The torpedoing of the Cornwallis in Carlisle Bay, Barbados on the afternoon of Friday 11th September 1942 by German U-Boat 514 is remembered by older Bajans as the dark day in 1942 when World War II reached Barbados’ shores.
The 75th anniversary of the torpedoing of the CNS Cornwallis in Carlisle Bay was Monday 11th September 2017. We wanted to mark this event by piecing together the facts from: interviews with people that witnessed the day when U-Boat 514 caused havoc in Carlisle Bay, published recollections and other historical information about the U-Boat war in the Caribbean.
- UBoat.net provides a wealth of information on U-514
- Copies of some of the official Colonial Office despatches sent from Barbados following the torpedoing of the CNS Cornwallis.
- Reggie Gooding and Dick Davies witnessed the torpedoing from within Carlisle Bay. Reggie reminisced about the torpedoing of the Cornwallis in The Bajan in August 1978. We have included a transcript of this article at the end of this post.
- Pat Huchinson worked at the Barbados Foundry and worked on jury-rigging the Cornwallis.
- John Skinner was a baby.
- Peggy O’Donnell witnessed the first explosions while at the Aquatic club.
- Jim Burton witnessed the events first-hand from the roof of Barclays Bank in Broad Street, Bridgetown.
- Doreen Weatherhead saw U-514 surface while swimming off Maxwell.
- David Badley was sixteen and saw the attack from Fontabelle. He tells us how his Uncle, Fred Reed, took out the Harbour Patrol boat Hazel Y searching for U-Boat 514.
- J Edward Hutson was 6 and was having tea with his grandfather John F Hutson in Belleville.
- Osfield Wiltshire heard the explosion from Belfield pasture in Black Rock.
- David Taylor served in the TRVNR.
- The Gibbs Bros sent us their song: “(The almost sinking of) The Cornwallis”.
- Clifton Goodridge who was eighteen was working at McEnearney’s Ford Dealership on Chapel Street.
- Dorothy Fraser (nee Cummins) was five living at “The Palms ” near to what is now Harbour Lights.
- David Bladen was almost nine living at “Edlaville” on Chelsea Road.
- David and Alfred Pragnell who were six and nine lived on Chelsea Road.
- Joe Webster provided a Guyanese perspective.
- Trinidadian Gaylord TM Kelshall excellent, now out of print book “The U-Boat War in the Caribbean” has a section on the torpedoing of the Cornwallis which we have include as a transcript at the end of this post.
- Captain W.H.R. Armstrong, did extensive research into U-Boat activities in the Caribbean during World War II and wrote an article which was published in the Journal of the Barbados Museum and Historical Society titled: “The Sea Devils of the Caribbean”. A transcript of the section dealing with the Cornwallis is included as a useful reference.
- Bajan Historian Warren Allyene wrote about the attack on The Cornwallis in his book “Barbados At War 1939 -1945”. A transcript of the section dealing with the Cornwallis is included as a useful reference.
- Gallantry awards for various members of the crew of the Cornwallis provide additional insight into what happened that day. We have included a transcript of the ship’s Chief Engineer Henry Jenkins as a useful reference.
If you know someone with a Cornwallis story and would like their story included please
On the afternoon of Friday 11th September 1942 two ships in Carlisle Bay were targeted by German U-Boat 514 captained by 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.
The inhabitants of Bridgetown, Carlisle Bay and the surrounding areas were made aware of the attack by the sound of torpedoes exploding on impact with the anti-submarine boom net, from the guns of both Cornwallis and Betancuria and from the final explosion from the torpedo that hit the Cornwallis.
German U-Boat 514 Kptlt. Auffermann fired a total of six torpedoes at Cornwallis and Betancuria.
At 4.37pm Bajan time (22.37 hours U-Boat time), two bow torpedoes were fired from a distance of about 3,500 meters. Single bow torpedoes were then fired at 4.43pm Bajan time (22.43 hours U-Boat time) and 4.55pm Bajan time (22.55 hours U-Boat time).
The U-boat then turned around and at 5.02pm Bajan time (23.02 hours U-Boat time) fired at both targets with its two stern torpedoes from a distance of about 2,200 metres. The Betancuria was lucky. The last torpedo hit the Cornwallis.
U-Boat 514 Kptlt. Auffermann claimed in his log the sinking of the Cornwallis and the Betancuria, the latter could not be verified at the time.
The Cornwallis sustained a strike abreast of her number 2 hold from the last torpedo that had passed through one of four damaged portions of the anti-submarine boom net. A survey of the damage sustained by the Cornwallis reported that a hole some 44 feet long and 14 feet deep had been blown in her side and that considerable internal damage was also done.
The quick witted Master of the Cornwallis, Captain Duncan MacLeod, on hearing the first torpedo explosion on the harbour defence ordered the anchor to be raised and Chief Engineer Henry Jenkins to get steam up on the main engines. It wasn’t enough to save his ship from attack, but it did allow him to beach his damaged and sinking ship.
Temporary repairs were made and the Cornwallis was jury-rigged which took two months before being towed to Trinidad in December 1942 where further repairs were made. The Cornwallis was later towed to Mobile, arriving on 24 Jan 1943 where she was repaired and returned to service in August 1943.
Sixteen months later on 3rd December 1944 at 10.00 hours the unescorted Cornwallis was again torpedoed. This time her luck ran out and she was sunk by German U-Boat U-1230 about 10 miles South West of Mount Desert Rock in the Gulf of Maine. The Cornwallis was en-route from Barbados to St. John, New Brunswick in Canada carrying a cargo of sugar in bags and molasses in barrels. The Master, 35 crew members and seven gunners were lost. Five survivors were picked up by the fishing vessel Notre Dame and landed at Rockland, Maine.
The U-Boat war in the Caribbean
In 1942 the German Navy launched operation Neuland which was intended to disrupt shipping on the Eastern seaboard of the United States of America and the Caribbean. In May 1942 the German U-boats began to sink merchants in the Caribbean area at an alarming rate. They saw the chance to literally strangle the allied war effort by cutting the vital supply line of oil and aluminium.
Had there been more U-boats available the German’s might have succeeded.
In response, a Royal Navy auxiliary task force, called the Trinidad Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve (TRNVR) was stationed in Trinidad and formed a defence for the South Eastern Caribbean. However, despite having mine sweepers and some anti-submarine vessels, the TRNVR served only as a coastal force.
In August of 1942 three fast motor torpedo boats were sent from Trinidad to Barbados to form a protective off-shore U-Boat deterrent and The Royal Navy laid an anti-submarine boom net across Carlisle Bay which was completed in early September.
The Carlisle Bay anti-torpedo net was strung between the pier-head and what is now the Hilton. There was a entrance by the Hilton that the boats had to go through.
Without this anti-torpedo boom net the damage to shipping within Carlisle Bay might have been much worse.
U-514 which damaged the Cornwallis was a Type IXC submarine. She had 4 bow torpedo tubes and 2 stern torpedo tubes. She carried 22 G7e torpedoes. Some of the IXC submarines also had the ability to deploy Torpedomine A (TMA) mines, however, U-162 through U-170 and U-505 through U-550 (35 boats), were not fitted for mine operations.
U-514 was launched on 18 Nov 1941 and commissioned on 24th January 1942 under the command of Kapitänlieutenant Hans Jürgen Auffermann. From 24th January 1942 to 31st August 1942 she was assigned to 4 Flotilla (training) then joined active service with 10 Flotilla on 1st September 1942 based out of Lorient (Keroman Submarine Base) on the North West coast of France. U-514’s first patrol to the Caribbean commenced on 15th August 1942 and lasted 87 days. What the image below clearly shows is how far from their home base of Lorient in Northern France the submarines taking part in the Caribbean part of Operation Neuland were. U-514 reached Barbados 28 days into her first active patrol. For her return to base having sunk the The American steam merchant Steel Scientist it took her another 29 days to get back to Lorient.
During this first patrol U-514 damaged / sank the following ships:
- The British sailing ship Helen Forsey (167 GRT)
sunk by U-514 on 6 Sep 1942 (day 23) sunk using deck gun
- The Canadian steam merchant Cornwallis (5,458 GRT)
damaged by U-514 on 11 Sep 1942 (day 28) 6 torpedoes used
- The British steam merchant Kioto (3,297 GRT)
sunk by U-514 on 15 Sep 1942 (day 32) 2 torpedoes used
- The Brazilian steam merchant Ozório (2,730 GRT)
sunk by U-514 on 28 Sep 1942 (day 45) 2 torpedes used
- The Brazilian steam merchant Lages (5,472 GRT)
sunk by U-514 on 28 Sep 1942 (day 45) 3 torpedoes used
- The American steam merchant Steel Scientist (5,688 GRT)
sunk by U-514 on 12 Oct 1942 (day 59) 3 torpedoes used
A selection of official Colonial Office despatches following the torpedoing of the CNS Cornwallis
These are taken from what were secret Colonial Office papers that are held at the UK National Archives at Kew. Our thanks to David O’Carroll who sent them to us.
Reginald Gooding and Dick Davies
John Davies whose Uncle was Dick Davies sent us a photocopy of the The Bajan from August 1978. We have provided a transcript of the article at the end of this post.
Schoolboys Reginald Gooding and Dick Davies were out sailing in Carlisle Bay and had a grandstand view of the events that started with a bang at about 4:30pm on Friday 11th September 1942 when U-514 attacked 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. They witnessed the torpedoes that targeted the net hitting their target then saw the U-Boat 514 as it surfaced and fired it’s stern torpedoes at the Norwegian Motor Merchant Betancuria and the Canadian National Steamship Cornwallis.
Days afterwards the boys dived up “salvage” from the Cornwallis. They also found 3 of the torpedo tailfins and two of the electric motors that drove the torpedoes.
Pat Hutchinson, who is now 90+ years old, was a welder at the Central Foundry during the World War II. During that period he worked on both the submarine net and on repairing the Cornwallis after she had been damaged by U-514.
Mr Hutchison says that the submarine net was made up of wire rope about the thickness of his finger and was suspended from large iron buoys which he helped build. He is certain that the German submarine did not breach the net with torpedoes but instead put charges on some of the large iron buoys (he called them floats) and then waited for them to go off so that the net to sank, exposing a gap through which the captain of U-Boat 514 could torpedo the ships in Carlisle Bay.
Mr Hutchison says that when 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.
John Skinner shared this with us.
I was born in December 1942, a couple of months after the Cornwallis was torpedoed. My parents at that time lived in Bedford Ave (off Bay St. approximately opposite Burks Beach), but my father ran the Barbados Ice Company which was directly opposite Bay Mansion; now Harbour Lights parking area.
My parents told me that when the ship was torpedoed the Captain started the engines and ran it aground behind the old gas company so it didn’t sink, and temporary repairs were done to patch the hole from the torpedo, then the water was pumped out and the ship re-floated .
Part of the cargo was cans of powdered milk (Klim or similar) and some Bajan lads swam through the hole in the ships side and stole as much of the cargo as they could get hold of before things were secured. Apparently my father bought some of the cans of milk powder from them on the beach which was used to feed me as an infant. This might sound strange to many, but you must remember that during the war food and many other things were scarce or unobtainable.
