Merchant Marine Casualties in World War II
As a proportion of all who served, during the Second World War the American merchant marine had a higher casualty rate than the Army, the Navy, the Marine Corps, or the Coast Guard.
|Service|| Served|| Deaths|| Percent ||Ratio|
|Army|| 11,268,000|| 234,874|| 2.08%|| 1:48|
|Coast Guard || 242,093 || 574 || 0.24%|| 1:421|
|Marine Corps || 669,108 ||19,733 || 2.94% || 1:34|
|Merchant Marine || 215,000 ||8,380 ||3.90% || 1:26|
|Navy || 4,183,466 ||36,958 || 0.88%|| 1:114|
|Total || 16,576,667 ||295,790 || 1.78% || 1:56|
While the exact number of men and women who served as merchant mariners during the war is uncertain, as also the exact number who perished, the estimated figures that appear here have official status. Since one could secure seaman’s papers at 16, some men who served as youthful merchant mariners early in the war would later end up in the ranks of the armed forces. Similarly, the merchant marine could sign on men who were rated as IV-F early in the war, but were later re-evaluated and drafted. So many merchant mariners ultimately ended up in the ranks.
The reason that the combat casualty rate among merchant mariners was higher than that for personnel in the armed forces was that merchant seamen were “in combat” more often that soldiers, sailors, marines, or coasties. Significant numbers of personnel in the armed forces never saw combat; about a third of Uncle Sam’s nieces and nephews in uniform never even left the U.S. But merchant mariners were required to be at sea almost all the time; spending more than 30 days on the beach could cost one his seaman’s ticket. Naturally, the longer one was at sea the more likely one was to encounter the enemy, usually in the form of a torpedo smashing into one’s ship.
A persistent tale has it that while commanding in Southeast Asia in 1941-1944, General Tomoyuki Yamashita (1885-1946), the “Tiger of Malaya,” amassed an enormous amount of plunder. When he was transferred to the Philippines in 1944, he supposedly took this haul with him. In the Philippines he supposedly added still more loot, so that in time his hoard came to some 4,000 to 6,000 tons of stuff, including gold bars and other precious metals, as well as rare gems, art works, jewelry, and coins, not to mention bank notes worth literally billions of dollars. These treasures were supposedly secreted at 172 different sites across the sprawling Philippine Archipelago.
Now this treasure has never been located, probably because it never existed. Nevertheless, the tale of “Yamashita’s gold” has sparked something of a minor industry among conspiracy theorists, treasure hunters, and “historical revisionists” of various stripes, resulting in the publication of several “serious” books on the subject, as well as movies, novels, and even a television “special” or two.
Theories about the treasure abound. Some hold that the loot was secretly smuggled out to Japan, where it was used by Emperor Hirohito to finance the country’s post-war economic boom. Others charge that “American military intelligence” not only found the loot, but stashed it and has been using it to finance nefarious machinations all over the world, though frankly, if the C.I.A., D.I.A., and so forth had that much cash to play with they’d have been able to buy the whole planet long ago.
Now for various reasons, the tale is highly improbable. To begin with, it’d have been awfully hard to move that much stuff secretly. Even an Imperial general might attract notice if he requisitioned several freighters for his private use. But even so, if Yamashita had all that loot, why would he ship it to the Philippines? Wouldn’t Japan be a better place to stash his hoard? And why would he wait until1944 to move it? He was not a stupid man, and would have realized pretty early that Japan had little hope of winning the war. Moving his goodies in 1942 or 1943 would have been a lot safer than doing so in 1944. The China Seas were still essentially a Japanese lake until 1944, and transporting the loot would have been relatively easy. There certainly were looters among the Japanese military leadership. But they seem to have tried to get the goodies home as soon as possible.
Meanwhile, enthusiasts sponsor expeditions to find the treasure, which only goes to further the myth, and, probably, enrich scammers and con men.