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First World War: Merchant Shipping Wrecks

Historic England is identifying wrecks of First World War merchant vessels lost in the North Sea.

Vital coastal shipping routes, especially for coal, were subject to constant German attack by mines, U-boats, and surface raiders. In an attempt to reduce losses, protected shipping channels, known as ‘War Channels’, were created through the defensive minefields, reinforced with patrols by the Royal Navy, airships and aircraft in concert with coastal batteries.

Despite these measures many merchant vessels were lost, along with many others involved in protecting and maintaining the War Channels.

Wills Cigarette card dating from 1917 'A Tribute to the Mercantile Marine'
A Tribute to the Mercantile Marine: One of 24 cigarette cards 'Britain's Part in the War' issued by Will's Cigarettes in 1917. Private Collection. The reverse reads: 'Though this has been called the European War, the whole world is taking part, either actively or passively, and countless stores of goods of every conceivable kind are being sent ot the belligerent countries from all parts of the globe. As in peace time, so now, the flag of Britain's Mercantile Marine flies over two-thirds of the shipping which plies the ocean. Ship after ship is coming over the seas bringing food and raw materials that the vast armies may be fed, and that her factories may be kept busy in their unceasing work of producing clothing, munitions &c. Britain has become the distributing agent of the world.'

These wrecks, often concentrated along or close to these War Channels, are the subject of a Historic England investigation to identify their location and condition, and to tell their stories and those of their links with the shore defences and other buildings.

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