The time is 1940. England is experiencing war in all its savagery. The German Air Force has begun nearly daily bombing of London and other major population centers. The German Navy has implemented a blockade of the British Isles. The German Army is occupying Paris as well as most of the Continent and is planning to invade England.
American radio broadcasts are originating from London, hosted by war correspondents Edward R. Murrow[i] for CBS and Walter Cronkite for UP. Americans are gathering around the radio set, carefully tuning the dial, searching for the clearest signal possible, to hear the latest news from Europe. Even though it is many months before the United States would formerly enter the conflict, preparations for war were underway, and Bogue Banks would soon be actively involved and on the front line of coastal defense.
By 1941, German naval strategy focused on submarine warfare, with U-boats striking American shipping in the Battle of the Atlantic. In January 1942, an expanded assault on U.S. merchant shipping that included the east and gulf coast of the U.S. was begun. In the first eight months of 1942, more than 50 merchant ships were lost to U-boats patrolling off the North Carolina coast[ii]. Much of the detailed information concerning the U.S. merchant shipping losses was withheld from the public as a military secret. During those early months of the war, the U.S. was woefully unprepared to combat German submarine attacks. We lacked both strategy and equipment. Civilian owned boats and planes were put in service to support the few military vessels available. The situation was so dire the British Navy sent 24 converted fishing trawlers and crews to augment our forces.
Within weeks of the United States formal declaration of war against Germany on December 8, 1941, two Army artillery units were in place and operational on Bogue Banks. The First Battalion, 244th Coast Artillery from Virginia, established Headquarters Battery at Fort Macon, with Battery B in the sand dunes southwest of the fort and Battery A in the dunes 2 ½ miles west of the town limits of Atlantic Beach[iii]. The development named Roosevelt Beach now occupies the Battery-A encampment site. Each Battery consisted of approximately 180 men,[iv] and Batteries A & B were each equipped with four 155 mm tractor-drawn guns as well as lookout and ranging towers equipped with searchlights.
155mm gun M1, called Long Tom, towed by M1 heavy tractor –militarymashup.com
This defense was all accomplished by December 27, 1941. The War Department was making preparations for direct U.S. involvement in the conflict in Europe and the Pacific long before December 7th. The purpose of the North Carolina coastal operation was to protect the Beaufort/Morehead City Harbor and the military installations being built and expanded on the mainland—specifically, the U.S. Army Base at Camp Glenn and the Navy Section Base further west. The German surface ship Navy never approached the Atlantic coast and the sub fleet stayed out of range of shore artillery.
A Marine training installation was set-up a quarter mile west of the Army Artillery Battery A Unit, where Knollwood Drive is currently. It included a practice firing range with four 50-caliber machine-gun turrets. Live firing exercises were conducted there, using moving targets offshore, to prepare recruits from Camp Lejeune for duty onboard ships. A friend of the History Committee who spent her childhood summers at her grandparents’ home on Knollwood tells us that, in the 1980s, she would see remnants of these machine gun turrets when the tide was low. She remembered as many as five and says some of what was visible appeared to be “just corners” of structures. Others “were almost completely uncovered” and, based on her recollections, were about 5’x5’. She further describes them as having “metal bolts.” Also, “some had curved metal ‘tracks’... like those at Fort Macon.” She recalls what looked like tree trunk nubs, which she describes as cypress “knees,” surrounding the cement structures. She says, “We used to play on these battlements.”
During construction of the Public Beach Access on Knollwwod in 2011 a large cement tank was uncovered. This was the cistern used by the Marines to store water at the base. The cistern and the cement gun turrets confirm the Training Base location.
At the peak of the war, there were about a thousand troops on the island and maybe twice that many stationed on the nearby mainland. Businesses of all types prospered. The war effort also resulted in the military widening and strengthening the road from Atlantic Beach to Salter Path and undertaking other transportation projects throughout the county.
On the north side of Bogue Sound were a number of military installations that were active for WWII. The Port of Morehead City was critical for military and commercial transportation. By mid-1943, the Navy had leased the entire Morehead City Port facilities, including Inlet Island (name changed in late 1940s to Radio Island). The east-side elements of the port facilities were constructed in the mid 1930s—the channel was dredged from 18 feet to a depth of 36 feet, in the process adding land to the port and creating Inlet Island across from the port on what had been marshland. A curious turn of history involved the construction of this port. It was reported in The Beaufort News, January 16, 1936 issue, that much of the steel used was German steel shipped from Hamburg. In the paper, it was referred to as Nazi steel. We imported steel from Germany to build a facility that would contribute to defeating Germany, while at the same time the U.S. was shipping scrap steel to Japan, where it was turned into weapons to battle us.
Five miles west of the Morehead City Port was Camp Glenn, a National Guard training base of long standing. For the war effort the Navy constructed a Naval Section Base adjacent to the camp.
Naval Section Bases were small naval bases on the Coast of North Carolina built prior to and during World War II for coastal patrol and antisubmarine defense.[vii] After opening in March 1942, it quickly became the most important reception and processing center on the North Carolina coast for the survivors of sunken or damaged merchant ships. Over the course of the war, both U.S. Navy and Coast Guard personnel used the base, whose primary duty was to serve the vessels patrolling the coast looking for German U-boats. Navy patrol craft, Coast Guard cutters and the converted British trawlers operated from the base in conjunction with larger vessels at the Port of Morehead City and the Fort Macon Coast Guard Station on Bogue Banks. They aided in minesweeping and in maintaining a submarine net across the entrance to the ship channel in Beaufort Inlet. The base was also available to supply ammunition, make small-scale repairs and provide refitting.
