An estimated 100,000 people lost their lives during the Battle of the Atlantic in World War Two, but the event does not have a dedicated national memorial in Britain.
Now, a charity – The Battle of the Atlantic Memorial – is launching a £2.5m fundraising campaign to build a memorial dedicated to those who died, as well as those who served and survived, is being launched in Liverpool.
The charity’s chairman, Vice-Admiral Mike Gretton, whose father Vice-Admiral Sir Peter Gretton served during the battle as an Atlantic Escort Group commander, tells his story:
I have been passionately involved in the scheme to erect a memorial to the Battle of the Atlantic for four main reasons.
The campaign was absolutely critical to the outcome of World War Two as the merchant ships involved brought the food, fuel and other necessities to Britain, enabling the island to survive the U-Boats’ blockade.
They also carried the troops, weapons and ammunition to allow the Allies to use Britain as the base for recovering Continental Europe through Operation Overlord in Normandy.
Churchill wrote: “The Battle of the Atlantic was the dominating factor all through the war.
“Never for one moment could we forget that everything happening elsewhere, on land at sea or in the air, depended ultimately on its outcome.”
The Battle of Atlantic was also the longest campaign of the war, lasting from the outbreak until Victory in Europe.
The toll was high on all sides; some 3,500 ships were sunk. 26,500 merchant sailors and 23,000 naval personnel lost their lives.
Sixty percent of German submariners did not return to their home bases.
Second, despite the vital importance of the campaign, there is no memorial to the Battle of the Atlantic in the UK, and the project team and I are determined to put that right.
And to put it right while we still have some veterans with us – all in their 90s – as well as for the sake of the thousands of family members whose forebears fought in the Atlantic.
Indeed, thirdly, I am one of those family members.
My father, then Commander Peter Gretton, commanded a group of warships which escorted convoys to North America and back.
Aged just 30 and 31, he commanded his B7 Escort Group from November 1942 to February 1944: This spanned the time in the spring of 1943 when he and his colleagues turned the tide against the U-Boats, resulting in their commander, Admiral Doenitz, having to withdraw his submarines – albeit temporarily – from the Atlantic.
I am immensely proud of what my father achieved at such a young age, resulting in the award of three Distinguished Service Orders – one of which was for ramming a submarine on the surface earlier in the Mediterranean.
The Allies’ success could not have been achieved without people like him and countless others in merchant ships, naval vessels and maritime aircraft.
And finally, we also believe in the importance of educating the public, and particularly the young, about the Battle of the Atlantic and its vital significance.
It is also worth remembering that it was a campaign involving not only the British and Allied Merchant Navies, as well as all three Services from the British Armed Forces, but also Allied Armed Forces from countries such as Canada, Norway, Australia, the Soviet Union and the United States.
However, adversaries Germany and Italy also suffered huge losses in the Atlantic, so more than 70 years on we feel it is right to commemorate those brave young sailors as well.We have chosen Liverpool as home for the memorial.
It was from this city that the Battle of the Atlantic was coordinated.
As well as the command Headquarters being there, many of the warships and merchant ships were based there too.
It’s against this backdrop that we embark on the challenge of raising the £2.5m needed to construct and establish the memorial on site, which will be between the western side of the Museum of Liverpool and the River Mersey.
The time has come to finally recognise the defining battle of World War Two and those who fought in it.
We hope the public will support us in our quest.