Bermuda Was As Important to the Atlantic as Pearl Harbor Was To The Pacific

On 10 September 1942, the United States Army Air Corps Administration Building at Ft Bell was painted in camouflage colours and shapes, including the roof, although it appears to be a Bermuda home with two large chimneys that existed before the base was constructed (Bermuda Archives — PA 2004:0006).
(Photo courtesy of The Bermuda Archives)

On January 25, 2014, the Royal Gazette brings the story of Luftwaffe. September 10, 1942, the US Army Air Corps Administration Building at Fort Bell was painted in the usual camouflage colors and shapes, the roof include, so that it would appear to be a Bermuda home with two large chimneys. It is believed that Bermuda is as important in the Atlantic as Pearl Harbor is in the Pacific. This was the sentiments of Captain Jules James of the US Navy in June 1943.

The independence of some of the continental British American colonies and the cessation of war during the 1780s brought strategic value to Bermuda. This would change the world’s view of Bermuda. Once peace was concluded in North America, the Royal Engineers were surveying the defenses of Bermuda. They anticipated future hostilities with the new USA. The fear of an American threat to British dominion on the western front of North Atlantic gave rise in 1809 to a large dockyard and a successive rearmaments and works for the defense of Bermuda in 1790s. The defense continued through the 1820s and even still to the 1870s. The final round of armament began in the final days of Queen Victoria’s reign in the late years of the nineteenth century.

Early in 1939, the onetime formidable anti-American fortifications and armaments had been reduced to two six-inch guns at Saint David’s Battery which was manned by the Bermuda Militia Artillery. Attitudes towards Bermuda changed slowly so that the “Bermuda Defense Report 1935” could declare that an attack by the USA wasn’t even considered. The island basically was bolstering the defense systems. Captain Jules James, US Navy, still met with resistance from some of the British who were in Bermuda and when he arrived to build and take up command of a US Naval base in Southampton. While, on the eastern end of the island, Fort Bell and the Air Corpse landing filed started to form after April 1941.

The advent of the US Forces included assuming responsibility for the coastal defense of Bermuda and they added twelve guns to the two British guns that were still in service. The American fortification at Bermuda represents the major phase in the history of the coastal defenses. This all began in 1613 and it ended over 3 centuries later in 1957 when the British Garrison left Bermuda. The American military policy saw the value of Bermuda and they stated it was “the only base far enough off the central Atlantic coastline of the US to extend long range patrolling by seaplanes into the Atlantic Ocean and to tie in coastal patrolling, both aerial and surface, with similar operations from Halifax and the West Indies’.

The fall of Bermuda to the German enemy would turn these advantages around by utilizing the island as a forward station for any air attacks on the East Coast and its shipping. The ability of the German Forces to effect an occupation of Bermuda to the Germans, or to have a large enough air force (or Luftwaffe) to effect the operations in the direction that was questionable. Although, in the early years of the Second World War, it was difficult to determine what capabilities the Germans may possess.

Jens Alers, Honorary German Consul at Bermuda, and a writer on modern oceanic matters, kindly submitted the following analysis: “The Luftwaffe had only limited potential to project air power beyond the occupied European continent. “Unlike the British, the Germans had no overseas airbases from where warplanes could have been launched, but to some degree the Luftwaffe was able to do so from Norway, Greece and also North Africa.

“The Kriegsmarine did not have any aircraft carriers: it was one of the fundamental analytical failures of the German naval high command to pursue the constructions of major battleships such as Bismarck and Tirpitz instead of also considering such carriers.

“Then again, the Germans had a strategic problem which was actually a geographic one: it was extremely difficult for any surface vessels to break out of the confines of the German Bight and the North Sea, even after the occupation of Norway. “The presence of the British Navy in the Channel and at Scapa Flow pretty much bottled up major German navy in home waters. “If it was difficult to get past the British with a fast and heavily armoured raider, then it would have been virtually impossible for an aircraft carrier group to do so: hence the decision to bank on submarine warfare.

“Certainly until 1944 the German U-boat had few problems to sneak out into the Atlantic, especially from bases in occupied France. “In that arena, the submarine ‘wolf packs’ wreaked havoc among Allied convoys and almost won the Battle of the Atlantic for Germany. Had that happened, Bermuda likely would have come onto the radar.” In spite of the news, which may have been current in 1941, the US anticipation of a German attack was exhibited in the new buildings that were being built on the northern perimeter of Kindley Field.

My eyes was drawn to the matter when visiting Antony Siese, the optometrist, one evening of late to collect some memorabilia related to the Dockyard.

Tony showed me some images that were part of a collection owned by an American lady whose father owned the construction company that build Fort Bell and Kindley Field and he was instrumental in having the photographs given to the Bermuda Archives, where they now reside in secure, not to say, military, and conditions. To one’s astonishment, it seems that a number of the buildings were camouflaged: gone were the classic Bermuda white roofs and walls, as, in some instances, the entire new structure was painted with colors, possibly black, greens and greys, as if the whole was some ship being readied for the war at sea.

The disguise from an aerial perspective was also applied to existing buildings that the US Forces converted, illustrated by the Bermuda home that became the headquarters of the Air Corps, next to the newly-built air traffic control tower, itself slathering in the multicolor, multi-shaped designs of camouflage paint.

The camouflage extended to more natural covering materials, as fuel tanks and presumably gun emplacements were hidden under roofs of tree branches and netting. Achtung: the men of Fort Bell and Kindley Field were clearing waiting and ready for an air assault by Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring’s and Germany’s oceanic Air Force, the Luftwaffe!

Evette Champion

Evette Champion is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE