28 December 2009 by Stephen
I recently appeared on the Liverpool KVFM community radio station hosted by local children and was asked why Liverpool suffered so many German air raids.
The answer was that the city was the main port for the convoys of merchant ships that brought vital supplies to Britain. Liverpool played a key part in the Battle of the Atlantic by serving as a base for escort ships defending the Second World War convoys.
Until mid-1941 only a small force of naval escort ships was based in Liverpool. A fleet of Fleetwood trawlers was established at Wallasey Dock, Birkenhead, for minesweeping and convoy escort work.
A group of destroyers was based in Gladstone Dock, Bootle. A few auxiliary merchant cruisers – fast, well-armed former liners taken over by the Navy – also sailed out of Liverpool on North Atlantic patrol duties.
From the summer of 1941, however, as more escort ships became available, the naval presence in port grew rapidly. Liverpool became one of the Royal Navy’s main escort bases for Atlantic convoys.
Eventually nearly 60 naval escort ships, excluding trawlers and other auxiliaries, sailed regularly from Liverpool. They ranged from destroyers and sloops to frigates and corvettes.
While Gladstone Dock supported by other docks provided berths for larger ships, many corvettes were based at Albert Dock. This is now the home of Merseyside Maritime Museum with its many convoy-linked displays in the Battle of the Atlantic gallery.
This 1945 photograph shows officers and men from HM Trawler Northern Wave at Wallasey Dock. Another image shows the armed merchant cruiser HMS Patroclus, formerly of the Blue Funnel Line, leaving the Mersey for escort duties in 1940.
Just five days later Patroclus was torpedoed and sunk by the notorious U99 submarine which sank 40 British and Allied merchant ships before being sunk by a British destroyer.
There is a photo of 19-year-old Nigerian seaman Douglas Memberre who was engaged as a steward’s boy on the Mattawin at Lagos in December 1941. Douglas survived after his ship was sunk by a U-boat in the North Atlantic in June 1942. He later returned to sea and eventually settled in Liverpool.
Merseyside became the main home of the Merchant Navy in wartime Britain. In 1939 Liverpool-owned and registered ships formed at least one-fifth of Britain’s entire ocean-going merchant fleet.
Many were taken over by the Government as armed merchant cruisers, troopships, hospital ships, assault vessels and other auxiliaries.
A new Maritime Tale by Stephen Guy appears every Saturday in the Liverpool Echo. A paperback – Mersey Maritime Tales (£3.99) – is available from the museum, newsagents, bookshops or from the Mersey Shop website (£1.50 p&p UK).
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