The internment of German submariners and US paratroops in Spanish Morocco, 1942: a Spanish comparison.

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Sid Guttridge
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The internment of German submariners and US paratroops in Spanish Morocco, 1942: a Spanish comparison.

Post by Sid Guttridge » 17 Feb 2020 16:43

In 1942 the damaged U-boat U-573 entered a Spanish port and the Spanish interned its crew at the Spanish Foreign Legion barracks at Tahuima, in Spanish Morocco.

On 8 November 1942 three aircraft carrying 90 members of the US 509th Parachute Regiment mistakenly landed at Tahuima and were also interned at the same barracks by the Spanish Foreign Legion.

The Legion's commander, Colonel Don Alberto Serrano Montaner, on p.390 of his book Del LLano Amarillo a Puicerda, (Madrid 2013), offers the following comparison:

"It seemed the landing was more akin to a desertion because the German and US internees comported themselves very differently......The Germans undertook training exercises similar to those they would have conducted normally in their own bases and during the whole day they were occupied in some activity or other: they did not frequent the canteen and at all times showed an enormous motivation and discipline. They also fraternised with the Legionaries."

"By contrast, the Americans rarely comported themselves like a military unit, did not train and maintained no routine of activities. They assiduously frequented the canteen, often got drunk and engaged in fights with the legionaries".

Serrano Montaner said the Legion's command was sad to see the Germans repatriated but glad to be rid of the Americans.

It should be pointed out that neither Spain, nor Serrano Montaner, nor the Spanish Foreign Legion were exactly neutral as they had benefited greatly from German support during the recent Spanish Civil War. Indeed, Serrano Montaner had spent part of the war in Germany when he was charged with investigating whether German policing methods suited Spain. He reported not.

Nevertheless, his comparison conforms well with received national stereotypes.

Cheers,

Sid

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Ironmachine
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Re: The internment of German submariners and US paratroops in Spanish Morocco, 1942: a Spanish comparison.

Post by Ironmachine » 19 Feb 2020 13:53

There are a few points I would like to make:
1) The submarine could not be U-573. Serrano Montaners says in his book the submarine he is writting about had been sunk near Cape Tres Forcas, which is in Africa. As you wrote, U-573 was not sunk, she entered a Spanish port, specifically Cartagena, which in the Iberian Peninsula and not in Africa, and it would have been rather strange to send the crew to Africa.
2) The submarine must have been U-617 that, after being attacked by British planes, was severely damaged which ran aground near Cape Tres Forcas (Spanish Morocco) on 12 September 1943.She was later bombed by British planes and ships that further damaged it, though it did not sunk until the end of October 1943, when a Spanish Navy diver placed an explosive charge under the hull of the submarine. After it was exploded, the submarine finally sank.
3) Other than the military bases and barracks, that is other than going to the canteen, there was almost nothing to do at Tahuima. The crew of U-617 was indeed interned at Tahuima, but only for two or three weeks. They were later sent to the Peninsula. So they were there for a very shot time, with their officers, and they could maintain their high spirit.
4) I don't know for how long the U.S. paratroopers were kept there, and how many officers they had with them (as they were not full units, but men loads from transport planes), but if there were not many high-ranking officers and they had to stay there for a relatively long time, it is not difficult to understand that they felt dismayed and their discipline broke.

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Re: The internment of German submariners and US paratroops in Spanish Morocco, 1942: a Spanish comparison.

Post by Sid Guttridge » 19 Feb 2020 18:21

Hi Ironmachine,

You may be right. I haven't got the book with me now, so will get back to you tomorrow in detail.

All the book up to the end of the civil war was written in the first person by Serrano Montaner himself. However, the post civil war section was assembled by his son and written in the third person, so may be less reliable.

A couple of points to note:

1) I deduced (perhaps wrongly) that it was U-573. Serrano Montaner does not mention the particular boat.

2) From memory, the US aircraft had a Captain and several Lieutenants aboard, so they were not without authority figures.

3) I don't think the US paratroops were there long. General Mark Clark got them released. According to Wikipedia, "A total of 67 American troops were interned by Franco's forces until February 1943."

I'll get back to you tomorrow.

Many thanks,

Sid.

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Ironmachine
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Re: The internment of German submariners and US paratroops in Spanish Morocco, 1942: a Spanish comparison.

Post by Ironmachine » 19 Feb 2020 21:26

1)Yes, Serrano Montaner does not mention the particular boat, but as I wrote in my previous post he mentions that it was a submarine that has been sunk near Cape Tres Forcas. Thus, it could not be U-573 (which was neither sunk nor in Africa). It had to be U-617. Her crew was interned at Tahuima.
2) Maybe, maybe not. First (in your first post) there were 90 U.S soldiers, then (your last post per Wikipedia) they were 67. I would wait to know exactly who was there.
3)From 8 November 1942 to February 1943 is three months at least, far more time than the two/three weeks that the Germans spent at Tahuima. Spending three monts at Tahuima, surrounded by non-sympathetic Spanish troops, could have been tough for the Americans' moral and discipline.