Peggy O’Donnell now Peggy Spence
Mike Spence sent us this story.
My mother, Peggy Spence, then Peggy O’Donnell and some of her siblings were at the Aquatic Club swimming when the attack happened. She was 16 years old at the time and at the Ursuline Convent. Peggy says she remembers hearing the first torpedoes hitting the net and then all the confusion of people rushing to get out of the water and off of the Aquatic Club pier.
After the initial explosions the Manager and staff were yelling for everyone to get off the pier. She says she and her siblings were hustled out to the street and were waiting for the bus when she heard what was probably the torpedo that hit the Cornwallis, but she did not see it. She said it was “so loud if felt like the whole island shook.”
Jim Burton watched the events first-hand from the roof of Barclays Bank in Broad Street, Bridgetown.
Jim Burton is my Dad. He was nineteen years old and was working at Barclays Bank in Broad Street. Between the first and last torpedo being fired was about 20 minutes. Dad and others from the bank watched the events unfold from the roof of Barclays Bank, while he says the Bank Manger “shovelled” the cash into the safe for safe keeping.
Dad says people really didn’t understand what was going on at the time. It was curiosity that drove Dad and others onto the roof to observe what was going on in Carlisle Bay having been made aware of the attack by the sound of torpedoes exploding on impact with the anti-submarine boom net and the noise from the guns of both Cornwallis and Betancuria.
Dad’s feeling is that Kptlt. Auffermann could have done so much more damage, but was eager get out of Carlisle Bay, as he probably knew that soon after his first torpedo had been fired Trinidad would have been informed and he wouldn’t have wanted to have been trapped in the shallow clear waters of Carlisle Bay when planes with depth charges arrived!
Doreen Weatherhead is my godmother, who was ten at the time that the Cornwallis was torpedoed.
My godmother tells me that on Friday 11th September 1942 she was staying with her Godparents Uncle B (Bertram deVere Grogan) and Aunty Doris (Doris Grogan) at Hythe on the Maxwell Coast. Her godfather’s father (Bertram Grogan) was the Christ Church Parochial Treasurer. Each day she went down to the beach between 2.30pm and 3pm. There wasn’t much sand on the beach at that time of year. She was playing in the sea with Ann Massey a young girl from next door who was on holiday from Trinidad. There was a big swell and when they looked up there was German U-Boat 514 which had surfaced outside of the reef.
My godmother says she could clearly see an officer in the conning tower and two sailors running across the deck and the markings on the conning tower. She says she was pretty frightened and she and Ann got out of the sea without rushing in case they aroused the suspicions of the German sailors.
Once out of sight they rushed back to Hythe where Doreen phoned her father who should have been in barracks. He was not in barracks and was at home with measles. Doreen’s father Capt. Weatherhead then phoned both Army units on the coast and Government House. Capt. Weatherhead was told that nobody else had reported anything and that his daughter who was just ten must have made a mistake.
Unfortunately a few hours later Doreen was proved to be correct. My Godmother says she has never been able to understand how nobody in Oistins or down the Maxwell Coast had seen the German U-Boat 514 when it surfaced!
Doreen Weatherhead’s story has been recounted to me regularly over the years. It is now also covered in Pat S.R. Callender’s book: “Flight Paths & Missing Connections @ Barbados A Memoir” published in April 2018 by Caribbean Chapters Publishing, pages 64 to 67.
Alderman Doreen Weatherhead left Barbados in 1950. She trained as a Radiographer and is a past Mayor of the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea where she served as the Conservative councillor for the Pembridge Ward from: 7th May 1964 to 6th May 1971 and from 2nd May 1974 to 22nd May 2014 when she retired.
Major Cyril Weatherhead – Barbados Signals Officer during World War II
Doreen Weatherhead provided me with this profile of her father.
During the war Dad [Cyril Weatherhead] was the Barbados Signals Officer, a First Lieutenant, and then Captain and just at the end of the War or shortly after he was made a Major.
As Adjutant during the war he was a Captain and that was when we had to move into Barracks. The Adjutant’s quarters was the house right in front of the Battalion HQ (the old fort) and the Sea Scouts had their HQ in the basement of our house and Signals offices were in the basement of the Fort just across from our house. Harold and I had a whale of a time – when the Army had practices of what we had to do if Barbados was invaded, we were woken up in the middle of the night and Dad never told us when this would happen although as Adjutant he organised it. It was a very serious time and we never knew if the Germans might appear, it was quite exciting for Harold and I, living in the Barracks compound aged 10 and 8 when we moved in and stayed there until the end of the war.
Prior to the war Dad worked for SP Musson & Son. When he was called up his salary as a First Lieutenant was less than his salary at SP Musson & Son. For the whole duration of war Sir Dudley Leacock covered the difference in his salary. After the war Dad returned to work for SP Musson & Son.
I went to Queens College in Sept. 1942 and that was when I met your Mother – Dor [Dorothy Boyce].
David’s son Robert sent us this extract from his Dad’s memoires. David Badley was 16 years old at the time and lived in Fontabelle. He was related to Fred Reed (his aunt’s husband) who took the Hazel Y out after the torpedo attack. Below is an extact dealing with the torpedoing of the Cornwallis.
Around that same time – 1942 – a submarine attacked ships in the harbour. I was at Pickwick with the boys at the time, and I suddenly saw this big white cloud going up in the air over the Goddard’s place at Kensington. The cloud had a lot of little black things like birds flying about in it, but there was no noise. The cloud got way up in the air, and suddenly the explosion went off, and that was the first torpedo fired by the submarine. It hit the submarine net which the British Navy put down to protect ships because Carlisle Bay was an open harbour. They had put this net across the face of it and another net across the northwestern side. The ships would come in between the two nets and anchor right behind the main net which would protect them from incoming torpedoes.
I ran down Pickwick Gap, and by the time I got home there was another explosion – “brugadung”. I ran in the house, and Daddy and I wondered if it was torpedoes. We ran down to the beach and out on the jetty, and by the time we got on the jetty – “brugadung” – and another explosion went off up in the air.
In those days there were two telegraph poles there because Cable & Wireless had a relay station on the reef, and these poles were 210 feet tall. The explosion caused the water and pieces of the net and buoys that held it to go up as high as that. Barbados had four British torpedo boats with two 12 cylinder aeroplane engines in them, and they used to go out and try and pick up the crews of the ships that got torpedoed. They had depth charges and 50 calibre machine guns on them, but that evening all four were up on the dock being repaired. The Germans knew that they could come in with impunity.
Uncle Fred Reed was part of a Harbour Patrol consisting of a team of about eight in all. Every night they used to go from dusk to twelve or one o’clock and they would come in and change crew for the rest of the night. At first they used to go through the whole night, and then they had two shifts. Uncle Fred was in charge, and there were Dudley and Seymour Haynes who were nephews of old J. N. Goddard, Fred and Pickles Carmichael, Mr. Miles Cecil who built our house and his son Robert, Mr. Lawrence Bancroft, Joe King and Teddy Jones. Uncle Tom had a boat called “Hazel Y” which had a six-cylinder gasoline engine, and that was commandeered. They put two depth charges on the back of it and they had an old machine gun that they were given off one of the ships that got torpedoed and lowed into the harbour.
That evening Uncle Fred came down with Teddy Jones, Pickles Carmichael and I believe Dudley Haynes and went out to see what they could do. The submarine could have just blown them out of the water. In those days the merchant ships all had a 4.7 inch gun in the stem to fire at any submarines when they were trying to get away from them. There was a boat called the “Cornwallis” of the Canadian National Steamship Company that brought cloth, lumber and flour from Canada, and the “Betanguria” which used to go between Argentina and Barbados bringing corned beef, etc. to Barbados.
Commander Whyn who was the Harbour Master at the time, had received a warning from an airplane that had seen a submarine off the harbour and had phoned Uncle Fred to tell him to get ready in case something happened, so of course by the time he heard the first explosion he knew what it was. The boats were firing their shells in a sort of a pattern out to sea, and Uncle Fred said they may have seen the submarine but he couldn’t see anything. They headed for this area where the shells were, and the boats stopped firing when they saw them. They set the depth charge at 600 feet. They had never fired a depth charge and didn’t know if the boat was going to fall to pieces or what was going to happen. Just before that happened, the seventh torpedo went through the net and hit the “Cornwallis”. She sank but didn’t disappear because the harbour was shallow there. The submarine had fired seven torpedoes to get one ship which was a bit of a waste. When Uncle Fred came back in, the boat was nearly full of water.
They patrolled every night, but never saw anything again. They realized that they couldn’t really take on a submarine on the surface because they would have been blown out of the water. They did this at first on a voluntary basis, not getting paid, but later the government put them on some sort of special duty list. On a Sunday morning they used to gather at Uncle Fred’s and pull the old Hotchkiss machine gun to pieces and clean and grease it because of the salt out there. Hazel has a picture of the “Hazel Y” with two depth charges on the back and the gun covered up on the front. It’s not a very good picture but gives an idea, and I’m trying to get a copy of it. I loved guns from that age and liked watching them clean the machine gun; I could probably have taken it down myself from watching them do it.
J Edward Hutson
I was aged 6 at the time of the Cornwallis incident and visiting Barbados from Antigua. In fact, my family and I travelled from Antigua to Barbados aboard one of the Lady Boats (see transcript at the end of the post which is taken from – The Lady Boats: the life and times of Canada’s West Indies merchant fleet).
On the afternoon of 11th September 1942 I was having tea with my grandfather (John F Hutson) on the verandah of Bracebridge, his home in the 5th Avenue, Belleville.
We heard the explosions of the torpedoes and felt the percussion in Belleville, followed by the chatter of small arms fire.
At the time we didn’t realize what was happening but learned the truth of the affair later that afternoon.
Osfield Wiltshire’s daughter Honor Wiltshire sent us this.
I remember my father, Osfield Wiltshire, talking about that day. He was 14 at the time and playing cricket with friends on the then Belfield pasture in Black Rock.
The boys heard a tremendous blast. They were petrified and although they didn’t know what it was, it was war time and they knew that it couldn’t be anything good.
My Dad remembers running to his nearby home in Seclusion Road. Later on he learned that the blast was the torpedoing of the Cornwallis, “all the way” in Carlisle Bay.
My Mum, Dorothy Boyce, who was 10, tells me that she too remembers hearing the Cornwallis explosions “all the way” at home in Strathclyde.
Patrick Taylor, David’s son sent us this.
During the war my father Barbadian-born David Taylor served as a sub-lieutenant for a short time in Trinidad with the Trinidad Royal Volunteer Naval Reserve. He died in in Barbados in 1963.
A few years ago I came across a handwritten poem in my father’s journal – “Notes for Debates, Quotations and Reflections” (unpublished). The poem is entitled “The War Reaches Barbados.”
“The War Reaches Barbados” 1942
When U-Boat come in Carlisle Bay
Dey think we all going run
Dey isn’t know that people say
Wid Bajans fight is fun.
