The Official Chronology of the U.S. Navy in World War II
Chapter I: 1939
* September 1, Friday 1939
World War II begins as Germany invades Poland with a power and rapidity that convincingly demonstrates to the world the blitzkrieg, or "lightning war." Italy announces its neutrality. Ultimately, the global conflict set in motion on this late summer day will engulf much of the globe and wreak far-reaching changes in the world order.
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 off 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.
* September 3, Sunday 1939
Great Britain and France declare war on Germany in accordance with their prewar pledges to Poland. Australia and New Zealand follow. Irish Free State, however, a British dominion, declares its neutrality.
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).
* September 4, Monday 1939
British passenger liner Athenia sinks as the result of damage sustained the previous day when torpedoed by German submarine U 30. After the sinking of Athenia is confirmed through radio intelligence and news broadcasts, the German Naval War Staff radios all U-boats at sea that the Fuhrer has ordered that no hostile action be taken "for the present" against passenger ships, even if they are travelling in convoy (see 16 September). Publicly, Germany will continue to deny responsibility for the sinking of Athenia until the post-war Nuremberg Trials bring the truth to light.
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 Attache, and Commander Norman R. Hitchcock, Assistant Naval Attache and Assistant Naval Attache for Air, are flown to Galway, Ireland, where they interview Athenia's surviving officers and men. The attache'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 Curacao, 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.
* September 11, Monday 1939
Germany announces counterblockade of Allies.
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).
* September 13, Wednesday 1939
Submarine Squalus (SS-192), which had accidentally sunk off Portsmouth, New Hampshire, on 23 May during a scheduled test dive (of her 59-man crew, 26 men perish and 33 are rescued by McCann Rescue Chamber), arrives under tow at Portsmouth Navy Yard for extensive repairs. She is decommissioned on 15 November 1939, renamed Sailfish (SS-192) on 9 February 1940, and recommissioned on 15 May 1940.
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.
* September 14, Thursday 1939
Atlantic Squadron Neutrality Patrol assets deployed this date: destroyers Davis (DD-395), Jouett (DD-396), Benham (DD-397) and Ellet (DD-398) operate between Halifax, Nova Scotia, and Placentia Bay, Newfoundland (Grand Banks Patrol); destroyers Hamilton (DD-141) and Leary (DD-158) operate off Georges Shoals; Goff (DD 247) and Hopkins (DD-249) and PBY-2s (VP 54), supported by minesweeper [small seaplane tender] Owl (AM-2) operate out of Narragansett Bay; destroyers Decatur (DD-341), Barry (DD-248), Reuben James (DD-245) and auxiliary [high speed transport] Manley (AG-28), with shore-based VP 52 and VP 53 (P2Y-2s) operate out of Chesapeake Bay; destroyers Babbitt (DD-128) and Claxton (DD-140) patrol the Florida Straits; heavy cruisers San Francisco (CA-38) and Tuscaloosa (CA-37), destroyers Truxtun (DD-229), Simpson (DD-221), Broome (DD-220) and Borie (DD-215) and patrol squadrons VP 33 (PBY-3s) and VP 51 (PBY-1s), supported by small seaplane tenders Lapwing (AVP-1), Thrush (AVP-3) and Gannet (AVP-8) watch the Caribbean and the Atlantic side of the Lesser Antilles; heavy cruisers Quincy (CA-39) and Vincennes (CA-44) operate off Cape Hatteras, North Carolina; held in reserve in Hampton Roads is a striking force consisting of carrier Ranger (CV-4) (her embarked air group consisting of squadrons VB 4, VF 4, VS 41 and VS 42) and battleships New York (BB-34) and Texas (BB-35). Arkansas (BB-33) and gunnery training ship (ex-> battleship) Wyoming (AG-17) are carrying out training cruise for USNR midshipmen. The destroyers find the going rough on the Grand Banks; they will be replaced by 327-foot Coast Guard cutters that will be administratively assigned to Destroyer Division 18.
