It was evident that the World War II was a reality and all the countries of the world were being completely threatened by the Nazi Germany. That war was cruel and merciless, and in it we could see how death was all over the globe: on foot, in the air and even at the sea. In the naval history of Cuba, there was an incident that caused a great impact in the nation. Nobody would expect that such events would occur, but when they happened they marked the region. We are going to talk about the German Submarine U-176, and how it met its end at the hands of Cuban naval soldiers.
The German Submarine U-176 was classified as a Type IXC U-Boat in Nazi Germany’s Kriegsmarine in World War II. It was laid down on February 6th, 1941. Then it was launched on September 12th, and commissioned on December 15th.
During the time the World War II was happening, the Nazis started to activate a plan in which they would be sending submarines to operate in the Caribbean Sea with the main objective of cutting supplies to the United States – one of their most dangerous enemies and the Allied Forces. This would be able to create panic and insecurity to the merchant ships that helped the allies, and would be able to block the functioning of the trades of weapons of resources of their enemies.
In order to describe how the incident happened, we must go back in the past on August 12th. That day, a convoy of three Cuban merchants and one Nicaraguan sailed from the port of Cayo Hueso to Havana. Three ships were navigating in that trip: the Nicaraguan Guardian, the Julián Alonso steam and the Humrrick tug. Before leaving the ships, US submarine fighters checked the area and did not find any threats.
But they were wrong. The German submarine U-508 under the command of Lieutenant Georg Staats was waiting for its preys. Once they reached their zone, the U-508 shot torpedoes to the ships and decimated them. Twenty crew members from Manzanillo and eleven from Santiago de Cuba were slain in the process.
In the sonar school of the Cayo Hueso, many students watched the ships burn into ashes. It was incredible to realize that the Nazi sunk so many defenseless merchant ships, and took so many lives of innocent sailors.
Other ships were victims of the Nazi attacks: on May 13th 1943 approximately 75 Cuban sailors were killed in some more torpedo attacks. Due to the consistency of the attacks, by that time it was determined that at least six German submarines operated in these waters.
Due to the regularity of those ambushes, it was necessary to proceed with extreme caution. No merchant ship would sail without escorting submarine fighters since then, but that was not enough – because whoever would sail, defended by escort ships or not was running the risk of being sunk. Those were the security measures that were used in order to protect the ships that were projected to be sailing to the west, from Isabela de Sagua to Havana.
And then the tides started to change. In order to protect and custody of the merchant ships, the submarine fighters CS-11, CS-12 and CS-13 were assigned to sail and track enemy submarines. On May 15th 1943, the Cuban merchant ship Camaguey and the Honduran Hanks (both loaded with sugar) sailed from Sagua La Grande and were escorted by the Cuban submarine chasers mentioned before.
Luckily this time, a U.S. Navy kingfisher aircraft operating from Cuba spotted the U-176. They decided to drop smoke float to mark them the position of the Nazi submarine. The CS-13 located the U-Boat with her sonar, and without hesitating they attacked with depth charges and they did the unbelievable: they sank the U-176!
First, in the CS-13 explored the area and once the enemy ship contact was determined, he shot three depth charges. Successfully the U-176 took damage, and once they confirmed it, shot two more torpedoes in order to finish the enemy submarine off.
The CS-13 was being piloted by the Cuban Navy’s Alférez de Fragata and Mario Ramirez Delgado. This was the only Cuban national to sink a U-boat during the World War II. In 1946, Delgado – ascended to Lieutenant, was awarded the Orden del Mérito Naval con Distantivo Rojo. Rear Admiral Samuel E. Morrison, official historian of the US Navy, recognized his triumph in his work History of the United States Naval Operations in World War II. It was noted there the great ability and efficiency of the Cuban seamen. Interestingly, Norberto Collado Abreu was present in the events of the sinking of the U-176. He would be the famed pilot of Granma, the yatch which brought Fidel Castro back to Cuba to restart the Cuban Revolution.
Those events are going to be remembered forever, as the day in which the Cuban naval forces defended with honor and bravery their sailors and their seas, and were able to handle a powerful enemy with total efficiency. Those heroes are never going to be forgotten.