- Gregory, Mackenzie J.
- WWII operations, WWI operations
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- June 1994 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
In World War I the convoy system was not instituted until May 1917, whilst in World War II convoys were quickly organised soon after war was declared in September 1939.
It is of interest to compare the number of British Merchant ships sunk by U Boats in both conflicts.
During 1914-18, losses of British ships over the 51 months amounted to 4,837 sinkings, with a tonnage of 11,135,000 and an average of 95 ships lost per month.
In contrast, during 1939-45, British ships sunk totalled 2775, with a tonnage of 14,500,000, and an average loss per month of 40 ships.
Although in World War I U Boats accounted for twice the number of Merchant ships sunk as their U Boat crews did in World War II, the average monthly losses in both wars was approximately the same, namely 215,000 tons.
This disparity is explained by the fact that in 1939-45, the average tonnage of ships sunk was 5,200, whilst in 1914-18 it was less than half, at 2,300 tons.
If one looks at the human cost to our Merchant Navy, enemy action in World War II accounted for 30,000 casualties, of this number the U Boats caused 23,000.
Britain’s lifeline was maintained by the Merchant Navy, operating in convoy, escorted by naval ships across the Atlantic, and it was in this area, particularly the North Atlantic between September 1939 to the end of May 1943, that the supreme struggle against the U-Boat menace took place. During World War II 75,000 ships were escorted in British controlled convoys across and in the Atlantic; and Merchant ships in convoy in the Atlantic covered over 200 million miles; a quite incredible statistic.
British naval escorts made 13,200 separate voyages, to escort the Merchant men, with a passage time from 20 to 26 days. The Atlantic often provided gales and foul weather, and when passing close to Iceland, and Greenland, floating ice became an additional hazard.