Search: Sort by:



By Manoel Felipe Batista da Fonseca

Master and Graduated in History by Universidade Federal de Pernambuco 

The presence of German-Italian forces in North Africa, in full advance through the area
Libya's desert, threatening Egypt and the Middle East, made the British urgently need American support. Churchill and his entourage traveled in mid-June 1942 to the capital of the United States to discuss the way to lead and win the war.
Upon receiving the news that Tobruk had surrendered with more than 25,000 men taken prisoner, the Germans would soon be at the gates of El Alamein, while Cairo preparing for evacuation, British Marshal Bernard Montgomery was lining up his troops in a small defensive line in the desert. “Armors were urgently needed!”. This is how Churchill became expressed to Roosevelt, getting the answer: “Hold on. Save time. Count on us”.

For much of 1942 still in the South Atlantic there was no convoys interconnected system  that would protect the navigation and speed up scrolling of strategic war materials, operating between Brazil and the areas to the north such as the Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico, New York to the United Kingdom. Indeed: Since the beginning of 1942, the GAT-TAG convoys (Guantanamo–Aruba–Trinidad and Trinidad–Aruba–Guantanamo), which received ships from the Caribbean Sea (NG-GN) and the Canal Zone of Panama (GZ-ZG), had already been organized and, in October 1942, extended to the south, receiving the name of TS (Trinidad–South). Three of them sailed that month. In November, there were six organized TS, of the which went to Freetown (Sierra Leone, Africa), two for Paramaribo, one for Recife and one for to Rio de Janeiro, the last two with a mixed American-Brazilian escort.

On December 1 of the same year, Admiral Jonas Ingram, Commander of the Fourth Fleet American and South Atlantic Force, began to control the convoys to the south, while the Admiral Andrews, North American Maritime Frontier, was in charge of those sailing north of Trinidad. In December, only the first convoy received the designation of TS. From the 15th, they started to be called TB and BT (Trinidad– Bahia and Bahia–Trinidad). In July of 1943, the route was extended  to Rio de Janeiro, calling it then TJ and JT, in which they were including ships of all flags that went to the South Africa and for the River Plate ports. It is worth noting that by the end of 1942 there was also no regular convoy system between South America and the main ports in Africa and, when the enemy discovered that virtually all navigation north of Natal was being convoyed, he shifted his efforts to the South Atlantic, where many slow and independent vessels were lost in the attempt to reach the Persian Gulf and Red Sea through the Cape of Good Hope, with badly need cargo that were so vital in the initial phase of the war.

However, in addition to regular convoy, distributed through the main navigation routes, there were the extraordinary or special ones, trained to meet certain demands strategically special. For example, special convoys “AS” were formed in 1942, where ships set sail from the East Coast of the United States with destination for Africa, Ascension Island, and the Suez Canal. In total there were ten convoys during its existence and a special fact is that three of those convoys passed through Recife and were escorted by vessels  of the U.S. Navy South Atlantic Force.
It was in this context that the Convoy AS-4. It was necessary to escort this vital convoy, avoid losses, arrive on time, great efforts were expended, the The fate of the 8th Army depended on these armaments. In this article, we will address the departure in the port of New York, the stop in Recife, until the meeting with the British convoy WS-21P, nearby of Ascension Island.

We seek to bring little-known stories from the Campaign of the South Atlantic, especially involving Recife's participation in this conflict A vital convoy in the South Atlantic: aspects of the history of the Convoy AS-4 and its passage through Recife to, the main port used by the U.S. Navy South Atlantic Force. We used as the main sources the war diaries of the American warships involved in the escort, mainly the Light Cruiser Omaha. When from the refueling stop in Recife, we also found some documents exchanged between the Americans and DOPS-PE, (Departamento da Ordem Politica e Social) helping, therefore, in a better understanding of aspects of the brief passage of this convoy in the capital of Pernambuco.

“Before Alamein we never had a victory. After Alamein we never had a defeat”
The British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. The participation of the Armed Forces of Germany in North Africa at first was only defensive, motivated by the worrying situation of its Italian ally in the Mediterranean. Although Order No. 22, of 11 January 1941, issued by Hitler glimpsed that in that operational theater required, for strategic, political and psychological reasons, a greater German intervention, “for Hitler, North Africa was a secondary theater of operations. He does not believe in decisive successes in this sector, just as it is not afraid of it great dangers”

The Afrika-Korps created just as a barrage unit composed of a division of armored cars in aid of the Italian forces in frank debacle in front of the English troops, in the shadow of the Russian campaign, fighting in a “secondary” front, “always lacking aid and would never be integrated into the grand strategy of the Axis” from the beginning, represented the Axis and  all its driving force in the desert. "To where whatever it was, the battle was fiercer; when it was hidden, the British stopped in doubt, but once spotted, he had to be considered the epicenter of the eruption”. On the other hand, for the British the African theater represented a lot for keepeng its best strategic position and ability to fight offensively the Axis outside the “Festung Europa". In fact, when the British were expelled from France, remember the great efforts to evacuate the troops in Dunkirk, so that instead of attempting a direct attack on the shortest on the continent they passed the next four years fighting in the Mediterranean, only returning in June 1944 to France together with its American allies.

