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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Hasty Departures: The Evacuation of American Citizens from Europe at the Outbreak of World War II


When World War II began in September 1939, upwards of one hundred thousand American citizens were residing and traveling throughout Europe. Over the next three months, nearly seventy-five thousand of these individuals would be returned to the United States on crowded passenger ships and merchant vessels. This evacuation, organized and facili­tated by the US government, shipping representatives, and labor organizers, proved to be difficult. Besides contending with logistical obstacles, officials leading the operations had to assist evacuees with bookings and other personal matters, contend with rowdy ship crews, and ensure that the vessels traveling across the Atlantic Ocean were safe from Ger­man U-boats. This article offers insight into the Americans who were assisted, the US government officials who orchestrated the repatriation efforts, and the ships that were involved in the transatlantic crossings. It also provides a unique glimpse into the activities of American consular staff in France, Britain, and Ireland during the early days of the inter­national conflict.


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