Hmt Lancastria

Discussion in 'The War at Sea' started by CROONAERT, Jan 10, 2005.


    CROONAERT Ipsissimus

    Does anyone know of the existance of any casualty lists (RASC if they are regimental) for the Lancastria sinking?

    If so, where could I access it?


  2. Gerry Chester

    Gerry Chester WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran


    CROONAERT Ipsissimus

    Thanks Gerry.

    No joy there, I'm afraid. I'm still awaiting a response to an email I sent them a few days ago, too.

    I read on a website somewhere that "a few authors have put their heads together and come up with a casualty roll" (Civilians as well as military - probably (likely) to be incomplete). Any idea where I might find it? (I seem to have looked at almost every page on google that mentions the word "Lancastria", by the way with no luck!)

    Cheers anyway,

  4. Gerry Chester

    Gerry Chester WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    Sorry Dave not having been more helpful. Living as I did, overlooking the River Mersey, I recorded and got to know the many ships that sailed to and from Liverpool. Of those that were sunk during the war, the saddest was the sinking of the Lancastria. Here she is in her pre-war glory;

    All good fortune in your search.

    With best wishes, Gerry

    Attached Files:

  5. Paul Johnson

    Paul Johnson Member


    I've had a bit of dealing with this for my RAF research. The problem is that any sort of records at the time were very erratic, given the situation. The Lancastria was packed full of military and civilian personnel and no one really knows who was there and who wasn't.

    The best thing to do is email the CWGC and ask them for a list of casualties on the day of the sinking and the following few days (this helps to cover those who died of their injuries). I am sure they will be happy to oblige. From this you will have to do some research on the units that were in the area at the time and you can probably come up with a fairly reliable list, but not definative.


    PAUL JOHNSON :ph34r:
  6. Biggles

    Biggles Member

    No casualty lists but for further background info ;


    HMS Lancastria - An untold story of sacrifice and disaster.
    The Lancastria is perhaps the least known of all the great ship tragedies. She was built on the River Clyde, Glasgow - the heart of global shipbuilding and originally named the Tyrrhenia. The name proved too unpopular with American passengers who had difficulty pronouncing and spelling the name, so in March 1924 she was renamed Lancastria. Her maiden voyage was made from Liverpool to Quebec. Lancastria was to become the fourth worst shipping loss, in terms of human life, this century, and the single worst in British maritime history.

    In April 1940 Lancastria was requisitioned as a troopship and immediately saw action during the evacuation of troops from Norway. On her return she was loaded with approximately 1500 tonnes of fuel oil at Glasgow before heading for Liverpool on the 14th of June, her home port, for dry-docking and a well needed overhaul. Within hours her crew were recalled from shore-leave and Lancastria set sail from Liverpool for the last time.

    Europe at this time was in absolute turmoil. The Nazis had swept across Western Europe in six weeks defeating the armies of Belgium, Holland and France before subjecting the British to the biggest humiliation since the revolutionary war in the Americas.

    At 06.00 Hrs on the 17th of June 1940, the Lancastria lay 5 miles off St.Nazaire, France, Latitude 47.09º North, Longitude 2.20º West. It was a bright but cool start to the day. Captain Sharp and Chief Officer Grattidge receive orders to load as many troops and refugees as possible and to disregard international law on passenger limits. It was to prove a fatal decision for most of the 6000 + souls that boarded the Lancastria. Royal Navy Destroyers and smaller craft continued bringing the troops out. By lunchtime the decks were packed with hundreds and thousands of troops and refugees.

    A nearby destroyer signaled the Lancastria to get under way if she was full to capacity, but offered no escort. The skies were full of the sound of aircraft. Suddenly another troop transport, the Oronsay, lying not far from the Lancastria was attacked and hit near her bridge. Debris fragments shot out towards the Lancastria. Witnessing this some troops that were presently below decks decided to make their way “Topside”. Most had no life jackets.

    The air-raid siren from the harbour at St. Nazaire suddenly sounded again. Then out of the sun a German bomber appeared, bomb doors open. A salvo of four bombs ripped through the Lancastria and the ship began to buck and shudder. One bomb detonated in number 2 hold where a contingent of around 800 RAF personnel had been placed. Flames and thick black smoke began billowing from number 2’s main hatch cutting off their exit. The second bomb appeared to have struck near or, perhaps even gone down the funnel. The smoke covered the forward section of the vessel. One bomb hit in number 3 hold, releasing 1400 tons of fuel oil.

    Signalmen in the Bridge frantically shouted down the bridge telegraph, “Hello.... Engine-room, Engine-room”.... Only silence greeted them. One bomb landed in the water but near enough to the Lancastria to blow a searing hole in her side. Panic ensued.

    Grattidge grabbed a megaphone and ordered the crew to clear away the boats. Initially the liner had begun listing to Starboard but as the order came for men to move over to her Port side she leveled off. It was a hopeless task. The Lancastria was dying and with her thousands of people.

