SS (HMT) Lancastria Sinking 1940

Discussion in 'The War at Sea' started by spidge, Mar 23, 2008.

  1. spidge Active Member

    LANCASTRIA (June 17, 1940)

    Lancastria was part of the evacuations of the areas other than Dunkirk that are not so well known. 163,000 others added to the 338,000 taken from Dunkirk.

    The Cunard/White Star passenger liner Lancastria, the former Tyrrhenia (16,243 tons), is bombed and sunk off St. Nazaire, France. While lying at anchor in the Charpentier Roads on the estuary of the River Loire, five enemy planes dive bombed the ship which sank in twenty minutes taking the lives of around 2,000 troops and over 1,000 civilians. The Lancastria had been converted into a troopship and set sail from Liverpool on June 14th to assist in the evacuation of British troops and refugees from France (Operation Aerial) Her captain, Rudolf Sharpe, took on board as many troops and refugees as possible. She was about to sail to England after loading on board soldiers and RAF personnel of the British Expeditionary Force, plus about a thousand of civilian refugees. One bomb exploded in the Number 2 hold where around 800 RAF personnel had been placed. About 1,400 tons of fuel oil spilled from the stricken vessel as the Dorniers dropped incendiaries in an attempt to set the oil on fire. The 2,477 survivors, including her captain, were picked up by HMS Havelock and other ships. The bomb which actually sank the Lancastria went straight down the funnel. The site of the sinking is now an official War Grave protected by The Protection of Military Remains Act of 1986. The loss of the Lancastria was the fourth largest maritime disaster of the war. Captain Rudolf Sharpe later lost his life when the ship he commanded, the Laconia, was sunk. Under the Official Secrets Act, the report on the Lancastria cannot be published until the year 2040. If it is proved that Captain Sharpe ignored the Ministry of Defence instructions not to exceed the maximum loading capacity of 3000 persons, grounds for compensation claims could be enormous. (A rememberance service is held in June each year in the St Catharine Cree Church in Leadenhall Street, London)

    View attachment 1570

    The Cunard/White Star passenger liner Lancastria.

    During 'Operation Aerial' 28,145 British and 4,439 French, Polish and Canadian troops were evacuated from Brest. Among the French contingent were many German and Italian nationals, all members of the French Foreign Legion. At Lorient, the trawler La Tenche, was sunk with the loss of 218 lives. At Saint Nazaire, 57,235 troops and civilians were evacuated. From St. Malo, 21,475, from Cherbourg, 30,630 and from La Pallice, 2,303. Thousands of others were picked up from smaller ports, in total, 163,225 persons. (During the Dunkirk evacuation, 'Operation Dynamo' 338,226 troops were saved).
  2. sniper Active Member

    Somewhere amongst my photos of wargraves i have a photos of the memorial in France, which i'll dig out over the next few days and post them on here. I also have a lot of the war graves from this area so if anyone is reseaching particular people let me know and i'll see if i have them for you.

    Sniper :peep:
  3. Kyt Άρης

    There is considerable interest, and debate, about the Lancastria, especially about who was lost on her.

    This site has attempted to list as many of the casualties as possible, but of course the true figure, and exactly who was aboard will never truely be known. The problem(s) is compounded by the fact that many casualties' parent unit's records were lost during this hectic time and so some men may have been lost in France itself.:

    Victim List
  4. sniper Active Member

    I do have on my spreadsheets of Commonwealth dead in this area of coastline the names of those lost who served in the Commonwealth Forces on this ship, though it does not name those of other nationalites, such as the French. The list comes from the CWGC and is probably incomplete but its at least a start if anyone would like this list please feel free to contact me.

    Sniper :peep:
  5. Hugh New Member

    LANCASTRIA official number 145943

    The loss of the LANCASTRIA was also the most costly British Merchant Navy loss of the Second World War. Captain Rudolf Sharpe who survived the loss of his ship later lost his life on LACONIA the second most costly British maritime loss of the war.

    Only 32 years to wait to see what is in the report.

