First of all, my apologies to the serious historians or anyone who has a greater knowledge of the time period. The point of this article is to inspire you to do your own digging if necessary.
I don’t always watch the History Channel for the “black and whites” (Ken Burn’s Style Photographic Programs). I like Pawn Stars and American Restoration, stuff like that in between the “Great Blunders of WWII”, etc. Anyway, one of those programs, in one sentence, alerted me to the fact that there were German U-Boats in the Gulf during WWII! That kind of stuff really gets me going. So like every good American, I started googling stuff. I’m going to reference: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_Theater_(World_War_II).
I knew a little bit of these goings-ons from my WWII AAF Great Uncle that moved to Alaska from Indiana during this period. But, besides the Japanese occupation in the Aleutians (much downplayed by my Alaskan-hardened uncle) and the attack on Pearl of course, I had know idea. That little blue ribbon and medal, for me, now is not so overlooked sitting next to the ETO or Pacific medal.
Here is a bit of the Axis Ops during WWII you may want to know more about. – I’m not going to spend too much time butchering this thing.
Battle of the River Plate
The first naval battle during the war was fought on December 13, 1939 off the Atlantic coast of South America. German combat losses were 96 killed or wounded, against 72 British sailors killed and 28 wounded.
Duquesne Spy Ring
The 33 German agents who formed the Duquesne spy ring were placed in key jobs in the United States to get information that could be used in the event of war and to carry out acts of sabotage.
Upon declaring war on the United States, Adolf Hitler ordered the remaining German saboteurs to wreak havoc on America.
Their mission objective was to gather intelligence on the Manhattan Project and attempt sabotage if possible.
German landings in Canada
Solitary Abwehr agent, Marius A. Langbein, was landed by a U-boat (U-217) near St. Martins, New Brunswick, Canada. His mission, codenamed Operation Grete, after the name of the agent’s wife, was to observe and report shipping movements at Montreal and Halifax, Nova Scotia.
In November 1942, U-518 landed a spy, Werner von Janowski, four miles (6.5 km) from New Carlisle, Quebec at around 5am on November 9, 1942.
Several ships were torpedoed within sight of East Coast cities such as New York and Boston. The only documented World War II sinking of a U-boat close to New England shores occurred on May 5, 1945, when the U-853 torpedoed and sank the collier Black Point off Newport, Rhode Island.
Once convoys and air cover were introduced in the Atlantic, sinking numbers were reduced and the U-boats shifted to attack shipping in the Gulf of Mexico. During 1942 and 1943, more than 20 U-boats operated in the Gulf of Mexico. They attacked tankers transporting oil from ports in Texas and Louisiana, successfully sinking 56 vessels. By the end of 1943, the U-boat attacks diminished as the merchant ships began to travel in armed convoys.
In one instance, the tanker Virginia was torpedoed in the mouth of the Mississippi River by the German U-Boat U-507 on May 12, 1942, killing 26 crewmen. There were 14 survivors. Again, when defensive measures were introduced, ship sinkings decreased.
U-166 was the only U-boat sunk in the Gulf of Mexico during the war.
Aleutian Islands Campaign
On June 3-4 1942, Japanese planes from two light carriers Ryūjō and Jun’yō struck the U.S. military base at Dutch Harbor in the Aleutian Islands. 78 Americans were killed in the attack.
On June 6, two days after the bombing of Dutch Harbor, 500 Japanese marines landed on Kiska, one of the Aleutian Islands of Alaska.
A year after Japan’s invasion and occupation of the islands of Attu and Kiska, 34,000 U.S. troops invaded these islands and fought there throughout the summer, defeated the Japanese, and eventually reestablished control of the islands.
Japanese Submarine operations
Several ships were torpedoed within sight of West Coast Californian cities such as Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, San Diego, and Santa Monica. During 1941 and 1942, more than 10 Japanese submarines operated in the West Coast, Alaska, and Baja California. They attacked American, Canadian, and Mexican ships, successfully sinking over 10 vessels including the Soviet Navy submarine L-16 on October 11, 1942.
The United States mainland was first shelled by the Axis on February 23, 1942 when the Japanese submarine I-17 attacked the Ellwood Oil Field west of Goleta, near Santa Barbara, California.
In what became the only attack on a mainland American military installation during World War II, the Japanese submarine I-25 surfaced near the mouth of the Columbia River, Oregon on the night of June 21 and June 22, 1942, and fired shells toward Fort Stevens.
The Lookout Air Raids occurred on September 9, 1942. The only aerial bombing of mainland America by a foreign power.
Fire balloon attacks
Between November 1944 and April 1945, the Japanese Navy launched over 9,000 fire balloons toward North America.
Cancelled Axis operations
Imperial Japanese Army launched Project Z (also called the Z Bombers Project) in 1942, similar to the Nazi German Amerika Bomber project, to design an intercontinental bomber capable of reaching North America.
During the final months of World War II, Japan had planned to use plague as a biological weapon against U.S. civilians in San Diego, California, during Operation Cherry Blossoms at Night.
A plan was devised by the Kingdom of Italy to attack New York harbor with submarines.
In 1940, the German Air Ministry secretly requested designs from the major German aircraft companies for its Amerika Bomber program.