Camp Glenn and Naval Section Base locations are now occupied by Carteret General Hospital and surrounding medical facilities on the north side of Arendell, and by the Visitors Center and Carteret Community College on the south side.
Fifteen miles further west was Bogue Field, which was used almost exclusively by Marine Corps dive-bombing squadrons. To support the training, specialized training facilities were established in the surrounding area. Dive-bombing targets were constructed on nearby islands, and vertical targets were built for low-level bombing practice. A maneuvering target boat was also used to practice attacks on shipping[viii]. In the mid 2000s all of Bogue Sound was surveyed for unexploded ordinance. Those located were removed and safely detonated at Camp Lejeune.
|Bogue Field [viii]|
Germans were staging operations on the east coast of the U.S. For example, on the night of June 12, 1942, eight German infiltrators were landed by submarine on the beach at Amagansett, Long Island, New York, and four days later, another group were put ashore at Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. Upon arrival on shore two men deserted, went to U.S. authorities and revealed plans to sabotage strategic facilities along the east coast of the U.S. This set in motion an extensive FBI manhunt, and within three weeks all eight were captured.
Although North Carolina’s eastern seaboard never suffered a direct attack during the war, the state’s newspapers and Office of Civilian Defense mobilized to prepare citizens for the worst. Air raid sirens were installed from the coast to the mountains to warn of the approach of enemy planes. Air raid drills were held. Citizens learned how to blackout their homes and businesses so at night their lights would not be visible from the air or sea. Residents of Morehead City and Beaufort began to take the blackout regulations seriously when 114 violators were arrested and fined during a one-week campaign to enforce the rules.[ix]
Alice Hoffman was in the middle of all this frenetic activity. Before the start of the war, Alice had lost or disposed of all her real estate interests in New York City and Paris. Her legal and financial affairs by this time limited her to living on Bogue Banks. She was still viewed as exotic, reclusive and perhaps aloof by those who knew of her in Carteret County. Her live-in companion, Gabrielle Brard, was a native of France and not yet a naturalized US citizen. All this led to rumors circulating concerning Alice and her activities: she was German, she was a spy, she radioed freighter locations to German submarines, German mini-submarines resupplied at her dock, the FBI and U.S. Army were tracking her activities. All rumors proved to be untrue, baseless and lacking in any link to reality. The truth was just the opposite.
Miss Gabrielle (Gabby) Brard was interviewed at length in 1973 by Jan Rider, a staff reporter for the News Times for article about Alice Hoffman. Alice had died 20 years earlier in 1953. Gabby recalled, “During the war, Mrs. Hoffman’s house was the scene of frequent parties for the soldiers stationed in the area.... Besides the parties, solders were welcomed as overnight guests and at meal-times.” During this time, war rationing was in effect, local fishermen would bring in the catch, the soldiers would help prepare the meal, and “we shared what we had with them.”
Military activity on Bogue Banks wound down well before victory in Europe. The anti-submarine efforts of the US military began to take effect, and by late 1942, four U-boats had been sunk off the North Carolina coast. Two by Navy ships, one by a U.S. Army Air Corps bomber and one by a Coast Guard patrol boat. North Carolina’s total of four sunken U-boats represented the most of any state[x]. By 1943, these losses convinced the enemy to redeploy its remaining submarine fleet to the North Atlantic and Mediterranean Sea.
By early 1944, confidence grew that a coastal attack of the U.S. mainland was no longer a threat, and, accordingly, many defense activities were scaled back, withdrawn, or redeployed. For Bogue Banks, World War II was a mixture of tragedy, change and blessings. Some local boys who went to war did not return. However, businesses prospered, employment opportunities grew, jobs were available to all who needed work, roads were widened, housing expanded, electric service extended and buildings constructed. Large numbers of troops, civilians and families from around the nation came to live in Carteret County, bringing new ideas and viewpoints. From this influx, a few local girls found husbands who had funny accents, or at least a non ‘Cart’tret’ County “banker” brogue. New blood added to the melting pot.
For the story of post WWII activity on "Radio Island".
Post Author: Walt Zaenker
To contact the author or the History Committee
[ii] Live Science website, Photos: WWII Shipwrecks Found off NC Coast, by Stephanie Pappas, 2014. This count was derived by NOAA from post war sonar and undersea research.
[iii] Fort Macon, A History, by Paul Branch, The Nautical & Aviation Publishing Co, 1997
[iv] North Carolina and World War II: a documentary portrait, by Anita Price Davis, McFarland & Company, Inc., 2015
[v] Base map from mapquest, annotated by W. Zaenker
[vi] Southern Oral History Program Collection, Interview Number K-1085, James Willis interviewed by Melynn Glusman, June 30, 1999, The Louis Round Wilson Special Collections Library, UNC-Chapel Hill.
[vii] NCpedia, Naval Section Bases, by Paul Branch, 2006
[viii] Abandoned & Little-Known Airfields: Southeastern North Carolina, by Paul Freeman, 2014
[ix] Don’t You Know There’s a War On? Division of State History Musuems, Office of Archives and History, North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources, www.ncculture.com
[x] When World War II was fought off North Carolina’s beaches, by Kevin P. Duffus