The convoys constituted the life lines for at least two of the allied nations fighting in World War II and provided what, today, we call the supply chains for those powers. The Logistics aspects of the convoys probably represent one of the greatest single Logistics achievements in history. The sheer quantities of cargoes delivered, some 4,000,000 tons, certainly would qualify the convoys as an extraordinary accomplishment. But added to the numbers should be some calculation of the difficulties in managing such a huge effort.
True, it was on the Arctic sea lanes that the greatest risks were encountered. These were risks of weather, enemy action and the capricious reactions of one’s own vessel, especially the Liberties, to the harsh conditions under which they were forced to sail. But the actual supply chains did not originate at Hvaldfjord, nor even at Halifax. Some of the supply chains began in Argentina where the, by now, infamous corned beef originated. And nitrates originating in Chile, found their way to the US Gulf or East Coast where they became high explosives. Bauxite came from British Guyana (now Guyana) to plants in the U.S. and Canada to supply the 2,000 tons of aluminum monthly which Churchill had promised the Russians.
Imagine the nightmare of planning the sourcing of such diverse items as food, chemicals, rubber, aluminum, vehicles and aircraft. Imagine planning the loading and stowage of all these items so that upon discharge at the Russian port those requiring further transport to final destinations could be quickly put on their way and those intended for immediate use could be put to such use with only a minimum of further preparation, maintenance, etc. All of this had to start not in Murmansk or Archangel, but in Brazil, Trinidad, Charleston, Baltimore, New York, Perth Amboy, Halifax, London, and all the myriad of other ports, large and small, secret and not so secret from which these supplies originated.
Aside from the normal problems of coordinating the movements of so many vessels so as to achieve their arrival at a designated spot on the earth’s surface at the same time, the actions of enemy submarines and surface raiders had to be anticipated and defenses planned.
The story of the convoys and their dangerous progress across the Atlantic is well known, but the wonder is that so many ships were able to form up in the convoys in the first place. How did they get to Halifax or Hvaldefjord? Was the enemy playing by gentlemanly rules and not interfering with vessel movements until after Hvaldefjord?
Not at all. In fact the exploits of German surface raiders, «Graf Spee», «Bismarck» and even the Q-ships in the South Atlantic in the early days of the war are well known. In fact «Graf Spee» was finally scuttled in Montevideo harbor on 13 December 1939, after a fierce battle with British fleet units off the Uruguayan coast; known as the Battle of the River Plate. Before she went down she had already sunk nine ships with a total tonnage of 50,000 tons. Nevertheless, the convoys were formed and losses prior to Halifax were somehow kept within reasonable limits. How? How was it that the shipping prior to Halifax was protected so well?
The story starts as early as 1939. The American government anticipated that the outbreak of war in Europe might eventually involve the United States, if not as a belligerent, then at least as a supplier to some of the combatants. The American Congress’ determination to «stay out» of Europe’s problems «this time» was quite strong and shared by a large proportion of the American public. The Executive, in the person of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, was sure that American determination alone was not enough to keep us out of war and he seems to have adopted a policy of «..hoping for the best, but planning for the worst....»
The rapid fall of France and Holland after the «phony war» in May and June, 1940, coupled with the presence of large hostile forces in West Africa and the Mediterranean, and the possible early fall of Britain presented the U.S. with potential risks for which it quickly began to take counter measures.
«What risks?» one might ask. If one will look at a map of the Atlantic Ocean and do a little plotting of distances, one might appreciate Roosevelt’s concerns:
1) First of all, most obviously, U.S. interests naturally concerned themselves with protection of the Panama Canal and also the U.S. Coast line bordering the Gulf of Mexico.
2) Roosevelt’s nightmares, after the fall of France and the Low countries portrayed an Axis take-over of the spoils of war in the Western Hemisphere. What are we talking about? Well, imagine if the Axis powers had decided that Holland and France having surrendered, all of the Dutch and French colonies in the Western Hemisphere naturally would be considered to have devolved upon the Axis victors. These spoils would include French Guyana (now known as Cayenne), the home of Devil’s Island, Dutch Guyana (now known as Surinam), a potential source of more Bauxite, Curacao and its large and efficient oil refineries and near exclusive sources of crude oil from the Venezuelan oil fields at Maracaibo, as well as the smaller, but potentially strategically important Dutch colonies of St. Martins, shared with the French, and several other smaller islands. In fact, with the fall of France the French West Indies had come under the control of the pro-axis Vichy government of France and thus the islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique presented further threat to the Canal, the U.S. Gulf coast and vital U.S. sea lanes within the Western Hemisphere and across the Atlantic. All this would be greatly exacerbated should Britain also fall.