De first thing that people do
When de hear the shot go off
Is grab a stick, a big rock too,
And rush down pun de wharf.
De was knock-kneed Jones from Fontabelle
Old Smith from Eagle Hall
Flanagan and big-foot Nell –
In fact I see them all.
A fellow standing next to me
Wid medals pun de coat
Pull off he clothes, jump in the sea
And swim out to de boat.
What you going do we want to know
Out dey so by you one,
He do like whale, come up and blow,
Dive down and he was gone.
Just den we hear a distant shout
De U-Boat see he coming
Break off the fight and turn about
Submerge, and went long humming
We rush onboard the Combermere,
Load up more rocks and bricks;
De police force and all was dey
Wid wampas, swords, and sticks.
So if de Germans try again
To interfere wid we
We’ll show dem dat in sun or rain
We’ll fight for liberty.
The Gibbs Bros
John Gibbs sent us this song: “(The almost sinking of) The Cornwallis”.
The Gibbs Bros come from a musical family whose roots in Barbados go back to the early 1600s.
Click on the link below to listen to their song about the Cornwallis.
Clifton Goodridge who would have been 18 sent us this.
On that day I was working at McEnearney’s Ford Dealership on Chapel Street. I was balancing my cash, just about to leave work when the explosion took place and it shook the building.
At that same moment, my girlfriend (future wife) Pauline Goodman was swimming at the Aquatic Club and she heard a loud explosion and at first did not know what it was.
When we found out what had happened, we considered ourselves very fortunate.
I have been living in Canada for many decades since, but was at the same Aquatic Club, now Yacht Club only yesterday [11th September 2017] and was re-telling my son, his wife and my granddaughter the story of events on that fateful day. I am almost 93 now, yet will never forget the events that happened on that day.
Dorothy Patricia Fraser (nee Cummins)
I remember that day very well. I was five years old at the time. We were living in a house called “The Palms ” near to [what is now] Harbour Lights which was my great grandmother’s house: Agnes Weatherhead. I saw what looked like fire balls coming from the boat and then men jumping into the water. l was terrified.
I think my parents and grandparents just wanted to get away from there and we went up to “Chelsea House” which was my other grandparents home, owned by Harry and his wife Viola Cummins.
Later tins of canned food washed up onto the beach behind our house. I remember a lot of Irish stew. I hope this helps with what happened.
[ Chelsea House was once a plantation, but that was long before my time. Chelsea Road is opposite the Yacht club, you make a left turn off of Chelsea Road, known as Chelsea Gardens. Many of my cousins live in that area.]
I was almost nine years old at the time. I remember the day that the Cornwallis was torpedoed well.
We lived at “Edlaville” on Chelsea Road. I was upstairs in my parents bedroom in which there was a wardrobe. As the torpedoes hit the house shook and the handle on the wardrobe rattled. I can almost still hear that clicking noise from the wardrobe.
It wasn’t too long afterwards that the street was busy with people running down towards the Esplanade.
David & Alfred Pragnell
David Pragnell sent us this.
I was six years old and Alfred my brother was ten. We lived in Chelsea Road.
When we heard the first explosion we took off for the Esplanade in Bay Street to be part of the crowd watching the action until the Cornwallis was hit.
Then we left as fast as we came in the back of a horse cart heading in the Chelsea Road direction.
I will remember that day for ever.
Joe Webster – with a Guianese perspective
Jim Webster shared this snippet with us. My dad was Joseph Garfield Webster but was known as Joe Webster. His family lived at Fairy Valley. In 1941 he left for Guiana to work on a plantation. He had been invited to go there by his friend Ralph Kirton who later became his brother-in-law.
A few years before his death, my dad wrote a chronology of the Webster family, in Barbados, tied in with historical events that impacted Barbados. There was one section about the “Cornwallis” and how people in British Guiana reacted, at the time. As you can see many in Guiana had a somewhat different reaction to the sinking of the Cornwallis.
1942 – CNS Cornwallis
The Cornwallis is hit by one of six torpedoes fired by U-514 commanded by Kptlt. Auffermann who was killed in action the following year. The Cornwallis was laden with Canadian flour and bound for Guiana when she was hit in Carlisle Bay, and of course, never completed her trip. This causes distress for the citizens of Guiana who are deprived of their bread for several months and forced to turn back the clocks and eat cassava bread once more. When some of the overseers on the sugar plantations start to bitch they are reminded of the rationing of bananas in England, of which we [in British Guiana] have an abundance. They also have bombers to think about in England, while we are only harassed by mosquitoes.
Taken from A Genealogy of the Websters from England to Barbados, US, Canada.
In May 1942 the German U-boats began to sink merchants in the Caribbean area. There are so many stories of German spies and of German sailors taking shore leave in Barbados and of Germans sailors visiting the cinemas that we think there is probably some substance to some of the rumours. There are also rumours and stories of a German man who disappeared mysteriously on the west coast and about of a German man who was murdered in the Hastings area who was suspected of communicating with German U-boats or ships offshore. There was also a man of French origin who who was arrested as a spy and was detained on Pelican Island. Even thought the submarine net in Carlisle Bay was only put up in mid August and completed the first week of September 1942, we think it is very likely that the Kptlt. Auffermann the captain of U-514 knew about the anti-submarine net or had intelligence. We’ll never know!
Based on conversations and recollections with people who saw the event we think that the first four torpedoes were fired at the anti submarine net buoys which supported the anti submarine net. Sinking the buoys dropped the net and opened up a hole for targeting the ships at anchor in the bay. Once the submarine net was breached Kptlt. Auffermann then had a very good chance of targeting the two boats in Carlisle Bay: the Norwegian Motor Merchant Betancuria and the Canadian National Steamship Cornwallis. Kptlt. Auffermann missed the Betancuria and hit the Cornwallis.
To this day Doreen Weatherhead is still mystified why nobody in Oistins or down the Maxwell Coast saw U-Boat 514 when it surfaced sometime between 2:30 to 3:00pm on Friday 11th September 1942. That was about an hour and a half before the first torpedo was fired at the buoys supporting the anti-submarine net in Carlisle Bay at 4:37pm. It was probably because U-Boat 514 disguised herself as a fishing boat by hoisting a sail over the conning tower.
Mr Hutchison says that when 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.
What we still find a mystery is that in 1942 Barbados was a hub for High Frequency (HF) and cable communication between the UK and Australia after Singapore fell to the Japanese on 15th February 1942. What is surprising is that the German submarines never attacked Reef House in a similar way to the U-156 attack on the Aruba oil refinery on 16th February 1942.
Cable & Wireless (WI) Ltd was located at Reef House on Reef Road close to the sea behind the Fontabelle Road, located between two giant wireless towers that looked onto nearby Pelican Island. This was also where the cables came ashore.
Did you know?
Within the Carlisle Bay Marine Park there is a section of bulkhead wreckage from the Cornwallis. The torpedo from U-514 blew a hole in the side of the Cornwallis abreast of her number two hold some 44 feet long and 14 feet deep.
A section of riveted steel bulkhead about 38 ft long was blasted off by the torpedo and remained on the seabed near the ship’s original anchorage in Carlisle Bay opposite the Royal Barbados Yacht Club. In 2000 this bulkhead section was relocated to the Carlisle Bay Marine Park as it was lying in a high traffic area and was causing anchor damage.
When the Canadian National Steamship Cornwallis was torpedoed by U-Boat 514 in Carlisle Bay on 11th September 1942 several large pieces of wreckage were left behind in deep water after the Cornwallis was re-floated and repaired.
In November 1999 a project was undertaken to enhance the tourism attractions in Carlisle Bay Marine Park by relocating some of the the wreckage of the Cornwallis into the Park.
In October 2000 the biggest piece of Cornwallis wreckage, as well as a sunken barge which had been used during the construction of the Barbados Port were relocated to the Carlisle Bay Marine Park doubling the Park’s snorkelling capacity and increasing the number of dive sites from 4 to 6.
In June 2001 Discovery Channel television series Oceans of Mystery aired a one-hour documentary “Reefs at Risk – Barbados”.
As part of the program Discovery Channel had metal samples taken from the wreckage analysed at the Defence Research Establishment Atlantic in Halifax, Nova Scotia. They confirmed that the wreckage was from a Canadian Steamship Company “Ladyboat” class vessel. As the Cornwallis was the only “Ladyboat” that was ever worked on in Barbados the identity of the wreckage was confirmed.
Click here to see an aerial view of Carlisle Bay Marine Park from BusinessInsider.
Here is a video clip of what remains of the riveted steel bulkhead from the Cornwallis that was blasted off by the torpedo and which was relocated to the Carlisle Bay Marine Park in October 2000.
Reference Material – Transcripts
These transcripts provide a useful historical background.
The Day World War II Came to Bridgetown
Below is a transcript from The Bajan – August 1978 page 26 to 27. A photocopy of this article was sent to us by John Davies whose Uncle was Dick Davies. We have transcribed Reginal M Gooding’s The Bajan article to “preserve a small bit of Barbados’ history that was nearly forgotten.” This article appeared as a special feature in The Bajan to mark the 350th anniversary of Bridgetown.
Some recollections on the Canadian National Steamship SS Cornwallis by Reginald M Gooding who gives a schoolboy’s version of the event and the adventure it brought to him and his buddy Dick Davies
In the Barbados Museum, there is a single relic, the tailfin and propeller assembly of a torpedo. The plaque above it says “German torpedo fin from one of the three [of six] torpedoes used in the attack of the CNSC SS Cornwallis, Carlisle Bay 11th September 1942.”On the afternoon of September 11th 1942 the German Submarine U-514, under the command of Kapitänlieutenant Hans Jürgen Auffermann, cruised at periscope depth just outside of Carlisle Bay, Barbados.
That Saturday [Friday] afternoon Dick Davies and I were in a dingy some distance to the west of the anchorage of the old yawl, “Pansy,” at that time the flagship of the Barbados Yacht Club fleet. I don’t recall what we were doing out there, probably just going for a row out to the anti-torpedo nets which stretched across the bay from Neeham’s Point to Pelican Island, or going to take a closer look at the SS Cornwallis, a frequent visitor to the island, which was unloading cargo to lighters from her anchorage in the bay. Certainly it wasn’t an unusual place for us to be. We were both in the “fourth” at Harrison College, and inseparable buddies. We spent our time sailing, rowing and diving along the coast. In those days few kids know the waters and reefs between Rockley and Holetown better than we did.
Located as we were, we had a grandstand view of the events that started with a bang at about 4:30pm that afternoon. I remember vividly our shock at the first explosion. We new almost immediately that it had occurred at the anti-torpedo net, for on looking out to sea we saw pieces of the buoy and net blown high into the air. We were still assimilating this very unusual occurrence in our peaceful bay when a second explosion blew up another section of the net. Everything happened so fast and furious for the next half-hour or so that I am unable to remember the exact sequence of events. The four inch gun on Needham’s point started firing. The gun on the “Cornwallis” started firing. The net blew up in two more places. We had by then realized that the island was under attack, that it must be a submarine, and we were pulling like mad for the shore. We decided instead to go aboard the “Pansy,” and that is where we were when the final torpedo found its way through the breached net and struck the “Cornwallis” about amidships.
