BJØRN TORE ROSENDAHL
British surveillance of allied seamen
A Very Different Experience: Merchant Seamen on British Coastal Convoys 1940–45
G H BENNETT
How to secure the participation of a foreign civilian workforce in times of war
BJØRN TORE ROSENDAHL
Indian seafarers in the Empire’s Wars: World Wars I and II
Chinese in the British merchant fleet
YVONNE FOLEY & CHARLES FOLEY
Unique Challenges to the American Merchant Marine in World War II
GEORGE J. BILLY
Yugoslav seamen during World War II
Hellenic Merchant Marine in World War II
Important, Yet Overlooked: an Overview of the Dutch Merchant Fleet in the Second World War
MAY-BRITH OHMAN NIELSEN
Preface There are very few Second World War publications examining the history of more than one country’s seafarers, and the main purpose of publishing this anthology is to fill this research gap. This was also the objective of the seminar at Arkivet in Kristiansand, Norway, on 8 and 9 April 2014, where some of the contributors in this book presented their papers. It is in the wake of that seminar this book has been compiled. Public interest, knowledge and recognition of the seafarers’ significant contribution to the Allied war effort have grown substantially in Norway in the last 5–10 years. In 2016, this opened the way for the establishment of a Centre for the History of Seafarers at War as an integrated part of the peace and human rights foundation Arkivet. The purpose of the centre is to publish information, conduct research and document a wide range of aspects of the seafarers’ history in the Second World War. The centre is responsible for the publication of this book, as well as the national online register of all the seafarers on Norwegian ships 1939–1945 (foreign seafarers included), at www.krigsseilerregisteret.no. The seminar, and subsequently this anthology, have made it possible to connect with scholars around the world with both a great deal of knowledge and commitment to the history of seafarers in the Second World War. The writers of the articles in this book have all seen the value of extending the reach of their research and insight to a greater international audience. I would like to express my sincere thanks to them for their willingness, commitment and patience in the process, from the idea to its publishing. I would also like to thank Lars Aase at Cappelen Damm Akademisk for his excellent work as a publisher of this anthology, for his many good pieces of advice to me as an editor and the good, effective and cooperative teamwork essential to the relationship between an editor and a publisher.
8 Lastly, I would also like to express my gratitude to the sponsors that made this book possible: the Fritt Ord Foundation, the Norwegian Confede ration of Trade Unions (LO), the Norwegian Ministry of Defence, Stiftelsen Sjømannshjelpen, Oslo Maritime Stiftelse, the Norwegian Seafarers’ Union, the Norwegian Union of Marine Engineers and Vest-Agder County Council. Bjørn Tore Rosendahl (editor) Kristiansand, November 2017
Peer review Two of the articles in this anthology have been peer reviewed, by the choice of the authors. That includes Harry Bennett’s article “A very different experience: Merchant Seamen on British coastal convoys 1940–45”, together with “How to secure the participation of a foreign civilian workforce in times of war. Norwegian authorities and the use of foreign seafarers during the Second World War”, written by Bjørn Tore Rosendahl.
Introduction Important, international and insecure war work Bjørn Tore Rosendahl Academic leader (PhD) at Centre for the History of Seafarers at War, Arkivet Peace and Human Rights Centre, Norway email@example.com
When the Second World War ended with Allied victory in 1945, the Axis powers had been defeated on the military front. However, it was not only on the military front that the war was won. An important reason to the war’s outcome was that the Allied powers mobilised the most human resources and the highest production capacity.1 A reliable and effective transportation system was crucial to be able to utilise this high production capacity. This was especially true for sea transport, with hundreds of thousands of seafarers making a very significant contribution to the Allied war effort. It is the history of the seafarers of different nationalities, serving on different Allied nations’ merchant fleets, which is the topic of this anthology. The shipping routes from North America to the United Kingdom were the most important ones, both in terms of volume and strategic value. Winston Churchill claimed in his memoirs, that the only thing that frightened him during the war was the threat of the submarines in the Atlantic.2 This was based on a realistic fear of Britain’s supply lines being cut off, ending its ability to wage war. Germany’s desperate efforts in the Battle of the Atlantic underpins this important aspect of the war, which is illustrated by the fact that approximately 82 per cent of Germany’s submarine crews were killed in the years 1939–1945.3 Allied controlled merchant ships were the German targets and the seafarers manning the merchant ships became
BJØRN TORE ROSENDAHL
A Norwegian tanker transporting airplanes across the Atlantic in 1941. Photo: NTBs krigsarkiv, The National Archives of Norway.
the main victims, along with servicemen in Allied navies. Merchant ships were also sunk in the Mediterranean, the Indian Ocean and the Arctic Ocean. When Japan and the USA entered the world war in December 1941, there were practically no safe areas left on the world’s seas. All the oceans were defined as war zones.4 This also included many coastal areas, often neglected in publications on the seafarers’ war. Harry Bennett compensates for this in this book’s article concerning the British coastal trade, in which he shows this trade’s importance and risks. Hundreds of thousands of civilian seafarers on thousands of ships sailed under dangerous conditions in the times of war. The British merchant fleet was the far largest one in 1939, with one third of the world’s total tonnage, and with nearly 200,000 seafarers employed.5 In addition, the British government chartered ships from both Allied and neutral countries. This was due both to the great need of transportation in times of war and the great losses of ships and crews in the British fleet. Securing enough crews, and cooperative ones, was seen as crucial. In his article, Tony Lane examines how not only British, but all European Allied seafarers were kept under close surveillance by British authorities.
