The Most Dangerous Positions for Mariners during WWII
"Torpedo los," the U-boat commander called out as he looked through the periscope. The Allied ship was centered in the cross-hairs. The torpedo headed for the ship, it's wake straight and true as it nears.
The unsuspecting crew of the ship is following its routine at sea: the Master paces on the bridge; an Able-Bodied Seaman is at the wheel; a Mate is at the chart table; one member of the "black gang" glances at dials; the Navy gun crew peers into the darkness from their gun tub; the cooks are making bread; the bosun snores in his bunk.
The U-boat commander was accurate in his calculation of the direction, speed, and draft of the Allied ship. The torpedo hit the center of the ship, right in the engine room!
World War II mariners believed the engine room the most dangerous place aboard ship. U-boat commanders aimed their torpedoes at the center. The engine room was far below the water line and criss-crossed with steam lines that could rupture from the force of the explosion. It was a perilous climb to safety -- up steep metal ladders from the depths of the engine room -- water swirling around your feet -- steam hissing -- total darkness -- the ship listing and lurching.
Do the statistics of merchant mariners killed during World War II bear out this belief? Our database shows 8,388 mariners killed, with positions known for 7,319 of the casualties. The following tables show casualties for each position. About 2,000 Navy Armed Guard were also killed aboard these ships. Their quarters and messroom were above the water line.
Administrative Dept. Number Killed
|Cadet (during training)||6|
|Total Administrative Dept.||502|
Engine Department Number Killed
|Total Engine Dept.||2,644|
Deck Department Number Killed
|Total Deck Dept.||2,436|
Steward's Department Number Killed
|Total Steward's Dept.||1,682|
|Department||No. aboard||% aboard||No. killed||% killed|
These figures are based on a Liberty ship with a crew of 42 to 44 men [plus up to 27 Navy Armed Guard]. These statistics show the Engine department was slightly more dangerous than other departments, with engine crew constituting 33% of those aboard, and 37% of those killed.
Jordan, David. Wolfpack: The U-Boat War and the Allied Counter-Attack 1939-1945. New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 2002
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