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Passenger Ship Disasters - Part 7

From SN Guides

Empress of Britain ablaze after being bombed off Ireland
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Empress of Britain ablaze after being bombed off Ireland

Contents

Introduction


This series of articles provides a listing of all major passenger ships that have been lost in service. For comparison, there are also articles covering some the most significant losses of smaller passenger vessels and ferries. The articles also provide commentary on some of the most significant incidents.

For practical and technical reasons, the Articles are presented in the following parts: -

  • Part 1. Definitions and the Development of International Passenger Ship Regulations
  • Part 2. Fire
  • Part 3. Collision,
  • Part 4. Other Navigational Error
  • Part 5. Structural Failure and Foundered
  • Part 6. Hostilities – World War 1 and the Spanish Civil War
  • Part 7. Hostilities – World War 2
  • Part 8. Ship Safety Analysis – Passenger vessels over 10,000 GRT
  • Part 9. Some smaller passenger vessel losses
  • Part 10. Some losses of ferries below 10,000 GRT in European Waters
  • Part 11. Some losses of ferries below 10,000 GRT in USA, Canada & Australasia
  • Part 12. Some losses of ferries below 10,000 GRT in South East Asia & Africa




Hostilities – World War 2


This category includes all large passenger ships (10,000 tons and over) that were lost as a result of hostilities during the Second World War. It excludes passenger ships that were lost during the war from causes other than hostilities. It also excludes passenger ships that were lost after they had been converted into armed merchant cruisers, or other types of vessel. It does however, include passenger ships acting as troop ships and hospital ships.


World War 2


The world passenger ship fleet suffered the loss of 144 vessels through hostilities during in the six years of the Second World War. This was more than the entire peacetime losses for all reasons in a century. A further 30 passenger ships that were converted into naval vessels were either sunk, or retained for military duties. Over three times as many large passenger ships were lost in World War 2 than were sunk in the four years of World War 1. The main reasons for this carnage were: -

  • The much greater geographical spread of hostilities in WW2
  • In WW1 passenger ship losses were largely confined to the Allies; in WW2 both sides suffered
  • Aircraft joined submarines as the major attackers. Once again surface warships were largely irrelevant as predators on the merchant fleets.
  • Many more passenger liners played an active part in directly transporting troops to the battlefields and rescuing refugees from hostilities
  • Many passenger ships were sunk in home ports during air raids
  • Germany’s conquest of most of continental Europe provided an effective launch pad for submarine and aircraft attacks on ships in the Atlantic and Mediterranean
  • Japan’s failure to organise a defence against US submarine attacks, resulted in the loss of all bar one ship in its passenger vessel fleet.
  • The destructive effect of advances in military technology
  • From 1941 onwards Germany carried out unrestricted attacks on passenger vessels



Image:PSD_02.jpg

Photo 1: A pre-war photograph of the German cruise ship Wilhelm Gustloff in Hamburg. Astern of her is the liner Cap Arcona. Both ships were sunk in 1945 with a combined loss of over 16,000 lives.

During the war the Allies lost 15,619,853 GRT of merchant shipping of all types. Japan lost 8,141,591 GRT of its shipping. The intensity of the submarine war can be gauged from the following statistics: -


  • Germany commissioned 1,149 U-boats plus 21 captured units, giving a total of 1,170, compared with 343 in WW1. During WW2 630 U-boats were lost in action, 81 were lost in harbour because of air attacks, 42 lost in accidents, 38 were written-off because of severe damage and 11 were interned or taken over by other countries (including 4 by Japan). The total losses were therefore 802, leaving 368 survivors, of which 215 were scuttled at the end of the war on the orders of Admiral Dönitz.
  • USA commissioned 262 submarines of which 47 were lost. US submarines were largely employed in a highly successful campaign against Japan. The US submarine construction programme was wound down towards the end of the war, as there were virtually no Japanese ships left in service.
  • The USSR had 210 submarines in service at the outbreak of the war, but only completed a further 29 during the war because its shipyards were captured by Germany. During the war USSR lost 107 boats.
  • UK commissioned 220 submarines and lost 68.
  • Italy commissioned 172 submarines and lost 128.




