HMT Lancastria



On the 17th of June 1940, the 16,000 ton ex-Cunard liner Lancastria lay some eleven miles off Saint-Nazaire and was embarking troops, RAF personnel and civilian refugees, who were being evacuated from France and Belgium. The exact number on board will never be known, but almost certainly it exceeded 6,000; some estimates put the figure as high as 9,000. The Lancastria was attacked and hit by bombs from a single German aircraft.


The ship sank rapidly and according to the estimates of the Captain, only around 2,500 of those on board were saved. Owing to the scale of the tragedy, the Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, forbade publication of the news in the interests of preserving public morale. Hence the story of the Lancastria has never been generally known, although it is beyond doubt, Britain's worst maritime disaster. Two destroyers stationed nearby, HMS Havelock and HMS Highlander, began taking survivors aboard, as did many merchant ships present. Many of the survivors were seriously wounded.


Interestingly, the official report into the sinking is subject to the Official Secrets Act and is not due to be released until 2040. One can only speculate as to the reasons behind its suppression. However, one theory is that if it could be proved that Captain Sharpe was ordered by War Department officials to ignore his maximum load restriction, there could be grounds for compensation claims against the British Government.


To view Private David Jarvis, 3955763, 39 Coy., Auxiliary Military Pioneer Corps medals, click here.

To read about Pte Reginald (Reggie) John Phillips 7594090 Royal Army Ordnance Corps. click here.

To read about Corporal Herbert Pattison Auxiliary Military Pioneer Corps, click here.

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