War Shipping Administration Reports on Merchant Marine Casualties

"Up to V-J Day, 733 American merchant vessels of over 1,000 gross tons were sunk during the war, victims of torpedoes, bombs, mines, and marine disasters largely caused by war conditions."

"Hundreds of small craft were also lost, while other hundreds were damaged but survived enemy attack, and many in turn destroyed the attackers."

Source: The United States Merchant Marine At War, Report of the War Shipping Administrator to the President, Washington DC, U.S. Government Printing Office, January 15, 1946

Merchant Marine Casualties War Shipping Administration -- Press Release June 13,1945

Odlin - Maritime 62
PR 2293 (W)


NOT TO BE USED BY PRESS OR RADIO BEFORE 6:01 PM, EWT, Wednesday, June 13,1945
Cleared and Released
Through Facilities of the
Office of War Information, Washington

Loss of 1,554 United States flag merchant ships of 6,277,077 deadweight tons from war causes and marine casualties largely due to war conditions, was announced today by Vice Admiral Emory S. Land, Chairman of the United States Maritime Commission and Administrator of the War Shipping Administration. The losses occurred during the period, from September 1, 1939 to May 8, 1945.

The bulk of the tonnage was accounted for by the 570 ships of 5,431,456 deadweight tons lost from direct war causes. The balance of 984, involving only 845,621 tons, was lost in marine casualties resulting from convoy operations, reduced aids to navigation, blackouts, etc. Marine losses include those lost in U. S. inland waters. Only 71 of the 984 vessels exceeded 1,000 gross tons each.

The destruction of ships by the enemy has, of course, been accompanied by heavy loss of life. The latest Merchant Marine casualty list reports merchant seamen 5,579 dead and missing, and 487 prisoners of war, a total of 6,066 as of May 1, 1945.

An overwhelming percentage of the merchant vessels were destroyed by German or Italian submarines, air attacks and mines, with 68 lost in Japanese areas. The most extensive destruction was in the North Atlantic where wolfpacks of U-boats prowled against convoys to the British Isles and North Russia until curbed by fast-expanding Allied naval and air power, including the use of escort carriers, such as the 50 designed and built by the U. S. Maritime Commission for the Navy.

The dark days of 1942, before new methods of combating enemy attacks on shipping had been perfected, witnessed the height of the German and Italian attempt to halt the transport of troops and munitions to the European war theater. In the five months from March through July, 204 American merchant ships were sunk, an average of more than one a day. In June of 1942, the highest point of losses of the war was reached, the enemy sending 49 U. S. vessels to the bottom in 30 days.

Starting with the sinking of the SS City of Rayville, November 8, 1940, after striking a mine, seven American merchantmen were sunk before Pearl Harbor. Before the end of that December, eight more had been sunk.

In 1942 the toll was 318 ships, a total of 1,829,260 deadweight tons. During 1943 losses were cut to 129, of 885,076 deadweight tons. Last year the enemy sank only 59. To the 1944 total should be added as war losses, however, the 27 U. S. flag vessels that were over-age or had been knocked out but not sunk in combat. These vessels were scuttled by their own crews to form the artificial harbors that helped make successful the Allied invasion of Normandy. From January 1, 1945 to May 8, an additional 22 vessels were lost.

The North Atlantic has naturally proved the most desirable hunting ground for Axis submarines. Up to the end of last year, 219 American merchant ships were sunk in its broad expanse, 141 in the northwest area and 78 in the northeast Atlantic, in addition to the 27 sunk off Normandy. Next, the Caribbean Sea was the most thoroughly exploited area for enemy submarine operations with 122 of our vessels lost.

In the Pacific, Axis submarines and air attack account for 44 American ships; in the South Atlantic, 42; in the Mediterranean and Black Sea, 39; in the Gulf of Mexico, 25; in the Red Sea and Indian Ocean, 27; in the approaches to the Mediterranean, 18, and in undetermined areas, 7.

Not included in this statement are American-owned vessels under foreign flag*; merchant types operated by the Navy and designated by the Navy as military losses; vessels sold for scrap or scrapped. Included are losses of merchant vessels operated by WSA and allocated to the Army and Navy as troop transports and base ships.

*[Many U.S. ships were reflagged under Panamanian, Honduran, Costa Rican and other flags by U.S. Government order in order to circumvent the Neutrality Act and still provide aid to our Allies, especially Great Britain, prior to our entry into the war. U.S. Naval Armed Guard served on these ships and they were crewed by American crews. The Philipines were a U.S. Territory and their ships flew the U.S. flag. Many of these ships were taken over by the U.S. Army, and were sunk but were not included above.]

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