In early September 1942 the Royal Navy installed an anti-submarine and anti-torpedo boom net across Carlisle Bay. That boom net was tested and breached on 11th September 1942 shortly after 4:30 by German U-boat 514.
Carlisle Bay in 1942 was much deeper than it is today. Burkes beach at times had no beach and the waves used to hit the break wall (that’s currently buried in sand). With the building of the Deep Water Harbour by Costain Group which began in 1956, Carlisle Bay has silted up and formed the beautiful Carlisle Bay beach we know today.
In mid-February 1942 soon after the start of Operation Neuland, the German U-Boat campaign in the Caribbean, a Royal Naval auxiliary force was established in Trinidad, called the Trinidad Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, or TRNVR. The TRNVR was the most important element in the defence of the eastern sector of the Caribbean.
It was not until seven months later, during the first week of September 1942 that an anti-torpedo boom net was installed across Carlisle Bay to create a safe anchorage for shipping. This anti-submarine net stretched across Carlisle Bay from Neeham’s Point to near Pelican Island terminating close to Reef House (where Cable & Wireless was located). There were two nets with an entrance close to where the Hilton is now. The water there was shallow so a sub would have to surface to enter. The ships would come in between the two nets and then turn and anchor off the Royal Barbados Yacht Club, the old Eye Hospital and up towards the Careenage so they were behind the main net.
Very soon after the anti-submarine boom net was installed it was tested. On the afternoon of Friday 11th September 1942 shortly after 4:30 pm the population of Bridgetown and an area well beyond were startled by tremendous explosions in Carlisle Bay.
Two ships at anchor in Carlisle Bay were targeted by German U-boat 514 Kapitänlieutenant Hans Jürgen Auffermann:
- the Norwegian Motor Merchant Betancuria (2,696 tons) moored just off the old Eye Hospital and
- the Canadian National Steamship Cornwallis (5,458 tons) moored opposite the Royal Barbados Yacht Club.
Kptlt. Auffermann fired a total of six torpedoes at these two vessels.
The anti-torpedo boom net proved effective in stopping the torpedoes and had taken four hits. Many of the buoys supporting the anti-torpedo boom net were blown sky high by the explosions. Given the considerable amount of debris it would have been clear to Kptlt. Auffermann viewing the scene through his periscope that the net had collapsed or was otherwise damaged.
Having fired four forward facing torpedoes, Kptlt. Auffermann then turned U-boat 514 around and at just after 5pm Bajan time, at a distance of about 2,200 metres, fired at both targets using U-514’s two stern torpedoes. The Betancuria was lucky. The fifth torpedo detonated against a section of net and another great explosion tossed water and sections of net skywards allowing the sixth and final torpedo to sweep through and hit the Cornwallis abreast of its No. 2 hold causing a gash some 44 feet long and 14 feet deep.
From beginning to end, the entire U-boat attack on Carlisle Bay lasted about half an hour.
U-514 surfaced after torpedoing the Cornwallis, she put up a sail on the conning tower to make her look like a small fishing boat then disappeared into the setting sun before the spotter aircraft with depth charges sent from Trinidad arrived to search for her in the clear waters of Carlisle Bay.
Kiera Bloom at Barbados Blue Watersports, is a scuba instructor and underwater videograher / photographer. She together with a team of divers from Barbados Blue went looking for the remnants of the anti-torpedo net that was damaged when U-boat 514 attacked Carlisle Bay on 11th September 1942. They managed to find the damaged anti-torpedo net now laying in a pile 110 feet deep on the floor of Carlisle Bay and capture some amazing photographs and videos. The remnants of the damaged anti-torpedo net now serves as an artificial reef, encrusted with coral and teaming with fish life. You can quite clearly see: the steel net, the ballast for holding the net in place and the damaged buoys that the net would have hung from.
Ian “Blue” Cox sent us a description of the buoys that weighed about two tons.:
The buoys suspending the anti-torpedo net were about 5 feet in diameter with a heavy bar of steel running through from top to bottom about 6″ wide by 1.5″ or 2″ thick. This had a different finish on either end, one end was just like it had an oblong hole cut and the other was more refined and the edges smoothed off.
They were all painted battleship grey and were made from steel sheet that had a kind of special pattern to it. In shape it looked as if it had been cut from flat plate and then these pieces were welded together.
There used to be hundreds of them down towards Chaguaramas (the old USA Naval base in Trinidad that was leased in 1940 under the Destroyers for Bases Agreement located on the North West Peninsula of Trinidad west of Port of Spain) all piled high but lots of them were rusting and some of the piles collapsed in places.
I remember there was one in a yard in Sea Lots (a very dodgy area near Laventille, Trinidad) that had legs welded below about 8′ long and it was used as a fuel storage tank with a delivery hose and nozzle attached which was used to refill the trucks of the yard keeping it safe otherwise.
We have not been able to source a detailed photograph of the Carlisle Bay anti-torpedo boom net. Here is a what it might have looked like. You can see the similarity of the buoys and interwoven metal rings with the remnants of the 1942 the anti-torpedo net on the floor of Carlisle Bay.
Below is the Barbados Blue video of the remnants of the Carlisle Bay anti-torpedo boom net damaged by torpedoes from U-514 on the afternoon of Friday 11th September 1942:
WARNING: The remnants of the the 1942 Barbados anti-torpedo net rests in 110 feet of water on the outer edge of Carlisle Bay. This is TOO DEEP for Open Water and Advanced [PADI] level certified divers. It is strongly advised you are Deep Diver certified and are accompanied by a professional diver. We suggest you seek the guidance of Barbados Blue to ensure a safe visit.
For further information on the attack on the Cornwallis by U-boat 514 see:
Torpedoing of the Cornwallis in Carlisle Bay, Barbados, 11th September 1942
Our thanks to Kiera Bloom – producer, Robert Bourne – videographer, Roger White – navigator and to Barbados Blue Watersports for making and sharing this historical video.