Once 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!
On 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.
Lanfranc 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.
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.
There 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.
Anchor 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.
Cameronia 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.
On 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 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.
She 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.