Museu Marítimo de Ílhavo
The Maritime Museum of Ílhavo



Arquivo digital que documenta as campanhas bacalhoeiras desde o início do século XX


Cod fishing during World War II

Capa saoruy 1 772 2500 1 772 9999

In 1939 World War II erupted involving several powers in a global conflict that crossed continents and seas. German submarines roamed the entire Northwest Atlantic causing a trail of destruction, making cod fishing a risky enterprise.
The Portuguese trade balance deficit in terms of the need to supply "bread of the sea" to the population led the regime to adopt a position of intransigence keeping the fleet at work. The risk to the life of the crews was very real, so the propaganda of Estado Novo promoted the idea of a peace fleet that would sail in safety. Something that did not materialize with the sinking of the lugger "Maria da Gloria" and the "Delães", tragic incidents that although they were publicized it did not lead the elites of the regime to change their position.
During the war, agreements were established with the allies and with the forces of the axis regarding fishing vessels and the merchant navy. The purpose of the agreed-upon points was to ensure the safety of the fleet at work, for this it was decided that the trawlers were painted black and the luggers white, and the side had to have the Portuguese flag painted on it and the name of the ship.
It is in this context that João Laruncho de São Marcos reports his first trip to the Banks of Newfoundland, "I finished my course at the nautical school and was forced to embark. We were in the middle of a war and there were ships that were tied up and loaded to go to sea". The reason the ships were moored waiting to leave the port was because of one of the agreed-upon points where navigation had to be done on certain routes and the voyage to the banks of Newfoundland was done in convoy under the guidance of a navy officer - they had a captain, but they lacked a naval officer.
João Laruncho de São Marcos, pilot of the ship São Ruy in the years 43 and 44, recalls that "the convoys were formed in 1943 and on my ship I was following one of the naval officers, because [the São Ruy trawler] had better conditions.
Of these trips, what we remember best was not the conflict at sea but rather an event that marked him for life.

So reports the former pilot:

"You know, when I went cod fishing I started at São Ruy, I didn't choose the ship, but my uncle was Captain Aquiles Bilelo. On the second trip what I prevented Felismino da Serafina from doing happened. This fisherman from Nazaré took his 17 years old son to go cod fishing with him, the boy had the 4th class.
One day of fishing we were under bad weather and the boy got lost. The father and the guardian asked the captain and landed two doris, and with them were two more fishermen, with 5 paddles, because under bad weather some can be lost.
And then for two hours those shadows with 'Manuelzinho' appear in the fog. And I suffered terribly from 'Manuelzinho's situation, but when I saw them...and it was even one of the boys who saw them first, there were seven men waiting. The son was in the middle of the dory, and they were rowing! And I went to them, in front of me was Felismino da Serafina with his son and he started punching and slapping him...and I threw myself at the man's neck and grabbed him, and when he looks back and sees that I am I say, 'Oh, Mr. Pilot don't disgrace me, don't disgrace me! And the captain who was my uncle and who was up there watching all this said, 'John! Let go of that man, because today that boy was losing his life, tomorrow he no longer remembers and falls for it again [the water], but that beating that he got in front of so many spectators I can never forget. And I swore to myself never to see such a violent scene like this again. It was cruel."

João Laruncho de São Marcos, later captain, said that although he never suffered an attack like that of Delães and Maria da Glória, life at sea was difficult.

Archive of Memories of Cod Fishing - João Laruncho de São Marcos. Ílhavo Maritime Museum.

MARQUES, João David Batel - A Pesca do Bacalhau - História, Gentes e Navios - A História e as Gentes. Tomo I. Viana do Castelo, 2018.

Bolé, António Augusto Reis Freire - A pesca do bacalhau durante o período do Estado Novo (1933-1974)

Ílhavo Documentation Center Archive - photograph of the 'São Ruy' trawler.