The crescent-shaped island chain of the eastern Caribbean, the Leeward and Windward groups, had always exerted a geo-political influence on Europe. They were far enough away from Europe to be safe from European dabbling, yet close enough to impose themselves on Europe when desired. For example, the famous battle of Trafalgar of the Napoleonic era began when the British fleet commanded by Nelson sailed, not from Britain, but from the island port of Antigua in the Leeward Islands group.
The Atlantic Narrows presented further potential danger from both the Italian and even the Vichy French fleets in the Mediterranean. The distance between Dakar and Recife only 1717 nautical miles; a transit of between 3 and 5 days. Naval or air forces based at Martinique or Guadeloupe could be quite useful in interdicting the north-south sea lanes along the east coast of the two hemispheres, and also useful as re-fueling and re-supply bases for U-boats operating anywhere in the Atlantic. these same forces would, of course, also be within range of the sensitive Panama Canal.
So, whether to protect U.S. coasts, the Panama Canal or the north-south sea lanes or even the trans-Atlantic sea lanes, the administration in Washington, DC, despite the neutral stance taken by the legislature, took such steps as possible to prevent the European dictators from taking advantage of the European victories in the western hemisphere.
The administration’s policies evolved over a period of about one year, and were more the result of pragmatic reaction to the realities created by the European war. Having achieved victory on the European mainland, the Nazis were still concentrating on achieving final victory against Britain.
The first step taken was the expansion of the venerable Monroe Doctrine. With the administration’s urging, the Congress adopted a resolution, in June, 1940, before the fall of France, opposing the transfer of territory in the Western hemisphere «...from one non-American power to another non-American power....» Thus, the world was on notice that the U.S. would oppose any occupation by the Nazis of the former hemispheric colonies of the recently surrendered metropolitan governments.
This resolution was followed a month later by the Act of Havana, a consequence of a meeting of Foreign Ministers of the American republics held in Havana, Cuba in July, 1940. This Act declared that any colonies of European powers in danger of falling into «hostile» hands could be temporarily taken over and administered jointly by the American republics. In effect this altered the nature of the Monroe doctrine from a unilateral doctrine of the United States, to a multilateral doctrine of all the American republics.
But still, the war in Europe raged on and the U.S. was slowly altering its position vis-a-vis that war. From strict neutrality as enacted in 1936 and 1937, the Congress step by step, with the urging of the administration, relaxed its definition of neutrality. Actually, the act of 1937 created a small crack in the dyke. It allowed the sale of armaments to foreign belligerents, but only if they were paid for in cash, no credit, and were not carried in American-flag vessels. This provision had a two-year limitation so that beginning in May, 1939, American merchant vessels were now able to carry arms to foreign belligerents.
The «cash-and-carry» provisions were reenacted in the Autumn of 1939, as a direct reaction to the invasion of Poland, along with prohibitions on American vessels sailing into zones of combat.
But the summer of 1940 saw a great deal of imagination go into the defining and enforcing of «neutrality». By a variety of legalistic rationalizations, the administration in Washington developed the idea that neutrality was not much help when in fact the Axis powers were invading neutral states quite regularly. Slowly the whole idea of neutrality was all but set aside.
For example, as a neutral, Americans could not fly military airplanes to Canada. So they were flown to somewhere near the Canadian border and then «pushed» across. Because they were not flown, did that mean they were not airplanes? Well, I’m not sure it mattered.
Eventually, British airmen were being trained in Florida and British ships were being repaired in American shipyards.
Perhaps the most imaginative, and far-reaching, step taken by the administration was the now famous «destroyer-base» deal. This one initiative had a direct impact on the trans-Atlantic convoys, both those to Britain and those, later, to the Soviet Union. The concern in late 1940 was that if Britain also succumbed to the Axis onslaught, could the American republics really prevent the Axis powers from taking over the former colonies in the western hemisphere, the Act of Havana notwithstanding?
