Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Merchant Mariners at D-Day

The Liberty ship Jeremiah O'Brien is the only surviving merchant ship from the D-Day armada.Photo by Mike Hofmann
Every man in this Allied command is quick to express his admiration for the loyalty, courage and fortitude of the officers and men of the Merchant Marine. When final victory is ours, there is no organization that will share its credit more deservedly than the Merchant Marine.-- Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower

From the hot deserts of Africa to the icy waters north of Russia, American merchant mariners saw some of the most hazardous duty of World War II. When the long-awaited Allied invasion called D-Day finally came on June 6, 1944, merchant mariners were there, too.

Ships Without Ports. Some merchant ships began their preparations weeks before the actual invasion. Pulled off their regular runs, these ships cruised the waters around Britain waiting for a pre-arranged rendezvous to pick up cargo and men before heading to the French coast. These “ships without ports” were intentionally kept away from land to avoid enemy planes and ships spotting any concentration of vessels. Many of these vessels continued to shuttle between Britain and the European mainland up until the end of the war. In the first week alone, merchant hulls carried a large portion of the 326,000 troops and hundreds of thousands of tons of equipment and supplies necessary for the invasion.

Operation Mulberry. The night before the Normandy invasion, a force of civilian-crewed US Army tugs lead a fleet of concrete-hulled ships from the Isle of Wight and out into the English Channel. On the night of June 5, 1944, about the time that Allied paratroopers were landing behind German lines in Normandy and several hours after the largest invasion force in history had set out across the English Channel, a fleet of civilian-operated U.S. Army tugs pulled away from the Isle of Wight off the south coast of England. As they approached the French coast, the ships were intentionally sunk; creating breakwaters for huge artificial harbors that would serve as disembarkation points until a natural harbor could be liberated from the Germans. More than 1,800 merchant mariners manned the tugs and “blockships”.

High Merchant Marine Casualties. One in 26 American merchant mariners in World War II was killed in the line of duty, a ratio higher than any other branch of the military. Fourteen of those mariners died near Normandy, and are buried there alongside their comrades from the other services. But because they were not in the armed services, and despite Eisenhower’s praise, none were recognized as “veterans” for more than 40 years. In 1988, President Ronald Reagan signed the WWII Merchant Marine Service Act, providing merchant marine veterans with veterans’ benefits.

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  1. Thank you sir. It's good to know someone is sticking up for the memory of these men as well.

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  3. rawconfessions I was a member Of the Merchant Marine for over twenty years. Retired as a second mate.

  4. rawconfessions I was a member Of the Merchant Marine for over twenty years. Retired as a second mate.