How did U-boats avoid attacking Spanish/Turkish shipping?

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Panzerspitze
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How did U-boats avoid attacking Spanish/Turkish shipping?

Post by Panzerspitze » 04 Sep 2021 07:37

Given the Germans were trying to draw these two countries to the Axis side, and the Kriegsmarine even attacked neutral shipping or sometimes mistakenly Germany's own blockade-runners, how come there were no reports (that I am aware of) of Spanish or Turkish shipping being attacked/sunk by German uboats? Were visual IFF (Identification Friend or Foe) via periscope that good?
Last edited by Panzerspitze on 05 Sep 2021 06:06, edited 1 time in total.

ManfredV
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Re: How did U-boats avoid attacking Spanish/Turkish shipping?

Post by ManfredV » 04 Sep 2021 17:59

Often ships from neutral states had their flags painted very largely on both sides. They also had orders / informations which routes are relatively safe and which areas they have to avoid. German submarines were ordered to be careful near coast areas of these states. Neutral states also gave informations to german Kriegsmarine when and were their ships where expected to come in or out.

Sid Guttridge
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Re: How did U-boats avoid attacking Spanish/Turkish shipping?

Post by Sid Guttridge » 04 Sep 2021 23:27

Hi panzerspitze,

U-boats sank a lot of neutral shipping, including at least two Spanish vessels: the Badalona was mistakenly sunk by U-453 on 13 December 1941 and the Monte Gorbea was sunk in error on 19 September 1942 by U-512. The Monte Igueldo was similarly sunk by the Italian submarine Barbarigo on 24 February 1943. They were not alone. The Campomanes was so badly damaged in error by the submarine USS Barb on 26 December 1942 that it was out of service for 18 months.

Other European neutrals also fell victim. The Danes suffered heavily even before the German invasion. For example: "At 23.15 hours on 15 Feb 1940, U-14 spotted two steamers in a line and an escort about 50 miles north of Rattrey Head and fired at 23.40 hours one G7e torpedo at the second ship that detonated prematurely. This ship was the Rhone, which sank two minutes after being hit in the bow by a second G7e torpedo at 23.55 hours. The other steamer, the Sleipner stopped to rescue survivors and sent distress signals, but was also hit in the foreship by one G7e torpedo at 00.00 hours on 16 February and sank after 10 minutes."

Several Latin American countries used U-boat sinkings of their vessels as reasons to declare war on Germany. U-507 sank no less than seven (!) Brazilian merchant ships between 15 and 19 August 1942, leading to a Brazilian declaration of war on 22 August.

From memory, neutral shipping had to have large national flags and the country's name painted along the side in very big letters. At night the ships had to be fully lit and lights shone on the painted flags and national name.

Cheers,

Sid

Panzerspitze
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Re: How did U-boats avoid attacking Spanish/Turkish shipping?

Post by Panzerspitze » 05 Sep 2021 07:37

Thanks for the insights.

In particular, I was thinking of reading that the U.S. successfully cajoled the Franco regime with economic sanctions (IIRC, threatening to cut American exports to Spain) in trying to curb clandestine and not-so-clandestine Spanish assistance to the Axis. I imagine there must have been plenty of merchant shipping to/from Spain transitting the oceans then. Wouldn't at least any of those be U.S. or neutrality-flagged? Sure, being careful around the Spanish or Turkish coasts could be one measure for the u-boats, but otherwise en route, would Allied-owned or -operated merchant shipping bound for Spain or Turkey declare themselves as such? I suppose employing all the aforementioned measures in this thread, plus not traveling in convoys, and not zigzagging... it still seems amazing how few such ships were reportedly attacked by u-boats, especially if they were from or flying the flags of Allied countries.

On this thought, did u-boats record encounters with off-limit shipping in their log books, such as "I ran into such-and-such at position x, identified as bound for Spain, so I let it go."

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Waleed Y. Majeed
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Re: How did U-boats avoid attacking Spanish/Turkish shipping?

Post by Waleed Y. Majeed » 05 Sep 2021 08:25

I think the heavy economic embargo set by the allies would have restricted spanish ships in some degree. The axis trade could go by land or along french coastal waters to Italy.

