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City's vital role in keeping supply chains in place across Atlantic; STEPHEN GUY journeys into Liverpool's maritime past.

LIVERPOOL was the most important convoy port in Britain in the Second World War, when groups of merchant ships, escorted by the Royal Navy, maintained a lifeline of supplies across the Atlantic.

From the first day of the war, the Admiralty organised most British and Allied ships making the dangerous crossings into convoys as the best defence against German U-boat submarines.

The Royal Navy was desperately short of ships suitable for convoy escort work at the outbreak of war. All it had were 24 old destroyers, a handful of sloops and a few anti-submarine trawlers.

In September, 1940, fifty old American destroyers were transferred to the Royal Navy in return for the use of British naval and air bases in the western Atlantic.

Despite this, that winter there were only enough escorts to provide two for each convoy. The Admiralty had to draft in 70 trawlers from the fishing fleets.

The original convoys consisted of between 30 and 40 merchant ships sailing in lines or columns. In the later war years, the convoys became much larger, often exceeding 70 ships.

Coastal shipping around the less vulnerable parts of the British coast did not usually sail in convoy.

Most ocean-going ships travelled to and from Britain via her western coastal waters. From October, 1939, defence of these waters came under the naval operational control of Western Approaches Command based in Plymouth.

This HQ was moved to Liverpool, the most central west coast port, in February, 1941. It developed into a vast organisation responsible for the day-to-day direction of Britain's entire north Atlantic campaign.

In Liverpool, the Naval Control Service Officer (NCSO) was based on the first floor of the Royal Liver Building at the Pier Head. This officer was responsible for the routing of ships individually or in convoy.

The main photograph above shows a convoy pre-sailing conference in July, 1941, in the Liver Building. These meetings were also attended by ships' masters and their chief engineers, as well as the convoy commodore and representatives of the sea and air escorts.

There are also remarkably detailed coloured sketches in existence showing some of the ships which made up convoys. These drawings are believed to have been begun during the convoys themselves by the Commodore, Rear Admiral Hugh Hext Rogers. He probably completed them soon afterwards. They show side views of the ships, with each one named.


|A pre-sailing conference in the Liver Building, in July 1941; and, right, Rear Admiral Hugh Hext Rogers

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Title Annotation:News; Teasers
Publication:Liverpool Echo (Liverpool, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jul 28, 2019
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