The U.S. Merchant Marine played a crucial role in World War II, transporting supplies, ammunition, and troops across the ocean to the battle front. Even before the United States entered the war, the merchant fleet provided much-needed goods to the English war effort. Only minimally armed, the merchant ships risked attack by torpedoes underwater and bombs and machine-gun fire from low-flying aircraft. It is estimated that the Axis powers sank 733 American merchant ships throughout the hostilities.
In 1938 the United States Congress created the U.S. Maritime Service to train licensed and unlicensed merchant marine personnel. The Maritime Service established an officer training school at Fort Trumbull in 1939 and maintained it for the duration of the war. More than 15,000 men graduated from the school during the wartime emergency. Several buildings were added to the complex in the 1940s to meet the demand.
Initially, only licensed officers studied here to refresh their knowledge, but in 1941, training was stepped up and unlicensed men were admitted. The four-month course of instruction prepared officer candidates to become either deck men or engine men. At least fourteen months of sea duty experience were required for enrollment. About half of the men had seen combat.
Once the war ended, fewer merchant marine officers were needed for peacetime service, so the emergency training program at Fort Trumbull ended in 1946.