This might help in understanding spanish neutrality.
https://digitalcommons.wcl.american.edu ... text=auilr

And some of the spanish ships sunk:
https://uboat.net/allies/merchants/search.php

Waleed

Sid Guttridge
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Re: How did U-boats avoid attacking Spanish/Turkish shipping?

Post by Sid Guttridge » 05 Sep 2021 14:28

Hi Panzerspitze,

It was the British, rather than the Americans, who put pressure on the Spanish. The key moment was the winter of 1940/41 when the UK was at its most vulnerable and the USA was yet to enter the war.

At the outbreak of war, the British introduce the Navicert system. Under it, neutral ships had to declare in advance details of their cargos. The Royal Navy mounted a blockade of European waters and could and did stop neutral ships at sea to check their Navicert manifest against the actual cargo. If they were suspicious, the stopped ship would be sent to an inspection port for a detailed search. For the Baltic neutrals it was usually Kirkwall in the Orkney Islands, north of Scotland. For the Spanish it was usually either Trinidad or Gibraltar.

Spain was starving after the civil war and had lost most of its tankers during it. The only major source of cereals was Argentina, of nitrate fertilizers was Chile and of oil was Venezuela/Dutch West Indies. Significant amounts of nutrition also came from salted cod caught off Newfoundland and much sugar still came from Cuba. Only the few remaining Spanish tankers were allowed to import the oil and the foodstuffs had to be carried in Spanish merchant ships. The Royal Navy could interdict all this at will and the Axis could supply almost none of it. As a result, the British could starve Spain. They only allowed through sufficient of these commodities so that Spain could not build up reserves that could be resold to the Axis. Thus, month on month, Spain was dependent on British forbearance.

The US role before its entry into the war was essentially to supply some of Spain's oil, but in conformity with the Navicert system. The Neutrality Act prevented US-flagged ships sailing to areas of belligerence.

Cheers,

Sid.

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Re: How did U-boats avoid attacking Spanish/Turkish shipping?

Post by Peter89 » 05 Sep 2021 16:11

Sid Guttridge wrote:
05 Sep 2021 14:28
Hi Panzerspitze,

It was the British, rather than the Americans, who put pressure on the Spanish. The key moment was the winter of 1940/41 when the UK was at its most vulnerable and the USA was yet to enter the war.

Cheers,

Sid.
Hello Sid,

my data seems to contradict this notion. I believe the key was the control of Spain to prevent her join the Axis. The key moment you are referring to was actually a time of appeasement policy if you will, rather than a hard line approach, ie "pressure". The pressure actually came when Germany engaged the Soviets and the momentary British off-balance in Africa and the Middle East was corrected in Iraq, the Levant and Iran.

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“And while I am talking to you, mothers and fathers, I give you one more assurance. I have said this before, but I shall say it again, and again and again. Your boys are not going to be sent into any foreign wars." - FDR, October 1940

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Re: How did U-boats avoid attacking Spanish/Turkish shipping?

Post by Sid Guttridge » 05 Sep 2021 17:58

Hi Peter89,

I don't see any contradiction.

The amount of oil Spain was allowed was fixed to a proportion (70%, I think) of the imports of the last full year of peace before the civil war. It had to collect this in Spain's own vessels. This was not regularly achieved as two tankers were sunk or seriously damaged in the middle of the war.

Spain was most likely to actively join the Axis in 1941/42. That was why I posted "The key moment was the winter of 1940/41 when the UK was at its most vulnerable and the USA was yet to enter the war." This was when Franco met both Hitler and Mussolini. They did not meet again and Spain was never as likely to enter the war again.

Once the 1940/41 crisis had passed, it was a matter of keeping Spain in line. This was done by keeping it on a short leash with regard to cereals and oil in particular. The Spanish cod fishing fleet was forbidden to sail as its fishing ground lay across the British convoy routes from North America to the UK. The Spanish were under constant pressure because they were unable to build up oil and fuel reserves. Indeed, food was at its shortest during 1944 as a result of Allied pressure to stop Wolfram exports to Germany.

At all stages the actual blockade on Spain was performed or led by the Royal Navy.

Cheers,

Sid.

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Re: How did U-boats avoid attacking Spanish/Turkish shipping?

Post by Peter89 » 05 Sep 2021 18:20

Sid Guttridge wrote:
05 Sep 2021 17:58
Hi Peter89,

I don't see any contradiction.