U.S. freighter City of Joliet is detained by French authorities and her cargo examined (see 5 October).
* September 16, Saturday 1939
Naval Attache in Berlin reports that Grossadmiral Erich Raeder, Commander in Chief of the German Navy, has informed him that all submarine commanders had reported negatively concerning the sinking of British passenger liner Athenia (see 22 September and 8 November).
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).
* September 17, Sunday 1939
USSR, its western border secure after its 23 August 1939 ceasefire with the Japanese along the Manchukuo-Mongolia frontier, invades eastern Poland.
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).
* September 18, Monday 1939
President Roosevelt authorizes Coast Guard to enlist 2,000 additional men and to build two training stations.
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.
* September 19, Tuesday 1939
VP 21 (PBYs), assigned to the Asiatic Fleet to provide aerial reconnaissance capability to safeguard the neutrality of the Philippines, departs Pearl Harbor for Manila, P.I. The squadron will fly via Midway, Wake, and Guam (see 25 September). Seaplane tender (destroyer) Childs (AVD-1) will provide support at Wake, the least developed place on the movement westward.
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.
* September 20, Wednesday 1939
Squadron 40-T departs Villefranche, France; flagship, light cruiser Trenton (CL-11) (Rear Admiral Charles E. Courtney) and destroyer Jacob Jones (DD-130) head for Lisbon, Portugal; destroyer Badger (DD-126) for Marseilles, France (see 23 September).
U.S. freighters Ethan Allen and Ipswich are detained by British authorities (see 30 September).
* September 21, Thursday 1939
President Roosevelt asks for repeal of arms embargo provision of Neutrality Act of 1937 (see 4 November).
* September 22, Friday 1939
German submarine U 30 arrives at Wilhelmshaven, Germany, where her commanding officer, Kapitanleutnant Fritz-Julius Lemp, informs Commander U-boats, in private, that he [Lemp] believes himself responsible for sinking British passenger liner Athenia (see 8 November).
U.S. freighter Syros is detained by French authorities (see 10 October).
* September 23, Saturday 1939
Squadron 40-T arrives at Lisbon, Portugal; en route, flagship, light cruiser Trenton (CL-11) (Rear Admiral Charles E. Courtney) intercepts distress signal from British freighter Constant which reports being pursued by what she believes to be a German U-boat. Rear Admiral Courtney sends destroyer Jacob Jones (DD-130) to provide water and provisions to the English merchantman.
* September 24, Sunday 1939
Seaplane tender Langley (AV-3) arrives at Manila, P.I., to serve as the flagship for Commander Aircraft Asiatic Fleet (Commander Arthur C. Davis) (see 25 September).
U.S. freighter Black Condor, detained by British authorities since 17 September, is released.
* September 25, Monday 1939
VP 21 arrives at Manila, P.I.; it will be tended by Langley (AV-3), which arrived the previous day.
* September 26, Tuesday 1939
German armored ships Admiral Graf Spee and Deutschland, poised in the South and North Atlantic, respectively, receive their orders to begin commerce raiding operations.
* September 27, Wednesday 1939
Warsaw falls; Poland surrenders unconditionally to Germany and the USSR. After the fall of Poland, the war on the western front degenerates into a stalemate, sometimes derisively called the sitzkrieg ("sitting war") after the blitzkrieg that had crushed Polish resistance in September.
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).
* September 28, Thursday 1939
Hawaiian Detachment, U.S. Fleet, is established in response to Japan's continuing undeclared war against China that has been underway since 7 July 1937. The establishment of the Hawaiian Detachment, to be based at Pearl Harbor, necessitates changing the schedules of the supply ships and oilers needed to provide logistics support.
* September 29, Friday 1939
Poland is partitioned by Germany and the Soviet Union.
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.
* September 30, Saturday 1939
Rear Admiral Hayne Ellis relieves Rear Admiral Alfred W. Johnson as Commander Atlantic Squadron on board the squadron's flagship, battleship Texas (BB-35).
