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Posted on Sep 25, 2015 in Books and Movies, Front Page Features

U.S. Navy Armed Guard (1942-45) Gunners to Protect Merchant Ships

U.S. Navy Armed Guard (1942-45) Gunners to Protect Merchant Ships

By Jerry D. Morelock

Of the many challenges facing the United States confronting Axis forces in a global war after it entered World War II in late-1941 none was more daunting than moving troops, weapons, equipment and supplies across the world’s oceans to the fighting fronts. Although this monumental effort in power projection would be spearheaded by U.S. Navy battle fleets, the massive logistical burden would have to be borne by thousands of civilian merchant ships – troop transports, cargo vessels and oil tankers. Yet, unlike the Navy’s warships, merchant ships were normally not armed with naval guns or anti-aircraft weapons. Therefore, since these merchant ships would be sailing into harm’s way in the ocean’s combat zones, the U.S. Navy Armed Guard was created to provide the ships with some protection against enemy attack, particularly to defend them from enemy submarines and warplanes.

From 1942 until the end of World War II in 1945, U.S. Navy Armed Guard gun crews were placed aboard 6,236 merchant ships sailing in all of the world’s oceans. Armed Guard training schools, concentrating on teaching the sailors gunnery skills, were established at Chicago, San Diego, Gulfport, Mississippi and Little Creek/Shelton, Virginia. By the end of the war, nearly 145,000 U.S. Navy sailors had passed through the schools and had served as gunners on merchant ships.

Typically, an Armed Guard crew on each merchant ship consisted of about 28 U.S. Navy personnel: an officer in charge; 24 gunners manning naval guns and anti-aircraft weapons; and three communications specialists. The weapons they manned on each ship were usually: one 5-inch/38 naval deck gun; one 3-inch/50 anti-aircraft gun; and eight 20mm anti-aircraft guns. By the end of the war, the U.S. Navy Armed Guard had placed over 53,000 naval guns and anti-aircraft guns along with their crews on merchant ships.

Most of the Armed Guard sailors were volunteers since the U.S. Navy considered it a “hazardous duty” assignment. In fact, this is borne out by their casualty figures (almost 1,700 killed in action, 127 missing in action from sunken ships, and 27 captured – of which 14 survived the war) and the recognition of Armed Guard personnel heroism that garnered five Navy Crosses, 75 Silver Stars and 54 Bronze Stars.

UNIT: U.S. Navy Armed Guard
DATES: 1942-45
STRENGTH: 144,970 total served
CASUALTIES: 1,683 KIA; 127 MIA; 27 POW
SERVICE: Gun crews on 6,236 merchant ships in all naval theaters of war
TYPICAL CREW: 1 officer, 24 gunners and 3 communications specialists per ship
TYPICAL WEAPONS: one 5-inch/38 naval deck gun, one 3-inch/50 anti-aircraft gun and eight 20mm machine guns per ship.
FILM: Action in the North Atlantic (1943)
BOOKS: Gunners Get Glory by Lieutenant Robert B. Berry (Dobbs-Merrill, 1943); We Delivered: The U.S. Navy Armed Guard in World War II by Lyle E. Dupra (Sunflower University Press, 1997); Bluejacket Odyssey, 1942-1946: Guadalcanal to Bikini, Naval Armed Guard in the Pacific by William L. McGee (BMC Publications, 2000); Unsung Sailors: The Naval Armed Guard in World War II by Justin F. Gleichauf (Naval Institute Press, 2002); No Surrender: True Stories of the U.S. Navy Armed Guard in World War II by Gerald Reminick (Glencannon Press, 2004)

Jerry D. Morelock, PhD, Editor at Large, World History Group/HISTORYNET.COM


  1. Well I learned something new today. I never really thought about these guys – I just assumed that they were part of the merchant marine that got extra duties due to wartime.

    My quick math figures about 175 thousand navy men were involved (28 per ship times 6,236) so roughly a 1% KIA/MIA rate. How does this compare to other naval servicemen?

