Edited by W. K. HANCOCK


By C.B.A. Behrens

Fellow of Newham College, Cambridge

LONDON: 1955



The authors of the Civil Histories have been given
free access to official documents. They and the editor
are alone responsible for the statements made
and the views expressed.

First published 1955

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Editor's Note xv
Foreword xvii
CHAPTER I: The Problem of Planning for War in the Nineteen-Thirties  
  i. Shipping 1
  ii. United Kingdom Ports 10
      Appendices I-VII 17
CHAPTER II: The Pre-War assumptions and Preparations  
  i. The United Kingdom Ports 24
  ii. Shipping 24
CHAPTER III: From the Outbreak of War to the German Invasion of the West: The Task of Supplying the United Kingdom 43
      Appendices VIII-X 69
CHAPTER IV: From the German Invasion of the West to the Fall of France  
  i. The French Demands 72
  ii. The Threat to the Ports 80
      Appendices XI-XIII 85
CHAPTER V: The Calm Before the Storm  
  i. The Ships of the Conquered Nations 91
  ii. The Shape of Things to Come 104
      Appendices XIV-XVIII 112
CHAPTER VI: The Battle of the Ports
  i. The Ships with Cargo 126
  ii. The Ships in Need of Repair 142
      Appendices XIX-XXV 146
CHAPTER VII: The Crews 154
      Appendices XXVI-XXX 178
CHAPTER VIII: The Fall in United Kingdom Imports and the Appeals for American Help 188
      Appendix XXXI 201
CHAPTER IX: 'The Indian Ocean Area'  
  i. The Problems 202
  ii. The Ports 206
  iii. The Troopships and the W.S. Convoys [United Kingdom to Middle East to India] 216
  iv. The Civil Demands and the Cross Trades 225
      Appendices XXXII-XL 241
CHAPTER X: The Shipping Situation Before and After Pearl Harbour 250
      Appendices XLI-XLII 264
CHAPTER XI: The Troopships, January to June 1942 269
      Appendices XLIII-XLVI 277
CHAPTER XII: The Beginnings of the Anglo-American Alliance 284
      Appendices XLVII-L 293
CHAPTER XIII: The Cargo Ships and the Military Demands, From Pearl Harbour to the North African Campaign 297
      Appendix LI 309
CHAPTER XIV: The Effects of the North African Campaign and the Beginnings of the World Shipping Crisis 312
      Appendices LII-LV 323
CHAPTER XV: 'The Shortage of Shipping a Stranglehold on all Offensive Operations' 328
      Appendix LVI 336
CHAPTER XVI: The Shortage of Shipping a Stranglehold on Essential Civilian Services 340
      Appendices LVII-LIX 354
CHAPTER XVII: Planning for Victory: The World Shipping Budgets  
  i. The Problem 359
  ii. The United Kingdom Import Programme 362
  iii. Combined Strategy 366
  iv. The Future Prospects and the Demands of the Overseas Territories 373
      Appendices LX-LXII 378
CHAPTER XVIII: The Progress to Victory in the West  
  i. The 'Not Unmanageable Deficits' and the Search for Economies, May to August 1943 386
  ii. The 'Surpluses' and the Invasion of the West 392
      Appendix LXIII
CHAPTER XIX: The 'Unmanageable Deficits' and the Crisis of the Anglo-American Alliance, September 1944 to February 1945  
  i. From the Quebec ('OCTAGON') Conference to the Completion of the Washington Survey, September 1944 to January 1945 409
  ii. The ARGONAUT Conference 416
      Appendices LXIV-LXIX 419
CHAPTER XX: The End of the Crisis and the Achievements of the Anglo-American Shipping Alliance 431
      Appendix LXX 452
Glossary of Technical Terms 465
Index 469



