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Fighting U-Boats in American Waters

By January 1942, German submarines had moved into American coastal waters and posed a serious threat to U.S. and Allied shipping. During the first three months of 1942, German U-boats sank more than 100 ships off the east coast of North America, in the Gulf of Mexico and in the Caribbean Sea. Some of those ship losses were within sight of land.

The U.S. Navy lacked sufficient resources to conduct an effective antisubmarine campaign, so U.S. Army Air Forces bombing and observation units assisted even though the USAAF was no better prepared. The situation became so desperate that in March of 1942, the Civil Air Patrol was ordered to supplement USAAF and Navy units by making off-shore patrol flights in unarmed civilian light aircraft. Though they quickly proved to be effective spotters, these early unarmed CAP missions were incapable of driving the U-boats from the American coastline. In response, some brave CAP crews later jury-rigged their civilian planes with bomb racks and depth charges. CAP pilots were credited with sinking two German U-boats before the Navy resumed all coastal patrol missions in August 1943.

As the USAAF and Navy gained experience and better equipment, such as long-range, radar-equipped B-24s, Nazi U-boats withdrew from coastal areas to the safer mid-ocean convoy lanes. The USAAF then shifted the bulk of its antisubmarine units to bases in Europe and North Africa. By the fall of 1943, USAAF participation was no longer required, and the USAAF transferred its antisubmarine planes and equipment to the U.S. Navy.

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