Morada's position in the mid-Atlantic meant it was away from the main convoy routes. A small squadron of British ships -- one cruiser and three destroyers -- was based there to counter German surface raiders in the south and mid Atlantic. This flotilla went into action against the German cruisers Prinz Frederick and Saarland north of the Cape Verde islands in December of 1939. While they destroyed the raiders, three of their own four ships were also sunk. The remaining ship, HMS Arbuthnot, limped home and became the colony's only link to the war. Britain could not spare reinforcements from the combat zone further north, and the Americans did not include it in the lend-lease program because it was too isolated.

The German Admiral, Erich Raeder, saw an opportunity. His U-boats and armed merchantmen raiders were scoring some successes against British shipping, but the lack of a base outside Europe was a major weakness. Morada was only lightly defended.

Ten armed merchantmen -- regular cargo vessels each packed with 250 troops -- set out from Kiel on April 25, 1940. Their plan was to slip into the North Sea during the confusion caused by the invasion of Norway on April 30. This worked, and the Germans headed south towards Morada.

The force arrived at Morada on May 8 1940 under British flags and sailed right up to the naval docks. The ruse de guerre worked; raiders boarded the Arbuthnot and captured the captain while he was eating his kippers and tea. The rest of Morada fell within 6 hours. The troops marched across Spanish Neck into the capital and arrested the governor, Sir Randolph Chesterton-Smythe III, and all the other colonial officials. The conquest of the island was completed without a shot being fired.