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Re: The internment of German submariners and US paratroops in Spanish Morocco, 1942: a Spanish comparison.

Post by LineDoggie » 19 Feb 2020 23:19

A C-47 had typically 3 Commissioned officers or Flying officers (Warrant officer) as crewmembers-
Pilot
Copilot
Navigator
Plus a Enlisted Radio operator (Typically an NCO)

and also carried 28 paratroops when rigged for parachute operations.

84 paras 3 USAAF EM, 9 USAAF OF
"There are two kinds of people who are staying on this beach: those who are dead and those who are going to die. Now let’s get the hell out of here".
Col. George Taylor, 16th Infantry Regiment, Omaha Beach

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Re: The internment of German submariners and US paratroops in Spanish Morocco, 1942: a Spanish comparison.

Post by LineDoggie » 19 Feb 2020 23:52

In reading the US Army history of operation torch it states on page 212

Six of the air transports wandered far to the west of Oran. One landed at Gibraltar;
two in French Morocco; and three in Spanish Morocco. The parachutists of a seventh
C-47 were dropped while over another point in Spanish Morocco. Sixty-one paratroopers were interned by the Spanish Government.


https://history.army.mil/html/books/006 ... _6-1-1.pdf
"There are two kinds of people who are staying on this beach: those who are dead and those who are going to die. Now let’s get the hell out of here".
Col. George Taylor, 16th Infantry Regiment, Omaha Beach

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Re: The internment of German submariners and US paratroops in Spanish Morocco, 1942: a Spanish comparison.

Post by Ironmachine » 20 Feb 2020 08:06

So numbers don't agree. 84 paras, 3 USAAF EM, 9 USAAF OF, plus another 28 paras who jumped over Spanish territory. Even if the parachuted men landed near the border and could cross it before being captured, we have still many more men than the sixty-one allegedly interned by the Spanish government.

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Re: The internment of German submariners and US paratroops in Spanish Morocco, 1942: a Spanish comparison.

Post by Sid Guttridge » 20 Feb 2020 13:19

Hi Guys,

On p.386, Serrano Montaner's son writes, ".....tres peletones de paracidistas, debian ser unas noventa personas."

This means ".....three platoons of parachutists, ought to be some ninety people."

On p.388 he says "Se presentaron un capitan y tres tenients....." or "A Captain and three Liutenants presented themselves....."

His assumption appears to be that each aircraft carried a platoon. At full load with crew this would give some 90 men.

However, the C-47s had flown from all the way the UK, so one has to question whether they were each carrying a full load? This might account for three aircraft not producing the expected number of internees (around 60 rather than 90).

Cheers,

Sid.

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Re: The internment of German submariners and US paratroops in Spanish Morocco, 1942: a Spanish comparison.

Post by Ironmachine » 21 Feb 2020 09:00

On p.386, Serrano Montaner's son writes, ".....tres peletones [sic] de paracidistas [sic], debian ser unas noventa personas."

This means ".....three platoons of parachutists, ought to be some ninety people."
No, it does not mean that, because a "pelotón" in Spain is not the equivalent of a platoon. A "pelotón" is a small unit of 10-12 men commanded by a non-comissioned officer, more or less the equivalent of the U.S. Army section, IIRC. The Spanish equivalent of a platoon is a "sección". It is evident that someone who doesn't know the structure of both armies could easily assume from the similar sounds that a platoon is a "pelotón" (and that a section is a "sección") but that's not correct. Of course, as Serrano's son is the one writting the story, he may have been unaware of all that. Not knowing the source of his claim (wrong memory, wrongly translated document...) is difficult to say how accurate his tale is about that, as apparently he is calculating the number of men from the number and size of the units. Certainly Serrano's son seems to have some problems with units sizes and designations, as for example (p. 391) he says the men were from the 509th Parachute Battalion, not the 509th Parachute Regiment.
However, the C-47s had flown from all the way the UK, so one has to question whether they were each carrying a full load? This might account for three aircraft not producing the expected number of internees (around 60 rather than 90).
That's the most probable reason for the difference in numbers. In fact, if we divide the number of men (556, source https://www.509pib.com/history/) between the number of C-47s (39, source https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation ... e_landings), we have about 14 men in each aircraft. Adding the paratroopers that jumped over Spanish territory from another C-47, we are reaching the 60 number (and then there are the crews of the landed C-47s). However, that would mean that each plane is carrying a section, and then the number of officers mentioned by Serrano's son (a captain and three lieutenants) appears to be rather unlikely, unless they include crew members (or he is wrong).

