Convoy Ship

Published Date

July 2014

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Convoy Ship

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With the fall of France in 1940, the UK was alone on the coastline of an enemy-held Europe, depending on the merchant navy to maintain supplies of food, fuel and war materials. The supply lines transited the Atlantic Ocean and it was here that the German Navy and German Air Force concentrated their efforts of interdiction. This story, based on true events, follows a 20-strong convoy from Sierra Leone to Liverpool.

Many years ago, while on a train, I met a man who had sailed in the convoys of the Second World War. He asked if I had finished with the newspaper that was folded by my side, and that started a conversation. It turned out he had been an able seaman in the Merchant Navy and was waiting to meet some of his old shipmates before going to Tower Hill to pay his respects to fallen comrades. He drew from his pocket a small row of medals which he said he was embarrassed to wear in public as it wasn’t any special commemoration day, but was going to put them on when he arrived at the Merchant Navy memorial.

The fight to keep these routes open was called The Battle of the Atlantic.

Following the precedence established in the First World War, the convoy system was adopted for the majority of the merchant ships. For a convoy system to function properly, adequately equipped escorts are required but, in the early years, escorts for these convoys were in short supply and their equipment was poor for dealing with the submarines that were the main weapon in the German Navy’s arsenal. Only 20 U-boats were sunk in the first year of the war. It was, as the German submariners referred to it, ‘the happy time’.

It may have been for the U-boats, but for the Merchant Navy it was a time of desperation and the men of the Merchant Navy bore the brunt of the battle. After the fall of France, in just a few months 282 merchant ships were sunk.

The Merchant Navy was in action from the first day to the last. There was no respite. 2,603 merchant ships were sunk and 30,000 merchant seamen lost. Far more were injured, both physically and mentally, and thousands died shortly after leaving their ships. These deaths are not officially recorded. Hundreds more were made prisoners of war and, in a number of cases, those captured by the Japanese were executed by gunfire or decapitation. When their ships were sunk, the seamen’s pay stopped and dependants at home were often driven into poverty. Even when they became prisoners of war, the government refused to help and, while members of the other armed forces received their pay throughout captivity, the men of the Merchant Navy received nothing.

Thirty days’ unpaid survival leave was given, but this started from the day the ship sank. Time spent in lifeboats or returning home was considered leave. For those who actually managed to get home, they were often reviled, not just by civilians but by those of the other forces as they had no uniform to show who they were.

While mariners fought and died in every sea and ocean, the Atlantic became the real killing ground. Here, the enemy concentrated their forces for one of the most ferocious and prolonged battles in the history of sea warfare.

Ships could be replaced but the men could not. They became fewer and younger, but still they signed up. Cadets aged 16 were normal, ratings of 15 and even 14 were not unknown. Five hundred Merchant Navy personnel of 16 or under died, the youngest being 14, who died with his 15-year-old brother.

What is not known is that for the first years of the war they often fought alone, with only those equally brave and unrecognised men of the Maritime Artillery Regiment and the naval reservists who joined them to man the obsolete guns provided to the Merchant Navy for their defence. There was little Air Force or Royal Navy available to protect or assist them.

On their ships, there were no doctors, scant medical equipment, no clothing issues and poor lifesaving equipment, yet they prevailed.

When it was over, there were no bands or parades to welcome home the merchant seamen. Few medals were given and their war and bravery was overshadowed by the well-publicised deeds of the other forces, yet their appalling casualty rate spoke of their sacrifice.

Of course they weren’t all heroes. Many deserted and refused to sail. Ships were abandoned without a shot being fired at them. Men panicked and took the boats, leaving their comrades behind, but their behaviour was no more than in the other services.

It would also be wrong to suggest that they continued sailing their ships through the horror of war because of their devotion to their country. Some undoubtedly did, but the majority needed the money and this was their only trade. Like all those in uniform, they found themselves caught up in a calamity and all they could do was continue, often in quiet desperation, doing the job they knew and praying for it to end.

