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US Navy Armed Guards

Discussion in 'WWII General' started by 1ST Chutes, Nov 28, 2011.

  1. 1ST Chutes

    1ST Chutes Member

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    Some links concerning the US Navy Armed Guards:

    http://www.armed-guard.com/sc0183.html

    http://www.usmm.org/armedguard.html

    http://www.history.navy.mil/faqs/faq104-1.htm

    The U.S. Navy Armed Guard was a service branch of the United States Navy that was responsible for defending U.S. and Allied merchant ships from attack by enemy aircraft, submarines and surface ships during World War II.The men of the Armed Guard served as gunners, signal men and radio operators on cargo ships, tankers, troop ships and other merchant vessels. Disbanded following the end of the war, the Armed Guard is today little known or remembered by the general public, or even within the Navy. But without the courage and sacrifice of the men of the Armed Guard, victory in World War II would have been much more difficult and taken much longer.

    http://www.armed-guard.com/about-ag.html



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  2. Carronade

    Carronade Ace

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    Well........I don't want to denigrate anyone who performed whatever duty his country assigned him, but I do wonder about tying up 145,000 men - about 1% of our total uniformed servicemen - in armed guards, especially the necessity to provide all the manpower for the ship's guns. From the history.navy link - thanks, 1st Chutes - The final complement for a ship armed with a 5"/38 dual purpose stern gun, a 3"/50 AA gun, and eight 20mm machine guns was set at one officer and 24 gunners, plus normally about three communications men for a total of 28 Armed Guards
    - that is, 1-2 navy gunners per 20mm and 4-8 per 'big gun' with a few of the ship's company serving as ammunition passers or loaders. This is consistent with the numerical totals of approximately 145,000 men on 5,000 ships, average 29.

    Merchant seamen have manned weapons and defended their ships throughout history. The article notes that most British merchant ships' armament in WWII was manned by their own crews. Granted a full complement of trained naval gunners might be ideal, but is that ideal worth the cost in manpower? Most of the crew of a merchant ship in transit are off watch at any given moment, and it's no more dangerous to be manning a gun than to be anywhere else in a merchant ship under attack.

    In the files of the Arming Merchant Ship are reports of some 1,966 air attacks and 1,024 submarine attacks. Some of these reports cover more than one contact with the enemy. It is obvious that several Armed Guards often reported the same attack.

    While imprecise, this suggests that half or more of the ~5,000 armed guard detachments never came under attack. Using the raw numbers, an armed guard detachment conducted 0.6 engagements in the entire war. While they had some success against aircraft, it seems unlikely that they contributed significantly to saving their ships in most of the 1,024 submarine attacks.

    Nor does "no armed guard" equal "no defense at all". history.navy cites:

    6236 total armed merchant ships, 710 lost - 11.3%
    "nearly all of" 5114 ships with armed guards, 569 lost - 11.1%
    leaving
    1122 armed ships without Navy guards, 141 lost - 12.5%

    Had the 1122 ships had armed guards - ~32,000 of them - and the same 11.1% loss rate, that would be 125 ships lost, net savings of 16, or one ship saved per 2,000 guards deployed.

    What does 145,000 men mean to the overall war effort? For one example, an infantry division had 243 rifle squads, 12 men each, for a total of 2808 riflemen. The armed guards were comparable to the riflemen of fifty infantry divisions, a few more than Eisenhower commanded in the ETO. We could make many other comparisons, but I think it's legitimate to question keeping that many men idle for most of the war for the small incremental benefit noted above.

    A better case might be made for assigning a couple of gunner's mates per ship to train the crew, maintain the weapons, and man key positions like gun captains in action.
     
  3. 1ST Chutes

    1ST Chutes Member

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    US Merchant men probably had a better union than the Brit's.
     
  4. Takao

    Takao Ace

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    Carronade,

    Well, if you wanted to convert those 145,000 armed guards into combat troops, you would have to have another 580,000 men to support them.(IIRC, the US "Teeth to Tail ratio was 1:4)

    But to put it simply; How much more can you buy with $1.01 than with $1.00? While 145,000 sounds like a lot of men, 1% of the total men in uniform does not. How much more do you expect this 1% to accomplish?

    The US didn't just start out in Europe with 50+ divisions, they were slowly built up. Now we dump another 50+ divisions in his lap, how long will they be cooling their heels in Britain, waiting for a ride across the channel.

    Further along those lines, given the logistical nightmares that typified the Allied campaign in France, You essentially double the number of troops that Ike has available. What effect will this have on the logistical system of the Allies? Somehow, I don't think it's going to improve it...Quite the contrary.
     
  5. Carronade

    Carronade Ace

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    How much more do you expect this 1% to accomplish?

    About 1% more? I doubt it would revolutionize the war effort, but manpower was a critical constraint, and our leadership needed to ensure that it was used effectively. I mentioned riflemen because the shortage of infantry replacements is a well-known example. Another is the reduction of 8th AF heavy bomber crews from ten men to nine, making do with one waist gunner; apparently freeing up those few thousand individuals for reassignment was considered worthwhile. So I think the premise that merchant ships could not be defended without full crews of naval gunners is worth reconsidering.

