Wartime Merchant Navy
Queries & Frequently Asked Questions
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Wartime Merchant Navy
Front, 1949-1945 - Glossary: Defnitions of common
abbreviations (ARP, CORB, etc.) and commonly used word (Anderson
Shelter, Barrage balloon, etc.) from World War II.
Comprehensive list of maritime terms and their
meanings located on the United States Merchant Marine site.
Merchant Seamen in WW2:
During the war, a merchant seaman was probably under age, over
age or unfit for service in the regular uniformed Armed Forces. A captain's
comment (courtesy of Carol): "Walter Skitch, aged 70 years; joined the SS
Bondicar in March 1942 and has served continuously since as First
Engineer." See oldest and
youngest Merchant Navy casualties.
On March 9, 1944, the P&O ship
was sunk and the crew taken aboard the Japanese vessel Tone.
Seventy-two members of the crew were executed.
When the tanker SS British Chivalry, was sunk 22/02/1944, in the Indian Ocean, the Japanese
submarine circled the survivors in two lifeboats, raking them
with machine gun fire. A cine camera was used to record this act
of murder (not war). After 37 days in an open boat, 38 survivors
were rescued by mv Delane (including Lamport and Holt).
For security reasons during wartime, the ship's name was not
painted on the side, nor on the stern. Instead, two name boards, commonly
called Convoy Boards, were
mounted on either side of the ship above the bridge. The boards were hinged horizontally
in the middle, so they could be folded in half. The name of the ship was
painted in large letters and could be displayed in port, but, when the board
was folded in half, the name was concealed.
Merchant ships that carried weapons were called Defense
Equipped Merchant Ships. Some 150,000 Merchant seamen received gunnery
training (e.g., Gordon received gunnery training and manned a machine gun).
Merchant ships could also have Navy or Army gunners aboard. According to Billy
McGee (British Merchant Navy
at War website), there were 24,000 RN gunners (nearly 5,000
killed) and 14,000 army gunners (1,222 killed) aboard Merchant ships during WW
personnel below. On the Links & Sources page, see Maritime
Dog Watch is a short watch. First Dog Watch (4 - 6 pm) and
Last Dog Watch (6 - 8 pm) are terms used in the Royal Navy. The term Second
Dog Watch is not used.
Empire Celt & Capt. Edward McCreade
The Empire Celt (a tanker) was torpedoed and probably sunk 24-02-1942 by
U-158, Kapt. Erwin Rostin. The 8,032 grt ship (MOWT, Oregan SS Co. Ltd) had sailed in
ballast from Greenock and joined up with convoy ON-76. The 37-ship convoy left Liverpool on February 14, 1942, bound for Halifax, Nova Scotia. On
February 21, the convoy was intercepted by a patrol line of 6 U-boats who
attacked the following day, sinking 3 Merchant ships. The U-boats launched
further attacks on February 24, sinking 5 Merchant ships and damaging a
further 2. The Empire Celt was on of the ships hit about 420 miles
South-East of St John's by U-158 and sank in Position 43' 50N 43' 38W. The
Captain, Edward McCready and 22 men were picked up by the Canadian ship
Citadelle. A further 24 were picked up by the naval trawler HMT St Zeno
and all were landed in St John's, Newfoundland. Four crew were killed and are
commemorated on the Tower Hill Memorial in London on Panel 38. Two DEMS
gunners (names unknown) were also lost. (From B. McGee)
The Empire Ships (Mitchell & Sawyer) says the ship was
sailing independently (not in convoy) when torpedoed by U-625 south of
Spitzbergen, Barents Sea, 76.20N 17.30 on November 14, 1942.
asked if anyone know whether National Geographic made a film about ONS154,
possibly in 1998?
Pay: sunk seamen
Did seamen receive their pay after their ship was sunk, or was pay stopped at
the date the ship sank? The rules were changed in May 1941,
and sailors were to be paid until they got back to their signing-on port, but
no one told the sailors. In many cases, the pay to a seaman who lost his life was often stopped as soon as the ship was sunk. It could be three months
or more before the widow received her widow's pension, and that was only one-third of the
allowance she had received whilst her husband was alive and at sea.