I. Changes in world tonnage, 1914-37 17
II. Note on the use of the term carrying-capacity and on the factors by which carrying-capacity was determined in different periods of the war 18
III. World tonnage laid up, 1929-38 21
IV. British new building, 1910-13 and 1918-38 22
V. British tankers 1914 and 1938 22
VI. Distribution of imports by port areas, 1927-29 facing p. 22
VII. World tonnage by flag, 1939 23
VIII. Dry-cargo merchant shipping under British control, 1,600 gross tons and over, 3rd September 1939 to 30th September 1945 69
IX. Estimated dry-cargo imports in the first year of war, assuming that Germany had not attacked in the West 70
X. Review of import programme April 1940 71
XI. Ships in the French coal trade and tons of coal loaded for France and North Africa from the United Kingdom, September 1939 to May 1940 85
XII. Note on the amount of British tonnage allocated to France and the consequent loss of imports to the United Kingdom 86
XIII. The extent of the diversion of shipping from the east coast to the west in October 1939 87
XIV. Approximate proportion of the Belgian, Dutch, Danish and Norwegian ocean-going dry-cargo fleets captured by the enemy in 1940 112
XV. Foreign dry-cargo ships, 1,600 gross tons and over, under British control (other than United States and Canadian ships transferred to the British flag) in service and lost at various dates 113
XVI. Note on the estimate of port capacity of September 1940 119
XVII. Net losses and importing-capacity in the second year of war 120
XVIII. The Ministry of Shipping's estimate of importing capacity of 1st August 1940 121
XIX. The loss of imports due to delays in port in the winter of 1940-41 146
XX. Percentage increase or decrease in tonnage arriving in the west coast port areas 147
XXI. Note on inland sorting depots 148
XXII. Estimated loss of shipping in Liverpool and Birkenhead from various causes resulting from the raids on 1st-8th May 1941 151
XXIII. Number of ships in the Port of London, January to June 1941 152
XIV. Departures of shipping in the foreign trade, Liverpool and Manchester, January-August 1941 152
XXV. British and British-control dry-cargo vessels, 1,600 gross tons and over, repairing, damaged, or not in use 153
XXVI. Deaths among the crews of merchant ships that were lost by enemy action 178
XXVII. Nationality of seamen, other than Lascars, employed on 15th June 1936 in sea-going vessels (except yachts and fishing vessels) registered in the United Kingdom, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands 179
XXVIII. Deaths among British merchant seamen, excluding Lascars, due directly to enemy action, and estimated deaths and 'permanently damaged lives' due indirectly to enemy action 181
XXIX. Loss of importing-capacity because of delays to merchant ships as a result of crew difficulties 185
XXX. Note on the loss of merchant seamen to shore employment between the outbreak of war and the introduction of the Essential Work Order 186
XXXI. Net consumption of imported supplies 201
XXXII. Periods in 1941 when the Suez Canal was closed to through traffic 241
XXXIII. Tonnage employed in trooping (including tonnage under repair) and trooping-capacity 1st October 1941 to March 1944 242
XXXIV. Number of personnel carried per 1,000 gross tons 243
XXXV. Total personnel embarked from the United Kingdom in W.S. convoys (including civilians and ships crews); August 1941 to the beginning of the North African campaign 244
XXXVI. Numbers and destinations of troops carried in W.S. ships 245
XXXVII. Troopships lost from all causes, 3rd September to 30th June 1943 246
XXXVIII. Egypt's principal imports, 1936-38 average, 1940 and 1941 247
XXXIX. Loss of imports to United Kingdom as a result of the shipment of civil supplies to the Middle East in cross trades other than from North America 248
XL. Entrances and clearances of overseas shipping on commercial services, with cargo and in ballast, Commonwealth of Australia 249
XLI. American help to British programmes in 1941 264
XLII. Sailings of British ships to North Russia, August 1941 to June 1945 265
XLIII. Principal troop movements in convoys other than W.S. convoys, last quarter 1941 to third quarter 1942 277
XLIV. Voyages of the 'Monsters' 279
XLV. Note on the causes of the increased rate of movement on the W.S. route, comparing the second half of 1941 and the first half of 1942 282
XLVI. Arrivals of United States personnel in the United Kingdom 283
XLVII. British and United States net gains and losses, dry-cargo ships, 1942 and 1943 293
XLVIII. Changes in employment of United States-controlled dry-cargo tonnage, 1st March 1942 and 10th October 1942 294
XLIX. Approximate amount of dry-cargo tonnage employed (wholly or primarily) in the service of the British armed forces, before the North African campaign 295
