My father was a Gunner on S.S. ORION

Discussion in 'The War at Sea' started by DCW, Apr 26, 2009.

  1. DCW

    DCW Junior Member

    My father was a gunner on the S.S. ORION from 1941 until 1945. He enlisted in the King's Own Royal Regiment on 12th Sept. 1940 and was posted to No 1. I.P.T.C. Great Barr, Birmingham. In January 1941 he transferred to the R.A. and was posted to 2nd Maritime Regt. R.A. via Transit Camp, Liverpool. On Monday 17th March 1941 the unit (twelve men I think) left Mason Street Barracks, Liverpool to join the merchant liner S.S.Orion, owned by the Orient Line and one of very many requisitioned ships known as DEMS(Defensively Equipped Merchant Ships). The Orion took about 3400 troops on board before joining up with Convoy WS7 which sailed from the Clyde on Monday 24th March heading for Freetown. Dad kept a diary of this, his first voyage. Unfortunately it does not provide information about any action the convoy may have encountered.
    I would like to hear from anyone who can offer advise on where I can find information about 2nd Maritime Regt. R.A. and 5th Maritime Regt. R.A. Is there anyone out there who served in either of the above Regiments or has a father or grandfather who may have also served between 1941 and 1945.
    I have my father's Pay Book and Record of Service Papers. I also have a couple of group photos one of which has signatures on the back.
  2. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot 1940 Obsessive

    Hi DCW and welcome to the forum. I'll get things kicking if I may by posting a picture of the ship.

    Some of her History here: History

    And I thought this was rather interesting too:
    Men of Tank Troop, 22nd Armoured Brigade on board SS Orion bound for the Middle East, 1941

  3. Buteman

    Buteman 336/102 LAA Regiment (7 Lincolns), RA Patron

    Hi and welcome DCW

    Here is a link to a Royal Artillery site with some general information about Maritime Artillery, RA

    Cheers - Robert
  4. DCW

    DCW Junior Member

    Thank you Andy.
    I am attempting to write a story of my dad's war time service. He died back in 1981, unfortunately he never really talked about his experiences so any info people out there can send me will be most welcome.

  5. Buteman

    Buteman 336/102 LAA Regiment (7 Lincolns), RA Patron

    I despair at how many times I've done that. Once more, here is the link:-

    RA 1939-45 Maritime (link no longer working)
    Last edited: Jun 15, 2021
  6. Smudger Jnr

    Smudger Jnr Our Man in Berlin


    Hello and welcome to the forum.

  7. E.Worley

    E.Worley New Member

    I have just found a sports prize voucher which has SS Orion upon it which entitles the winner to goods worth two shillings at the dry canteen, its dated 3.2.45 and signed by W.Gulland (I think) O.C Troops. The previous owner of this house was Mr Edward Worley who died in 2012/11 His nephew told me the Ted saved a mans life on the east coast of UK in an estury during VE celebrations. The fellow crewman had had a few too many sherbets and Ted jumped overboard to save him. He clung to a post for an hour or so in the fast moving water until they were both rescued
  8. RemeDesertRat

    RemeDesertRat Very Senior Member

    Wonder what happened to the OP?
    Interesting pic, Drew, of 22nd AB, Dad was on the Orion at the time.
  9. bamboo43

    bamboo43 Very Senior Member Patron

    Hi DCW,

    I believe that my grandfather travelled to India aboard the Orion in the summer of 1942, so I have picked up some bits and pieces of information about the vessel during my research pathway.

    Here is a passage from webpage I once found which adds some more detail about the ship:

    RMS Orion

    Ship details: Orient Line's 23,371-ton Orion, built by Vickers-Armstrong at Barrow and launched by radio, was always regarded as a landmark in British shipbuilding. Until she was launched in 1934, passenger liners were invariably given a psuedo-Victorian interior style but Orion stood apart. She had a wide range of public rooms, there was only one funnel and one mast while she was also the first British liner to be fitted with an air conditioning plant. The Duke of Gloucester launched the liner by a radio link from Brisbane, Australia. The signal activated the launching mechanism which allowed the liner to slide into the water. Overall, Orion was 665ft long with a beam of 82ft and could accommodate 486 passengers in first class and 653 in tourist class. During her time Orion made many visits to Southampton, steamed more than two million miles and carried about 500,000 passengers. She was finally taken out of service in 1963.

    RMS Orion was probably the most famous of the Australian immigrant ships. Originally built for the Orient Line and later owned by P&O, she was designed specifically for the immigration service and was the first British ocean liner to feature air conditioned public rooms. She was also the first ship owned by P&O, to feature the corn coloured livery.