Large Passenger Ships sunk in World War 2

Lost Name when Lost Name when Built Owner when Lost Built GRT Casualties
1939 Athenia Athenia Donaldson 1923 13,465 112
1939 Yorkshire Yorkshire Bibby 1920 10,184 58
1939 Columbus Columbus North German Lloyd 1922 32,354 0
1939 Bretagne Flandria CGT 1922 10,108 7
1939 Terukuni Maru Terukuni Maru Nippon Yusan KK 1930 11,930 0
1939 Canada Canada East Asiatic 1935 11,108 0
1939 Pilsudski Pilsudski Gdynia-America 1935 14,294 10
1940 Aeneas Aeneas Blue Funnel 1910 10,049 19
1940 Remuera Remuera NZSC 1911 11,276 0
1940 Roturoa Shropshire NZSC 1911 11,911 20
1940 Niagara Niagara Union SS Co 1913 13,415 0
1940 Patria Patria Messageries Maritimes 1914 11,885 279
1940 Mexique Lafayette CGT 1915 11,953 0
1940 Vandyke Vandyke Lamport & Holt 1921 13,233 7
1940 Ville de Bruges Lone Star State Soc Maritime Anversoise 1922 13,869 3
1940 Lancastria Tyrrhenia Cunard 1922 16,243 3,000+
1940 Sardegna Sierra Ventana Lloyd Triestino 1923 11,392 ?
1940 Foucauld Hoedic Chargeurs Reunnis 1923 11,028 0
1940 Brazza Camranh Chargeurs Reunnis 1924 10,193 0
1940 Orama Orama Orient 1924 19,840 20
1940 Carinthia Carinthia Cunard 1925 20,277 4
1940 Commissaire Ramel Commissaire Ramel Messageries Maritimes 1926 10,061 3
1940 Orford Orford Orient 1928 20,043 14
1940 Albertville Albertville Cie Maritime Belge 1928 11,047 0
1940 Statendam Statendam Holland America 1929 28,291 0
1940 Rangitane Rangitane NZSC 1929 16,712 16
1940 Western Prince Western Prince Furness, Withy 1929 10,926 16
1940 Dunbar Castle Dunbar Castle Union-Castle 1930 10,002 9
1940 Empress of Britain Empress of Britain Canadian Pacific 1931 42,348 49
1940 Victoria Victoria Lloyd Triestino 1931 13,098 249
1940 Champlain Champlain CGT 1932 28,124 0
1940 Highland Patriot Highland Patriot Royal Mail 1932 14,157 3
1940 Dunvegan Castle Dunvegan Castle Union-Castle 1936 15,007 27
1940 City of Banares City of Banares Ellerman 1936 11,081 248
1940 Oslofjord Oslofjord Norwegian America 1938 18,673 0
1941 Chrobry Chrobry Gdynia-America 1939 11,442 12
1941 Anchises Anchises Blue Funnel 1911 10,046 12
1941 Ixion Ixion Blue Funnel 1912 10,221 0
1941 Katori Maru Katori Maru Nippon Yusan KK 1913 10,513 0
1941 Liguria Melita Lloyd Triestino 1918 15,183 0
1941 California Albania Lloyd Triestino 1920 12,951 0
1941 Oropesa Oropesa PSNC 1920 14,072 113
1941 Calchas Calchas Blue Funnel 1921 10,304 31
1941 Esperia Esperia Adriatica 1921 11,398 31
1941 Pennland Pittsburg Holland America 1922 16,332 4
1941 Conte Rosso Conte Rosso Italia 1922 17,856 1,212
1941 City of Nagpur City of Nagpur Ellerman 1922 10,146 14
1941 Slamat Slamat Rotterdam Lloyd 1924 11,636 650
1941 Colombo Colombo Lloyd Triestino 1924 11,762 0
1941 Almeda Star Almeda Blue Star 1926 14,953 360
1941 Northern Prince Northern Prince Furness, Withy 1929 10,917 0
1941 Europa Europa East Asiatic 1931 10,224 0
1941 Dnepr Cabo San Agustin Soviet State Shipping 1931 11,868 40
1941 Neptunia Neptunia Italia 1932 19,475 192
1941 Oceania Oceania Italia 1933 19,507 192
1942 Savoie Araguaya CGT 1906 10,196 0
1942 Tayio Maru Cap Finisterre Nippon Yusen KK 1911 14,503 817
1942 Ulysses Ulysses Blue Funnel 1913 14,499 0
1942 Empress of Asia Empress of Asia Canadian Pacific 1913 16,909 19
1942 Ceramic Ceramic Shaw, Savil & Albion 1913 18,481 655
1942 Porthos Porthos Messageries Maritimes 1915 12,633 0
1942 Subiaco Sphinx Messageries Maritimes 1915 11,375 0
1942 Narkunda Narkunda P&O 1920 16,118 31
1942 Laconia Laconia Cunard 1922 19,680 1,649
1942 Tilawa Tilawa British India 1924 10,006 280
1942 Monte Sarmiento Monte Sarmiento Hamburg-South America 1924 13,625 0
1942 Oronsay Oronsay Orient 1925 20,043 5
1942 Llandaff Castle Llandaff Castle Union-Castle 1926 10,786 3
1942 Andalucia Star Andalucia Blue Star 1927 14,943 7
1942 Avila Star Avila Blue Star 1927 14,443 62
1942 Duchess of Athol Duchess of Athol Canadian Pacific 1928 20,119 4
1942 Nieuw Zeeland Nieuw Zeeland KPM 1928 11,069 15
1942 Viceroy of India Viceroy of India P&O 1929 19,627 4
1942 Warwick Castle Warwick Castle Union-Castle 1931 20,107 63
1942 President Coolidge President Coolidge Dollar 1931 21,936 5
1942 President Doumer President Doumer Messageries Maritimes 1933 11,898 260
1942 Jagersfontein Jagersfontein Holland Africa 1934 10,077 0
1942 Abosso Abosso Elder Dempster 1935 11,330 137
1942 Awatea Awatea Union SS Co 1936 13,482 0
1942 Orcades Orcades Orient 1937 23,456 48
1942 Ettrick Ettrick P&O 1938 11,279 24
1942 Strathallan Strathallan P&O 1938 23,722 11
1942 Zaandam Zaandam Holland America 1938 10,909 135
1942 Brazil Maru Brazil Maru Osaka Shosen 1939 12,733 366
1943 Kasima Maru Kashima Maru Nippon Yusan KK 1913 10,599 ?
1943 Suwa Maru Suwa Maru Nippon Yusan KK 1914 10,927 ?
1943 Husimi Maru Fushimi Maru Nippon Yusan KK 1914 10,940 ?
1943 Lombardia Brabantia Lloyd Triestino 1920 19,692 0
1943 Piemonte Minnedosa Lloyd Triestino 1918 15,186 0
1943 Windsor Castle Windsor Castle Union-Castle 1922 19,141 1
1943 California California Anchor 1923 16,792 46
1943 Empress of Canada Empress of Canada Canadian Pacific 1922 21,517 392
1943 Hakone Maru Hakone Maru Nippon Yusan KK 1921 10,423 ?
1943 General Artigas Westphalia Hamburg-South America 1923 11,254 0
1943 Stuttgart Stuttgart North German Lloyd 1924 13,387 ?
1943 Teibi Maru Bernardin de Saint Pierre Japanese 1926 10,268 ?
1943 Duchess of York Duchess of York Canadian Pacific 1929 20,021 11
1943 Tatuta Maru Tatsuta Maru Nippon Yusan KK 1930 16,975 1,400
1943 Kamakura Maru Chichibu Maru Nippon Yusan KK 1930 17,526 ?
1943 Hie Maru Hiye Maru Nippon Yusan KK 1930 11,622 ?
1943 Marnix van St Aldegonde Marnix van St Aldegonde Nederland 1930 19,355 ?
1943 Strasburg Baloeran Rotterdam Lloyd 1930 17,001 ?
1943 Amerika Amerika East Asiatic 1930 10,218 86
1943 Conte di Savoia Conte di Savoia Italia 1932 48,502 ?
1943 Gneisenau Gneisenau North German Lloyd 1935 18,160 ?
1944 Giulio Cesare Giulio Cesare Italia 1922 21,900 0
1944 Dulio Duilo Italia 1923 24,281 0
1943 Conte Verde Conte Verde Lloyd Triestino 1923 18,765 0
1944 Perseus Perseus Blue Funnel 1923 10,276 0
1944 Hakusan Maru Hakusan Maru Nippon Yusan KK 1923 10,380 ?
1944 Mariette Pacha Mariette Pacha Messageries Maritimes 1925 12,239 0
1944 Teiko Maru D’Artagnan Japanese? 1925 15,105 ?
1944 Explorateur Grandidier Explorateur Grandidier Messageries Maritimes 1925 10,268 0
1944 Teibe Maru Bernardine de St Pierre Japanese? 1926 10,268 ?
1944 Virgilio Virgilio Italia 1928 11,718 0
1944 Leopoldville Leopoldville Cie Maritime Belge 1929 11,509 763
1944 Asama Maru Asama Maru Nippon Yusan KK 1929 16,975 ?
1944 Heien Maru Heien Maru Nippon Yusan KK 1930 11,616 ?
1944 Yasukuni Maru Yakusuni Maru Nippon Yusan KK 1930 11,930 ?
1944 Monte Pascole Monte Pascole Hamburg-South America 1931 13,870 0
1944 Jean Laborde Jean Laborde Messageries Maritimes 1931 11,414 0
1944 Dempo Dempo Rotterdam Lloyd 1931 17,024 0
1944 Teia Maru Aramis Japanese? 1932 17,537 ?
1944 Rex Rex Italia 1932 51,062 ?
1944 Lindau Baudouiville German Africa Lines 1939 13,761 ?
1944 Aikoku Maru Aikoku Maru Osaka Shosun 1940 10,437 ?
1944 Sabaudia Stockholm Italia 1941 29,307 0
1944 Gokoku Maru Gokoku Maru Osaka Shosun 1941 10,438 ?
1944 Miike Maru Miike Maru Nippon Yusan KK 1941 11,739 18
1944 Aki Maru Aki Maru Nippon Yusan KK 1941 11,409 41
1945 Transbalt Belgravia Far East State Shipping 1899 11,397 5
1945 Hakozaki Maru Hakozaki Maru Nippon Yusan KK 1922 10,413 ?
1945 Cuba Cuba CGT 1923 11,420 0
1945 Steuben München North German Lloyd 1923 14,690 3,608
1945 Deutschland Deutschland HAPAG 1923 21,046 ?
1945 Monte Olivia Monte Olivia Hamburg-South America 1925 13,750 ?
1945 New York New York HAPAG 1927 22,337 ?
1945 Cap Arcona Cap Arcona Hamburg-South America 1927 27,560 5,000
1945 Christiaan Huygens Christiaan Huygens Nederland 1928 15,637 1
1945 General Osorio General Osorio Hamburg-South America 1929 11,500 ?
1945 Hamburg Hamburg HAPAG 1926 22,117 ?
1945 Wilhelm Gustloff Wilhelm Gustloff Hamburg-South America 1938 25,484 9,343
1945 Robert Ley Robert Ley HAPAG 1939 27,288 0
1945 Awa Maru Awa Maru Nippon Yusan KK 1943 11,249 2,003



