Empress of Britain bombed at sea

The liner Empress of Britain

A pre war image of the 42,000 ton Canadian Pacific luxury cruise liner Empress of Britain, the fastest ship of her class at the time. She became the largest civilian ship lost in the war when she was bombed on 26th October

At 9.20am on the 26th October a German FW 200 Condor emerged from the clouds and dropped two bombs on the liner Empress of Britain. The liner had been requisitioned in 1939 and was now a troop transport. After the bombing the Empress was subjected to a series of machine gun attacks from the aircraft. Her crew fought back with machine guns mounted on deck and there were relatively few casualties at this stage. However the bombs started large fires which soon crippled the ship. Many crew were trapped below deck by the fires, some forced to escape through portholes into the sea.

George Larkin, a crew member later recalled:

The first I heard was machine gun fire, a moment later a bomb hit the ship. We were trapped and had to go right forward again through black choking smoke and fumes. Two men collapsed through suffocation before we reached safety by climbing to the upper deck

Almost all of the crew and passengers were rescued and the liner, still ablaze, taken in tow by Royal Navy destroyers. She was making slow progress so it was relatively easy for the U-Boat U-32 to reach the position and track her for 24 hours before torpedoing her on the 28th October. U-32 was on her ninth and last patrol, two days later she was herself sunk by depth charges by the destroyers HMS Harvester and HMS Highlander.

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