It did, and because of their resilience and endurance in working through their fears, the battle of the Atlantic was won, and, though assisted admirably by the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force, that victory, if the death of so many seamen can be called that, belongs to the Merchant Navy.




Ship’s Company, S.S. ‘Borrowdale’

Part One – The Gathering

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Part Two – Freetown to Liverpool

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Part Three – “For those in Peril on the Sea”

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Part Four – “Quit Ye Like Men, Be Strong”

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Chapter 34


Author’s Note

Michael started his career on the training ship HMS Conway and went to sea as a Cadet with P&O.

He was promoted to master on a deep sea tow vessel at the age of 32. He then commanded a wide variety of ships including general cargo, passenger, reefer, heavy lift, container, bulk carriers, anchor handlers, supply vessels, response and rescue vessels in the north sea, oil field support vessels in Nigeria, middle trade multi-purpose vessels in the Black Sea and Baltic.

Michael served 35 years in the Royal Naval Reserve and for 10 years he represented shipmasters on the Council of Numast. He is a Fellow of the Nautical Institute and a Younger Brother of Trinity House.

Michael retired from the sea in March 2007 after 50 years seagoing and 35 years in command. He now works with Witherby Seamanship International as a Senior Advisor and Technical Author.

Title: Convoy Ship
Number of Pages: 502
Product Code: WS1427K
ISBN: ISBN 13: 978-1-85609-642-3 (9781856096423), ISBN 10: 1-85609-642-4 (1856096424)
Published Date: July 2014
Binding Format: Paperback
Book Height: 180 mm
Book Width: 110 mm
Book Spine: 25 mm
Weight: 0.30 kg

Customer Reviews

Convoy Ship Review by MS - August 2014
A well written story based on fact, which keeps you enthralled right through to the end. For those interested in the Merchant Navy and its history, this is a great read (Posted on 17/03/2015)
Loved the Book Review by DG - August 2014
I bought this for my husband as he loves Michael Lloyd's books - he loved Convoy Ship - he is an Ex Conway boy so relates to Michael Lloyd as he is also ex Conway - we then pass it on to my brother who is also an ex Conway - important question - when is the next book out ? (Posted on 17/03/2015)
A Must Read for all Seamen Review by Nikos Chalaris
The Convoy Ship is a Nautical Story of the ones we could have heard from old seamen at mess rooms on coffee times while sailing along the seas. The bravery, seaman conscience and devotion of those unknown heroes combined with cruelty of war create an explosive cocktail of agony, adventure and deep touch of feelings. Even for the non seamen it should be stunning to follow the attempts of those unique persons against their destiny. Writter's devotion on researching historical elements and facts mixed with his talent in writing brought one more worth book to read and propose for others to read as well. Congratulations again, those never mentioned and remembered heroes at least now will be historically identified and highlighted as they deserve. (Posted on 19/01/2015)
Convoy Ship Review by Flotsam and Jetsam
Michael Lloyd (56-68)
Recently, Michael Lloyd was nominated for the prestigious Mountbatten Maritime Award, sponsored by the Maritime foundation. This is made to the person who in the opinion of the Award Committee, is the author of the work of literature, published during the qualifying period, that contributes most significantly to public awareness of maritime issues. The maritime foundation is a charity promoting Britain’s interests across the entire maritime sector. The Maritime Media Awards began in 1995, in memory of Desmond Wettern, former naval correspondent of the Daily Telegraph, and have since grown into a national event. The award eventually went to Andrew Adams and Richard Woodman for their highly engaging and superbly illustrated “Light Upon the Waters”, a history of Trinity House 1514-2014.

Convoy Ship
After nautical technical books under the Seamanship International/Witherby banner, Michael turned to fiction in 2011. Convoy Ship is his latest work with a further work of fiction Pirate Ship in the pipeline. Three previous narratives mention the Master as an OC which holds much interest for those of us reading this review.

