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Lisa's Box of Treasures Our jewel at VisitAruba.com - Lisa has many gems to share with you. She has a wealth of information about Aruba - and if she doesn't know, she will find out! :) So, enjoy and ask away!

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Old Thursday, June 7th, 2007, 05:11 PM
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Default Aruba's close encounter with WW2

Who could have known, that such a small island like Aruba played an
important part in WW II.

IMO, we were certainly blessed.

It happened on the night of February 16, 1942. At 1:30 in the morning a sudden blast was heard throughout the island, "Pedernales" a tanker heavy with crude oil exploded about 2 miles away from the coast where the Lago was, the old oil refinery apparently the most important at that time. We were being attacked by the Germans. A bigger blast was felt and seen when a second torpedo fired 10 minutes later and hit the "Oranjestad" tanker, this was larger then the Pedernales. The Germans were close to succeeding.

By hitting the second tanker "Oranjestad", the view of Lago became clear, we felt helpless, if one of torpedo hit the Lago this meant great loss for the Allies and Aruba. Then it happened, the Germans on the U-156 were overjoyed with the sense of victory and made a mistake. Someone forgot to remove the water plug from the barrel of the cannon before firing at the refinery. The cannon exploded lethally wounding one of the crew members and the gunners leg was shredded to the bones. The captain was furious and ordered the crew to keep trying, but the cannon was useless. They tried with a smaller cannon but they missed terribly they were to far to reach land with significance, still in flames they float past Lago going to the southwest side of the Island.

Meanwhile at my grandparents house, grandma with her rosary in her hand prayed for safety of Aruba and her family. My grandpa meanwhile went with the other curious people near the coast where the Pedernales, which could be seen still on fire, was passing by.

In Oranjestad the Henry Gibbons, an American military supply ship, was preparing to clear the harbor. When the blast from the Pedernales was seen, the ship returned to her berth. Aboard the Gibbons were 3,000 tons of explosives. Had the Gibbons sailed into the path of the u-boat and been torpedoed, the blast would have been sufficient to break pipelines and blow gaskets throughout the refinery area. Officially stated was that Henry Gibbons was scheduled to depart shortly after midnight, but her crew demanded a coffee break before sailing, so her departure had been delayed just long enough to prevent her coming into range of torpedoes.

There were four other u-boats in the nearby islands. The U-156 still in position to attack the refinery, called on other u-boats for help. But for reasons unknown they rejected and left the U-156 alone to use the only weapon they had to complete their mission, which was to blow up the refinery.

The big tanker Arkansas lay at Eagle, empty. The U-156 sent three torpedoes toward the ship. One hit the beach, another disappeared seaward, and the last one struck the Arkansas, causing only minor damage. Furious and helpless, the U-156 submerged and disappeared.

My grandpa was a worker in Lago, he had told me that we weren't expecting an attack. There were several blackouts every night for more than a week after the incident. Word was out that Aruba had the only refinery that could help the Allies with sufficient fuel for the most needed RAF fighter and bomber commands on the homeland, for the struggling British troops on Malta and along the battle line in Egypt and of course for the American forces. The government suggested some measurements to be taken and the people were willing to meet the terms.
What really happened was that the Lago belonged to the Standard Oil an American company that supplied the Germans at the beginning of the WW2. Nevertheless, when the providing was stopped during the war the Germans were infuriated and decided to make an attack on the oil refinery on Aruba, the biggest in the world at that time, which worked at full capacity and produced 7,100,000 barrels of gas-oil, aviation gasoline, natural gasoline, kerosene and lubricants. My mom wasn't even born yet and my grandparents had a family of 3 children by then. They lived approximately the now popular Main Street. Everyone was involved; families went to church praying for the safety of Aruba during the day. At night families stayed at home frightened to be attacked again. It is believed that the Germans were studying the coast during daylight to dusk. Otherwise, it was enigmatic how they knew precisely where the two refineries lay.

The one thing that saved Aruba from being attacked again was a long dispute between the German commands of whether attacking the land or ships would be most effective.

Till the end of the WW II troops from Allies patrolled the island and build a couple of cannon bases around the island for protection, some are still visible near the Bushiribana ruins and next to the east lighthouse (not really a lighthouse).

