30th April 1881 – White Star’s Asiatic launched at Belfast

Coptic at Port ChalmersWhite Star’s Asiatic was launched at Harland & Wolff’s yard in Belfast on 30th April 1881 as Yard No. 141. Her sister ship Coptic was launched a few months later. She was the first steel-hulled vessel in the company’s service, and originally carried four masts with yards and sails: shecould accommodate 75 passengers in First Class and 1,000 in Steerage. Before she was completed, Asiatic was renamed Arabic. She was handed over to White Star on 12th August 1881, and sailed on her maiden voyage from Liverpool to New York on 10th September that year. Completing several Atlantic crossings, on 4th February 1882 Arabic joined the Pacific service for the next five years. She then returned to the UK and was given a refit, which included adding at least fifty more cabins.

SPAARNDAMIn an early refit the yards were removed from three of the masts. After a year on the north Atlantic service, Arabic returned to the Pacific route in August 1888.
In December 1889 Arabic returned to the UK, and in February 1890 she was sold to Holland America and renamed Spaarndam. She was very popular for several years, but in February 1901 she was laid up, and in August was broken up at Ward’s in Lancashire.

28th April 1918 – PSN’s
Oronsa torpedoed

Ortega-01Built by Harland & Wolff, Belfast as Yard Number 377, for Pacific Steam Navigation, Oronsa was launched on 24th May 1906 and delivered on 16th August that year. Her maiden voyage was on 13th September 1906. Designed as a cargo ship, she was 465 feet long, 7,907grt.

OronsaUnder Captain Hobson, Oronsa left New York on 13th April 1918, as the lead ship in a convoy of 13 freighters heading for Liverpool, with a mixed cargo of sugar, nitrates and various metals. On 28th April 1918, she was torpedoed by German submarine U-91, Captain von Glasenapp, while some 12 miles off Bardsey Island, Wales. Three crew were lost in the explosion and sinking.

28th April 1917 – ex-Royal yacht Medina sunk

Medina sunkbyUB31RMS Medina was built for P&O by Caird’s of Greenock, for their service from London to Australia. She was the last of ten sister ships, the M Class, and was 625 feet long, 12,350grt. Launched on 14th March 1911, she was completed in October that year, designed to carry 450 passengers in a very sumptuous First Class, plus 220 in Second Class. Her maiden voyage, on 11th November 1911, was momentous as she had been chosen to act as the Royal Yacht, carrying King George V and Queen Mary to India for the Delhi Durbar. For this one trip she was commissioned into the Royal Navy, and technically became HMS Medina with the crew mainly from the Royal Navy: she was briefly fitted with an extra mast, to maintain Royal flag etiquette, and her hull was repainted in white with bands of blue and gold, and buff funnels. She was back in the UK by February 1912, when she returned to Cairds for refitting for her commercial service, and was finally delivered to P&O in June 1912.

SSMedinaWith the outbreak of the Great War, she was requisitioned and provided with defensive armament, but continued on the service between Sydney and London. She was returning to London in early 1917, carrying large quantities of meat and butter, plus tons of copper, tin and gold ingots. She called at Plymouth, where fortunately most of her passengers debarked, then sailed for London, but on 28th April 1917 she was torpedoed by the German submarine UB-31. Six of the engine-room personnel were killed in the explosion, but the rest of the crew escaped, as the liner began to sink. The wreck, some 4 miles off Start Point in south Devon, is around 64 metres deep, and is a popular site for skilled divers, as she is virtually upright. There have been a number of salvage attempts, and in 1988 a quantity of items from her were auctioned at Sotheby’s. However the wreck is now collapsing and no further salvage is expected.

27th April 1941 – 983 die
in SS Slamat disaster

SS_Slamat_during_World_War_IIThere were three related shipwrecks on 27th April 1941, during Operation Demon, the evacuation of British and Allied troops from Greece, resulting in an estimated loss of 983 people. Initially the Dutch troopship Slamat was attacked by Junkers Ju-87 dive-bombers, off the east coast of the Peloponnese. Slamat was owned by Koninklijke Rotterdamsche Lloyd (Royal Dutch Lloyd), and had been converted to a troopship. In April 1941 she joined Operation Demon, as part of Convoy AG14. En route to Nauplia (Navplion) to embark troops, Slamat was attacked by German aircraft: several bombs caused heavy damage, but she continued. Arriving at Nauplia, landing craft and local caïques has to be used to tender troops out to the waiting troopships and warships. At 03.00 hours on 27th April the convoy commander on HMS Calcutta ordered all ships to sail, to get away before likely dawn attacks. Slamat ignored the command and continued boarding troops, and didn’t sail until 04.15 hours.