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.
* October 1, Sunday 1939
As of this date, the U.S. Navy consists of 396 commissioned ships divided amongst the major U.S. Fleet commands afloat: Battle Force (Battleships, Cruisers, Destroyers, and Aircraft), Submarine Force, and Base Force; the Scouting Force (Cruisers and Aircraft); the Atlantic Squadron; the Asiatic Fleet; the Special Service Squadron and Squadron 40-T. There are 175 district craft in service in the following naval districts: First (headquarters in Boston, Massachusetts), Third (New York), Fourth (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), Fifth (Norfolk, Virginia), Sixth, Seventh and Eighth (Charleston, South Carolina), Ninth (Great Lakes, Illinois), Eleventh (San Diego, California), Twelfth (San Francisco, California), Thirteenth (Seattle, Washington), Fourteenth (Pearl Harbor, Territory of Hawaii), Fifteenth (Balboa, Canal Zone) and Sixteenth (Cavite, Philippine Islands); vessels not in commission (but includes those ordered recommissioned incident to the expansion of the fleet) number 151; 5 district craft are carried as not in service. Vessels listed as "in service" include some used for USNR or Naval Militia training. Vessels not in commission include those loaned to the states of Pennsylvania, California, New York and Massachusetts for use as maritime school ships, the Maritime Commission and the Sea Scouts; as well as "relics" like the Civil War vintage Hartford, the Spanish-American War prize Reina Mercedes, and Spanish-American War veterans Olympia and Oregon. Interestingly, the 1 October 1939 list contains the gunboat Panay (PR-5), bombed and sunk by Japanese naval aircraft in the Yangtze River on 12 December 1937.
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).
* October 2, Monday 1939
Act of Panama is approved by Conference of Foreign Ministers of American Republics meeting in Panama City, establishing a Pan-American neutrality zone 300 miles wide off the coasts of the United States and Latin America.
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.
* October 4, Wednesday 1939
U.S. Naval Attache in Berlin reports that Grossadmiral Erich Raeder, Commander in Chief of the German Navy, has informed him of a plot wherein U.S. passenger liner Iroquois, that had sailed from Cobh, Ireland, with 566 American passengers on 3 October, would be sunk (ostensibly by the British) as she neared the east coast of the United States under "Athenia circumstances" for the apparent purpose of arousing anti-German feeling. Admiral Raeder gives credence to his source in neutral Ireland as being "very reliable" (see 5, 8 and 11 October).
U.S. freighter Black Hawk, detained by British authorities since 19 September, is released.
* October 5, Thursday 1939
Hawaiian Detachment is formed and sent to its new operating base, Pearl Harbor, T.H.; carrier Enterprise (CV-6) (flagship), two heavy cruiser divisions, two destroyer squadrons and a light cruiser flagship, a destroyer tender and a proportionate number of small auxiliaries make up the force.
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 Charge d'Affaires ad interim in Germany Alexander C. Kirk, to ascertain why German authorities have detained Swedish motorship Korsholm (at Swinemunde), Estonian steamship Minna (at Kiel), and Norwegian steamship Brott (at Sivinemunde). 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).
* October 6, Friday 1939
Last organized Polish resistance ceases at Kock.
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.
* October 7, Saturday 1939
German armored ship Admiral Graf Spee stops and boards British freighter Ashlea in the South Atlantic at 09°00'S, 03°00'W, and after transferring her crew to Newton Beech, sinks Ashlea with demolition charges.
U.S. freighter Black Heron is detained by British authorities at Weymouth, England (see 16 October).
* October 8, Sunday 1939
Coast Guard cutter Campbell joins U.S. passenger liner Iroquois, followed later by destroyers Davis (DD-395) and Benham (DD-397). The four ships proceed in company to New York (see 11 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.
