Nerve centre in economic warfare, tiny Curacao sends a steady stream of fuel to Allied planes
War’s Treasure Island
Nerve centre in economic warfare, tiny Curacao sends a steady stream of fuel to Allied planes
FUEL for the fires set by Allied bombers in Berlin, Hamburg and Wilhelmshaven is coming from a little island in the Netherlands West Indies off the coast of South America. Daily from the harbor of Willemstad on the island of Curacao sail ships laden with precious fuel to help keep our planes flying.
Willemstad’s “Street of the Bazaars” seems on the surface remote from any connection with the war. Under its color-splashed awnings shoppers and natives seek shelter from the sun. Among the crowd are dignified Jews, descendants of those who hundreds of years ago sought shelter here from the wrath of the King of Portugal; dark Indians in white turbans and their women in garments of pink and green and red; the Javanese in flowered sarongs, walking with slow dignity and grace; Chinese; South Americans, flashing smiles and sudden bursts of anger, making an adventure of shopping for a bottle of Parisian perfume; negroes and creoles, loud and gay. Through the colorful Continued on page 33
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throng stalk the uniformed figures of Dutch and American soldiers and sailors, wide-eyed at this luxuriant squalor of living.
The voice of the “Street of the Bazaars” is a mixture of soft, sibilant Papiamento, of choppy talkee-talkee, melodious Spanish, guttural Dutch and blunt American English. And overhead is the constant purr of patrolling planes.
This is Willemstad, the place that helps keep Allied planes in the air. This is Willemstad, in a major way responsible for the fires raging in German citiesflames of freedom over stricken Europe.
Much of the high octane gasoline used by the RAF and RCAF planes in England comes from the huge refineries—the largest in the world according to the latest figures— on the Netherlands West Indies islands of Curacao and Aruba, through the port of Willemstad.
Here is one important gateway to raw material reservoirs open to the Allies. Willemstad, for three centuries the marketing centre of the Caribbean, today has an active place in the war against the Axis. It is the capital of Curacao, an island 40 miles long and 10 miles wide, off the coast of Venezuela. Venezuela lacks harbors for accommodating large oil tankers and has to ship its crude oil to Curacao and Aruba. This is how the two Dutch islands got their huge refineries and became nerve centres of economic warfare.
Multitudes of Tankers
WHEN you move away from the market place, away from the old harbor where hundreds of strange sailing vessels hug the weatherbeaten quays, Willemstad’s vital share in the war begins to show through its camouflage of local color.
As the huge pontoon bridge across the sea channel which cuts the town in half is raised, you can pause on the boulevards on either bank and watch the passage of multitudes of tankers bound for Allied ports.
Turning from the dazzling colors of native quarters you see everywhere defense measures against possible attack; air raid shelters, steel tents covered with sandbags at all intersections, and Dutch and American soldiers patrolling important areas.
The huge sites occupied by oil tanks on the outskirts of the town are heavily barricaded with barbed wire, and military guards take no chances with possible spies and saboteurs. Along the shores the coastal battery crews are on the alert for Nazi sea raiders. They know their constant vigilance is not a useless precaution, for last year a Nazi sea raider attacked Curacao’s sister island, Aruba.
With United States Army planes roaring overhead, Dutch Naval craft comb the nearby waters for signs of Axis prowlers constantly.
The oil tanks would make a prime target. If a U-boat could get close enough to send a few shells smashing at the stored gasoline the explosion
and fire would ground many, many Allied planes for months.
The huge refineries, built by the Shell and Standard Oil Companies on Curacao and Aruba for reasons of safety, receive some 80% of Venezuela’s crude oil and more than 50% of Colombia’s. Lying near these oil fields and operating under Dutch protection the islands are close enough for convenience and far enough away to be safe from South American revolutions or confiscations. Of equal importance were the excellent harbors easily accessible to the largest tankers.
