The Fleets

Australia, A Nation Girt by Sea.....

Clicking on the funnel and flag of your chosen fleet will tell you of its part in the Asia Pacific war of 1939-1946. Offers to help tell these remarkable stories more comprehensively are welcome:


The present depleted strength of Australia's Merchant Fleet, currently about forty-five trading vessels, is in no way indicative of its size and versatility at the outbreak of the Second World War, to the regret of many thinking Australians.

In the years between the 1830s and the 1950s, there were some sixty Australian ship-owning companies.  While some were small, perhaps with only one ship for their own company purposes, many operated as carriers of passengers and cargo around and to and from the Australian coast.  Not only did this activity serve the nation well in addressing the "tyranny of distance", but its story is rich in history, tradition and anecdotes.

This portion of our website seeks to build a comprehensive presentation of the part those who, in the 1939-1946 years, "went down to the sea" in Australian ships of companies including Burns, Philp & Company Limited, whose own story is detailed, ship-by-ship, elsewhere in the site.

It is not widely known that about 6.5 per cent of all Merchant Navy personnel died on Second World War service, a higher percentage than any other Service, and that during the Allied recapture of the Philippine Islands there were more Merchant Navy casualties than those of all other Services combined.

Of the seventy six merchant ships lost in Australian waters to mines, torpedoes, shelling and bombing, twenty-nine were Australian.  Australian seamen killed on these numbered 349 and a further 37 died while prisoner of war.  The number of Australian merchant seamen lost on all the oceans will probably never be known. 

The Royal Australian Navy supplied gunners to Defensively-Equipped Merchant Ships (D.E.M.S.) and thirty-eight of these gunners lost their lives.