  2. I’m looking for any information in regards to the Armed Guards. My dad Jack B Dehaven was aboard the Josiah Macy, S.S.Esso Washington and the S.S.Wallace E. Pratt And I’m looking for any information. I have one of his diary from 1942 Please if anyone has info they could share my family would appreciate it. He spent time talking to us kids about his service in the Armed Guards. Until he left to join the Army/Air Corp. 11th Airborne Division. Thank You.

    • Debi, I just noticed your inquiry about the information on your father, Jack B Dehaven, I was in the Navy Armed Guard aboard the Tanker SS ALPHA from 9/16/42 to 12/19/42 and your Dad was one of my shipmates, he came on board sometime before 11/15/42 (our sailing date) I have several pictures of him with myself and other crew members and would like to share them with you. please contact me at my home address: Donald E. Steiner, 900 Olive Rd. Oxford, Michigan 48371.

      • Hi Mr. Steiner, since I first saw your message at 1:55 am on Feb. 18th. I have been trying to find out how you found me. It took several hours 5 to be exact. Then I finally found it. I looked up shop names. Tankers bit couldn’t find the SS Alpha. I must have read every article about the Armed Guard. Looked up names your name and my dads. Couldn’t find either. Back in 2017 when I posted “Looking for information on Jack DeHaven” I suppose I gave up any hope to find any. I prayed for something anything. You see my mother seemed to always know everything about my dad and what he did or didn’t do during his service. ( But she didn’t) So my dad just kept quiet. And his mother burned any and all pictures/medals etc.
        As one of my dad’s three children I took it on to find as much info. As possible. I kept reaching one dead end after another. Until one day all my prayers were answered. You truly made my heart beem. I truly would love anything you have on my dad. I will be calling you later today.
        God Bless You.
        Debi Seiveno
        Daughter of JB DeHaven

  3. My Dad was a Navy armed guard in 1943/44 timeframe on the SS Amerigo Vespucci 2767. Fought in the Battle of Leyte Gulf. I also am a Navy veteran of Vietnam Era.

  4. My grandfather Bernard Woods was a survivor of the bombing of the Timothy Pickering armed guard

    • My Dad, Curley Joseph LeJeune was also a survivor of the bombing of the Timothy Pickering. It has been difficult to find any information on the web outside of some nuggets found on

  5. Any of these people want info on the USN Armed Guard WW II
    Veterans Association, they can contact me at my E-Mail address or Mailing address. I have located over 23,000 since 1982 and would appreciate sending info to me my work has GRATIS in Honor of my brother KIA in the sinking of the S.S. BLACK POINT 5/5/45 3 1/2 miles off the coast of R.I. at POINT JUDITH. Can give mailing address in Rolesvile
    N.C. 115 Wall St.27571

  6. I knew my father was in the Navy during the war, and on CV-10 Yorktown, but not the Armed Guard. He entered service March 43 and completed his Armed Guard training in NY. The ships he saw service on before being assigned to the Yorktown were SS John T. Holt, SS Samuel Nelson & SSAT George Washington. My father was discharged in March 1946 from Seattle, Washington. I have his Armed Guard class graduating picture and discharge that indicates he attended the 5 week Armed Guard school.

  7. This is a wonderful website re the US Navy Armed Guard: My dad was on the Kegums, Citadel Victory and came home on the destroyer Wadsworth.

  8. Just so if a relative of survivor reads this. My long passed Dad was Armed Guard the whole time. Wounded at Anizo and 13 days in a life boat after being sunk. I was an Infantry Sgt. in Vietnam and have a CIB, I thought my Dad should have a C.A.R. I sent a letter to the Navy department and they reviewed his record. I received his decoration a few weeks ago, 70 years later.
    His ship that was sunk was the East Indian.

  9. Cliff Waibel armed guard 1943 to 1946 would like to hear from any ship mates that were on the following ships SSJohn murray Forbes a liberty ship SS San Sanantonio a t2 tanker SS Fleetwood a reefer ship Have not heard a word from any body since 1946

  10. My dad was on the Florence Crittenton as an armed guard. (1943-1945) They left from west coast. Does anyone have any information regarding this liberty ship? His name was Seaman 1st Class James W Buck.