Churchill believed that the fate of the British would be decided by events to thousands of miles away from home. The British mentality was one of global power, an empire to be maintained. Tobruk, located in the Libyan province of Cyrenaica and near the border of Egypt, considered a vital position in Northern Africa, was one of the strongholds of the resistance British, preventing the Axis onslaught to Egypt. Its port was one of the most important in North Africa, as it allowed the anchoring of large ships due to the deep waters and for having a surrounding area of ​​steep cliffs, favoring the fortification against attacks coming from land. The British, Indian and Australian troops resisted for a long time the Axis onslaughts to take this important point, its components being known as the “rats of Tobruk”, for their resilience to constant air attacks and artillery.
Around April 1942, the Germans decided to advance and immobilize the British forces besieged in the fortress of  Tobruk (Operation Theseus). Submarine campaign in the Atlantic also worried the United States and England. A solution for the navigation issue, from help direct from the US Armed Forces and the worrying situation of the campaign of North Africa were the dominant themes of the Second Washington Conference, scheduled for June 1942, between President Franklin Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.
Churchill and his entourage set out for Washington by plane, leaving Scotland at the end of June 17th, arriving at the American capital in the early evening of the next day. The first meeting between Churchill and President Roosevelt took place at the President's house in Hyde Park, New York, where the Prime Minister had taken a flight on the morning of the 19th.
The two authorities then returned to Washington by train to begin the II Washington Conference. On the morning of June 21, a sunny Sunday in Washington, before meeting the president, Churchill looked through the papers, read a few telegrams for an hour, took breakfast, and then left with General Ismay for the meeting. When Roosevelt and Churchill met to decide the offensive questions for the second half of 1942 and 1943,
“Behold, an officer enters the room, salutes, and without saying a word extends a telegram to Roosevelt. The president reads, makes again to read. His face hardens, the conversation stops” sit down sure that something happened. Roosevelt extends the dispatch to Churchill, who reads it and pales. the telegram received reported that “Tobruk surrendered, with
twenty-five thousand men taken prisoner.” “That was so surprising that I could not believe it” 
For Churchill this news was:
One of the heaviest hits I remember during the war. No it was just its military effects serious, but it also affected the reputation of the British armies. In Singapore eighty five thousand men surrendered to a smaller number of Japanese. Now, in Tobruk, a garrison twenty-five thousand (actually, thirty-three thousand) experienced soldiers had laid down their arms, perhaps a number that did not have perhaps half of its forces. If this was typical of morals of the Desert Army, no measurements can be placed about the disasters that prevented in Northeast Africa. I am not tried to hide from the President the shock I had received. It was a bitter moment. defeat is one thing, shame is another.

According to General Marshall, who had been present at every meeting during that episode, June 21 “was a very exciting, because the news of Tobruk's fall came while they were up there and it certainly was a terrible blow to the Prime Minister and to the all Britons” ( US Secretary of War Henry Stimson also realized the gravity of the situation, noticed that, notwithstanding Churchill was evidently reeling, showing in his speech and gestures, he behaved bravely, and most importantly at the time, did not attempt in any way “to evade defeat on account of the large number of the enemy or anything of that kind,but he said it was just bad leadership; that Rommel surpassed us in leadership and combat capacity and managed to provide its troops with better weapons”. At the same time as discussing the British setback in North Africa, “nothing could exceed sympathy and chivalry of my two friends. There was no censorship, no unkind words were spoken.” Readily Roosevelt said, "What can we do to help?”. Churchill replied without hesitation: “Give us all the Sherman tanks you can spare and send them to the East immediately. 