Note: Ships are grouped in the above table by the year of their loss; they are not arranged in chronological order of sinking within each year. The “Casualties” figures in the table are in many cases not available or are merely approximate numbers.


Some Large Passenger Ships lost in World War 2




Athenia


The Glasgow firm of Donaldson Brothers was founded in 1855 and acquired its first sailing ship three years later. During the nineteenth century Donaldson Brothers established a regular liner service from Glasgow to Canada, with both Liverpool and Belfast as occasional ports of call. At the turn of the century the American financier J P Morgan attempted to corner the American transatlantic immigrant transportation market, by establishing his International Mercantile Marine Co in a complex deal orchestrated by William James Pirrie of Harland & Wolff, as explained in Royal Mail Steam Packet Company Kylsant Empire Part 1. IMMC failed to achieve Morgan’s objective, as it was unable to capture either Cunard or Anchor. In 1911 Cunard acquired Anchor to strengthen its competitive position against the IMMC owned companies and in 1916 Anchor-Donaldson was formed as a 50/50 joint venture to take over Donaldson’s Canadian trade. Athenia was one of the liners built for the new company, being delivered by Fairfield’s in 1923.

In the massive reorganisation of British shipping and shipbuilding that followed the collapse of the Kylsant empire, during the Great Depression (see Royal Mail Steam Packet Company Kylsant Empire Part 7), the British Government obliged Cunard to merge with White Star. Cunard felt that in these new circumstances it could no longer support the Anchor companies. In 1935 Donaldson Atlantic Line Ltd was formed to take over the Canadian service, while Walter Runciman acquired the remainder of the Anchor activities.

On 1 September 1939, German armies crossed the border into Poland. On the same day Athenia, under Captain James Cook, departed Glasgow for Montreal, via Liverpool. She left Liverpool at 13:00 on 2 September, carrying 1,103 passengers, including more than 311 Americans and 315 crew.

Image:WW2-02_Athenia_Departure.jpg

Photo 2: It is believed that this photograph shows Athenia leaving Glasgow on her final voyage

Diplomatic notes of protest at the invasion of Poland were sent to Germany, followed by ultimatums from both Britain and France. With no response from Germany within the allotted time, by noon on 3 September 1939, Britain was at war. Late that afternoon, Oberleutnant Fritz-Julius Lemp in U-30 was on patrol about 250 miles northwest of Ireland, about 60 miles south of Rockall. The U-30 was one of the first fourteen U-boats to leave Germany in mid-August, when the Polish crisis seemed likely to lead to war with the Western Powers. At 12:56 hours Berlin time, that likelihood became a reality when U-30 received the message: “Hostilities with England effective immediately”.

Despite the likelihood of war, Hitler was still optimistic of an ultimate diplomatic solution. To that end, he issued strict orders that the U-boat force must follow the German Prize Regulations. Under these rules, merchant ships had to be stopped and searched and only if found to be carrying contraband, could be sunk after the crews had been safely evacuated in properly provisioned lifeboats. If no contraband was found, then the ship was allowed to sail on unmolested. Only warships, including troopships and vessels escorted in convoys, could be sunk without warning. Attacks on passenger liners were strictly prohibited. These rules placed a somewhat unreal burden on U-boat commanders as it would be difficult, if not almost impossible for an attacking U-boat to positively identify a ship, especially at night, and in bad weather.

At 16:30 hours, U-30 was at the northern tip of its patrol zone, out of the normal shipping lanes, when the bridge watch sighted a large ship on the distant horizon. Lemp remained on the surface and closed on the approaching vessel at maximum speed, before diving for a closer periscope inspection. By 19:00 hours, in the fading light of the summer evening, Lemp observed through his periscope, that she was darkened and was zigzagging at high speeds in front of the U-boat. She was large enough to be a passenger liner, but he did not expect passenger liners to be blacked out or zigzagging, as if they were combatant vessels. On this basis and her unusual route through Rockall banks, Lemp recklessly concluded that she must be a British Armed Merchant Cruiser (AMC) and eligible for attack under the Prize Regulations. It apparently did not occur to him that it was extremely unlikely that the British could have commandeered a merchant vessel, converted her into an AMC and for her to be operational off Rockall within five hours of the declaration of war!

U-30 went to battle stations and made ready to launch two torpedoes from a submerged position. At 19:40 hours on 3 September 1939, Lemp began the Battle of the Atlantic. The first torpedo scored a direct hit, but the second malfunctioned and ran wild. Fearing that it might circle back and endanger the boat, Lemp dived deep and surfaced only after the danger had passed. In the gathering twilight Lemp observed the listing target through his binoculars. It did not appear to be in danger of sinking, so he fired a third torpedo at his target. It too malfunctioned and ran wild, forcing the U-boat to take further evasive action. When U-30 resurfaced, the exasperated Lemp decided to close up on the target to finish off the kill. In the growing moonlight Lemp was now able to clearly make out the silhouette of the darkened ship. He checked it against the U-boat’s identification manuals and discovered to his apparent dismay, that despite the warnings and orders issued by his Fuehrer about attacking passenger liners, he had torpedoed the British passenger liner Athenia. All doubts about the identity of the ship were removed when the operator of the Athenia radioed a distress call in plain English, providing her identity, position and a three letter code SSS, meaning she had been attacked by a submarine.

Lemp did not render any assistance to his victims and fearing that he could be recalled and relieved of his command, he did not report the incident to his base. He simply sailed silently away.

Several ships, including three Royal Navy destroyers, the Swedish yacht Southern Cross, the Norwegian tanker Knute Nelson and the American tanker City of Flint, rescued the survivors. Athenia remained afloat for over fourteen hours after being torpedoed, until she finally sank stern first at 10:40 the following morning. Of the 1,418 aboard, 98 passengers and 19 crew members were killed. The toll in lives included fatalities caused when the torpedo struck, but most died from accidents and other misadventures hours after the torpedoing.