* October 9, Monday 1939
President Roosevelt, in memorandum for the Acting Secretary of the Navy, expresses displeasure with "the slowness of getting the East Coast, Caribbean, and Gulf Patrol under way," the "lag between the making of contacts and the follow-up of the contact," and the weakness of the liaison between the Navy, the Coast Guard and the State Department. The Chief Executive emphasizes that "in this whole patrol business time is of the essence and loss of contact with surface ships will not be tolerated." Roosevelt urges that patrol planes and naval or Coast Guard ships "may report the sighting of any submarine or suspicious surface ship in plain English" (see 20 October).
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.
* October 10, Tuesday 1939
German armored ship Admiral Graf Spee stops and puts prize crew on board British freighter Huntsman in the South Atlantic at 08°30'S, 05°15'W.
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 Sivinemunde, 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.
* October 11, Wednesday 1939
Submarine rescue vessel Pigeon (ASR-6), driven aground at Tsingtao, China, by a severe hurricane on 31 August, is refloated.
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.
* October 12, Thursday 1939
German submarines attack convoys of French and British shipping; U 48 shells and sinks French motor tanker Emile Miguet (from convoy KJ 2S) at 50°15'N, 14°50'W, and later torpedoes and sinks British freighter Heronspool (convoy OB 17S) at 50°13'N, 14°48'W. U.S. merchantmen rescue the survivors: freighter Black Hawk rescues Emile Miguet's crew, passenger liner President Harding rescues Heronspool's.
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.
* October 13, Friday 1939
U.S. freighter Iberville is detained by British authorities (see 24 October); freighter Oakman is detained by the British (see 27 October).
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).
* October 14, Saturday 1939
German submarine U 47 quickly carries out second attack in the confines of Scapa Flow, Orkney Islands, and torpedoes battleship HMS Royal Oak, 58°55'N, 02°59'W, which sinks in 13 minutes.
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).
* October 15, Sunday 1939
German armored ship Admiral Graf Spee meets tanker Altmark and refuels (see 17 October).
* October 16, Monday 1939
German tanker Emmy Friedrich, whose cargo includes refrigerants needed for the magazine cooling systems in armored ship Admiral Graf Spee, then on a raiding foray into the Atlantic, departs Tampico, Mexico. Neutrality Patrol assets, including carrier Ranger (CV-4) and heavy cruiser San Francisco (CA-38), are mobilized to locate and trail the ship if the need arises (see 24 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, Tuesday 1939
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.
* October 18, Wednesday 1939
Naval landing force from gunboats Asheville (PG-21) and Tulsa (PG-22) and destroyer Whipple (DD-217) is withdrawn from Kulangsu, China, where it had been protecting the American Consulate and the Hope Memorial Hospital since 17 May.
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).
* October 19, Thursday 1939
Gunboat Erie (PG-50) arrives off Manzanillo, Mexico, on neutrality patrol; she will monitor movements of German freighter Havelland until 11 December. Commander Special Service Squadron (Rear Admiral John W. Wilcox Jr.) commends the gunboat's work as "the outstanding event" of offshore patrol work conducted by the Squadron.
* October 20, Friday 1939
Commander Atlantic Squadron informs his ships to use plain language radio reporting of contacts.
U.S. freighter Scanstates, detained at Kirkwall, Orkneys, by British authorities since 14 October, is released.
* October 21, Saturday 1939
U.S. freighter City of Flint, under prize crew from German armored ship Deutschland, puts in to Tromso, Norway, for water. Norwegian government, however, orders the ship to leave; she sails for Soviet waters (see 23, 24, 27 and 28 October and 3 November).
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).
* October 22, Sunday 1939
U.S. freighters Endicott and West Gambo are detained by French authorities and portions of their cargo ordered ashore as contraband; 750 bales of carbon black from West Gambo and 2,276 bars of copper and 1,796 bags of carbon black from Endicott (see 2 November).
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.
* October 23, Monday 1939
U.S. freighter City of Flint arrives at Murmansk (see 24, 27 and 28 October and 3 November).