So Roosevelt sent for General Marshall and informed him of that request. Marshall after learning about the nature of the request and its urgency replied: Mr President, the Shermans are just going into production. The first few hundred were destined for the our own armored divisions, which until then had to make do with obsolete equipment. It's a terrible thing for take a gun out of the hands of a soldier. However, if the British need is so great in have them, then we could let them take a hundred self-propelled cannons as well. 105 mm Howitzer anti-tank. Another point to be discussed was what the United States could help in that situation, taking into account what discussed at the previous day's meeting, such as sending planes and a division of armored cars. Secretary Stimson agreed to General Marshall's proposal that it was “attempted to reinforce this division with some artillery pieces self-propelled anti-tanks” even more that “this division was regarded as a key point of the defense of the Middle  East, and I showed the President that we had to make sure they were armed in the best possible way.”

At the final meeting of the Joint Chiefs of Staff it was put for considerations which aid plan American to British forces in the Middle East would be taken immediately. Of the three plans surveyed: a) The use of two "Seatrain Company" ships that could carry 300 medium American tanks, in addition to about 100 105 millimeter anti-tank artillery pieces of self-propulsion, along with a number of technical support personnel to the Middle East; b) The use of American tanks stationed in Ireland for training the staff of a division British armored vehicle that could then be shipped from England to the Middle East to equip American tanks sent in accordance with plan (a) above; c) The additional referral of trained personnel to the Middle East via ship S.S. Pasteur. This quota in together with the personnel sent on the ships of the Seatrain Company and those already in the Middle East would provide in this area a total of about 300 US experienced available men for instructions on the use and maintenance of equipment from the United States.

The final decision established was the plan proposed by General Marshall of the dispatch of 300 Sherman tanks, plus 100 105 mm anti-tank artillery fighters self-propelled, accompanied by a small number of American technicians. This fact was due to the urgency of the situation in Africa, the unpredictability of the staff training and deployment American still in training and, above all, that the English had “In addition to the 8th Armored Division, four armored brigades in the Delta valley awaiting re-equipment, plus the main factor of being experienced troops and trained in desert warfare”. So it was that in the context of the British setback in North Africa, to avoid a defeat of the British 8th Army, the loss of Egypt and the Suez Canal, and a possible pincer movement by the Axis in the Caucasus and North Africa in the Middle East, the delegates present at the II Washington Conference decided for the creation of the AS-4 Convoy. Only a decisive victory in the desert would save the British Empire.

The convoy called AS-4 was prepared in New York. It consisted of nine North-flagged merchant ships American, English and four Norwegian. All these merchants were capable of developing a cruising speed of about 10 to 15 knots, that is, the choice of these ships was conditioned by the urgency of the delivery of war materials to the British and mainly by the route chosen, via South Atlantic, Cape of Good Hope, East Africa and the Red Sea.
According to James' interview G. Paterson, designated Commanding Officer of ROTC5 on the merchant M.S. Tarn, in early July 1942 he was in port of New York and had seen nine merchants moored in three columns of three ships. He only knew that on those ships there were armaments for the British, but only when they set sail did he took notice of the actual loading, tanks Sherman and howitzer artillery pieces of 105 mm: “This Convoy was, probably at that time, the most important that had sailed from the United States. We didn't know where we were going, but we were taking the most modern equipment we had”.

The convoy of nine ships set sail in dawn of the 13th of July from the port of New York, escorted by the destroyers USS Livermore, USS Kearny, USS Mayo, USS Gleaves and USS Wilkes, which formed the Task Unit 21.5.2. Its displacement was according to defensive measures, no sonar contact had been obtained until on 16 July a German submarine spotted the formation of ships. and fired a volley of torpedoes, from which two hit the merchant S.S. Fairport. When returning to France, a German Type IX submarine of the
April, “the U-161, commanded by Albrecht Achilles, approached this important convoy on July 16”. Achilles boldly took the best firing angle and fired a salvo of torpedoes at two of the nine merchants. At 09:47, at latitude 27º 10’ N, Longitude 64º 35' W, the S.S. Fairport was hit by two torpedoes, deviated from the formation and at 10:03 sank. The destroyer Wilkes ordered the Livermore to remain in place until 14:00, while Kearny rescued all survivors from SS Fairport, made up of 43 crew, 14 armed guards and 65 army men from United States. Fortunately no one died in this episode.