It was decided the best way to prevent an Axis takeover would be if the territories in question were American territories. For a variety of reasons, it was decided by both the Americans and the British that ceding these territories to the United States was out of the question. The next best thing, then, would be if part of the territories were somehow under American jurisdiction. Then of course, the question would arise in the minds of the American isolationists, why would the U.S. have any jurisdiction in British colonies; and why should this be so?
The Executive Agreement of September 3, 1940, saw the Americans turning over 50 old, World War I destroyers, the old four-stackers, to the British Navy in return for the British giving the United States 99 year leases on lands in Newfoundland, Bermuda, Great Exuma, Antigua, St. Lucia, Trinidad and Guiana. Announcement of this arrangement produced heavy controversy in American political circles, but the public seemed not too overly excited about the arrangement and finally the Congress indirectly acquiesced in the arrangement by appropriating money to build bases at those locations.
These bases played an important role in the pre-Hvaldefjord convoy operations. First the north-south shipping routes were secured. Air bases were built in Antigua and a naval base at Trinidad. The greatest zone of danger to the staging of convoys up north was felt to lie in the central American area. In other words, the Caribbean. If the Axis powers had been able to access interim bases in that area, not only would they have been able to interdict the north-south sea lanes and the Panama Canal, but they would have been able to extend their interdiction eastward by use of these western hemisphere bases.
The Americans did take possession of several of these locations and did build bases from which patrol planes and ships could operate far into the Atlantic.
I personally had the pleasure of living on one of these islands for some time; the island of Antigua. The locals there had pleasant memories and many stories to tell of the young American navy people, including a large number of CB personnel, who came to their island.
An interesting aside is the story often told with great glee by the locals about the day the Americans were scheduled to arrive at Antigua. The Governor General had arranged a formal reception of this foreign military resource: a military band and guard of honor and many speakers were awaiting the arrival of the American ships. They never arrived. After several hours of waiting in the hot sun, a lone local policeman, on a bicycle, was seen to be hurriedly peddling his way to the reviewing stand. Upon arrival he breathlessly reported to the Governor General: «Suh, we have been invaded at Parham (a small city on the far side of the island)!» The incredulous G.G., naturally asked: «Who has invaded us?» «They seem to be Americans.» - replied the policeman.
Incredible! The G.G. quickly mobilized the local defense force, all 50 of them, and marched to Parham to repel the invaders. Well, to make a long story short, it seems the American commander had decided that the landing at Antigua should take the form of an amphibious assault; just for practice! Hence the appearance of an invasion force. The Americans had indeed stormed ashore with tin hats and fixed bayonets and «charged» up to the tree line.
You may understand the perplexity and embarrassment, in fact the feeling of downright insult, on the part of the G.G. and his official entourage. The strangest reaction, though, was among the ordinary locals. They saw the humor in the situation and didn’t mind the G.G. being discomfited. After all he was an Englishman anyway. Nevertheless, the feeling seems to have been, «But nevertheless, it’s our island and the Yanks had no business insulting OUR G.G. that way. As the locals laughingly told the story, they took their revenge. It seems sometime later a German submarine was seen to have landed a lone individual on the island. This individual made his way to the only hill on the island and simply settled in. It turned out that he was a weather observer whose job it was to report weather and shipping conditions to the U-boats offshore. Well, the locals thought it great fun to take care of this lone fellow. They befriended him and hid him and even attended his wedding when he married a local girl. All to their great amusement and pleasure at «putting one over» on the American «invaders».
Despite this inauspicious beginning, the Americans did make rather effective use of these islands. On Antigua they built an air base from which patrol planes were able to regularly patrol the sea routes. That air base still exists in the form of the international airport at Antigua, for many years the only major airport in the eastern Caribbean which could land 747s. The road leading from the capitol city to the airport is still in existence and requiring a minimum of maintenance even in the severe tropical climate of the Caribbean.
Local Calypso singers still sing about the young American CBs who built the airport and the road. They also still sing about the young German weather observer whom they took care of throughout the war «Just to teach the Yanks a lesson».
By the way, ever ready for a party, the locals also attended with great pleasure the several weddings which took place between the American G.I.s and the local girls.