    Incidentally "the riflemen of fifty infantry divisions" is not the same as "fifty infantry divisions". 2808 men in rifle squads was only about 20% of the basic TO&E of the infantry division, let alone supporting units and the rest of the "tail". And, sad to say, in that particular example the problem was more keeping existing units up to strength than creating new ones.

    US Merchant men probably had a better union than the Brit's.

    .....may well be part of the explanation, but it seems a poor basis for decision-making in wartime......
     
  6. Dhirvish

    Dhirvish New Member

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    @Carronade

    -Your numbers are bad/incomplete. From 1940-1942 the Germans sank more merchant ships than were built. Thousands were SUNK, not just engaged upon: 1939 - 200 sunk; 1940 - 1,000; 1941; 1,400; 1942 - 1,800; etc. The stats I assuming you're giving in the OP are only American, not Allied, and appear to be only over a certain tonnage, which is only part of the story. 30,000+ Allied Mariners died. Regardless, the War Shipping Administration says 1,554 merchant US ships were sunk in WW2, and about 200 additional damaged.
    -Merchant Marines suffered a higher rate of KIA than any other branch of the military during WWII (1 in 26 - the rate was even kept secret at the time). I'm not quite sure why you want to send the armed escort for these folks to another branch of the military...?
    -The US Navy considered duty aboard a Merchant Marine ship "Hazardous" and so US NAG assignments were mostly/all volunteers. If that's not telling of their necessity, I don't know what is.
    -Merchant Marine vessels could be a higher priority target than destroyers for U-boats. They literally just sat off US shores and picked off US ships. There are stories out of NC on one shipping route where it was a daily occurrence to see explosions on the horizon of tankers going down. You can't have an escort for every supply ship, there were thousands over 41M sq. mi. (just Atlantic theatre), with destinations in the Gulf, Africa, Mediterranean, Baltic, North Sea, and South America.
    -The Northeast US during WW2 got 95% of it's oil from the Gulf of Mexico. The U-boats in 1942 did such a good job cutting off this supply that it hindered war production and caused fuel shortages and rationing into 1943. A common compliment on these tanker vessels was 17 NAG in addition to their 45 crew. I believe your strategy is to either sacrifice these folks or have the cook, a guy that has never trained on a gun because we're reserving all of that training for Army infantry, fire on a highly trained pilot/submarine crew and fight them off? See below Roosevelt quote regarding his thoughts on your strategy.

    The strategy by the Germans was to disrupt the Allies supply lines (cut of Britain, their main enemy early in the war), Operation Paukenschlag. This is pretty common knowledge, and why the U-boats were deployed in the first place. Discounting this and assuming you can just "reassign" bodies to one branch on a percentage basis while entirely ignoring a main strategy of the enemy in another theatre of war is...I don't even have a word for it, but I'm going to say "wrong".

    The Navy was well aware of who was getting shot at the most, and I'm guessing that arming them probably seemed like a good idea? These weren't Army soldiers, they were Navy. "Manpower" as a metric is only useful in video games. The Navy was in charge of protecting the supply lines, vital to the war effort, and this is where the Navy decided to allocate it's assets - in the theatre they got hit the hardest, and in a way that saved them from building hundreds/thousands more ships to defend these targets (which they were already building at a ridiculous rate as a complimentary strategy). It is a little understood part of the war, but let's let Roosevelt speak on the specific issue of underestimating the need to consider better arming these vessels:

    President Franklin D. Roosevelt (letter to Winston Churchill referencing the merchant marine) March 18, 1942
    "My Navy has been definitely slack in preparing for this submarine war off our coast. As I need not tell you, most naval officers have declined in the past to think in terms of any vessel of less than two thousand tons. You learned the lesson two years ago. We still have to learn it."

    In the first 3 weeks of WW2 after declaring war on the Germans, 39 US merchant ships were sunk, 1 Destroyer. 8-9 of them by just one U-boat.

    I haven't even mentioned the German Luftwaffe, which you have noted were twice as active, hence the AA guns. A German pilot once described the fire from a merchant convoy with NAG's as "A wall of flack". He and 14 of his buddies were shot down in one assault, and it was his defense for why the assault wasn't more effective: only 1 merchant sunk by their torpedoes.

    -John
    History Teacher & Grandson of a Navy Armed Guard Officer who was assigned to a Liberty Ship, who fought at D-Day, whose crew/NAG fought off a U-boat single handed with no escort, & who "Never shot down a friendly".
     
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  7. lwd

    lwd Ace

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    Acknowledging that this is a bit of thread necromancy.
    I seem to recall that the same could be said of US fighter pilots. Does that mean we'd be better off with out them?
    Is this the right measure though? If they force a sub to use torpedoes rather than it's deck gun then they have limited what it can do on that patrol and may have saved other vessels. The same is true if they damage it rather even if they are sunk in return. Then there are cases like that of the Stephen Hopkins. How many ships did she save?
    That's a bit of cherry picking IMO. A US division with corp slice and attached units probably exceeded 20,000 men and may have exceeded 25,000 so you are really looking at less than7 additional divisions and they would have needed transport to get where they were useful transport that was in rather limited supply and which was being protected by the armed guards in question.
    That's possible but I'm far from convinced. In the case of Stephen Hopkins mentioned above I don't see a merchant manned gun crew inflicting quite as much damage on the German ships.

    *** edit to fix quoting issues ***
     

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