During the Second World War, the USA overtook the United Kingdom as the nation with the largest merchant fleet in the world. In his article, George Billy shows how the rapid growth of American tonnage lead to a massive recruitment of seafarers to the American merchant marine. Billy examines the many challenges these seafarers faced in different theatres of war through some of the seafarers’ own testimonies. Few other arenas of the Allied war effort were more characterised by international cooperation than ship transport. The war at sea called for strict coordination among the Allied powers on how to organise the shipping transport with regards to both the efficient use of scarce tonnage resources and their safety. Moreover, a wide range of questions related to “shipping manpower” were closely coordinated among the European Allies with a merchant fleet. This took place both bilaterally and multilaterally through institutional bodies established during the war for this purpose. The multilateral bodies among the European Allies, which discussed and coordinated manpower issues most substantially, were probably the Inter-Allied Government Committee on Shipping Manpower and its sub-committee, the Inter-Allied Sub-Committee of Officials on Shipping Manpower. The committees were established during the winter of 1942 with government representatives and officials from the United Kingdom, Norway, the Netherlands, Belgium, Greece, Poland and Yugoslavia.6 Apart from the United Kingdom, these were all occupied countries with both an exiled government and a merchant fleet. The occupied maritime nations in Europe faced many of the same challenges. This is one of the conclusions that can be drawn from the articles in this book about the ships and the crews in the merchant fleets of Yugoslavia (Milan Gulić), the Netherlands (Saskia J. Klooster), Greece (John Paloubis) and Norway (Bjørn Tore Rosendahl). These articles show that the consequences of losing ships and crews were not the only common challenges. One important issue was how to organise the requisition of merchant ships into Allied service. Saskia Klooster shows how this was a question which also was debated during the post war era, in her overview of the Dutch merchant fleet. The sole leaders of the inter-Allied committees and similar organs were the British representatives. They usually spoke on behalf of the European Allies when questions related to seafarers were negotiated with US authorities. To ensure Anglo-American economic cooperation during the war, the
BJØRN TORE ROSENDAHL
Survivors rescued in the North Atlantic 1942. Photo: NTBs krigsarkiv, The National Archives of Norway.
Combined Shipping Adjustment Board was established together with three other civilian bodies. However, these boards had limited achievement. They were constantly bypassed by British and American officials and ceased to function in early 1943.7 France and Denmark were not represented in the inter-Allied organs, because of the absence of a Danish and a French government in exile. This also made that Danish and French ships in Allied controlled waters were forced to sail under British flag, with all the seafarers on board subject to British terms and working conditions.8 The crews on board each nation’s merchant ships were also characterised as being united nations. Chinese and Indian seamen constituted a large and important group of seafarers which Allied merchant fleets depended strongly on to secure their ship transport. Many Western Allies’ merchant ships were even crewed with a majority of Asian seamen. The use of Chinese and Indian seafarers on-board did however not happen without tensions and conflicts, often fuelled by the Western shipowners’ long-lived tradition of differential treatment of seafarers, based on colour and nationality. Both these seafarers’ importance in the Second World War and the problematic relationship with their employers are well documented in several of the
articles in this book. Gopalan Balachandran examines the Indian seafarers’ history through both world wars and by combining micro and macro perspectives. Yvonne and Charles Foley focus in their article on Chinese seamen on British ships, and include the post-war treatment when there was less need of these seamen’s services. Furthermore, the general use of foreign seafarers in the Norwegian fleet during the war is analysed in the article of Bjørn Tore Rosendahl. John Paloubis shows in his article how seafarers in the Greek merchant fleet were killed in different phases of the war, due to different causes and after attacks from both Allied and Axis powers. The human cost of all seafarers in the Allied merchant fleets were at their highest in the years from 1940 to the turning point in the Battle of the Atlantic in April 1943.9 It is difficult to find reliable figures on the total death toll among the Allied merchant seafarers. Moreover, it varies on how to count and who to include. The casualties listed below are gathered from John Slader’s book The Fourth Service: Merchantmen at War, 1939–45, and the total number of “merchantmen casualties” from Allied and neutral countries is set at 62,933.10
Total Merchantmen Casualties11 United Kingdom Royal Navy DEMS Maritime Regiment Royal Artillery United States United States Navy Armed Guard Canada South Africa Australia New Zealand Norway Greece Netherlands Denmark Belgium Neutral countries Total:
31,908 2,713 1,222 5,662 1,640 1,437 182 109 72 4,795 2,000 1,914 1,886 893 6,500 62,933
BJØRN TORE ROSENDAHL
Based on the high number of casualties referred to in the Norwegian merchant fleet (4,795), this indicates that a wide definition has been used in this table, even if the wounded are included.12 The opposite conclusion can be drawn if the number of casualties above are compared with the figures given in this book’s articles about the deaths in the American (6,847), Greek (2306), and Dutch (3400) merchant fleets. However, discussions about which definitions and figures that should be the basis for death tolls in Allied merchant fleets does not change the overall fact that the casualty rate was relatively high and the risks comparable to servicemen in the armed forces.13
Future research possibilities Despite the multinational character of the seafarer’s service during the Second World War, previous research into the seafarers in the Second World War has, to a great extent, been carried out with a more limited national scope with regards to the use of historical sources and prior research. Nor is there any tradition of comparative studies in this field of history. Very few publications cover more than one country’s merchant fleet and its seafarers, and very little research into merchant seafarers in the Second World War has been published in English from outside English-speaking countries. This anthology aims to compensate for some of this. Milan Gulić’s article is, for instance, possibly the first time a thorough examination of Yugoslav seamen in the Second World War has been published in English. The most constructive contextual framework for research into merchant seafarers’ war history will depend on the purpose of the study and the research questions. The shipowners’ nationality and the flags on the ships normally decided who was responsible for managing the crews in the Allied merchant fleets.14 This is an argument to have the nation state as a part of the framework for a study on this matter. Formally, each nation was supposed to man their ships on their own, preferably with as many of their own nationality as possible. Still, some future research projects on seafarers in the Second World War could potentially benefit from a different perspective than just one nation’s merchant fleet or one nationality of seafarers. Research based on the
Contrasts in the life of allied seafarers in WW2. Photo: NTBs krigsarkiv, The National Archives of Norway.