The Willemstad harbor, a channel of the sea which after cutting the town in half penetrates deeply into the island, is largely responsible for the wealth of the Netherlands West Indies. Because of its splendid shipping facilities the islands of Curacao, Aruba, Bonaire, St. Eustatius, Saba and the southern part of San Martin, have grown prosperous. The deep safe waters have lured the sea captains, smugglers and pirates for hundreds of years. Even yet in the bazaars you can find valuable old trading pieces among more recently brought expensive field glasses, cameras, French perfumes and Parisian gowns.
Willemstad is without customs duties, a lure enough for modern merchants. Here the captains loaded their ships with products from Africa, South America and United States. The Dutch, always clever tradesmen, knew how to take full advantage of their happy harbor site, and built it into one of the world’s greatest distribution centres.
British troops were sent to the islands to help the Dutch in 1940, after Holland’s entry into the war. They were replaced by American contingents in February, 1942. By that time the loss of the Netherlands East Indies with their great oil supplies, and the Axis threat to the Iran and other raw material reservoirs, had brought the Netherlands West Indies into the headlines.
Today the refineries on both Curacao and Aruba are working day and night, pumping an unending stream of high test aviation fuel into tankers bound for the war fronts. Only after the war, when detailed figures on the shipments of oil can be made public, will it be possible to recognize fully the contribution this part of the Netherlands realm has made to the United Nations’ victory.
Bauxite From Surinam
4 THOUSAND miles south from the islands of oil is Surinam, or Dutch Guiana, a Dutch West Indies possession on the mainland of South America. Surinam is a valuable source of bauxite, the aluminum ore.
Paramaribo, the capital of Surinam, sprawling on the banks of the Surinam River, with the hot breath of the jungle on its suburbs, prefers to ignore such mundane, material things as bauxite and aluminum. It is larger than Willemstad, but as the bauxite mines are a considerable
distance inland, it can stick to its leisurely grace in living. Here in Paramaribo the streets are broad and shaded with palms, tamarind and mahogany trees. Luxurious white houses with red roofs and pillared entrances are half hidden by colorful flower pots. Tropical languor hangs heavy on the air.
The market places are filled with all the races of the world: need for labor brought immigrants from many lands. The Creoles, Indians, Orientals and Negroes mix with Dutch, Czechs, Italians, Spaniards and Poles. The whites number only 2,000 of the city’s population of 55,000. The natives speak a dialect which is a conglomeration of Dutch, French, Spanish and English with Negro variations thrown in.
Bush negroes from the interior, most of them descendants of slaves who escaped into the hinterland two centuries ago, come down the river to the city in their long, pointed canoes. They bring with them coconuts, mangoes and bananas with which they trade for utensils and fabrics. Sometimes the tribesmen, before departing “around the corner” on their homeward journey, which may take weeks, place a bunch of bananas, or some other offering, at the foot of the statue of Queen Wilhelmina in the Government Square.
FROM Surinam come the makings of planes over Europe, the guns in the hands of soldiers and essential parts of submarines.
Bauxite, which is mined with steam shovels, is a claylike substance found in the foothills along the northern coast and on the banks of the creeks which branch from the Surinam, Cottica and Goermotibo Rivers. The first deposit was discovered in 1915, but it was not exported until 1922.
In November, 1941, the United States, with full accord of the Netherlands Government, sent troops down to Surinam, to reinforce the small Dutch force and stand guard over the valuable deposits.
Politically both Curacao and Surinam possess a considerable measure of self-government, though the executive power in both territories is in the hands of a governor who represents the Queen and the Netherlands Government.
Since the invasion of the Netherlands, the peoples of the West Indies have shown unswerving loyalty to the Allied cause. The Netherlands Empire is doing her full share in the battle of freedom-loving nations against the Axis forces. Her peoples, Indians, Negroes, Creoles, Dutch, Spanish and the natives of the Islands, stand united in loyalty to Queen Wilhelmina.
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