After rescuing the castaways, the destroyers Kearny and Wilkes went in search of the attacking submarine, unleashing several depth bomb attacks more than twenty hours after the sinking from SS Fairport. According to the report of the USS Gleaves, with the attacks made by Wilkes, the submarine even ascended to the surface temporarily, leaving a slick of oil, but soon submerged. Wilkes had lost touch, but he admitted supposedly the sinking of the submarine. Despite the hard counterattack of the American destroyers, the commander of the U-161, Achilles, sent his report to Dönitz that his submarine had incurred in considerable damage, but without major complications in its ability to return to the Bay of Biscay safely.
Unfortunately for Churchill, the tanks were placed on the ships separate from their engines, all of which were in the S.S. Fairport. “Neither Achilles nor Dönitz were aware of the vital cargo in Fairport holds.”. Without the engines the tanks would have been useless.
Time could now be against the British, but as Churchill said in his memoirs, “Without a single word from us, the President and Marshall have placed yet another supply of engines on another ship and send it to overtake the convoy”. The new shipment would be sent by the SS Seatrain Texas that would take a different route from the one chosen by the convoy AS-4. As a ship with an average speed of 15 knots and sailing alone, Seatrain Texas reached Port Said, September 2, 1942. The AS-4 convoy and its escort followed their planned course even after the incident. On the morning of July 18th, they reached their first MOMP10, called the “Cast” point. the planes of Omaha spotted the convoy around 09:58, then composed of 8 merchants and 4 destroyers. At that moment, the Portuguese Corvette  João de Lisboa passed close to the battleships of Task Force 23 that were waiting for the convoy.

The commander from Omaha called the destroyer Somers to investigate the intruder, who by the movements for that day in that area was not expected. after having investigated the Portuguese boat, they returned to proceed their route to the south. From that point the convoy escort was under the responsibility of the Task Force 23. The layout of the convoy was maintained, divided into three columns, the two columns of starboard with three ships each, the column of port with two ships. the light cruiser USS Juneau would be at the forefront of the formation, the destroyer Somers aft, other destroyers would be on the flanks and Omaha would be in what would be Fairport 12's position. The advance of the convoy was usually followed by zigzags. at 11:20 am the 19th of July, while the formation prepared to change course, Omaha visualized that the merchant Empire Oriole had far off the formation, taking a heading southwest. This was due to loading above its real capacity, especially for loading tank on the deck of, which were moving much, to the point that her commander had to take another course to avoid colliding with the other ships in the convoy.

The destroyer Gleaves was charged with providing protection until the real possibility from Empire Oriole to continue onward. After much discussion it was decided that he should go with the convoy. Other ships prevented the advance in the set of constant speed. The American Manufacturer could no longer reach the convoy speed. Because of this, the average speed was reduced at 0.2 of a knot, which resulted in a decrease in advance to about 10 knots, which represented a notable handicap in progress. Another merchant to have problems with the engines was the SS Tarn, which had to leave the formation until she suffered repairs but soon she would be able to get back to the formation reaching a considerable speed of 15 kts. These mechanical, overload and technical unforeseen events, as well as the rough sea, made the commodore of the convoy work on a provisional plan, from which it was decided to make a stop at the port of Recife. On the 27th of July, the American Naval Observer in Recife sent a message, via USS Thrush,for the captain of the light cruiser Omaha, informing which moorings would be free and designating which ships should use them.

The Omaha captain thought this information still left a lot to wish, as it did not take into account the current fuel issue, each ship, as well as the procedures at the berths. The plan drawn up for the entry of the ships in the port of Recife was decided at 02:47 on the 28th of July. Omaha would be near the harbor entrance from where she could see the operations and coordinate them. The first ship to enter should be the Hawaiian Shipper, then the Exhibitor and Zaandam. Each ship should dock within 45 minutes, always keeping the movement not to become easy targets for submarines and, above all, for having only four docking pilots available in those days at the port of Recife. Despite all the concern, around 11:00, seven of the merchants from the AS-4 Convoy  were already inside the harbor pier. Only the American Manufacturer and the light cruiser Juneau were waiting outside for better berting conditions due to depth. At around 15:10, all ships entered the port.

At 15:00 hours, Admiral Cooke held a conference with all commanders, convoy and escort, aboard the SS Exhibitor. James Paterson remember this meeting: The Juneau's captain and the commodore called a meeting with all the captains of the ships; we found out at the meeting that no one lost their lives in Excalibur (read Fairport, since the S.S. Excalibur at that time had already been appropriated by the U.S. Navy and adapted to become a troop transport ship renamed the U.S.S. Joseph Hewes (AP-50), not belonging to the AS-4 convoy) It was at that meeting that we found out we were going to Egypt with all this equipment for the British 8th Army. Juneau's fellow said, "We're going to Ascension Island and then to the west coast of Africa”.