    Regards
    Hugh
  6. Roxy Member

    Personally, I would find it shocking if there were claims for compensation if it was found that the Lancastria was overloaded due to the actions of Captain Sharpe in attempting to save as many men as possible; should he have left them?

    Roxy.
  7. sniper Active Member

    Here's a photo of the memorial, i also have the named memorial as well as some more photos of the area if anyone is interested.

    Sniper :peep:

    Attached Files:

  8. John Active Member

    What was so bad that the government had to hide the report for 100 years. If the Lancastria had made it back to England, Captain Sharp would have been declared a hero.

    John
  9. spidge Active Member

    I agree however it will possibly be revealed that there were other reasons why the 100 year ban was invoked. Maybe it is the cynic in me!

    As Hugh says, only 32 years to wait.

    There are numbers bandied around that up to 9,000 were on board. The ship was "licenced" to carry around 3,000? however an experienced Captain would have known how many he could carry.

    As John says, his actions would have been applauded had he been successful in returning these people to safety.
  10. Antipodean Andy New Member

    Amazing that the captain survived that only to die on the Laconia, another "iconic" sinking.
  11. Adrian Roberts Active Member

    If 2477 survived, then even the lowest estimates of the number of dead bring the total on board to well over 3000. So, if the British government is worried about compensation, then already it is too late and there would be a case for such claims - if anyone really wanted to pursue them.

    But, as Roxy says, Captain Sharpe was attempting to save as many as possible. Surely both he and the British Government would have come into even more criticism if he was found to have turned people away, for any reason other than the seaworthiness of the ship with that number aboard.

    Would a compensation claim really succeed at this date? I can't help thinking that there is something else going on here; either that or no-one in the MoD has the imagination and initiative to take a decision (I guess the latter is more likely than some conspiracy theory)

    Could the German government be sued for allowing over 8000 people onto the Wilhelm Gustlaff? Or the Russians for sinking her? Somehow I doubt it. The idea of compensation wouldn't even have occurred to people at the time.
  12. spidge Active Member

    I agree Adrian. I will stick to being a cynic!
  13. Kyt Άρης

  14. spidge Active Member

    Hi Kyt,

    Link does not open.
  15. Kyt Άρης

    ooops, no idea why I posted the wrong link. Should be OK now
  16. Brian S Guest

    The Lancastria

    October last year a File was opened at T.N.A. that contains all the official enquiries into those lost on the Lancastria.

    WO361/5 is the Reference
  17. Pathfinder Guest

    It's good to know that they have a medal to commemorate the lives lost on the ship. And as before, if it'd gotten back to England, Sharp would have been a hero, but I say he was already one; taking on so many soldiers and trying to reach the safety of England.
  18. Hugh New Member

    LANCASTRIA Crew Awards

    London Gazette 8 October 1940 - For services when the ship was bombed and sunk.

    Dunbar, James - Chief Engineer - OBE(Civ)
    Grattidge, Harry - Chief Officer - OBE(Civ)
    Sharp, Rudolph - Captain - OBE(Civ)

    Beattie, Frederick Entwistle - Chief Steward - BEM(Civ)
    Stone, William Herbert - Gunner - BEM(Civ)
    Thomson, David Irvine Jardine - Boatswain's Mate - BEM(Civ)

    Dover, Arthur - Extra Second Steward - Commendation
    Hyde, Wilfred John - Senior Assistant Purser - Commendation
    Murphy, Michael - Quartermaster - Commendation

    Duncan, James - Second Engineer - Posthumous Commendation
    Hill, John - Surgeon - Posthumous Commendation
    Roberts, Richard Goronwy - Senior First Officer - Posthumous Commendation

    Regards
    Hugh
  19. spidge Active Member

    Very well deserved.

    The sinking must have been an absolutely horrendous scene.

    Cheers

    Geoff
  20. James Chadwick New Member

    Thanks to all who have contributed to this thread. It's only today that I discovered that my mother's cousin died in this incident. I never had any idea. It appears he is buried in:

    Grave 8 St Georges D'oleron Communal Cemetery France

    Cheers

    Jim

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