23rd March 1943 –
Windsor Castle sunk

windsor castle sinkingOn 23rd March 1943, Union Castle’s Windsor Castle was attacked and sunk some 110 nautical miles north-west of Algiers, while in Convoy KMF-11. This was a fast convoy of nine merchant vessels and 10 escorts, heading from the Clyde to Algiers. She was hit by an aerial torpedo around 2.30am, but did not sink until some 13 hours later. This gave the escorting vessels ample time to rescue the 2,699 troops and 289 crew aboard: only one crewman died in  the attack. Subsequent descriptions stated that the troops lined up on deck almost as if on parade, and quietly waited for orders to enter their respective rafts or transfer to the escorting destroyers. There was no panic or confusion at all; the troops were subsequently taken to Algiers and landed, albeit without any of their kit or equipment.

Windsor Castle-05Originally ordered from Harland & Wolff, in Belfast, along with her sister, Arundel Castle, the order for Windsor Castle was transferred to John Brown’s yard on the Clyde, because of wartime shortages of materials. She was the last of the four-funnelled liners to be built. Launched on 9th March 1921, she was handed over in April 1922. In 1937 both Arundel Castle and Windsor Castle were rebuilt by Harland & Wolff: the forepart was lengthened and modernised, new turbines were installed and two fatter raked funnels replaced the four thin stovepipes. Both were popular ships on the run to South Africa.

Windsor Castle-03In 1939 both Windsor Castle and  Arundel Castle were requisitioned for use as troop transports. They were painted in a simple plain grey camouflage scheme. After several successful convoys, including one in which a bomb hit her but failed to explode, her luck had run out.

22nd March 1924 – Olympic in New York collision

olympic departs new yorkOn 22nd March 1924, as Olympic was backing out from Pier 59 in New York, with 1,170 passengers aboard, she collided with Furness Withy’s Fort St George. The Furness ship had been heading down the Hudson, apparently in a race with Royal Mail’s Arcadian: both vessels were competitors on the service to Bermuda. The damage to the smaller vessel was quite extensive: the mainmast was snapped off and there was considerable damage to her decks, later estimated at £35,000. Passengers were transferred to Arcadian, which had also stopped at the scene.

Furness Withy's Fort St GeorgeInitially it was thought that damage to Olympic was relatively slight, and after an hour at Quarantine while the steering mechanism was checked, she continued with her crossing. However it was later found that the cast steel stern frame had been broken and would need extensive and expensive repairs. On a later arrival at Southampton on 16th October 1925, Olympic was sent back to Belfast for an overhaul and refit, during which her stern frame was replaced, a major operation. The three castings needed were delivered in December and by early January had been fitted. The opportunity was also taken to weld repairs to hull cracks that had been found. Unfortunately the new stern frame was not successful, and in following years various efforts were made to reinforce it and to stop the corrosion that was occurring. In July 1927 a Federal Court attributed complete fault for the collision to Fort St George proceeding at high speed and not navigating far enough to the New Jersey shore, and then not porting soon enough when she saw Olympic.

wandillaFort St George had been built by Beardmore’s for Adelaide Steamship Co., as Wandilla, in 1912. After serving as a troop transport in the Great War, she was acquired by Furness Withy for the Bermuda service in 1921. In 1935 she was sold to Lloyd Triestino and renamed Cesarea, and in 1940 was requisitioned by the Italian navy and renamed Arno. She was sunk on 10th September 1942 by aerial torpedoes dropped by the RAF.

21st March 1938 – Berengaria withdrawn from service

post fire, sotonOn 21st March 1938 a formal statement was issued by Cunard, announcing that Berengaria was to be permanently withdrawn from service and placing her up for sale. No serious offers were received, because everyone was aware of the expense of the rebuild, to enable her to regain the necessary certification for passenger-carrying.

bere, final soton, 1936Berengaria had suffered a number of fires, many in her later years as the insulation on the wiring broke down. A major fire had broken out on 3rd March 1938, while she was docked in New York, resulting in serious damage to many areas – even some deck plates were buckled. Following an inspection by the US Steamboat Inspection Service, her certificate of seaworthiness for US passengers was revoked. Berengaria sailed for Southampton on 4th March, empty of all passengers, many of whom had been transferred to Queen Mary, along with most of the stewards.

