The U.S. Navy in September 1939 is, for the most part, concentrated on the west coast of the United States, reflecting the nation's traditional interest in the Far East and its isolationist leanings away from Europe. Although the matter is discussed as hostilities have loomed on the horizon late in August 1939, there are no plans to use U.S. naval vessels to repatriate American citizens except in "collecting small groups [of Americans] in the Mediterranean area for transportation to places where they can move to safe ports for embarkation."
Office of the Chief of Naval Operations (OpNav) sends dispatch to commanders in chief of Asiatic Fleet, United States Fleet, Atlantic Squadron, Special Service Squadron and Squadron 40-T: "Reliably informed [that] German submarines are set to operate on Atlantic trade routes and that a dozen German merchant vessels will operate as armed raiders [and that] neutral merchantmen may expect Great Britain may institute may expect Great Britain may institute similar practices as in last war." Additional addressees to this warning include the three new warships on shakedown cruises: light cruiser St. Louis (CL-49) (at Punta Delgada, Azores), destroyer Anderson (DD-411) (at Montreal, Canada) and submarine Spearfish (SS-190) (en route from New York City to Bahia, Brazil).
Hydrographic Office begins issuing, by despatch and bulletin, special warnings of restrictions and dangers to navigation incident to the outbreak of hostilities between Germany and Poland. Special Warning Number One is that the German government has announced that Danzig Bay is a danger area due to military operations taking place there.
President Roosevelt appoints Admiral William D. Leahy, who has recently retired as Chief of Naval Operations, as Work Projects Administrator for the Territory ofŒ Puerto Rico (see 11 September).
Light cruiser Marblehead (CL-12) transports marines from Chinwangtao, China, to Shanghai. The emergency movement is to bring the Fourth Marine Regiment to full strength in the event that the Japanese take advantage of the European war to force an incident at Shanghai.
German armored ship Admiral Graf Spee, which has left Wilhelmshaven on 21 August for the South Atlantic, makes rendezvous with tanker Altmark southwest of the Canary Islands. The fuel oil carried in Altmark's bunkers was obtained in August at Port Arthur, Texas. Admiral Graf Spee's sistership Deutschland, which had departed Wilhelmshaven on 24 August, is deployed to raid commerce in the North Atlantic.
German submarines (previously deployed to operating areas in late August) begin attacks upon British shipping: during these early operations, U 30 (Kapitanleutnant Fritz-Julius Lemp) torpedoes (without warning) British passenger liner Athenia south of Rockall Bank, 56°44'N, 14°05'W; 28 American citizens are among the dead. U.S. freighter City of Flint, Swedish yacht Southern Cross, Norwegian freighter Knute Nelson, and British destroyers HMS Electra and HMS Escort rescue survivors. Despite having been given strict orders that all merchant vessels are to be treated in accordance with naval prize law (giving a warning before attacking) Lemp's torpedoing Athenia in the belief that she is an armed merchant cruiser gives the British the erroneous impression that Germany has commenced unrestricted submarine warfare (see 16 and 22 September and 8 November).
Within a fortnight, U 30 is herself a victim, when she is bombed by Skuas from British carrier HMS Ark Royal on 14 September 1939. With a slightly damaged bow and two torpedo tubes out of action, U 30 puts in to Reykjavik, Iceland, on 19 September to land a seriously wounded man before she returns to sea.
European war comes to the Americas: less than three hours after the British declaration of war on Germany, light cruiser HMS Ajax intercepts German freighter Olinda, outward bound from Montevideo, Uruguay, off the River Plate, 34°58'S, 53°32'W. Not having a prize crew available to seize the enemy merchantman, Ajax shells and sinks her (see 4 September).
British Home Fleet deploys aircraft carriers to seek out and destroy German submarines: HMS Ark Royal off the northwestern approaches to the British Isles, HMS Courageous and HMS Hermes off the southwestern approaches (see 17 September).
U.S. freighter Saccarappa, with a cargo of phosphates and cotton, is seized by British authorities (see 8 September).
Office of the Chief of Naval Operations (OpNav) orders Commander Atlantic Squadron to establish, as soon as possible, a combined air and ship patrol to observe and report, in cipher, the movements of warships of warring nations, east from Boston along a line to 42°30'N, 65°00'W then south to 19°N then around the seaward outline of the Windward and Leeward Islands, to the British island of Trinidad.
European war again comes to the Americas: British light cruiser HMS Ajax intercepts German freighter Carl Fritzen 200 miles east-southeast of Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil, 33°22'S, 48°50'W, and sinks the merchantman with gunfire.
Captain Alan G. Kirk, U.S. Naval Attaché, and Commander Norman R. Hitchcock, Assistant Naval Attaché and Assistant Naval Attaché for Air, are flown to Galway, Ireland, where they interview Athenia's surviving officers and men. The attaché's investigation concludes that Athenia was torpedoed by a submarine.
President Roosevelt proclaims the neutrality of the United States in the war between Germany and France, Poland, the United Kingdom, India, Australia and New Zealand, and orders the Navy to form a Neutrality Patrol (see below).
