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The Rescue Ships and The Convoys (Hardback)

Saving Lives During The Second World War

Maritime > Naval World History

By B B Schofield
Imprint: Pen & Sword Maritime
Pages: 224
Illustrations: 34 mono illustrations
ISBN: 9781036102661
Published: 16th April 2024

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The Rescue Ships and the Convoys tells the history of one of the least known aspects of Second World War maritime history. Despite the threat of heavy losses of ships and lives, no hospital ships, which had to be lit, could accompany the convoys as they would betray a convoy’s position.

The solution was to create a fleet of 30 small Merchant Navy vessels of about 1,500 gross tons, mostly from coastal trade. These ‘Rescue Ships’, commanded and manned by Merchant Navy personnel, carried medical teams, and life-saving equipment including operating theatres, hospital beds, ‘Carley’ floats, and hoists.

Undeterred either by either enemy action or atrocious weather conditions, these vessels accompanied close to 800 convoys and saved 4,194 lives from ships sunk in the North Atlantic and with the Arctic convoys. During their service, seven Rescue Ships were lost.

This is a story packed with suspense, danger, achievement and tragedy. As the author, Vice Admiral Schofield, who was closely involved in the establishment of the fleet, writes, it is a record ‘of great humanitarian endeavour, of superb acts of courage, of a display of seamanship of the highest order, of a devotion to duty by medical officers under the most arduous conditions imaginable, of great deeds by men of the Merchant Navy in little ships on voyages they were never designed to undertake.’

The Rescue Ships and The Convoys is an expanded new edition of Admiral Schofield’s definitive account of the British convoy rescue ships that was first published in 1968. Once again, the republishing of one of the Admiral’s books is the result of the endeavours of his daughter Victoria Schofield.

In this case Victoria has applied her historian skills to delve into her father’s well-ordered papers to incorporate additional material into the new edition which her father received, mainly from veterans, following the publication of the first edition. The book is all the better for it.

While we may not see the like of convoy rescue ships again, the experiences of their crews, the close relationship between naval and merchant mariners and the spirit of innovation have lessons for today’s mariners.

Read the full review here.

Australian Naval Institute

"This is a story packed with suspense, danger, achievement and tragedy. It is a record of great humanitarian endeavour, of superb acts of courage, of a display of seamanship of the highest order, of a devotion to duty by medical officers under the most arduous conditions imaginable.

This is an excellent book on a subject that was an important part of WW2 history and I would very highly recommend it to our readers."

Shipping, Today & Yesterday

"The book includes several appendices detailing the stories of the individual Rescue Ships, the convoys they escorted, and the lives they saved, the nationalities of survivors, and an explanation of the Convoy Medical Code merchant ships used to request urgent medical assistance from Rescue Ships or escort vessels that had medical officers on board. Together with the extensive end notes and rarely seen vintage photographs, this information adds another layer of context to the impressive record of these remarkable ships."

The Maritime Engineering Journal

Interview as featured

BBC Today Programme - 30/04/24

About B B Schofield

Vice Admiral B.B. Schofield had a distinguished naval career serving in both World Wars. He was closely involved in the planning of naval operations for D-Day and his insider view is told in Operation NEPTUNE (republished by Pen and Sword Maritime in 2008). He died in 1984. His daughter Victoria Schofield, the leading biographer and author, lives in West London.

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