Roatan’s Beauty, Truth & Wisdom

Curious History of Honduras in World War II (Part 2 of 2)

World War II took a heavy toll of merchant vessels in the Caribbean. Elder & Fyffes, operating from Jamaica and Belize to England, lost 16 ships out of its fleet of 22. That prompted the British government to stop the import of bananas from December 1939 to December 1945.

Americans considered their bananas as a much more important commodity. In early 1942 Germany began targeting banana boats leaving Honduran and other Central American waters, in an attempt to undermine morale. The unarmed ships of the banana companies experienced serious losses.

In the United States, however, bananas were deemed to be of paramount necessity, not only for the general morale of the population, but also for the banana’s nutritional value to the nation’s diet.

Thus, banana exports from Honduras remained steady during the war. United Fruit’s catchphrase during the period became “Every banana a guest, every passenger a pest!” It was signaling that no space would be reserved for anything but the valued fruit.

Bananas were Deemed to be of Paramount Necessity

In February of 1942 United Fruit lost the SS San Gil. That loss was followed by the SS Esparta in March. Between April and July, is the period that the German U-boat captains called “The Happy Time,” 16 more United Fruit ships, averaging 4,000 tons each, were sunk. All in allover 150 Honduran crewmen lost their lives. During the war, over 80 banana boats from Central America would be sunk.

Standard Fruit had purchased four destroyers left over from WWI from the US Navy and converted them into merchant vessels designated to transport bananas. At the start of WWII, these were leased back to the Navy, and sent as cargo boats, to help break the siege of Corregidor in the Philippines but arrived too late.

In response to the alarming loss of merchant shipping, the U.S. Navy began to build anti-sub bases across the Caribbean. In November 1942 Puerto Castilla was chosen as the base for three Catalina long-range flying patrol boats. These amphibian planes would patrol the Bay Islands on a daily basis.

In its three years of existence, the base would pump over $400,000, in 2020 value, of much-needed money into the local economy. Unfortunately, the naval bombers chose for its bombing practice the mile-long island of San Vicente, lying off Santa Fe. That island was sacred to the Garifuna people.

By the end of the war the landscape of the island, now known as Cayo Blanco, had been completely destroyed.

The German operations in the Caribbean suffered a heavy blow when on Bastille Day, July 14, 1943; the Free French forces liberated the island of Martinique. The Axis submarines lost their base of operations. From then until the war’s end, only two more banana boats would be sunk.

Written by