Shortly afterwards we were on the Yacht Club beach, and the last I remember of that day was watching a US Army Air force plane circling the bay late that afternoon.
Next morning, needless to say, we were at the club bright and early and out into the harbour in Mr. Sketete’s (of Bentely Plantation) glass bottom dingy. Dick and I were joined now by Desmond Harris and Alan Huckin, both students at Harrison College and close friends of ours. Our first objective was of course the “Cornwallis.” The captain of that vessel must have been a quick witted fellow for he managed to slip his anchor and run the ship on the ground opposite the northern end of the esplanade. Thus saving her from sinking in the harbour. She was now moored bow to shore with a large hemp cable.
We investigated the damage to the ship. This included, as I recall, rowing into the large aperture and looking around inside the hull. About then it must have occurred to us that with such a large hole in her bottom quite a lot of her cargo must have fallen out. It wasn’t long before we had rowed out to the general area in which the ship had been anchored the previous afternoon. With the aid of the view ports in bottom of the boat and our home made face masks (in those day there were no face masks available on the market, so we made our own from auto-mobile inner tube rubber laminated and glued with bicycle tyre repair cement) it wasn’t long before we located a large pile of material on the bottom in 11-12 fathom [20-22meters]. By diving, we determined that what we saw consisted primarily of cases of canned goods.
We had no SCUBA gear then, and although we were pretty good divers, continuous diving to that depth was a bit too much for us. However, we were determined to have a crack at salvaging some of that cargo, and it wasn’t long before we were organizing our limited resources. With the aid of my father, we fabricated from a steel drum, a grab. The drum was cut lengthwise into two halves and these were hinged together. On the opposite edges steel teeth were welded to the jaws which were weighted so that they would close tightly. Lines were affixed to lower the apparatus and to open and close the jaws.
We had one other piece of equipment that was to prove indispensable to our salvage operation during the following weeks. This was an old diving helmet, the type that just rests on one’s shoulders. It had a lever operated reciprocating pump and about eighty feet [24 meters] of air hose. I don’t remember where we had acquired this diving gear, but we had already nearly drowned or asphyxiated ourselves with it several times. I’m sure that the pump was never meant to supply air at depths greater than thirty feet. Of course we kids weren’t satisfied with this limit and went far deeper.
The man in the boat would pump as hard as he could to maintain pressure, and keep the water from rising too high in the diver’s helmet. I can recall how, on more than one occasion, the pump man would tire a little or the pump pistons would leak a little more than usual and I would feel the water level up to my mouth, start creeping up to my nose. The only thing left to do a that point was to take a last gasp of carbon dioxide loaded air, duck out of the helmet, and go for the surface. It remains a mystery to me how none of us ever suffered from an air embolism during those escapes. The worse that I remember was, realizing that I was about to become unconscious, starting for the surface with lungs nearly empty and wondering if I would make it.
I think that we started our salvage operation after school later that week. Once learned how to handle the grab, it proved to be a great success. We were soon bringing up cases of Australian lamb stew, condensed milk and large tins of barley. There were also odd cases of several other products, but those three items dominated the haul. Everything we brought up was covered with bunker oil and soon our boat and equipment, not to speak of ourselves, were black. After several days we had a huge pile of cans at the yacht club. Then the customs house people found out about us. We were landing goods without paying duty, and were informed that everything we salvaged must go through customs. By then we were becoming tired of the daily chore of cleaning oil from ourselves and everything else. The limited variety of the salvaged goods was also becoming rather monotonous. Even though a large percentage of our loot disappeared from the yacht club and the customs house, we still had enough lamb stew, canned milk and barley to last us for a long time. In fact we were still well stocked with canned barley at my home when I left Barbados two years later [in 1945].
Until then we had been so busy salvaging cargo that we had taken only a cursory look at the damaged torpedo net. I don’t remember if whether we suspected that there might be fragments of torpedo near the holes in the net, or if their discovery was entirely fortuitous. I do remember sighting the first piece in the sand in about 12 fathoms [22 meters]. It proved to be the electric propulsion motor. It weighed over three hundred pounds, and gave us a great hassle to grapple and raise it. The only way we could do this was by lashing two boats together, catamaran-like, and hauling the motor up between them. During the next couple of weekends we managed to find and bring up one more motor, the tail and propeller assemblies from three of the torpedoes and a of more or less unidentifiable fragments.
Hardly had we completed the salvage operation than we were notified that we would have to turn all of the salvaged torpedo parts over to the local naval authorities. We were informed that they were to be sent to Trinidad, and from there we know not where. I think we were given a receipt for all the articles, however, we really had little or no hope that we would ever see them again.
During the following months while the “Cornwallis” was being temporarily patched, she became almost a permanent part of the harbour scene. We kids visited her frequently, and become quite friendly with her crew. We would climb up to her forecastle via the bow mooring cable. Sometimes we would bring bottle of rum for the men, and receive bottles of coca cola in exchange. A rare treat in those days.
Eventually the “Cornwallis” departed for Canada where she was to go into dry docks and receive more permanent repairs. She never returned to Barbados. Some time later we learned that another German torpedo had found its mark, but this time the luck of the “CNSC SS Cornwallis” had run out.
[We have corrected two facts here:
Once temporary repairs had been made in Barbados, the Cornwallis was towed to Trinidad in December 1942 where further repairs were made. The Cornwallis was later towed to Mobile, arriving on 24 Jan 1943 where she was repaired and returned to service in August 1943.
18 months later on 3 rd Dec 1944 at 10.00 hours the unescorted Cornwallis was torpedoed and sunk by German U-Boat U-1230 about 10 miles South West of Mount Desert Rock in the Gulf of Maine. She was en-route from Barbados to St. John, New Brunswick in Canada carrying a cargo of sugar in bags and molasses in barrels. The master, 35 crew members and seven gunners were lost. Five survivors were picked up by the fishing vessel Notre Dame and landed at Rockland, Maine.]
At least a year must have passed when much to our surprise we were notified that the torpedo parts would shortly be returned to us. Each of us received and official letter from a British Admiral commending us for our efforts in salvaging the torpedoes, and informing us that an analysis of the structure and materials of the salvaged items had yielded valuable information to the war effort. Needless to say we were quite pleased, and the fact that one of the tail pieces and all the odd pieces were not returned did not bother us.
After considerable deliberation we decided to sell the two massive motors, which were mostly copper and brass to the Barbados Foundry as scrap. I don’t remember how much we got for them, but I recall that it seemed like quite a magnificent sum. We presented the two remaining tail assemblies to the “Barbados Museum.”
When I left the island in 1945 to go into the service, there was a card displayed with the two tail pieces which stated that they had been given to the museum by: Reginal Gooding, Richard Davies, Alan Huckin and Desmond Harris. Over the years this card and one of the tail assemblies were evidently lost, but perhaps putting this story into print will help to preserve a small bit of Barbados’ history which was nearly forgotten.
Sinking of the Cornwallis – Old Barbados by Edward Stoute
Advocate Magazine 23 June 1985
During the early part of May when the 40th anniversary of. V.E. Day was celebrated, there was some lively and enlightened question on the programme “Gutaperk” with regard to the Cornwallis which was torpedoed on
11th September 1942 in Carlisle Bay, and I suppose there will be more correspondence on this matter.
I have the BS&T [Barbados Shipping & Trading] Newsletter for October 1972, which contains an article “How the Cornwallis was re-floated” by the late D.W. Sayers M.B.E., J.P., C.Eng., M.I., F.R.S.A., and I am taking the liberty of quoting this article because this Newsletter is not readily available to the public. Mr. Sayers worked on this ship [the Cornwallis] to enable it to leave this island.
Mr. Sayers wrote:
“On the Friday evening on which the S.A. Cornwallis was torpedoed at about 5 p.m., Commander Wynne, who was the Harbour Master of Bridgetown, telephoned me to say that enemy action was taking place. He told me that I should not leave home until he called again.
About 20 minutes later he called and I joined him at the Wharf where he took his launch for the ship. We were the only two from Barbados who boarded the Cornwallis and imagine by [the] conversation when we were stuck-up at gunpoint on the top platform of the gangway by the Sargent-at-Arms.
This did not phase me however, and I pulled out my own Luger 44 pistol just to show that we meant business. This Sargent was later dealt with, seeing that Commander Wynne was wearing his Royal Navy Uniform and I was introduced as the Shore Based Engineer.
Having got over that hurdle we proceeded to survey the damage done by the torpedoes and were accompanied by the Captain and the Chief Engineer. The latter dropped into No. 3 hatch that same night and was killed.
The torpedoes had blown a hole in the Cornwallis 44 ft. long and 14 ft. deep and the engine room through which the two torpedoes passed was a mess. No. 3 boiler had been broken completely off its nest. Twisted pipelines were all over the place and while some were broken all were completely out of order. [We think its unlikely two torpedoes would have passed through identical pathways in the engine room?]
Next day to make a further examination I had to dive into the murky waters of the engine room where the sea water, the oil and bilge had mixed. This was a particularly harrowing experience which needless to say had to be performed without a stitch of clothing.
About this time during the Second World War we had been told that there was very little food and particularly no flour in Barbados, so rather than let the Cornwallis sink, we brought her ashore with tugs and made fast two headlines on the cabbage palm trees on the Bay Street Esplanade.
Within hours she was bumping very heavily on the sea floor so we had to re-float her. Our efforts to do so went on for some time until we could seal off the bulkheads, after which she could remain afloat indefinitely in spite of the damage. The Cornwallis was a completely dead ship with absolutely no machinery in operation.
Having blanked off her steam supply line to the deck winches, we supplied steam to all winches from the Water Boat tug Lord Combermere, and this exercise lasted for weeks until all salvageable cargo had been off-loaded.
Steel in Barbados was not available for carrying out repairs to he hull. Consequently, after the necessary discussion with the Central Road Board, I dismantled No. 1 railway bridge on the River Road side which used to be located at the spot approximately from the parking lot now in front of Rediffusion, to the back of Queen’s College.
Number 2 bridge which was higher up the Constitution River near Delamere Land, was also was used at a later date. With the steel from these two ancient bridges repairs were made to the Cornwallis making her strong enough to proceed to Venezuela at the princely speed of 3 knots. She actually made it to Venezuela where further repairs were carried out, but the Cornwallis never returned to Barbados. [Two issues here: Other sources say the Cornwallis was towed to Trinidad not Venezuela? We think last reference to Barbados refers to the fact the Cornwallis did not return to Barbados on her way from Trinidad to Mobile, USA where she was repaired and returned to service in August 1943. Prior to being sunk for a second time in December 1944 the Cornwallis was en-route from Barbados to St. John, New Brunswick in Canada carrying a cargo of sugar in bags and molasses in barrels.]
The two torpedoes that actually sunk the Cornwallis did not get through the boom defence as was popularly thought. In fact it was generally believed that the submarine had first blown two holes in the anti-submarine steel net which had been stretched across Carlisle Bay, but later it came out that the attack was carried out by two submarines. [It’s unclear if the torpedo that missed the Betancuria also hit the Cornwallis?]
