Merchant Seamen as Prisoners of War

Many young men join the navy every day to make a career there. But is it worth it? The dangers are big and, while on a mission, you don’t have any spare minute for yourself. I’d say there are better ways to make some cash, like the Millionaire blueprint software, which won’t make you leave the comfort of your home to make a living.

Although the Merchant Navy was regarded as a civilian force during World War II, thousands of Merchant Seamen were taken captive and held as prisoners. According to Billy McGee’s website, these seamen were held at 32 Prisoner-of-War camps in Europe, and numerous camps throughout Africa, Italy, Asia, and the Far East, as well as on the Altmark, a prison ship.


In 1941/42, the Marine Internierten Lager (Milag), a prison camp specifically for Merchant Seamen, was built north of Bremen (Germany) specifically for Merchant Seamen of all nationalities. There were 4,500 to 5,000 seamen held there.

MILAG POW Association

MILAG website – may be difficult to access

POW Logbook of T. C. (Tom) McNamee

Walter L. Skett, R/O POW held at MILAG
Tom McNamee’s Logbook describes his murder
new photo

POWs in West Africa

Seamen sunk off the West African coast were taken prisoner by the Vichy French,
and sent to camps in Koulikoro and Timbuktu (Timbuctoo).

The Man from Timbuctoo: Experience of Peter de Neumann

SS Allende: Experience of Wilfred Williams

SS Criton and the War Graves at Timbuctoo

Fred Milthorp, steward on a Danish ship in Dakar

Thanks to K. Williams, B. de Neumann, M. Armstrong, B. Milthorp, and E. Heath who provided stories and images for these pages.

Merchant Seamen During World War II

The injustice served to the Mercantile or Merchant Navy during the Second World War was appalling.

  • For all members of the Merchant Navy, pay was stopped on the day that their ship sank.
  • The British Office of Registration for Merchant Seamen (the Newport “Pool”) reported that, during the Second World War, more local men were killed serving in the Merchant Navy, than in the Army, Royal Navy, and Royal Air Force combined.
  • The Merchant Navy was  not classified as Fighting Service!
  • Their entitlement to hospitalization (Geneva Convention) was never the same as given to the armed services.Merchant Navy veterans are finally being recognized as war veterans, but this is in name only. Only the Canadian government has paid compensation to their Merchant seamen. There has been no compensation given to the British Merchant Navy or to the American Merchant Marine. In many jurisdictions, the time spent in a lifeboat (after their ship was sunk), on survivors’ leave, or in a prison camp is still not regarded as war service.