- June 05
Merchant Navy is often seen as purely commercial and is a career in merchant navy is often defined in the terms of perks and tax benefits that one gets. Seldom is Merchant Navy thought to be on a National duty and a layman doesn't associate 'war' with it.
But the truth is that Merchant Navy is an extension of the National Navy of a country that protects the commercial interests of the country and it plays a very important role during wartimes.
Recently, the 'End of War' day has been observed all over the world and especially in Europe that marks the end the most deadly war of human history, WWII, in Europe. A war that went long for 6 years and involved 30 countries and more than 70 million army men estimating 100 million civilian deaths was the deadliest of wars ever happened in the World’s history. Every country and community use this event to showcase their role in the war. Thus, we think it is the right time to bring to the front the crucial role played by Merchant Navy during WWII.
During this World War II, Britain played a major role in providing resources for various works; its merchant fleet dominated as the major one. Comprising of commercial and the trading ships and their respective crews, it was the largest ranking in the world, with carrying capacity of 35% of the total tonnage weight. During the war, these were used to carry servicemen overseas to fight, the supplies and equipment to those involved in the war and helped sustain the servicemen to sustain through the difficult times in the war. Besides the wartime, these ships were also used in the peace times to import and export food items and the raw materials.
Under the control and the command of Ministry of Shipping, the Merchant Navy was considered as the strongest arm of the state. They decided the working and the nature of the ships to the place they were directed and of their destinations and the material they would carry; from their general control to the crew selection and other provisions, all under an eye of Ministry of War Transport as later renamed.
The Ministry of War Transport introduced the convoy system (group of ships with a leading ship to escort the others in the troops) which went hit after the World War II as it saved these massive ships being sunk by the German submarines also known as the U-boats.
This war saw the involvement of more than 1, 50,000 seamen, of which 50,000 were Indian and Chinese alone. From vessels to large cargo’s and passenger ships to small ships and coastal vessels all were actively involved during the war time sailing across on all the waters of the world carrying war supplies and provisions from Arctic’s to the Soviet Union.
Of all, the most important and significant was the Battle of the Atlantic, where all the skills of the Merchant Navy seamen were put to tests. All the fleet of the British Merchant Navy struggled to get food supplies, provisions, fuel, war equipment’s and the raw materials, from America and close by places across the Atlantic Ocean, required to sustain during the war period. On the other hand, Germany left no efforts in mobilizing submarines, battleships, hovercrafts and aircrafts and mines against British supply chain lines. However, more than sufficient enough new ships were replaced by the sunken ones by the British and the American shipyards. Until the end of 1993 May and before the Battle of the Atlantic was won, the German U-boats kept their operations intact until the end of the World War II.
Around 30,000 seamen all of Merchant Navy that fought during the World War Two saw a graceful ending; though the fact that this death rate was much higher than in any of the armed forces.
In honor of these men of their sacrifices during the World War II, the Merchant Navy lays wreaths of remembrance alongside the armed forces as the “Remembrance Day” each year on 11 November.