While one [U-boat] was manoeuvring to fire at the Cornwallis another had focused her sights on the buoys holding up the top of the net. After these were blown off the net sank and the other sub then fired at the Cornwallis and struck her”.
An insert in the article written by Mr. Sayers reads:
“… the attack on the Cornwallis was made by the German U-boat U-514 under the command of Kapitanliutenant Hans Auffermann. It began at 4.45p.m. on 11th September 1942, and ended at 5.05 p.m. Five torpedoes were fired, of which four damaged the anti-torpedo net that was stretched across the harbour and the fifth struck the ship.” [Official records suggest six torpedoes were fired?]
I have heard nothing regarding the brave young men, about a dozen of them, who took turns in manning the speedboat the Hazel-Y which had a 500 lb. depth charge tied on at her stern, for these men took control of this boat at [on] three different nights, three at a time in two watches, and patrolled the harbour. They took action by dropping a depth charge that evening, however, it did not explode, and must be still lying around in the [Carlisle] Bay!
There was a sea patrol on many nights between Oistins and nearly to Speightstown to see if the island was completely blacked out. At Cable and Wireless where I worked there was a concrete wall banked up with sand and large curtains of heavy material which [at night] were lowered in the gallery on the seaward side.
The flagpole was erected between two heavier pieces of timber concrete[d] into the ground and the pole was inserted between these and long bolts held [it] in position. The Company was made to lower this pole as it was painted white and was reflecting the light from the land side of the building and could be seen out to sea.
All motor car headlight were painted to a special design, and no traffic was to pass along the Esplanade from dusk to dawn.
One of the interesting things discovered was that when an electric light bulb was dipped in a special solution which left the glass with a blue film on it that it could not easily be seen from any distance, and many people had some at these bulbs in their homes so that when there was a practice to see if any lights could be seen, they could insert one in a light socket and still get some light in their homes.
There is the suggestion in this Advocate press-cutting that there were two German U-Boats in the vicinity of Barbados on 12th September 1942. Uboat.net has a tool that shows the location of U-Boats on a daily basis. It is based on a database that consists of 129,059 entries of which 114,115 have daily positions (latitude, longitude). See: uboat.net | U-boat Patrols: https://uboat.net/boats/patrols/.
Analysis of the location of German U-Boats near to Barbados on 10th, 11th and 12th September 1942 does not validate the suggestion that two U-Boats were involved in the attack on ships in Carlisle Bay on 11th September 1942.
10th September 1942, U-boats near Barbados
- U-514 (Kptlt. Hans-Jürgen Auffermann).
Position 18° 09’N, 59° 57’W. Day 27 at sea of 87 days on patrol. (North East of Antigua).
- U-164 (KrvKpt. Otto Fechner).
Position 15° 27’N, 63° 33’W. Day 55 at sea of 82 days on patrol. (West of Dominica).
- U-515 (Kptlt. Werner Henke).
Position 13° 39’N, 59° 57’W. Day 27 at sea of 61 days on patrol. (North West of Barbados).
- U-217 (Oblt. Kurt Reichenbach-Klinke).
Position 10° 57’N, 61° 45’W. Day 59 at sea of 95 days on patrol. (Off Port of Spain Trinidad).
11th September 1942, U-boats near Barbados
- U-164 (KrvKpt. Otto Fechner).
Position 14° 33’N, 59° 57’W. Day 56 at sea of 82 days on patrol. (Off Martinique).
- U-514 (Kptlt. Hans-Jürgen Auffermann).
Position 13° 05’N, 59° 36’W. Day 28 at sea of 87 days on patrol. (Off Barbados).
- U-217 (Oblt. Kurt Reichenbach-Klinke).
Position 11° 51’N, 60° 51’W. Day 60 at sea of 95 days on patrol. (Between Barbados and Tobago).
- U-515 (Kptlt. Werner Henke).
Position 10° 57’N, 60° 51’W. Day 28 at sea of 61 days on patrol. (Off Tobago).
12th September 1942, U-boats near Barbados
- U-164 (KrvKpt. Otto Fechner).
Position 13° 39’N, 57° 15’W. Day 57 at sea of 82 days on patrol. (North West of Barbados).
- U-514 (Kptlt. Hans-Jürgen Auffermann).
Position 11° 51’N, 59° 57’W. Day 29 at sea of 87 days on patrol. (Between Barbados and Tobago).
- U-217 (Oblt. Kurt Reichenbach-Klinke).
Position 11° 51’N, 59° 03’W. Day 61 at sea of 95 days on patrol. (Between Barbados and Tobago).
- U-515 (Kptlt. Werner Henke).
Position 10° 30’N, 60° 20’W. Day 29 at sea of 61 days on patrol. (South of Tobago).
It is mostly likely that U-514 firstly targeted the buoys then homed in on two ships at anchor within Carlisle Bay: 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.
An alternative suggestion we have heard and have no proof nor have we been been able to verify is that U-514 used mines to destroy the buoys This was suggested by Pat Hutchinson. The nearest thing to Limpet mines would be Hafthohlladung mines, however, we are not aware that this was part of the armoury of German U-Boats like U-514.
Click on this link: Anti Submarine & Torpedo Net – Carlisle Bay, Barbados 1942 to see a video of what remains of the anti-submarine net an buoys that were destroyed by the U-Boat attack on Carlisle Bay on 11th September 1942.
Allied Merchant Ship Losses 1939 to 1945
Our thanks to the Canadian Forces Base (CFB) Esquimalt Naval & Military Museum for this map of Allied Merchant Ship Losses from 1939 to 1945. It was produced by Captain (MN) Hill Wilson – Master Mariner from the Canadian Merchant Navy Veterans Association.
If you focus on the West Indies and the North Eastern coast of South America (Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Columbia, Venezuela, Guyana, Surinam and French Guyana) the concentration of red dots shows how active the the U-Boat war in the Caribbean really was. Had there been more U-boats available the German’s operation Neuland might have succeeded in strangling the Allied war effort by cutting off the vital supply line of oil and aluminium.
The U-Boat War in the Caribbean
Below is the section from “The U-Boat War in the Caribbean” by Trinidadian author Gaylord TM Kelshall that details the attack on the Cornwallis. It was kindly transcribed for us by Carol Webster from Jim Webster’s copy of this now out of print book.
On Friday eleventh of September, one of the new wave of boats brought the war to the island of Barbados and caused a major flap. Germany started World War Two with just over fifty U-Boats commanded by long and painstakingly trainer officers. During the first two years of the conflict, the U-Boat expansion programme was just gaining momentum and there was still time to train the new commanders, not to the standard of the first group, but in the hard school of the North Atlantic convoy battles.
Many of these early Aces were now dead. The original commanders who first set the Caribbean afire, came from the second group of Aces. The men commanding the fourth wave of U-Boats to hit the Caribbean, made up for their lack of experience and hasty training by extreme aggressiveness and a sense of mission. Although they were operating in an environment that was becoming increasingly hostile, their achievements were no less spectacular. Hans-Jurgen Auffermann in command of the Type IXC boat U-514 was a good example of the new commanders.
After lunch on the eleventh, a report was received in Trinidad saying that a U-Boat had been sighted off Carlisle Bay in Barbados. At this stage of the war in the Caribbean, people were claiming to see U-Boats all over the area and such reports were being received in Trinidad on a daily basis. The report from Barbados was filed among the volumes of such sightings and not taken too seriously.
In fact Auffermann had been hanging around Barbados for several days. He had not found any worthwhile targets and decided to check the island’s harbour to see what sort of trouble he could cause. Since Achilles’ time, all the major Caribbean harbours were protected by anti-submarine nets, but the existence of a net seemed only to be a challenge to Auffermann. To be effective, these anti-submarine nets needed to be covered by guns and constant patrols, but Barbados had neither of these.
The island’s Volunteer Force manned a number of coast watching stations and the only Regulars on the island were an RAF signals detachment based at the airport. Their job was to handle RAF signal traffic and assist in the triangulation of U-Boat radio signals. Auffermann was to change the status of the military in Barbados, by employing a very unconventional form of attack.
U-514 was on its first patrol under a new commander. Auffermann’s previous command experience revolved around a three day stint when his captain in U-69 fell ill and he was called upon to act. He intended to make this first patrol worthwhile and the Bridgetown harbour seemed like an excellent place to begin.
At four thirty in the afternoon, U-514 came into the outer harbour and nosed its way towards the net defences. Through his periscope, Auffermann was able to see the line of buoys that marked the antisubmarine net he also noted the absence of surface patrols guarding the obstacle. Five minutes later, the four bow torpedoes erupted from their tubes and sped across the anchorage, towards the net defences. As soon as number four torpedo had left its tube, Auffermann began to turn U-514.
The boat had hardly begun to answer the helm before one after the other, the four torpedoes hit the net. Watchers on the shore could see the line of buoys beginning to pitch upwards, long before they heard the shattering detonation of the four six hundred pound warheads going off. Great fountains of water rose upwards and hung over the shattered sections of the net, while the huge two ton buoys were being tossed about as though they were tennis balls. The consternation in the tiny harbour can be imagined. A few clear-sighted individuals probably guessed what the great upheaval in the quiet harbour meant and silently blessed the net, without fully realising just what the unseen U-Boat meant to do. Aufferman continued his turn until the stern of the boat was lined up with the harbour and two more torpedoes leapt out of their tubes and began their race for the torn up net. The Canadian freighter Cornwallis was anchored in the harbour and by this stage the crew were all on deck, watching the great upheaval taking place around the net. The fifth torpedo also 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.
The watchers on the Cornwallis were horror-struck to see a torpedo emerge from the chaos of sea, sand and wreckage that had been that net and come charging through the crystal clear water, straight at their ship. They barely had time to get away from the threatened side of the ship, before the engine of destruction entered number three cargo hold. The explosion burst a great hole in the ship’s side and shattered the adjacent engine-room bulkhead. The sea rushed in, flooding the boiler room and washing cargo out of the great gash in her side. Cornwallis began settling onto the sand, as Auffermann swept out of Bridgetown harbour, probably immensely satisfied with the work his torpedoes had done. Behind him the whole island was in a state of considerable confusion.
The frantic signals to Trinidad generated an immediate response. Two B18s were scrambled from Edinburgh Field on one of which there were a number of intelligence officers. It would take the bombers at least an hour to get to Barbados and the island needed quicker reinforcement, even if it was to check the onset of panic. St Lucia was instructed to dispatch a couple of OS2N Kingfishers. They could reach the island long before the Trinidad based aircraft. RAF bombers on patrol east of Trinidad were diverted and two RN MTBs left the docks at Benbow, crashing westwards to get to the Bocas, before turning north east for the seven hour trip to Barbados. The American army history of the Caribbean describes the situation with just one word, — SNAFU [US WWII slang for “Situation Normal, All F***ed Up”]
Barbados had always been a holiday resort and no one had imagined that a serious threat existed, but now it looked as though the opening up of the net could be the prelude to a raid on the island. Haunting some of the planners was a German initiative that appears never to have been considered by the Germans themselves.