Marnex? (Troop Ship)
A troop ship (Marnex?) was attacked in the
Mediterranean in October 1943 en route to Bombay, India. The men abandoned
ship and were picked up the next day. Hague (in his book The Allied Convoy System) says that a Dutch ship named
Marnix van St. Aldegond with 2,924
troops aboard in convoy KMF 25A left Liverpool October 19, 1943. The
ship came under air attack on November 6, 1943 in the Mediterranean, but no
one was killed.
Merchant Navy Badges
On the left, is the Merchant Navy lapel badge
issued to all British seamen during World War II (front & back view).
Except for officers, seamen did not wear a uniform, and this badge
identified them as Merchant Navy seamen. On the right, is a brooche with
an enamel background (front & back view) known as a "sweetheart brooche"
presumably because a sailor gave it to his girlfriend (Thanks to Billy
McGee for information).
Another interesting brooche with a Merchant Navy
connection, front and back views (click to enlarge). The
maker's stamp shows that it was
made between 1962 and 1967. Any information would be appreciated.
Royal Crown of Newcastle
The first Royal Crown of Newcastle was bombed and
gunned by aircraft 15m South of Smith's Knoll Light vessel on January 30th.
1940. The ship was sunk in a later action by the Gneisenau on
March 15th, 1941, in LAT 42 N LON 43W (approximately).
Royal Navy personnel (DEMS gunners) on merchant ship
The three names: HMS Glendower, HMS President III, and HMS Wellesley, do not refer to actual
ships. They were Royal Navy bases that trained gunners to man Merchant ships,
known as DEMS (Defense Equipped Merchant Ships).
The name of a DEMS gunner
assigned to a Merchant ship appears on the ships articles, but he was
was not a Merchant seaman. If killed, his name appears under the name of his
Royal Navy training base, not the merchant ship.
Royal Navy DEMS records are still held at HMS Centurion
naval base. Information will only be given to the next of kin and may take
some time. Please contact the following address:
Centurion. Naval Pay & Pensions (Accounts), Centurion
Building, Grange Road, Gosport, Hampshire PO13 9XA England.
Ask specifically for the names of the
Merchant ships served on, or all you will get is the DEMS depot that they were
from. If you already know the names of the ships they served on you can access
the crew list and agreements from the Public Records Office. The crew list and
agreements are held under the ship's official number.
There were 184 Merchant ships in the Russian convoys. For the
names of ships and convoys, see Arctic Convoys.
For information on this British tanker, see Stephan's
Study Room. Also see High Awards for Bravery.
The Merchant Navy was an essential service during WW2. Canada
had what the crew called the "sail or jail" clause. A seaman signed
on at the shipping pool and had one choice of three ships. If he didn't like
any of them, then he went were he was sent. Britain had "Reserve
Pools" while Canada called them "Manning Pools," and a ship's
captain used them to make up shortages in his crew.
Ship's Articles (December 1942)
Empire Shackleton, Empire Union; King Edward, or Norse King
If you have a copy of the Ship's Articles (crew list) for
December 1942, for any of these ships, we would appreciate the names of the
crew members to identify the DEMs gunners. They signed on as crew, but their
records (on the Commonwealth war graves, etc.) may not include the name of the ship they were on when
they were killed in action. Contact us by
Virginia (Glasgow) - Information wanted:
The CWGC has made a mistake on a the
spelling of this ship on the commemoration of some of the men lost. The ship's name was actually the tanker SS Virgilia, 5,723grt
(Gow Harrison & Co.) which was attacked and torpedoed by the German
E-boat S109 while sailing to London in the coastal Convoy FS-54.
Weight of Ship:
The terms Gross
Tonnage and Dead Weight, used to describe a ship, do not refer to weight, but to volume. Gross tonnage is the total internal volume of a ship. It is a cubic
or space measurement of all areas of a vessel with some allowances or
deductions for exempt spaces such as living quarters, while
Deadweight tonnage is the difference
between light and loaded displacements. It comprises the cargo, stores,
ballast, fresh water, fuel oil, passengers, crew and their effects.
Displacement Tonnage (usually quoted in
long tons of 2240 lbs.) is the total weight of the ship and everything in it,
and refers to the actual weight of the water "displaced" by the ship.
For more information on definitions, please refer to Terminology on our Links and