Bauxite

Paramaribo

Suriname

February 4, 2018

 

Why did the United States and her allies defeat Germany and her allies in World War Two?  Was it superior leadership or manpower or strategy or materiel?  Or all of the above?

Certainly, the country of Suriname does not come to mind as a significant factor in the War.

And yet, the mineral resources of Suriname, a small country in South America, played an important role in the eventual victory of the Allies.

Bauxite was a key to success.

In Suriname I visited the closed bauxite processing plant.  You can learn a lot of history from “skeletons.”

 

Bauxite and the Allied Forces

In 1916 the Aluminum Company of America (Alcoa) had bought the then known bauxite fields in Suriname – especially around Moengo, along the river Cottica. Bauxite is an ore which is used for the production of aluminum and therefore for building airplanes for example. Because of the War export increased.

Not far from Paramaribo, in the district of Para, since 1938, along the Suriname River, Alcoa was preparing a new establishment. Between the company and the capitol, the still existing, only “highway” in Suriname was built. In February 1941 governor Kielstra opened the Paranam Factory. The Netherlands-Indies company Billiton also appeared.

In 1943 Suriname mines provided 60% of the United States need for bauxite. One year later though, production in the US state of Arkansas started and the Suriname share diminished.

The Suriname teacher of history Heinrich Ernst Helstone (1926-2010) explains how bauxite was transported….

Because the Suriname river beds during those days were not deep enough, ships were only loaded for about 30-40%. From Moengo they proceeded, via the neighboring Cottica and Commewijne Rivers, to the mouth of the Suriname River and on to Trinidad. There a second shipload was needed before the voyage to Mobile in the State of Alabama could start.

Mobile was the North American place of transfer. The crews of the ships were not Surinamese. Most of the crew were from British Guyana and Trinidad, officers were Norwegian, etc.

After war's outbreak the United States did not want this strategic ore and the Alcoa installations to fall into enemy hands. That fear was very real. French-Guyana was controlled by the pro-German Vichy-government and there were many German immigrants in South America.

Therefore, President Roosevelt, on the 1st of September 1941, still before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor provoked the American declaration of war, offered Queen Wilhelmina to station 3,000 infantry and anti-aircraft defense troops in Suriname.

The Dutch wartime government and governor Kielstra were surprised but had to accept the “offer.”  The military would formally be under Dutch supreme command and be funded by the Dutch. The first troops arrived on November 25, 1941. By year's end they numbered 1,000, and in 1943 over 2,000 soldiers.

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