On the 2nd July 1940 Gunther Prien the captain of U-boat U-47 faced the prospect of losing his position at the top of the league table of ships tonnage sunk per captain. His fame had been firmly established by the sinking of the Royal Oak. Then he saw the 15,000 ton Arandora Star and found the opportunity to use his last torpedo of the patrol. The ship was self evidently a passenger liner sailing away from Britain, yet she fell within the terms of engagement.
The Chief Officer of the “ARANDORA STAR” summarises the events:
SINKING OF S.S. “ARANDORA STAR”.
S.S.”ARANDORA STAR” sailed from Liverpool at about 0400, Monday 1st July, 1940 and proceeded without escort. Zig-Zag No.10 was carried out continuously until the vessel was struck at 0615, Tuesday 2nd July, 1940, when the course was 270° and speed 15 knots.
Two Officers were on the Bridge (the 3rd Officer and myself) and four lookouts posted, hut nothing was reported seen by any of these men. The vessel was struck at the after end of the Engine Room, all communications from Bridge to Engine Room and also W/T Office put out of action. Ship’s half hourly position had already been sent to W/T Office and I had sent a messenger with the order to send out an S.O.S. and was soon informed that we were heing answered hy Mallin Head W/T Station.
As soon as the explosion occured, all prisoners appeared upon the Upper Deck and greatly handicapped the crew in launching Life Boats. No.7 Boat was smashed hy the explosion and No.5 lost in lowering, the falls and davits here were probably damaged.
About 90 Life Rafts were carried on the upper deck, more than half of these were thrown overboard as soon as way was lost, but at that time , nobody would go over the side, they were getting into the boats. The boats were eventually cleared with the help of the guard but they were immediately filled to capacity hy prisoners going down the side ladders and falls. The balance of the rafts were then thrown over. The Ship took a list to Starboard which steadily increased and at about 0715 it was apparent that she was about to sink.
It was then that the Captain and Senior Officers walked over the side, many of the Italian internees still refused to leave.
I was picked up by a boat after being in the water about 20 minutes. I saw nothing of the Officers who left at the same time, the vessel turned over and sank stern first almost immediately and I think that they must hare been trapped as she came over.
An Aircraft arrived at about 0900 and stayed until the arrival of H.M.C.S. “St LAURENT” when all survivors were taken onboard.
(SGD). F. Brown.
S.S. “ARANDORA STAR” .
From the statement made by Mr U. LIMANTANI , one of the internees, to the subsequent Enquiry:
When the ship was hit by the torpedo, I was sleeping, and soon got up, advised people to be calm, put on my lifebelt, and went on deck.
I tried to get into a lifeboat,but,when it was launched, it was nearly empty,and soon the stream and waves pushed it far.The other lifeboats were already far away. Many people had jumped into the sea and a good deal of them had already died.
When I realised (about 20 minutes after the torpedoing) that there was not much time left,I got down calmly into the sea,and swam away from the ship, which was quickly sinking.
She had turned on the right side,her bow was submerged people were on the decks poured into the sea, and all of a sudden she sank with a terrible noise.The sea was covered with oil, some where even blazing, with wrecks,and pieces of wood.
I swam for about an hour hanging at a bench,then I arranged with a member of the “Arandora Star” crew who was swimming with me,that we should try to reach a lifeboat which we had seen at about half a mile of distance.
We started pushing our bench, but after a while, he left me and swam towards the lifeboat; when I realised that the bench was a hinderance more than a help to my reaching the lifeboat, I left it and swam freely. Eventually I reached it and was picked up.
Later I understood,from people who were in the lifeboat,that a captain of the Army who was in the boat, insisted that only British people should be taken on board;but the second or third officer of the “Arandora Star” (a certain Mr.Tulip) said that he picked up anybody, without any distinction of nationality.
The lifeboat was nearly full up (There were about 120 people on board) and we were terribly packed and pressed from all sides. Moreover, water was coming in, and I felt it growing higher, as I had to sit on the bottom of the boat.
At about 12.30 a flying boat sighted us and fired some flares. At 2.40 p.m. the destroyer H.83 (H.M.C.S. St. Laurent) arrived,and I was taken on board at about 3.20 p.m.
The Italian authorities were informed via the Brazilian Ambassador:
The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs presents his compliments to the Brazilian Ambassador and has the honour to inform His Excellency that the ARANDORA STAR, having on board 734 male Italian internees and 565 German prisoners of war and civilian internees, was torpedoed and sunk on the 2nd instant.
According to the German High Command Communique issued on 3rd July, this vessel was sunk by a German U-Boat.
Every effort was made to save the lives of those on board this ship; rescue ships were at once despatched to her aid and despite the fact that the attack was made without any warning, 264 Italians and 322 Germans were saved.
More lives would probably have been saved had not many of the prisoners of war and internees refused to make use of the numerous rafts which were at once thrown over board when the ship was torpedoed.
The list of the Italians who lost their lives will be sent to the Ambassador as soon as possible.
These documents are representative of the official British position with respect to the tragedy. The incident continues to attract much controversy. The need to intern so many Germans and Italians is questioned, many of them were either refugees from Hitler or were longstanding residents in Britain who posed no threat and were antipathetic to Hitler and Mussolini. And there remains the question as to whether they really were treated equally in the evacuation from the sinking ship.