Derry and Battle of the Atlantic

MAY 1943... Aerial view of US Navy Ship Repair Yard at Pennyburn with adjoining Admiralty Yard. In the foreground can be seen St Patrick's Church, Pennyburn, and the old Lough Swilly Railway line. Photo: US National Archives and Beech Hill Association.
MAY 1943... Aerial view of US Navy Ship Repair Yard at Pennyburn with adjoining Admiralty Yard. In the foreground can be seen St Patrick's Church, Pennyburn, and the old Lough Swilly Railway line. Photo: US National Archives and Beech Hill Association.
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At the beginning of World War II, Derry was considered by most of its inhabitants to be far from any possible hostilities. No one could have suspected at that time that the city would become the most important naval escort base in the Battle of the Atlantic. The ‘Journal’s Sean McLaughlin finds out more.

Delegates at an event to discuss the significance of the Battle of the Atlantic were told that 2013 will be a major anniversary year.

Attending the Battle of the Atlantic Symposium and booklet launch at the Beech Hill Hotel are, from left, Agnes Beresford-Ash, owner of the land on which the Beech Hill Camp B was constructed during WWII, Peter Campbell, former Commander in the Royal Navy, Mayor Maurice Devenney, AJ 'Paddy' Crowther, Trustee and Chair of Museum Committee of the NI War Memorial, Richard Doherty, historian and author, Kenneth Williams, former Lieutenant Commander in the US Navy, Conor Donnelly, from the Beech Hill Hotel around which the Beech Hill Camp A was sited. Photo: Lorcan Doherty

Attending the Battle of the Atlantic Symposium and booklet launch at the Beech Hill Hotel are, from left, Agnes Beresford-Ash, owner of the land on which the Beech Hill Camp B was constructed during WWII, Peter Campbell, former Commander in the Royal Navy, Mayor Maurice Devenney, AJ 'Paddy' Crowther, Trustee and Chair of Museum Committee of the NI War Memorial, Richard Doherty, historian and author, Kenneth Williams, former Lieutenant Commander in the US Navy, Conor Donnelly, from the Beech Hill Hotel around which the Beech Hill Camp A was sited. Photo: Lorcan Doherty

The symposium was hosted by the Beech Hill US Navy and Marine Corps Association which, later this year, will open a museum room and woodland trail dedicated to the US Navy’s contribution to transforming Derry into the Allies’ most important escort base in the Battle of the Atlantic.

The event was organised in support of the local branch of the Royal Naval Association’s fundraising efforts for an International Sailor Statue to match a similar one erected in Halifax, Nova Scotia, where the Atlantic convoys gathered before heading out into the North Atlantic.

At the Beech Hill Hotel event, the Northern Ireland War Memorial launched its booklet, “The River Foyle and the Battle of the Atlantic”, written by local author and historian, Richard Doherty.

Mark Lusby, City Walls Heritage Officer at the Holywell Trust, who organised the symposium, explained: “2012 is important as not only is it the 70th anniversary of the US Naval Operating Base being commissioned but it also marks the arrival of the Marine Corps in Derry.

“2013 will be especially important as it was in 1943 that the eventual outcome of the Battle of the Atlantic was largely determined.

“The attendees at the symposium demonstrated the wide local interest not only from navy veterans and their descendants but also from local people whose lives were affected in some way by Derry’s transformation during the Second World War.

“Given the scale of the loss of lives on all sides during the Battle of the Atlantic, and given Derry’s strategic role, it is appropriate that the history of the battle and its legacy on the city and its population is explored during City of Culture Year 2013.”

The Battle of the Atlantic was the longest continuous military campaign in World War II, running from 1939 to the defeat of Germany in 1945.

It was at its height from mid-1940 through to the end of 1943. The Battle of the Atlantic pitted U-boats and other warships of the Kriegsmarine (German Navy) and aircraft of the Luftwaffe (German Air Force) against Allied merchant shipping.

It has been called the “longest, largest, and most complex” naval battle in history.

The campaign began immediately after the European war began and lasted six years. It involved thousands of ships in more than 100 convoy battles and, perhaps, 1,000 single-ship encounters in a theatre covering thousands of square miles of ocean.

Copies of “The River Foyle and the Battle of the Atlantic” are available from www.niwarmemorial.org