Several points have been brought in for general information and clarification. The care to keep the correct station was particularly reinforced, signals for maneuvers and communications were its main themes, as well as the great value of the convoy, emphasized among the items of military equipment, around 400 Sherman tanks. A secret letter was given to all ships in the convoy and to escort commanders, which was not to be opened until after the departure of the harbor. No freedom was granted for convoy staff. At the conference, the general impression was that all ships would be ready for departure the next day, as it was believed that everyone would already be supplied of fuel, water, food and ammunition. The supply progressed uninterruptedly. However, the departure on the afternoon of the 20th was impossible, as not all ships were ready. The Cruiser Juneau, for example, received a lot of food, but did not start receiving fuel until around 20:00 the next day, finishing at midnight. The stop was useful once the Empire Oriole needed her cargo holds to be inspected. The displacement of the tanks a few days before it was due to carelessness loading at the Army Base, because the vehicles were not duly chained. Thirteen were found in this condition and the seals were broken. It was decided that US Army technicians at Recife would inspect the tanks and would leave them  properly fixed.

It was later learned that some crew members of the merchants disobeyed the order not to leave the ships to observe the city's nightlife. In view of this, Admiral Cooke, chief of the American convoy, notified the American Naval Observer in Recife, Walter G. Hodgman, so that he could take action on the implications of this breach. He also provided a meeting with the escort leader, Captain Theodore E. Chandler, Commander from Omaha, where he spoke for a few minutes in relation to the attempt by the crew of the merchants to disembark. Chandler assured him that the situation would be resolved and referred to the Lieutenant Colonel Stuart, Commander of the 19th Provisional Marine Company United States naval stationed in Recife. When the last one arrived, they decided to devise a plan to deal with this subject, with the support of local police authorities. In general, there were no major difficulties in the solution, since those who disembarked soon returned during the dawn of the 29th.

On the other hand, “while the convoy was at Recife, a German radio broadcast in Portuguese, from Europe to Brazil, exactly where the convoy was, promised to sink all the ships”. How also recalled James Paterson: Recife [...] we went there to refuel. Now, Brazil was not at war with Germany. at that time, and the German Consulate had offices, buildings on the docks, and they were sitting there, looking for the deck load, counting the number of crew and uniforms, [...] just having a difficult job. The secrecy of presence information of ships, their loads and destinations were of vital importance for the maintenance of Allied navigation. “Deny such information to the enemy constitutes an excellent defense measure”. In fact, there were several Brazilian ports with German spies looking for these valuable data, making secrecy the golden rule everyone involved in this chain of protection of maritime traffic. We cannot say, according to the Paterson's recollection described above, the real existence of German offices in the docks, but it is worth noting that it was reported that a crewmember of the convoy came to have contact with a foreigner in some establishment in the downtown area called "Bairro do Recife".

Behold the content of the confidential communication of Cooke to Hodgman: Just a few lines to report that one of our crew who managed to land was invited by a Foreigner to go to a club or organization similar well-crafted in the fifth floor of one of the great buildings. He said there was a spacious bar and night club and that the people gathered there appeared to speak German, despite of the fact that they said they spoke Dutch. Walking through the premises, he said that, in one of the rooms that opened onto a corridor, there were what appeared to be very modern radio equipment. The window overlooked the harbor and all the activities could be observed. I'm sending this one by the pilot. I hope it reaches you well.

DOPS-PE, a branch of Federal Police, was charged with investigating nationality of that foreigner, as well as the place where the crew member of the convoy was taken. At first the complaint did not seem clear, as buildings with five floors in the downtown area of ​​Recife there were few, namely, the building of the Grande Hotel, the building of the Banco Auxiliar do Comercio, the Sul-América building, the skyscraper of Praça da Independência. The possibility was raised that it had been at the Grand Hotel: Except in the first one, in none of the others  there existed  Club or Bar and similar organization, as the complaint says. They are excluded, on the other hand, the Sul-América buildings and the Pracinha Skyscraper, which is why don't have them giving any view to the harbor. Only the Grande Hotel, which has a club and a view to the port, if you could accept as being the one in which the crew member of Admiral Cooke.

On the other hand, there is a circumstance in which I would exclude the possibility of have been there, because “the ‘Grande Hotel’ has no on its 5th floor a Big Bar (not even small). On that floor there are only apartments and rooms. the bars of building are on the ground and 1st floors. There is, therefore, a mistake, accepting that the fact is that it had passed at the Grande Hotel”. A more likely hypothesis of the location would be in the “Casino Império”. That was a truly entertainment establishment frequented in that period, especially by members of the U. S. Armed Forces based or in transit through Recife. In fact, the building didn't have the fifth floor, it's true, but: It is very high and has an elevator. It can give the impression to the outsider, who enters there unprepared, having that height. There is one Bar, Club, “dancing”, windows to the harbor and well drawn aspect, as the complaint, perhaps referring to Luxury of the premises. Casino Imperio is very frequented by seafarers. Have intense nightlife. Someone could have taken there the crewman of Admiral Cooke.

