Battleship USS Washington and the Royal Navy

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Washington (BB56) 29 May 1941 shortly after commissioning 15 May

(photo courtesy of US National Archives)

 

British naval losses had become so heavy by the spring of 1942, that they requested assistance from the US Navy to help escort the infamous convoy PQ 17 to the Soviet Union. The Royal Navy was waiting for newly commissioned ships or about to be commissioned ships to “work up.”

In April 1942, the battleship USS Washington along with the cruisers USS Tuscaloosa and USS Wichita were sent to the Home Fleet anchorage at Scapa Flow and came under the command of Admiral Tovey, C-in-C Home Fleet.

 

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USS Washington (BB-56) off New York City, New York, 21 August 1942. Note barge alongside amidships and OS2U floatplane afloat off her stern.

(photo and caption courtesy of US Navy History and Heritage Command)

In July 1942, after the disaster of PQ 17, the American ships were no longer needed and were withdrawn by the US Navy. This was one of the few times when American naval forces served in the European theater.

Highest Casualty Rate in British Empire

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The “Red Ensign” was the flag flown by the British Merchant Navy. The Royal Navy flew the “White Ensign”

(photo courtesy of  the National Archives of the United Kingdom)

 19% of officers and ratings of the British Merchant Navy died in World War Two as the result of hostile action–a far higher percentage than any branches of the British and Commonwealth Forces.

The actual number who died is 25,864 men. Not of these men weren’t actually British sailors. Many were from neutral countries such as Sweden, who volunteered to sail on Swedish ships chartered to the British Ministry of War Transport. Others were Portuguese, also neutral.

840 ships from foreign nations who were belligerents against Germany including Norway, the Netherlands and Greece placed themselves under charter to the British although the Germans offered them large sums to come back to their own countries. The men refused.

 

v0_master

British sailor covered in oil from a tanker torpedoed in 1943

(photo courtesy of IWM)

Ships not specifically built or purchased by the British Ministry of War Transport were insured by the Ministry since obviously no maritime insurance company could take the risk of insuring merchant ships in a war.

 

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 Three Lascars of the P&O liner Viceroy of India, standing behind the wheel of one of the ship’s tenders. National Maritime Museum from Greenwich, United Kingdom.

 

A large number of men who crewed British merchant ships were Lascars, men native to the Indian subcontinent. They were paid far less than white British sailors and signed a more restrictive set of articles as they were known before signing on.

A number of British owned ships were crewed entirely by Lascars except for the officers or mates who were white or “European” as they were known. On these ships officers were required the predominant language of the crew such as Hindi and speak it fluently since all orders were given in the language of the crew.

Despite the carnage, well known to the merchant officers and sailors, not one Allied merchant ship ever failed to find a crew and put to sea. Yes, there were delays as some men balked and said “hell no.” Nonetheless, officers and crewmen were always found who manned the ships.

They were brave men.

 

MerchantLead

Survivors of two merchant ships crowd the decks of a rescue trawler at St. John’s, Newfoundland, April 1943.
(photo courtesy of National Library of Canada)

 

 

source: Churchill’s Navy

author’s research

Arms For Russia Now!

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“Arms for Russia – a great convoy of British ships escorted by Soviet fighters sails into Murmansk harbour with vital supplies for the Red Army.” From the National Archives of the UK. 1939-46

For much of World War Two, the Soviet Union was far more popular among the British public than the United States.

There were large demonstrations for “Second Front Now!” That Second Front eventually being the Normandy Invasion. The news of the cataclysmic battles in the Soviet Union between the Red Army and the Wehrmacht led many of the British public to think of the Soviets as better allies than the Americans since the Soviets were fighting and the Americans weren’t. At least, not until June 6th, 1944. US efforts in Italy and North Africa while appreciated, didn’t come close in the minds of the British public with the defeats inflicted on the Wehrmacht by the Soviets. And that is true.
Much of the horrifying detail about life under Stalin and the Bolsheviks wasn’t known to the wider world at the time of World War Two. It took decades for people in the UK and most of the Western world to truly understand how murderous the Stalin regime had been.

A Photograph Which Will Make You Feel the Cold of an Arctic Convoy in World War Two

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Ice forming on a 20-inch signal projector on the cruiser HMS SHEFFIELD whilst she is helping to escort an Arctic convoy to Russia. December 1941.

(Photo by Lt. R.D. D. Coote, Royal Navy official photographer and used courtesy of the Imperial War Museum