The German U-Boat campaign was probably one of Germany’s most effective methods of waging war, but the U-Boats always operated unsupported. Doenitz’s concept of war against the lines of communication was little understood, even with his own navy. There was little coordination or support for the U-Boats from the German surface navy and in fact, they thought only in terms of U-Boats supporting the big ships.
There was virtually no support forthcoming for the U-Boats from either the Luftwaffe or the Wehrmacht, but Auffermann’s raid on Barbados highlighted what might have been possible. Barbados had always been staunchly British an there is no question of the Germans ever winning the support or cooperation of the island’s population, but this was not important. What was of paramount importance was the strategic position that the island occupied. It lay one hundred miles east of the Caribbean and could have been the bow that show arrows of destruction at the Caribbean and influenced the whole course of the war.
The German capital ships spent most of World War Two tying down Allied forces, without achieving material destruction. Other than the sinking of the Hood and the losses incurred by convoy PQ 17, they were indeed a waste. In this respect Hitler’s judgement of their usefulness may have been correct, but if he together with the hierarchy of the Reitch had understood what Doenitz was doing, some of these capital ships could have been very usefully employed, supporting the U-Boats in their pivotal role.
Had the Channel dash in February 1942 by the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau been delayed, the two ships could have made their dash in mid 1942, ostensibly to the traditional South Atlantic hunting ground, but in reality with the Caribbean island of Barbados as their destination.
Each ship could have carried a German infantry regiment and been accompanied by their attendant destroyers. A combination of a diversionary sortie by the Tirpitz and other deception methods, along with the massed strength of the U-Boats, would have ensured that they reached the undefended strategically placed island. Blockade runners and the U-tankers could have followed up the two ships or preceded them.
Barbados could have become the Caribbean U-Boat base. The big ships would not have survived. Preferably they could have stayed in Barbados and become anti-aircraft and coastal defensive batteries, as many of them ended up anyway, or they could have landed their troops ad supplies and proceeded into the Caribbean on an orgy of destruction, in support of the U-Boats. They would have died gloriously, but the consequences for the Allies would have been catastrophic.
With Barbados as a temporary refuelling and re-arming base, the U-Boats would have denied the use of the Caribbean and its associated zone to all Allied shipping. The existence of a German base even a temporary one, would have brought to reality all the American concerns about South America and the threat to the soft underbelly United States. Who knows on what course the Vichy French in Martinique and French Guiana would have embarked? What would the German-dominated South American Republics have done? Where would have the Caribbean adventure ended?
The War Comes to Barbados
Our thanks to Ron Armstrong who sent us a photocopy of an article written by his father that included a section on U-Boat 514 and The Cornwallis.
Ron’s father Captain W.H.R. Armstrong, did extensive research into U-Boat activities in the Caribbean during World War II. He wrote “The Sea Devils of the Caribbean” An account of German U-Boat activity in the West Indies during World War II which was published in the Journal of the Barbados Museum and Historical Society in 1960.
The photos of the Cornwallis and the anti-submarine net are all from Captain W.H.R. Armstrong too.
Below is a transcript of pages 42 to 44 which deals with the sinking of the Cornwallis.
As was the case with St. Lucia and Trinidad, Barbados did not escape a visit from the enemy. In this connection, the following appeared in the “Barbados Advocate” on September 12th., 1942, under the caption “War comes to Barbados”
“An enemy. U-Boat launched an attack on shipping in Carlisle Bay yesterday afternoon. It was shortly after 4.30, p.m. when a terrific explosion startled the people of Bridgetown and St. Michael. Crowds rushed to the waterfront to see what had happened. A few minutes after, yet another explosion disturbed the peace and quiet of the City, and a great column of water was seen rising up out of the Bay
By this time thousands had collected in the vicinity of the Careenage, and the Volunteer Brigade for the first time came into action. With the help of the police the Brigade stretched ropes and managed to clear the wharf of the crowds. In other parts of the City where the Brigade helped to control and direct traffic, and in the outlying districts the various sections fell in at their assembly points. The enemy launched three other torpedo attacks before breaking off the engagement at about 5.45. The U-Boat did not have it all its own way for batteries opened fire and continued until the sub eventually turned away.”
In the same issue of the newspaper a short insert gave the Official announcement of the action:
“The following communique was issued last night by the Government Information Officer-A Hostile Attack on shipping in Carlisle Bay was made this evening. There were no casualties.”
Although this attack took place eighteen years ago it is still discussed in this island. Some have maintained that the attack was made at a time when it must have been known to the enemy that the Island was without protection. One of the anti-submarine patrols of the Royal Naval Motor Launches at the time was away from the Island and the other patrol craft was on dock at the Central Foundry Dockyard
After the attacks at Trinidad and St. Lucia earlier in the year, the Admiralty wasted no time in providing anti-torpedo _nets for the harbours of most of the West Indian Islands. Barbados was no exception, and in fact, had one of the longest Boom Defence Systems in the Caribbean, which stretched across the “Harbour from Pelican Island in the north to Needham’s point in the south, with a specially arranged entrance. At the time of the attack on 11th September 1942, this Boom had only recently been completed.
An anti-submarine net consists of a series of wire loops interconnected and vertically supported by circular buoys which float on the surface of the sea; the net is then stretched across the entrance to the Harbour with the buoys anchored at intervals to support it. The net is so constructed as to be deep enough normally to prevent a submarine from penetrating under it and to be sufficiently strong to stop a torpedo from passing through it. The entrance to- a boom defence net is arranged- to allow ships to enter when a section of the net is moved aside by means of a special boat, or by winches from the shore-end of the net.
When available, anti-submarine patrols were maintained on the seaward side of the defence boom, and, in the case of Barbados, at the time of the attack, this was done by Motor Launches (M.L.’s) of the fast Royal Navy type, fitted with depth charges, etc. Unfortunately, on 11th September 1942, one of these boats had left for Trinidad in the morning and the other had recently been docked for overhaul. Did the German Navy know this? We shall never know. It is possible that as a result of very careful observation of the activity in the Port of Bridgetown prior to the attack, Kapitanleutnant Hans Auffermann in U-514, a type IX C V-Boat, may have seen through his powerful periscope, one of the M.L’s leave for Trinidad in the morning and the other on the slipway at the Central Foundry Dockyard, as a result of which he decided to attack the shipping at anchor behind the net. The U-Boat then carefully approached Carlisle Bay from the west, with the sun behind it. The SS Cornwallis, a: freighter of 5,458 tons, was at anchor south of the Harbour Police pier and well within the net. The unloading of cargo from this ship was in progress, the wharf was still busy and offices. ~ Bridgetown were closing for the day, when, at 4.45 p.m. Aufferman fired his first torpedo into the net in an effort to ‘make an opening through which his subsequent torpedoes would penetrate and destroy the Cornwallis.
With the sound of the first explosion. which shook the town and echoed far and wide over the island, thousands left their work and homes and raced to the wharf and to the sea front, from Bay Street to Needham’s Point, to obtain a view of the attacker. Little did they realise the danger to which they were needlessly exposing themselves. It could quite easily have happened that the torpedoes could have travelled to the shore and the result would have been death and injury to hundreds of persons in the area.
It was not until the Barbados Police and the Home Guard went into action that the wharf and Pier Head areas were closed and cleared of onlookers. Even then the Esplanade and the Royal Barbados Yacht and Aquatic Club beaches were still thickly covered with people of all ages, who had come to see the enemy attack Barbados. No doubt, the young Commander Auffermann through his periscope observed the crowds on the Aquatic Club pier and at the Yacht Club, and remembered these places, which he undoubtedly had visited in the Schleswig Holstein in 1939, as a Cadet of the new German Navy and as a potential Officer of the U-Boat: service of Admiral Dönitz.
With the firing of the first torpedo little damage was done to the net, and a few minutes later there followed a second explosion. There was then a considerable lapse of time followed by two more explosions within the net area.
By this time, the local Defence Units had joined in the action by replying to the attack, and as a result, machine gun, rifle and even revolver ammunition was fired at any object seen in the sea, with no result, except personal danger to all concerned.
At 5.05 p.m. Kapitanleutnant Hans Auffermann steered U-514 as close as possible to the break in the anti-submarine net caused by the previous explosions and fired a torpedo which ran through the break and within a few seconds struck the Cornwallis in her engine room. Within minutes several compartments in the ship were flooded, some of her crew were injured and many jumped into the sea and made for shore as quickly as they could swim. The ship was subsequently towed to North America where she was repaired and afterwards continued her War Service until she was finally torpedoed off the coast of Canada in 1943 .
After the attack U-514 left the scene unmolested and continued her patrol, subsequently attacking and sinking many ships until finally on the 8th of July 1943 when on patrol in the Bay of Biscay, the U-Boat was attacked by a Liberator R of No. 224 squadron of the Royal Air Force and sunk with the loss of Auffermann and her entire crew. Thus ended the career of another young German Naval Officer who had attacked the Cornwallis in Carlisle Bay and brought the War to Barbados on 11th September 1942.
A U-Boat Attacks Carlise Bay
A transcript of page 22 to 28 from Barbados At War 1939 – 1945 – A Historical Account by Warren Alleyne that deals with the attack on the Cornwallis.
Soon after the U-Boat campaign (“Operation Neuland”) got under-way in the Caribbean in mid-February 1942, a Royal Naval auxiliary force, called the Trinidad Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, or TRNVR, was formed and based at that island, which was the most important element in the defence of the eastern sector of the. Caribbean.
In July  the TRNVR began a recruiting drive in Barbados which met with an enthusiastic response, and a substantial number of young Barbadian men were enlisted.
The TRNVR operated a patrol base at Trinidad with a number of anti-submarine vessels and minesweepers; but they were only a coastal force. About early August  three fast motor torpedo boats, miscalled “submarine chasers” by the general public, arrived at Barbados from their base in Trinidad. As one or other of these craft was frequently seen far out in Carlisle Bay, seemingly on patrol, most people were under the impression – erroneously as it turned out – that they had been sent to protect the port from U-Boat intrusion.
A harbour patrol was indeed maintained; but this was nightly by a local speed-boat called the “Hazel Y”, owned by Mr. Tom Herbert of Fontabelle, Bridgetown, which had been armed by the Government with a couple of depth charges and a machine gun, and manned by a volunteer crew.
So far, for whatever reason, no other measures had been taken for the defence of Carlisle Bay, which lay wide open to a possible attack. But finally a boom defence vessel of the Royal Navy came and began laying down an anti-torpedo net across the bay to create a safe anchorage for shipping. When completed the first week of September, this net, which extended northward from a position off Needham’s Point, was approximately one and a half miles long.
The second week of that month [September 1942] saw two merchant ships anchored in the bay within the protected area. One of them, the Norwegian ship “Betancuria”, was berthed in a position not far from Bridgetown, approximately opposite what at the time was the Eye Department of the General Hospital in Bay Street. The other ship was the Canadian freighter, “Cornwallis”, berthed some distance to the south, off the Barbados Yacht Club, approximately. “Cornwallis” had arrived in Carlisle Bay around September 7, and having completed her business in Barbados, was awaiting an escort to enable her to proceed to Trinidad, her next port of call.
