Royal Navy – and allied NATO – warships are due to converge in the Mersey for three days of events marking the Battle of the Atlantic.
Two new memorials, not just to those lost, but those who survived the six-year struggle against German U-boats will be unveiled.
Today’s sailors will honor their predecessors with a drumhead service and parade, and highlight their present-day activities.
With 80 days to go until the memorial weekend, organizers announced their plans with the help of veterans Denis Rose and John Dennett – both 98 – the RM Corps of Drums, civic leaders, representatives of the Royal, Royal Canadian and Merchant Navies, the RAF and local Sea Cadets.
Denis volunteered with the RNVR and served on Atlantic and Arctic Convoy while former able seaman John served as an anti-aircraft gunner.
Commemorations open with a day of formal events on Friday May 26, beginning with a service of thanksgiving in St Nicholas’, Liverpool’s seafarers’ church, and the dedication of a new, expanded ‘garden of reflection’ memorial in its grounds.
After a flypast by the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight and vintage Fleet Air Arm aircraft, attention shifts to the switch on of the ‘Atlantic Lights’ at Exchange Flags – the imposing building whose basement houses the former headquarters of Western Approaches from where much of the Battle of the Atlantic was directed, now a museum.
Described as a ‘Menin Gate for the Battle of the Atlantic’, the lights will be switched on nightly, beaming the names of ships and seafarers involved in the battle on to the facade of the building.
On Saturday and Sunday, May 27-May 28, attention switches to the waterfront around the Mersey ferry terminal and displays and exhibitions by the three Services, military and seafaring charities, and attending ships will be open to visitors.
Events reach their peak on the Sunday with a drumhead service on the seafront, followed by a march by serving personnel, cadets and veterans’ groups.
Other events over the weekend will see performances by the Band of HM Royal Marines Scotland and Danish and German military bands, a Battle of the Atlantic-themed play (‘Blowing a Raspberry at Hitler’) and across the water in Birkenhead, Cammell Laird plan to open their yard to celebrate the efforts of shipbuilders in WW2 – and show how things have moved on.
Commemorations conclude at precisely 19.43 Hours on Sunday May 28 with the attending warships leading a parade of shipping down the Mersey, while Beating Retreats are performed on both shores of the Mersey.
Every ten years, the three Services mark what they regard as the key action or campaign of WW2: Battle of Britain for RAF, Alamein for the Army and the Atlantic (‘the longest battle’) for the RN.
It’s the biggest military event Liverpool has hosted since HMS Prince of Wales drew more than 120,000 to the city on the cusp of lockdown in March 2020. Several hundred thousand people are again expected to descend on Merseyside this May.
Regional Commander Commodore Phil Waterhouse is keen that the event entertains and educates people – and not merely about the struggle between U-boat and Allied air and naval power.
“The theme is very much compare and contrast. Compare the conditions, the equipment, the men and women then with those of today because there are so many similarities between what we did in the war – and what we continue to do today,” he said.
“The Battle of the Atlantic is not merely a proud moment in our history – it is still relevant today. The Atlantic is still our backyard and Britain still relies on the sea as its lifeline and though threats and technologies change, it still demands a concerted effort by international navies, led by the Royal Navy, to safeguard that.”
Waged from the first day of war in Europe to the very last, the Battle of the Atlantic was a struggle unlike any other as the Axis powers – chiefly packs of U-boats – sought to strangle the UK’s lanes.
They failed – at a cost of three out of every four German submarines lost. But the toll they inflicted was terrible: at least 111,000 sailors and military personnel from around the globe died, including 26,500 British merchant and 23,000 Royal Navy sailors.
Some 3,500 merchantmen vessels and 175 warships – 15 million tons of allied shipping in all – were lost.
The battle reached its peak between March and May 1943. In the final month, the Germans recalled their U-boats from the Atlantic after they suffered unsustainable losses: 43 boats sunk, 37 damaged. They continued to fight to the end – but the sea lanes were never as gravely threatened again.
Follow battleoftheatlantic.org/boam-events/ for details or @BoAtlantic80 (Twitter) and @BattleAtlanticMemorial (Facebook)