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Smithsonian Associates - Entertaining, Informative, Eclectic, Insightful

Operation Drumbeat: The Nazi Campaign To Defeat America on its Own Shores

Evening Lecture/Seminar

Wednesday, May 12, 2021 - 6:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. ET
Code: 1H0585
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Allied tanker Dixie Arrow torpedoed by German submarine

PROGRAM DESCRIPTION

On the evening of Jan. 14, 1942, a German U-boat surfaced undetected in New York City’s Lower Bay. Climbing to the bridge of U-123, its commander could not believe what he saw: an illuminated Manhattan, its lights an unmistakable beacon on the Atlantic coast. 

Even though the United States had been at war with Germany for over a month, cities from Boston to Miami refused to impose blackouts fearing the impact on tourism. The result was a neon shooting gallery the length of the East Coast, where German submarines waited offshore to assault merchant ships, especially oil tankers, easily spotted thanks to city lights. By spring, U-boats were prowling the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean as the Nazis expanded Operation Paukenschlag, or “Drumbeat,” their campaign to defeat the United States on its own shores. 

George Mason University history professor Kevin Matthews explores this little-known period of the war and how, with help from Britain’s Royal Navy and Royal Air Force, America turned back the Nazi attacks that, as U.S. General George Marshall said at the time, “threaten our entire war effort.”

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This program is part of our
Smithsonian Associates Streaming series.