Chief of Naval Operations (Admiral Harold R. Stark) directs Commander Atlantic Squadron (Rear Admiral Alfred W. Johnson) to maintain an offshore patrol to report "in confidential system" the movements of all foreign men-of-war approaching or leaving the east coast of the United States and approaching and entering or leaving the Caribbean. U.S. Navy ships are to avoid making a report of foreign men-of-war or suspicious craft, however, on making contact or when in their vicinity to avoid the performance of unneutral service "or creating the impression that an unneutral service is being performed" (see 9 October). The patrol is to extend about 300 miles off the eastern coastline of the United States and along the eastern boundary of the Caribbean (see 6 September). Furthermore, U.S. naval vessels are to report the presence of foreign warships sighted at sea to the district commandant concerned.
Destroyers Davis (DD-395) and Benham (DD-397) (two 327-foot Coast Guard cutters will be assigned later) are designated as the Grand Banks Patrol. They are to render rescue and other neutral assistance in emergencies and to observe and report ("in confidential system") movements of all foreign warships. They are to patrol across existing steamer lanes to the southward of the Grand Banks and to approximately 50° Maritime Commission (Hydrographic Office Special Warning No. 9) directs that all U.S. merchant ships en route to or from Europe are not to steer a zig zag course, are not to black out at night, and are to paint the U.S. flag on each side of the hull, on hatches fore and aft, and on sun decks of passenger vessels, and to illuminate the colors flying from the flagstaff at night. In Hydrographic Office Special Warning No. 12 (promulgated the same day), U.S. merchant vessels engaged in domestic, "near-by foreign" or transpacific trade are not required to paint the flag on hull, hatches and decks, but otherwise are to follow the other instructions contained in Special Warning No. 9.
U.S. freighter Black Osprey, bound for Rotterdam, Holland, and Antwerp, Belgium, is stopped by British warship off Lizard Head and ordered into the port of Weymouth, one of the five "contraband control bases" (the others are Ramsgate, Kirkwall, Gibraltar and Haifa) established by the British government (see 13 September and 31 October). Freighter Lehigh, bound for Hamburg, Germany, is detained by the British (see 7 September).
Philippine motorship Don Isidro, on her maiden voyage en route from her builders' yard at Kiel, Germany, to Manila, P.I., clears the Suez Canal; U.S. government immediately protests British authorities having removed, at Port Said, two German engineers (on board "to guarantee construction and demonstrate proper manning" of the new vessel) from Don Isidro (which is under the American flag) as illegal and a violation of the neutral rights of the United States (see 29 April 1940).
U.S. steamship President Roosevelt off-loads British Scott-Paine-type motor torpedo boat PT 9 at New York; PT 9 will be the prototype for the motor torpedo boats constructed by the Electric Boat Company.
Commander Atlantic Squadron (Rear Admiral Alfred W. Johnson) begins to establish the off-shore Neutrality Patrol. Seaplane tenders Gannet (AVP-8) and Thrush (AVP-3) sail for San Juan, Puerto Rico, to establish a seaplane base there.
Rear Admiral Charles E. Courtney relieves Rear Admiral Henry E. Lackey as Commander Squadron 40-T, on board light cruiser Trenton (CL-11), the squadron flagship, at Villefranche-sur-Mer, France. Squadron 40-T had been formed in 1936 to protect American lives and property during the Spanish Civil War; its ships operate directly under the control of the Chief of Naval Operations.
French authorities remove two seamen of German nationality from U.S. freighter Exochorda at Marseilles, France.
British Northern Patrol (7th and 12th Cruiser Squadrons) commences operation between Shetland and Faeroe Islands, and Iceland. Light cruisers HMS Caledon, HMS Calypso, HMS Diomede, HMS Dragon, HMS Effingham, HMS Emerald, HMS Cardiff and HMS Dunedin are the ships that undertake this work. The patrol stops 108 merchantmen over the next three weeks, ordering 28 into the port of Kirkwall to have their cargoes inspected.
Cruiser Division 7 (Rear Admiral Andrew C. Pickens) sails to establish patrol off the eastern seaboard between Newport, Rhode Island, and Norfolk, Virginia. Heavy cruisers Quincy (CA-39) and Vincennes (CA-44) depart first, San Francisco (CA-38) (flagship) and Tuscaloosa (CA-37) follow. The ships, burning running lights, are to observe and report the movements of foreign men-of-war, and, as required, render prompt assistance to ships or planes encountered.
British steamer Olivegrove is stopped, torpedoed and sunk by German submarine U 33 200 miles northwest of Spain, 49°05'N, 15°58'W; upon receiving Olivegrove's distress signal, U.S. passenger liner Washington, en route to the British Isles to evacuate American citizens from the European war zone, alters course and increases speed to reach the scene. Meanwhile, U 33's commanding officer, Kapitanleutnant Hans-Wilhelm von Dresky, treats the British survivors courteously, and aids in their rescue by having distress rockets fired to guide Washington to the two lifeboats containing the 33-man crew, which she picks up without loss.
U.S. freighter Lehigh, detained by British authorities since 5 September, is released; freighter Warrior is detained by the British (see 18 September).
