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INTRODUCTION--BLOTTERS

 

This information is a compilation of dates recorded in Foreign Clearance Blotters and Foreign Entrance Blotters at the National Archives, Northeast Regional Branch in New York City and is a primary source of data on the movement of ships to and from the Port of New York and foreign ports. The data are from Clearance Blotters years 1939, 1941 through 1945. The Clearance Blotter for year 1940 was missing therefore the data from that year's Entrance Blotter is used instead. The collected data are for the war years of September 1, 1939 to August 31, 1945. To secure this information during the war years, many of the pages from 1942 through 1944 were stamped Secret.

Examples of Clearance Blotters
Index of Vessels,1942
Record of Vessels Cleared to Proceed
February 15, 1943
Record of Vessels Cleared to Proceed
February 16, 1943

The blotters on hand at the New York Archives are carbon copies. In order to find the originals and the missing 1940 clearance blotter visits were made to the National Archives in Washington D.C. and College Park, Maryland, and an inquiry made to the Department of Commerce were unsuccessful in locating the existence or whereabouts of the original copies. It was therefore necessary to use the Index of Vessels from the 1940 entrance blotter which was photo copied at the National Archives at Bayonne, New Jersey before it moved to the present location in New York City. This blotter and index were lost in the move.

These United States Department of Commerce records are called Foreign Clearance Blotters and Foreign Entrance Blotters. A function of this department is to monitor international trade for the United States Government. It must therefore maintain records on the number of tons of imports and exports of cargos. The ton quantity is entered into the appropriate cargo box either as bulk (liquids and loose grains), general and ballast. At the end of the workday the quantities are tallied and totals written underneath the appropriate column. Other blotter information includes number of crew and passengers (noted as P), communications, cargo manifest, destination and/or previous ports of call, type of vessel, nationality, the owner or shipping agent.

The blotters are large and heavy books with looseleaf pages assembled into a government issue post binder Binder B-4. Each blotter has two parts. The front part comprises of pages Department of Commerce Form 1401 Record of Vessels Engaged in Foreign Trade-Cleared or Granted Permission to Proceed. The forms are printed identically on both sides with 29 lines of space on a side, a line for each vessel. It should be noted that the viewed blotters are carbon copies and have to be handled carefully as the blue carbon print smudges readily and is easily transferable.

In the back part of each blotter is Department of Commerce Form 1404 Index of Vessels that lists all the ships alphabetically, and dates of their clearance for that calendar year. Not included in this study but recorded in the blotters are barges (towed vessels) and aircraft employed in international commerce. The data compiled from the indices provided the basis of this study. The dates are true to data recorded in the indices and have been corrected to conform to the data in the blotters when found necessary. Please note that there may be errors in the dates recorded in the indices. Confirming each date line by line to the blotter would have been an endless time consuming task.

In 1939, one side of a page was usually sufficient to provide space for recording one day's entries. As the war progressed into 1943 it became more often that two or more sides would be filled with clearing ships, usually on the day before a convoy was to leave. Vessels already cleared but not yet departing would lay up anchored at a berth in the bay or at a dock waiting for orders to sail. There are also numerous annotations on ships in port as "in transit" or "waiting for convoy".

The Blotters also recorded international airline flights, by airline, aircraft registration number, number of passengers carried and amount of cargo if any. Up until 1944 these were the Pan American Airways "Clippers" on transatlantic flights or to South America. Flights to Canada by Canadian Colonial Airways and Transcanadian Airways were also recorded. The first recorded military aircraft flight was US Naval Air Transport N7083, cleared on November 15, 1943 for passage to French Morocco via Natal (Brazil) and Dakar (Senegal). Other USN Air Transport stops and destinations to the Caribbean, South America and Africa were via San Juan PR, Port of Spain, Paramaribo, Belem, Natal, Dakar and Port Lyautey. In 1944, the US Army Air Corps Air Transport Command began flying passenger and freight service to Prestwick, Ireland with a stop in the Maritime Provinces of Canada.

United States vessels engaged in commerce between American ports are not recorded in the blotters.

An exception appears to have been made in the case of tankers going to refineries in the Philadelphia area being cleared ahead of time in the event should the vessels not be returning to New York but sail either directly to meet a convoy or to sail independently. The record shows that some tankers did return to New York and were recleared. A number of tankers were redirected to proceed to Chester instead of Philadelphia where the Sun Shipbuilding Corporation was fitting tankers with scaffolding above decks for transporting crated cargoes, vehicles, aircraft and small boats. Though tankers normally transport bulk (liquids), those with cargo on scaffolds are noted as carrying general cargo, or both though the bulk cargo would be considerably less than normal capacity..

Pasted inside the front cover of the 1944 Clearance Blotter is the following notice stamped SECRET.

SPECIAL NOTICE

Vessels may be cleared to "code" destinations as follows:

Code Name

Destination

A.L.

Algiers B.O. Bone, Algeria

Scrapple

Sicily

Elbow

Italy

Robot

Territory North of Naples (West coast of Italy) as per information from British Ministry of War Transport. 11/24/44.