SS Leopoldville

23rd August 2009, 12:31
I watched a fascinating documentary on History Channel last night about the tragic loss of this ship on Christmas Eve in 1944. Spent a fair amount of time today looking her up as I hadn't heard of her or the tragedy that befell her until last night.

She was quite a handsome ship and the circumstances surrounding her loss and the deaths of over 800 people, mainly US soldiers going to France, was really quite shocking...especially the way she was lost and the mistakes apparently made after she had been torpedoed.

Leopoldville was doing troop work from Southampton to Cherbourg and had been quite successful too by all accounts. She was built in Belgium in 1929 and had a Belgian/Congoese crew since in peacetime she used to sail tween Belgium and Congo on a regular route.

The emphasis of the programme last night was to inspect the wreck and to see if anwers could be found as to why so many died that night. It also confirmed the bravery of HMS Brilliant's captain and crew in what was an incredible and dangerous rescue bid by coming alongside Leopoldville in order to allow soldiers to jump from one ship down to the other, around 500 or so were saved in this way. However, the film also proved that things had not gone well that night, stacks of liferafts and Carley floats were still strapped to Leopoldville's decks that would have undoubtably saved other lives had they been used. Questions remain as to why those rafts and floats had not been released by the crew or the soldiers themselves.

There were so many ships lost during WW2...on all sides...yet Leopoldville's loss is not one that is widely known about, unlike Goya, Steuben, Gustloff or Cap Arcona, to name but a few.

Relatives of those who perished and a few of those who survived from Leopoldville were told many things at the time and long afterwards...not all of it entirely correct. It was good, albeit very sad, to see both the relatives of those lost and survivors being taken by launch to the site of Leopoldville's final resting place...just 5 miles outside pay their respects to the men who did not make it home that night.

Has anyone else seen the programme or done any research of the ship and her subsequent war service/loss....seems such a shame that her history doesn't appear to have been marked that much.

24th August 2009, 10:27
The sinking was kept secret for many years especially during the war for the purpose of moral boosting with only good news. Programme was also shown a few months back.

24th August 2009, 22:33
I have dived the wreck five times, what sticks in my mind is the GI helmets that are piled up at points along the companionways, it's easy to imagine the soldiers throwing them off and then climbing into boats or jumping into the icy sea. I've not seen the program, do you know if it will be on again or if it's available to buy on DVD?

25th August 2009, 06:45
This link has the video attached...

27th August 2009, 00:35
This link has the video attached...

Thanks for the link, really interesting.

NJ Dave
13th January 2010, 01:52
You might want to read S.S. Leopoldville Disaster by Allan Andrade, publshed 1997, ISBN 1-890309-54-0.

13th January 2010, 01:58
Cie. Maritime Beige (Lloyd Royal) Soc. Anon.; 1929; Soc. Anon.
John Cockerill; 11,509 tons; 501-8x62-2x35; 1,225 n.h.p.;
16-5 knots; quadruple-expansion engines & L.P. turbines. The
Belgian liner Leopoldville had been employed in the Antwerp and
Congo service, and was taken over as a troopship when Belgium
was invaded by Germany in May, 1940. On December 24th, 1944,
she was ferrying some 2,200 troops of the U.S. 66th Division from
Southampton to Cherbourg when there was an explosion caused by
a mine or torpedo.
None of the troops on board had received instruction in lifeboat
drill, or had been shown how to fasten their lifebelts. The explosion
caused the two after decks of the ship to collapse, and a large
number of the- men were trapped. Despite this the Belgian captain
did not appreciate the seriousness of the situation, and he dropped
anchor five and a half miles from Cherbourg harbour. Three
quarters of an hour elapsed before the work of disembarking began
and it was carried on in a leasurely fashion.
Meanwhile the British destroyer Brilliant stood by while the
other vessels of the escort went in search of the submarine. At 7.30
p.m. the destroyer left for Cherbourg with the first detachment of
soldiers, it being thought that the transport was in no immediate
danger. An hour later the bulkheads gave way and the vessel sank
within ten minutes. Owing to a mistaken order part of the crew
abandoned ship, leaving the unfortunate soldiers to launch the
remaining boats as best they could. In all 802 troops and six of the
crew, including the captain, were drowned. Small craft from Cherbourg
arrived too late, and only a few men were rescued from the

28th February 2010, 13:32
hi, clive cussler recounts the story of what happened to the leopoldville and has an interesting tale of what happened when he and his motely crew tried to do a survery of the wreck of the leopoldville in his book the sea hunters


10th April 2014, 17:52
This link has the video attached...

Even using this link, I am unable to find the movie, is it working for anyone else?

note: I recently found out that my mothers frist husband was killed on this ship on Dec 24, 1944. We have found the Western Union telgrams and some other letters relating to this, but are looking for more. I did find the 'books' and have purchased them. I was hoping to get a copy of the movie.

Thank you for any help.


12th April 2014, 09:55
Greetings Don and welcome to SN. Bon voyage.

11th May 2014, 06:57
If you are able to read french There is a new book regarding this ship :
Nice underwater pictures from Nicholas job

11th May 2014, 18:07
What happened to the Congolese crew what took off in a lifeboat.

12th May 2014, 20:25
Regarding numbers, there was 17 deaths from crew against 763 American soldiers. The rest was rescued.