Another circumstance was that “on the 3rd floor of the building lived the German Ernest Baunholzer, former manager of Casino Império, in company of French Renee Henrique, having a harlot's pension there”. To the time when he was the manager many Germans frequented the establishment, attracted by its nights full of shows and presentations, but mainly for the hustle of foreigners, in its great part sailors in passing, with the in order to obtain some valuable information as to the destination and loading of ships, vital to the Allied war effort.

The preliminary investigation carried out cable by DOPS-PE agents did not definitively bring a solution to what had happened, but raised two guiding hypotheses of what may have happened in that dawn of July 28, 1942: the German Rudolf Piper 34 was taken as the possible contact that the crewmember of the American convoy had, or that the report described in the complaint had been the effect of the American crewman's excessive ingestion of alcohol. Thus concluding:

At the time he lived in Recife, the German PIPER assiduously visited Casino Imperio, so managed by Baunholzer, having with him a long conferences at night. Today, PIPER is not here anymore. Bunholzer left the management of the house, but went to live with Mme. Renee Henrique at 3rd floor and there is a pension there. It will be this is a gimmick, for espionage, since the Imperio is visited by people from all over nationalities, and now, more than any other, by Americans from the warships that visit the anchorage daily? Or will it be the Observation from the crew of Admiral Cooke consequence of some excess of drinks?

However, this subject was, by manipulation of tact, prevented from assuming serious proportions. The fact is that reigned in Recife's newspapers and radios, censorship in relation to war activities, especially concerning the United States. Shortly after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, leading the United States to actually enter the war, the State Department sent, on December 14 a circular to the Embassy in Rio de Janeiro so that it could pass on to the other consulates in Brazilian territory, where it demanded:

Draw the attention of local authorities to the desire to avoid publication of information by press or radio, about the movements of vessels from the United States or British. The transmission of such information through private communication channels is also undesirable.

At the end of 1941, the director general of the DIP, (Departamento de Imprensa e Propaganda) Lourival Fontes, sent a telegram reserved to the Federal Interventor in Pernambuco, Agamenon Magalhães, which respected the American wish to suspend any broadcasting of the activities of the vessels:

In addition to the previous instructions on news regarding to the movement of ships, I request you to ensure that no information on ships is disclosed merchants or war ships of North American nationality even after being in Port. The presence of the convoy in Recife was top secret, even the Germans claiming to know about it, transmitting his location and threatening to destroy it, the important refueling procedures of the ships were urgent and demanded a continuous task being completed in the shortest possible time. To have an idea, only with the presence of the U.S. warships in the port of Recife (Omaha, Juneau, Davis, Somers and Thrush) about 2,500 men were in this area of ​​the city, demanding constant surveillance for maintaining secrecy.

At 4:30 am on the 30th of July, the departure of the escort began, leaving first the destroyers Davis and Somers, then the light cruisers Omaha and Juneau in that order. Omaha was anchored in the entrance channel to observe and direct operations, while the other warships maintained the patrol further afield. With the merchant ships positioned in their designated cradles, began the merchant exit process, in this order: Exhibitor, Tarn, Hawaiian Shipper, Santa Cruz, Mormacdale, Zaandam, Empire Oriole and American Manufacturer; when the last ship turned the bend from the breakwater, the convoy lifted anchor and headed east at 10:43. The sailing went off without any problems.

Remaining on a fixed path for long enough until the last ship reached them, then, with the convoy in formation, began the zigzag on the 090° base course at the standard speed of 12 knots. The Rio Dulce, an Argentine freighter, passed by the convoy at 16:55, in a southwesterly direction. The Omaha had no references to her, as she was apparently one of the ships held by the Argentina in Italy, an investigation was carried out very close visual action, as well as the Juneau came close to warn him, for megaphone, so that her radio would not be used for the next 8 hours, under penalty of having performed non-neutral service. Apparently, the warning was obeyed, and the convoy was able to continue its defeat. Shortly after 21:00 on the 31st, the Davis reported to Omaha through TBS who had heard an unusually strong signal at 10,510 kcs, produced by a unit apparently close to Lorient, one of the German submarine bases in France. As she could not pinpoint the direction of the signal (frequency above the DF range), nothing could be done except warn ships equipped with HF-DF to be vigilant and notify the other ships immediately in case of suspicious signals within reach, so that all ships could orient themselves.