U.S. passenger liner Santa Paula is hailed by British cruiser (unidentified) 30 miles off Curaçao, N.W.I. and ordered to stop; after a delay of 20 minutes, Santa Paula is allowed to proceed (see 8 September 1939). Tanker I.C. White is challenged by cruiser (nationality unidentified) 15 miles off Baranquilla, Colombia, but is allowed to proceed without further hindrance.
Incident to the European war, the U.S. Naval Observatory is closed to all visitors except those specifically authorized by the Secretary of the Navy.
President Roosevelt proclaims a "limited national emergency" and orders enlisted strength of all armed forces increased--naval enlisted men from 110,813 to 145,000; Marine Corps from 18,325 to 25,000--and authorizes recall to active duty of officers, men, and nurses on retired lists of Navy and Marine Corps.
Undersecretary of State Sumner Welles and British Ambassador to the U.S. Lord Lothian have "off-the-record talk" (at the former's request) concerning the brief detention of U.S. passenger liner Santa Paula the day before. Lord Lothian is informed that Santa Paula's captain had been asked "to give formal assurances whether there were any German passengers on board, the implication being that if the captain had not given such assurances, the officers of the cruiser would have boarded [Santa Paula] to search for German passengers and possibly might have taken some off." Undersecretary Welles goes on to say that "any act by British cruisers affecting American ships in waters so close to the United States involving possible boarding of them and taking off of civilian passengers would create a very highly unfortunate impression upon American public opinion at this time and was something undesirable in itself, since if civilian passengers actually had been taken off, such act would be clearly counter to international law." Lord Lothian agrees and promises to "take the necessary steps to prevent occurrences of this kind from happening."
Allies announce a long-range blockade of Germany.
British authorities seize cargo (phosphates and cotton) of U.S. freighter Saccarappa;after the items deemed contraband are unloaded, the ship is released to continue on her voyage.
U.S. freighter Wacosta, bound from Glasgow, Scotland, to New York, is stopped by German submarine (unidentified). Wacosta is detained for three hours while the Germans examine her papers and search her holds, but is permitted to proceed.
U.S. steamship President Harding is detained by French authorities and various items of her cargo (including 135 tons of copper and 34 tons of petroleum products) seized as contraband. The ship is released promptly.
Canada declares war on Germany.
U.S. freighter Hybert is detained for two hours by a U-boat (unidentified); Hybert is released but the Germans warn the merchantman not to use her radio for 24 hours.
Admiral William D. Leahy, USN (Ret.), former Chief of Naval Operations (1937-1939), takes office as Governor of Puerto Rico.
Navy charters barkentine Bear of Oakland for operations in the U.S. Antarctic Service and commissions her as auxiliary Bear (AG-29). The U.S. Navy originally acquires Bear, built in Scotland for the sealing trade, to rescue the survivors of the ill-fated Greeley Arctic Expedition in 1884. The Navy transfers the ship to the U.S. Treasury Department in 1885 for deployment in the Revenue Cutter Service (later U.S. Coast Guard). In 1929, the Coast Guard transfers her to private ownership. Rear Admiral Richard E. Byrd, USN (Ret.) acquires Bear in 1932 for use in Antarctic exploration.(The expedition will be under the command of Rear Admiral Richard E. Byrd, USN (Ret.) (Byrd is appointed commanding officer of the expedition on 13 July 1939). Civilian sources provide scientific staff and dog drivers; sailors, marines and soldiers perform the supporting aviation, radio, photography, commissary, carpentry, and mechanical duties, as well as operate tractors and light tanks and the Armour Institute of Technology's Snow Cruiser, the unique vehicle developed for polar exploration.
U.S. tanker R.G. Stewart is stopped by shot fired across her bow by German submarine U 38 about 253 miles west of Ushant, France, 48°17'N, 11°16'W. Soon thereafter, U 38 shells, torpedoes and sinks British motor tanker Inverliffey; R.G. Stewart rescues the tanker's crew and later transfers them to U.S. freighter City of Joliet for transportation to Antwerp, Belgium.
German armored ship Admiral Graf Spee provisions from tanker Altmark; security measure of launching the warship's AR 196 pays dividends, as British heavy cruiser HMS Cumberland is spotted closing the area. Admiral Graf Spee and her consort alter course and are thus not sighted.
USAAC 21st Reconnaissance Squadron (B-18s) (Major Howard Craig, USAAC) reports to Commander Atlantic Squadron for duty in connection with the Neutrality Patrol. It is based at Miami, Florida.
Instructions to Neutrality Patrol are modified to include covering the approaches to the Gulf of Mexico through the Yucatan Channel and the Straits of Florida.
U.S. freighter Black Eagle is detained by British authorities at the Downs, the roadstead in the English channel off the coast of Kent (see 19 September).
U.S. freighter Sea Arrow is launched at Oakland, California, the first major ocean-going vessel of that type completed on the west coast since World War I. The ship is later acquired by the Navy on 8 July 1940 and converted to the seaplane tender Tangier (AV-8).
