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Britain's Worst Maritime Disaster

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Ian Dunn
725066.  Fri Jul 02, 2010 8:19 am Reply with quote

The worst ever maritime disaster in British was the sinking of RMS Lancastria in 1940. If you haven't heard of it, that's not surprising, as the government hushed it all up.

The Lancastria (originally named the Tyrrhenia) was built on the Clyde, weighed 6,243 tons and was 578 feet-long. It served at first as a Transatlantic liner, but also went to the Mediterranean and Northern Europe.

In April 1940 it was requisitioned and used as a troopship. It was being used to evacuate troops from the French port town of St. Nazaire on 17 June.

The ship had enough room to transport between 8-9,000 people. No-one knows exaclty no many people were on board it at the time, but there was only life saving equipment for about 2,500.

On 17 June the Lancastria was bombed by the Luftwaffe. It was received three direct hits from a Junkers 88 bomber. It took just 20 minutes for it to sink.

No-one can be sure how many people died because of different estimates as to how many people were on board, but the general consensus was that around 4,000 people were killed.

Not only is this more than the number of people killed on both the Titanic (1,517) and the Lusitania (1,198) combined (2,715), it was also the single biggest loss of life for British forces in the whole of World War II.

Perhaps understandably the British government did not want people to hear about the disaster, so a "D Notice" was placed which prevented the media from reporting the incident, which is why this fact is so little known.

Source: BBC

725188.  Fri Jul 02, 2010 1:39 pm Reply with quote

Ian Dunn wrote:
The Lancastria (originally named the Tyrrhenia)

Isn't it considered bad luck to change the name of a ship?

Alfred E Neuman
725192.  Fri Jul 02, 2010 1:43 pm Reply with quote

Bondee wrote:
Ian Dunn wrote:
The Lancastria (originally named the Tyrrhenia)

Isn't it considered bad luck to change the name of a ship?

I can't imagine why you'd think that :-)

Ian Dunn
725672.  Sun Jul 04, 2010 11:47 am Reply with quote

The BBC have just broadcast a Radio 4 documentary called The Sinking of the Lancastria.

It did give me some useful information. For example, one of the reasons why the sinking was hushed up was because there so many other terrible events at the time. For example, the week before the sinking Italy had entered the war.

Also the day of the sinking (17 June 1940) was also the day the French surrendered, and Churchill thought that having both incidents known would be too bad for morale, so the sinking was hushed up and the surrender got all the attention. The story was first reported in America six weeks after the sinking.

Also, four bombs hit the ship. Three blew up in the holds and killed 800 RAF men. The largest staircase in the ship collapsed under the weight of people fleeing.

The penalty for any of the servicemen on board for mentioning the sinking was court martial.

Link to episode on iPlayer
BBC entry for The Sinking of the Lancastria

725767.  Mon Jul 05, 2010 1:04 am Reply with quote

Well - thank God we've moved on from that kind of distortion of the news then. You'd never get a PM deliberately withholding information (or lying) in order to bolster a war cause these days would you?


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