The convoy was heading to the second MOMP, where the British would take over the escort. The prediction was that the two convoys meet on the 5th August, in the vicinity of Ascension Island. During this interval there was no direct contact with the enemy, being the progress of the ships very smoothly, with only a few mechanical failures, but nothing too serious. For example, the SS Tarn appeared to have fire on board, once sparks were seen in her stoke. How remembers Paterson: The ship I was on, the SS  Tarn, being a motor ship, it was burning oil, not coal. She wasn't a steamer, she burned oil. And the convoy was so slow that the residues accumulated in the funnels and, suddenly, we started to move. Now Juneau approached and said: “Captain, do something about it. of that spark.” But the English of captain was not very good and he said, "You talk to them." So I said, "Okay." Then, I went on the loudspeaker and said: “We have a problem according to the captain: as the speed of the convoy is very slow, this makes waste to accumulate in their funnels unless he had the opportunity to sail at full steam for an extended period, waste will continue accumulating”. Juneau said: “We can arrange that. You tell the captain to stand tonight," and he continued, "and we'll get him off the convoy 'cause we can't have that spark on it, and he will leave at full speed, accompanied by one of our escort destroyers, but he must take that ship in full slope as much as he can and join us at dawn tomorrow”.

With the first lights of the day, USS  Omaha headed to meet the British convoy. WS-21P. She spotted them, made contact, passed instructions and proceeded to hand over escort duty to the British of the now combined convoy, as reported Theodore Chandler: Omaha left the convoy at 05:42 and went straight ahead at 20 knots to find the ships and British escort. The weather was foul, but it got really good at 7:13, that was exactly within the schedule, the first  visible things were large merchant ships with 3 and 2 funnels, 5 ships in total. The escort appeared some time later, in a total of 4 warships. Within reach of distance capable of signaling, was informed by the H.M.S. Orion than the convoy, designated as “WS-21P”, was commanded by Vice Admiral Martin, at the Empress of Japan, the four other ships were Windsor Castle, Oronsay, Duchess of York and Duchess of Atholl.

The escort, in addition to Orion, consisted of the Australian destroyer Nepal, Dutch Tjerk Hiddes and British Destroyer Boreas was soon able to see the two groups of ships and gave positioning assignments to the AS-4 Commodore to our ships on the new convoy combined, also advising the course for the approach of British ships. the Omaha continued to be the leading ship between the two units, until  Admiral Cooke finished excellent joining job and take the proper positioning in the new formation. Shortly later, the British commodore ordered 2 shifts of exercises and the combined convoy seemed definitely organized. Little before the groups joined, the Commodore handed over the command escort to Orion and started to form a watch queue ahead of  the convoy with Juneau, Somers, Davis and Omaha. With an interval of 5 km between the ships, we went ahead at 15 knots on the course of the base convoy, informing Orion that we were going to advance. It continued with sweeping until 16:00, when she parted ways with Juneau and Somers with a “good job”, and put Omaha and Davis on the base course of 235°. Juneau and Somers, now constituting Task Group 23.9, reversed course and headed back towards the convoy to begin their patrol heading Cape Verde. I put Davis in the starboard bow of the Omaha. I planned to keep Davis at a greater distance than usual, with the idea that our main task was to find a raider or one Blockade Runner, and that covering a vast area was extremely desirable.

Thus ended the mission of escorting the U.S. warships. Navy to the AS-4 convoy. The responsibility for arriving unharmed at their port of destination would now fall to the British on combined convoy WS-21P47.


We became aware of the passage along the Brazilian coast of this convoy loaded with war material. The Germans “knew about these movements, so much so that a of its radio broadcasting stations, with direct broadcasts to Brazil, referred to such movements, threatening them with destruction”. In this period U-507, commanded by Korvettenkapitän Harro Schacht, performed its third Feindfahrt in the South Atlantic. From its departure from Lorient until the beginning of August, the German  submarine had not carried out any sinking of an enemy ship. That moment, August 7, Schacht asked BdU for “free maneuvers” to operate off the coast of Brazil, getting permission about 15 hours later. Now, would it have something to do with the presence of the AS-4 convoy in the vicinity of Recife with the change of the U-507 patrol, so to intercept it? The fact is that, in the interregnum of the exchanges of messages between the submarine and the command in France, the ships were already in the middle of the South Atlantic following their journey to Egypt unharmed.

The loss of Egypt would be the coup de grâce for Britain. the great threat it poised to the Suez Canal that connected the British to the oil fields of the Persian Gulf and from there for India and Australia. Empire supplies and men were essential to the effort. British war, as all the oil and more than half of the food had to be imported. Loss of control of the Mediterranean would add several weeks to voyages to the Far East, as well as exposing the few merchant ships to attacks by the Axis submarines. This, in short, is why Churchill took the risk of reinforcing Egypt at a time when British territory itself faced the fear of an imminent invasion. The success or otherwise of several battles fought on the European and African continents were somehow dependent on the maintenance of navigation in the Atlantic and Indian oceans.