    Many of her design features would be incorporated into later ships, and as such was a test bed for these concepts. She was an architects ship in a different way to others, in that an architect was commissioned to design and carry out the entire decoration of the ship. Brian O'Rorke, a New Zealander, was that architect and his extensive use of chromium and Bakelite throughout, because of its resistance to the effects of sea air was a first. This style of decor was very original for the time and was copied extensively on later liners.

    She commenced service for Orient Line in 1935 and was at the time their largest liner.

    RMS Orion was launched in 1934 at Barrow-in-Furness, Lancashire at the Vickers Armstrong Yard using a rather unusual technique. She was launched using remote control via wireless. The Duke of Gloucester who was in Brisbane, Australia at the time, officiated and pulled the switch or pressed the button which transmitted signals around the globe to ultimately activate the launch process. The procedure had been used once before during 1934 by the Dutch to launch one of the Holland-Africa liners.

    Orion was an enlarged version of Orontes, and the first single funnelled ship to be built for Orient Line since 1902. She also had only one mast, making her very different from her predecessors in the fleet. She was the first British ship to be fitted with air-conditioning, though this was confined to the dining rooms in her original configuration. She was a twin screw vessel, powered by geared turbines and had a service speed of 20 knots. Her accomodation was originally designed for 486 in first class and 653 in tourist class, with a crew of 466. On cruise work she accomodated 600 passengers in a one class environment.

    When she was delivered to P&O in August 1935 she made a series of cruises from Tilbury docks London, the first of which was to Norway. On September 29 that year she departed Tilbury on her maiden voyage to Australia, and from all accounts she was well received. A problem with soot deposits (smut) on the aft decks was noticed during this voyage and a modification to her funnel, by increasing its height corrected this.

    Orion alternated main line voyages to Australia with cruises until war broke out in 1939, when she was acquired by the British government to work as a troop carrier. Her first voyage for the troops was to Egypt and then it was off to Wellington, New Zealand to board troops to take to Europe. She left Wellington on January 6, 1940 and joined with other ships in convoy for Sydney Australia, to rendezvous with her sister ship Orcades. The convoy then left Australia to disembark their troops in Egypt.

    Her career during the war was not without incident or accident. On 15 September 1941, in a convoy carrying troops to Singapore, she was following the battleship HMS Revenge in the South Atlantic when the steering gear on the warship malfunctioned. Orion rammed Revenge and the impact caused severe damage to Orions bow. She continued to Capetown where temporary repairs were made and then continued to Singapore where more permanent repairs were completed.

    It was about this time that the Japanese were closing in on Singapore and so Orion was again enlisted, but this time it was to evacuate civilians to the safety of Australia. She remained an essential troop carrier during the war years doing all that was required of her. In October 1942 she was one of many acquired liners which participated in 'Operation Torch' and made two trips to North Africa carrying over 5000 troops each time. In 1943 her troop carrying capacity was increased to 7000 which, along with other vessels such as USS West Point (SS America) played a huge role in the positioning of the Western Allied Forces. Her role as a troop carrier tapered off in the Pacific theater but she still ferried troops around at 5000 a time. By the time she was released from British Government control Orion had carried over 175,000 war personnel and had steamed over 380,000 miles.

    The war weary Orion was returned to her makers yard at Barrow on the first of May 1946 to begin a post war refit to a life as intentioned, as a passenger ship. The refit took almost a year, but included a redesign of passenger accomodation such that now there were 546 first class and 706 tourist class. She made her first post war commercial sailing from Tilbury on 25 December 1947 the first of the P&O Orient liners to do so to Australia. Her duties hence, included three cruises to the West coast of the USA including San Francisco, and main line services from Europe to Australia. In 1958 she was converted to carry 342 in cabin class and 722 in tourist class on an independant schedule. From 1961 she became a one class ship and carried a maximum of 1691 passengers, though the demand for passage by ship to Australia was declining and ultimately she was retired from P&O in 1963.

    On the 28th February 1963 Orion left Tilbury, her home base, on her final voyage. Under her own steam she set sail for Australia stopping at Piraeus in Greece via Suez for Sydney. She left Sydney for the final time on April 8, via Melbourne three days later and Fremantle on the 15 April. She was reported to be flying an 85 foot paying-off pennant from her mast as she left Australia. Orion arrived back at Tilbury on May 15 1963 to face her fate.

