On the evening of 11 January 1942, Lt. Cmdr. Reinhard Hardegen was in the conning tower of his boat (U-123) when one of his men spied a target through the gathering dusk. Some 400 miles east of New York City, it was the 9,076-ton British freighter Cyclops, and the Germans wasted no time beginning their hunt. It took almost four hours, but at 8:18 p.m. they first shot a torpedo into the freighter’s starboard hull, then put a second port side.
Five minutes later Cyclops foundered. The Second World War’s first submarine offensive of the USA’s eastern seaboard was begun, and for the unsuspecting Americans it was a painful introduction to modern naval warfare.
Hitler had declared war on the US on 11 December 1941. Two days prior to that his naval commander, Adm. Erich Raeder, had anticipated the move and had lifted all restrictions against attacking American vessels by his surface and submarine units. Sporadic incidents of violence at sea had been occurring between the two powers for several months, but now hostilities evolved into open war.
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Watch on the Oder: German Strategic Alternatives, January 1945: In the late summer of 1944, Hitler had to decide whether to remain committed to a counteroffensive in the west or, upon reflection, switch it to the east. There’s no simple explanation for his choice of the western front. The situation was complex, and so were Hitler’s thought processes.
War Drums Along the US East Coast: Operation Drumbeat was a far greater naval defeat than the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor that shortly preceded it. Here’s our analysis of how that came about.
Crisis Arras: The Allied Counterattack: Referred to by the German high command as “Crisis Arras,” the Allied counterattack near that town on 21 May 1940 was a contributing factor to Hitler’s famous “Halt Order” three days later. That directive stopped the panzers short of Dunkirk, enabling the escape of the BEF, and it also set the stage for the two front war so dreaded by the Germans.
The Bombing of Japan: The loss of airfields as the Japanese swept across the Western Pacific in early 1942 effectively neutralized the US heavy bomber force in that region. At the same time, though, the Roosevelt administration wanted a victory to boost home front morale. To that end, planners in Washington initiated several projects. This is the story of how those projects turned out.