She went to the bottom like the Titanic. The ship Arandora became a mass grave due to competition

On the night of July 22-23, 1940, the crew of a fishing sailboat from the small island of Owey on the northwest coast of Donegal noticed something strangely hovering on a dead sea surface during a night hunt about seven kilometers north of the island. As she got closer, she found that it was a lifeboat with a fully erect mast that had been turned over into the water. The fishermen tied the half-sunken vessel behind their boat and pulled it ashore with effort.

They found a surprising thing on the island the next morning in daylight. The sides of the boat were pierced with bullets, and a handful of fired cartridges lay at the bottom of the boat. Pieces of cloth were preserved in the bullet holes here and there, as if someone were desperately trying to block them from the penetrating water. There was something on the fabric that looked like traces of blood. The boat bore the name of the ship to which it originally belonged – the name of the missing ocean liner Arandor Star.

It was clear that the ship that had sailed three weeks ago had been hit by a catastrophe, apparently linked to the fighting. The ship was missing, no one knew what had happened to it. However, the truth came to light before the war ended.

Ship on the last voyage

The Arandora Star was a large transport ship with a displacement of 15.2 thousand tons, which belonged to the London company Blue Star Line. Launched in 1927, it served as an ocean liner on almost every ocean in the world before World War II. After the outbreak of war, it was requisitioned by the British Ministry of War as an evacuation transport vessel. In 1939, women and children were transported to Arandora Star from Britain from the island of Malta, located almost exactly in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, which had a crucial strategic position to control shipping in the Mediterranean, so it enjoyed extraordinary interest from the British military.

The Arandora Star was then transferred to the Atlantic, where it provided connections between the British Isles and Canada and transported Allied Canadian troops to Britain.

After the fall of France in June 1940, the danger of a German invasion of the British Isles intensified. Italy was already a German ally at the time, so the British government decided to send Italian and German civilians living in Britain to Canada, which it began to perceive as a security threat.

734 interned Italians, mostly merchants, traders, barbers and other professions, as well as 479 German men, boarded the transport ship, for which the Arandora Star was chosen. A smaller part of the planned transport then consisted of 86 German prisoners of war, captured by British expeditionary units. Along with them, 200 British soldiers were embarked, whose task was to supervise the prisoners, as well as a 174-member ship’s crew. The ship was not armed with cannons, against a possible attack could defend itself with only a few heavy machine guns. She sailed from Liverpool on her last pilgrimage on June 29 (according to some sources on June 30) in 1940.

It was not a very good time for the ocean liner of a state that had entered a state of war with other powers. Summer weather brought with it long days, beautiful weather, calm skies – and unfortunately the associated clear visibility, which made the giant transport steamer a vulnerable destination. Edgar Wallace Moulton, captain of Arandor Star, was well aware of this and repeatedly complained about the weather during the voyage, but otherwise there was nothing he could do about the problem.

Victim of cynical competition

At the same time, the submarine under the command of Captain Günther Prien was returning to Germany. He wasn’t in the best of moods. Although he was already a respected war hero at the age of 32, he was also under pressure from one of his students, Captain Endrasse.

The German submarine captains were competing with each other at the time to win the prize for the highest tonnage of ships sunk in one month, and Prien felt that he would be ashamed of his student as a master because he lacked a good 5,000 tons, lacked ammunition and only one torpedo.

And it was at that moment that the Arandor Star, a ship more than three times as heavy as it needed, had entered its path. Although he had the only torpedo, which he also considered defective, he did not want to miss this opportunity. He aimed the starboard side of the ship and fired. His fears turned out to be odd, the torpedo working. It exploded after hitting the side of the ship.

The blast hit the ship’s aft engine room and immediately killed all of its crew. At the same time, he immediately shut down the turbines and the main and backup power generators, so that all the lights on the ship went out. Water flooded the engine room. The steamer still had to make an emergency call, but soon began to lie on the starboard side and dive. The fate of the giant ship was sealed.

Panic on board

There were 14 fixed lifeboats and 90 inflatable boats on board, but boarding was accompanied by understandable panic and confusion. Two fixed lifeboats were so damaged during launch that they could not be used. The remaining ten and at least half of the inflatables managed to reach the water, but some were hopelessly overloaded and others almost empty.

According to the BBC, a small battle between Italian prisoners and the British crew apparently broke out over some boats – while the Italians were crammed into the boats, British soldiers apparently fired several shots around the boats in an attempt to prevent panic, which pierced some of them.

Other testimonies, on the other hand, show that some Italians were afraid to board the boats.

At 7:20 in the morning, the ship definitely overturned, killing many people who remained on board until then. “I saw sinking boats catching hundreds of men, they looked like ants. Then the boat rose at one end, drove quickly below the surface and took the men with it. Jich Many of them broke their neck while jumping into the water, others were injured because they landed. in the middle of the wreckage, “described Sergeant Norman Price, one of the British soldiers who survived the disaster (his testimony was captured by writer Ian Hawkins in Destroyer: An Anthology of First-Hand Accounts of the War at Sea 1939-1945).

According to various sources, the number of victims varies from 682 to 805 people, unfortunately many bodies have never been found. The disaster killed about 200 British soldiers, the rest dead from prisoners. The surviving prisoners were transported back to Liverpool, from where they were transported to prison camps in Australia the following week.

Survivors of the victims still gather on the annual day of the tragedy in St. Peter’s Italian Church in London. Reminders of the catastrophe can be found in many parts of the world today. A memorial plaque commemorates the fate of Arandor Star in Liverpool Harbor. In Parma, the road is named after this ship. In the town of Lucca in Tuscany, a memorial to 31 local natives who were among the victims of the disaster was unveiled in the courtyard of the Paolo Cresci Foundation Museum for the History of Italian Emigration in 2004. And the names of the German passengers killed in the disaster are referred to by the well-known “stones of the missing”, or gilded cobblestones bearing their name. In recent years, these stones have become an unpretentious reminder of the victims of World War II in a number of Central European cities, including Czech cities.


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