Rescuers towed the Pedernales to shallow water and cut out the damaged middle part. The two halves were welded together by Americans, and the ship served as a troop transport for D Day. The mid part is still on the bottom of the sea, decorated by tons of coral.
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Old Thursday, June 7th, 2007, 06:06 PM
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Default Re: Aruba's close encounter with WW2

lisa, not only are your stories really good but they also are certainly teaching me a lot. i have had so many different explanations thru the years. it's nice to have the accurate details.

thank you!

Last edited by dwippies; Thursday, June 7th, 2007 at 06:11 PM. Reason: oops, momma can't spell
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Old Thursday, June 7th, 2007, 08:31 PM
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One Happy Island Re: Aruba's close encounter with WW2

Lisa ~ that's a fascinating story, and one that I never heard. Thanks so much for educating us about the island we love.
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Old Thursday, June 7th, 2007, 10:06 PM
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Default Re: Aruba's close encounter with WW2

I'm finding myself more and more of a history buff (wannabe) as I get older. Stories like that give me such a great sense of what Aruba is all about. Thank you Lisa.
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Old Friday, June 8th, 2007, 10:34 AM
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Default Re: Aruba's close encounter with WW2

Quote:
Originally Posted by sherry View Post
lisa, not only are your stories really good but they also are certainly teaching me a lot. i have had so many different explanations thru the years. it's nice to have the accurate details.

thank you!
I've dove the wreck of the Pedernalis many times, and have heard a few variations of the story.

One guide suggested that the Dutch were aware of a threat to the refinery and ordered it blacked out, but neglected to tell the American crews of the tankers who laid at anchor outside the protective harbor reef. Mistaking the brightly lite tankers for the refinery, the U-156 attacked them instead. Seeing the explosions from the tankers, the kaptain thought his mission was successful and departed.

That tale is far from accurate, however.

If I may add a epilogue however.

The U-156 was commanded by Kapitanleutnanat Werner Hartenstein which sailed from Lorient, France on January 19, 1942. She was well armed and prepare for her mission with 6 torpedoes loaded in her tubes, nine secured under bunks and 10 more stowed away in a watertight compartment on the deck.

Along with U-156, the boats U-67, U-161 and U-502 formed Neuland Group who's mission was to attack the refineries on Aruba, Curacao and attack the lake tankers sailing between the refineries and Lake Maracaibo in Venezuela.

Originally when U-156 sailed, their orders were to attack the refinery and then target any tankers. On the morning of February 15, Aruba's refinery was saved when the German High Command issued new orders stating that the principal target of all U-Boats in the Western Hempishere was to be surface ships. Only then could a U-Boat attack a land based target. Attacks again land could only be made if no surface targets were present, and then only at night.

Eight sailors died aboard the Pedernalis which remained afloat and adrift until she was run around by tugboats. Eighteen sailors survived.
Fifteen sailors died aboard the tanker Oranjestad and 10 survived as she sank fairly quickly in deep water off San Nicolas.

While U-156 was launching her attack on Aruba, the remaining boats in Neuland Group attacked and sank the tankers San Nicolas, Tia Juana and Monagas. The tanker Monagas became a victim when she stopped to rescue surviors of the Tia Juana.

The tanker Ramona nearly became a victim as well. Her crew had just rescued a sailor, Ermencio Semeleer, who had escaped the Tia Juana's engine room when he spotted the trails of a torpedo streaking towards the ship that just rescued him. The ship's captain order evasive action and survived the attack.

One hero during the attack was Lloyd G. Smith who ran around throwing rocks at the lights illuminating the walkway from the refinery to the docks.

Four Dutch Marines dies two days later when they attempted to disarm the torpedo that missed the Arkansas and endded up on Eagle Beach.

During the day of February 16 on board the U-156, Seaman Businger died of the wounds he received when the boat's main deck gun exploded. That night U-156 surfaced North of Aruba, still in sight of land and the sailor was buried at sea.

The next day Kapitain Hartenstein received permission from the German Admiralty to sail for the island of Martinique so that the other sailor injured in the gun explosion Dietrich A. von dem Borne could be put ashore and receive medical attention.

