German Supply Ships and Blockade Runners in the Canary Islands in the Second World War

By Juan-José Díaz-Benítez, published August 2018


At the start of the Second World War a number of German merchant ships took refuge in the Canary Islands. The German authorities took control of them and some were used as blockade runners and others as supply ships for the German navy. The preparation and departure of these ships was performed with the consent and support of the Spanish government, in contradiction of its obligations as neutral country. The ships based in the Canaries made a small but significant contribution to the German naval war in the Atlantic. Their contribution to U-boat operations was limited but was relatively important for auxiliary cruisers. However, Spain paid a high price for this contribution to the German naval effort in the Atlantic. British suspicion of Spanish collaboration strengthened the diplomatic and economic pressure on the Spanish government and by 1943 the remaining German vessels in the Canaries were prevented from sailing. Using the archives of the German and Spanish authorities, this article outlines the activities of the German supply ships and blockade runners operating from the Canary Islands and demonstrates the difficulties and consequences that Spain faced in its approach to non-belligerence during the Second World War.

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Filed under: Atlantic | WW2
Subjects include: Merchant Marines | Navies

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