Liverpool Blitz: The North Atlantic convoy

At the outbreak of war Britain was importing around 55 million tonnes of goods by sea each year, much of which came from the USA. This included all of its oil, most of its raw materials and half of its food. The German navy deliberately targeted these ships, the merchant fleet, as without food and oil Britain would be greatly weakened.

'A Convoy Arrives in Liverpool' by Charles David Cobb
'A Convoy Arrives in Liverpool' by Charles David Cobb (1990). This aerial view looks north to the convoy coming up river. The first ships are entering Brunswick Dock. The others are heading for Birkenhead and the North Docks. (from TP)
(larger version, opens new window)

To protect these vulnerable cargo ships it was decided that they should travel in groups, and should be protected by Royal Navy vessels. These groups were called convoys.

From 1940 until the end of the war, Liverpool received 1285 incoming convoys - an average of four a week. The ships had to be loaded, unloaded and often repaired. When you consider that each convoy could have up to 70 ships, and that the docks were severely damaged by German attacks, you get an idea of the strain the port was under.

Liverpool-owned and managed ships formed a large part of Britain's merchant fleet. Local people manned many of these ships. The city was also the site of an anti-submarine training school for naval escort ship officers.

West Brunswick dock following an attack
West Brunswick dock following an attack on 27 September 1940
(larger version, opens new window)

During the war, in the North Atlantic alone:

  • over 2,200 Allied merchant ships were sunk. No less than 2,003 were sunk by German U-boats
  • 100 Allied naval vessels and over 600 RAF coastal Command aircraft were lost
  • perhaps 30,000 merchant seamen died, as well as many men from Allied navies and air forces
  • over 18,000 German U-boat crew members lost their lives


Discover more about the Battle of the Atlantic by visiting the gallery at Merseyside Maritime Museum. Find out more here.