    She was chartered by Firma Otta Friedrich Behnke for services as a floating hotel for the duration of the International Horticultural Exhibition. Orion arrived in Hamburg on 23 May 1963 and was berthed at the Overseas Landing Stage where she had a maximum of 1150 guest capacity. The exhibition ended on 30 September and on the 1st of October she left Hamburg for Antwerp, Belgium where she would be broken down for scrap by Jos Boel et Fils.

    Radio station: In 1947, the Royal Mail Steamer Orion visited Australia and it was noted on the air while in contact with the maritime station VIM in Melbourne. DXers of the day state that this ship, with the callsign GYLK, also made its own special broadcasts as it was leaving the continent though no QSLs were ever issued. However, I did hear GYLK on the "Orion" while it was in contact with VIM and the QSL card from VIM verifies the two way conversation which was logged on 2100 kHz. [Information by dr. Adrian Peterson]
    Location: Off Melbourne (Australia).

    A few years back there was a painting by the artist Harry Sheldon was up for auction on EBay, with the help of a goodly member on here (thank you Jason), I purloined the images. They are attached to this post and possible show the guns your father was responsible for?

    Also attached is a newspaper cutting about the ship, unfortunately the quality of the image is poor I'm afraid. You probably are already aware that the ship's movement cards are available at the National Archives, for the Orion the reference number is BT 389/22/309.

    Here is the link:

    I do hope something here will be of use.


    Attached Files:

    Charley Fortnum likes this.
  10. RemeDesertRat

    RemeDesertRat Very Senior Member

    Bamboo, interesting post, but Orion was taking 22nd AB to Egypt when the collision with Revenge occured, temporary repairs were made at Capetown before proceeding to Suez where she then proceeded to Singapore where permanant repairs were made allowing her to take civilians to Australia just before the fall of Singapore.

    Interesting pics, too, aalthough the full picture of the Orion isnt in eartime colours?
  11. RemeDesertRat

    RemeDesertRat Very Senior Member

    Hi Roger, what info is in the wartime movements you mention, could you send me them for the WS20x convoy, departed uk in August 1942, arrived Suez October 1941?
  12. bamboo43

    bamboo43 Very Senior Member Patron

    Hi RDR,

    I just posted what I had captured from the internet really. I think the painting is the more valuable image for DCW, and maybe the movement cards. Although these cards are often handwritten and difficult to read, a bit like trying to read your GP's notes. :smile:
  13. Hello RDR
    These are taken from the board of Trade movement records of all indiviual British and some Allied troopships 1939- 1960ish excluding those which were lost by enemy action and marine causes.
    I have attached an example which confirms the information in your post 11
    They are fairly accurate (to the day) Logbooks are more accurate but by and large troopships adhered to the Admiralty instructions not to keep detailed movements. Unlike most other MN vessels who, in the best traditions of the British Merchant Navy totally ignored the Admiralty instruction to merchant shipping AMSI 221.


    Attached Files:

  14. RemeDesertRat

    RemeDesertRat Very Senior Member

    Thanks for that Roger, much appreciated.
  15. RemeDesertRat

    RemeDesertRat Very Senior Member

    The movement card just jogged my memory, Orion left Suez for Bombay with Italian POWs, before sailing for Singapore via Columbo.
  16. bamboo43

    bamboo43 Very Senior Member Patron

    Here are some examples of the movement cards, hopefully covering the voyages above. Not the best light to take photographs, but hopefully they will enlarge ok.

    You will see what I mean about the handwriting.

    Attached Files:

  17. RemeDesertRat

    RemeDesertRat Very Senior Member

    I see what you mean! Thanks for posting.
  18. gmyles

    gmyles Senior Member

    Hi DCW

    22nd Armoured Brigade was part of 1st Armoured Division and was sent early to Egypt to support 7th Armoured Division during Operation Crusader. The rest of 1st Arm Div sailed over to Egypt on board convoy WS12 including my father, a RAOC driver with the Armd Div Workshops.

    My mothers cousin, Lance Serjent George Glenday was a DEMS troop leader with 4th Maritime Regt. on board the SS Melbourne Star, which was torpedoed 480 miles south-east of Bermuda by the U-129 on 2nd April 1943. The ship sunk in just 2 minutes. 115 of the 119 crew were lost including George. The four survivors endured 38 days cast adrift in a life boat before being rescued by a US Catalina Flying Boat. George is remembered on the naval war memorial in Plymouth.

    There is an interesting poem about DEMS gunners at

    Hope this helps.

    Last edited: Dec 30, 2020
  19. Attached Files:

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