One of the largest losses of life in maritime history and is still hushed up. Battle of France, World War II (10 May-22 June, 1940): 185 000 Ellis John, World War II : a statistical survey, (killed+missing, France Campaign) French: 120,000 Germans: 43,110 British: 11,010 One third of all British casualties were one stationary ship. The Lancastria, a Cunard Liner, was the biggest disaster at sea in British History. Death toll varies but could have been around 4,000 to 5,000. Churchill ordered a complete black out of the sinking, survivors were sworn to secrecy. The entire 51st Division of Scottish Highlanders surrendered to Erwin Rommel near Saint-Valery-en-Caux on June 12, 1940. The last open French port, St.Nazaire, became something of a Mecca to these lost legions still trying to get to the UK. The life raft of choice for these men was obvious. Docked at the river port was the 16,243 ton five-decked troopship HMT Lancastria. The ship, a former Cunard cruise liner taken up from trade, was taking all the British troops that could squeeze aboard. Civilian refugees, stranded RAF ground crews and others also crowded aboard. On June 17, 1940, before the Lancastria could leave the coast, a German air strike found her. Luftwaffe Junkers JU-88 bombers dropped a string of armor penetrating bombs on the troopship, swarming with British soldiers like an anthill. Men trapped below decks in cargo holds, passageways, and storage areas had no chance of escape. Only those in exterior cabins with portholes or on the upper most deck even had an opportunity to flee to disaster. The Lancastria "turned turtle" and rolled over very fast while still in her moorings. Follow on waves of German fighters strafed defenseless British tommies floating among some 1,400 tons of burning fuel oil that had seeped from the Lancastria's bunkers. Overall losses of have only been estimated due to the fact that no loading manifest was available from the stricken ship. Some unofficial lists count upwards of 9,000 men aboard the ship when it was struck and only 2477 could be accounted for after she rolled. This leaves a simple maths worst case scenario of almost 7,000 soldiers and sailors drowned in the harbour. The loss of life at sea can only be rivaled by that of the German troopship Wilhelm Gustloff torpedoed in the Baltic by a Soviet submarine in 1945 with the loss of some 5900 souls. It was the largest single day loss of life to the British Army since the Battle of the Somme. It should be remembered that the RMS Titanic which perished with 1,517 souls and the RMS Lusitania with the loss of 1198, while tragic, are still muted by the scale of the Lancastria's sinking. Why wasn't this ship fully protected by aircraft with all those men on board? The British had a few fighters operating from grass strips in France, but not enough. St.Nazaire was too far to give a CAP from southern England. A Ju88 was no match for the top line British and French fighters. It would have been shot out of the sky. The French air force should have fully protected her, but they had all flow to North Africa, even before the capitulation of the French ground troops leaving the French and British ground troops naked. Winston Churchill, who had proclaimed only days before that the entire British Expeditionary Force in France had been withdrawn through Dunkirk, when confronted with the reports of the loss of life in St.Nazaire, ordered that the event be kept secret. In fact, the Royal Navy's files on the vessel are classified for one hundred years and will not be open to the public until the year 2040.