Pirates vs. Shipping: A Historic Perspective

Mariners might take a lesson from the  supply ships that sailed the Atlantic during WWII !

From the stories of Richard G. George   Picture from amongst his souvenirs.



One of Canada's Park boats, the SS Metwata Park, unloading cargo at Canada Docks in Manchester England during WW II.  Photo courtesy of R.G. George


We are all hearing about the increasingly active pirates that are taking over ships off the east coast of Africa. I am wondering why the big ships that have to use the pirate’s corridor on the coast Africa, don’t take a page out of history. I suppose many of their owners are too young to remember WWII, but my husband told many stories about the convoys he was in that took supplies from Canada to England during WWII. Those ships sailed through the vast North Atlantic. They were under constant threat from Hitler’s U-Boats known as the Nazi Wolf Packs. Instead of straggling across the North Atlantic alone, the ships gathered together off our maritime shores. Some, from the east coast of North America, and others, that had arrived from the west coast via the Panama Canal, grouped into huge convoys. They traveled under strict regulations and orders: to maintain radio silence using flash Morse code for communication instead of radio and then only in the daytime;  total blackouts at night so they couldn’t be seen, using dead lights, porthole covers, with no running lights on; watches constantly alert for other ship getting too close. The convoys were protected by possibly three heavily armed corvettes capable of using depth charges and there may have been a destroyer to help protect them if they were lucky. In the later years of the war the merchant ships were also armed. They had a 4” cannon on the stern and 6 oerlikon’s, 3 on each side of the ship. Hell’s corner was the worst place you could be assigned. That was last ship in the convoy, situated on the North-west corner of the convoy as they sailed to British Isle. Those ships were usually the ones that carried the high octane fuels or explosives. Seamen got extra danger pay to man those tankers. As the old saying goes, “There is safety in numbers!” Well they weren’t always safe, but they weren’t always out there being picked off like clay pigeons either.

Article by M. Maxine George



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Last Updated on April 18, 2009 by M. Maxine George editor.

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