Abour 50 persons lost their lives in the engine-room and the third-class stairwell, midships starboard side, when the torpedo hit. The worst accident involving fatalities occurred in the early morning of 4 September, during the transfer of survivors from a lifeboat to the rescue vessel Knute Nelson. The lifeboat came alongside the empty tanker and against advice, made fast astern of another lifeboat and as a result was only 15 feet from the tanker's exposed propeller. Once the first lifeboat was emptied, it was cut adrift and began to sink. This was reported to the tanker’s bridge team, who were apparently unaware of the arrival of the second lifeboat. The ship's telegraph was then put to full ahead and as the tanker gathered headway the lifeboat's warp parted under the strain, resulting in the lifeboat falling back into the fast revolving propeller. This caused about 50 deaths. A second accident occurred at about 05:00 hrs, when a lifeboat capsized under the stern of the yacht Southern Cross causing ten deaths. Three passengers were crushed to death while attempting to transfer from lifeboats to the RN destroyers. The other fatalities were due to falling overboard from Athenia and her lifeboats, or to injuries and exposure. Twenty-eight of the dead were American citizens, which led to German fears that the incident would bring the US into the war.

The City of Flint took 223 survivors on to Halifax, and the Knute Nelson landed 450 at Galway. Reports of the sinking of Athenia caused uproar in the English speaking world, but because of Lemp’s failure to report his action the German authorities were baffled by the news. When Grand Admiral Raeder (the commander of the German Navy) made inquiries, he was told that nearest U-boat was 75 miles from the location of the sinking. He therefore told the US chargé d'affaires, in good faith that the German Navy was not responsible. It was only on 27 September, when U-30 returned to Wilhelmshaven, that Lemp reported to Admiral Dönitz that he had sunk the Athenia in error. Dönitz at once sent Lemp to Berlin, where he explained the incident to Raeder. In turn, Raeder reported to Hitler, who decided that the incident should be kept secret for political reasons. Raeder decided against court-martialling Lemp, because he considered that he had made an understandable mistake and he was awarded the Iron Cross (Second Class) The log of the U-30, which was seen by many people, was altered to sustain the official denials. A month later the German press blamed the loss of the Athenia on the British, accusing Winston Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty, of sinking the ship to turn world opinion against Nazi Germany. Finally in January 1946, during the case against Admiral Raeder at the Nuremberg trials, a statement by Admiral Dönitz was read to the court, in which he admitted that Athenia had been torpedoed by U-30 and that Germany had made every effort cover it up.

For more information concerning the Laconia incident see: http://www.benjidog.co.uk/Athenia/

Lempe remained in the German submarine service and went on to be promoted to the rank of Kapitänleutnant. He was awarded the Iron Cross (First Class) in January 1940 and the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross in August of that year.

Image:WW2-03_Lemp_Donitz.jpg

Photo 3: Kapitänleutnant Lemp & Admiral Dönitz

Lemp lost his life when in command of U-110, which was captured on 9 May 1941 south of Iceland by the destroyers HMS Bulldog, HMS Broadway and the corvette HMS Aubretia. After being forced to the surface by depth charges, and then shelled, Lemp ordered the crew to abandon ship but he was not among the 34 survivors rescued by the British warships.


Lancastria


In the latter part of the nineteenth century the Henderson Brothers developed Anchor Line to become one of the leading companies in the transatlantic emigrant trade, with up to three sailings a week from Glasgow to New York via Moville, plus an intensive service from the Mediterranean to New York. In addition Anchor Line became an important operator from Glasgow and Liverpool to India. They were very successful, not only with Anchor Line, but also as the Clydeside shipbuilders and marine engineers D & W Henderson. Between 1892 and 1895 however, all four brothers died and without their leadership the firm drifted and lost ground. In effort to recover, the shipbuilding activities were separated and the shipowning business reformed in 1899 as Anchor Line (Henderson Brothers) Ltd. This restructuring coincided with the start of a huge expansion in emigration numbers; from 312,000 to USA in 1899 to 1,285,000 in 1907, of which about 70% came from southern and eastern Europe.

As set out in the Athenia section above, Cunard acquired Anchor in 1911 as part of its strategy to counter the IMMC threat. Cunard and Anchor integrated their Mediterranean emigrant services, but both companies lost a considerable number of vessels in WW1. After the war Cunard initiated a very big tonnage replacement programme consisting of six 20,000 ton ships for the UK – US service; six 14,000 ton “A” Class liners for the Canadian services and six 17,000 ton Anchor Line vessels, one of which was for Cunard ownership in the joint Mediterranean service. At the time it was the largest passenger ship order by tonnage ever placed. The Anchor ships differed from the rest of the programme by having a modern cruiser stern hull-form. The Cunard vessel built to the Anchor design was completed in 1922 as Tyrrhenia. She was the only ship in the Cunard fleet with a cruiser stern until the delivery of Queen Mary in 1936.

The entire Cunard rebuilding strategy was thrown into disarray by US political action. The United States Immigration Act came into force in June 1921, which restricted the annual intake of immigration to 3% of the US population, segregated original nationality by nationality, as recorded in the 1910 census. This caused a drastic reduction in the number of westbound, third class passengers. This in turn led Anchor and Cunard to abandon their services from the Mediterranean to New York. The name Tyrrhenia had been selected to appeal to Italian emigrants, but was unpopular with English speakers – the ship was generally known by the nickname Soup Tureen. She was renamed Lancastria in 1924 and employed on a variety of routes, plus cruising duties.

Image:WW2-04_Lancastria.jpg

Photo 4: The Cunard liner Lancastria

Lancastria was ordered to take part in Operation Ariel, the name given to the evacuation of Allied forces and civilians from western France, following the military collapse of the country after the German invasion. Operation Ariel began on 14 June and ended on 25 June 1940, during which period over 215,000 people were evacuated.

Lancastria left Liverpool on 14 June, under Captain Rudolph Sharp and arrived in the mouth of the Loire river estuary on 16 June, where she anchored 11 miles south-west of St Nazaire. By the early afternoon of 17 June, she had embarked an unknown number (estimates range from 4,000 up to 9,000) of civilian refugees (including embassy staff), troops and RAF personnel. The ship's official capacity was 2,200 including the 375 man crew.

At 13:50 an air raid began on the evacuation fleet and the Orient liner Oronsay was damaged when a bomb struck her bridge. Lancastria had by then taken on-board the maximum number of people she could carry and was advised by the captain of the British destroyer Havelock to leave, but without a destroyer escort against possible submarine attack, Sharp decided to wait.

A further air raid began and Lancastria was bombed at 15:48 by Junkers 88 aircraft from II. Gruppe Kampfgeschwader 30. Three direct hits caused the ship to list first to starboard, then to port and she rolled over and sank within twenty minutes. Over 1,400 tons of fuel oil leaked into the sea and was set partially ablaze, possibly by strafing. Many drowned; were choked by the oil; or were shot by the strafing German aircraft. Survivors were taken aboard other evacuation vessels; the trawler Cambridgeshire rescuing 900. There were 2,477 survivors. The death toll is thought to be between 3,000 and 6,000 people. The tragedy accounted for roughly a third of the total losses of the British Expeditionary Force in France.

