North Atlantic Convoys

The Battle of the Atlantic  (#boa80)


The Longest Running Campaign of WWII.

Of the 185,000 Merchant Seamen and women who served during 1939-45,

1 in every 6 were lost.

“The only thing that ever really frightened me during the war was the U-boat peril.”


(Winston Churchill, Their Finest Hour (London: Cassell, 1949), 529.)

Aerial Attack

Photo of a stricken convoy vessel and departing enemy bomber aircraft taken by the author during a sustained aerial attack by German Luftwaffe in late February of 1941. 

The convoy (including the battleship, HMS King George V, which had just taken Lord Halifax to the US as UK Ambassador) was on its return crossing, near to home and steaming south down the Irish Sea when the lengthy attack by German bombers took place. A number of vessels were struck.

High Losses

September 1943 newspaper clipping retained by the author as an example of the high losses sustained from joint convoys ONS18 & ON202. Convoys were criss-crossing the North Atlantic constantly in both directions sometimes just days apart. 

The author's convoy, SC143, which left Halifax, NS, a few days after this attack, were firing off depth charges from the first day. On day three, their convoy was attacked with the loss of their cruiser escort and a spotter plane which had been launched from one the ships for reconaissance. 

Whilst the remainder of the journey home was uneventful, and coming into port, the author's vessel, S.S. Saluta, which was carrying fuel oil, lost a seaman overboard. This accident simply highlighting the everyday dangers at sea even without conflict, and within touching distance of home.


Whilst just getting hold of a camera was a considerable challenge, but then, camera film had to be handed in for censorship, and potentially for military intelligence value. 

The film quality is poor and grainy, so that the results exude a lonely and desolate atmosphere often described in terms of Atlantic conditions. 

Nevertheless, they provide a very real, personal snapshot in time, not least that they were taken in extreme and challenging conditions, and under constant threat of attack.

 Family at War

Author received mail when sister Salvesen ships crossed paths on the many Atlantic convoy crossings and shared ports, including US, Canada, Caribbean and West Africa. 

This 1944 Royal Air Force (RAF) Christmas card came from the author's younger brother John, serving as a Gunner/Wireless Operator with Bomber Command in the Middle East. 

Thankfully, he also survived WWII and emigrated to Wisconsin, USA to work in the thriving lumber industry there, where he set up an equally thriving US branch of the Anderson family.

Famous Names

As 3rd R/O George Plante sailed with the author aboard Christian Salvesen's SS Sourabaya (Nov 1941 - Aug 1942) through many North Atlantic convoys and they spent shore leave together in New York.

From Edinburgh, George started life as an artist and graphic designer studying in UK and post-war Berlin. Returning to the UK to serve, he trained as a Radio Officer, but never lost the love of painting. He brilliantly captured deck military cargo scenes aboard Sourabaya that initially received acclaim in the US, followed by the UK's Imperial War Museum and, ultimately, UK Naval Intelligence.

Coincidentally, the author and George left Sourabaya together in 1942 to take up home leave and, not for the first time, were spared their former vessel's ultimate fate. Sourabaya was lost to enemy action just weeks later on her next Atlantic crossing.

George survived a later torpedo attack on another vessel, but his artist fame saw him recruited for clandestine work in the Middle East. His amazing life in captured in his step-daughter's terrific book.

Victoria Drummond of Megginch Castle, Perthshire (only a few miles from Hunter to Hunted author's family home), was the God-daughter of Queen Victoria and the UK's first ever female registered Marine Engineer.

She was awarded an MBE and the Lloyd's War Medal (the first ever female recipient) in 1941, having been recognised for her bravery at sea.  Aboard SS Bonita (Nth Atlantic, August 1940) and SS Czikos (Bay of Biscay, April 1941) she came under sustained aerial attack and kept the engines going to evade further damage and ultimately escape.

After the latter attack, she crossed paths with the author in Moville, Lough Foyle where their respective ships sheltered with other convoy vessels. Both stayed at McKinney's Hotel there, which still operates today as The Foyle Hotel. When completing his memoir the author spoke with Ms Drummond's neice (and author of her book) Cherry Drummond, the Baroness Strange of Megginch, to share their own personal accounts of this brave and famous lady.

German Surrender Message 

The German unconditional surrender was relayed from the (UK) Admiralty on 8th May 1945. 

" .. Cease fire has been ordrered from 2201gmt eighth May STOP  Pending further orders all existing instructions regarding the defence security and control of Merchant Shipping are to remain in force  STOP  Merchant Ships at sea whether in convoy or sailing independently are to continue their voyages as previously ordered ..."

U-190 Surrender Message

The author received and recorded the message from U-190 in the vicinity of Cape Race on 11th May 1945, and complying with Admiralty instructions circulated to the U-Boat fleet by Admiral Donitz (who suceeded Hitler) following the German unconditional surrender. 

The message allowed a nearby HMCS vessel to intercept the U-190's coordinates (see below).

U-190 Capture

On the same day (11 May) the nearby HMCS Victoriaville intercepts U-190. The HMCS crew board U-190's conning tower to raise the white ensign over the Kriegsmarine flag to signal its capture. 

U-190 was then taken back to Halifax, subsequently entered service with the RCN. It was later used for, and finally sunk during, target practice. 

Just one tangible result of the hours, days, months and years spent at a transmitter in a cramped radio room.

Home From Home

Shore leave, whether at home or abroad was never guaranteed but always delivered a friendly welcome and a home-cooked meal. Whether Africa, the Caribbean, North America or Europe there was a warm welcome for those in uniform. 

In particular, expatriate families in US and Canada greatly welcomed stories of their, or their ancestral roots. Visiting ships would welcome locals onboard to reciprocate hospitality and cement friendships which, though short, would be well remembered and appreciated for a lifetime. 

The Innocents

1945, and voyages expanded into the Mediterranean and finally, Netherlands, Scandanavia and Germany which provided sobering images and stories of  depravation and survival. Bartering of currency was required to spend some money ashore for what little there was to buy. So, there was great interest in foreign ships' arrival for the opportunities they brought to the few businesses that remained operating. 

"I saw a thin, poor-looking young lad standing on a barge in his clogs. I thought he was so sad-looking, that I decided to search my cabin in search of something I could give him. I duly returned with a shirt and a jacket which I offered to him. He seemed reluctant at first, possibly thinking I was expected payment, but his face lit-up when he realised they were a gift, and he gratefully accepted them. It made my day." 

War was, finally, coming to an end.

Allied Victory

Merchant Navy Victory message from the Minister of War Transport via the Admiralty. At the end of hostilities the author records the start of his long journey home from discharge in Europe.

 "We were led to a ferry-boat of some description, and then down below to a large open deck.  This was where we had to sleep, lying cheek to jowl. The boat was over-packed with Servicemen and women from all services. I do not remember where or when we arrived in England, but I do remember that I did arrive home on Tuesday 9th October very, very tired, but to a great, 'welcome home'!"

The Home Front

Back home the author's future wife (Betty) started office work at the local garage after her brother left home to join the Royal Navy. 

As garage male staff were called-up her duties soon expanded. 

She was soon driving the local garage bus, not only for the children of the farming communities but transporting prisoners of war (POW's) to work on these same farms.

Pictured here post-war leaving her garage employment to set up home with the author.


 "Now, as my story ends, and I conclude some fifty-two years on, I still remember the happy memories as well as the sad, and give thanks for being spared to come through it all, from Hunter to Hunted!"

Alexander (Alex) Anderson

(2 January 1920 - 14 February 2000)

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