Merchant Navy Day

Today is Merchant Navy Day. This is the anniversary of the first Allied merchant vessel to be sunk in the Second World War. The British liner SS Athenia was torpedoed and sunk without warning by the German submarine U-30. This happened only 10 hours after Britain's declaration of war in 1939.

On Merchant Navy Day we reflect on the important role merchant mariners have played during wartime.

The Merchant Navy was responsible for transporting service personnel, supplies and equipment. Some vessels were converted to military hospital ships for wartime service as well.

Unlike naval warships, vessels in the merchant navy were often unarmed. This left them exposed to attack from the enemy, both in foreign waters and closer to the Australian coastline.

Merchant mariners worked with the constant threat of attack from enemy submarines, surface raiders, aircraft and sea mines. Their work was especially dangerous because the convoys were slow.

The Battle of the Atlantic is a well-known battle involving merchant mariners. It lasted almost the entire duration of the Second World War. The battle was fought across the war's most dangerous shipping lanes. Over 3000 Allied merchant ships were sunk. Some 30,000 Allied sailors and merchant mariners were lost at sea.

The Australian War Memorial estimates that tragically more than 800 Australian merchant mariners died serving the Allied cause during the two world wars.

The Merchant Navy Memorial on the edge of Lake Burley Griffin in Canberra commemorates the contribution made by the Australian merchant navy during the World Wars.

Today we honour their memory and that of their fellow mariners who so bravely carried out their duties.

Black and red poster showing two men manning anti-aircraft gun, with text saying 'To the merchant navy, thank you!'