The Second Happy Time, also known among German submarine commanders as the American shooting season, was the informal name for a phase in the Battle of the Atlantic during which Axis submarines attacked merchant shipping and Allied naval vessels along the east coast of North America. The first "Happy Time" was in 1940–41 in the North Atlantic and North Sea.
The Second Happy Time lasted from January 1942 to about August of that year and involved several German naval operations including Operation Paukenschlag (or Operation Drumbeat) and Operation Neuland. German submariners named it the happy time or the golden time as defense measures were weak and disorganized, and the U-boats were able to inflict massive damage with little risk. During this period, Axis submarines sank 609 ships totaling 3.1 million tons and the loss of thousands of lives, mainly those of merchant mariners, against a loss of only 22 U-boats. Although less than losses during the 1917 campaign of the First World War, it was roughly one quarter of all shipping sunk by U-boats during the entire Second World War.
Historian Michael Gannon called it "America's Second Pearl Harbor" and placed the blame for the nation's failure to respond quickly to the attacks on the inaction of Admiral Ernest J. King, commander-in-chief of the U.S. fleet. Others however have pointed out that the belated institution of a convoy system was at least in substantial part due to a severe shortage of suitable escort vessels, without which convoys were seen as actually more vulnerable than lone ships.
Upon Germany's declaration of war on the United States on 11 December 1941 just after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the U.S. was, on paper at least, in a fortunate position. Where the other combatants on the Allied side had already lost thousands of trained sailors and airmen, and were experiencing shortages of ships and aircraft, the U.S. was at full strength (save for its recent losses at Pearl Harbor). The U.S. had the opportunity to learn about modern naval warfare by observing the conflicts in the North Sea and the Mediterranean, and through a close relationship with the United Kingdom. The U.S. Navy had already gained significant experience in countering U-boats in the Atlantic, particularly from April 1941 when President Franklin D. Roosevelt extended the "Pan-American Security Zone" east almost as far as Iceland. The United States had massive manufacturing capacity, including certainly the largest and possibly the most advanced electrical engineering industry in the world. Finally, the U.S. had a favorable geographical position from a defensive point of view: the port of New York, for example, was 3,000 miles to the west of the U-boat bases in Brittany.
U-boat commander Vizeadmiral Karl Dönitz saw the entry of the U.S. into the war as a golden opportunity to strike heavy blows in the tonnage war and Hitler ordered an assault on America on 12 December 1941. The standard Type VII U-boat had insufficient range to patrol off the coast of North America; the only suitable weapons he had on hand were the larger Type IX boats. These were less maneuverable and slower to submerge, making them much more vulnerable than the Type VIIs. They were also fewer in number.
Immediately after war was declared on the United States, Dönitz began to implement Operation Paukenschlag (often translated as "drumbeat" or "drumroll", and literally as "timpani beat"). Only six of the twenty operational Type IX boats were available, and one of those six encountered mechanical trouble. This left just five long-range submarines for the opening moves of the campaign.
Loaded with the maximum possible amounts of fuel, food and ammunition, the first of the five Type IXs left Lorient in France on 18 December 1941, the others following over the next few days. Each carried sealed orders to be opened after passing 20°W, and directing them to different parts of the North American coast. No charts or sailing directions were available: Kapitänleutnant Reinhard Hardegen of U-123, for example, was provided with two tourist guides to New York, one of which contained a fold-out map of the harbor.
Each U-boat made routine signals on exiting the Bay of Biscay, which were picked up by the British Y service and plotted in Rodger Winn's London Submarine Tracking Room, which were then able to follow the progress of the Type IXs across the Atlantic, and cable an early warning to the Royal Canadian Navy. Working on the slimmest of evidence, Winn correctly deduced the target area and passed a detailed warning to Admiral Ernest J. King, the commander-in-chief of the U.S. fleet, of a "heavy concentration of U-boats off the North American seaboard", including the five boats already on station and further groups that were in transit, 21 U-boats in all. Rear-Admiral Edwin T. Layton of the U.S. Combined Operations and Intelligence Center then informed the responsible area commanders, but little or nothing else was done.
The primary target area was the Eastern Sea Frontier, commanded by Rear-Admiral Adolphus Andrews and covering the area from Maine to North Carolina. Andrews had practically no modern forces to work with: on the water he commanded seven Coast Guard cutters, four converted yachts, three 1919-vintage patrol boats, two gunboats dating back to 1905, and four wooden submarine chasers. About 100 aircraft were available, but these were short-range models only suitable for training. As a consequence of the traditionally antagonistic relationship between the U.S. Navy and the Army Air Forces, all larger aircraft remained under USAAF control, and in any case the USAAF was neither trained nor equipped for anti-submarine work.
