The German attack that plunged Mexico into WWII

In 1942, a total of five Mexican oil tankers were sunk by German U-boats

The German attack that plunged Mexico into WWII
Mexico joined WWII in 1944 - Photo: Taken from tuhistory.com
English 13/05/2020 15:26 Mexico City Aída Castro Sánchez Actualizada 16:10
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On May 9, 1942, before embarking in Potrero del Llano headed to New York and losing his life, Frigate Lieutenant Rafael Castelán Orta said hugged his father goodbye, gave him a box of chocolates, and a bag with MXN $100 for his mother, Mrs. Juana Orta, for Mother's Day.

On May 17, 1942, Mr. Donaciano Castelán Navarrete, father of the missing lieutenant told EL UNIVERSAL that before going away, his son told him “not to worry because the German didn't mess with Mexicans,” however, that did not happen.

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Four days after that farewell, the Potrero del Llano vessel was torpedoed by the German submarine U-563, which hit it on the coast of Florida while sailing north, according to the information published on this newspaper.

May 13 marks the 78th anniversary of the German attack against this Mexican ship at the service of Mexico’s state oil company Pemex that supplied the U.S. The attack killed 14 of the 35 marines that made up the crew, which led Mexico to join World War II two years later with the Fighter Squadron 201 in the Philippine Islands at the command of American General Douglas MacArthur.
 

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On May 15, 1942, EL UNIVERSAL published the German attack against the Mexican oil tanker classified by the government as an “unspeakable attack.”

A night of terror
The terror experienced that Wednesday, May 13 was narrated through a telegram from the ship’s lieutenant Jorge Mancisidor, a Potrero del Llano survivor, exclusively for EL UNIVERSAL.

Mancisidor described the whole episode: “Those who lived after the fire and the sinking of our ship were sleeping, except for two or three people who were covering the midnight watch.”

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“The watch officer was in charge of the calculation of the exact situation of the ship and deliver it to the corresponding relief. We suddenly heard a big explosion and felt the ship was violently moving. I immediately left my cabin and noticed that the control bridge had disappeared leaving 12  members of the crew on the other side.

“The hole caused by the torpedo was exactly below the captain’s cabin, causing an explosion in the fuel deposit and splitting the vessel into two. The fire that was generated immediately turned the ship into a pot from hell,” said Mancisidor.
 

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One of the national oil tankers attacked by the German in 1942 and that supplied the U.S.

On May 15, 1942, an article titled “Potrero del Llano sank by a submarine” described how the Axis submarine attacked the oil tanker even though it had displayed all the signals of its nationality and was sailing with the lights on.

The Mexican tanker had been built in England in 1921 and was baptized as F.A. Tamplin, changing its name to Arminco in 1921 and eight years later to Lucifero, until it changed its name, once again to Potrero del Llano in 1941 in honor of the fertile oil fields in Veracruz, according to the book Through my glasses, written by Héctor Chavarría.

EL UNIVERSAL registered all the reactions to this attack. On May 16, senator Fernando Magro Soto said “The sinking of the ship is an unspeakable attack that forces Mexico to declare war. I believe Mexico had never been a subject to such an offense.”
 

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On May 28, 1942, President Manuel Ávila Camacho declared war on the Axis countries, Germany, Italy, and Japan.

In addition to Potrero del Llano, another four oil tankers were sunk in 1942: Faja de Oro (May 20) killing 10 crewmembers; Tuxpan (June 26) killing four, Las Choapas (June 27) killing four, and Amatlán (September 4) killing five.

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“How I watched the sinking of my ship”
On May 22, 1942, EL UNIVERSAL published the testimony of Vicente Sola López, who survived the sinking of the Potrero del Llano. “My name is Vicente Solano López, I’m, or I was, a machine operator in the Potrero del Llano. It was nearly 23:50 of May 13, 1942, when the machine operator Guillermo León Medina asked me to relieve him.

“When I finished putting my shoes on, I heard a great explosión that made the ship tremble; my first thought was to go to the lifeboats to try to occupy my place in case of a deadly situation. I climbed to the deck and saw the control bridge had disappeared among the intense flames caused by the impact.
 

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In a statement published on May 16, 1942, in EL UNIVERSAL, workers from War Materials said each one of them “would contribute with a daily wage to buy war supplies to answer as required by the circumstances, the attack from the Nazi-Fascist hordes.”

“Then came a rain of flaming sparks that forced me to go back to the deck where I met some peers and where we threw the lifeboats. After all the spilled oil was on fire, it all became an indescribable Dantesque show. We were in the water for three hours, a group of five survivors, until we were rescued by a U.S. patrol boat; they gave us clothing, coffee, and raincoats.

“I think that all those who died were in their cabins in the middle part of the ship. Enrique Vieyra, who jumped to the water with us, might have been thrown by the current to the area in fire, and thus burned to death, for there were two or three harrowing screams and then nothing” he narrated.
 

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Funeral procession of the victims of the Potrero del Llano and Faja de Oro that went through towns in Hidalgo all the way to Mexico City for a ceremony to commemorate the dead marines.

On May 24, 1942, the survivors of the Potrero del Llano arrived in Mexico, as well as the body of Rodolfo Chacón in a coffin covered by a Mexican flag; he was 54 years old and had died in a Florida hospital.

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They made a tour through Ixquimilpan, Hidalgo and other places like Colonia, Jacala, and Laredo, where people welcomed them with flowers. Then, they went to Mexico City’s Palace of Fine Arts. Over 100 flower crowns decorated the venue.
 

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On the first anniversary of the sinking of the Potrero del Llano and another four oil tankers, Pemex paid homage to the memory of the victims and published a statement with the names of the workers who died in the 1942 attacks.

The first homage for the fellow citizens who died in the attack took place on May 15, 1942. Mr. Efraín Buenrosotro, manager of Pemex, ordered to completely halt the operations of the oil industry in Mexico for 10 minutes, from 17:00 to 17:10; likewise, all Pemex offices mourned for the victims.
 

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President Manuel Ávila Camacho greets the members of the 201 Squadron, created two years after the attack to five Mexican oil tankers in 1942.

Fighter  Squadron 201
The six-year-long world war began in 1939, after the German invasion to Poland. During the beginning of WWII, Mexico had kept out the conflict until the attacks of 1942.

On May 8, 1944, the government of President Manuel Ávila Camacho announced that Mexican soldiers would be taken to different battlefronts by mid-July.

Mexico would fight by the side of the United States with an expeditionary unit in support of the allies in the Philippines, hence the Mexican Expeditionary Air Force (FAEM), best known as the Fighter Squadron 201, was born.
 

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Tribute to the members of the Fighter Squadron  201 in Iztapalapa, home to the Monument to the Soldiers of the Mexican Expeditionary Air Force (FAEM).

The Fighter Squadron 201 left Mexico on July 24, 1944, headed to the U.S., where it was trained in Texas air bases to go to the battlefront, joining group 58 of the U.S. Air Force at the command of General Douglas MacArthur in the Pacific.
 

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Engineer Fernando Nava Musa and Colonel Carlos Garduño Núñez during the ceremony for the 71st anniversary of the return of the Fighter Squadron 201.

The Fighter Squadron 201 carried out 96 missions along with the WWII allies, launched 252 general-use bombs, and flew 1,966 hours in combat areas.

It is calculated that nearly 18 million civilians died during WWII as well as almost 9 million soldiers from different countries, according to the Museum for Memory and Tolerance.

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