What many people don’t realize is that the Kingdom of the Netherlands, is not just the bit of land that 75% is under sea level, but it is also the Dutch Antilles in the Caribbean. During World War II, Indonesia and Surinam were also ruled by the Dutch.
For most of World War II, the Americas were spared any battles. However there were attacks on the USA, Pearl Harbour and the Aleutian Islands campaign, but for the majority, the continents of North and South America were spared.
On 16 February 1942, a German U-boat attacked the small Dutch island of Aruba. Other submarines patrolled the area for shipping and they sank or damaged tankers. Aruba was home to two of the largest oil refineries in the world during the war against the Axis powers, the Arend Petroleum Maatschappij, situated near the Oranjestad harbour, and the Lago Oil and Transport Company at the San Nicolas harbour. The attack resulted in the disruption of vital Allied fuel production.
The small island of Aruba played a very important role in the Second World War. At that time, the Lago was one of the largest refineries in the world in terms of production. The gasoline refined at Lago was used for the Allied planes and so the island became a vital point in the Western Hemisphere: for the Americans to defend and for the Germans to attack. Torpedoes were fired on ships and the Aruban coast.
On the night of February 16, a large-scale attack by the German submarine U-156 took place. Several torpedoes hit ships lying off the coast or in port. The Pedernales were the first, the Oranjestad the next to be hit. Both ships caught fire and sank. More followed that night. The number of victims was large. Some Arubans, still unaware of the importance of being darkened during a bombardment in the dark, turned on their lights in the house and drove the car, headlights on, to the coast, hoping to spot the submarine.
At 03:13, U-156 attacked the Texaco-owned tanker SS Arkansas which was berthed at Eagle Beach next to the Arend/Eagle Refinery. Just one of the torpedoes struck Arkansas and partially sank her but the damage was moderate and caused no casualties. Commander Hartenstein then steamed further around Aruba and directed his men to take to the deck guns and prepare for a naval bombardment of the large oil tank in view. The crew of the 105 mm (4.1 in) gun forgot to remove the water cap from the barrel, so when Hartenstein ordered them to fire, the gun blew up in the faces of the two gunners. Gunnery Officer Dietrich von dem Borne was wounded badly, one foot having been severed. His comrade and triggerman Heinrich Büssinger was badly wounded as well and died several hours after the attack. Hartenstein ordered the 37 mm (1.46 in) flak gun to continue the attack.
Sixteen rounds from the 37mm AA gun were fired, but only two hits were found by the Allies: a dent in an oil storage tank and a hole in a house. Hartenstein ordered a cease-fire and set his course toward the other end of the island. En route, U-156 was found and attacked by a Fokker F.XVIII maritime patrol aircraft of the Netherlands West Indies Defense Force which took off from Oranjestad, Aruba at 05.55 hours and dropped several 8 kg (18 lb) or 80 mm improvised anti-submarine bombs without achieving a hit. The U-boat continued towards Oranjestad harbour and at 09.43 hours torpedoed Arkansas lying at the pier of the Eagle Refinery, after missing two torpedoes.
Meanwhile, the six other Axis boats patrolled the area in search of oil tankers. U-502 under Lieutenant Commander Jürgen von Rosenstiel made contact with at least three Allied vessels that day in the Gulf of Venezuela, two British oilers, SS Tia Juana and SS San Nicolas. were sunk along with the Venezuelan steamer Monagas. U-67, under Captain Günther Müller-Stöckheim, attacked two additional tankers off Curaçao that morning. Stockheim fired four torpedoes from his bow tubes at the tankers in Willemstad Harbor. All four failed to hit their targets or failed to explode. Stockheim tried again and fired two more torpedoes from his stern tubes at the Dutch Rafaela; one hit and heavily damaged the ship. U-67 then slipped away, unaware a United States Army Air Corps A-20 Havoc light bomber was in pursuit. The aircraft dropped its payload of both flares and explosives when over the surfaced U-boat but the bombs missed and U-67 submerged and got away. The flames from burning steamers around Aruba were reportedly so large that they could be seen easily from Curaçao.
The four other U-boats and submarines were unsuccessful in engaging Allied ships that morning. The Dutch patrol boats did not engage either.
A day later, a torpedo was found on the beach near the Arend refinery. In an unsuccessful attempt to dismantle it, some soldiers were killed.
Feb 16, 1942: Commemorating 80 years of the attack on Aruba during World War II
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