U.S. freighter Black Osprey, detained at Weymouth, England, by British authorities since 5 September 1939, is released (see 31 October 1939).
Norwegian motor vessel Ronda strikes mine off Terschelling island, Netherlands, 54°10'N, 04°34'E; two U.S. citizens perish. Survivors (including four Americans) are subsequently rescued by Italian freighter Providencia.
Dutch minesweeper Willem van Ewijck is lost off Terschelling on 8 September 1939 to a Dutch mine.
U.S. freighter City of Joliet is detained by French authorities and her cargo examined (see 5 October).
British Admiralty, reflecting the need to protect the Atlantic lifeline necessary to Britain's survival, announces establishment of convoy system for its merchant shipping; first Halifax-United Kingdom convoy (HX 1) sails--eighteen ships escorted by Canadian destroyers HMCS St. Laurence and HMCS Saguenay.
German submarine U 31 inaugurates U-boat campaign against convoys when she attacks westbound convoy OB 4, torpedoing and sinking British merchant steamer Aviemore in the North Atlantic, 49°11'N, 13°38'W.
U.S. freighter Shickshinny is detained at Glasgow, Scotland, by British authorities (see 18 September).
British use of Home Fleet aircraft carriers to hunt German submarines, begun on 3 September, ends after U 29 torpedoes and sinks HMS Courageous southwest of the British Isles, 50°10'N, 14°45'W. Courageous is the first capital ship lost by any of the combatants. "A wonderful success," the German U-boat High Command War Diary exults, "and confirmation of the fact that the English defense forces are not as effective as they advertise themselves to be."
U.S. freighter Black Condor is detained by British authorities (see 24 September).
Heavy cruiser San Francisco (CA-38) arrives at San Juan, Puerto Rico, and reports that Dominican authorities are exercising proper precautions to learn promptly of the entry of any belligerent warship into Semana Bay, Dominican Republic.
U.S. freighter Warrior, detained by British authorities since 7 September, is released after her cargo of phosphates is requisitioned. Freighter Shickshinny, detained since 16 September at Glasgow, Scotland, is permitted to sail without unloading cargo deemed by British authorities to be contraband. Shickshinny, however, is to unload those items at Mersey, England.
U.S. freighter Eglantine is stopped by German submarine, ordered not to use her radio, and to send her papers to the U-boat for examination. The Germans allow Eglantine to proceed, but advise her not to use her radio for three hours.
U.S. freighter Black Hawk is detained by British authorities (see 4 October); freighter Black Eagle, detained by the British since 12 September at the Downs, is released.
U.S. freighters Ethan Allen and Ipswich are detained by British authorities (see 30 September).
U.S. freighter Syros is detained by French authorities (see 10 October).
U.S. freighter Black Condor, detained by British authorities since 17 September, is released.
Commandant of the Coast Guard informs Commander of the Boston Division that upon withdrawal of destroyers from the Grand Banks Patrol, the patrol will be maintained by two Campbell-class 327-foot cutters.
U.S. freighter Executive is detained by French authorities at Casablanca, French Morocco (see 29 September).
U.S. freighter Executive, detained at Casablanca, French Morocco, since 27 September, is released by French authorities, provided that she proceed to Bizerte, Tunisia.
British warships operating on the Northern Patrol continue to stop neutral merchantman; between this date and 12 October, 63 vessels are stopped, of which 20 are detained at Kirkwall for the inspection of their cargoes.
Battleship Arizona (BB-39) engineering plant is sabotaged, San Pedro, California. A thorough FBI investigation into the occurrence opines that the deed is done to embarrass certain ship's officers rather than cause serious damage.
Vice Admiral Adolphus Andrews (Commander Scouting Force) assumes command of Hawaiian Detachment, breaking his flag in heavy cruiser Indianapolis (CA-35). Andrews will shift his flag to carrier Enterprise (CV-6) on 3 October prior to the detachment's move to its operating base (see 5 October).
European war again comes to the Americas: German armored ship Admiral Graf Spee stops and sinks British steamship Clement 75 miles southeast of Pernambuco, Brazil, 09°05'S, 34°05'W (see 1 and 5 October).
U.S. freighters Ethan Allen and Ipswich, detained by British authorities since 20 September, are released. Cargo destined for Bremen and Hamburg, however, is seized and taken off Ipswich.
Word of German armored ship Admiral Graf Spee's sinking of British freighter Clement reaches British Admiralty, which begins disposition of ships to meet the threat posed by the surface raider in the South Atlantic (see 5 October).
German government notifies the United States that merchant vessels must submit to visit and search, and that neutral merchant vessels refrain from suspicious actions when sighting German men-of-war and that they stop when summoned to do so. Maritime Commission, and State and Navy Department representatives who meet to contemplate the request consider it proper and should be complied with.
Chief of Naval Operations instructs all planning agencies within the naval establishment to accord precedence to the preparation of ORANGE (Japan) war plans.
River gunboat Tutuila (PR-4) is damaged when she is accidentally rammed by Chungking Ferry Boat Co. Ferry No. 2 at Chungking, China.