L. Sailings of United States and British-controlled dry-cargo ships to the Indian Ocean area in fulfillment of British programmes 296
LI. i. Shipments of military cargo from the United Kingdom to the Indian Ocean area (Middle East, Persian Gulf and India) in fulfilmenrt of British programmes 309
  ii. Shipments of military cargo from North America to the Indian Ocean area (Middle East, Persian Gulf and India) in fulfillment of British programmes 309
  iii. Shipments of vehicles form United Kingdom to destinations other than the Indian Ocean area in fulfillment of British programmes 310
  iv. Shipment of vehicles form India to the Far East, Middle East and Persian Gulf in fulfillment of British programmes 310
  v. Shipments of vehicles from North America to destinations other than the United Kingdom and the Indian Ocean area in fulfillment of British programmes 311
LII. Sailings of British ships from the United Kingdom to North Africa, August 1942 to June 1943 323
LIII. Note on the military reserves in the Middle East 324
LIV. United Kingdom stocks of food (other than on farms) and of imported raw materials 325
LV. Note on the saving in shipping space that resulted from the crating of vehicles 326
LVI. i. Personal letter from Lord Leathers to the Chief of Staff, and 336
  ii. Reply by Sir Alan Brooke, Chief of the Imperial General Staff, to Lord Leathers, 4th March 1943 339
LVII. Loadings of civil supplies for the Middle East other than coal (including supplies for the British forces)
(a) From North America and the United Kingdom,
(b) from other sources, 1941-45
LVIII. Note on the amount of shipping that would have been required to meet the demands for nitrates and for grain that could not be met in March 1943 355
LIX. Shipments of grain to India, 1942-45 356
LX. Specimens of British and United States shipping budgets  
  i. The United States shipping budget presented to the Washington ('TRIDENT') War Conference 378
  ii. Estimate of British shipping availability presented to the Shipping Committee, 29th March 1943 379
  iii. British shipping budget presented to the Cairo ('SEXTANT') War Conference, November to December 1943 380
    A. Note on the budget and on the various forms of American help 380
    B. The budget 381
LXI. Attempted assessment of the extent of the British and American shipping deficits at the Washington ('TRIDENT') War Conference, May 1943 382
  i. The British deficit 382
  ii. The United States deficit 383
LXII. Approximate amount of United States help to British programmes in terms of tonnage in continuous employment 384
LXIII. Approximate percentage of vehicles carried across the Channel by tank landing craft and landing ships, and by merchant ships (M.T. ships) during 'OVERLORD', July 1044 to May 1945 (inclusive) 408
LXIV. United States help to British programmes, by quarter years, July 1944 to June 1945 419
LXV. Scaling down the British deficits 420
LXVI. The United States shipping budgets drawn up in Washington in January, and at the 'ARGONAUT' Conference in February 1945, in terms of tonnage in continuous employment 421
LXVII. i. Note on the extent of the waste of shipping in the British-controlled fleet 424
  ii. Estimated extent of the annual rate of waste of United States dry-cargo tonnage at the beginning of 1945, as a result of the misuse of ships 425
LXVIII. Proportion of total United States requirements represented by civil requirements 428
LXIX. Message sent by the President to the United States Theater Commanders, 9th December 1944, instructing them to put an end to the more extravagant forms of waste 429
LXX. Documents to illustrate the problems of planning the use of deep-sea dry-cargo ships  
  i. The programmes of requirements 452
    The United Kingdom import programme by sources of supply, 23rd June 1944 453
    The programmes of the overseas territories by sources of supply, 23rd June 1944 facing p. 454
  ii. Allocation of tonnage, 1,600 gross tons and over  
    A. Statistical data on the deployment of the fleet 455
        Analysis of tonnage by area, 30th April 1944 457
          Estimate (projection) of tonnage by area for six months ahead, 7th January 1944 458
        Analysis of the port position in a theatre of war 459
    B. Relating the programmes of requirements and tonnage  
      i. Overall estimate of the relationship between demand and supply for nine months ahead (the British budget drawn up at the Cairo ('SEXTANT') War Conference, 7th December 1943) 459
      ii. Estimates of the tonnage required for individual services for various periods ahead 459
           For the cross trades 459
           For the United Kingdom import programme facing p. 460
           For military maintenance 461
           For military operations facing p. 462



