19th July 1918 – Justicia torpedoed, sinks next day

justicia sinkingJusticia, under Captain David, was at Liver­pool in a convoy of eight ships and six des­troyers waiting to sail on 18th July 1918, but the sailing was delayed while the route was swept for mines. They finally sailed, but around 2.00pm on 19th July 1918 Justicia was tor­pedoed by UB64 off Skerry­vore, Scotland. One torpedo struck her engine room, killing fifteen fire­men and the third engineer, and crippled the ship. Although badly damaged, the bulkheads held, so the stricken vessel was taken in tow. About two hours later another two torpedoes were fired but missed. By 8pm two tugs were handling the tow, heading for Lough Swilly, where they intended to beach her.

justicia leaving halifaxIn the early hours of 20th July another torpedo missed, but finally around 9.30am UB124 fired a fatal salvo. Crew evacu­ated the doomed liner, and she eventually sank at 12.40pm.  Later in the day, UB124 was herself sunk by the destroyers “protecting” Justicia. The Royal Navy later conducted a formal inquiry into how the liner, escorted by at least three destroyers, was torpedoed five times within 18 hours, all in daylight; it concluded that the deter­mi­nation and bravery of the U-boat crews was “beyond belief”. Justicia had previously been attacked on 23rd January 1918 by German U-boats in the Irish Channel but on that occasion she escaped unscathed.

Justicia dazzledBuilt at Harland & Wolff as Statendam (yard number 436), she  was com­­­pleted on 7th April 1917, to carry 5,000 troops and 15,000 tons of cargo. She was renamed Justicia and placed under UK gov­ern­­ment ownership. Due to be man­aged by Cunard, she was allocated to White Star as Cunard could not muster a crew while White Star had the crew from the sunk Britannic available. Justicia was painted plain grey when delivered, but was later dazzle-painted. On 29th April Justicia made her first trooping run to Halifax.