Norwegian motor vessel Hoegh Transporter is sunk by mine off St. John Island, entrance to Singapore harbor; the two Americans among the passengers survive, one is uninjured.
U.S. freighter Black Hawk, detained by British authorities since 19 September, is released.
Navy Department informs U.S. passenger liner Iroquois of word received late the previous day concerning the plot to sink the ship as she nears the east coast. "As a purely precautionary measure," President Roosevelt announces this day, "a Coast Guard vessel and several navy ships from the [neutrality] patrol will meet the Iroquois at sea and will accompany her to an American port" (see 8 and 11 October).
British Admiralty and French Ministry of Marine form eight "hunting groups" in the Atlantic and Indian Oceans to counter the threat posed by German armored ship Admiral Graf Spee. That same day, the object of that attention, Admiral Graf Spee, captures British freighter Newton Beech in the South Atlantic at 09°35'S, 06°30'W.
U.S. freighter Exeter is detained by French authorities at Marseilles, France (see 6 October); freighter City of Joliet, detained by the French since 14 September, is released.
Secretary of State Cordell Hull requests Chargé d'Affaires ad interim in Germany Alexander C. Kirk, to ascertain why German authorities have detained Swedish motorship Korsholm (at Swinemünde), Estonian steamship Minna (at Kiel), and Norwegian steamship Brott (at Sivinemünde). All of the neutral merchantmen carry cargoes of wood pulp or wood pulp products consigned to various American firms. These are the first instances of cargoes bound for the United States held up for investigation by German authorities. While no U.S. ships are detained, cargoes bound for American concerns in neutral (Finnish, Estonian, Latvian, and Norwegian) merchant ships come under scrutiny by the Germans (see 10 October and 8 and 27 December).
U.S. freighters Black Gull and Black Falcon are detained by British authorities (see 10-11 and 17 October, respectively).
U.S. freighter Exeter, detained at Marseilles, France, the previous day, is released. She subsequently reports having been examined several times by French naval authorities.
U.S. freighter Black Heron is detained by British authorities at Weymouth, England (see 16 October).
German armored ship Admiral Graf Spee takes on board crews of British freighters Ashlea and Newton Beech in the South Atlantic and sinks the latter with demolition charges.
German armored ship Deutschland seizes U.S. freighter City of Flint, en route from New York to the United Kingdom, as "contraband carrier" and places a prize crew on board (see 21, 23, 24, 27 and 28 October and 3 November).
British Northern Patrol continues operations between the Shetlands, Faeroes, and Iceland; light cruiser HMS Belfast captures German passenger ship Cap Norte.
U.S. freighter Patrick Henry is detained by British authorities (see 22 October). British authorities remove from freighter Black Gull (detained since 6 October) 293 sacks of American mail addressed to Rotterdam, Holland, and 10 to Antwerp, Belgium. This is among the first instances of the British removing mail addressed to neutral countries and opening and censoring sealed letter mail sent from the United States (see 11 October).
U.S. freighter Syros, detained by French authorities since 14 September, is released.
Norwegian freighter Brott, detained at Sivinemünde, Germany, since early October with a cargo of wood pulp/wood pulp products, is released by German authorities to proceed on her voyage to the United States.
U.S. passenger liner Iroquois arrives safely in New York harbor, having been accompanied for three days by Coast Guard cutter Campbell and destroyers Davis (DD-395) and Benham (DD-397). Iroquois will later be acquired by the Navy on 22 July 1940 and will be converted to a hospital ship. As Solace (AH-5) she will play an important role at Pearl Harbor (see 7 December 1941).
U.S. freighter Sundance is detained at London, England, by British authorities (see 25 October); freighter Black Tern is detained at Weymouth, England (see 12 and 28 October); freighter Black Gull, detained by the British since 6 October, is released.
British warships operating on the Northern Patrol continue to stop neutral merchantman; between this date and 26 October, 112 vessels are stopped, of which 23 are detained at Kirkwall for the inspection of their cargoes.
British seizure of U.S. mail continues: authorities at the contraband control station at Weymouth remove 94 sacks addressed to Rotterdam, 81 to Antwerp and 184 to Germany, from U.S. freighter Black Tern, which had been detained the day before; authorities at the Downs remove 77 sacks of parcel post, 33 sacks of registered mail, and 156 sacks of regular mail addressed to the Netherlands, in addition to 65 sacks of mail addressed to Belgium, 4 to Luxembourg, 3 to Danzig, and 259 to Germany, from Dutch motorship Zaandam.
German submarine U 47 penetrates defenses of British fleet base at Scapa Flow, Orkney Islands, shortly before midnight and attacks. Her initial spread of torpedoes causes no damage to battleship HMS Royal Oak and aircraft repair vessel HMS Pegasus (see 14 October).
German armored ship Deutschland sinks Norwegian freighter Lorentz W. Hansen 420 miles east of Newfoundland, 49°05'N, 43°44'W.
U.S. freighter Scanstates is detained at Kirkwall, Orkneys, by British authorities; freighter Exporter is detained at Gibraltar by the British (see 20 and 27 October, respectively).