The amount of oil Spain was allowed was fixed to a proportion (70%, I think) of the imports of the last full year of peace before the civil war. It had to collect this in Spain's own vessels. This was not regularly achieved as two tankers were sunk or seriously damaged in the middle of the war.

Spain was most likely to actively join the Axis in 1941/42. That was why I posted "The key moment was the winter of 1940/41 when the UK was at its most vulnerable and the USA was yet to enter the war." This was when Franco met both Hitler and Mussolini. They did not meet again and Spain was never as likely to enter the war again.

Once the 1940/41 crisis had passed, it was a matter of keeping Spain in line. This was done by keeping it on a short leash with regard to cereals and oil in particular. The Spanish cod fishing fleet was forbidden to sail as its fishing ground lay across the British convoy routes from North America to the UK. The Spanish were under constant pressure because they were unable to build up oil and fuel reserves. Indeed, food was at its shortest during 1944 as a result of Allied pressure to stop Wolfram exports to Germany.

At all stages the actual blockade on Spain was performed or led by the Royal Navy.

Cheers,

Sid.
Sure, we have no disagreements on that. I just pointed out that the British-controlled phases of the embargo against Spain were not the most strict ones. Indeed, it had less to do with the British or American control, but more with Spain's position and the general state of the war effort.
“And while I am talking to you, mothers and fathers, I give you one more assurance. I have said this before, but I shall say it again, and again and again. Your boys are not going to be sent into any foreign wars." - FDR, October 1940

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Ironmachine
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Re: How did U-boats avoid attacking Spanish/Turkish shipping?

Post by Ironmachine » 06 Sep 2021 07:37

In this webpage (in Spanish)
https://www.u-historia.com/uhistoria/hi ... undsgm.htm
you can find the names of the Spanish ships sunk in Wold War II (by all causes: submarines of all nations, aircraft, mines, etc) with the circumstances of the sinking. It includes even the Spanish ships that were sunk in accidents.
German submarines sunk 7 Spanish ships: Banderas, Salvora, Faro Ons, San Carlos, Badalona, Monte Gorbea and Castillo de Montealegre. Not included is the small Aingeru Guardakoa, sunk on 16/10/1941 possibly by U-204 though not all sources agree.
As has been said, the main "defensive" measure was a large Spanish flag painted on both sides. Given the number of ships sunk, it seems that it was not very successful. However, it should be noted that in some cases nothing could have been done to prevent the sinking: when the Badalona (with the Spanish flags painted on the hull) was stopped by U-453, an officer was sent to the submarine with the documents of the ship and the cargo, so the German commander was fully aware that it was a Spanish ship, and still she was sunk.

Panzerspitze
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Re: How did U-boats avoid attacking Spanish/Turkish shipping?

Post by Panzerspitze » 06 Sep 2021 11:10

Ironmachine wrote:
06 Sep 2021 07:37
In this webpage (in Spanish)
https://www.u-historia.com/uhistoria/hi ... undsgm.htm
you can find the names of the Spanish ships sunk in Wold War II (by all causes: submarines of all nations, aircraft, mines, etc) with the circumstances of the sinking. It includes even the Spanish ships that were sunk in accidents.
German submarines sunk 7 Spanish ships: Banderas, Salvora, Faro Ons, San Carlos, Badalona, Monte Gorbea and Castillo de Montealegre. Not included is the small Aingeru Guardakoa, sunk on 16/10/1941 possibly by U-204 though not all sources agree.
As has been said, the main "defensive" measure was a large Spanish flag painted on both sides. Given the number of ships sunk, it seems that it was not very successful. However, it should be noted that in some cases nothing could have been done to prevent the sinking: when the Badalona (with the Spanish flags painted on the hull) was stopped by U-453, an officer was sent to the submarine with the documents of the ship and the cargo, so the German commander was fully aware that it was a Spanish ship, and still she was sunk.
Thanks for this info. The sinking of Monte Gorbea by U-512 was what I thought would have happened more often during the chaos of unrestricted submarine warfare, that u-boats would perceive (mistakenly or willfully ignoring neutrality-markings) neutral shipping to be disguised Allied traffic. I suppose that the Kriegsmarine High Command actually was willing to order the court-martialing of offending commanders (such as in the case of U-512) was a factor that fortunately reduced the actual occurence of such mistaken sinkings, even though it's about sinking a "neutral" close friend's ship.

