Together with the troop transports, essential to sustain overseas armies, hundreds of merchant ships were tasked with carrying weapons, ammunition, food and, especially, fuel, indispensable to keep armored troops moving.
This sector was the hardest hit by the loss of the ships stranded out of the Mediterranean at the start of the conflict: those units were the best ones available to the Merchant Marine, so the burden of transporting war cargo fell on fifty-plus year old “tubs”, which had to ply war routes, often with dramatic results.
M/v Carlo Del Greco torpedoed by the submarine Upright on December 13 1941.
Some help to this traffic came from new constructions, motor vessels that were excellently built but frighteningly few; yet more help came from quite a few merchant ships captured from the French in November 1942; we are also duty-bound to mention that roughly fifty German merchant ships, left in the Mediterranean at the start of the war, fought the convoy war side by side with the Italian ships, also taking heavy losses.
In spite of severe crises, such as the one in the Fall of 1941, the merchant ships succeeded in carrying most of the cargo they had loaded in Italian ports.
We should recall that the ships’ crews were military on requisitioned ships, but not on the others and, as a rule, the seamen did not try to get out of facing the risks of wartime steaming, such as mines, surface warship attacks, torpedoing by submarines and the torpedo bombers’ swift and deadly night-time raids.
Even in port, the living was far from easy: African ports were hellish, both because of the climate and the constant air raids; domestic ports, especially Naples and Palermo, were in the RAF’s sights throughout the war.
Translated from Italian by Sebastian De Angelis