24th July 1940 – Meknes sunk with around 400 lost

puerto ricoOn 24th July 1940 the French liner Meknes was repatriating French servicemen from Southampton to Marseilles when she was spotted off the English coast by a German E-boat, the S-27. Although the Vichy French government had been informed that Frenchmen were aboard, the German naval authorities had apparently not been informed. Meknes, brightly lit and with a large French flag painted on her sides, stopped and attempted to identify herself to the German vessel. However around 10.30pm the E-boat opened fire with machine-guns and then fired a torpedo into the liner. Meknes sank within ten minutes. There were over 1200 men aboard, and nearly 400 died – exact figures were never released.

MeknesThe Vichy French government had insisted that all French servicemen in Britain should be repatriated, since France had surrendered and was no longer at war with Germany. Only those men that had already volunteered to serve with the Free French Forces were to be permitted to stay. A number of vessels were allotted to repatriate the returning Frenchmen.

s-l1600Built by Chanters et Atlier de St Nazaire, Grand Quevilly, she was a 6,757grt twin-propeller vessel with a service speed of 14.5 knots, and accommodation for 112 in First Class, 32 in Second and 406 in Third. She was originally named Puerto Rico, but was renamed Meknes in 1929, although still operating for CGT. Her peacetime route was from Bordeaux to Casablanca.

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.

17th July 1918 – Cunard’s Carpathia torpedoed, sunk

Carpathia_SinkingCunard’s Carpathia, best known for hr rôle in saving survivors from the Titanic disaster, was torpedoed on 17th July 1918 by the German submarine U55, off the Irish coast. Five crew were lost in the initial attack. She was part of a convoy heading from Liverpool to Boston, with 57 passengers and 166 crew. She was hit by two torpedoes, and quickly began to sink by the head. Captain Prothero gave the order to abandon ship, and survivors left on the lifeboats. U55 fired a third torpedo into Carpathia, causing a massive explosion. The submarine then surfaced and approached the lifeboats, but was driven away by gunfire from HMS Snowdrop. The sloop then stopped and picked up the survivors. Early in 2000 the wreck was found, some 125 miles off Fastnet, lying more or less upright on the seabed. It is currently owned by Premier Exhibitions, formerly RMS Titanic Inc., but that company has filed for bankruptcy so it is unclear what the future holds for any artefacts recovered.

Carpathia at HalifaxBuilt by Swan Hunter at Newcastle, Carpathia was laid down on 10th September 1901, and was ready for her trials by 22nd April 1903. She was 558 feet long, 13,603grt. She was fitted with four masts, well-equipped with derricks to handle large quantities of cargo, especially frozen meat. Carpathia could also carry 200 passengers in Second Class and 1,600 in Steerage. She was designed to attract the thousands of East European and Hungarian emigrants heading for the USA on the Fiume to New York route. Her maiden voyage was on 5th May 1903, from Liverpool to Boston. She was rebuilt in 1905 to provide better accommodation, and was often used as a cruise ship.

carpathiaCarpathia was most famous for her part in the Titanic disaster, when she was first to arrive on the scene, and rescued over 700 survivors. Requisitioned during the Great War, Carpathia was used to transport American and Canadian troops to the battlefields of Europe. She generally sailed from New York to Halifax, then across the Atlantic to either Liverpool or Glasgow.

14th July 1941 – Georgic bombed out at Suez

georgic, on fireOn 7th July 1941 Georgic arrived at Port Tewfik. Troops and matériel were offloaded and by 13th July evacuees and returning troops were boarding. In the early hours of 14th July air raid sirens sounded. Initially the Ger­man bombers concentrated on shore instal­lations then the ships in Suez Roads, especially Georgic. One bomb exploded along­side after bouncing off the hull, the shock wave damaged hull plating and caused flooding in No. 4 hold. The next bomb hit the sports deck, plunged through a lift shaft and exploded five decks down in No. 5 hold.

georgic with fire hosesFire broke out on all five decks, fed by fuel oil escaping from a rup­tured tank in the double bottom. Within 20 minutes the fire reached ammu­nition in Holds No. 7 and 8, which exploded. Georgic was now listing to port with extensive flooding. About a dozen of the gun crew were killed or injured. The steering was jammed, and Georgic crashed into HMS Glenearn, anchored nearby. With great diffi­culty Captain Greig managed to ground on North Reef, clearing the channel. Georgic lay abandoned and was left to burn. The ship was gutted, her mid­ships destroyed by the fuel fire, and her stern wrecked by the explosion.

Georgic sunk, sternOn 17th July Captain Greig and a group of engineers returned to see what was left. Superstructure was distorted: the engines were undamaged, but under water. Commander J.G. Wheeler, Mediterranean Fleet Salvage Officer, arrived from Haifa on 17th July. He had to wait for a pro­fessional diver to assess the under­water damage. On 14th September it was decided that Georgic could be raised and saved, and on 15th September the salvage ship Confederate arrived at Suez, along with a professional salvage team and divers. Pumps were acquired and patches were made for the doors and portholes that were underwater. Cmdr Wheeler gave the order on 10th October to start pumping water out. Initially they worked on the engine room and stern holds so that the weight of the water in the forward end kept the wreck securely on the reef. By 27th October Georgic was afloat, and Confederate towed the wreck to an anchorage. Make-shift repairs were com­pleted, and temporary pumps installed to keep the water levels down.

On 29th December Georgic left for Port Sudan, under tow from Clan Campbell, with Ellerman’s City of Sydney steering from astern, as no tugs were available. The rudder was still jammed hard over, making her veer wildly while under tow. On 3rd January 1942 the tow rope from Georgic to City of Sydney snapped as gales swept the area. On 7th January a tug arrived from Port Sudan, and a new tow line was passed to City of Sydney. The small convoy eventually arrived at Port Sudan on 10th January. Georgic spent the next seven weeks at Port Sudan, for repairs to reduce the list, and the rudder was freed from the jammed position.

It was decided to take Georgic to Karachi. On 5th March Harrison Line’s Recorder was requi­sitioned for the tow, with the tug Sampson steering from astern, for the 2,775 mile journey. On 6th March severe weather forced Sampson to break off the tow, and soon after the tug sank. On 8th March British India’s Haresfield took over the aft steering position and later the tug Pauline Moller assisted. On 1st April Georgic arrived at Karachi, for further repairs. The interiors were cleaned of all remain­ing debris, the dis­torted stem straightened and the engines cleaned and coaxed back to life. Georgic left Karachi under her own steam on 11th Decem­ber, for Bombay, arriving two days later. Further repairs were completed, and the hull was cleaned. After a brief stop at Cape Town from 5th to 8th February to refuel and reprovision, Georgic arrived at Liver­pool on 1st March.

Georgic wreck arrives at H&WAt Liverpool, surveyors from the Admiralty and the Ministry of War Transport surveyed Georgic to determine her fate. On 16th March it was decided to rebuild her as a permanent troop­ship, and for Cunard-White Star to manage her. She arrived at Harland & Wolff in Belfast on 19th March. On 5th July the No. 3 berth at Musgrave Yard was freed: Georgic was transferred and the work of restoring her began. Internally she was completely rebuilt. Externally the dummy forward funnel was removed, the foremast reduced and the mainmast cut off, with just a small signal mast added. Georgic left Belfast on 16th December 1944 for Liver­pool, to resume her trooping duties.