Now, what was the reason of the Greek sub "Katsonis" sinking San Isidro Labrador in 1943? Was that a "Free Greek" submarine with the Allies, or from a Greek Navy subordinated to the Germans?

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Re: How did U-boats avoid attacking Spanish/Turkish shipping?

Post by Panzerspitze » 06 Sep 2021 16:15

Sid Guttridge wrote:
05 Sep 2021 14:28
Hi Panzerspitze,

It was the British, rather than the Americans, who put pressure on the Spanish. The key moment was the winter of 1940/41 when the UK was at its most vulnerable and the USA was yet to enter the war.

At the outbreak of war, the British introduce the Navicert system. Under it, neutral ships had to declare in advance details of their cargos. The Royal Navy mounted a blockade of European waters and could and did stop neutral ships at sea to check their Navicert manifest against the actual cargo. If they were suspicious, the stopped ship would be sent to an inspection port for a detailed search. For the Baltic neutrals it was usually Kirkwall in the Orkney Islands, north of Scotland. For the Spanish it was usually either Trinidad or Gibraltar.

Spain was starving after the civil war and had lost most of its tankers during it. The only major source of cereals was Argentina, of nitrate fertilizers was Chile and of oil was Venezuela/Dutch West Indies. Significant amounts of nutrition also came from salted cod caught off Newfoundland and much sugar still came from Cuba. Only the few remaining Spanish tankers were allowed to import the oil and the foodstuffs had to be carried in Spanish merchant ships. The Royal Navy could interdict all this at will and the Axis could supply almost none of it. As a result, the British could starve Spain. They only allowed through sufficient of these commodities so that Spain could not build up reserves that could be resold to the Axis. Thus, month on month, Spain was dependent on British forbearance.

The US role before its entry into the war was essentially to supply some of Spain's oil, but in conformity with the Navicert system. The Neutrality Act prevented US-flagged ships sailing to areas of belligerence.

Cheers,

Sid.
Hi Sid Guttridge,

I guess the American economic sanctioins I came across falling down the wikipedia rabbit role was probably the "second oil embargo" in the table provided by @peter89 then. I distinctly remember thinking so that's when the U.S. started getting a tight economic stranglehold on Spain, and that the close "bond" between the U.S. and Spain has lasted to this date.

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Re: How did U-boats avoid attacking Spanish/Turkish shipping?

Post by ljadw » 07 Sep 2021 06:52

Maybe the reason that few Spanish and Turkish ships were attacked /lost,was simple that there were few Spanish and Turkish ships sailing in the oceans during the war because there was not much foreign trade from these countries and not much oil available .
There is a book ( for the moment not available ) from L.L. von Munching with as title :Spanish merchant shipping losses in WW2 .

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Ironmachine
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Re: How did U-boats avoid attacking Spanish/Turkish shipping?

Post by Ironmachine » 07 Sep 2021 07:23

Panzerspitze wrote:Now, what was the reason of the Greek sub "Katsonis" sinking San Isidro Labrador in 1943? Was that a "Free Greek" submarine with the Allies, or from a Greek Navy subordinated to the Germans?
AFAIK, at the time of her sinking the San Isidro Labrador was chartered by the Germans, so it was not really a "neutral" ship anymore but a legitimate target for the Greek submarine.

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Re: How did U-boats avoid attacking Spanish/Turkish shipping?

Post by Axel N » 08 Sep 2021 08:10

It should be noted that the Germans were not the only ones to torpedo Spanish ships. On 26 Dec 1942 the USS Barb torpedoed the Spanish tanker Campomanes off the Spanish coast. Her commander was a little bit trigger-happy. But the case is even more interesting as LtCdr Waterman was later ordered to fake his patrol report in the way that he had encountered no shipping on that day. Hence, not only the Germans thought it wise to fake war diaries, but the Allies did likewise to avoid trouble. A matter that is often forgotten when historians refer to German practice. However, the Americans were even more stupid in that than the Germans, because they failed to "correct" the list covering torpedo expenditure as well.

Best

Axel Niestlé

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