The immense loss of life was such that the British government banned any public announcements of the disaster, but the story was broken by the New York Times newspaper on 26 July. The British press then covered the story. The British Government has refused to make the site a war grave under the Protection of Military Remains Act 1986. The French Government recently placed an exclusion zone around the wreck site. Captain Rudolf Sharpe survived the sinking and went on to command Laconia; losing his life along with many Italian prisoners-of-war on 12 September 1942 when the ship was torpedoed off West Africa. (See below)


The Axis Powers North African Campaign


The Italian Government entered the war on 10 June 1940 and began hostilities against the British in Egypt. Initially the campaign went badly for the Italians, until they were re-enforced by German troops from February 1941 and the overall command passed to Rommel. The Italian Navy had the responsibility of maintaining the Axis supply lines to North Africa, against strong opposition from the British Royal Navy. The Axis capture of Greece by June 1941 greatly expanded their aerial cover of the Mediterranean and made the British ability to continue operations from Malta the critical element in the battle. The Axis recognised this and made great efforts to neutralise it as a British base, both by direct air attacks and by starving it of supplies.

Malta was one of the most intensively-bombed areas of the war. The German Luftwaffe and the Italian Regia Aeronautica flew over 3,000 bombing raids against the islands over a period of two years. Thirty-five major British operations were mounted between 1940 and 1942, to deliver supplies and reinforcements to the island. Throughout this period British forces continued to disrupt Axis supplies to North Africa and although both sides suffered heavy losses only Italy lost major passenger vessels. These were: -

  • Sardegna – torpedoed and sunk by Greek submarine Proteus
  • Victoria – sunk by Malta based torpedo bombers
  • Liguria – damaged by aerial torpedo then bombed in Tobruk
  • California – sunk by Malta based torpedo bombers
  • Esperia – torpedoed and sunk by Malta based submarine HMS Unique
  • Conte Rosso – torpedoed and sunk by Malta based submarine HMS Upholder
  • Neptunia – torpedoed and sunk by Malta based submarine HMS Upholder
  • Oceania – torpedoed and sunk by Malta based submarine HMS Upholder



Over 1,800 lives were lost in the sinking of these Italian liners.

HMS Upholder, under the command of Lieutenant Commander Malcolm David Wanklyn, RN (VC, DSO & two bars) was the most successful of all British submarines. She made 25 war patrols while based with the 10th Submarine Flotilla at Malta. In all HMS Upholder is reported to have sunk 2 destroyers, 3 submarines, 3 transports, 10 supply ships, 2 tankers and 1 trawler, totalling 128,353 GRT. HMS Upholder failed to return to Malta on 14 April 1942. Her fate is unknown.

Image:WW2-05_Victoria.jpg

Photo 5: The elegant 1931 built Lloyd Triestino Far East service liner Victoria. Her dimensions were 13,098 GRT; 540 feet LOA, 70 feet beam. She was powered by two Sulzer diesel engines, 18,660 SHP, providing a service speed of 20.5 knots. Her peace-time accommodation was for 239 first class, 245 second class, 100 third class and 82 fourth class passengers, plus 254 crew.


Image:WW2-06_Conte_Rosso.jpg

Photo 6: A photograph of Conte Rosso as she was delivered in 1922, by Beardmore’s, Glasgow to Lloyd Sabaudo, for their South American service. In the 1932 Government re-organisation of the Italian passenger shipping companies, she was briefly acquired by Italia; then transferred to Lloyd Triestino without change of name. Her funnel caps were removed and she was given the same paint scheme as Victoria in Photo 5 above and joined her new owners Far East service.


Image:WW2-07_Neptunia.jpg

Photo 7: Consulich Societa Triestina di Navigazione traced its ancestry back to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, but eventually became part of Italia in 1937. During the 1930s the company built a series of distinctive motor ships, two of which were Neptunia (shown in this photograph) and her sister Oceania. Both were employed on their owners Trieste – La Plata service. Both were converted into troopships. On 18 September 1941 they were in a troop convoy, with Saturnia (another former Consulich liner) escorted by five Italian destroyers, when both were torpedoed and sunk by the Malta based British submarine HMS Upholder.


City of Benares


Evacuations of civilians in Britain during World War II, were designed to save the population of urban or military areas, from Nazi German aerial bombing of cities and military targets such as docks. Civilians, particularly children, were moved to rural areas thought to be less at risk. Operation Pied Piper began on 1 September 1939 and prior to the Battle of Britain officially relocated more than 1.5 million people.

Further waves of official evacuation and re-evacuation occurred from the south and east coast in June 1940, when a seaborne invasion was expected and from affected cities after the Blitz began in September 1940. There were also official evacuations from the UK to other parts of the British Empire, and many non-official evacuations, within and from the UK.

The Children's Overseas Reception Board (CORB) was a British organisation, that between July and September 1940 evacuated British children from the UK, in order to escape the Blitz (and World War II more generally). The children were sent to mainly to Canada, but also to Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. In the first few months over 210,000 children were registered with the scheme. The City of Benares was used as a child refugee ship in the overseas evacuation scheme, tragically sailing as part of slow convoy OB-213, where she was a prime target and where she was hit at the third attempt by U-48, at 00:01 on 18 September 1940. She sank within 30minutes killing 248 people, including 77 of the 90 children on board. The tragic event is told in detail in City of benares and its attached Survivors Report.

Image:WW2-08_City_of_Benares.jpg

Photo 8: An Ellerman postcard of their City of Benares of 1936. Ellerman were one of the largest and most successful British cargo liner groups and in the process this made Sir John Ellerman the richest man in Britain, at the outbreak of the First World War. They also had a more modest passenger shipping involvement, mainly in the UK – India and UK – South Africa trades. City of Benares was built for Ellerman’s Indian services. She was the only Ellerman two funnel ship.

The overseas evacuation programme was immediately brought to a halt. The Children's Overseas Reception Board had already evacuated 2,664 children over a period of three months.


Laconia


Laconia was one of the six Cunard UK-USA 20,000 ton liners ordered immediately after WW1, as described in Lancastria above. She was converted into an armed merchant cruiser in 1940 then, between September 1941 and the beginning of 1942, further converted into a troopship. She was then engaged transporting troops from UK to Egypt, via the Cape. In September 1942 she was returning from one of these trooping voyages, under the command of Captain Rudolph Sharp, who had been in command of Lancastria when that ship was sunk. It is believed that Laconia had on board 80 civilians, 268 British Army soldiers, about 1,800 Italian prisoners of war and 160 Polish soldiers acting as guards, plus 136 ship’s crew.

Image:WW2-09_Laconia.jpg

Photo 9: The Cunard liner Laconia

On 12 September 1942 at 20:10, Laconia was 130 miles north-northeast of Ascension Island, when she was hit on the starboard side by a torpedo fired by U-156. There was an explosion in a hold containing 450 Italian prisoners, most of whom were killed instantly. The vessel immediately took a list to starboard. Captain Sharp was beginning to control the situation when a second torpedo hit Number Two hold. The order was given to abandon ship and that women, children and injured be taken into the lifeboats first. Some of the ship’s 32 lifeboats had been destroyed by the explosions and some surviving Italian prisoners tried to rush those that remained. The efforts of the Polish guards were instrumental in controlling the chaotic situation on board and certainly saved many lives.