Suddenly, on the afternoon of Friday 11th September shortly after 4:30 p.m. (German naval records say 10:37 p.m. German time, corresponding to 4:37 p.m. Barbados time) the population of Bridge town and an area well beyond were startled by a tremendous explosion in Carlisle Bay. A second explosion that soon followed caused a large curious crowd to gather at the Wharf side in Bridgetown, and the assistance of the Volunteer (Fire) Brigade, formed not long previously, had to be enlisted to clear this potentially dangerous area.
The explosions had similarly aroused the inquisitiveness of this writer, then nearly 18 years old, and he-hastened to the seaside at Bay Street, less than a quarter of a mile distant from where he was at the time, to find out what was happening. The following are his recollections: Within five minutes of his arrival, there were two more explosions in the anti-torpedo net in a position that indicated that the Norwegian ship was the intended target of the torpedoes, but that the net was proving effective in stopping them.
The ruthless war being waged at sea in all theatres generally, and in the Atlantic particularly, had made it necessary for every British and Allied merchant ship to be armed for self-defence. On average this armament consisted of one four-inch gun mounted in the stem and two twenty-millimetre cannon.
That afternoon, although their visibility must have been impaired to some extent by the dazzling reflections cast upon the water by the afternoon sun, the “Betancuria’s” gun crews quickly opened and maintained a withering fire on the area in the bay from which the attack seemed to be coming. But having expended four torpedoes at this ship without any positive effect, the U-Boat, which had remained under water, broke off the attack, and the only sounds of action now came from the “Betancuria”.
After about ten minutes, a tremendous blast in the net farther south, indicated that the U-Boat had returned to the attack, this time with the Canadian ship, “Cornwallis”, as target. The considerable amount of debris, including many of the buoys supporting the net, that was blown sky high by the explosion, must clearly have made it apparent to the attacker, and indeed all observers, that the net had collapsed, or was otherwise damaged sufficiently to enable another torpedo to reach its target, and at 5:05 p.m. “Cornwallis” was struck with deadly accuracy abreast of No. 2 hold.
From beginning to end, the entire U-Boat attack on Carlisle Bay had lasted half an hour.
In a relatively brief account of the incident published the following day, the “Barbados Advocate” concluded: “The If-Boat did not have it all its own way, for shore batteries opened fire and continued until the submarine eventually turned away.” But in fact there were no shore batteries at all at that time, and the only response to the attacker came from the armament of the Norwegian ship. The guns of the “Cornwallis” stayed silent and only responded after she had actually been struck. According to a claim published some years afterwards, when the attack started that afternoon the ship’s stem gun was quickly manned, “but because of the sparkling water the range was difficult to find and the submarine impossible to sight”.
The people of Barbados were chagrined to find that during the entire incident none of the three “submarine chasers”, so-called, believed to have been sent for harbour protection, was to be seen, and the discovery that they were all in dock at the time evoked considerable criticism from the general public who, for reasons of security, had not been informed that these craft had, in fact, been sent to the island solely for “docking” and no other purpose. That evening after the submarine had departed, the little patrol boat “Hazel Y” was observed speeding out into Carlisle Bay in search. Although she made no contact she reportedly dropped one of the two depth charges she carried, but it did not explode and might still be lying somewhere at the bottom of the bay.
Wartime communication between the Barbados Government and the Colonial Office, now declassified and available for research in the archives of the Public Record Office in London, includes the following report on the If-Boat incident telegraphed to the Secretary of the State that same evening of 11th September 1942:
“Secret. Resolute torpedo attack by enemy submarine resulted in damage to Br. Ship Cornwallis in Carlisle Bay. Vessel believed to be sinking. No casualties. No panic on shore.”
A supplementary report dated four days later added:
“Vessel named towed into shallow water and can be beached if necessary. Full extent of damage not ascertained.”
Colonial Office files reveal that the Barbados Government then sought permission of the Secretary of State to have the four-inch gun removed from the “Cornwallis” and mounted on shore for harbour defence. This was strongly recommended by the Officer commanding the Land Forces in the South Caribbean, based at Trinidad, but the British Admiralty confirmed that the ship could be salvaged, and therefore her gun was “not available”.
A survey of the damage sustained by the “Cornwallis”, made by a reputable local engineer, established that the torpedo – he reported torpedoes – had blasted a hole some 44 feet long and 14 feet deep, and that the ship had suffered considerable internal damage. In due course temporary repairs were made to make her sufficiently seaworthy, and she was escorted to Mobile, Alabama, U.S.A., where she was finally made fit to resume her routine at sea.
But finally, on 3rd December 1944, while she was en route from Barbados to St. John, New Brunswick, with a load of sugar and molasses, “Cornwallis” was torpedoed for the second time and sunk near Portland, Maine. Her assailant was “U-1230” commanded by Korvettankapitan (Commander) Hans Hilbig. Of the ship’s company of 48, some 36 crewmen and seven gunners were lost; leaving only five survivors.
The U-Boat that had torpedoed and damaged her in Carlisle Bay on 11th September 1942, later identified as “U-514 “, commanded by Kapitanleutnant (Lieut. Commander) Hans Jurgen Auffermann, had itself been attacked and sunk in the Bay of Biscay on 8th July 1943 by a Liberator aircraft of 224 Squadron, Royal Air Force. All hands were lost.
The month of October 1942 produced two important developments in Barbados. At the beginning of the month the Barbados Volunteer Force was taken over by Britain’s War Office and made part of the newly formed South Caribbean Regiment of the British Army.
The other development took the form of the Defence (Use of Newsprint) Order dated 15th October, limiting the size of the daily newspaper to eight pages. The “Barbados Advocate”, then the island’s only daily paper, was allowed an extra two pages for its Saturday edition. As the “Barbados Herald” was a weekly, published only on Saturday, it was allowed 16 pages.
The year 1943 opened with another new development that affected the ordinary Barbadian rather more personally. The public had been notified that a rationing scheme involving rice and kerosene oil (for lighting purposes) would be brought into operation on T” January. Three days before this date, notices were published instructing how and where ration coupons would be distributed.
In mid-January a “SPECIAL NOTICE” issued by the island’s Chief Censor, now Frederick Pheysey from the United Kingdom, reminded Barbadians of a Regulation which decreed that no person should post any correspondence abroad unless the sender’s name and address were stated on the back of the envelope.
Persons who intended going abroad and were in possession of any photograph, document or similar material requiring scrutiny by the censors, were required to present it for examination at the Imperial Censorship Office in the Public Buildings not later than 24 hours prior to departure.
The Chief Censor additionally directed that letters addressed to Prisoners- of-War and other persons interned in enemy territory should be enclosed in unlined envelopes and left open when presented for examination. This was to prevent such correspondence bearing evidence of having passed through any censorship.
On 27th January an “Emergency Exercise” was held island wide to test the Civil Defence Services. All units, including the Volunteer Brigade, reportedly performed efficiently and the exercise was a success.
The shortage of certain commodities caused by the U-Boat campaign gave rise to a degree of industrial enterprise in Barbados. For example, around this time a group of Bridgetown businessmen started a small factory in Bay Street for the manufacture of macaroni. This business was later transferred to Roebuck Street. Then, later in the year, to assist in relieving the acute fuel shortage in those days when wood and charcoal were still normally used for cooking, a pilot plant for producing synthetic charcoal was started at Searles Factory in Christ Church.
On 4th May the House of Assembly voted 16,000 Pounds Sterling to finish and operate the Government Processing Factory at Lancaster in St. James. This had been erected for the purpose of converting cassava and sweet potatoes into flour to meet any shortage of wheat flour thought likely to arise from transport difficulties. The factory was officially opened on 3rd June.
On Tuesday 23rd February, 1943 the House of Assembly passed an Address in honour of the 25th Anniversary of the Soviet Red Army. The Governor was requested to cable this to the Secretary of State for the Colonies for transmission to the Government and people of the Soviet Union. The following Thursday the anniversary was further marked by an impressive military parade in Trafalgar Square, where the Soviet Red Flag flew from the Nelson monument. The Governor took the salute after inspecting the parade.
As previously mentioned, even as late as 1942 when the war was in its third year, Barbados was still without any coastal defences. But the U-Boat attack on shipping in Carlisle Bay that September must have proved a rude awakening, for steps were soon taken to install a battery of two six-inch guns at Needham’s Point. On Thursday, 29thApril, 1943 at 10:15 in the morning the Governor, Sir Grattan Bushe, inaugurated the battery by firing the first round.
The Lady Boats: the life and times of Canada’s West Indies merchant fleet
Below is the section from page 93 and from page 169 of “The Lady Boats: the life and times of Canada’s West Indies merchant fleet” by Felicity Hanington assisted by Capt Percy A. Kelly. It was kindly sent to us by J Edward Hutson.
The latter part of 1942 saw Germany begin in earnest the “Battle of the Caribbean”, The Allies formed convoys assembling either at New York or Trinidad. Because of the risk involved, calls at the smaller islands by overseas ships were at last discontinued I and their freight was landed either at Trinidad or Barbados for furtherance by local schooners. Further protective measures were taken, particularly in the busy port of Bridgetown, Barbados where a boom defence net was constructed behind which ships would be .protected from submarines.
On September 11, 1942, the Cornwallis was at anchor at Barbados within the enclosed area, under the command of Captain Duncan MacLeod. She had finished her work and was waiting for an escort so that she could proceed to Trinidad. It had been a typical lazy tropical afternoon/ with a sinking sun that reflected a bright dazzling glare from the sea. The serenity of the day was suddenly terminated when an unexpected explosion rocked the harbour I as an artful submarine commander I taking advantage of the sun’s brilliant rays upon the water to cover his position, began shooting at the net in an obvious attempt to sink the ship he saw within its enclosed protection.
Amid such commotion the local craft scattered for safety, and the stern gun on the Cornwallis was quickly manned, but because of that sparkling water the range was difficult to find/ and the submarine impossible to sight. The attack lasted about half an hour, until the net was actually penetrated. A torpedo struck the ship in number 2 hold with deadly accuracy, and the Cornwallis began to slowly sink.
With great presence of mind the Captain hurriedly moved his ship into shallow water until she rested on sandy bottom, while the submarine disappeared into the setting sun. Ultimately, the Cornwallis was patched up and re-floated. This enabled her to proceed to Mobile, Alabama, under her own steam, where she was soon made sea- worthy again.
Page 169 – Appendix 9
Canadian National (West Indies) Steamships World War Two Casualties
LADY SOMERS – Sunk by enemy action in Bay of Biscay when acting as an Armed Cruiser with British Naval personnel aboard in the late Spring of 1941.
LADY HAWKINS – Sunk by enemy action when en route to Bermuda, off Cape Hatteras, 19th January 1942. With a loss of 250 lives.
