfleur on May 14, 1940, to protect Lago. At least one of these (machine guns) was put on a truck. The Barfleur also disembarked a 37mm anti-aircraft piece; all this was manned by French sailors from these ships. The Primauguet left Aruba on May 15th, and after that the Barfleur...and merchant-cruiser Esterel alternated station at Aruba until July 6, 1940, when the French ships returned to Martinique, withdrawing all their troops and equipment. This had to do with the fact that France had signed an armistice with Germany in late June. There was considerable discussion amongst the French crews about staying in Aruba to continue the fight with the Allies, but in the end...they followed orders and returned to the French Caribbean islands.
       (Re. Stan Norcom): "There actually were coastal defense guns in place at Aruba during the February 1942 attack. (T)he Dutch gun battery at Juan Morto consisted of three 7-1/2" (192mm) guns...a short distance northeast of San Nicolaas. These guns were supplied by the British in 1939...because they were worried about the safety of the Lago refinery...The first gun was ready to fire on May 17, 1940, (and) the whole battery...was ready for action in August 1940, well before 1942. The guns were manned by officers and NCO's of the Dutch East Indies Army coastal artillery (and) reinforced with local Dutch draftees. The Juan Morto battery was alerted...when U-156 struck, but it proved impossible to locate the target amongst all the smoke and fire...
"The U.S. Army brought 155mm coastal artillery pieces to Curacao and Aruba, but these were not in place on February 16th. I can't figure out where a 105mm shell found (in the Tank Farm) would have come from...It is also out of the question that the 105mm shell could have come from Dutch army or navy excercises on or near Aruba.
       (Re. Ira Matthews, USAAF airman account of sighting U-502 while stationed in Aruba, 1942): " 'The last tanker entered the Harbor'...(Matthews' story). Since there was no point in tankers going into Oranjestad Harbor, I would conclude that Matthews meant into 'San Nicolaas Harbor' with this statement. In my view it certainly would not serve as evidence that there were tankers inside the reef at Oranjestad (Harbor) that could have been a possible target for U-502." (DDG Note: In order to avoid detection, a submarine needs manuverability and sufficient submersible depth in which to dive. San Nicolaas and Oranjestad harbors provide neither.)
       (1.) In Newsletter #4 we misquoted John O'Brien in stating "I do remember that a flatbed truck with a machine gun mounted on it stationed by the (Lago Community) Church and the British cruiser Ajax flashing signals offshore." 
       John, in an 08/06/04 e-mail, clarifies by stating "(M)y story (actually) relates to the fall of the Netherlands in May 1940. Perhaps someone can inform me about this lifelong mystery. I'm not sure that the British cruiser was the Ajax...I definitely remember a large warship that was signaling to shore with its' signal light. (And) I'm positive they were French soldiers manning the flatbed truck machine gun because of their helmets." (See Jerry Casius' response above.) 
       (2.) In past Newsletters I have referred to Dietrich von dem Borne as U-156's Second Watch Officer (2WO) and in some instances as its First Watch Officer (1WO). Since Borne was U-156's deck officer when the U-boat attempted to bombard the refinery/Tank Farm at 1:41 a.m., AST,  I gather that he was actually U-156's First Watch Officer (1WO) at the time. Dear readers who have served gallantly in our nation's Navy, am I correct in this assumption? Or should I be put on stale bread and limited rations for the duration?
Technical Stuff
The following statistics are based on Stan Norcom's 12/19/03 e-mail regarding the speed and distance of U-156's torpedoes loosed against tankers Pedernales and Oranjestad, February 16, 1942:
             ATO (compressed air driven) torpedo travelled at 44 kilometers per hour and took 45.5 seconds to impact tanker Pedernales, calculated to be anchored 3600 feet or approximately 3/4 mile offshore. (Impact did not sink the Pedernales.)
             ETO (electric driven) torpedo travelled at 30 kilometers per hour and took 53.2 seconds to impact tanker Oranjestad, calculated to be anchored 2700 feet or approximately 1/2 land mile offshore. [Impact sunk the Oranjestad, thought to be resting in water too deep to (scuba) dive.]
             U-156's logbook notes it being surfaced two nautical miles offshore during the torpedo run on the Pedernales and Oranjestad.   
             6080 feet = One nautical mile.
             5280 feet = One land mile.
The J.D. Piedmont Letter Brouhaha
       Shades of Kenny The Gambler Rogers: "You've got to know when to hold them. Know when to fold them. Know when to walk away. Know when to run...When the dealings done." Well, on this episode (see Newsletter #4) it's time to fold 'em. What I thought would be an interesting discourse in U-156's First Watch Officer Dietrich von dem Borne's supposed response to J.D. Piedmont's 1958 letter of inquiry, turned into a dead end. In recent correspondence, Mr. Piedmont indicated that he preferred not to pursue the matter further ("I have no interest in further questions or correspondence"). 