At 21:11 Laconia sank with many Italian prisoners still on board. The prospects for those who escaped the ship were only slightly better; sharks were common in the area and the lifeboats were adrift in the South Atlantic with little hope of being rescued. Before Laconia went down however, U-156 surfaced and her commander, Kapitänleutnant Werner Hartenstein and his crew heard Italian voices coming from those struggling in the water. Hartenstein discovered that the Laconia was carrying Italian POWs from North Africa and decided on his own initiative to launch rescue operations. He sent an open language “cease fire” broadcast, informed Berlin of his decision and sought approval for his actions. He did so either out of concern “that the accidental killing and stranding of so many Italian soldiers could cause a serious political rupture in the Axis high command," and/or for deeply felt humanitarian considerations.

The German High Command reaction was ambiguous. They requested the Vichy French Government to send warships from Dakar and the Ivory Coast to pick up the survivors, but rejected Hartenstein cease fire proposal, largely because: -

  • Hitler in his rage had directed that no word of the Laconia sinking, or the proposed Axis rescue be transmitted to the Allies
  • Admiral Raeder did not think it wise to enter into a "deal" with the untrustworthy Allies
  • Nothing was to interfere with the gathering of U-boats for Operation Eisbär; the surprise attack on shipping in the waters around the Cape of Good Hope.


Nevertheless, Admiral Dönitz, the German commander of submarine operations immediately ordered two other U-boats to divert to the scene. Also in response to Berlin's request, the Vichy French sent the cruiser Gloire from Dakar, and two sloops, the sloop Annamite from Conakry, French Guinea and the sloop Dumont d'Urville from Cotonou, Dahomey, to join the rescue efforts.

U-156 was crammed above and below decks with 193 survivors, including five women, and had about another 200 in tow aboard four lifeboats. At 06:00 on 13 September, Hartenstein broadcast a message on the 25-meter band in English (and plain language) to all shipping in the area giving his position, requesting assistance with the rescue effort and promising not to attack. The British in Freetown intercepted this message, but believing it might be a ruse de guerre, refused to act upon it, or to pass it on to American forces in the area. They had however, diverted two freighters to the area where Laconia had sunk.

U-156 remained on the surface at the scene for the next two and a half days. At 11:30 on 15 September, she was joined by U-506 commanded by Kapitänleutnant Erich Würdemann and a few hours later by both U-507 under Korvettenkapitän Harro Schacht and the Italian submarine Cappellini. The four boats, with lifeboats in tow and hundreds of survivors standing on their decks, headed for the African coastline and a rendezvous with Vichy French surface warships, which had set out from Senegal and Dahomey

The next morning at 11:25, the four submarines, all with Red Cross flags draped across their gun decks, were spotted by an American B-24 Liberator bomber from Ascension Island. Hartenstein signalled to the pilot requesting assistance. Lieutenant James D. Harden of the U.S. Army Air Force turned away and notified his base of the situation.

The senior officer on duty that day was Captain Robert C. Richardson III. He deployed with a composite USAF unit, in August 1942, to the newly constructed and secret Wideawake Airfield on Ascension Island. Their function was to patrol the sea around the island, to detect and destroy any enemy submarines and surface raiders and to protect Allied ships in the vicinity of the island. Wideawake Airfield was also a key refuelling base on the only air resupply route in 1942-1943, connecting the United States to the Allied Western Desert Campaign in North Africa, India and the Soviet Union.

Captain Richardson was faced with an appalling dilemma. He had no knowledge of the open language messages from the U-boats that the British had received. The Red Cross flag confers protection only upon unarmed ships and its use on armed warships, such as submarines, is in itself a violation of international laws. For practical reasons, however, U-boats conducting rescue operations under the Red Cross flag were usually protected. He had no information about the intended destination of the U-boats. His biggest fear was that the convoy might head for Ascension Island, allowing the submarines to discover and subsequently shell the secret Wideawake Airfield and fuel tanks, with disastrous effects on the Allied war effort. In his tactical assessment, Richardson ordered the B-24 to "sink the sub".

Harden flew back to the scene of the rescue effort and at 12:32 attacked with bombs and depth charges. One landed among the lifeboats in tow behind U-156, while others straddled the submarine itself. Hartenstein cast adrift those lifeboats still afloat and ordered the survivors on his deck into the water. The submarines dived and escaped. Hundreds of Laconia survivors perished, but French vessels managed to re-rescue many later that day. In all, some 800 passengers survived. Captain Sharp was one of the 1,649 victims.

After the unsuccessful attack ordered by Richardson, German U-boats stopped rescuing survivors of attacked ships, possibly leading to the death of numerous allied sailors. This air attack became known as the Laconia Incident and led Admiral Karl Dönitz to issue the infamous "Laconia Order" to his U-boat commanders, which stated in part "No attempt of any kind must be made at rescuing members of ships sunk..." At the end of the war, the Laconia Order was unsuccessfully used against Admiral Dönitz in his war crimes trial, because the American Admiral Nimitz testified he would have ordered his submarine crews to not rescue anybody under similar circumstances. The Laconia Incident shows how a single tactical decision can have strategic impact across history.


Operation Torch


Operation Torch, which started on 8 November 1942, was the British-American invasion of French North Africa during the North African Campaign. It was the first Anglo-American amphibious operation in WW2.

The Soviet Union had pressed the United States and Britain to start operations in Europe and open a second front to reduce the pressure of German forces on the Soviet troops. While the American commanders favoured Operation Sledgehammer, landing in Occupied Europe as soon as possible, the British commanders believed that such a course would end in disaster. An attack on French North Africa was proposed instead, which would clear the Axis Powers from North Africa, improve naval control of the Mediterranean Sea and prepare an invasion of Southern Europe in 1943.

In 1942, the British and American governments were concerned that massive losses being incurred on the Eastern Front could lead to the collapse of either Germany or the USSR. Operation Sledgehammer was a contingency plan for a limited-objective cross-channel invasion of Europe in response to such an event. It was to be used to reduce pressure on the Russians (in the case of a Soviet collapse), or to prevent the Soviet conquest of the whole of mainland Europe (in the case of a German collapse). The main objective of the operation was to capture Cherbourg or Brest, in northern France in order to establish a defensible foothold in mainland Europe, which would provide a staging area for a larger invasion force.

The United States argued for the operation, but the United Kingdom was against it. The Allies eventually agreed that they did not have enough landing craft at the time and abandoned the plan in favour of Operation Gymnast (later renamed Operation Torch), which was the invasion of Northern Africa. The costly raid on Dieppe later demonstrated the difficulty of capturing a major port in the face of determined enemy opposition and the D-Day invasion of Normandy avoided ports altogether.