    Hundreds of men, women and children were now in the oil soaked sea. The overwhelming majority of them were men of the British Expeditionary Force, the BEF. Hundreds, possibly thousands were still aboard the turning hulk of the Lancastria as she began her death-roll over to her Port-side. As the propellers appeared out of the water men began standing on the side of the ship. Some started singing - “Roll out the Barrel”. It was a truly macabre spectacle.

    For the people in the water there was no singing. Oil was everywhere, congealed it stuck to their clothes, their hair. It stinged the eyes, it forced its way up the nostrils and into the lungs.

    The horror was not over. The Luftwaffe aircraft continued to circle. They came diving out of the sky, strafing the survivors in the water and on the sinking ship. Some aircraft were seen dropping incendiaries into the water in an attempt to light the free-flowing oil which was escaping from the Lancastria.

    In just over 20 minutes the 16,243 ton Lancastria disappeared beneath the waves. The sea became awash with wreckage, upturned lifeboats, dogs, refugees, soldiers. Many of those with life jackets lay motionless in the sea having jumped into the water at some height and instantaneously met their death as the “life” jacket rode up and broke their necks.

    The two destroyers present, HMS Havelock and HMS Highlander started taking survivors aboard as did the many merchant ships present such as Glenaffaric, Oronsay, Fabian and the John Holt. Many of the survivors were seriously wounded.

    Fewer than 2,500 people were rescued. The exact death toll will never be known as the Chief Purser stopped counting after more than 6,000 had boarded the Lancastria. Her usual compliment, including crew was 2,180. Estimates of Lancastria’s complement at the time of the sinking range from 6,000 to over 9,000. Amongst the survivors were Captain Sharp and Chief Officer Grattidge. Sharp later lost his life as master of the Laconia after she was torpedoed in September 1942. Only 972 survivors were picked up.

    Under Sharp’s command at least 5,200 people lost their lives. Lancastria remains Cunard’s worst marine loss. 36% of all casualties suffered by the British Expeditionary Force from September 1939 to June 1940, were due to the disaster of the Lancastria.

    In June 1998 survivors and members of the Lancastria Association undertook a pilgrimage to St. Nazaire to commemorate the anniversary of the sinking. Four patrol boats of the Royal Navy took the party out over the wreck for a wreath laying ceremony where the Association’s bugler sounded “Last Post”. The Association also holds an annual ceremony in London to commemorate the victims of the disaster.

    Written by Mark Hirst

    Special thanks to: Colin Clarke, Percy Brown (Survivor), Cyril Cumbes (Survivor), Justin Bowley, Gillian & George Hinton, Frank Withers (Survivor), John Hirst, Stan Flowers (Survivor), Tom Beattie (Survivor), Bill O’Connor, The Lancastria Association and finally to my Grandfather Walter Hirst, a survivor and member of 663 Company Royal Engineers who has inspired me to research the story of the Lancastria and keep alive the memory of thoses who were lost that day. Never far from our thoughts.

    Further reading:

    Bond, G., Lancastria, Oldbourne, 1959.
    Grattidge, H., Captain of the Queens, Oldbourne, 1951
    West, J.L., The Loss of the Lancastria, Millgate, 1988
    Clarke, C., HMT Lancastria Narratives, Lancastria Association, 1998
    Chesterton, N., Crete was my Waterloo, a true account of the sinking of the Lancastria, unknown, ISBN 185 756 1988

    In addition, the following links were discovered while doing research on the Lancastria.

    (137)Crete Was My Waterloo" by Neville Chesterton
    Paperback, 124pp
    ISBN: 1-85756-198-8
    Price: Sterling £6.95

    In January 1940, at the age of 19, Neville Chesterton was conscripted in to the Royal Engineers. He witnessed the sinking of Lancastria which claimed 4200 lives, and the evacuation of St Nazaire. He was taken as a German prisoner of war during the battle for Crete.

    This site contains the following write-up on the Lancastria:

    (June 17, 1940) The Cunard White Star passenger liner Lancastria (16,243 tons) is bombed and sunk off St. Nazaire, France. While lying at anchor, five enemy planes dive bombed the ship which sank, taking the lives of nearly 3,000 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. She was about to sail to England after loading on board soldiers and RAF personnel of the British Expeditionary Force, plus hundreds of civilians. Many survivors 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.
  7. Gerard

    Gerard Seelow/Prora

    A truly tragic event indeed and from the picture above she looks like a beautiful ship. :(

    I've been reading about the fate of the Gustav Althoff and Goya, two other shipping tragedies on a monumental scale.
  8. Biggles

    Biggles Member


    There is a nice little 136 page booklet - 'The Loss of the Lancastria' Compiled by John L West, Published by Millgate Publishing 1988.

    This gives the story and includes 37 accounts from survivors.

    Also listed is a summary of the Units on board

    I have a spare copy of this which I am open to offers on

  9. When I was searching for RTR casualties on the Lancanstria, I had to go through the CWGC records on the Dunkirk Memorial and also all the records of the little towns on the west coast of France, where bodies had been washed ashore, this was the days before computors and the internet.

    Regards - MF
  10. MalcolmII

    MalcolmII Senior Member

    527 Co RASC
    153 Railway Construction Co
    156 Transport Stores Co
    a good book is Citizen Soldiers by Col G Williams.


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