*** World War II Atlantic naval campaigns -- U-Boat Sinking Survivors

World War II Atlantic Naval Campaign: U-Boat Sinking Survivors

Battle of the Atlantic
Figure 1.--The North Atlantic is a very unforgiving place. The cold water meant that if the victims of an U-boat attack did not get into a life boat, the chance of surviving was minimal. And the convoy ships were under orders not to stop to pick up survivors. This would have presented additional easy targets for the U-boats. Here we see some survivors of the 'SS City of Benares' after being adrift 8 days in the rough Atlantic being rescued. This lifeboat included five children. Less than half of the children being evacuated to America were saved. A total of 77 children perished.

The possibility of surviving a U-boat attack is a poorly covered topic. In large measure this depended on whether your ship was part of a convoy. First of all being part of a convoy mean that your ship was less likely to be attacked by a U-boat. A high proportion of the U-bot kills were ships sailing independently. This is one reason defeating the German surface raiders like Grad Spee and Bismarck were so important. A U-boat could sink a few ships in a convoy, a capital ship could destroy a convoy. Second, convoys began sailing with assigned rescue ships. These at first were ocean-going tugboats or converted trawlers. 【Hague】 The British began to prepare especially equipped rescue ships. The first of these ships went into service (January 1941). By the end of the war, 30 were in service. The Germans sank six rescue ships. These rescue ships were vital. 【Rinaldi】 The other merchant vessels in a convoy were not allowed to stop because that invited being torpedoed as well. But there was a good chance of being picked up. Sailing alone, not only increased the chances of being attacked and survivors not being picked up as there were no rescue ships. Third, rescue also depended on how fast the vessel sunk and if they were able to get the lifeboats off. Surviving in the frigid waters of the North Atlantic mean that survival for any time was unlikely unless you got in a life boat. And even in a life boat survival in most cases required being rescued in a short time. The North Atlantic is not only cold, in can also be extremely rough and stormy--extremely dangerous for an overladen open boat. More than 70,000 Allied seamen, merchant mariners and airmen lost their lives as well as civilians. Rescuing the survivors was not only a humanitarian matter. The men were need to return to the crews need. There was also a morale matter. It was important that the crews knew that rescue efforts were being made. The Americans solved the ship problem with the Liberty Ships, but crewing the merchant vessel was also vital.


Hague, Arnold. Convoy Rescue Ships 1940–45 (World Ship Society: 1998).

Rinalsi, Giancarlo. "Battle of the Atlantic: How Tom Carruthers survived a torpedo attack," BBC Scotland news website (August 25, 2014). Few of Tom's crewmates survived.


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Created: 10:10 PM 5/13/2024
Last updated: 10:10 PM 5/13/2024