the summer of ’43, German U-boats prowled the Gulf of Mexico, too close for comfort
for Texas coastlanders. |
With our Baytown
home being just a block away from Black Duck Bay, an appendage of the Houston
Ship Channel, I felt it was my duty as an 8-year-old patriot to protect family
and friends from a German invasion. And the only way I knew to do that was to
search for subs in the bay, using a telescope purchased at the downtown Houston
By late July 1943, my family was ready for a summer vacation,
the annual trek to see relatives in Nacogdoches,
so I had to put the bay watch on hold.
I just hoped that “das boot” would
not surface in Black Duck Bay while I was not on duty. In such a crisis, someone
would have to warn our neighbors that the Germans were coming, the Germans were
While we were gone, Baytown
did suffer from an invasion but not from the enemy below.
U-166 in the Gulf of Mexico. Image courtesy of The PAST Foundation" - Photo
part of a Public Display in Sabine
Pass Battleground Park
a surprise attack – a war of winds and water -- a hurricane hit Baytown
on July 27, 1943, dealing extensive damages and leaving much of the population
reeling in the aftermath. “What was THAT?”
Local residents were not prepared
for this mighty storm before it slammed into the upper Texas
Weather forecasters back then relied on reports from ships at
sea, and, because of the German U-boat activity, radio broadcasts from ships were
silenced. In other words, wartime censorship was affecting our weather news.
Censorship prevailed even after the storm, and without exact reports, rumors flew
around like storm-propelled debris, spinning exaggerated tales of damages and
The red hills of East
Texas rocked with the horror stories about a hurricane that “wiped Baytown
off the map.”
Fearfully, we cut our vacation short, returning home to
see if we still had one.
I’ll never forget the relief and joy we felt
as we approached the entrance of our town, driving past the ship channel docks
of Humble Oil & Refining Co.’s Baytown Refinery.
No need to change the
map of Texas, we concluded. Although hit hard, our
town was still there.
Power lines and trees were down, roofs were ripped
off, and for many days we didn’t have water and electricity. It did appear, however,
that Baytown had survived
this mystery storm that blew in from nowhere, packing 132 mph winds.
we didn't know how badly the Baytown Refinery had been hit. The damage wasn’t
visible from the road, but the storm had demolished four large cooling towers,
plus other facilities inside the plant.
Production of high-octane gasoline
for aviation fuel, vital for the Allied Forces, had to be suspended for days after
For security’s sake, the full impact of the hurricane on the
refinery and other plants along the Houston Ship Channel and Galveston Bay area
was not publicized.
The timing couldn’t have been worse as the tide finally
had begun to turn in our favor in World
We heard that the FBI even shut down a telegraph office in
La Porte because someone
sent a wire describing the hurricane damages.
Because of its arrival in
the midst of WWII, the hurricane
of 1943 always will be remembered as a “military secret.”
On a positive
note, it did help to make military history.
Col. Joe Duckworth, an instructor
at the air field in Bryan,
made the first flight into the eye of a hurricane. He proved that he could fly
his single-engine, two-seat AT-6 into the storm and that both the plane and his
instrument flying technique were sound.
In weather forecasting, Duckworth’s
flight marked the beginning of aircraft reconnaissance.
I could have used
some of his help around Black Duck Bay.
17, 2012 columns
Topics: World War II
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