While engaged in another task, the attention of the writer was directed to a vast amount of source material on the Armed Guard Service. Here in some 38 carefully packed filing cabinets was the complete story of the birth and development of a branch of the United States Navy which became larger than the entire Navy back in 1937. Every important document on the Armed Guard Service was here. Every voyage report of an Armed Guard officer which ever reached the Navy Department was carefully preserved. This was the kind of situation the historian always dreams about and never finds. But through a happy chain of circumstances the writer was entrusted with the task of writing the history of the Armed Guard.

This history has of necessity been selective. It has been impossible to describe every minor skirmish with the enemy. Emphasis has been placed on the principal engagements. The action described below is certainly typical and representative of that in which the Armed Guard Service participated. More could be written about the clashes with submarines in the Atlantic, but some of the fiercest attacks are described. The part which the Armed Guard played in the landings in Southern France has been left out, mainly because action there was on the whole of a rather mild nature. The role merchant


ships played at Antwerp, Iwo Jima, Saipan, the Marshalls, and a part of the action in the Mediterranean have not been described, But action for merchant ships at all of these places except the Mediterranean was mild and largely of a routine nature. The really important clashes in the Mediterranean have been described in some detail.

Names of individuals have for the most part been omitted as a deliberate policy. Only in rare cases have names been mentioned. Likewise names of foreign ships which were sunk while in convoy been largely omitted because of the difficulties in giving altogether accurate information about those ships for which action reports were not available. There has been no attempt to give anything like a complete description of attacks on navy ships which were witnessed by Armed Guards. It has been necessary to limit this account to action of the Armed Guards and their ships. Some individuals will naturally regret that their acts of heroism are not properly credited by name. There are so many acts of bravery by Armed Guards that mere mention of all personalities who performed nobly would be an almost unending task.

This study makes no pretence to give full description of all unusual events, such as Armed Guards firing at United States or British planes or armed merchant ships by mistake becoming involved in surface engagements with allied ships. These were exceptional cases and they add nothing to the story of the performance of Armed Guards against


the enemy, which is our interest here. There is certainly no attempt to conceal this information or to deny that such unfortunate events did take place. But by and large Armed Guard fire control was excellent and worthy of every commendation.

Some will even object that a vast body of information about relations between Armed Guards and merchant crewmen is not discussed. The simple truth is that there were many unfortunate quarrels between the Armed Guards and their more highly paid and less disciplined companions on merchant ships. But the cases of good relations between Armed Guard crews and merchant seamen far outweighed the cases in which difficulties arose. A mature Armed Guard officer and a master worthy of the name rarely allowed serious trouble to develop. Most of the trouble came from the presence of the smart young Armed Guard officer or from the presence of the incompetent or cantankerous master. Such leaders were not able to keep their men in line. One thing is certain; the merchant crewmen developed a healthy respect for the Armed Guard after the first serious combat. Most of the difficulties came with crews which had not experienced the bitter moments of death and destruction.

This history is written, therefore, with the assurance that the big events are fully discussed and that the trivial, the routine, and the unimportant have been left to the obscurity of the World War II


files. My purpose has been to describe events as they happened without adornment and without excessive praise. At times the writer has almost wished that he was not an historian and could play up the dramatic moments without being bound by the cold record of what happened. But that temptation has been resisted. The events as they happened are dramatic enough. Any life and death struggle on which the fate of nations depends is best told as simply and directly as possible. It is the hope of the author that the titanic struggle of the defenders of our merchant ships will arouse the same interest in the reader that it has in the writer.

Invaluable in the preparation of this history have been the numerous "Memos. for File" which have served to give the background to many events which otherwise would have remained rather obscure. Captain Edward C. Cleave, USNR, the head of the Arming Merchant Ship Section in the Fleet Maintenance Division of the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations and the man who ran the Armed Guard service with a firm and at times an iron hand, has given much valuable time to explaining events and recalling interesting facts about the Armed Guards. He is a modest man and would doubtless oppose any attempt to praise his work in these pages. But one cannot fail to admire the matchless job which he did. He knows merchant ships as perhaps few other men available to the Navy because of his long years at sea and with the Bureau of Marine Inspection and Navigation. The Armed Guard


Service was in a peculiar sense his handiwork, for he was left free to make the big decisions.

This history was written for the Office of Naval History. The author is grateful for permission to publish under his own name and his only hope is that these pages will serve to make clear to the general public some events in the history of World War II of which they may be justly proud.

  W. C. A.
Washington, D. C.
September 13, 1946


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Transcribed and formatted for HTML by Rick Pitz for the HyperWar Foundation