British experience in the first two years of World War II, which included the massive losses incurred to their shipping during the "First Happy Time" confirmed that ships sailing in convoy — with or without escort – were far safer than ships sailing alone. The British recommended that merchant ships should avoid obvious standard routings wherever possible; navigational markers, lighthouses, and other aids to the enemy should be removed, and a strict coastal blackout be enforced. In addition, any available air and sea forces should perform daylight patrols to restrict the U-boats' flexibility.
For several months, none of the recommendations were followed. Coastal shipping continued to sail along marked routes and burn normal navigation lights. Boardwalk communities ashore were only 'requested' to 'consider' turning their illuminations off on 18 December 1941, but not in the cities; they did not want to offend the tourism, recreation and business sectors. On 12 January 1942, Admiral Andrews was warned that "three or four U-boats" were about to commence operations against coastal shipping (in fact there were three), but he refused to institute a convoy system on the grounds that this would only provide the U-boats with more targets.
Despite the urgent need for action, little was done to try to combat the U-boats. The USN was desperately short of specialized anti-submarine vessels. President Roosevelt's 1941 decision to "loan" fifty obsolete World War I-era destroyers to Britain in exchange for foreign bases, was largely irrelevant. These destroyers had a large turning circle that made them ineffective for anti-submarine work; however, their firepower would have been a significant defense against surface attack, which was the major threat in the early part of World War II. The massive new naval construction program had prioritized other types of ships. While freighters and tankers were being sunk in coastal waters, the destroyers that were available remained inactive in port. At least 25 Atlantic Convoy Escort Command Destroyers had been recalled to the US East Coast at the time of the first attacks, including seven at anchor in New York Harbor.
When U-123 sank the 9,500-ton Norwegian tanker Norness within sight of Long Island in the early hours of 14 January, no warships were dispatched to investigate, allowing the U-123 to sink the 6,700 ton British tanker Coimbra off Sandy Hook on the following night before proceeding south towards New Jersey. By this time there were 13 destroyers idle in New York Harbor, yet none were employed to deal with the immediate threat, and over the following nights U-123 was presented with a succession of easy targets, most of them burning navigation lamps. At times, U-123 was operating in coastal waters that were so shallow that they barely allowed it to conceal itself, let alone evade a depth charge attack.
For the five Type IX boats in the first wave of attack, known as Operation Drumbeat, it was a bonanza. They cruised along the coast, safely submerged through the day, and surfacing at night to pick off merchant vessels outlined against the lights of the cities.Reinhard Hardegen in U-123 sank seven ships totalling 46,744 tons before he ran out of torpedoes and returned to base;
Ernst Kals in U-130 sank six ships of 36,988 tons;
Robert-Richard Zapp in U-66 sank five ships of 33,456 tons;
Heinrich Bleichrodt in U-109 sank four ships of 27,651 tons; and
Ulrich Folkers on his first patrol in U-125 sank one 6,666 ton vessel, the West Ivis (he was criticized by Dönitz for his poor performance, although he would later win the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross.)
When the first wave of U-boats returned to port through the early part of February, Dönitz wrote that each commander "had such an abundance of opportunities for attack that he could not by any means utilize them all: there were times when there were up to ten ships in sight, sailing with all lights burning on peacetime courses."
A significant failure in U.S. pre-war planning was the failure to provide ships suitable for convoy escort work. Escort vessels travel at relatively slow speeds, carry a large number of depth-charges, must be highly maneuverable and must stay on station for long periods. Fleet destroyers were equipped for high speed and offensive action and were not the ideal design for this type of work. There was no equivalent of the British Black Swan-class sloops or the River-class frigate in the U.S. inventory when the war started. This blunder, highly surprising, given that the American Navy (USN) had been involved in anti-submarine work in the Atlantic (see USS Reuben James) was marginally aggravated by the loss of the obsolete destroyers "loaned" to Britain through Lend-Lease, although these were not considered suitable, as they were vulnerable to counter-attack and lacked the maneuverability to combat submarines. There was also a lack of aircraft suitable for anti-submarine patrol and aircrew trained to use them.
Offers of civilian ships and aircraft to act as the Navy's "eyes" were repeatedly turned down, only to be accepted later when the situation was clearly critical and the admiral's claims to the contrary had become discredited.
Meanwhile, the second wave of Type IX U-boats had arrived in North American waters, and the third wave (Operation Neuland) had reached its patrol area off the oil ports of the Caribbean. With such easy pickings available and all Type IX U-boats already committed, Dönitz began sending shorter-range Type VII U-boats to the U.S. East Coast as well. This required extraordinary measures: cramming every conceivable space with provisions, some even filling the fresh water tanks with diesel oil, and crossing the Atlantic at very low speed on a single engine to conserve fuel.
