Posted in Research, WWII

The American Red Cross on the Homefront

The American Red Cross served so many needs during World War II. On the home front volunteers performed many of the tasks. Paid staff organized and supervised the activities but volunteers were the mainstay of the organization. At its peak in 1945 the Red Cross had over 36 million members and over 7.5 million volunteers, while paid staff peaked at just over 36,000. There were over 3,700 Red Cross Chapters spread across the country.

The Red Cross Canteen Corps set up on docks, in railroad stations, in airports, and on military posts to provide meals and snacks to military personnel while traveling or upon arrival at military bases. They also provided food to civilians at blood donor centers, child care centers and schools.

Red Cross Girls Working in Canteen

Home Care services assisted families of service members in many ways. One was assisting family members trying to communicate with their military loved one stationed overseas or at a distant base or helping service men and women communicate with family back home. This might be happy news, such as the birth of a baby. Or it might be notification of a death or serious illness in the family. In these cases, if necessary, the Red Cross would help the serviceman arrange leave and transportation to go home. Other services included financial assistance and counseling for military families.

The Red Cross in coastal cities assisted seamen who had been rescued at sea. These merchant marines were not in the military yet they were responsible for shipping millions of tons of supplies to the combat zones. Thousands of ships were sunk by our enemies leaving the rescued seamen far from their home ports. Also the Red Cross assisted evacuees from the war zones. Some, like the seamen, had been rescued at sea. Others arrived in this country with little more than the clothes on their backs. Red Cross volunteers provided food, temporary shelter and clothing while they got settled in the states. This service was similar to the Civilian War Relief provided by the Red Cross in war-torn countries around the world.

Prisoner of War relief included assembling, packing and shipping more than 27 million packages containing food and personal items to the International Red Cross who distributed them to 1.4 million American and Allied prisoners of war. Facilities set up in New York, Chicago, Philadelphia and St. Louis, were manned by 13,500 Red Cross volunteers. These Red Cross parcels contributed to the survival of many prisoners of war in Germany where the Germans cooperated in distributing the packages. In my novel Kitty’s War, the prisoners received Red Cross parcels. Unfortunately, Japan did not work with the International Red Cross to provide packages to their prisoners.

Another interesting Red Cross service was helping the thousands of “War Brides.” During the war many American service men married women in the various countries where they were stationed. The Red Cross kept track of these “Brides” and when transportation became available gathered them at ports and accompanied them on the journey to America. Along the way the Red Cross arranged for food and housing, held classes to teach the foreign “Brides” about their new home and even escorted many of the young women and their children to their final destination.

Great Atlantic Hurricane September 1944

In addition to all these things the Red Cross set up shelters for civilians in case our country had been attacked. As they do now, the Red Cross responded to a myriad of disasters, from fires and explosions to hurricanes and tornados. Finally, one of the most important achievements of the Red Cross during World War II was their fund raising. After an immensely successful fund raising drive in 1941-42, when they raised $66 million, President Roosevelt declared March 1943 as “Red Cross Month” with a goal of raising $125 million dollars. By June of 1943 $146 million had been raised. Roosevelt called it the “greatest single crusade of mercy in all of history.”

Posted in History, Research, WWII

The War Comes to the U.S. East Coast

When Hitler declared war on the United States, U-boat captains delighted in the opportunity to hunt along the east coast of America. They had roamed the coast of Europe, stalked the shipping lanes of the North Atlantic and guarded the entrance to the Mediterranean.¬†After the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor, the United States declared war on Japan and Germany declared war on the U.S. Before these momentous events there had been tension and confrontations between German U-boats and American ships as they assisted the English and Canadians in escorting ships transporting goods across the North Atlantic. When war was declared, the U-boats headed for the east coast of the U.S. where they found easy pickings in unarmed and unescorted American merchant ships. The Germans called it “Operation Drumbeat.”u48-uboat-wwii

Shipping along the east coast from Maine to Florida, as well as along the Gulf coast, became targets. Along the eastern seaboard  One hundred and twenty-one (121) merchant ships were either sunk or damaged during 1942 alone. Why were they such easy targets?

The merchant marine vessels had no protection. They were unarmed and they had no military escorts. Although the war in Europe had been raging since 1939 and the German U-boats had been attacking ships in the Atlantic headed for England, the United States was woefully unprepared to protect vital shipping along her coast line. Also early in the war the United States did not have strict black-out rules. It took a while for many areas to realize that light from the shore endangered ships at sea. German U-boats could target ships at night by tracking the vessel’s silhouette against the light from the shore.photo80mnus-torpedtankerlc

Imagine standing on the shore and watching a ship burning after it had been hit by torpedoes. That’s what happened along the shores of Florida in early 1942. Read an interesting interview with German U-boat Captain Hardegan where he tells of sinking a tanker off the coast of Jacksonville in April 1942. He saw the ship against the lights from the beach and after it was hit he said he could see the people on shore watching it burn.

We don’t often think about the number of ships and the number of lives lost by the Merchant Marines. Their task was vital and their losses were higher than other military branches. But they weren’t technically military despite their critical role in transporting all kinds of materials.enroll-merchant-marine

Something had to be done to stop the loss of life and vital cargoes. Initially the focus had been on protecting the west coast, but it didn’t take long to recognize the threat of the German U-boats along the eastern seaboard. The Navy and the Coast Guard increased patrols searching for the U-boats by sea. The Army Air Corps flew patrols along the coast and the Civil Air Patrol was established to fly additional patrols searching for the enemy.

Meanwhile, shippers had to find a way to safely transport vital cargo including shipments of oil. They turned to transport through the intracoastal waterway. This protected route utilized existing rivers, waterways and canals to ship a variety of cargo in barges. Improvements to depth and width of this waterway enabled larger vessels to pass through this route.

The Navy organized escorted convoys of merchant ships traveling along the east coast. That, combined with increased Air Corp bomber activity, reduced the number of ships sunk. By 1943 fewer merchant vessels went down and numerous U-boats were sunk off the eastern coast of the United States.

The remains of sunken merchant ships and German U-boats can be found all along the east coast. See this article and photographs about ship wrecks off the coast of North Carolina.

In my novel, Kitty’s War, the hero floats toward shore in a raft after his merchant ship was sunk off the east coast. Stories of this little known part of the war inspired the opening of my novel where the hero and heroine meet for the first time. You can purchase Kitty’s War on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-a-million, iTunes, Kobo and The Wild Rose Press.