Perhaps one of the most important results of the Destroyer-Base deal, as far as the later convoys were concerned, was the construction of a large base in Trinidad at a place called Chagueremas. This base was located in the gulf of Paria, between the Venezuelan mainland and the western side of the island of Trinidad. Not only did this base permit patrols out into the Atlantic, but it also protected the gulf of Paria in which the north-bound convoys coming up from east-coast South America joined up with the east-bound convoys, which had just traversed the Panama Canal and there re-formed into the convoys which finally arrived at Halifax to become part of the great trans-Atlantic convoys.
This base later became the foundation for the modern port of Port-of-Spain, Trinidad.
Efforts to protect the sea lanes, which the administration was certain would become vital to the U.S. as well as to the allies, continued. After securing bases in the Caribbean, the administration then occupied Greenland (April, 1941) and Iceland (July, 1941) to protect the northern arc between Europe and the Americas.
Eventually, bases were even established as far south as Brazil at which Brazilian and U.S. naval forces worked together under a unified command to patrol and keep safe the north-south sea lanes and, as well, to keep an eye on the Atlantic narrows, at least until the invasion of north Africa reduced the threat potential from that direction.
So we may say that at the time of Pearl Harbor, some six months after the invasion of the Soviet Union, the U.S. had done all possible to secure the continuous supply of vital materials to its allies. Bases had been obtained all along the vital sea lanes from which air and sea cover could be provided to the ships heading toward Halifax to join the great east-west convoys.
But as useful as these bases were to become, there was still one threat with which no one had yet dealt; a threat which, with Pearl Harbor, could no longer be ignored.
This threat was the danger of sabotage during the loading and staging of ships while in U.S. harbors.
From the earliest days of WW II, long before the entry of either US or Russia into that conflict, the greatest fear among US security officials was the likelihood that the sabotage of WW I might be repeated. During that earlier conflict US ports became the battleground of choice among Irish patriots in their fight for independence from British domination. This resulted in numerous acts of proven, or suspected, Irish sabotage of US cargoes bound for the UK or France. These acts also included acts of sabotage directed against the ships themselves. This was especially true in the port of New York where Irish immigrants made up the majority of port longshoremen. All of this was epitomized in one infamous incident late in the war when a large stock of ammunition exploded and literally wiped out an entire town on the New Jersey side of New York harbor.
The risk of a repetition of such incidents was perceived as being even more severe in 1941-42 than had been the case in 1917. The longshoremen at most US ports had become unionized and the trade unions which dominated the piers were themselves very much dominated by «organized crime», a/k/a Mafia. The Mafia, in turn, was very much an Italian dominated organization. Italy being one of the Axis powers, the fear of Italian-instigated sabotage was very great.
As proof of the potential danger, just three months after Pearl Harbor a former passenger liner, being re-fitted for troop movements, caught fire and was totally destroyed. It was suspected that this had been a result of sabotage. This vessel was named USS LAFAYETTE. Prior to having been taken over by the US Navy, she had been French owned and was known by the name NORMANDIE!
This expectation never did become reality; even the Normandie incident was later revealed to have been the result of worker negligence rather than sabotage. Nevertheless, in 1942, the problem was thought to be very real and had to be disposed of. The problem was disposed of in a typically American way - with some shrewd and very pragmatic bargaining. Sometime prior to US entry into the war, one of the leading Mafiosi chiefs in America had been arrested and imprisoned. Despite that he was in prison, as a prisoner, it was well known that he was still a major power in controlling organized crime.
A delegation of military leaders visited this man in his prison cell and «made a deal». The deal was: no interference with the smooth flow of goods to US allies overseas, no matter who they were; no espionage or sabotage to be tolerated or protected by the unions; upon cessation of hostilities, the Mafia chief was to be released from prison and deported to Italy. The deal was made and adhered to by all parties. US Great Lakes, East coast and Gulf ports were free of any major interference with the shipment of war materials abroad. With the end of the war the Mafia chieftain, a very well known figure in American history by name of Lucky Luciano, was deported to Italy.

Источник: Война в Арктике (1939-1945 гг.) / Поморский научный фонд при поддержке Генерального консульства США в Санкт-Петербурге ; сост. М. Н. Супрун. - Архангельск : Правда Севера, 2001. – 365 c.