by Larry Smith
Captain Eric Wiberg is the son of Anders Wiberg, a long-time hotelier out west who was the Swedish consul here for many years. A marine and naval historian, Eric Wiberg has operated oil tankers and sailed across the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans many times. He is now a shipping consultant in New York.
Some may recall his recent series of articles for the Tribune on Bahamian mailboats, which he is currently massaging into a book. But his latest publication focuses on the depredations of German and Italian submarines on Allied shipping around the Bahamian archipelago during the Second World War.
From early 1942 to late 1944 some 54 Axis submarines sank 130 merchant ships around the Bahamas, killing hundreds of crewmen - with the loss of only four subs.
Among the stories Wiberg tells is the sinking of the O. A. Knudsen, a Norwegian tanker under British Admiralty orders. She was torpedoed by the U-128 off Hole-in-the-Wall, Abaco in March 1942.
Survivors made it to shore via lifeboats, where one of them - Olaus Johanson - died and was buried at Cross Harbour. Thirty-eight others were taken to Nassau and put up at the Rozelda Hotel (later the Carlton House and now a parking lot) on East Street.
There are several similar stories, which all feature an astonishing depth of detail, about the Allied ships and crew and the Axis submariners, as well as how the survivors were processed on shore in the Bahamas. Wiberg tells us that over 690,000 tons of Allied shipping were attacked by U-boats in the Bahamas area.
“Of the five ships sunk squarely in the Bahamas - O. A Knudsen, Athelqueen and Daytonian off Abaco, Nicarao off Eleuthera and Cygnet off San Salvador - three were sunk by Italian subs. It is not common knowledge that there was a concerted Axis attack on the Bahamas region and the commercial chokepoints which the colony straddled."
Indeed, even my nonagenarian father - who served on a Royal Air Force air-sea rescue boat here during the war - was largely unaware of this submarine threat. In fact, the four U-boats lost in 1942 and 1943 were all sunk by American warships or aircraft
According to US historian and author J Revell Carr, in his foreword to the book, “Wiberg has made a significant contribution to the bibliography of World War 11 history. His meticulous research allows us to relate to our heroes...We also see the generosity of the people of the Bahamas.”
•U-Boats in the Bahamas and Turks & Caicos by Eric Wiberg. Published 2016 by Brick Tower Press. 377 pages, hard cover.