Myrtle Beach World War II Stories and Myths
The SC coastline played a large role in World War II, as this collection of Myrtle Beach World War II Stories and Myths undeniably proves.
Nazi spies on our shores
Anna Hyatt and Archer Milton Huntington, a fabulously wealthy couple from Connecticut, bought 9,000 acres near Georgetown in 1930. Nothing like this had ever happened in this backwater before. Never had such a sophisticated, world-traveled pair settled on this isolated shore with no close neighbors, no world-class shopping, no five-star dining.
These wealthy patrons gave us Brookgreen Gardens, Atalaya and Huntington Beach State Park, but in return they were branded as Nazi spies. Well, it’s easy to see how they might have been viewed as foreigners, at a minimum.
Anna used her time during the mild South Carolina winters sculpting some of the statuary still on display in Brookgreen Gardens. The couple built Atalaya, a sumptuous mansion by any standards, using local material and local labor. They created jobs for a small town Depression-era economy and that right there seemed mighty fishy.
The locals wondered how the Huntingtons had money while the rest of the country was starving. They worried what kind of foreign ideas they’d picked up from all points of the globe. Most of them hadn’t traveled as far as Charleston. The Huntingtons were outsiders and northerners, and the only possible explanation for their mere presence was that they were hiding out in the woods and up to no good.
German U-boats, also foreigners from god knows where, allegedly arrived in Winyah Bay and from there allegedly made their way into the newly-created Intracoastal Waterway. Rumors ran wild. Clearly the submarines were seeking German collaborators in the area to assist them with gasoline and other supplies, along with, who knows, key intelligence as to American defense strategies and war tactics. Wealthy people like the Huntingtons undoubtedly had friends in high places.
The talk on the street was that the Huntingtons built an underground tunnel from the Waccamaw River to Atalaya and Brookgreen, running three miles beneath a concrete road they’d constructed ten years prior to the war. This would have been a massive engineering and construction undertaking, made all the more incredible by the fact that no local labor was called in on the job.
Some of the area old-timers continue to assert that U-boats waited offshore for their friends to replenish and refuel them, and they support this contention with the irrefutable evidence that they saw lights out at sea during blackout wartime conditions.
The best part of this web of treachery was the U-boat pen the Huntingtons allegedly built at Brookgreen Gardens. According to this theory, it was destroyed by a U.S. Navy demolition team in the 1960s because it represented an embarrassment to the military.
Debunking that myth
Three Army Air Corps planes stationed at Myrtle Beach were patrolling for, and should have easily spotted, a German U-boat in inland waters. At that time the ICW was on average about 12 feet deep and about 90 feet wide. Your standard German submarine was 15 feet tall and 220 feet wide.
Underlying the story of the U-boat pen at Brookgreen is the reality that Archer rebuilt a new dock over the remnants of a rice mill’s dock and landing. Brookgreen destroyed that newer dock in an effort to control poachers and trespassers.
During World War II, newspapers were filled with accounts of almost 60 Allied ships and two U-boats that were sunk off the North Carolina coast. Clearly that fueled the paranoia that pointed all fingers toward the Huntingtons, but the unvarnished truth is this.
The Huntingtons stayed in Connecticut for the duration of the war and Atalaya was occupied by the US Air Corps during 1944 and 1945. The Corps installed a radar unit, constructed a temporary airstrip, and fortified the walls of Atalaya for machine guns. The nearby Laurel Hall was converted into a mess hall for the 500 or so men stationed there.
Local librarians respond to questions about this myth to this day, and tour guides at Brookgreen Gardens must repeatedly lay out the improbable logistics of secret tunnels, hidden docks and clandestine refueling stations.
The ravages of war
Due to a current lack of German prisoners, The Myrtle Beach Prisoner of War Camp is now defunct and has been completely wiped off the map. Its site has been redeveloped into high-end residential and commercial uses, completely erasing one of 20 permanent South Carolina camps that housed more than 11,000 German prisoners in barracks in 1944.
Prisoners of war detained across the state were put to work harvesting peanuts, growing tobacco and cutting pulpwood. When the Pee Dee River flooded in 1943, prisoners repaired and rebuilt washed-out roads and bridges. Relatively few incidents disrupted their work because the most hardcore Nazi prisoners were sequestered at Camp Alva in Oklahoma, a strategy that reduced violent uprisings and escapes at other camps. A couple of escapees from the Myrtle Beach Prisoner of War Camp were later apprehended, and two deaths were reported; one by drowning in the ocean and the other a suicide when the prisoner learned that Germany had lost the war.