They were built for service in home waters on the European side of the Atlantic, these small,
saucy-sheered fishing boats that made the difficult westward passage across the ocean in the early spring of 1942 to help escort shipping in American waters.
They seemed dwarfed and overburdened by the guns and depth charges they had been armed with to convert them from
their role of catching fish to fighting German submarines at the outbreak of World War II in September 1939. And they were not alone.
These 24 North Sea trawlers were joined by lOcorvettes, fresh from Canadian yards, to join the terrible battle ranging along America’s East Coast,
from Long Island and the Jersey shore south to the Carolinas and Florida.
Why did the United States, the “arsenal of democracy” in the worldwide struggle to roll back
the tide of totalitarian conquest which had engulfed Europe and Southeast Asia,
A Critical Supply Line tum to its hard-pressed British ally for this improvised help?
The answer is simple: the United States Navy was losing a battle off its own beaches-the battle
for a vital stretch of the most important supply line of the entire war, the North Atlantic sea lane to Europe.
The statistics tell the terrible story: some 2 million tons of shipping sunk off the American coasts in the six-month period January-June 1942,
A Critical Supply Line the first six months of US involvement as a belligerent in the war.
But the statistics don ‘t tell ital I. Merchant seamen ‘s bodies washed ashore on resort beaches,
where hotel lights were kept blazing away to avoid hurting the tourist business, thus neatly silhouetting the ships for waiting German submarines.
The order to black out the seaside towns was not given until April, four months into a terrible war,
by which time 190 ships had been sunk for a loss of over 1 million tons.
Worse was to come. In the next two months, May and June, losses rocketed past 400,000 tons a month in coastal waters,
approaching 600,000 tons in the whole American strategic area, the western half of the Atlantic.
The young Richard Woodward Scheuing remembers, as one of his first experiences at sea, sailing down the coast from Philadelphia to Gulf Coast po1ts in an old, coal-burning steamer.
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