RMS Lancastria


Lancastria. Right: Aground on the River Mersey 1936


This photo taken on the day that at least 4000 people lost their lives during the evacuation of Allied and British forces and many refugees when the RMS Lancastria sank after being attacked near the French port of Saint Nazaire on 17th June 1940.  Figures for the dead are an estimate only but anything up to 9000 could have been on a ship built to carry 2500 passengers and 500 crew.

Service personal that survived were sworn to secrecy about the lose of many people at sea and because of fears that it would damage British morale at such a critical time in our history, on the day that France fell to the Germans. Churchill took the unusual step of banning the press from reporting it (known as a" D" notice preventing sensitive or secret information affecting national security being published for one hundred years). It was eventually made known in an article in the New York Times in July.1940.


On the 31st. of May 1920, the 16,243 ton SS Tyrrhenia slid down the slipway at William Beardsmore Shipyard. This Cunard Liner offered 580 luxury class cabins, and had been built to service the Hamburg/New York, and London/New York routes. She spent some time as a Cruise Ship in both Mediterranean and Norwegian waters. The American public interested in cruising had some difficulty with the name Tyrrhenia, and contrary to the superstition that sailors carry about changing a ship's name, her owners decided to rename the ship Lancastria in 1924. In 1940 she was requisitioned by the Admiralty as a troopship.  Lancastria was one of the ships detailed to be off St Nazaire to pick up evacuees.

HMT Lancastria sailed from Plymouth at midnight on the 15th of June to arrive at Quiberon Bay at 1800hrs  the next day off St Nazaire. It is understood that the count by crew members reached 6,000, and still people were arriving to scramble onboard. A survivor noted that 'As we reached the ship, a gangplank was placed across to a loading port where two crewmen were handing out little tickets, just like cloak room tickets, and I was handed one, this crewman said to his mate: "BLOODY HELL, THAT'S 6,000 AND WE WERE ONLY SUPPOSED TO TAKE 4,000." At this point counting stopped but soldiers were still coming onboard. A Royal Engineer survivor estimated at least 9000 souls were on board when she was bombed. He said 'we were packed like sardines' no room to move.


http://ahoy.tk-jk.net/macslog/LossofHMTLancastriaatStNa.html tells us that at 1600 off went the air raid sirens, and a German bomber appeared, her bomb bay wide open, down came four bombs, to fall onto Lancastria, the ship immediately shuddered under this impact. One bomb fell down a funnel, the others struck No 2 Hold, No 3 Hold, about 1,200 tons of fuel oil was spilled into the surrounding sea, and the 4th. bomb burst in No 4 hatch.  The ship quickly listed to starboard, and started to settle by the bows, hundreds jumped into the oil soaked sea, others sought refuge on the upturned hull. The German aircraft returned to machine gun survivors, killing many of them. Lancastria now took her final plunge to the bottom.  Survivors were picked up by all manner of craft, and in due course, newspapers put the total recovered at 2,823.numbers lost. The total number lost from this troopship will most likely never be known, as no final and accurate count of those who did board the ship was taken, and it might run as high as 4,000 to 5,000 lost. Also on this web site above is the crew list of those lost.





Captain's compass case from the Lancastria - Terry Phillips sent me this image