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Atlantic lifeline; Maritime Tales by Stephen Guy of Merseyside Maritime Museum.

Byline: StephenGuy

IMPORTS were essential for Britain's survival during the Second World War when convoys of merchant ships criss-crossed the Atlantic between Liverpool and America with essential supplies.

Many food products were rationed throughout the war and into the post war period. All kinds of commodities were brought in on the ships. The Germans targeted the convoys with submarine attacks in an attempt to stop as many ships as possible.

British Prime Minister Winston Churchill said: "The only thing that ever really frightened me during the war was the U-boat peril."

The total amount of cargo handled at British ports in the 12 months starting April 1940 was unusually low - about half the wartime average. This was due to Ger many's successes and the ports' organisational problems.

RALLYCRY: poster in the Museum For example the ports of Liverpool and Manchester dealt with 4.2 million tons - 31 per cent of UK ports' total trade. In this period the main west coast ports handled about 60 per cent of Britain's imports.

A photograph in the Merseyside Maritime Museum's Battle of the Atlantic gallery shows Liverpool dockers unloading a ship's cargo into railway wagons alongside a bomb-damaged dockside in 1943.

A modern painting by David Cobb is called A Convoy Arrives in Liverpool, showing the cargo vessels escorted by war ships following their perilous crossing.

No less than 1,285 convoys and an impressive total of 76,000 ships arrived in the Mersey during the war. This was an average of four convoys and 280 ships (not all in convoy) every week. A similar amount of traffic headed out of the river.

Many Irish Sea and coastal vessels, for example, did not sail in convoy. About one-in-seven of the ships concerned unloaded and loaded at Manchester Docks (now Salford Quays).

Since every convoy (or part convoy) might consist of up to 60 ships, the amount of shipping involved put a severe strain on the port workforce and facilities.

A 1942 poster published by His Majesty's Stationery Office (HMSO) features a German propaganda leaflet dropped over Britain claiming Britain was losing the Battle of the Atlantic and the war.

The poster declares: "Dockers help nail these lies! Back the seamen - speed the turn round."

Dockers Maritime Merseyside's 30,000 dockers had an average age of more than 50 because younger men had joined the armed forces or gone into other essential industries. Dockers played a vital role in unloading the cargoes. Delays in unloading were generally caused by the number of ships in port and the damage caused by air raids.

By 1944 far more cargoes were being handled than before the war.

Buy the Maritime Tales book (pounds 3.99) at the Merseyside Maritime Museum open seven days a week, admission free, and at bookshops, newsagents and merseyshop.com.

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RALLY CRY: Dockers poster in the Maritime Museum VITAL: Liverpool dockers unloading a ship''s cargo into railway wagons alongside a bomb-damaged dockside shed
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Liverpool Echo (Liverpool, England)
Date:Feb 20, 2010
Words:492
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