1. Indian Ocean area 203
2. Route of Convoy W.S.19, sailed from United Kingdom 2nd August 1941 226
3. Route of Convoy W.S.18 sailed from United Kingdom 15th August 1942 274
4. Homeward voyages of ships in Convoy W.S.18 274
5. Diagram of a ship loaded with military cargo 314
6. Principal importing countries in the Indian Ocean area and principal imports of bulk commodities (other than oil) 354


Most of the following photographs are Crown Copyright and are reproduced by courtesy of the Imperial War Museum and the Ministries concerned. For permission to reproduce No. 1 the author is grateful to the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board; for No. 2 to the Port of London Authority; for No. 3, which is from the painting by A.J.W. Burgess, R.I., R.O.I., to Messrs, Scruttons Ltd., and for the fourth photograph of No. 7 to the Keystone Press Agency.

  Between pages
1. Transit sheds 14-15
2. Merchant ships discharging overside in the Port of London 14-15
3. Merchant ships discharging overside in the emergency port in the Clyde Estuary 154-155
4. Ships in convoy 154-155
5. British and Allied masters at a convoy conference 154-155
6. British merchant navy ratings 158-159
7. Atlantic toll 166-167
8. Types of British masters 174-175
9. Invasion of Europe: 'MULBERRY' harbour 394-395
10. Invasion of Europe: Merchant ships discharging cargo 394-395


Editor's Note

AS WAS EXPLAINED in the Preface to British War Economy, the histories in this series deal with subjects rather than departments. The present history by no means covers all the activities of the Ministry of War Transport, nor indeed the relevant activities of some other Ministries which were much concerned with merchant shipping. It does not, for example, discuss merchant shipbuilding, which is dealt with in the war production volumes of this series. Nor does it discuss naval matters, except here and there in sketching the background, for these are dealt with in a companion series of war histories. Nor dies it discuss tankers nor coastwise shipping. These last omissions may seem particularly strange, for both the tanker story and the coastwise shipping story belong most intimately to the war-time experience of the Ministry of War Transport. Nevertheless, from the standpoint of economic functions, coastwise shipping can best be considered alongside the railways, roads and canals of this country; it belongs to the History of Inland Transport which Mr. C.I. Savage is preparing. Similarly, it has seemed to the editor logical, and on balance convenient, to absorb the tanker story into the History of Oil, for which Mr. D.J. Payton-Smith is responsible.

These various exclusions take away a great deal. Nevertheless, they have left for Miss Behrens a large and very complicated theme, as she will explain in her own Foreword.

The history is published in a form somewhat different from that of the other books in the series; it contains many more appendices than do the others, and the appendices have been placed after the chapters to which they relate instead of being collected together at the end of the book. The nature of the theme seemed to make this procedure necessary. For the theme is the 'shipping situation', that is, the relationship between the supply of shipping and the large number of demands on it, and this relationship could only be established after long and detailed study of the statistics. The statistics often provided the only objective guide to the magnitude of the various problems, and in many cases they were the only test of success or failure. Without them the more conventional kinds of historical evidence would have been meaningless or unmanageable. This does not mean that the history is a study in statistics, for the statistics were only one among many different sources of evidence. Moreover, they themselves would have been meaningless without the aid of the people who compiled them and by themselves they would be quite unintelligible to future generations. They were raw material for the historian to work upon; it seems proper, therefore, to include in the published text the tables that Miss Behrens compiled and the calculations that she based on them.




IT MUST BE explained what this book is about. It is called 'Merchant Shipping and the Demands of War.' This means that the book is only concerned with one set of problems: with the tasks which the British-controlled fleet of merchant ships had to fulfill, with the extent to which it did in fact fulfil them, and with the principal problems to which the attempt to fulfil them gave rise.

This book is therefore something more than a history of merchant shipping, but it is also something much less. It is something more because it considers, although inly in a broad and superficial way the nature of the demands that had to be met, the measures that had continually to be taken to cut them down and adjust them to the supply of shipping, and the effects that cutting them down had on the course of the war. These questions have often taken the author to fields that must seem a long way removed form the sea and ships. But they are not in fact so far removed as might appear at first sight. For merchant ships exist to provide services for many different customers, and the only way of discovering how far they fulfilled their functions in war is to discover how their various customers fared.

