Magazine article Sea Classics

The U.S. Merchant Marine at War!

Magazine article Sea Classics

The U.S. Merchant Marine at War!

Article excerpt

As the 60th Anniversary of America's entry into World War II approaches it is fitting to review the awesome performance of America's Merchant Marine as the delivery force that kept open the supply life lines to our wartime Allies.

The United States was a member of a fighting team of United Nations that won the greatest war in history. There were three major players who represented the United States on that team: Our fighting forces overseas, the production army here at home, and the link between them - the United States Merchant Marine. Each of the three was dependent upon the other; and together with their counterparts in other United Nations, a winning combination was evolved which smashed the Axis powers beyond all recovery.

Never before has the maritime power of America been so effectively utilized. Its naval and merchant fleets became the difference between victory and defeat.

Just as our Merchant Marine linked American overseas forces with American production, so it aided in cementing the United Nations into one fighting unit not separated, but joined by the oceans. In this capacity, the United States Merchant Marine, possessing finally the largest number of merchant ships in the United Nations' pool of shipping, can probably be credited as the greatest single strategic factor in the defeat of the Axis powers.

Technological advances made during the war in explosives, long-distance detecting and navigating devices and the overwhelming development of bomber air fleets tend to obscure the contribution of the slower, but nevertheless relentless, pressure of sea power. Allied sea power, despite keen and intelligent opposition by the enemy, kept the United Nations supplied with, and enemy nations denied access to, the raw materials and fabricated products essential to victory.

German land power, with reserve war stock piles, relied upon speed of conquest to overcome its lack of access to overseas supplies principally from America and once again launched a U-boat fleet to choke off these supplies from Britain and Russia. The heroism of these nations, including the effective antisubmarine warfare carried on first by the British and later by the Anglo-American navies, forced Germany into the long war she could not sustain. Later the coup de grace was given by the combined air fleets and the Russian steam roller - both of which owed their basic power to the stream of supplies carried around the world in American ships.

Against Japan the role of our Navy was reversed. It fought in the main an offensive war instead of defensive operations to protect our cargo-ship supply lines; American submarines succeeded where the Germans had failed - and Japan's sea lanes were closed and her merchant fleet sunk while ours sailed in comparative security. Japan could not overcome these blows and came to her final defeat in a manner somewhat akin to that of Germany - from the air and from the seagoing power of the United States Navy.

Thus our Merchant Marine met its two assignments: To knit the ocean-separated United Nations into a single wartime organization, and to place our armies and their equipment on hostile territory and maintain them there.

In carrying out the latter assignment, we can say that our fighting forces were never knocked off an important beachhead, nor, thanks to the merchant fleet, did we in any instance fail to develop our landing with a steadily increased flow of supplies that enabled our armies to meet their objectives.

That knowledge will be the everlasting satisfaction of the men and women who engaged in the many tasks of building the ships and preparing them for sea, and the men who sailed those ships through the enemy's submarines in every ocean.


Each member of the American team had its high point symbolizing its enormous contribution to the victory: Among the armed services witness the United States Army on the beaches of Normandy and Okinawa; the Air Forces in the great sky battle over Regensberg; the United States Navy in the Battle of Midway when Japan's sea power was turned on its road to ruin; the United States Marine Corps at the pinnacle of its glory atop Mount Surabachi. …

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