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."
* October 24, Tuesday 1939
British light cruiser HMS Orion and Canadian destroyer HMCS Saguenay locate German tanker Emmy Friedrich in the Yucatan Channel; British light cruiser HMS Caradoc subsequently intercepts Emmy Friedrich whose crew scuttles her to avoid capture.
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.
* October 25, Wednesday 1939
U.S. freighter Sundance, detained at London, England, by British authorities since 11 October, is released; freighter West Hobomac, detained by the British since 18 October, is released.
U.S. freighter Nashaba, detained at Le Havre by French authorities since 14 October, is released.
* October 26, Thursday 1939
U.S. freighter Black Eagle is detained by British authorities (see 5 November).
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).
* October 27, Friday 1939
U.S. freighter City of Flint is again placed under German naval prize crew from armored ship Deutschland (see 28 October and 3 November).
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).
* October 28, Saturday 1939
U.S. freighter City of Flint, again under German control, sails from Murmansk for Norwegian waters. At no time during City of Flint's enforced stay at Murmansk has the ship's master, Captain Joseph A. Gainard (an inactive USNR officer) been allowed to communicate with the U.S. Embassy in Moscow (see 3 November).
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.
* October 30, Monday 1939
U.S. freighter Scanpenn is detained by British authorities at Kirkwall, Orkneys; freighter Hybert is detained by British authorities at the Downs the same day (see 11 and 5 November, respectively).
* October 31, Tuesday 1939
U.S. freighter Black Osprey is detained at the Downs by British authorities; freighter Gateway City, detained by the British since 16 October, is released after cargo billed for delivery at Antwerp and Rotterdam, Holland, is seized as contraband.
* November 1, Wednesday 1939
U.S. freighter Exminster is detained at Gibraltar by British authorities (see 6 November).
* November 2, Thursday 1939
U.S. freighters Endicott and West Gambo, detained by French authorities since 22 October and portions of their cargo ordered ashore as contraband, are released and clear LeHavre, France.
* November 3, Friday 1939
U.S. freighter City of Flint is restored to U.S. control at Haugesund, Norway.
* November 4, Saturday 1939
Neutrality Act of 1939 becomes law. It repeals the arms embargo and substitutes a policy of "cash and carry," prohibits U.S. vessels and citizens from entering combat zones, and establishes National Munitions Control Board composed of the Secretaries of State, Treasury, War, Navy and Commerce.
President Roosevelt declares area around British Isles a combat zone.
* November 5, Sunday 1939
U.S. freighter Black Condor is detained by British authorities at Weymouth, England (see 17 November); freighter Scanmail is detained by the British at Kirkwall, Orkneys. Part of her cargo is seized; steamship President Polk is detained by the British at Port Said, Egypt, and certain items of her cargo confiscated for inquiry; freighter Black Eagle, detained by the British since 26 October, is released.
* November 6, Monday 1939
U.S. freighter Exeter is detained at Gibraltar by British authorities. She is released the same day after 700 bags of U.S. mail are removed from the ship (see 8 and 10 November). Freighter Exminster, detained at Gibraltar by the British since 1 November, is released without any confiscation of cargo.
* November 7, Tuesday 1939
Naval Attache, Berlin, is informed by an official of the German Navy Ministry that it had been "definitely established that no German U-boat had torpedoed the Athenia." The German Navy considers the incident "closed as far as the Navy was concerned" and possesses only "an academic interest in how the ship was sunk."
* November 8, Wednesday 1939
U.S. freighter Exeter is detained by French authorities (see 8 and 10 November).
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.
* November 10, Friday 1939
U.S. freighter Exeter, detained by French authorities since 8 November, is released after 1,400 bales of cottonseed hulk consigned to a Swiss buyer are removed as contraband.
* November 11, Saturday 1939
U.S. freighter Nishmaha is detained by British authorities at Gibraltar (see 17 November); freighter Yaka is detained by the British and her cargo examined (see 5 and 6 December).
