Purpose of this blog

Dmitry Yudo aka Overlord, jack of all trades
David Lister aka Listy, Freelancer and Volunteer

Sunday, February 23, 2020

The Price of Petrol Has Been Increased by One Penny

On the 5th of March 1942 The Daily Mirror published a cartoon entitled "The price of petrol has been increased by one penny. Official." It brought to a head arguments between Churchill and the press, as some in government were accusing the press of running an anti-capitalist message that might undermine the war effort. Such a fear was very real, as from the start of the war, there had been several strikes by the trade unions governing dockworkers, who supported Soviet Russia, and were therefore opposed to the war with the Soviet Union’s ally. Unsurprisingly these strikes all stopped in July 1941.
The cartoons artist successfully pointed out it was the latest in a line of work extolling the evils of the black market, and that the public should not complain over price increases.
The cartoon depicted a member of the Merchant Navy, after his ship had been sunk, clinging to the wreckage, adrift at sea.
The Merchant Navy was vital to Britain, as it brought the resources from the Empire to the UK to help fight the war. It also enabled Britain to supply its allies such as Russia, and the Commonwealth later in the war. Without it, the war would not have happened as it did. In total around 32,000 sailors of the Merchant Navy were killed in the war. They were civilians, asked to sail into inhospitable environments, practically unarmed (the vessels they crewed would in the vast majority of cases have an antique 3-4in AA gun and a machine gun or two) to be shot at by the enemy.
Their non-uniformed civilian status makes the moral fortitude of the Merchant Navy men even more surprising. First, as they were men of fighting age, in civilian dress they were often mistaken for people who lacked the courage or will to join the services. In the early years of the war they were sometimes abused and heckled as cowards, this stopped when they were given a lapel pin showing that they were part of the Merchant Navy.
A sailor of the Merchant Navy signed onto a ship’s company. The contract he signed showed everything he would be supplied with including food rations and on what day.
Ration allocation for a Merchant Seaman. Shared by Border_Reiver, relative of the above signatory.
The merchant sailor would be paid as long as he was needed with his ship, or up to a total of two years. When it reached the destination, he would return to the local shipping office and look for another ship. Of course, this became a sore point during the war, as the sailors pay ended when the ship was sunk. This was altered in May 1941, when the Emergency Work (Merchant Navy) Order, Notice No. M198 was issued. This allowed the pay to continue to accrue even when in a lifeboat and would also allow two days leave per month served.

This likely came as some small consolation to some when they survived a long haul after being sunk. The world record holder for longest time adrift on a life raft (although there are longer times for complete boats) is Merchant Navy sailor Poon Lim, who spent 133 days on an 8ft square life raft.
As you will have noticed Poon Lim was Chinese, indeed the crews of the Merchant Navy could be any nationality, including ones from a hostile power (for instance there are examples of Japanese in the Merchant Navy), they could also be of either sex.
Poon Lim on his life raft.
Recognition of bravery was always a problem, as there was a gulf between the existing civilian awards and the George and Victoria Crosses, so Lloyds of London created the Lloyds War Medal for Bravery. A prime example of the bravery and dedication of the Merchant Navy is the story of the SS Ohio.

On the 9th of August 1942 the British launched Operation Pedestal, the attempt to drive a resupply convoy through the besieging Axis forces around Malta. The SS Ohio was a fuel tanker loaded with kerosene and other highly flammable liquids. On the 12th the convoy was attacked by around 120 German and Italian aircraft. In the ensuing chaos of the attack an Italian submarine was able to hit the SS Ohio with a torpedo, which split several of the kerosene tanks and set the ship ablaze. The Captain heaved to, shut down the engines and brought all personnel to fight the fire. After the fire was extinguished, the engines were restarted and the SS Ohio continued with the convoy, with a 27-foot hole torn amidships. The hit had knocked out all the compasses, so the Captain was forced to navigate by dead reckoning and by using the emergency back-up steering gear, due to the main steering also being offline. The ship was awash with leaked kerosene. Then sixty JU-87’s attacked the stricken ship, no bombs hit, although near-misses caused damage, dismounting one of the 12-pounder guns and buckling the ship’s hull to allow water in.
The SS Ohio getting hit by the submarines torpedo.
The Ohio was now only armed with one Bofors 40mm and six Oerlikons. Then five JU-88's decided to sink the ship. Those few guns put up such a storm of fire they forced the attackers to abort.
Then more JU-87's peeled off to attack the SS Ohio, one was shot down by the AA guns, and crashed into the ship. The Chief Mate from the rear wheelhouse telephoned the bridge to report they had been hit by the falling plane, to which the Capitan replied "Oh that's nothing. We've had a Junkers 88 on the foredeck for nearly half an hour."

More bombs fell and more torpedoes were fired at her. The bombs hit so closely they lifted her hull out of the water. Another salvo of bombs as she was being continuously attacked knocked out all power to the engine room, in the darkness the engineers managed to restart her engines, and she regained speed. Then more bombs fell, again the concussion knocked the engines off and filled the engine room with thick black smoke. The engineers remained at their posts frantically trying to restart them, but they were unsuccessful and the SS Ohio drifted to a halt. It was barely 1100 in the morning.

On the 13th the SS Ohio was taken under tow by the destroyer HMS Penn, however the bulk of the tanker proved too much for the destroyer, indeed the wind was blowing them backwards. Then a gaggle of German planes appeared and came barrelling in. HMS Penn slipped the tow, leaving the SS Ohio stationary with the Luftwaffe bombers closing in. She shot one down, but just before they achieved this feat the bomber released its payload. One bomb landed in the hole caused by the torpedo breaking the SS Ohio's back. That was the last air attack of the first day. But the SS Ohio was still afloat.
SS Ohio being supported by friendly ships.
The next day found the SS Ohio being assisted by two ships. Then another attack developed and the SS Ohio was hit once more by a bomb, and had her rudder destroyed by another. Several Merchant Navy crew volunteered to man the guns on the SS Ohio, while under tow. These crew had already been sunk once, then rescued. Later a third ship joined in to assist the wounded ship. One was towing from the bow, one at the rear to keep the SS Ohio on an even course, and one lashed alongside to keep her from listing. Limping along at just six knots the little cluster of ships was approaching Malta, then more waves of German aircraft appeared and began to head towards the small flotilla to obliterate it.

Then sixteen Spitfires appeared, they had flown from Malta and whilst on patrol spotted the attacking Germans and broke up the attack, the SS Ohio was now under friendly air cover. The ships reached Grand Harbour at Malta at 0930 on the 15th. The remaining kerosene and fuel were quickly offloaded, even as the ship was getting lighter, she carried on settling lower in the water. Eventually all the kerosene was ashore, and the fuel had been pumped aboard an auxiliary tanker. A short while later the SS Ohio settled on the floor of the harbour, broken in two. The Captain of the ship was awarded a George Cross for keeping her afloat and in action to provide the vital liquids to Malta.
SS Ohio in Grand harbour, Malta, as she is urgently unloaded. You can clearly see how low in the water she is.

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