U.S. freighter Nashaba is detained at Le Havre by French authorities (see 25 October).
U.S. freighter Gateway City is detained by British authorities (see 31 October); freighter Black Heron, detained by the British at Weymouth, England, since 7 October, is released.
17, Tue. --
U.S. freighter Cranford is detained by British authorities (see 21 October); freighter Black Falcon, detained by the British since 6 October, is released.
German armored ship Admiral Graf Spee transfers crew of British freighter Huntsman to tanker Altmark; Huntsman is then sunk with demolition charges at 16°00'S, 17°00'W.
U.S. freighter West Hobomac is detained by British authorities (see 25 October).
German armored ship Admiral Graf Spee transfers crews of British freighters Newton Beech and Ashlea to tanker Altmark. The two German ships then part company for a time (see 28 October).
U.S. freighter Scanstates, detained at Kirkwall, Orkneys, by British authorities since 14 October, is released.
U.S. freighter Meanticut is detained at Gibraltar by British authorities and ordered to proceed to Oran to discharge certain cargo earmarked for delivery to Italy (see 27 October).
U.S. steamship President Hayes is detained by British naval authorities at Alexandria, Egypt, and searched for contraband (see 23 October); freighter Patrick Henry, detained by the British since 10 October, is released.
German armored ship Admiral Graf Spee stops British freighter Trevanion, embarks her crew, and sinks the ship at 19°40'S, 04°02'W.
U.S. freighter Tulsa is detained at London by British authorities (see 9 November).
U.S. steamship President Hayes, detained by British naval authorities at Alexandria, Egypt, the previous day, is released, but not before a consignment of rubber earmarked for delivery to Genoa, Italy, is unloaded. The cargo is held at Alexandria for about two weeks, and then reloaded on board steamship President Polk. The President of the shipping concern involved (American President Lines) subsequently requests the Department of State to protest methods employed by the British naval authorities at Port Said and Alexandria in searching that company's vessels. "The fact that [the] British...allowed this eventual delivery," the shipping company executive complains, "indicates that [the] shipment ought never have been interfered with in [the] first place."
British steamships Menin Ridge and Ledbury are attacked and sunk by German submarine U 37 (torpedoes and gunfire, respectively) 36°01'N, 07°22'W. U.S. freighter Crown City rescues the only five survivors from the 27- man crew of Menin Ridge and Ledbury's entire 33-man crew.
Soviet authorities intern U.S. freighter City of Flint's German prize crew from armored ship Deutschland at Murmansk (see 27-28 October and 3 November).
U.S. freighter Wacosta is detained by British authorities (see 8 November); freighter Iberville, detained by the British since 13 October, is released after cargo due to be discharged at Antwerp and Rotterdam, Holland, is seized as contraband. British authorities at Kirkwall remove 468 bags of U.S. mail destined for Gothenborg, Sweden and 18 for Helsinki, Finland, from Finnish freighter Astrid Thorden.
U.S. freighter Nashaba, detained at Le Havre by French authorities since 14 October, is released.
U.S. Consul at Gibraltar William E. Chapman confers informally with British naval authorities there concerning protracted delays in detention of American merchantmen (see 27 October).
U.S. Consul at Gibraltar William E. Chapman meets informally with British Colonial Secretary there, and objects to protracted delay in detention of U.S. merchantmen, especially freighter Exporter, which has on board diplomatic pouches bound for Athens, Greece. Consul Chapman's low-key approach bears fruit. Exporter, detained since 14 October, is released later that day, as are freighters Oakman (detained since 13 October) and Meanticut (detained since 21 October).
U.S. freighter Black Tern, detained at Weymouth, England, by British authorities since 11 October, is released.
German armored ship Admiral Graf Spee makes rendezvous with tanker Altmark near Tristan de Cunha. The warship refuels from the auxiliary, and transfers British freighter Trevanion's crew to her.
President Roosevelt declares area around British Isles a combat zone.
U.S. freighter Express is detained by British authorities at Gibraltar but is released the same day after her cargo is examined; freighter Tulsa, detained at London by the British since 23 October, is released; freighter Wacosta, detained by the British since 24 October, is released after cargo billed for delivery to Rotterdam, Holland, is seized as contraband.
U.S. freighter Black Hawk is detained by British authorities at Ramsgate, England.
German armored ship Admiral Graf Spee stops and sinks British tanker Africa Shell 160 miles northeast of Lourenco Marques, 24°45'S, 35°00'E; Japanese freighter Tihuku Maru happens upon the scene of the action but is unmolested.
German armored ship Admiral Graf Spee stops Dutch freighter Mapia in Indian Ocean but, since the latter is a neutral ship, permits her to proceed unharmed.
U.S. freighter Nishmaha, detained at Gibraltar since 11 November, is given option of submitting to further detention or proceeding to Barcelona and thence to Marseilles to unload items seized by British authorities. Nishmaha's master chooses the latter (see 23 November). On the same day the British allow Nishmaha to clear Gibraltar, however, they detain U.S. freighter Examiner and seize 11 bags of first-class mail (see 4 December). Freighter Black Condor, detained by the British at Weymouth, England, since 5 November, is released after part of her cargo and 126 bags of mail are seized.