* November 12, Sunday 1939
U.S. freighter Express, with cargo earmarked for Greece, Turkey, and Rumania, is detained by British authorities at Malta (see 23 November).
* November 13, Monday 1939
British steamship Sirdhana, bound for Hong Kong, blunders into British minefield off Singapore; 10 U.S. citizens (a troupe of magicians) are among the survivors. There are no casualties.
U.S. freighter Black Hawk is detained by British authorities at Ramsgate, England.
* November 15, Wednesday 1939
Interior Department motorship North Star (U.S. Antarctic Service) departs Boston, Massachusetts for the south polar regions (see 12 January 1940).
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.
* November 16, Thursday 1939
U.S. freighter Lafcomo is detained by British authorities at Weymouth, England; freighter West Harshaw is detained by the British at Ramsgate.
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.
* November 17, Friday 1939
U.S. freighter Black Gull is detained by British authorities.
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.
* November 20, Monday 1939
U.S. freighter Excambion is detained at Gibraltar by British authorities (see 27 November).
* November 21, Tuesday 1939
"Navicert" system is instituted by U.S. in an attempt to avoid incidents at sea. U.S. merchant ships are to obtain clearances for their cargoes (certificates of non-enemy origin for all items) prior to leaving port.
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).
* November 22, Wednesday 1939
Auxiliary Bear (AG-29) departs Boston, Massachusetts, as part of the U.S. Antarctic Service [Rear Admiral Richard E. Byrd, USN (Ret.)] to investigate and survey the land and sea areas of Antarctica (see 14 January 1940).
U.S. freighter Exmouth is detained at Gibraltar by British authorities (see 5 December).
* November 23, Thursday 1939
U.S. freighter Express, released from her detention at Malta on 21 November by British authorities, continues on her voyage to Greece, Turkey, and Rumania.
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.
* November 24, Friday 1939
U.S. freighter Nishmaha, her master having signed agreement (see 23 November) under protest to proceed to Marseille, France, via Barcelona, Spain, clears Gibraltar.
* November 25, Saturday 1939
Destroyer Yarnall (DD-143) drifts aground in Lynnhaven Roads; refloated that same day, she enters the Norfolk Navy Yard for repairs on 26 November. Yarnall had only been in commission since 4 October 1939.dź
* November 26, Sunday 1939
German armored ship Admiral Graf Spee and tanker Altmark rendezvous in South Atlantic (see 27 and 29 November).
* November 27, Monday 1939
U.S. freighter Effingham is detained at Ramsgate, England, by British authorities (see 7 December);
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).
* November 28, Tuesday 1939
USSR denounces its 1932 Non-Aggression Pact with Finland (see 30 November).
U.S. freighter Winston Salem is detained at Ramsgate, England, by British authorities (see 7 December).
* November 29, Wednesday 1939
Submarine S 38 (SS-143) is damaged by explosion of after storage battery, Olongapo, P.I.; four sailors suffer injuries.
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).
* November 30, Thursday 1939
USSR invades Finland, which will receive not only American aid but British and French as well; the Finnish struggle (albeit against an initially inept Soviet invasion force) arouses the admiration of many (see 14 December).
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.
* December 1, Friday 1939
Submarine Division 14 arrives on the Asiatic Station, the first modern reinforcements received by the Asiatic Fleet in many years. Submarines comprising the division are Pickerel (SS-177) (flag), Porpoise (SS-172), Perch (SS-176), Pike (SS-173), Tarpon (SS-175) and Permit (SS-178).
* December 2, Saturday 1939
German armored ship Admiral Graf Spee stops British freighter Doric Star; the warship then torpedoes, shells, and sinks the merchantman at 19°15'S, 05°05'E.