Heading down the Argholic Gulf, Slamat steamed at her maximum 16 knots to catch up with the rest of the convoy and the protection of the warships. However, around 7.00am the German aircraft attacked. Initially Messerschmitt Bf-109 fighters, then Ju-87, Ju-88 and Dornier Do-17 bombers arrived in concentrated waves. In spite of fierce defence from the warships, at 7.10am a 550b bomb hit Slamat between the bridge and the forward funnel, and a major fire broke out. A second bomb hit soon after, and she quickly developed a list to starboard. The Captain gave the order to abandon ship – several of her lifeboats and life-rafts had been destroyed, and the Stukas continued to press home their attack as the remaining bots were launched. At least another four bombs hit the stricken vessel.

HMS Diamond-500 kopie 2HMS Diamond moved in and started rescuing survivors, initially along with HMS Wryneck, HMS Calcutta assisting, but they then returned to the convoy, which headed for Souda Bay. HMS Wryneck was then despatched back to assist HMS Diamond, arriving around 11.00am. They found a few more survivors: by now Slamat was afire from stem to stern, and Diamond was ordered to sink her with a torpedo. By now HMS Diamond had about 600 survivors aboard from the Dutch vessel. She was then caught by a surprise attack from more German aircraft, and a number of bombs hit her: she sank within eight minutes.

HMS WryneckThe aircraft then turned their attention to HMS Wryneck, and she sank a few minutes later. With the loss of all three ships, around 983 people died. Only 19 survived from Slamat: from the three ships only 66 survived. HMS Diamond was a D-Class destroyer completed on 3rd November 1933, and was equipped with four 45-calibre 4.7-in guns in single mounts plus several anti-aircraft guns and two torpedo tubes. She served on the China Station before the war, and by 1940 was operating in the Mediterranean. HMS Wryneck was a W-Class destroyed completed on 11th November 1918. Reduced to a reserve vessel and laid up in the 1930s, in 1938 she was recommissioned and converted to a fast escort, complete with four 4-in anti-aircraft guns.

19th April 1939 – Paris fire traps Normandie in dock


 on FireOn 19th April 1939, fire hit the French Line (CGT). SS Paris was docked at Le Havre, loading French works of art for the World Fair in New York. Fire broke out in several places, the largest conflagration being in the bakery. When firemen tried to gain access, they found the door lock had been jammed. Fireboats arrived, but added to the problem, pump­ing too much water on board.

Fire-Ravaged Liner Sinks in Le HavreBy the next day Paris had heeled over and capsized. Treason and sabo­tage was sus­pected, but could never be proved. Normandie, which was in the drydock just astern of her, finishing her winter refit, was now blocked. Because of the distur­bances caused by Paris, Normandie’s overhaul was interrupted, and the latest set of propellers was never fitted. A few months later the outbreak of World War II interrupted any further plans for Normandie to make another speed attempt.

paris rolled overBefore they were able to get Normandie out of the drydock, divers had to cut the masts off Paris, although the rest was left to lie – a decision that would come back to haunt CGT just a few years later, when Liberté (ex-Europa), being refitted in Le Havre, broke free of her moorings during a storm in December 1946 and drifted on to the hulk, causing her to sink. Liberté settled quickly, but in an upright position. Six months later she was refloated and the refit was completed. The wreck of Paris remained until 1947, when she finally was scrapped in situ.

18th April 1942 – another fire breaks out on Normandie

march 18 1942Once the fire on Normandie had been totally extinguished, and she was stable although lying on her side, plans began to be considered for salvaging her. The risk of further fires was taken very seriously, and comprehensive precautions were quickly put in place. With fuel oil floating around from the main fuel tanks, tons of cork insulation everywhere, collapsed partitions, plywood, upholstery and carpets, the risks were manifold. An ex-battalion chief was appointed to organise a fire watch: he recruited thee assistant chiefs and 21 firemen, all ex-New York City firemen each with at least 20 years’ experience. The group was organised into three sections each standing an 8-hour each every day.

There were numerous small fires on Normandie during the months of salvage, but only three were moderately serious. One was on 13th March 1942 but was quickly extinguished by another worker. Then on 18th April 1942 a worker using an acetylene torch ignited the cork insulation in a refrigeration compartment. This was potentially serious: three separate fire alarms were raised as the fire burned for over four hours. In the end firefighters had to cut holes in the hull to reach the fire and put it out. Another notable fire broke out in May 1942.

There were many barges moored alongside the wreck. One was fitted with a bank of carbon dioxide tanks, linked to a system of one-inch piping running around the ship, for immediate use in another major fire. There was also an eight-inch fire main, connected to the City water main. This was divided into two four-inch pipes, with numerous outlets for firefighting hoses to be connected. For a while three fireboats were stationed locally, and there was also a barge holding emergency breathing apparatus and resuscitation equipment. No further risks were to be taken!

