Canadian Pacific Railway Ship ‘Beaverbrae’ sunk

The Beaverdale, sister ship to the Beaverbrae, loaded with a train bound for Canada before the war.

Larger merchant ships were equipped with an assortment of guns during the Battle of the Atlantic and were known as Defensively Equipped Merchant Ships, distinct from the Armed Merchantmen operated by the Royal Navy such as HMS Rawalpindi. They provided limited protection from an attack from the air:

At 7.50 a.m. on March 25th Captain B.L. Leslie’s Beaverbrae was bound from Liverpool to Saint John, New Brunswick, the winter terminal of the Canadian Pacific Line. She was a fine ship of 10,000 tons with a speed of fifteen knots, one of a class of five ships of advanced design built in 1928. It was not yet fully light, and out of cover of heavy clouds typical of March in the North Atlantic the ship was suddenly attacked by a Condor from under three hundred feet, firing cannon and machine guns.

The attack took them by surprise, but the DEMS [Defensively Equipped Merchant Ships] gunner standing by on the poop got off a burst at the aircraft with a stripped Lewis as it passed overhead and before its bombs hit the ship. Two heavy bombs hit the after deck, exploded below and caused devastating damage. The mainmast and its housing and most of the derricks housed in trestles on the after deck disappeared entirely. A wide crater was smashed in the steel deck and a huge hole in the port side shell plating. Every steam-pipe in the engine-room was fractured and some of the men in the engine-room and stokehold were badly scalded, though no-one was killed. Fire was soon raging in the ship.

The ship’s gunners ran to action stations. The crews of the 4-inch and 40 mm Bofors on the poop found difficulty getting to their guns along the damaged after deck, but the two Hotchkiss and the stripped Lewis on the bridge were fully manned by officers and cadets ready for the Condor’s second attack. They opened up on him as he swept over them and could see their tracers passing through the aircraft. This time his bombs fell wide. He missed them again on a third attack, and by the time he came in again the Bofors crew had reached their gun. Their first burst made the Condor pull away, and he did not return. But Beaverbrae was doomed. More fires had started, the flames overcame her, and she had to be abandoned.

See Focke-Wulf Condor: Scourge of the Atlantic.

Merchantships has more on the Canadian Pacific Railway ‘Beaver’ class ships during the war. see also Armstrong Whitworth.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

R. J. E. Bayliff December 3, 2012 at 10:53 pm

Could the date of the photo captioned “The Beaverdale, sister ship to the Beaverbrae, loaded with a train bound for Canada before the war.” be ascertained? The carriages are of the London, Midland and Scottish Railway – none went or were exported to Canada, hence the importance of any other information concerning the photo.
Many thanks

Christopher Ryan January 1, 2012 at 1:13 pm

correction to previous comment:
CPR vessel, Empress of Asia, was attacked by the Japanese air force a couple of weeks prior to the fall of Singapore. to quote from
http://www.wrecksite.eu/wreck.aspx?15538#16088 :”On February 4th, 1942 the ship, as part of a convoy that included the FELIX ROUSSEL, PLANCIUS, DEVONSHIRE, and the CITY OF CANTERBURY and led by H.M.S. EXETER, was attacked in Banka Straits by an aircraft formation. However no direct hits were encountered.
The next day, February 5th, 1942, another aerial bombardment occurred that resulted in several direct hits that soon set the mid-section of the ship ablaze. The ship was subsequently anchored and abandoned.
Many ships came to the rescue of the crew and passengers of the EMPRESS OF ASIA and were responsible for greatly reducing loss of life. These vessels included the H.M.A.S. BENDIGO, H.M.A.S. WOLLONGONG, H.M.A.S. YARRA, H.M.S. DANAE, and H.M.I.S. SUTLEJ. The H.M.A.S. YARRA, under the command of Lieutenant Commander W.H. Harrington RAN, was particularly prominent in rescue, pulling along side the burning ship and taking off over a thousand survivors. “

Christopher Ryan August 11, 2011 at 10:08 pm

My father, Thomas Ryan, was ‘Cook’s Boy’, aged 15, on Beaverbrae at the time she was sunk, and received a shrapnel wound to his leg. He shipped out of Liverpool four weeks later on another CPR vessel, Empress of Asia, but by early 1942 this ship was no longer in action having been taken by the Japanese at the fall of Singapore, where he spent the remainder of the war as a POW in Changi Prison. As a student back in Liverpool he returned for summer work on CPR vessels Empress of Australia (1950) and Empress of Canada (1952).

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