U.S. freighter Express, detained by British authorities at Malta since 12 November, is released and allowed to proceed on her voyage after declaring the nature of her cargo (see 23 November).
U.S. freighter Exmouth is detained at Gibraltar by British authorities (see 5 December).
U.S. Consul at Gibraltar William E. Chapman declines to consent to execute agreement wherein the master of freighter Nishmaha (detained since 11 November) will agree to proceed via Barcelona, Spain, to Marseilles to unload cargo deemed contraband by the Gibraltar Contraband Control board (see 24 November). Secretary of State Hull subsequently (27 November) approves Consul Chapman's action with respect to U.S. merchantmen which left the U.S. with cargoes prior to the Neutrality Act of 4 November.
Freighter Azalea City is detained at London (see 11 December). Freighter Excambion, detained at Gibraltar by the British since 20 November, is released.
German armored ship Admiral Graf Spee refuels from tanker Altmark in South Atlantic (see 29 November).
U.S. freighter Winston Salem is detained at Ramsgate, England, by British authorities (see 7 December).
U.S. freighter Nishmaha is detained by French authorities at Marseilles; her cargo (cotton, paraffin and beef casings) is held pending the decision of the Contraband Committee in London (see 8 December).
U.S. freighter Extavia is detained at Gibraltar by British authorities (see 14 December).
German armored ship Admiral Graf Spee re-embarks from accompanying tanker Altmark all British merchant marine officers from the six ships that the "pocket battleship" has sunk up to that point. The officers are to be taken back to Germany; the crewmen remain imprisoned on board Altmark (see 16 February 1940).
Destroyer Reuben James (DD-245) is damaged by grounding, Lobos Cay, Cuba.
U.S. freighter Extavia, with cargo destined for Istanbul, Turkey, and the Piraeus, Greece, is detained at Gibraltar by British authorities.
U.S. freighter Yaka is detained at the Downs by British authorities (see 6 December).
German armored ship Admiral Graf Spee refuels from tanker Altmark in South Atlantic, roughly 1,700 miles from Montevideo, Uruguay.
U.S. freighters Effingham and Winston Salem, detained at Ramsgate, England, by British authorities since 27 and 28 November, respectively, are released; the latter proceeds to Rotterdam where her cargo of 2,782 bales of cotton is seized by British authorities.
U.S. freighter Exmoor is detained at Gibraltar by British authorities (see 15 December).
German armored ship Admiral Graf Spee stops and sinks British freighter Streonshalh at 25°01'S, 27°50'W.
Secretary of State Hull urges U.S. Chargé d'Affaires in the United Kingdom Johnson to urge the Contraband Commission in London to release U.S. freighter Nishmaha (then at Marseilles, France), which has been held 25 days "a most unreasonable detention" (see 19 December).
U.S. Consul General in Hamburg Keblinger reports that German prize control authorities are detaining more than 125 neutral ships in German ports: at least 40 Swedish, 12 Danish, 5 Norwegian, 40 Finnish, 14 Estonian and 14 Latvian, comprising practically all neutral vessels clearing Baltic or Scandinavian ports with cargoes of goods that are on the German contraband list (see 27 December).
German tanker Nordmeer sails from Curaçao, N.W.I. (see 5 January 1940).
U.S. freighter Exochorda, detained at Gibraltar by British authorities since 5 December, is released.
Heavy cruiser Vincennes (CA-44) and destroyers Evans (DD-78) and Twiggs (DD-127) (the latter destroyer having shadowed British destroyer HMS Hereward a short time before) trail Australian light cruiser HMAS Perth which is prowling the Gulf of Yucatan waiting for the emergence of German passenger liner Columbus. The Americans maintain such a close and persistent surveillance of the Australian warship that Perth's commanding officer, Captain Harold B. Farncomb, RAN, is said to have remarked in exasperation, "Queer idea of 'neutrality' these Americans have!"
German freighter Arauca departs Vera Cruz, Mexico, followed subsequently by passenger liner Columbus, the third largest ship in Germany's merchant marine. Destroyer Benham (DD-397), soon joined by destroyer Lang (DD-399), trails Columbus. A succession of U.S. ships will, over ensuing days, send out plain-language position reports (see 15-20 December).
German armored ship Admiral Graf Spee puts in to Montevideo, Uruguay, for repairs. British light cruiser HMS Ajax and New Zealand light cruiser HMNZS Achilles maintain patrol off the 120-mile wide River Plate estuary. British heavy cruiser HMS Cumberland reinforces Ajax and Achilles that night.
Interior Department motorship North Star (U.S. Antarctic Service), with the permission of the British government, visits Pitcairn Island to take on water and discovers the islanders in need of certain foodstuffs and medical supplies, which she provides. The provisions include flour, sugar, potatoes, matches, lard, gasoline and lubricating oil. The supplies will be replaced in New Zealand with funds turned over to Rear Admiral Byrd by the Chief Magistrate.
U.S. freighter Extavia, detained at Gibraltar by British authorities since 29 November, is released.