* December 3, Sunday 1939
German armored ship Admiral Graf Spee stops British freighter Tairoa; the warship then sinks the merchantman at 21°30'S, 03°00'E. Ironically, the same day Commodore Commanding South Atlantic Station, Commodore Henry H. Harwood, orders his three cruisers to concentrate off the River Plate estuary on 12 December (see 13 December).
* December 4, Monday 1939
U.S. freighter Examiner, detained at Gibraltar since 17 November by British authorities, is released.
* December 5, Tuesday 1939
U.S. freighter Exochorda is detained at Gibraltar by British authorities, who maintain that the 45 tons of tin plate among the vessel's cargo is contraband. The latter maintain that the cargo must be taken to Marseilles and unloaded there; the manager of the shipping firm (Export Lines) maintains that the ship cannot proceed to a belligerent port without violating the Neutrality Act. Until the impasse is resolved, the merchantman remains at Gibraltar (see 13 December). Freighter Exmouth, detained at Gibraltar since 22 November, is released.
U.S. freighter Yaka is detained at the Downs by British authorities (see 6 December).
* December 6, Wednesday 1939
U.S. freighter Yaka, detained at the Downs by British authorities the previous day, is released.
German armored ship Admiral Graf Spee refuels from tanker Altmark in South Atlantic, roughly 1,700 miles from Montevideo, Uruguay.
* December 7, Thursday 1939
Rear Admiral George J. Meyers, Commander Base Force, dies of coronary thrombosis on board his flagship, auxiliary Argonne (AG-31), San Pedro, California (see 28 December).
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.
* December 8, Friday 1939
Duties of the former Technical Division, Office of Naval Operations, concerned with matters of research and invention, is transferred to Office of the Technical Aid to the Secretary of the Navy.
Secretary of State Hull urges U.S. Charge 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).
* December 9, Saturday 1939
U.S. freighter Explorer is detained at Gibraltar by British authorities (see 23 December).
German tanker Nordmeer sails from Curacao, N.W.I. (see 5 January 1940).
* December 10, Sunday 1939
U.S. freighter Steel Engineer is detained at Gibraltar by British authorities (see 11 December).
* December 11, Monday 1939
U.S. freighter Azalea City, detained at London by British authorities since 27 November, is released to proceed to Antwerp, and Rotterdam, Holland, after certain cargo is detained for guaranties. Freighter Steel Engineer, detained at Gibraltar by the British the previous day, is released.
* December 13, Wednesday 1939
British heavy cruiser HMS Exeter, light cruiser HMS Ajax, and New Zealand light cruiser HMNZS Achilles (Commodore Henry H. Harwood, RN, flag in Ajax), which had rendezvoused the previous day, engage German armored ship Admiral Graf Spee in the Battle of the River Plate. The "pocket battleship" knocks Exeter out of action and damages her consorts, but is compelled by the damage inflicted by her lesser-gunned adversaries (which are fought, as First Lord of the Admiralty Winston S. Churchill writes, "with the utmost resolution and skill") to retire toward Montevideo, Uruguay. Exeter, badly damaged, withdraws to the Falkland Islands (see 14 December.). The U.S. Navy studies the Battle of the River Plate from a perspective of drilling gunners to maintain fire by local (rather than a centralized director) control. To this end, a scenario similar to the River Plate engagement is included in an exercise in 1940. In addition, the Director of Fleet Training considers the "proper use of smoke either as a defense measure or as a means of covering movements of an attacking force" extremely important, and points out the demonstrable effectiveness of a smoke screen "as a means of protection for light forces" employed by Commodore Harwood in the battle with Admiral Graf Spee.
U.S. freighter Exochorda, detained at Gibraltar by British authorities since 5 December, is released.
* December 14, Thursday 1939
League of Nations, in response to the Soviet invasion of Finland on 30 November, expels the USSR from its membership.
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.
* December 15, Friday 1939
Destroyer Jouett (DD-396) relieves Benham (DD-397) at sea; the latter attempts to locate German freighter Arauca, while Jouett joins Lang (DD-399) in shadowing passenger liner Columbus.
