U.S. Navy faces test with Axis after new sinking off Iceland (9-13-41)

The Pittsburgh Press (September 13, 1941)

British plane sees attack on freighter

Hitler evidently intends to make fight of it in 'defensive areas’

By Lyle C. Wilson, United Press staff writer

Washington, Sept. 13 –
The United States Navy today faced the first all-out test of its Atlantic patrol in the shoot-on-sight hunt for the submarine which sank the American-owned cargo ship Montana in the North Atlantic.

The vessel, which flew the flag of Panama, was torpedoed midway between Iceland and Greenland on Thursday – approximately 12 hours before President Roosevelt announced that U.S. naval and air forces will protect merchant ships of all flags in that area.

The 26 officers and crewmen, nine of whom was American, last were reported adrift in open lifeboats.

Second loss in area

The Montana was the second freighter flying the Panamanian flag to be sunk in Icelandic waters. A sister ship, the Sessa, was torpedoed off Ireland on Aug. 17 and three of its crew of 27 were rescued on Sept. 6 by an American destroyer. Another sinking in that area might indicate need for reinforcing the Atlantic patrol force.

The State Department’s announcement of the attack on the Montana follows:

The Department of State has been informed that the American-owned cargo ship Montana under Panamanian registry, formerly the Danish ship Paula, which was requisitioned by the Maritime Commission on Aug. 2, 1941, sailed from Wilmington, NC, for Iceland at 9 a.m. Aug. 29, with a cargo of lumber for the Icelandic government.

According to a message from the Navy Department received at 12 noon, Sept. 12, the ship was observed by aircraft to be torpedoed in 63°40′N 35°50′W at 13:45 Greenwich Central Time (9:45 a.m. EDT) on Sept. 11.

Crew took to boats

The message said that the crew took to their boats.

The Montana has on board about 1,500,000 feet of lumber and was due in Reykjavík, Iceland, on Sept. 11 and was to discharge her cargo at Reykjavík and those other Icelandic ports.

President Roosevelt was given a report of the attack during his meeting with the Cabinet yesterday afternoon. Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox said that a British patrol plane witnessed the torpedoing.

Asked if American warships were rushed to the scene to hunt the marauder, Secretary Knox said apparently no U.S. warships were in the immediate vicinity. He didn’t know whether the British plane attacked the U-boat.

Army units are cooperating from island land bases w3ith the Navy, but the burden of safeguarding that area rests largely on the Atlantic Fleet which in the last six months has been tremendously reinforced from the Pacific.

Confronted with the choice of withdrawing their raiders from what Mr. Roosevelt described as American “defense waters” or of being fired on by American patrol vessels, Axis authorities evidently intend at least to go through the motions of keeping up the fight in the proscribed area.

New route to aid Russia

Whether Mr. Roosevelt’s shooting orders actually persuade Germany to abandon half of the Atlantic area she has proclaimed to be a war zone may not be definitely known until after the war is over. But over a period of weeks, there should be a reasonably good indication of Axis tactics. If considerable time elapses without raiders being sighted or without further loss of shipping, it will be assumed here that the Axis has concentrated its operations nearer to Great Britain.

Coincident with the drive against the Axis in the Western Atlantic, W. Averell Harriman, who shortly will leave to represent the United States in a Moscow conference with Great Britain and the Soviet Union, revealed that a new supply channel would be developed to aid the Russians. It will extend from Atlantic or British ports to the Indian Ocean and into the Persian Gulf to make overland connections across Iran.

Taking Iceland as the eastern-most extremity of American “defense waters,” the area from which Mr. Roosevelt has warned Axis raiders to retire, comprises the western half of the German-proclaimed combat zone. The President says the United States has not been advised of this proclaimed area and that he does not recognize it.

The German-proclaimed zone is an irregular, seven-sided area extending west from the southern extremity of occupied France into the Atlantic and thence northwest to a point near the southern tip of Greenland. It parallels the Greenland coast, passes north of Iceland and extends southeast and south to encompass the British Isles.

The eastern half of it, in which Mr. Roosevelt does not assert any American rights whatsoever, corresponds roughly to part of the combat zone proclaimed by the United States under the Neutrality Act and from which American merchant vessels are barred. Great Britain lies in that area.

Navy’s first test

But if the Navy can enforce the policy which Mr. Roosevelt has laid down to drive Axis raiders to the east, the problems of British supply will be considerably simplified.

British convoys from Halifax would move for two-thirds or more of the voyage to British ports through waters policed by American armed forces. Success or failure of the Navy in finding the submarine which sank the Montana will be the first indication of the effectiveness of the American patrol operation and of the extent to which Great Britain would be warranted in diverting her own naval vessels from duty in the western or Mid-Atlantic to the more hazardous waters immediately adjacent to Great Britain.

The Montana, which was en route to Iceland, is another of the former Danish ships taken over by this government and subsequently transferred to Panamanian registry where they are not subject to restrictions which forbid American flag vessels to enter British ports. It is estimated that from 120 to 130 American-owned vessels, including the 30 seized Danish ships, are under Panamanian registry.

Although Mr. Roosevelt’s shoot-on-sight orders did not become known until Thursday night when he delivered his worldwide radio broadcast, the Navy was ordered last week to search out and “eliminate” one Axis submarine – the craft which the Navy announced attacked the U.S. destroyer Greer. Mr. Roosevelt revealed the death sentence for that submersible on Sept. 5, but there has been no word of its destruction.

Chairman Tom Connally (D-TX) of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee told questioners the Senate would refuse to authorize an investigation of the Greer incident proposed by Senate isolationists.

Chairman David I. Walsh of the Senate Naval Affairs Committee said, however, that Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox and Admiral Harold R. Stark, Chief of Naval Operations, would be asked to attend hearings next week on the investigation resolutions and to bring with the the log of the Greer. Those hearings are scheduled for midweek.

Senator Guy M. Gillette (D-IA), who denounced the President’s shoot-on-sight speech as a declaration of war, interpreted to be a prelude to attempted repeal of the Neutrality Act and attempts to remove Lend-Lease Act restrictions on the use of American troops outside the hemisphere and naval convoys for foreign merchant ships.

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