The Anglo-American invasion of north western Africa — Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia, involved seizing territory in the hands of the Vichy French government. This was a difficult issue, as the USA had maintained full diplomatic links with Vichy France. The Vichy French had around 125,000 soldiers in the territories as well as coastal artillery, 210 operational but out-of-date tanks and about 500 aircraft, half of which were modern fighters. In addition, there were about 10 surface warships and 11 submarines at Casablanca. The Allies believed that the Vichy French forces would not fight, however they suspected that the Vichy French navy would bear a grudge over the British action at Mers-el-Kebir in 1940. An assessment of the sympathies of the French forces in North Africa was essential, and plans were made to secure their cooperation, rather than resistance.

The Allies planned a three-pronged amphibious landing to seize the key ports and airports of Morocco and Algeria, simultaneously targeting Casablanca, Oran and Algiers. Successful completion of these operations was to be followed by an advance eastwards into Tunisia, to attack the German and Italian North African forces in the rear.

The Western Task Force (aimed at Casablanca) comprised American units, with 35,000 troops in all. They were transported directly from the United States, in the first of a new series of UG convoys providing logistic support for the North African campaign. The Centre Task Force, (aimed at Oran) with 18,500 troops and the Eastern Task force, (aimed at Algiers) with 20,000 troops both sailed from Britain. The two invasion fleets were completely unmolested, because all the U-boats in the area were attacking a very large northbound convoy SL 125 sailing from Sierra Leone to Liverpool. It is believed that this convoy was deliberately arranged to deflect attention away from the invading forces. Convoy SL 125 lost 12 out of its 42 ships, with over 400 casualties.

The three invasion landings commenced simultaneously on 8 November 1942 and quickly achieved their initial objectives, although not without considerable confusion at times. The Allies failed to make a rapid advance into Tunisia however and the Italian and German were not finally defeated until 13 May 1943.

Image:WW2-10_American_troops_Algiers.jpg

Photo 10: American troops landing unopposed near Algiers

The vessels arriving in Morocco were relatively safe, but the large fleet of liners used to transport the invading force from Britain to Algeria was subject to intensive attacks from Mediterranean based U-boats and Luftwaffe bomber wings, before the ships returned to Britain. Berlin ordered the Luftwaffe to concentrate its attack on the empty troopships, thus allowing the unmolested allied forces to become established ashore in North Africa. The following large passenger vessels were sunk at this time: -

  • Nieuw Zeeland – KPM
  • Narkunda – P&O
  • Viceroy of India – P&O
  • Marnix van St Aldegonde - Nederland
  • Strathallan – P&O
  • Ettrick – P&O
  • Warwick Castle – Union-Castle
  • Awatea – Union SS Co


As all these ships had disembarked their troops before they were sunk, the casualties were thankfully confined to a total of 148 people.

Image:WW2-11_Viceroy_of_India.jpg

Photo 11: P&O were somewhat reluctant to embrace steam turbine propulsion for their passenger liners. Despite taking delivery of steam time driven Moldavia and Mongolia in 1922/23 P&O reverted to quadruple expansion engines for their next 10 liners, before turning to much more complex turbo-electric machinery for Viceroy of India in 1929. On 11 November 1942, she was torpedoed and sunk by U-407 when the liner was leaving Oran, after unloading her troops and vehicles. At the time she had 454 people aboard, but 450 were rescued by HMS Boadicea.


Image:WW2-12_Viceroy_of_India.jpg

Photo 12: Viceroy of India sinking off Oran


Image:WW2-13_Awatea.jpg

Photo 13: The Union SS Co of New Zealand’s trans-Tasman liner Awatea. She successfully landed 6 Commando at Algiers on 8 November 1942; then was sent to embark the troops aboard P&O’s Strathnaver, which had developed engine trouble. Awatea was ordered to land these at Bougie and Djidjelli. The Bougie landing was unopposed and completed on 11 November, but the seas were too rough to attempt the Djidjelli landing. She was ordered back to Bougie and the remainder of her troops landed to assist in the capture of the airfield, to enable the Allies to establish air-cover. At 16:40 Awatea was ordered back to Gibraltar, but from 17:00 came under repeated air attack and although two dive bombers were shot down, she was set on fire and eventually sunk later that evening, without loss of life.

In addition to the British and Dutch ship losses, the following French passenger ships were sunk by the invading forces: -

  • Savoie – CGT
  • Porthos - Messageries Maritimes


It is an indication of the size of the logistics effort needed to conduct an invasion like Operation Torch and the subsequent support of the force, it is recorded that the following convoys sailed on the southern route between Hampton Roads (Chesapeake Bay) and the Mediterranean from the first invasion in November 1942 until mid-1945: -

  • A total of 382 ships sailed eastbound in 26 fast convoys and none were lost.
  • A total of 335 ships returned to the United States in 24 fast convoys without loss.
  • About 5,800 ships sailed eastbound in 100 slow convoys. Of these 3 were torpedoed during the Atlantic crossing and 17 were sunk in the Mediterranean.
  • Approximately 5,200 ships returned to the United States in 98 slow convoys. No ships were lost in the Atlantic, but 5 were sunk in the Mediterranean.




Operation Hannibal


Germany was finally unified as a modern nation-state in 1871. The eastern borders of Germany were frequently contentious, because of the earlier suppression of Poland as an independent country. As part of the WW1 Armistice agreements, Poland re-emerged as a country and was provided with a land corridor through the area previously known as Western Prussia, to the Baltic port of Danzig. The difficulty with this concept was that 95% of the city’s 357,000 citizens were German and to overcome this problem Danzig was placed under League of Nations "protection", as a Free City but with special economic-related rights reserved for Poland.

To the east of Danzig lay East Prussia, a German enclave entirely separated from the remainder of Germany. In 1939 East Prussia had 2.49 million inhabitants, 85% of them ethnic Germans. During the early part of WW2 the area was little effected by the war, except for the recruitment of able-bodied men into the armed forces and that many of the ethnic minorities became part of the German slave labour system, or were sent to concentration camps.

From 1944 onwards the major cities in the area began to suffer from heavy Allied air raids, but Gauleiter Erich Koch delayed the evacuation of the German civilian population until the Eastern Front approached the East Prussian border at the end of 1944. The population was systematically misinformed by Endsieg Nazi propaganda about the real military situation. As a result when civilians began fleeing westward, many were overtaken by retreating Wehrmacht units and the rapidly advancing Red Army. The number of civilians killed is estimated to be at least 300,000, with most dying under terrible conditions. The severe winter added to the horror. However, most of the German inhabitants, which by then consisted principally of women, children, and old men, did manage to escape the Red Army as part of the largest rapid exodus in human history. The ethnic German population which had stood at 2.2 million in 1940 was reduced to 193,000 at the end of May 1945.

The multi-pronged Soviet East Prussian Offensive, which came from the south towards the Baltic, commenced on January 13, 1945 and progressively cut off separate areas of East Prussia, between 23 January and 10 February 1945. German Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz ordered General Admiral Oskar Kummetz, as Naval High Commander, Baltic, and Rear Admiral Konrad Engelhardt, head of the Kriegmarine's shipping department, to plan and execute the evacuation of German troops and civilians from the cut-off areas. The operation was codenamed "Hannibal". The flood of evacuees eventually turned the operation into one of the largest emergency evacuations by sea in history. Over a period of 15 weeks, somewhere between 500 and 1,100 merchant vessels of all types, from liners to fishing boats, plus Germany's largest remaining naval units, transported between 800,000 - 900,000 evacuees and 350,000 soldiers across the Baltic to Germany and German-occupied Denmark.