LADY DRAKE – Sunk by enemy action ninety miles south of Bermuda en route to Boston with a loss of 12 lives, 8th May 1942.
LADY NELSON – Sunk at the dock in St. Lucia Harbour by enemy action 22nd March 1942 with a loss of 17 lives. Salvaged and converted into Canada’s first hospital ship.
COLBORNE – Badly damaged at Penang by Japanese aircraft on 11th December 1941. Returned safely to Canada.
CORNWALLIS – Sunk by enemy action at Bridgetown, Barbados, salvaged and was torpedoed a second time in the Bay of Fundy, 3rd December 1944, with a loss of 42 lives.
Flight Paths & Missing Connections @ Barbados
Below is an extract from pages 64 to 67 of Pat Callender’s book “Flight Paths & Missing Connections @ Barbados. A Memoir” that recalls Doreen Weatherhead’s encounter with U-514 in 1942. Pat’s elder sister and Doreen were are Queen’s College. This book was published in April 2018 by Caribbean Chapters Publishing.
The talk of Hitler coming to kidnap and brutalise little Barbadian children was not entirely a fantasy. When I was two years old something occurred in Barbados on September 11th 1942. I was apprised of this many years later. A young Barbadian girl, Doreen Weatherhead, 10 years of age at the time, had gone to the beach between 2:00 and 3:00pm and was playing in the surf at Maxwell just West of Oistins across the road from an imposing mansion named “Hythe”. She was there with a young Trinidadian friend, Anne Massey.
Suddenly she was aware of a large swell heading in their direction. At the time she appeared to be facing the shore. She turned innocently towards the sea and was confronted with the reality of German Unterseeboot 514 which had blown its tanks to surface a few hundred yards out in deeper waters. It was under the command of 28-year-old Kapitänlieutenant Han-Jürgen Auffermann. U-514, clearly visible and bathed in the bright afternoon sunlight, contrasted sharply with the placid waters from which it had emerged. An officer was in the conning tower and two crew members were observed running along the deck. It was a nightmare that Doreen could never forget.
The submarine was so close and threatening that she instructed her friend: “Don’t run; let us take our time and walk out of the sea. Don’t look back. Walk to the road, and when we get back to the houses, run and don’t stop. …Don’t turn around because there is a German submarine with an officer on the conning tower”.
On September 12, 2017, Miss Weatherhead told me that she had known about submarines from reading books belonging to her brother Harold. Harold was two years older [actually younger] than Doreen. She had actually seen the number “U-514” on the vessel. This member of the German Unterseewaffe had been on a lone patrol at sea for a month before the encounter in Carlisle Bay. It remained at sea for a total of 87days, finally docking at its home base in occupied France. Kapitänlieutenant Auffermann, his submarine and crew, were spotted by a Royal Air Force B-24 on their fourth patrol the following year in the Bay of Biscay, and was destroyed.
She called her father, who was an adjutant in the local military. He was at home recuperating from measles. He immediately called Government House to inform them but was met by scepticism because of his daughter’s age and the fact that this was taking place during the day. He then called St. Anne’s Fort to inform them of what his daughter had reported to him, but they said they had seen nothing from the fort itself and they had received no information from the shore battery.
About two hours later German U-boat 514 surfaced in Carlisle Bay and launched an attack on the Canadian National Steamship vessel the Cornwallis and a Brazilian freighter [actually Norwegian Motor Merchant] Betancuria. The attack commenced at 4:37pm and lasted for about an hour.
Significantly, in conducting research on this incident, there were other reports of sighting of U-boats along the west coast where it is alleged that some of the crew were able to dock their vessels out to sea and slip ashore to enjoy themselves at a popular west coast hotel known for its night time entertainment. They presented no threat to the poorly defended island, and conceivably were happy to be free of the cramped conditions on their vessel for a few hours.
It also emerged that Auffermann had visited Barbados as a younger man prior to the World War II conflict. The boldness of the U-514 suggest that some information was available to the Germans for the ship’s commander knew that there was a submarine net stretched across Carlisle Bay and that ships entering would be subject to certain procedures to be allowed into the bay. Under normal circumstances it would have been virtually impossible for a German submarine without knowledge of all these arrangements to successfully penetrate the protective barrier.
I am also aware of an incident involving a Barbadian four-masted schooner. This vessel the James E Newsam, was owned by a successful businessman and plantation owner Herbert Owen Emtage. In fact, Mr. Emptage owned two vessels, the second one being another four-masted vessel called the Elkin. Mr. Emtage owned as many as eight plantations on the island – Wildey, Upton, Kent and Staplegrove among others – and he used his two vessels to ship cargoes of molasses and sugar to Nova Scotia. On the return trip cargoes of flour, codfish, lumber and other products were brought to Barbados.
Early in the course of World War II while the James E Newsam was sailing towards Nova Scotia, A German submarine surfaced and the captain pulled his vessel alongside. It is reported that the captain hailed the crew and said, in halting English, that it hurt his heart to have to destroy such a beautiful vessel. Four-masted schooners were somewhat unusual, whereas twin and triple masted vessels were the norm. He ordered all the crew off the James E Newsam and thereafter the ship was sunk by the crew of the submarine.
For those who are interested. Miss Doreen Weatherhead never married, but left Barbados in 1950 for the UK where she still lives. She served as a councillor with the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, which includes Buckingham Palace, from 1964 to 2004. She has since been designated as an Honorary Alderman and served as Worshipful Mayor of that borough during 1984 and 1985.
Awards for bravery associated with the torpedoing of the Cornwallis by U-514 off Barbados on 11 September 1942 were bestowed on:
- FREEMAN, Claude, Able Seaman – British Empire Medal (BEM) – CN Steamship ‘Cornwallis’ – Awarded as per Canada Gazette of 8 January 1944 and London Gazette of 3 June 1943.
- GATES, Harold, Boatswain – British Empire Medal (BEM) – CN Steamship ‘Cornwallis’ – Awarded as per Canada Gazette of 10 June 1944 and London Gazette of 8 June 1944. Home: Halifax, Nova Scotia.
- GRIFFITH, Edwin, Chief Engineer – Officer – Order of the British Empire (OBE) – CN Steamship ‘Cornwallis’ – Awarded as per Canada Gazette of 8 January 1944 and London Gazette of 1 January 1944. Home: Montreal, Quebec.
Mr. Edwin Griffith was sent to Barbados after the torpedoing to complete temporary repairs, and was Chief Engineer aboard when ship was towed from Barbados to Mobile, Alabama for permanent repairs. All machinery being out of order, the ship was a “dead” tow.
- JENKINS, Henry Hubert, Chief Engineer – Officer – Order of the British Empire (OBE) – Canadian National Steamship Cornwallis – Awarded as per Canada Gazette of 8 January 1944 and London Gazette of 1 January 1944.
- MURRAY, John James, Carpenter – British Empire Medal (BEM) – Canadian National Steamship ‘Cornwallis’ – Awarded as per Canada Gazette of 10 June 1944 and London Gazette of 8 June 1944. Home: Glasgow, Nova Scotia.
Below is the citation from Chief Engineer Jenkin’s OBE award for exceptional devotion to duty as Chief Engineer when his vessel was torpedoed and he performed valuable salvage duties until relieved. The details in the citation explain what actually happened aboard the Cornwallis in the the aftermath of the torpedoing:
Nature of Attack: Torpedo attack by disguised enemy submarine on Harbour Defence Obstruction. The earlier torpedoes damaged the net, leaving the Cornwallis open to attack. Six torpedoes were fire in fifty minutes, the sixth one striking the Cornwallis amidships on the starboard side. There was a huge column of water, oil and smoke thrown out of No.3 hatch and funnel, and the ship instantly listed to starboard and settled in the water, but righted as soon as rush of water into the ship levelled to the sea.
Details: Immediately after the first torpedo explosion on harbour defence obstruction, was ordered by the Master to get steam on main engines for steaming towards the beach, and when ship was hit, was in the E/R top. He had one boiler Donkey and two with handy steam. There was an explosion and a roar of steam simultaneously, carrying with it steam and oil, up through the skylights.
His first thoughts were of fire, and he went down into the ‘tween alleyway and along to Fidley. Here he shut off fuel unit and opened smothering steam, ten went back along into E/R and shut watertight door. By this time water level was at cylinder tops.
As no more could be done below, went on deck and reported to the Master. From then on, assisted the Master in any way possible. Was one of six of the ship’s own company (exclusive of gunners) who of their own free will volunteered to remain on board after the torpedoing to look after the ship, in spite of danger of another torpedo, the remainder being ordered to the boats with the exception of two others whose services were required aboard.
Mr. Jenkins was included amongst those who worked through the best part of the first night caring for matters of urgency arising out of the disaster, as the ship was making water, and it was not known at first whether she would continue to remain afloat.
During the whole of the subsequent operations, the Chief Engineer and his juniors assisted in everything, rigging tackles, handling lines and cables.
After receiving the pump from shore, he looked after the pumping night and day, and with the Chief Engineer, had it transferred from one hold to the other as was found necessary.
The water had to be kept down in Nos.1, 3 and 4 Holds. Cargo was removed from bulkhead in No.3 Hold to get at open rivet holes through which water was getting into the Hold from the Engine Room.
After plugging seven holes, there was not further increase of water in No.3 Hold. On account of the danger of No.1 Hold filling up through bilge suction pipe from Engine Room, close watch was kept on it until cargo was discharged.
Other Useful Reference Material
- Anti Submarine & Torpedo Net – Carlisle Bay, Barbados 1942
- Naval Warfare 1919–45: An Operational History of the Volatile War at Sea
- Battle of the Caribbean
- The battle of the Caribbean
- The U-Boat war in the Caribbean
- Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico Campaigns 16 Feb 1942 – 1 Jan 1944 includes a useful time-line.
- U boats lost in the Caribbean Sea
- The seizure of the enigma machine from U-110 in the North Atlantic by the British which turned the tide of the war in the Atlantic
- Pig Tails ‘n Breadfruit A Culinary Memoir- By Austin Clarke. Chapter One – Baked gives some insight on the cargo of the Cornwallis.
Postscript: On 3rd December 1944 at 10.00 hours the unescorted Cornwallis was torpedoed and sunk by German U-Boat U-1230 about 10 miles South West of Mount Desert Rock in the Gulf of Maine. She was en-route from Barbados to St. John, New Brunswick in Canada carrying a cargo of sugar in bags and molasses in barrels. The master, 35 crew members and seven gunners were lost. Five survivors were picked up by the fishing vessel Notre Dame and landed at Rockland, Maine.
German U-Boat U-514 which first torpedoed the Cornwallis in Barbados was attacked and sunk on 8th July 1943 in the Bay of Biscay by a British B-24 Liberator sub hunter from 224 Squadron. There is an interesting family connection between John Davies’ father Derek Davies and U-514 and 224 squadron. Derek’s younger brother Dick along with Reggie Gooding witnessed the torpedoing of the Cornwallis and had dived up “salvage” from the Cornwallis and found three of the torpedo tailfins and two of the torpedo electric motors. Derek Davies was a member of 224 Squadron flying B-24 Liberators.