Use of Merchant Ships

Even in peacetime, mobilization plans called for the use of certain ships for specific purposes. In particular, the following were contemplated:

– ships for escorting traffic, or auxiliary cruisers
– hospital ships
– coastal and harbor services patrol boats
– troop transports
– ships for transporting materiel and fuel
– minelayers
– minesweepers
– amphibious landing ships

For each of these tasks, the most suitable ships were determined (small, fast motor vessels as escorts, Railroad ferries as minelayers, and so on).
When war broke out, however, mobilization plans were disrupted by the vast number of ships stranded out of the Mediterranean. This complete loss was partially offset by the commissioning of about fifty new motor vessels, but they too took severe losses because of their intense utilization. In 1941, the Italian Merchant Marine received many units of the former Yugoslavian merchant marine, but nearly all of them were small, old, and suitable only for coastal traffic.

Italian ships loading in the Sicilian port of Palermo.
(Photo U.S.M.M.)

A shot of oxygen for war transport was provided by the capture, in November 1942, of several French merchant ships, but this replenishment was also nullified by the fact that the war had entered its most arduous period, with convoys concentrated on the Tunisia route, where losses were very heavy.

Throughout all this hardships, due to war hazards and requisitions, the Merchant Marine also did its utmost to maintain some essential civilian services, such as connections with the islands and some coastal services. However, these were destined to rarify as the war ground on: for instance, around the summer of 1943 connections with Sardinia were almost completely broken off.

Translated from Italian by Sebastian De Angelis