Image:WW2-14_Baltic_Refugees.jpg

Photo 14: A flotilla of small vessels transporting German refugees across the Baltic

Operations commenced on 23 January 1945; the rescuing ships were subjected to continuous attack from Soviet aircraft, small naval units, and submarines plus aerial attacks by the British RAF. The harsh winter conditions ensured that most of the victims of these attacks died from hyperthermia.

On 30 January, the former cruise ship Wilhelm Gustloff, the HAPAG liner Hansa, and the whaling boat Walter Rau left Gdynia in occupied Poland, bound for Kiel. Hansa was forced to return to port with mechanical trouble, but the Gustloff, with more than 10,000 people aboard, continued. She was torpedoed and sunk by the Soviet submarine S-13 off the Pomeranian coast, with possibly as many as 9,400 fatalities, making this the worst maritime disaster in history. The East and West-Prussian evacuees on the Walter Rau eventually arrived safely in Eckernfoerde.

Image:WW2-15_Wilhelm_Gustloff.jpg

Photo 15: Wilhelm Gustloff of 1938 was the first new-built ship for the Kraft durch Freude (Strength through Joy) programme.


On 9 February, the Steuben sailed from Pillau, near Königsberg, with between 3,000 and 4,000 mostly military personnel on board, heading for Swinemünde. She was also sunk by S-13, just after midnight; only 300 survived.
Image:WW2-16_Stauben.jpg

Photo 16: A 1939 photograph of the North German Lloyd cruise ship Steuben at Tenerife. The ship ahead of her is Albertville of Cie Maritime Belge, which was bombed and sunk by German aircraft off Le Havre in 1940.


In early March, a task force composed of the pocket battleship Admiral Scheer accompanied by three destroyers and a torpedo boat provided cover to a German bridgehead near Wollin. During the operation, naval small craft evacuated over 75,000 soldiers and civilians, who were trapped in the area. They were taken to larger warships and other transports lying offshore. While a number of these transports were sunk, large liners such as HAPAG’s Deutschland managed to break through and carry up to 11,000 people each.

Hansa was on a refugee voyage from Gdynia to the west when she struck a mine off Warnemünde on 6 March. The refugees were taken off before she sank. In 1949 the Soviets raised the wreck and returned the ship to passenger service after several years of repair and refit work. As a result she is not included in the list of ship losses. Her sister Hamburg who was mined and sunk off Sassnitz on 7 March is included however, for although she was also salvaged by the Soviets, she was rebuilt as a whaling mother ship.

Image:WW2-17_Hansa.jpg

Photo 17: The HAPAG liner Hansa. She was originally named Albert Ballin, after the founding genius of HAPAG; but as he was Jewish, she was renamed in 1935 on the orders of the Nazi government.


During the night of April 4-5, a flotilla of small boats and landing craft evacuated over 30,000 soldiers and civilians from the Oxhöfter Kämpe and took them to Hela. This heavily fortified town, at the end of a 35-km-long sand bar peninsula guarding the western end of the Bay of Danzig from the Baltic, remained in German hands until the end of the war. It is estimated that nearly 265,000 people were evacuated from Danzig to Hela in small craft during the month of April alone. They were moved from Hela to mainland Germany in convoys of larger vessels.

On April 15, a large convoy consisting of four liners and other transports left Hela with over 20,000 soldiers and civilians. One of these was the freighter Goya, which was crammed with German troops and civilians, despite the ship having no life saving equipment. On April 16 she was torpedoed and sunk by the Soviet submarine L-3, with the loss of over 6,000 lives; 183 survived.

From 1 May to 8 May, over 150,000 people were evacuated from the beaches of Hela. At 21:00 on 8 May 1945, the last day of the war, a convoy consisting of 92 large and small vessels left Libau with 18,000 soldiers and civilians. While several hundred of those who had boarded small ships on the last day of the war, or after, were captured by Soviet MTBs, evacuations to the West continued for at least a week after all such movements were prohibited by the terms of the German surrender.

On 2 May 1945, units of the British Second Army reached the towns of Lübeck and its 11th Armoured Division commanded by Major-General George P. B. Roberts entered Lübeck without resistance. The International Red Cross informed Major-General Roberts that 7,000-8,000 prisoners were aboard ships off Neustadt, in the Bay of Lübeck (this is believed to be an underestimate). This information apparently did not reach the Army’s supporting RAF units. On May 3, 1945, four days after Hitler's suicide but four days before the unconditional surrender of Germany, the liner Cap Arcona, the liner Deutschland the small ship Thielbek, were attacked by RAF Typhoons of 83 Group of the 2nd Tactical Air Force, as part of general attacks on shipping in the Baltic. All three ships were set on fire and sunk. The German SS guards tried to prevent the prisoners escaping from the burning ships; there are some suggestions that they had planned to scuttle the ships in deep water, with the prisoners trapped inside. It is thought that at least 7,000 prisoners, plus some 1,000 guards perished.

Image:WW2-18_Cap_Arcona.jpg

Photo 18: The 1927 built Hamburg-South America Line’s Cap Arcona


Image:WW2-19_Deutschland.jpg

Photo 19: The HAPAG liner Deutschland, as originally built in 1924

From 23 January to 8 May 1945, 161 merchant ships were lost in Operation Hannibal, plus the 3 prison ships in the Bay of Lübeck. When the war ended several hundred thousand Germans tried to return to Danzig and East Prussia. They were all expelled, most to the Soviet Occupation Zone of Germany, but a large number were also sent to the Soviet Gulags in Siberia.


Bibliography


A complete Bibliography for all of these Articles is given at the end of Part 12.


Photographs


Many of the photographs used to illustrate this article are from the Ships Nostalgia Galleries, which are available for use in the Directory. Others are from Wikimedia Commons and are in the public domain. The individual photographs used in Part 7 have been provided as follows: -

Frontispiece - Ships Nostalgia - linerrich

  1. Ships Nostalgia – trenor
  2. Ships Nostalgia – Fairfield
  3. Wikimedia
  4. Ships Nostalgia – Marconi Sahib
  5. Ships Nostalgia – shipmate17
  6. Ships Nostalgia – linerrich
  7. Ships Nostalgia – linerrich
  8. Ships Nostalgia – linerrich
  9. Ships Nostalgia – linerrich
  10. Wikimedia
  11. Ships Nostalgia – linerrich
  12. Ships Nostalgia - tanker
  13. Ships Nostalgia – linerrich
  14. Wikimedia
  15. Ships Nostalgia – linerrich
  16. Ships Nostalgia – trenor
  17. Ships Nostalgia – AndiDandi
  18. Ships Nostalgia – linerrich
  19. Ships Nostalgia – stein



Article written and compiled by Fred Henderson

Passenger Ship Disasters
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