Saturday, September 11, 2010

Barbados Military History Part 8 World War 2 Part 2

In 1942 the Axis of Powers particularly Germany and Italy were all aware that the Caribbean territories were heavily dependant upon imported food and with this in mind they decided to take advantage of this weak spot. They sent U boats to attack ships carrying both food and oil.

Prior to mid 1942 a shortage of escort vessels made it impossible for convoys to be formed in the Caribbean and the unprotected merchant ships continued suffering heavy losses. These attacks led to a food crisis to develop and famine threatened many places . Enemy propagandist fought to destroy morale in the area by radio broadcast giving details of sinking's and the hardships these were causing. In June 1942 the United States Navy began convoying ships in the Caribbean to ensure that ships carrying goods successfully arrived at their destinations.  Barbados was supplied via Convoys that went to Trinidad.

The first survivors from a U-Boat strike arrived in Barbados on the 27th of February via a life boat being towed by a fishing boat. Their ship the Scottish Star  had bee torpedoed 8 days earlier 650 miles east of Barbados. This was the first of many more instances that would bring survivors to Barbados. Between 15-21st of May more than 202 survivors came ashore at various places around the island. There were even occasions when smoke from burning ships could be seen from Barbados. A division of the St Johns Ambulance brigade was detailed for duty every week  and on notification of arrival of survivors they would be dispatched to the location to provide first aid. Accommodation for the officers was then supplied by the YMCA.

The horrors of war at sea came home to many Barbadians when the S.S Traveller was long overdue in its arrival and so presumed lost. There were 28 Barbadians among her crew. In the Caribbean the U-Boats continued to inflict heavy losses on shipping including inter-island schooners. One particularly  interesting incidents involved a inter island Schooner the "Mona Marie" the ship was en-route to Trinidad with empty oil drums when it was struck. most of the life boats were damaged and its crew including Captain Hassel were questioned by and English speaking the submarine officer. It seemed the submarine was running short of flour and coffee to which the Captain stated only enough for his crew. Captain Hassel was then released with his crew and reported the incident 2 days later when he reached the Grenadines. the Mona Marie of itself would not sink because of the buoyancy of the empty drums and was for a time considered a navigational hazard until it finally sank into the sea.

In 1942 President Rooservelt called for the utilization of the schooners in the Caribbean to transport cargo. The ships were pooled together with operations being controlled in Barbados. Merchandise would be assembled at each port but not sorted according to consignees. Schooners would be speedily loaded and as soon as one left it would be replaced with another. Under this arrangement a consignee might recieve his shipment in several installments but will minimal delay.

1942 also saw the issuing of an order dated 30th of January wich imposed a control on the disposal of tyres of motor vehicles and even bicycles. It now became illegal for anyone to dispose of tires without written authority from the Competent Authority.

Later in the same year came an order for controlled lighting As from March 23rd no persons were to drive, ride or conduct any vehicle in the parishes of St Michael or Christ Church between 6:30pm and 6:30am unless the upper halves of its headlights were obscured with black paint.  It was also ordered that not more than one light should be displayed in any window and it should not exceed 25 candle power. This is one of the things I can remember my grandmother telling me about.

Great concern arose when France fell in June 1940 a pro German administration  headed by Marshal Philippe Pertain was established in France. Shortly prior to this three powerful units of the French navy had sailed to the French West Indies. The cruiser "Jeanne d' Arc" to Guadeloupe and the aircraft carrier  "Bearn" and another cruiser "Emily Bertin" to Martinique.

The Bearn was in mid-ocean travelling from Halifax, Nova Scotia with 100 American war planes when France fell. Quickly following this she received orders to change direction and head to Martinique to prevent Frances conquer from getting their hands on the aircraft. Unfortunately even from the Caribbean Islands the ships soon came under control of a Anti-British Admiral Georges Robert who was High Commissioner of all of Frances possessions in the Caribbean.  He took his orders directly from Vichy, some believed from Berlin indirectly.

It is because of this pressence in the Caribbean that British colonies in the Caribbean took such precautions as lighting control and civil defence measures. One of the civil defence measures was the formation of the Barbados Volunteer Brigade. In response to the Governor's call nearly 2,000 men volunteer and were duly enrolled. The purpose of this body was to serve as an auxilary fire fighting service in collaboration with the regular fire brigade. Units of the brigade were soon formed all over the Island. In conjunction with the Volunteer Brigade The Emergency Medical Service was also formed to provide the transportation of severely wounded persons to the emergency and medical centers and hospitals. Some 19 First Aid post were also established on the Island. Most were located in St Michael and Christ Church with the exception of one in Speightstown. A list giving their locations was included in the official notice instructing the people what to do in case of an enemy attack.

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