Why did the U.S. offer so little protection to oil tankers and other cargo ships in the Gulf of Mexico in 1942

Many oil tankers and ships were sunk by U-boats in the Gulf of Mexico, with many attacks coming close to land. It seems like the Gulf of Mexico, especially near the coast, would be an area more defensible with both aircraft and naval ships.


Three words: Admiral Ernest King.

Gen Dwight Eisenhower, 1942

10th March, 1942: One thing that might help win this war is to get someone to shoot King. He’s the antithesis of cooperation, a deliberately rude person, which means he’s a mental bully. He became Commander in Chief of the fleet some time ago. Today he takes over, also, Stark’s job as chief of naval operations. It’s a good thing to get rid of the double head in the navy, and of course Stark was just a nice old lady, but this fellow is going to cause a blow-up sooner or later, I’ll bet a cookie.

He hated the British and was very offensive-minded. This is just the wrong sort of person for convoy work which is defensive warfare. The Royal Navy and Royal Canadian Navy had been doing this for two and a half years. They knew that anything that got a convoy through was a victory. Keeping u-boats at bay with blimps, aircraft or lightly-armed fishing boats worked quite well; it was cheap and effective. The fact that the u-boat wasted Hitler’s precious oil was a bonus.

But no, Ernie King wanted nothing but proper destroyers to kill subs, and any British or Canadian advice was nonsense.

The Royal Canadian Navy eventually had to take the USN in hand and teach them proper convoy warfare in this period. The RCN eventually took over as the leading fleet in the Northwest Atlantic. Admiral K8ng always had his heart in the Pacific.


To add to bjwights comment

Americans were not used to war and the US military and government were very inept when it came to defending the US coastline. Beach goers and people on shore at night often watched as U-boats attacked ships on the surface with shell fire from their deck guns often less than a kilometer from shore. Often while news papers reported the attacks the US government and military were often silent and if anything was mentioned by either entity it was usually a half hearted response to what happened. Unlike Canada and Great Britain the US did not start imposing blackouts until August of 1942 and even then it was piecemealed until the fall of 1942 when Blackouts were enforced along the East and West coasts. Many German Sub Commanders stated the lack of blackouts helped them target ships at night on the surface as they were backlit by the city lights and even many vessel that were sunk were running lights as well.

As previously Stated Admiral King refused to listen to Canadian and British authorities and felt they were inferior to the US Navy. Eventually over his protests the Royal Canadian and British Navies started to teach the US Navy how to hunt subs, run Convoys and even fight Naval battles. If it wasn’t for the guidance of the Canadian and British Navies the US Navy might of floundered even more than it had already. It is true the US had a mighty fleet but their commanders were inexperienced in war and often made blunders that cost them their ships which is why the Canadian and British Navies were so invaluable to the US fleets.


To add to this further, Eastern Canada and especially the Atlantic Provinces depended then and still depend on imported oil from Venezuela. The major Canadian oil refinery in the Atlantic Provinces is the Irving Refinery in Saint John, New Brunswick. In 1942 there was a large Canadian Oil Convoy from Saint John to Caracas and back. Not a single ship was lost while the Americans were losing ship after ship.

It was poor American tactics, pure and simple. The USN needed someone with enough humility and an open mind to learn from other navies and run a defensive war. They did not have such a leader.

Defensive war was not what the USN trained for, they preferred offensive war in the Pacific with large capital ships and submarines, not defensive war in the Atlantic with corvettes and sloops.


It is very hard to find information about when the Canadian Navy started training the US Navy how to run convoys but the US started taking Coastal Convoy duties seriously by the end of 1942. While many convoys went up and down the coast most were not protected and the ones that were protected were usually by Canadian and British Navy vessels and their losses were zero to minimal compared to the ones that were not guarded or guarded by US vessels due to the US vessels often running with lights on or US naval vessels being lured away by the U-boats.

In one convoy guarded by 3 US Corvettes and a destroyer all 4 ships left the convoy to chase a U-boat allowing 3 merchant vessels to be struck and 2 being sunk and 1 damaged by that same U-boat. It wasn’t until early 1943 that US naval escorts started becoming more efficient in Convoy duties and losing less ships.

If it wasn’t for Admiral King the US could of prevented many sinking’s of merchant ships off the US East coast but like many Admirals and Generals in the US Military they were inflexible and felt many allied nations were inferior to the US military. Sadly WW2 and beyond has shown the fallacy of that thinking leading to many unnecessary deaths and blunders.


Make sure to source that quote :slight_smile:

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Judging from newspaper accounts I’ve read, we were doing blackout drills even before August 1942, notably in New York City.

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I love the title of Drachinifel’s video on King - “Semper Iratus”. Says it all, really.

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