17th April 1917 – hospital ship Lanfranc torpedoed

Lanfranc_hospital_shipOn 17th April 1917, HMHS Lanfranc left Le Havre for Southampton, carrying 234 wounded British soldiers, 167 wounded German PoWs, 52 medical staff and a crew of 123. She was clearly marked in the internationally-accepted markings of a hospital ship, and was fully illuminated. She was escorted by a destroyer, HMS Badger, and the patrol boat P37. About 7.40pm, without warning, she was torpedoed by the German submarine UB-40, under Captain Hans Howaldt. The captain of Lanfranc immediately ordered the engines stopped, and as the ship listed to port and began to settle by the stern, he ordered abandon ship. The crew and the walking wounded struggled to get the more seriously injured up on deck and into the lifeboats, as the two escorts moved in and came alongside to assist. Lanfranc sank in just over an hour; only 34 aboard lost their lives.

HMHS_LanfrancLanfranc had been built for the Booth Line by Caledon Shipbuilding in Dundee, and had been launched on 18th October 1906. She was 418 feet long, 6,28grt, and had become popular on their services from Liverpool to Le Havre and then Manaus on the Amazon. Her maiden voyage had been on 18th February 1907. She could accommodate 200 in First Class and 350 in Third Class when built. She was requisitioned soon after the outbreak of the Great War and was converted for use as a hospital ship.

16th April 1873 –
Belgic’s maiden voyage

On 16th April 1873, White Star’s Belgic left Liverpool for Valparaiso and Callao, on her maiden voyage. She had a full passenger list, and en route made calls at Pauillac, Lisbon and Montevideo. Built at Harland & Wolff, Belfast as Yard Number 81 for Bibby’s, she and her sister, Gaelic, were purchased by White Star while still on the stocks. As well as having a single propeller driven by a 2-cylinder compound engine, capable of 12 knots, she was barque-rigged with a full complement of sails. Launched on 17th January 1873, she was completed and handed over on 29th March that year.

Belgic (1) sketchThere are apparently no proven photographs of her, but there is a line drawing of her in Duncan Haws’ White Star book. Just over a year later, Belgic was transferred from the now-discontinued South American route, and on 30th May 1874 made her first voyage from Liverpool to New York. In April 1875 White Star confirmed that three of their ships – Belgic, Celtic and Oceanic – had been placed on long-term charter to the Occidental and Oriental Steamship Co. for a joint Pacific operation. They would remain in White Star livery but fly the Occidental housefly; they were to have White Star officers but a Chinese crew. Belgic left Liverpool on 8th May, heading for Hong Kong and Yokohama. In July 1883 Belgic was withdrawn from this service and returned to London, where she was sold to La Flecha of Bilbao and renamed Goefredo. Sadly she went aground in the Mersey on 26th February 1884, broke in two and was declared a total loss.

15th April 1917 –
Cameronia sunk

THE SINKING OF SS CAMERONIA AFTER BEING TORPEDOED 160 MILES EASTAnchor Line’s Cameronia was torpedoed 150 miles east of Malta on 15 April 1917 by the German U-boat U-33 while en route from Marseille to Alexandria. She was serving as a troopship at the time, with approximately 2,650 soldiers on board. The ship sank in 40 minutes, with the loss of 210 lives. Cameronia had been requisitioned in January 1917 and converted for use as a troopship, mainly in the Mediterranean, and was based at Marseille. 

Ss_cameronia-1Cameronia was built by Henderson’s of Glasgow as yard number 472: she was a twin-propeller steamship, 515 feet long, 10,963grt. She was launched on 27th May 1911. Her maiden voyage from Glasgow to New York was on 13th September 1911. In February 1915 Cameronia was transferred to the joint Anchor-Cunard service from Glasgow to Liverpool and New York.

15th April 1917 –
Arcadian sunk

sinking-of-ss-arcadian-george-hardingOn 15th April 1917 Royal Mail’s  Arcadian was en route from Salonika to Alexandria, then to the UK, with 1,335 troops and her crew, escorted by a single Japanese destroyer. Some 26 miles north east of the Greek island of Milos, she was hit by a torpedo from the German submarine UC-74. She sank within six minutes, with the loss of 279 lives.

Arcadian as transportArcadian had been taken up by the Admiralty in February 1915, and was quickly converted into an armed merchant cruiser. In April 1915 she was used by General Sir Ian Hamilton as his HQ during the opening phase of the Gallipoli campaign. Subsequently Arcadian was used as a troopship, primarily in the Mediterranean.

SSArcadianShe had been built as Ortona at Vickers in Barrow, for Pacific Steam, and was launched  on 10th July 1899 and completed on 26th October 1899. When built she could accommodate 140 passengers in First Class, 180 in Second and 300 in Third, and was used on the London to Australia route. In December 1902 she was used as a troopship during the Second Boer War. In May 1906 Ortona was sold to Royal Mail, still on the Australian service. In April 1909 she was transferred to Royal Mail’s West Indies service, then in 1910 was sent to Harland & Wolff in Belfast, where she was converted into a cruise ship, and renamed Arcadian. She left on her first world cruise in January 1912.