How did the German Merchant Fleet Work during the war?

I guess the real question would be did the Germans have a working merchant fleet at all during the war at all and if they did where it operated and how? For instance, before Pearl Harbor did German ships trade in the United States and then sail all around Latin America then cross over between Brazil and Vichy Africa then have their materials shipped overland to North Africa and then from say Algiers to Marseilles?

If not, did Hitler do anything to preserve the merchant fleet in German ports in August 1939 then convert them for other duties?

And how big WAS the German Merchant fleet before world war 2? I am given to understand before world war 1 it rivaled or exceded the British one and Germany has always been a huge exporter of goods.


Great question that I will look forward to follow. As a Dane I know that Norway, Denmark, and Sweden build and operated large Merschant fleets. The part of the fleets that were in allied waters joined that effort. Danish Mærsk Line, still the largest privatly owned shipping Line in the world, transferred the command of the fleet to New York to prevent the fleet from beeing seized by the Germans. I also know Germany had a lot of smaller costal shipping primarily suited for the Baltic, and of course a large amount of river barges. Often without engines so they were towed by tugboats. They were included in a planned invasion fleet of UK, and that is another reason an invasion in 1940 was never a possibility.


This forum references a book about it for about 10 Euros.

It started with 4.4 million tons and ended up with a Million on harbours. But many of those were severely damaged.



Given I cannot read German to that degree (don’t blame the university, blame me, I tried, I’d probably need to live in Germany for three years to get it), can you tell me the name of the bok and I can see if there’s an English version of it?

Cause believe me I am completely striking out on Google on any kind of Axis Maritime Shipping. Duck Duck Go is even worse. The search engines are WORSE, spectacularly worse than they were eight or ten years ago. I’ve heard at sci-fi conventions we often make smart weapons smarter by making them much MUCH dumber and I think this happened with search engines and YEESH.


Hi Charlotte,

Cool that you are interested:

Right now $10.75 + 6.96 shipping to the USA. Part 1 and 2 both for this price number of pages 537+ 392

I don’t think there is a English translation around. If German is not your thing it might be a waste of money or a good opportunity to learn using a translator app.

Below are a bunch of offerings:

PS For me German is easy as I watched German TV when I was young. Sesame Street in Germand and the famous “Sending mit der Maus”.
" Die Schicksale aller Seeschiffe über 100 BRT" Translates as what happed to all ships above 100 tons. So it has the stories of the ships!

9783933203472: Die deutsche Handelsflotte 1939 - 1945 Band 1 + 2 - AbeBooks - Ludwig Dinklage & Hans Jürgen Witthöft: 3933203473