       Nevertheless, The Gambler has an ace up his sleeve---Guy Goodboe, in his annual sojourn to the U-Boot Archiv (Cuxhaven-Altenbruch, Germany) last spring, managed to acquire copies of memoranda and reports written between 1944 and 1976 by U-156's Dietrich von dem Borne and other Kriegsmarine officers.
       I will attempt to get the memorandums translated from German into English by one of our worthy Newsletter subscribers. The five memorandums on U-156 should shed more light on its February 16th operations.
Notable Quotes---Some Valid, Some Questionable, and Some Down  Right Wrong      
       U- Boat Adventures---First Hand Accounts From WWII, Melanie Wiggins, Naval Institute Press, 1999.
              In Chapter 5 of Ms. Wiggins book she tells of U-156's and U-502's attacks against Aruba and Curacao:
              "The second tanker (Oranjestad) was struck and later sank, but the General (Lt.Gen.Frank Andrews, Cmdr., U.S. Caribbean Defenses) said it was impossible to tell how many U-boats had attacked. However, they did see the submarine that sank the second ship surface afterward and began firing shells (37mm?) at the refinery, a short distance onshore...Captain Robert Bruskin, who had come with General Andrews, noticed that a second ship (Pedernales?) about a hundred yards away was on fire, and watched as tracer bullets streamed through the darkness---ten or fifteen shots 'apparently aimed at the refinery.' No fires were started there (refinery), but at that point two hours had passed and the bay waters were still flaming (emphasis added). They heard a second explosion and learned that this was the torpedoing of a tanker at her pier (Arkansas).
[DDG Note: Entry from Kapitan Hartenstein's logbook: '02/16/42, 1:41 a.m., Aruba Standard Time, 3.7cm (37mm), 16 (flak) shots (fired)', assumingly toward the refinery/Tank Farm area.]
              "No one realized that U-67, U-156, and U-502, which were in the area between Lake Maracaibo and Aruba, managed to sink four ships and damage two on February 16th."
       From Admiral Karl Doenitz's Memoirs, De Capo Press, 1997, pg. 212: 
             "(A) second boat which tried to bombard the oil tanks at Aruba was forced to retire and break off the operation when patrol vessels appeared."
       U-156's February 16th sinking of the Oranjestad and damaging of the Pedernales off the Big Lagoon's reef and the Arkansas at Eagle Pier, and the sighting of U-502 in/off Oranjestad Harbor, are well documented. But were there other February 16-18th U-boat sightings by Arubans?
       U-502? U-67? U-Who? Too many arching projectiles, an errant 105mm projectile, a dented storage tank, and conflicting reports, to get a definitive fix on the source or sources of "other" possible U-boat actions in the area. 
       Wolf Pack---The Story of The U-Boat in WWII, Gordon Williamson, Osprey Publishing, 2005, pg. 219:
             "The first phase of the campaign was code named Operation Neuland and ran from February through March 1942. On February 15th, U-156 attacked the harbor at San Nicolaas in Aruba, torpedoing the tankers Oranjestad, Pedernales, and Arkansas at their moorings, and turning the harbor into a blazing inferno... 
              "Unfortunately, the intention of (U-156) shelling the refinery with a (105mm) deck gun was thwarted when the sailor responsible forgot to remove the tompion from the muzzle (of the cannon). The shell denoted in the (gun) barrel, the resulting explosion killing two men. The damaged end of the barrel was sawn off with hacksaws and a renewed attempt at shelling with the shortened gun was made, but now the (shore) defenses were on full alert...."
       In Williamson's above paragraphs I detect four errors. See if you can also identify which statements are incorrect.
       Answers: 1.) U-156's torpedoing of the three tankers was on February 16, 1942, not February 15th. [8:01a.m., Berlin, February 16th is the same as 1:31a.m., Aruba, February 16th,  for a 6-1/2 hour time difference];
       2.) The U-boat's misfire (explosion) of its deck gun due to the cannon's tompion (barrel end plug) not being removed, resulted in one sailor being killed (who was later buried at sea), and injury to a second sailor (severed foot---Dietrich von dem Borne);
       3.) Granted the damaged end of the cannon was sawn off (much later, which took many, many hours), but "...a renewed attempt at shelling (land targets) with the with the shortened gun..." never took place. According to Hartenstein's logbook, U-156 managed to get off sixteen shots toward land with its mounted 37mm anti-aircraft gun, but the 105mm cannon was never successful in firing at the refinery or any other Aruba land target, although through use of its now shortened cannon, U-156 did manage to sink an oil tanker several days after; and,
       4.) The Arkansas was never moored in or outside San Nicolaas Harbor, as one is lead to believe by Williamson's statement. The Arkansas, while docked at Eagle Pier some fourteen miles to the northwest of San Nicolaas Harbor, was torpedoed by U-156 after the earlier sinking of the Oranjestad and severe damage to the Pedernales.
