Now Is Not The End

The 49 freighters in Convoy HX 79 left Halifax Harbour on October 8, 1940, bound for Liverpool and other UK ports. They were loaded with supplies for the armed forces of Britain and European allies recently driven from continental Europe and held in virtual armed-camp isolation – except for supplies by sea.
HX 79 was a relatively fast convoy, one that could crank up more than nine knots an hour. It departed Halifax on schedule three days after Convoy SC 7, a fleet of 35 merchant ships with a theoretical top speed of eight knots but held below that by older ships capable of little more than six.
SC 7 had sailed from Halifax on October 5 loaded with everything from pit props for British coal mines, to desperately needed steel ingots and iron ore to build weapons of war, and grain to feed both soldiers and civilians. The largest ship was the British Admiralty’s MV Languedoc, a fully loaded 9,512 ton oil tanker heading for Scotland and the River Clyde with fuel for the Royal Navy.
HX 79 overtook SC 7 on the far side of the Atlantic on October 18, but had little time to sympathize with survivors of what had become a badly mauled and shattered convoy. On the night of the 18th a German U-Boat “wolfpack”, which had been slashing at SC 7 for days, launched an all out night attack on both convoys. The day before that battle the Languedoc with its precious cargo of fuel-oil had been sunk by U-48.
Royal Navy escort sloop HMS Scarborough had attacked U-48 away and driven it to maximum depth. But the action had taken time and left the now disorganized convoys without protection. Six U-boats launched a coordinated attack.
The “engagement” lasted around six hours. By dawn on the 19th of October 74 years ago Convoy SC 7 had lost 20 ships with 12 more lost by HX 79. It ended the worst 48-hours recorded in the battle of the Atlantic. A sad day, and worthy of remembrance.
I was reminded of it a few days ago when west coast media became excited about a Russian freighter, the Simushir, drifting about in the Pacific and threatening to destroy, if the popular press could be believed, every kilometer of coast line between Cape Scott and Prince Rupert.
Not quite hysteria, but close to shouting “fire” in a crowded theatre…
Like most people I’m concerned when large scale damage to the environment is threatened. But before we get to “end of the world” panic reaction I think we have to ask ourselves:
How did planet earth handle the close to 500 freighters – including many fully loaded oil tankers – lost on the WW2 Atlantic run?
How did – does – planet earth handle the thousands of other deep sea, shore and other maritime tragedies in and since WW2?
Because it wasn’t just ships loaded with pollutants that sank to ocean depths near shorelines or just beyond. Coastal Command, the British Allies air arm logged one million flying hours it WW2, flew 240,000 operations during the course of the war, sank 212 U-Boats, 366 German transport and in the process lost 2,060 aircraft and 5,866 Coastal Command personnel killed. Not all would be lost in the ocean, but the very nature of their mission meant most were claimed by the sea.
So what am I suggesting? Just that when we talk about danger to the environment, we keep our heads and our perspective. Preserve and protect should be, must be, our positive theme song; but not accompanied with the pessimistic Lemming-flavoured chant of Beyond the Fringe – “Now is the end, the end of world.”
That will come soon enough, and too soon for some, but it will take more than a wrecked oil tanker to bring it about.

One comment

  1. Common sense and a respect for a historical perspective need not apply, especially those with a hidden agenda that shriek “the end is near”.

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