Zealandia was a single-funnelled, twin-propeller steamship built in 1909 by John Brown’s Clydebank yard. She was completed in 1910 for the trans-Tasman service of Huddart Parker, Melbourne, and was 410 feet long, 6,683grt. Initially she was chartered to Union Steam Ship Co. for their service to Tasmania and Vancouver, after which she was based at Fremantle.
Requisitioned in the Great War, she transported Australian troops to the European battlefields, and later American troops from New York to France. In December 1919 she was returned to commercial service, operating between Sydney and Western Australia, and later on the Sydney to Hobart route.
On the outbreak of World War II she was again taken up for trooping duties, this time staying in Australian waters. In June 1940 Zealandia transported part of the Australian 8th Division from Sydney to Darwin, to support the defence against the expected Japanese invasion. She then took more troops to Raboul, before taking Australian troops and their equipment to Singapore. After several more trooping voyages, she was anchored in Darwin harbour on 19th February 1942 when Japanese aircraft made a devastating attack.
One bomb fell through a hatch and exploded in the ship’s hold, and she quickly caught fire. Other planes then attacked with machine guns. The ammunition aboard started to explode: the fire was impossible to contain and the captain gave the order to abandon ship. Zealandia quickly settled on the bottom of the harbour: two crewmen later died of their wounds.
In early January 1942 Queen Mary arrived at Boston and entered the drydock for a thorough overhaul. Cunard had handed over the running of both Queens to the Americans at a recent Arcadia conference in Washington. This meant Cunard provided and paid the crews, which the UK government refunded. The UK government paid all fuel and running costs. The US government provided the troops and their food. Accommodation aboard Queen Mary was increased again, with additional “standee” bunks crammed in wherever possible, and use made of “hot bunking” – as one soldier got up, another took his place. More kitchens and toilets were installed, with additional catering equipment, showers, etc. The armament was increased as well.
Finally Queen Mary embarked her first contingent of US troops – 8,398 plus a crew of 905 – and on 18th February 1942 sailed from Boston to Key West. Here Captain Bisset came aboard, replacing Captain Townley, who was retiring. Leaving Key West on 25th February, she sailed for Rio de Janeiro, then headed across the South Atlantic to Cape Town, arriving on 14th March. She finally arrived at Sydney on 28th March 1942: this later became known amongst the troops as the “Forty Days and Forty Nights Cruise”!
War Roebuck was a small cargo vessel built at Palmers, Jarrow in 1918. With the end of the Great War she was acquired by British India and was completed as Gairsoppa. Taken over at the outbreak of World War II, she sailed in several convoys before joining Convoy SL64 in February 1941, sailing from Calcutta, India to Liverpool, UK. Running low on coal while off the coast of Ireland, Gairsoppa separated from the convoy and headed for Galway, some 300 miles away, for more fuel. She was attacked and torpedoed by U-101 in the early hours of 17th February 1941, and sank within 20 minutes. Although 3 lifeboats got away, only one person survived, Second Officer Ayres; 83 others were lost.
What made her of special interest was that she was carrying some 7 million ounces (200 tons) of silver, worth at that time over £600,000. In 2010 the UK government awarded a salvage contract to Odyssey to find the wreck and salvage the bullion. The company quickly found the wreck and began operations, and by July 2013 had recovered over110 tons, estimated at £137 million ($210 million) at current value.
Athos was a two-funnelled cargo-passenger ship being built at Dunkirk for Messageries Maritimes when the Great War erupted. Once launched, she was towed to St Nazaire, where she was completed in November 1915 for use as a troopship. She was 513 feet long, and displaced 12,644grt. Her maiden voyage was to China, sailing on 28th November 1915, with a second voyage from Marseilles to Yokohama and back in late 1916.
On 17th February 1917, while some 200 miles ESE of Malta, on her third voyage, she was torpedoed by German submarine U-65, commanded by Hermann von Fischel. She was carrying 1,950 people, including a large contingent of Senegalese soldiers, civilian passengers, 1,000 Chinese labourers and the crew. Athos sank in just 14 minutes, with the loss of 754 aboard, including the captain. The survivors were quickly picked up by escorting vessels.
Runic, a specialist cattle-carrier, was handed over by Harland & Wolff to White Star on 16th February 1899. She made her maiden crossing from Liverpool to New York only five days later. On 28th May 1890 fire broke out aboard Runic while she was at Liverpool. The cargo hold had to be flooded to extinguish the fire, as she was carrying a highly-inflammable cargo of sulphur and caustic soda. Then on 17th July 1894 she rescued the crew of the barque Emma T. Crowell, shortly before she exploded.
On 2nd October 1895 Runic sailed from Liverpool to New York, after which she was sold to the West India & Pacific Steamship Co., and was renamed Tampican. In December 1899 that company’s entire fleet was transferred to Frederick Leyland & Co., without changing names. In February 1912 Tampican was sold on again, this time to Moss of Liverpool, who quickly sold her on to South Pacific Whaling, which converted her to carry whale oil and whale meat, and renamed her Imo.
On 6th December 1917 Imo, while chartered to the Belgian Relief Commission, collided with Mont Blanc, which was carrying explosives, in Halifax harbour. The subsequent devastation was the largest man-made explosion at that time, with over 1,600 killed and a large area of the town destroyed. Mont Blanc was obliterated and the entire superstructure of Imo ripped off. Imo was later repaired, and then renamed Guvernoren, still as a whale oil tanker. Finally, on 30th November 1921 she ran aground off the Falkland Islands and was abandoned as a total loss.