Thursday, 11 November 2010

Lest we forget - the Merchant Navy lifeline

True, Britain's 'Dig for Victory' campaign staved off the threat of starvation during World War II. This island nation grew only enough food to feed one in three of its 48 million people before 1939. 

Ten thousand square miles of land was "brought under the plough" during the conflict. Increased food production halved reliance on imports by 1945. But we mustn't forget food imports helped keep the people alive and well. 

Britain's Merchant Navy vessels carried 268,650,000 tons of imports to Britain between 1939 and 1945 - a vital lifeline. But the human cost of this lifeline proved enormous. 30,248 merchant navy sailors and fishing fleet crew members lost their lives when their ships carrying vital food and supplies to Britain were sunk by German battleships and submarines. 

Britain's merchant navy consisted of some 3,000 deep sea cargo ships and tankers and another 1,000 coasters when World War II broke out in 1939. An average of 2,500 merchant ships required protection on any given day during the war. 

You'll recall my postings about one of these ships - the Andalucia Star - sunk by a German U-Boat in October 1942. The ship was one of 1,923,000 tons of shipping lost during the height of the U-Boat offensive in 1942. 

U-Boats sank 7,622,400 tons of British merchant shipping by the end of the war. 
British shipping represented 54% of world shipping sunk during World War II.

This week, rightly, we wear red poppies to remember the soliders, airmen and sailors killed during World War II. Remembrance Sunday is also our opportunity to remember those 30,248 merchant navy sailors and fishing fleet crew members who never saw the end of the war.

Paul Coleman, London, November 2010.

Support the Royal British Legion, Britain's custodian of Remembrance. 

Statistics and image: Imperial War Museum, London.

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Merchant Navy