It was through the sea that the production of war materials, oil and its derivatives, food and raw materials flowed from as far away as possible to the most developed industrial plants, until they reach their final destination on the battlefields. The Atlantic campaign involved several aspects so that navigation was maintained. The organization of convoys, means of detecting submarines (submerged and on the surface), anti-submarine weapons (surface and air units suitable for these operations). Establishment of a chain of naval bases to provide support through of the main routes. Naval power is not only measured by fleets, but also by a system of naval bases and facilities capable of providing repairs, fuel, supplies, accommodation for personnel to rest, as well as serving as a support point for wherever operations are designed. The choice of Recife was obviously due to the strategic position central to the interested area and with greater resources available, its port was fundamental for the logistics of Allied navigation in the South Atlantic, allowing, therefore, a triangulation between the western routes to the north and south of America and with Africa.

The combined convoy carried weapons, armor, technicians and troops that helped the8th British Army to overcome the Axis advance at the Battle of El Alamein, at which time that turned fortunes to the Allies' side in the war. Henceforth, Germany would not have more major strategic victories, followed defeats at Stalingrad in the winter of 1942- 43, in the Battle of the Atlantic in mid-1943, in the Luftwaffe's loss of dominance in the air, and, later, in the invasions of the European continent in Italy and France by the allied forces.

We try to show, from the narrative of the AS-4 convoy, that in a brief stop for refueling at a port located in the South Atlantic, in a city in the Northeast from Brazil, can reveal little-known stories, but important for the outcome Allied victory in the Battle of the Atlantic. It was with the establishment of bases  along the Brazilian coast, interconnecting the main routes, which made possible, on the one hand, the control, defense and passage of allied navigation and, on the other hand, the impediment to the enemy of the practice of the privateering, of the passage of blockade runners and submarine warfare. It's stories like this are still dormant, looking for rescue. This is yet another reason to endorse that Brazil actively participated in the Battle of the Atlantic, even before its official entry into the war.


BERCUSON, David J; HERWIG, Holger H. The long night of the tankers: Hitler's war against Caribbean oil. Calgary: University of Calgary, 2014.

BLAIR, Clay. Hitler's U-boat war: The hunters, 1939-1942. New York: Modern Library, 2000.

CALDERHEAD, William L. Recife, U.S. Naval Advance Base, 1942-1945. In: United States

Navy and Marine Corps bases, overseas. Westport: Greenwood, 1985.

CARELL, Paul. Afrika-Korps: the desert foxes. Translation by Augusto Sousa. 6. ed. Sao Paulo: Flamboyant, 1967.

CHARLES, Roland W. Troopships of World War II. 1st ed. Washington: The Army Transportation Association, 1947.

CHURCHILL, Winston S. The Second World War: the hinge of fate. New York: Mariner Books, V. IV, 1986.

DEPARTMENT OF STATE. Foreign Relations of the United States: the conferences at Washington, 1941-1942, and Casablanca, 1943. Washington: United States Government Printing Office, 1968.

DUARTE, Paulo de Queiroz. War days in the South Atlantic. Rio de Janeiro: Library of Army, 1968.

NAVIGATOR 32 A vital convoy in the South Atlantic: aspects of the history of the AS-4 convoy and its passage through Recife

GAMA, Arthur Oscar Saldanha da; MARTINS, Hélio Leoncio. The Navy on Monday

World War. In: BRAZIL. Ministry of the Navy. General Documentation Service of

Navy. Brazilian Naval History. Rio de Janeiro: Editora do Livro, v. 5, Volume II, 1985.

MACKSEY, Kenneth. Afrika Korps: Rommel in the desert. Translation Nacif Japan. River of

January: Renes, 1974.

MARKOFF, George P. History of Convoy and Routing. Washington, D.C., 1945.

MCCANN, Frank D. Brazil and the United States during World War II and its aftermath: negotiating alliance and balancing giants. Cham: Palgrave Macmillan, 2018.

MORISON, Samuel Eliot. Operations in North African waters: October 1942 - June 1943. London: Oxford, vol. 2, 1947.

PEREIRA, Durval Lourenço. Operation Brazil: the German attack that changed the course of

Second World War. São Paulo: Context, 2015.

WINCHESTER, James H. The ship the Nazis had to get: a true history of a ship that may

have won the war for us. The American Legion Magazine: New York, v. 51, No. 2, pp.20-

21.55-56, August 1951.


Since 2007 -