       Williamson, David Miller, and our own Jak Showell, are most referred to sources when it comes to German U-boat history. Based on the above faux pas, however, I'm about to put Williamson in the same category as Gaylord Kelshall's U-Boat War In The Caribbean. Hopefully, Williamson will be redeemed in the book's remaining 271-pages.
Eleventh Hour Change in U-156's (Primary) Target Objective---Why?
"Aruba and Curacao were important oil centers in the vicinity of which a large number of tankers could be found. Admiral Doenitz had instructed his (U-boat) commanders to bombard their coastal targets after they had accomplished the sinking of...ships."---Melanie Wiggins, U-Boat Adventures....
       "(T)he primary objective was the refinery...At 0610, February 15, 1942, Hartenstein's procedure orders were changed. The commander (Hartenstein) correctly assumed that the German High Command had been rankled by disagreement. The countermanding officical message to all Western Hemisphere submarines was...'1. The principal assignment is to attack ships...2. If this attack is successful, then artillery attack against land targets can be made...'---U-Boat 156 Brought War To Aruba 02/16/42, Bill Hochstuhl.
                                       Subsequently, the orders were changed to:
       "The oil tanks ashore, which stood very close to the sea at Aruba and Curacao, were to be bombarded by night, if this proved possible. In order not to jeopardize the surprise element in the primary operation of sinking ships, I directed that bombardment of these coastal targets...would not take place until after the... sinkings had already occurred."---Adm. Karl Doenitz, Memoirs
       "Admiral Doenitz's view of the Aruba operation, to which (Grand) Admiral Erich Raeder took strong exception, was that the initial shelling of the (Lago) refinery and tanks...would destroy the element of surprise needed for a successful attack on almost irreplaceable lake tankers...Doenitz succeeded Raeder as Commander in Chief of the Kriegsmarine in January, 1943 (or eleven months following Operation Neuland)."---Bill Hochstuhl, German U-Boat 156 Brought War To Aruba.
       It almost begs the question: How can an officer of lesser rank (Admiral Doenitz) countermand the orders of the Grand Admiral (Raeder)? Or, as Hartenstein probably thought, the  German High Command had (once again) been rankled by disagreement. So, how does "I believe I'm in charge here Doenitz!" get replaced by "I'm afraid you'll have to sit this one out Herr Raeder"? Get the ear of der Fuhrer? Be on Hitler's "Stop by da Bunker for a Few Schnapps & Bier" invite list?
       I tend to side with Raeder. Of Allied tankers there were hundreds, if not thousands. Of the largest aviation fuel producing refinery in the Western Hemisphere, there was only one---Lago. Tankers vs. refinery vs. tankers.
       So, what to go after? Doenitz dotes on the "surprise element". If you knock off a few tankers followed by a large refinery complex, the element of surprise for the land targets, I would imagine, is minimal. The initial strike is paramount. All subsequent actions would hardly be a surprise.
Upcoming Events, Etc.
       U-156/U-502 Roundtable #3 will be held 8:30 a.m., Saturday, September 17, 2005, Essex Inn, Chicago, at the "40's-60's Lago Reunion", September 16-19, 2005. The Roundtable meeting room notice will be posted in the hotel lobby Friday, September 16th. 
       The Chicago Museum of Science and Industry exhibits U-505, the only German U-boat to be captured entact during WWII. After 50-years of outside exposure, U-505 is being relocated from its outdoor mooring to an underground facility in the Museum. The new indoor $35million exhibit is scheduled to be opened this spring.
What's In The Future Mix?
       It is anticipated that U-156/U-502 Newsletter #6 will be forwarded prior to the Chicago Roundtable meeting.
       What to look for in future Newsletters:
            1. Interviews with eyewitnesses to the February 17(18?), 1942 sighting of U-502 in/around Oranjestad Harbor.
            2. Controversy over eyewitness accounts versus official documentation. Where they conflict. Who and what to believe?
            3. Translation of the German propaganda poster "Deutsches U-Boot (156) Beschiebt Olraffinerier auf der Insel Aruba" and what it falsely depicts.
            4. Change in U-156's primary objective orders at the eleventh hour. Why? And would it have been more advantageous for Germany to have adhered to its original orders?
            5. Comments and observations from our U-156/U-502 Roundtable Newsletter subscribers. 
            6. U.S. Neutrality Act of 1937. Did Lago circumvent the Act? If so, why and how?
And in Closing.....
       Your comments and suggestions on how to improve the readability and content of the Newsletter are always welcome. Please e-mail, postal mail, or pigeon carrier your comments and suggestions and they will be posted in the next Newsletter.
       We rely on our subscribers to provide information on what did, or did not, transpire off Aruba's shores during February 16-18, 1942, and any other comments or observations you wish to pass onto our readers.
       If you believe you haven't been heard from---drop us a line and we'll give your experiences and observations a forum. 
       And please, please, should you change your e-mail or postal address, drop me a brief note. Fortunately, we have yet to lose a member!
       Until the next time....
       Your man in the trenches,

       Don D. Gray, Moderator/Editor
       U-156/U-502 Roundtable Newsletter