13th January and
fires on Normandie

fire-control-room13th January was twice a significant date in Normandie’s history, and both were connected with fires on Normandie. The first was in 1935: there had been several incidents of sabotage reported in the final months of her fitting out. On 13th January 1935 a patrolling super­visor noticed some panelling in a corridor was loose: behind them he found the electrical wiring had been tampered with, enough to create a series of short-circuits and possibly start a fire. Some of the electrical conduits had needles inserted, others had been cut and some had been removed entirely. The supervisor raised the alarm, then quickly assembled a specialist team of skilled electricians who checked and repaired every conduit throughout the ship. It was never discovered who had caused the damage or why.

091The second incident was on 13th January 1942. A survey had been ordered into the ability of the ship to fight a fire. The survey, by Walter Kidde & Co., was very super­ficial – they only checked a few of the hundreds of extin­guishers on board, before declaring that they were not built ‘according to American design’, and recommended that all be replaced with Ameri­can units. How­ever, nothing was put in hand. The comprehensive fire alarm system had been disconnected. And tragically the ship-to-shore fire alarm link to the New York City Fire Depart­ment had been can­­celled once Normandie was taken over, and the Navy didn’t consider it necessary to replace it.

116All the French-made hose coup­lings on the water main for the firefighting system were being changed to American-pattern couplings: workers ignored an instruction to retain com­patible couplings, so a mixture developed of different couplings, although the original fittings on the hoses remained. Most of the French firemen had left when the US took over the ship: the civilian ‘fire watchers’ that replaced them were totally untrained in the equipment aboard or emergency procedures. This created confusion and mayhem. And the result was the devastating loss of Normandie!

Extracted from Volume 1 and Volume 5 of the Normandie Series.


13th January 1915 –
HMS Viknor lost at sea

atrato_bOn 13th January 1915, the armed merchant cruiser HMS Viknor disappeared off the Irish coast, with no distress messages ever heard. It was later assumed she hit a mine and was a sudden, devastating loss.

AMC VIKNOR-EX VIKING-EX ATRATO-1888-1915. (3)She was launched in September 1888 as RMS Atrato, by Napier & Son in Glasgow, for the Royal Mail Steam Packet Co. When completed she was a single screw steamer fitted with a three-cylinder triple-expansion engine but was also rigged as a three-masted schooner. She displaced 5,386 tons, and was 421 feet long. With her clipper bow and raking masts, she looked more like a luxury yacht. She could carry 176 First Class passengers and 400 in steerage, on the service between Southampton and South America, and then to the Caribbean. The maiden voyage was on 17th January 1889, to Buenos Aires. In October 1912 she was sold to Viking Cruising Company of London and renamed Viking, to operate cruises in northern Europe.

She was requisitioned in 1914 at the outbreak of the Great War, and was refitted as an armed merchant cruiser, under Commander Ballantyne and a mainly RNR crew. She was commissioned as HMS Viknor and assigned to the 10th Cruiser Squadron. On  1st January 1915 sailed from Londonderry to join B Patrol off the north coast of Scotland. She stopped the Norwegian vessel Bergensfjord, which was suspected of carrying a German spy, and escorted her to Kirkwall in the Orkneys. Viknor then sailed for Liverpool, but never arrived. On 13th January 1915 she sank with all hands in heavy seas, off Tory Island, County Donegal. Later, wreckage and a number of bodies washed up along the north coast of Ireland; more bodies washed up on the Scottish coast. Many of the bodies were buried at Bonamargy Friary in County Antrim, with others at Ballintoy Churchyard. Commander Ballantyne was buriedl at Dalkeith, with full naval honours. The official verdict was that Viknor struck a mine, probably laid by the cruiser SMS Berlin. The wreck was eventually found in 2006, and in 2011 a scuba diver placed a White Ensign on the site, in memory of the 22 officers and 273 ratings lost.