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Re: The internment of German submariners and US paratroops in Spanish Morocco, 1942: a Spanish comparison.

Post by Sid Guttridge » 21 Feb 2020 11:26

Hi Ironmachine,

Thanks for that.

From the way he writes, it seems that the captain was in command of the paratroops.

Another possibility is that the aircraft included a company headquarters, which would account for the Captain being present.

Cheers,

Sid.

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Re: The internment of German submariners and US paratroops in Spanish Morocco, 1942: a Spanish comparison.

Post by Ironmachine » 22 Feb 2020 08:50

From the way he writes, it seems that the captain was in command of the paratroops.
From the way he writes, I would be careful before reaching a conclusion.
Another possibility is that the aircraft included a company headquarters, which would account for the Captain being present.
Yes, that's a possibility.

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Re: The internment of German submariners and US paratroops in Spanish Morocco, 1942: a Spanish comparison.

Post by Sid Guttridge » 22 Feb 2020 11:59

Hi Ironmachine,

You post, "From the way he writes, I would be careful before reaching a conclusion."

Indeed. That was why I used the qualifier "seems".

Cheers,

Sid,

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Re: The internment of German submariners and US paratroops in Spanish Morocco, 1942: a Spanish comparison.

Post by Ironmachine » 23 Feb 2020 10:10

Not exactly the same thing, but it really doesn't matter.
Regards.

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Re: The internment of German submariners and US paratroops in Spanish Morocco, 1942: a Spanish comparison.

Post by ROLAND1369 » 28 Feb 2020 15:25

As the paratroopers were planing to jump into North Africa each airplane would have had at least one Army Commissioned Officer from the unit on board to function as the Stick Jumpmaster(Dispatcher in British terms). During WW II only Commissioned Officers were allowed to be Jumpmasters. The function of the American Jumpmaster was to inspect the parachutes of the soldiers for safety and correct fitting as well to control their loading as well as the additional equipment to be loaded on the aircraft. This would consist of door bundles or larger supply bundles carried on equipment racks below the aircraft belly. These bundles would contain additional equipment such as mortars, machine guns, dismantled artillery pieces, medical or communications equipment or additional ammo. All of this dependent on the mission of the Paratroopers. Additionally once in the air the Jumpmaster was responsible for control of the stick coordination with the aircrew, supervising the inflight rigging of the troop parachutes( on a flight of this duration the parachutes would not be worn for the entire flight but would have been put on about 30 minutes prior to reaching the droop zone depending on the location of the first hostile units). Upon reaching the DZ the Jumpmaster would have given the Jump Commands necessary to ready the stick for drop, identify the DZ Markings, and give the Jump command at the proper time. Thus a minimum of three Paratroop officers would have been present with the troops. The additional weight and space requirements of the extra equipment as well as the length of the flight(although the stopped at Gibraltar for refueling) would account for a reduced troop load. As for the authority of the Flight crew offices over the paras it more theoretical than actual. Anyone who has been associated with the paratroops of any nation will find the description of fighting in the canteen(particularly with another elite unit such as the Spanish Foreign Legion) is highly likely to occur. The Spanish Colonel's comments on the behavior of the paratroops behavior only reflect what current Regular Army Asshole Officers say about contemporary Paratroop and Special Operations Units. Spoken from the viewpoint of 25 Years of Airborne and Special Operations experience and a Jumpmaster. Just some tecnical clarifications.

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Re: The internment of German submariners and US paratroops in Spanish Morocco, 1942: a Spanish comparison.

Post by Sid Guttridge » 29 Feb 2020 12:06

Hi Roland1369,

Thanks for your expertise.

The Spanish colonel was comparing German U-boat crew behaviour with US paratroop behaviour. He seems to be implying that German morale and discipline held up better in captivity than that of the US paratroops. The difference was so marked that he wondered in print whether the US planes had actually defected. Frustration at missing their first combat opportunity and your explanation seem a more likely explanation.

The nature of paratroop operations, in which there is nowhere to retreat to, puts an overwhelming imperative on aggressive over defensive behaviour. This is essential on field operations but seems to be counterproductive as soon as hearts and minds counter-insurgency is required. The list of parachute units that have run foul of authority because of this is considerable. The in-built aggression of 2 Para on so-called "Bloody Sunday" in Northern Ireland had decades of consequences by reinforcing the apparent legitimacy of the IRA as defenders of the Catholic minority. I seem to recall that the Canadian paras had problems in Somalia and Australian special forces have some questions to answer in Afghanistan. Eddie Gallagher is the most recent US example. Parachute-trained troops of all nationalities should probably carry a "Use with Care" label.

Still, if essentially civil societies like these insist on sending specialist units into intensive combat in what is otherwise peacetime, they shouldn't be surprised if such circumstances result. You cannot select men for pure aggression and expect it to be suppressed indefinitely.

Cheers,

Sid.

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