One of the great sins of war is that the damage done – at least that of the materiel variety – is often not made public by government for years or even decades.
Great Britain, then, was way head of the curve when the above image appeared in The Illustrated London News on June 23, 1945, just weeks after the end of World War II.
The image purports to show every naval vessel lost by Great Britain in the defense of “holding the seas against the Axis Powers … holding open the channels of supply and food and war material” from the outbreak of the war to VE day.”
According to information found on the website for Ptak Science Boos, the narrative that accompanies the image states that there were on average nearly 3,000 British and Allied ships at sea at any given moment during the 1939-45 conflict, with the Royal Navy patrolling an aggregate of 80,000 miles of trading routes, day in and day out.
“It is a symbol of loss, of heroism, of lives not lived, of lives saved, of valor, of greatness, of will, of the cold black sea, of burning oil, of red waves, and above all, of sacrifice. Of splendid behavior,” it writes. “It is a terrible picture of what victory demanded of bravery.”
A couple other maps Ptak features is one that shows Great Britain’s naval losses for World War I – puny by comparison – and the nation’s merchant marine losses during the Second World War, which represented another 2,570 ships.
According to Ptak Science Books, the images are the work of G.H. Davis, who provided cutaways, cross-sections, maps and diagrams of all manner of information to The Illustrated London News readers throughout the war.
It’s unclear how Davis and the Illustrated London News got the information, but given the detail and scope, one assumes it came from the UK government.
If so, it was a rather startling revelation given the war at that point was barely over.