In the United States there was still no concerted response to the attacks. Overall responsibility rested with Admiral King, but he was preoccupied with the Japanese onslaught in the Pacific. Admiral Andrews' North Atlantic Coastal Frontier was expanded to take in South Carolina and renamed the Eastern Sea Frontier, but most of the ships and aircraft needed remained under the command of Admiral Royal E. Ingersoll, Commander-in-Chief, Atlantic Fleet, who was often at sea and unavailable to make decisions. Rodger Wynn's detailed weekly U-boat situation reports from the Submarine Tracking Room in London were available but ignored.
Popular alarm at the sinkings was dealt with by a combination of secrecy and misleading propaganda. The US Navy confidently announced that many of the U-boats would "never enjoy the return portion of their voyage" but that unfortunately, details of the sunken U-boats could not be made public lest the information aid the enemy. All citizens who had witnessed the sinking of a U-boat were asked to help keep the secrets safe.
The decision to implement convoys and blackout coastal towns to make ships more difficult to see came slowly. The situation began to change on 1 April when Andrews restricted ships to traveling only during daylight hours between protected anchorages. On 14 May 1942 the first coastal convoy sailed from Hampton Roads for Key West; and convoys later extended northward to Boston, where they connected with the BX convoys to Halifax initiated by the Royal Canadian Navy in March. Full convoys produced an immediate reduction of Allied shipping losses off the East Coast as Dönitz withdrew the U-boats to seek easier pickings elsewhere. The convoy system was later extended to the Gulf of Mexico with similar dramatic effects, thus proving that King and Andrews' initial rejection of the convoy system was wrong.
In March, 24 Royal Navy anti-submarine trawlers and 10 corvettes were transferred from the UK for the defense of the U.S. East Coast. The British also transferred 53 Squadron, RAF Coastal Command to Quonset Point, Rhode Island to shield New York Harbor during July 1942. This squadron moved to Trinidad in August, with a U.S. squadron, to protect the critical sea-lanes from the Venezuelan oil fields back to Norfolk, Virginia until the end of 1942. Royal Navy and Royal Canadian Navy ships took over escort duties in the Caribbean and on the Aruba–New York tanker run. Fast CU convoys were organized to maintain petroleum fuel stockpiles in the British Isles.
The Kriegsmarine, while enormously effective during this period, did not go without losses. Sinkings of German U-boats at the hands of Allied forces during this time included:U-85: sunk on 14 April by the destroyer USS Roper in position 35.917°N 75.217°W / 35.917; -75.217 off Cape Hatteras, the first sinking in U.S. waters
U-352: sunk on 9 May by the cutter USCGC Icarus in position 34.2°N 76.583°W / 34.2; -76.583 off Cape Hatteras
U-157: sunk on 13 June by the cutter USCGC Thetis in position 24.217°N 82.05°W / 24.217; -82.05 off Havana, Cuba
U-158: sunk on 30 June by a Mariner aircraft (USN VP-74) in position 32.833°N 67.467°W / 32.833; -67.467 west of Bermuda
U-215: sunk on 3 July by the Armed ASW Trawler HMS Le Tiger in position 41.48°N 66.38°W / 41.48; -66.38 by depth charges
U-701: sunk on 7 July by a Lockheed Hudson aircraft in position 34.833°N 74.917°W / 34.833; -74.917 off Cape Hatteras
U-153: sunk on 13 July by the destroyer USS Lansdowne in position 9.933°N 81.483°W / 9.933; -81.483 off Colón, Panama
U-576: sunk on 15 July by two Vought OS2U Kingfisher aircraft and ramming by the U.S. motor vessel Unicoi in position 34.85°N 75.367°W / 34.85; -75.367 off Cape Hatteras
U-166: sunk on 30 July by the US Navy patrol craft, PC 566, in position 28.517°N 90.75°W / 28.517; -90.75 in the Gulf of Mexico, the only U-boat sunk in the Gulf of Mexico during World War II
U-165 sunk on 27 September 1942 by a Vickers Wellington of 311/Q Squadron, RAF (with a Czech aircrew)
U-132 sunk on 5 November 1942 by aircraft of No. 120 Squadron RAF.
U-517 sunk 17 November 1942 by Fairey Albacores of 817 Naval Air Squadron from the aircraft carrier HMS Victorious.
U-553 lost at sea 28 January 1943
U-69 active in the east coast operations, rammed and sunk on 17 February 1943 by the HMS Fame
U-106 active in the east coast operations, sunk 2 August 1943, by aircraft attack by No. 461 Squadron RAAF flown by Flight Lieutenant A. F. Clarke.
U-1223 active in the east coast operations, scuttled 5 May 1945