Years later in Germany, a former Lago employee on vaction stopped for gas. On his car he had an Aruban license plate. The attendant who came forward was the same Dietrich A. von dem Borne. The sole survivor of the crew of U-156 when it attacked the island.
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Last edited by ScubaBOS; Friday, June 8th, 2007 at 12:49 PM.
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Old Friday, June 8th, 2007, 11:35 AM
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Default Re: Aruba's close encounter with WW2

Thanks to LocaLisa and ScubBOS for the great story and facts.
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Old Friday, June 8th, 2007, 01:08 PM
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Default Re: Aruba's close encounter with WW2

When I was living in the Colony, there were many, many people there that had lived through the WWII era. They had lots of stories to tell. You can still see gun turrets at the top of Colorado Point. I also remember a time (in the 60's) when a torpedo was unearthed on Eagle Beach and it exploded while a team was attempting to disarm it. Four men were killed in the explosion.

I presume most of you knew that there was also a small refinery at Eagle Beach once upon a time. It actually came on stream a couple of months before Lago and it operated through the end of the 1940's. The torpedo was presumably meant for that refinery.
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Old Monday, June 11th, 2007, 03:34 PM
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Default Re: Aruba's close encounter with WW2

Quote:
Originally Posted by Eagle-Beach Boy View Post
Thanks to LocaLisa and ScubBOS for the great story and facts.

As I read the stories and the comments I feel so proud of the interest there is. Lisa & ScubaBos - soooo nice to read. Loved it.

Thank you all for being a part of our history by reading it and commenting.

be well
charles
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Old Wednesday, June 13th, 2007, 07:19 AM
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Default Re: Aruba's close encounter with WW2

Interesting.

This thread got me to thinking. I checked uboat.net to read the ehistory of U-156 and her crew and then Googled the name Dietrich A. von dem Borne to see if anyone one had information on him.

One website, also devoted to Uboats called sharkhunters, had an eulogy for him but gave no date of his death. It said that Dietrich was the one who forgot to removed the water-tight plug gun.

However, it also said that the reason he forgot was that as the U-Boat was about to shell the tank farm, Dietrich spotted a group of people walk past the tanks. As it was a Sunday and believed them to be a family walking to church he ordered the gunners to hold their fire until the group past. That pause made the crew forget proper proceedure and over-looked the water-tight plug.

I contaced sharkhunters and questioned the eulogy's accuracy and mentioned that U-156's attack occured on a Monday at 1:31 in the morning. A fact supported by the U-Boat's own logbook.

They responded by saying that Dietrich had been a long-time member of their group and that is how he recalled the attack and asked where I got my info.

I e-mailed all the info I had on hand but have not received a reply yet.

It's possible Dietrich did observe people walking past the tank farm with binoculars as the U-156 would have been some distance of shore and the refinery was lite up at the time, but the attack could not have happened on a Sunday morning.
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Last edited by ScubaBOS; Wednesday, June 13th, 2007 at 08:57 AM.
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Old Wednesday, June 13th, 2007, 07:27 AM
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Default Re: Aruba's close encounter with WW2

that's amazing! and we wonder why our history books are so screwed up.

thanks for the research scubie!

Quote:
Originally Posted by ScubaBOS View Post
Interesting.

This thread got me to thinking. I checked uboat.net to read th ehistory of U-156 adn her crew and then Googled the name Dietrich A. von dem Borne to see if anyone one had information on him.

One website, also devoted to Uboats called sharkhunters, had an eulogy for him but gave no date of his death. It said that Dietrich was the one who forgot to removed the water-tight plug gun.

However, it also said that the reason he forgot was that as the U-Boat was about to shell the tank farm, Dietrich spotted a group of people walk past the tanks. As it was a Sunday and believed them to be a family walking to church he ordered the gunners to hold their fire until the group past. That pause made the crew forget proper proceedure and over-looked the water-tight plug.

I contaced sharkhunters and questioned the eulogies accuracy and mentioned that U-156' attacked occured on a Monday at 1:31 in the morning. A fact supported by the U-Boat's own logbook.

They responded by saying that Dietrich had been a long-time member of their group and that is how he recalled the attack and asked where I got my info.

I e-mailed all the info I had on hand but have not received a reply yet.

It's possible Dietrich did observe people walking past the tank farm with binoculars as the U-156 would have been some distance of shore and the refinery was lite up at the time, but the attack could not have happened on a Sunday morning.
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Old Thursday, June 21st, 2007, 05:13 PM
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Default Re: Aruba's close encounter with WW2

Thank you all for the great comments, and special thanks to ScubaBOS for his additional information.

My next story is for the coming event on 24 June, Saint John festivity the way that only Aruba celebrates. arty:
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