Nevertheless the ships and those who serve in them have in interest in their own right. The men who serve in them are human beings and not merely means to ends; the ships themselves to those who know them do not seem merely means to ends; even the various organisations concerned with them during the war all had their own personalities and are interesting subjects of study from many different points of view--from the point of view of the lawyer, the statistician, the economist, the students of business or national administration, of government, and even, since many of the ships in the British-controlled fleet were foreign ships, of diplomacy and international relations indeed, during the war the British-controlled fleet of merchant ships touched the lives of so many nations at so many points that even that Jack-of-all-trades, the historian, can rarely have been faced with a subject that raises so many different kinds of problems.

But all these problems could not form the subject matter of one book. If all were to be given their due they would need many books, and indeed the files of the Ministry of War Transport provide the material from which many interesting books could be written if the skill to write them were forthcoming.

This book is therefore something much less than a history of merchant shipping because it is only one book and has only taken one set of problems into account, and because, moreover, editorial


policy, as the Editor has explained in his note, has required the author, when considering even these problems, to omit several that are relevant.

Moreover, the author is aware that, besides these omissions which were deliberate, many readers may find others that were inadvertent. The Director-General of the Ministry of War Transport once described the activities of his department as 'a great adventure and achievement'. But the adventure was of a complicated kind and the achievement, too, cannot be explained in simple terms. There is always a risk in such circumstances that if justice is done to the actors in the drama in one sense it will not be done in another; and that the grandeur of the adventure may be obscured in the endeavour to describe what it involved. Since the theme of this book is what used to be known during the war as 'the shipping situation' and, since the situation was always the result of a large number of other situations that were of different kinds at different times, the author has been forced constantly to bring new groups of people on to the stage and then to remove the as soon as their particular stories ceased to form a part of the central story. In such circumstances there is always a risk that the various individual achievements may find too small a place because of the need to make clear the magnitude of the great achievement that was the sum of them all. The author has always been aware of thee risks, and of her own inadequacies when faced with a task that needed a great writer to do it justice.

The author would like to express the deep debt of gratitude she owes to the Statistical Adviser to the Minister, Sir William Elderton, and to his deputy, Mr. John H. Gunlake. The book would never have got started and taken shape without the constant help and encouragement which Sir William provided, and without his wise judgment on many matters besides statistical ones. Mr. Gunlake, at a very great expenditure of time and labour, read the whole book through in draft form and checked all the calculations, though he is not responsible for the original data nor for any mistakes that may have crept into the final version when, as a result of his advice the calculations were redone.

The author has many debts to acknowledge besides these. The work would never have been possible without the help not only of Sir William Elderton and Mr. Gunlake, who left the Civil Service shortly after she arrived, but of the officials who remained in the Ministry and, particularly, of the Permanent Secretary, Sir Gilmour Jenkins, whose constant encouragement, kindness and forbearance were principally responsible for the fact that the formidable task was finally achieved. The author also wishes to thank many people in the shipping and port industries for their help and instruction.


Among her research assistants she is indebted to Miss P. Bower, now Mrs. Mars, for much of the information relating to foreign ships that appears in Chapter III, and to Mr. John Williams who helped, among other things, to collect the facts relating to the D-Day operations. She is greatly indebted to Mr. R.J. Lawrence for his help in collecting some of the facts about the civil demands of the overseas territories which appear in Section iv of Chapter IX; this help was given at a crucial moment, and made it possible to complete within a reasonable time the scheme for the history as a whole. She acknowledges a particular debt to Mrs. Garrard, without whose unfailing competence, accuracy and reliability the mass of material would have proved unmanageable, and to her clerk, Miss Madeleine Ingham, who did all the typing, and much of the arithmetic and compiling of the tables, and who developed a skill in these various crafts that proved absolutely indispensable.


Newnham College,
    December 1954.


Transcribed and formatted for HTML by Patrick Clancey, HyperWar Foundation