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Reflections on loss of ships during Second World War

Because so much happened in the Second World War, just about every day should be a memorial day for lives that were lost.

I started sailing as a Dutch merchant marine engineer in July 1947. My first trip was to Szczecin, Poland.

We sailed through a channel that had been swept clean of mines to reach the port.

I didn’t have much time to think how “clean” that was because I was put to work on the steam winches used to load and unload the ship when it was docked in harbours.

When we arrived in Szczecin, a former German city then incorporated by Poland, it was really a sight to see.

The harbour two years after the war was not much different than when the retreating Germans had left the place in a hurry.

The harbour had been heavily bombed and there were half-finished ships and other boats all over the place.

And there were a lot of Russian soldiers around with rifles slung over their shoulders.

My next trip was along another channel on the British coast that had also been swept clear of mines, a trip that eventually took us past the mouth of the Thames River.

The river mouth was littered with sunken vessels sticking out of the water, which at the time I assumed had been torpedoed by German U-boats.

I learned, however, that the wreckage was there to block the U-boats from sneaking up the river during the war.

On another trip in the Atlantic Ocean we came across another reminder of the Second World War, a life raft floating on the water.

We wondered from which torpedoed boat the raft was from dating back at least two years ago and who might have been on it at one time.

I made many trips over the six years I was a sailor with the merchant marine, visiting countries such as Spain, Algeria, Morocco, Italy, Tunisia  and many islands in the Carribbean.

By 1954, after I had obtained by 3rd class Marine Engineer Certificate, we decided to move to Canada, following many of our relatives.

We settled in Calgary where I worked at the University of Calgary until retiring and moving to Kelowna.

About six years ago at a garage sale, I came across a book titled Cruel Sea by Nicholas Monsarrat.

What I read in that book shocked me about the loss of ships during the Second World War.

In one convoy, 21 ships were torpedoed by the German U-boats while sailing from England to Gibralter. Only seven made it, the rest were sunk.

So all those years I was sailing those waters, many times we sailed over sunken ships with many of the sailors unable to escape.

It left me with a sick feeling. As a marine engineer, I always worked below the sea level. Those ships that were sunk during the Second World War were generally always targeted by torpedoes in the middle of the ship where the boiler rooms were located and hard to escape from after a ship took a hit.

When the war was over, a count was done of the loss of Navy and merchant marine ships, and the number of sailors who were killed.

Some 3,000 ships were sent to the bottom of the ocean, along with about 780 U-boats. The Canadian Navy lost 14 warships and 2,000 sailors lost their lives.

About 70 merchant marine ships were lost at a cost of another 1,700 lives.

In another book I came across, I read about a ship called the S.S. Zypenberg that I had sailed on seven times for a total of 368 days at sea.

That ship was also involved in a war-time collision with a Canadian corvette vessel. The collision, caused by bad weather, resulted in the corvette sinking.

The book didn’t tell what happened to the corvette crew, but I assume they were hopefully picked up and saved.

Contributed by Thomas Pyper, 85, a resident of Kelowna.

 

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