Liverpool marks 80th anniversary of the Battle of the Atlantic

battle of atlantic image
Liverpool is marking the 80th anniversary of the Battle of the Atlantic Credit: Battle of the Atlantic Memorial

The 80th anniversary of the Royal Navy’s greatest victory is being marked with a weekend of formal and personal commemorations in Liverpool in May.

Royal Navy and allied NATO warships are due to converge in the Mersey for three days of events marking the Battle of the Atlantic.

The Battle of the Atlantic was the longest military campaign of World War II, and a battle Britain had to win survive.

From 1940 to the end of 1943, The North Atlantic was the main supply route for trade vessels and warships, many of which sailed in and out of Liverpool.

This vital sea corridor had to be protected from German U-boats who were tracking the allied convoys and attacking them.

The battle, much of which was co-ordinated from Western Approaches, a secret bunker in Liverpool city centre, 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.

Victory in the Battle of the Atlantic came at a heavy cost though.

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.

In May 2023, two new memorials, not just to those lost, but those who survived the six-year struggle were unveiled in Liverpool.

Princess Anne with veterans at St Nicholas' Church Credit: PA

On Friday 26 May The Princess Royal opened a new expanded 'garden of reflection' at St Nicholas', Liverpool's seafarer's church after a service of thanksgiving.

After a flypast by the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight and vintage Fleet Air Arm aircraft, attention shifted to the switch on of the ‘Atlantic Lights’ at Exchange Flags – the imposing building whose basement houses the secret bunker from where the battle was directed.

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.

Saturday saw a flypast over the River Mersey Credit: Twitter: @HMSEagletRNR

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.

Commemorations conclude at precisely 19.43 Hours on Sunday 28 May with the attending warships leading a parade of shipping down the Mersey, while Beating Retreats are performed on both shores of the Mersey.

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.

Commemorations at the Pier Head Credit: Facebook: Battle of the Atlantic Memorial

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.

He said: "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.

"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."

For more information follow @BoAtlantic80 on Twitter and @BattleAtlanticMemorial on Facebook.