bere at 108Once in Southampton repairs were started, but after another fire on 16th March Cunard accepted that Berengaria was not worth the cost of the necessary repairs and rebuild. Berengaria was towed to Berth 108 in Southampton’s Western Docks and laid up, awaiting a decision. No interest was shown in purchasing her, as all the other companies were aware of the state of the wiring and the costs that would be involved in refitting such an old vessel. On 19th October, it was publicly announced that she was to be sold for scrap. Berengaria finally sailed from Southampton on 6th December, heading for Jarrow on the Tyne.

20th March 1917 –
HMHS Asturias torpedoed

Asturias peacetimeAsturias was built by Harland & Wolff for Royal Mail Steam Packet Co., running from Southampton to Buenos Aires. Completed in 1908, she could carry 432 passengers in First Class, 223 in Second Class and 775 in Third Class, with a crew of 254. She was 365 feet long, 12,000grt. Requisitioned at the outbreak of the Great War, Asturias was converted to a hospital ship for 896 patients, although she generally carried considerably more. HMHS Asturias initially served at Gallipoli, Egypt and Salonika, carrying sick and injured back to the UK. Later she served on the cross-Channel route for injured troops from France.

HMHS_AsturiasOn 20th March 1917, having unloaded over 1,000 troops at Avonmouth, HMHS Asturias was en route to Southampton, with all lights burning and the Red Cross markings clearly lit. In spite of this she was attacked by the German submarine UC-66. Badly damaged by a torpedo, the captain managed to beach his vessel near Bolt Head. Thirty-one aboard had been killed in the attack, with a further 12 missing. After inspection she was declared a total loss. However, later the government bought the wreck and salvaged her, and she was used as a floating ammunition hulk at Plymouth Harbour.

arcadianAfter the war, Royal Mail purchased the hulk and she was extensively refitted at Harland & Wolff and then returned to service as Arcadian, in 1923. She was used operating luxury cruises to the Mediterranean and Scandinavia, before she was finally laid up in October 1930. She was scrapped in Japan in February 1933, sailing to the scrappers in convoy with White Star’s Baltic and Megantic.

19th March 1914 – Imperator loses its eagle figurehead

1 imp+eagle docked nyAfter a major refit at Vulkan, Imperator sailed for New York on 11th March 1914 on her first sailing of the new season, under a new captain, Theo Kier. However, in mid-Atlantic she encountered a ferocious storm, and the captain was forced to reduce speed to below three knots for some time, just to maintain headway.

3 eagle - damagedIn the evening a huge wave hit the bow: Imperator‘s eagle figurehead was badly damaged and four lifeboats were ripped off the fo’castle. On her arrival in New York on 19th March, an inspection of the storm damage  found that one wing of the eagle had disappeared totally and the other wing was lodged under the anchor chain.

4 cuxhaven no eagle5 imp and scrollImperator  left New York on schedule, and returned to Cuxhaven on 27th March. Two days later the remains of the massive gilt figurehead were removed, and gilt scrollwork, similar to that on the stern, was substituted. However, her official length in the various registers was never adjusted! The stability problems were never completely corrected, but overall the improvements had worked. How much the loss of the eagle helped was not recorded.

The refit had been called for following a serious fire in New York on 28th August 1913. This had taken over five hours to get under control. The directors decided to return Imperator to the Vulcan shipyard, not only to effect permanent repairs to the fire damage but to try to correct her well-known stability problems – her nickname in shipping circles was “Limperator”, as she seemed to always have a list to one side or the other.

2 imperator 02After her final scheduled crossing of the season, in November 1913 Imperator was sent back to the yard for the work to be put in hand. The Grill Room and its heavy fittings were ripped out and replaced by a Verandah Café with lightweight furniture. Much of the heavy panelling in staterooms was replaced by lighter materials, marble baths, etc., were removed. Over 2,000 tons of cement were poured into the double bottom to lower the centre of gravity, and many other measures were effected. Total cost of the refit and other improvements amounted to over £200,000, a not-insignificant sum in 1914, all of which had to be met by the shipyard under the terms of a five-year guarantee.