Allies as the basic framework would supplement the national frameworks and probably open new perspectives that previous projects have not been able to discover. As briefly described above, there were several different and shifting Allied meeting points for coordination and allocation of the
BJØRN TORE ROSENDAHL
merchant fleets during the war. A separate study of these bodies has the potential to provide new perspectives into the history of the seafarers’ war. Likewise, there is research potential in transnational studies at the individual level, for instance by examining and comparing the war experiences of individual seafarers of different nationalities. Such micro studies might problematise the standard view, where the national merchant fleets constitute the whole and the ships and crews are the parts. This was probably how it looked from the government offices, and from the point of view of shipowners, where the ships and crews were controlled and coordinated. Seen from below, the parts (the ships) were not necessarily considered the same way as a national whole (the nation’s merchant fleet). This anthology concentrates on seafarers on Allied ships. There would also be great research potential in a comparison between the experiences of seafarers from ships controlled by Allied, neutral and Axis powers. Differences and similarities uncovered from such research about issues like survival, culture, identity, health and social practices in war all have the potential to provide a broader understanding about the phenomenon of seafarers at war. Unfortunately, little research has been undertaken into seafarers on neutral or Axis-controlled merchant ships, with a few exceptions.15
This anthology The different articles in this anthology show the value of collecting a broad spectrum of both frameworks, perspectives, sources and nationalities of the seafarers which are studied. This is not least because they help to see that developments in one country’s merchant fleet also happened correspondingly in other countries’ merchant fleets. External impulses influenced the situation of the seafarers on Allied merchant ships. The articles in this book differ in the scope of their analytical approaches to the seafarers’ history. Billy, Rosendahl, Paloubis, Klooster and Gulic relate more or less to one nation’s merchant fleet, and the Foley’s and Balachandran to one nationality of seafarers. Lane and Bennett examine issues related to more than one nation’s merchant fleet and one nationality of seafarers, but with the British Government as a key actor. Seen together,
all these articles bring new and different perspectives into the history of the seafarers of the Allied nations in the Second World War, which is also the objective of this anthology. Roughly, the articles in this anthology are organised into two halves: The specific thematised articles come first, followed by articles providing overviews of different nations’ merchant fleets and their crews. They are in the following order: • Tony Lane: British surveillance of allied seamen • G. H. Bennett: A Very Different Experience: Merchant Seamen on British Coastal Convoys 1940–45 • Bjørn Tore Rosendahl: How to secure the participation of a foreign civilian workforce in times of war. Norwegian authorities and the use of foreign seafarers during the Second World War • Gopalan Balachandran: Indian seafarers in the Empire’s Wars: World Wars I and II • Yvonne and Charles Foley: Chinese in the British merchant fleet • George J. Billy: Unique Challenges to the American Merchant Marine in World War II • Milan Gulić: Yugoslav seamen during Second World War • John Paloubis: Hellenic Merchant Marine in World War II • Saskia Klooster: Important, Yet Overlooked: an Overview of the Dutch Merchant Fleet in the Second World War Professor May-Brith Ohman Nielsen concludes the anthology, with a purpose to place the seafarers’ history and this book’s articles in a broader perspective. Readers of the anthology will see that the contributed articles appear quite different, not only in their topics and scope, but also writing style and the reference system of the different articles. This is done deliberately to display that the contributors come from different disciplines, countries and traditions. The articles’ heterogeneity might also be seen as a symbol of the previous limited international interaction between historians on this field of research. Hopefully, this book will contribute to both an increased conscience, commitment and knowledge about other countries’ and people’s history at sea in the Second World War.
Published on Mar 8, 2018