Merchant Navy Day 3 September


Australians have served on board merchant vessels for over 100 years. On Merchant Navy Day, we thank them for their service.

Significance of 3 September

We commemorate Merchant Navy Day each year on 3 September. This is the anniversary of the first merchant marine sinking of World War II. The British liner SS Athenia was torpedoed and sunk without warning by the German submarine U-30. This happened only 10 hours after Britain's declaration of war in 1939.

Roles of merchant mariners in wartime

On this day we reflect on the important role merchant mariners have played during wartime. They've often served on merchant navy crews in the face of danger and under challenging circumstances.

During the World Wars and the Vietnam War, merchant ships and their civilian crew have been responsible for transporting service personnel, supplies and equipment. Some vessels were converted to military hospital ships for wartime service.

Unlike naval warships, vessels in the merchant navy were often unarmed. This left them exposed to attack from the enemy, both in foreign waters and closer to the Australian coastline.

Merchant mariners worked with the constant threat of attack from enemy submarines, surface raiders, aircraft and sea mines. Their work was especially dangerous because the convoys were slow.

The Battle of the Atlantic is a well-known battle involving merchant mariners. It lasted almost the entire duration of World War II. The battle was fought across the war's most dangerous shipping lanes. Over 3000 Allied merchant ships were sunk. Some 30,000 Allied sailors and merchant mariners were lost at sea.

The Australian War Memorial estimates that over 800 Australian merchant mariners died serving the Allied cause during the World Wars. On this day, we honour them and their fellow mariners.

The Merchant Navy Memorial on the edge of Lake Burley Griffin in Canberra commemorates the contribution made by the Australian merchant navy during the World Wars.

Last updated: 4 November 2020

Cite this page

DVA (Department of Veterans' Affairs) (2020), Merchant Navy Day 3 September, DVA Anzac Portal, accessed 12 August 2022,
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