The book centres around the dark days of WWII in the North Atlantic and in particular the early years of 1940 when convoys received little or no protection. Like all Michael’s stories, an attractive female is prominent. We see the Master (an OC) bringing his ship through one incident after another, always thinking of his crew. Michael drives his narrative forward from leaving Freetown, without escort, as Vice Commodore, being attacked by a German pocket battleship with the Commodore being lost, to submarine and Luftwaffe attacks in the Bay of Biscay. The ship “Borrowdale” is torpedoed and sinks, with the Master dying in a lifeboat. The remaining crew are picked up and landed in Plymouth. The surviving characters become friends, many of them meeting up again at the merchant Navy Memorial on Tower Hill, London in the 1990s where they swap stories of their lives since WWII.

Without doubt this is Mike Lloyd’s best and most fascinating novel yet, well researched, blending fact and plausible fiction together. A particularly moving and human war story, many of the events being based on fact, Convoy Ship is full of action and continuous excitement. The prologue and preface are most poignant, putting the story into historical context. The end notes cover the various facets of the Atlantic battle and are both useful to the story and interesting in their own right.
(Posted on 16/01/2015)
MN Association Autumn 2014 Review by Convoy Ship
MN Association – Full Ahead 2014
Convoy Ship by Michael Lloyd

With the fall of France in 1940, the UK is alone on the coastline of an enemy held Europe.

The nation depends on the bravery and tenacity of the merchant navy as they risk everything to maintain supplies of food, fuel and war materials.

This story based on true events of the Battle of the Atlantic, follows the SS Borrowdale as she joins a 20 strong convoy leaving Sierra Leone bound for Liverpool. With few defences, and without naval protection, the convoy is vulnerable but determined.

Glimpses into German intelligence build the tension as the convoy reaches open water and they must battle for survival against the Luftwaffe, U-boats and the heavy cruiser “Admiral Hipper”.

As the convoy crumbles and the weather worsens, will the Borrowdale make it home against the odds?

Published by Witherby Publishing Group ISBN 978-1-85609-642-3 Price £7.99.

Pages 502 Author Michael Lloyd No pictures or illustrations.

** A lengthy but fascinating book which I thoroughly enjoyed reading over a weekend as it held my attention all the way through. A nicely produced book with a font size larger than most so easier on the eye. Buy it you will not be disappointed.

Thoroughly recommend.

(Posted on 21/10/2014)
Merchant Navy Association Journal Review by Editor
A lengthy but fascinating book which I thoroughly enjoyed reading over a weekend as it held my attention all the way through. A nicely produced book with a font size larger than most so easier on the eye.
Thoroughly recommended. (Posted on 22/09/2014)
Convoy Ship Review by Nautilus - September 2014
Michael Lloyd’s increasing experience as a novelist pays real dividends in this enjoyable Second World War thriller. There are appealing characters to root for, some genuinely moving moments and even a plausible romance, which comes as a pleasant surprise for a war drama.

Based on real-life events from the notoriously dangerous Atlantic Convoys, Convoy Ship is full of action, excitement and heroism. There’s possibly a slight wobble in the last few chapters, as we start to wonder just how many more beatings the SS Borrowdale can take (this ship is so hard to sink, it should be used in naval architecture textbooks). But Lloyd steers the narrative safely through these dangerous waters, helped by a particular strength: the dialogue.

What’s particularly pleasing about the way the characters speak is that they actually come across like colleagues getting on with their work. A passenger even remarks at one point on the lack of ‘avast, me hearties’ language heard on the ship – a hint that the author is deliberately trying to lay some myths to rest?

The novel also does well at drawing attention to the essential role of the merchant marine in wartime, and there’s a nice framing device involving a remembrance visit to the Merchant Navy Day coming up this month, Convoy Ship is a timely release, and anyone who wants younger relatives to understand the 8 September service at Tower Hill could do a lot worse than handing them a copy of this book.
(Posted on 29/08/2014)

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