Dr. Ioannis Voudouris *
Most of us may not be surprised to read that Greece, throughout and after the Second World War, had committed its entire merchant fleet for the freedom of the world.
It is Greece after all: A maritime nation committed to the eternal values of freedom and justice, being a trustee of a glorious legacy. In the highly competitive shipping industry it has always been about the ‘self’, ‘yield’ and ‘profit’. Yet in 1939-1945, the Greek government, shipowners and mainly its seafarers choose the ‘soul’ against the ‘self’, disregarding shipping best practices, numbers and probabilities, to honour their place in history. They decided to sacrifice all and be strong, defend freedom, peace and justice.
For the record, it all began with the 1941 Anglo-Hellenic Agreement, when the Greek government placed (under a special decree LD 3009/1941) all Greek-flagged vessels under the control of the British Forces for the entire duration of the War, plus for an additional six-month period after its termination. The vessel were used in the Mediterranean and the Atlantic.
Hence, the Greek merchant fleet has been the priceless ally of the war effort “so that Freedom may never perish”, by carrying a total of 40 million tons of supplies, but at an unimaginable cost: The loss of over 4,000 seafarers (plus another 2,600 permanently disabled), notably the decimation of seamanship and about 80% of the fleet’s pre-war capacity; numbers that even are proportionally higher than the losses of the British merchant fleet. Certainly freedom sprouts in the bosom of the dark cold Atlantic, at those final moments of any anonymous sailor from a small Greek island that now swims alone, shipwrecked, awaiting the inevitable.
Practically, after the War, the Hellenic maritime nation was left for dead: Perished, yet its remnants continued to provide the Allies with assistance for the reconstruction of Europe and the UK, by committing the last of its ships to post-war low rate charterparties. From the business point of view, it is needless to get further into the numbers.
Any 1st year student of Maritime Studies can tell that, from the maritime economics perspective, World War Two had been an absolute disaster. The word “devastation” cannot in truth depict that reality: A capital-intensive industry deprived of any capital and resources, seafarers dead and crippled, seamanship vanished, infrastructure destroyed, poverty, misery and the state of harmonious cooperation between owners and seafarers (which had been the cornerstone for the evolution of Greek shipping and tradition) seriously shaken for the first time in hundreds of years. The Greek shipping system was in tatters.
Shortly after the end of war, 98 “Liberty-type” (merchant ships were registered, almost en masse, under the Greek flag. These ships were sold by the US government to Greek shipowners under the Merchant Ship Sales Act 1946. The ships were acquired at a mean price of about $600,000 USD each, with 25% of this paid in cash by the individual owners and the remaining in instalments over a long term at low interest rates –under the guarantee-bonds of the Greek government as requested by the sellers. We all know the rest of the story. Therefore, I do prefer to ignore business realities and I allow my mind at least to drift, for a while, in the sea of heroes that chant on board the “wooden walls of Athens”:
“The deed is done, freedom has not perished”.
(1)Harlaftis Gelina, A history of Greek-own shipping: The making of an international tramp fleet, 1830 to present day (Routledge, London & NY, 1st ed. 1996)
(2)United Greek Shipowners Corp, NY Committee, “The Greek Merchant Marine in WW2 Report”, apud. University of Toledo digital depository, University Archives (Ohio, USA, accessed: 28/10/2017)
(3) Greek Shipping Miracle, Decimation of the Fleet 1939-1945
(4)Greek Shipping Miracle, The First Greek Liberty Ships
(5) Greek War Shipping Losses article
Dr. Ioannis Voudouris is Assistant Professor Frederick University, Cyprus – Director of the MA / LLM Postgraduate Programme