British RFA oiler Olynthus refuels light cruiser HMS Ajax at Samborombon Bay, off the coast of Argentina; heavy cruiser HMS Cumberland covers the evolution lest German armored ship Admiral Graf Spee should attempt to sortie.
U.S. freighter Exmoor, detained at Gibraltar by British authorities since 7 December, is released.
British light cruiser HMS Ajax, heavy cruiser HMS Cumberland and New Zealand light cruiser HMNZS Achilles patrol off River Plate estuary; Ajax's Seafox reconnoiters the area.
British RFA oiler Olynthus refuels New Zealand light cruiser HMNZS Achilles off Rouen Bank, the southernmost channel of the River Plate estuary. Light cruiser HMS Ajax and heavy cruiser HMS Cumberland cover the evolution.
German armored ship Admiral Graf Spee, her allotted time in neutral Uruguayan waters for repair of damage received in the Battle of the River Plate having expired, and her crew transferred to freighter Tacoma, puts to sea from Montevideo, Uruguay, and is scuttled about five miles west-southwest of the entrance of Montevideo harbor, 35°11'S, 56°26'W. The destruction of Admiral Graf Spee comes, as First Lord of the Admiralty Winston S. Churchill later declares "like a flash of light and colour on the scene, carrying with it an encouragement to all who are fighting, to ourselves, and to our Allies" (see 30 December 1939 and 1 January 1940). Admiral Graf Spee had sunk nine British merchantmen during her cruise, totalling 50,089 tons of shipping. Not a single life had been lost in the process. In World War I, the famed German raider Emden had sunk 16 ships of 66,146 tons before her demise under the guns of Australian cruiser HMAS Sydney.
U.S. freighters Meanticut and Excalibur are detained by British authorities at Gibraltar (see 18 and 31 December, respectively).
U.S. freighter Meanticut, detained by British authorities at Gibraltar the previous day, is released.
British light cruiser HMS Orion intercepts German freighter Arauca off Miami, Florida; the latter puts in to Port Everglades to avoid capture. Destroyer Truxtun (DD-229) has trailed the merchantman at one point; destroyer Philip (DD-76) is present when Arauca reaches sanctuary. USAAC B-18 (21st Reconnaissance Squadron), however, witnesses the shot that Orion fires over Arauca's bow (in the attempt to force the latter to heave-to) splashing inside American territorial waters off Hialeah, Florida. Learning of this incident, Secretary of State Cordell Hull instructs U.S. Ambassador to the Court of St. James Joseph P. Kennedy to remind the British Foreign Office that, as neutrals, the American republics are entitled to have their waters "free from the commission of any hostile act by any non-American belligerent nation." The U.S. Navy eventually commissions Arauca as refrigerated storeship Saturn (AF-40).
U.S. freighter Nishmaha is free to sail from Marseilles to continue her voyage, but port conditions and weather prevent her from sailing as scheduled.
Heavy cruiser Tuscaloosa (CA-37) disembarks scuttled German passenger liner Columbus's "distressed mariners" at Ellis Island, New York City.
Destroyer Twiggs (DD-127), on neutrality patrol in Yucatan Channel, relieves Evans (DD-78) of duty trailing British RFA tanker Patella.
German armored ship Admiral Graf Spee's former commanding officer, Kapitan zur See Hans Langsdorff, commits suicide at Montevideo, Uruguay.
U.S. freighter Exochorda arrives at Naples with the 45 tons of tin plate condemned by the British prize court at Gibraltar among her cargo, having been permitted to sail by her master's agreeing to ship the 45 tons of tin to Marseilles from Genoa. Another 100 tons of tin, however, consigned to a Swiss buyer, are put on the "detained list" and held in Genoa at the disposal of the British consul. That turn of affairs prompts U.S. Ambassador in Italy William Phillips, to take up the matter with the British Ambassador, who expresses his awareness of the "irritation and resentment...in American commercial and shipping circles" over the seemingly "arbitrary, careless, and casual" methods shown by the British contraband control people.
U.S. freighters Oakwood, bound for Genoa, Italy, and Executive, bound for Greece, Turkey, and Rumania, are detained by British authorities at Gibraltar (see 23 December 1939 and 3 January 1940, respectively).
U.S. freighters Explorer (detained at Gibraltar since 9 December) and Oakwood (detained there since 20 December) are released by British authorities.
U.S. Consul General in Hamburg Keblinger reports that German prize control authorities have released all but seven neutral vessels detained in German ports for the evaluation of cargo deemed contraband.
U.S. freighter Oakwood, en route from Gibraltar to Genoa, is intercepted by French naval vessel and diverted to Villefranche after boarding officer mistakes notation in log as an order to proceed to Marseilles. Once the mistake is realized, the ship is released to proceed on her way within a few hours.
Rear Admiral Julius C. Townsend, Commandant Fourth Naval District and Philadelphia Navy Yard, dies of bronchial cancer at U.S. Naval Hospital, Brooklyn, N.Y.
U.S. freighter Exilona is detained at Gibraltar by British authorities.
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