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The Great War (1914-1918) Forum

Merchant Navy in WWI


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This is from Randal Gray's Chronicle of the First World War, volume II, general tables: British mercnatile shipping registered 1914, 21,065 ships ( sail and steam) aggregating 12,414,000 tonnage; 1915, 20,790 and 12,429,000; 1916, 20,074 and 11,752,000; 1917, 18,720 and 10,233,000; 1918, 18,190 and 10,101,000. The heavy losses of 1917 are apparent in the reduced figure for tonnage registered in 1918. As far as personel are concerned I have no figure - just a very approximate guess based on extrapolation: total tonnage losses were 7,759,090, represented by 2,479 ships; 15,000 merchant seamen died...which very roughly equates to one for every 500 tons - using that as a benchmark, it is feasible to suggest that a tonnage of 12,000,000 implies perhaps 24,000 seamen; all a bit rough and ready - I would be interested to learn what the actual manpower was. Hope this helps, Roger. Happy New Year.

On second thoughts, I must add an edit - my figures for personel seem preposterous - how could 21,000 ships be manned by 24,000 men ? That'll teach me to try and guess about something I know nothing about! OTOH, there were thousands of small craft powered by sail, which could have been very sparsely manned. But a mean average of about 20,000 ships would surely require an average minimum crew of 5 per ship - in other words, one hundred thousand crew at any one time. Judging by the figure of losses, the average tonnage of the ships that were sunk exceeded 3,000: that size of ship would require dozens of crew, surely. Maybe I've had too much claret!


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