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.
* December 16, Saturday 1939
Destroyers Schenck (DD-159) and Philip (DD-76), soon joined by Lea (DD-118), relieve destroyers Jouett (DD-396) and Lang (DD-399) in trailing German passenger liner Columbus off Key West, Florida. Jouett and Lang steam to join destroyer Davis (DD-395) in attempting to locate freighter Arauca. Schenck soon proceeds on other assigned duties.
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.
* December 17, Sunday 1939
Destroyers Ellis (DD-154) and Cole (DD-155) relieve Lea (DD-118) and Philip (DD-76) of shadowing German passenger liner Columbus.
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).
* December 18, Monday 1939
Destroyers Greer (DD-145) and Upshur (DD-144) relieve destroyers Ellis (DD-154) and Cole (DD-155) of shadowing German passenger liner Columbus. Later that same day, heavy cruiser Tuscaloosa (CA-37) replaces the destroyers in trailing the passenger ship.
U.S. freighter Meanticut, detained by British authorities at Gibraltar the previous day, is released.
* December 19, Tuesday 1939
British destroyer HMS Hyperion intercepts German passenger liner Columbus 450 miles east of Cape May, New Jersey; the latter is scuttled to prevent capture. Two crewmen perish in the abandonment. Heavy cruiser Tuscaloosa (CA-37) rescues Columbus's survivors (567 men and 9 women stewardesses) and sets course for New York City, the only U.S. port that can handle such a large and sudden influx of aliens.
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.
* December 20, Wednesday 1939
Submarine tender Bushnell (AS-2), operating out of Tutuila, Samoa, as a survey ship under the auspices of the Hydrographic Office, completes Pacific Island surveys, having covered a total of 76,000 nautical square miles since commencing that work on 1 July.
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).
* December 21, Thursday 1939
Destroyer Twiggs (DD-127), on neutrality patrol in Yucatan Channel, continues trailing British RFA tanker Patella.
* December 22, Friday 1939
Destroyer Philip (DD-76) relieves Twiggs (DD-127) of neutrality patrol duty trailing British RFA tanker Patella off east coast of Florida; while en route to Fort Lauderdale, Twiggs observes British light cruiser HMS Orion off Port Everglades and anchors to keep an eye on the British warship as the latter prowls the coast.
* December 23, Saturday 1939
Typhoon passes within 100 miles of Guam, M.I.; although the gale force winds cause little damage to Navy property, they cause widespread crop and property damage in the native quarters.
U.S. freighters Explorer (detained at Gibraltar since 9 December) and Oakwood (detained there since 20 December) are released by British authorities.
* December 27, Wednesday 1939
Department of State dispatches "vigorous protest" to British Foreign Office concerning the British practice of removing and censoring U.S. mail from British and U.S. and neutral ships (see 2 January 1940).
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.
* December 28, Thursday 1939
Rear Admiral William L. Calhoun assumes duty as Commander Base Force and breaks his flag in auxiliary Argonne (AG-31).
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.
* December 29, Friday 1939
U.S. steamship President Adams is detained at Port Said, Egypt, by British authorities. Cargo suspected of being contraband is discharged at Alexandria, Egypt.
* December 30, Saturday 1939
Uruguayan government gives German freighter Tacoma 24 hours to leave the port of Montevideo, deeming the ship an auxiliary war vessel since she had assisted various maneuvers of armored ship Admiral Graf Spee and embarked her crew when that warship was scuttled (see 1 January 1940).
* December 31, Sunday 1939
U.S. freighter Excalibur, detained at Gibraltar by British authorities since 17 December, is released.
The Official Chronology of the U.S. Navy in World War II
1939 1940 1941 1942 1943 1944
U.S. Navy Abbreviations U.S. Navy Code Words
This webpage was updated 14th August 2012
Please help me to improve these articles with any addition information and Photos.
Email me if you encounter any broken links or Web page Errors: