Keep the Home Fires Burning
Dr. David J. Coles
Florida's World War II Experience
In early 1942 rubber became the first item to be rationed by the Federal Government's Office of Price Administration (OPA). Gasoline soon followed, with mandatory rationing becoming effective on December 1, 1942. Floridians found themselves issued A, B, or C stickers, allowing them a specific number of gallons per week, depending on their occupation. Those unfortunates with A stickers were authorized only four gallons per week, a paltry total that was actually decreased to three gallons later in the war. In 1943 gasoline rationing became even more severe, with all forms of "pleasure driving" becoming illegal. Because of driving restrictions, Floridians turned to public transportation, particularly trains, for any type of long distance travel. Trains became frightfully crowded as a result of the huge numbers of servicemen and servicewomen travelling from one duty station to another.
The rationing of food had a great impact on the lives of average Floridians. As with gas, the government issued ration books authorizing the purchase of only a certain amount of various products per week. Beginning in April 1942, sugar was rationed, followed by coffee, meats, butter, canned goods, dried peas and beans, and a variety of other products. In addition to food, consumer products like shoes and clothing were rationed or restricted. Alcohol was not rationed but it remained in chronically short supply.
Most Floridians tried to abide by the often confusing government regulations, although a thriving black market developed. Malcolm Johnson, Tallahassee correspondent for the Associated Press during World War II, later commented that:
"There was a lot of favoritism. If you were a good customer, the butcher had something for you that didn't show in the case. And the filling station could find a way to give you more gas and new tires."
Black marketeering could never be eliminated, but the Federal Government's rationing plans were generally successful, and helped direct the nation's resources to the more rapid defeat of Germany, Italy and Japan.
During the Second World War, there were no direct land attacks against the east coast of the United States by any of the Axis powers. Florida, however, was prepared for just that possibility. In early 1941 the Florida Legislature established the State Defense Council to organize civilian defense throughout the state. Even earlier, in August 1940, Mr. Guy Allen of Tampa was instrumental in establishing an unofficial "Florida Motorcycle Corps" to help defend the area against possible attacks from German submarines. The Motorcycle Corps later became part of the State Defense Council and escorted military convoys.
Following the mobilization of the Florida National Guard in 1940 and 1941, a Florida Defense Force, later known as the Florida State Guard, was established to assume the duties of the departed National Guard. By 1943 the Florida Defense Force numbered 2,100 men in 36 units. Other Floridians served as air raid wardens, airplane spotters, and civil defense wardens. Civilian yachtsmen formed coastal patrol organizations and others volunteered to help the Coast Guard patrol the thousands of miles of unprotected beaches.
The state's vulnerable position became evident shortly after Pearl Harbor. In early 1942 German submarines opened an offensive, code named Operation Drumbeat, against the virtually-undefended Allied shipping lanes along the east coast. Before the carnage was over, nearly 400 ships had been sunk, and thousands of lives lost. Dozens of ships were torpedoed just off Florida's Atlantic Coast, and others in the Gulf of Mexico. German submarine skippers used the lights of coastal cities to silhouette their targets. Oil, debris and dead bodies were mixed with the driftwood, seashells and tourists along Florida's Atlantic Coast during that bloody first half of 1942. One of the more spectacular sinkings occurred on April 11, 1942, when the SS Gulfamerica, carrying 90,000 barrels of fuel oil from Port Arthur, Texas to New York was torpedoed and exploded into flames just four miles off Jacksonville Beach. Oil and debris drifted ashore from the sinking. Increased U.S. Navy escorting and antisubmarine patrols eventually improved the situation off the east coast, but sinkings remained fairly common until the end of the war.