MV Empire Windrush

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Empire Windrush
Name: Monte Rosa (1930-47)
Empire Windrush (1947-54)
Namesake: Monte Rosa
Owner: Hamburg-Südamerikanische-Dampfschiffahrts-Gesellschaft (1930-40)
Kriesgmarine (1940-45)
Ministry of War Transport (1945)
Ministry of Transport (1945-54)
Operator: Hamburg-Südamerikanische-Dampfschiffahrts-Gesellschaft (1930-40)
Kriegsmarine (1940-45)
New Zealand Shipping Co (1945-54)
Port of registry: 22x20px Hamburg (1930-33)
22x20px Hamburg (1933-40)
22x20px Kriegsmarine (1940-45)
United Kingdom London (1945-54)
Builder: Blohm & Voss, Hamburg
Launched: 4 December 1930
In service: 1931
Out of service: 30 March 1954
Identification: German Official Number 1640 (1930-45)
Code Letters RHWF (1930-33)
Code Letters DIDU (1933-45)
Fate: Sank on 30 March 1954
General characteristics
Tonnage: 13,882 GRT
7,788 Net tonnage
8,530 long tons deadweight (DWT)
Length: 500 feet 3 inches (152.48 m)
Beam: 65 feet 7 inches (19.99 m)
Propulsion: 4 SCSA diesel engines (Blohm & Voss, Hamburg), double reduction geared driving two propellers.
Speed: 14.5 knots (26.9 km/h)

The MV Empire Windrush was a ship that is an important part of multiracialism in the United Kingdom. The Empire Windrush arrived at Tilbury on 22 June 1948, carrying 492 passengers from Jamaica wishing to start a new life in the United Kingdom. The passengers were the first large group of West Indian immigrants to the UK after the Second World War.

The arrival of the passengers, and the image of the Caribbean passengers filing off the vessel's gang plank, has become an important landmark in the history of modern Britain, symbolising the beginning of modern multicultural relations which were to change British society significantly over the following years. In 1998, an area of public open space in Brixton was renamed Windrush Square to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the arrival of the West Indians.

Before 1948, the ship, under the name of SS Monte Rosa, had been used for cruises in pre-war Germany, and then as a German troopship and prisoner transport ship, before being captured by the British and taken as a war prize. She continued to be used as a British troopship after 1948, but sank in the Mediterranean Sea in March 1954 after a sudden and catastrophic fire in her engine room.

Early history of the ship

The diesel-powered motor ship was built by Blohm & Voss in Hamburg, Germany and launched on 4 December 1930. She was delivered to Hamburg-Südamerikanische-Dampfschiffahrts-Gesellschaft (Hamburg South American Steam Shipping Company) in 1931, which named her '''Monte Rosa''' and used her for cruises. Many passengers on these cruises were aboard as privileged Nazi Party members, as part of the Nazi Strength Through Joy programme, intended to reward and encourage party members and as a reward for services to the Party.

During the Second World War, the ship was used as a barracks ship at Stettin, then as a troopship for the invasion of Norway in April 1940. She was later used as an accommodation and recreational ship attached to the battleship Tirpitz, stationed in the north of Norway, from where the Tirpitz and her flotilla preyed on Allied convoys en route to Russia.

While based in Norway, she was also used to transport prisoners from Norway to concentration camps and prisons. At least 46 Jews were deported on the ship, of whom only two survived. By 1945, the ship was in the Baltic, being used as a refugee evacuation ship rescuing Germans trapped in East Prussia and Danzig by the advance of the Red Army.

In May 1945, the Monte Rosa was captured by advancing British forces at Kiel and taken as a prize of war. The following year the ship was assigned to the British Ministry of Transport and converted into a troopship. She was renamed HMT Empire Windrush on 21 January 1947, for use on the Southampton-Gibraltar-Suez-Aden-Colombo-Singapore-Hong Kong route, with voyages extended to Kure in Japan after the start of the Korean War. The vessel was operated for the British Government by the New Zealand Shipping Company, and made one voyage only to the Caribbean before resuming normal trooping voyages.

The name derives from a series of ship names used by the British government for the ships they owned or chartered for the carriage of troops. Many of these ships were secondhand (like the Empire Windrush was), and renamed when bought. The names begin Empire, and then added the name of a river in Britain. Among others well known at the time was the Empire Wansbeck, which from 1946-61 took British soldiers based in Germany from Harwich. The river Windrush is a minor tributary of the Thames, flowing from the Cotswold hills down towards Oxford.

West Indian immigrants

In 1948, the Windrush was en route from Australia to England via the Atlantic, docking in Kingston, Jamaica. An advert had appeared in a Jamaican newspaper offering cheap transport on the ship for anybody who wanted to come and work in the UK. At that time, there were no immigration restrictions for citizens of one part of the British Empire moving to another part. The arrival of the boat immediately prompted complaints from some Members of Parliament, but legislation controlling immigration was not passed until 1962. Among the passengers were calypso musicians Lord Kitchener and Lord Beginner alongside sixty Polish women displaced during the Second World War [1].

The arrivals were temporarily housed in the Clapham South deep shelter in south-west London, less than a mile away from the Coldharbour Lane Employment Exchange in Brixton, where some of the arrivals sought work. Many only intended to stay for a few years, and although a number returned to rejoin the RAF the majority remained to settle permanently.

Later history of the ship

She set off in February 1954 on what proved to be her final voyage, sailing from Yokohama and Kure to the United Kingdom with approx 1,500 recovering wounded United Nations veterans of the Korean War, including soldiers from the Duke of Wellington's Regiment wounded at the Third Battle of the Hook in May 1953. The voyage was plagued with engine breakdowns and other defects, taking ten weeks to reach Port Said, from where the ship sailed for the last time.[citation needed]

An inquiry later found that an engine room fire began after a fall of soot from the funnel fractured oil-fuel supply pipes. The subsequent explosion and fierce oil-fed fire killed four members of the engine room crew. The fire could not be fought because of a lack of electrical power for the pumps because the back-up generators were also not in working order, and the ship did not have a sprinkler system. The lack of electrical power also prevented many lifeboats from being launched and the remainder were unable to accommodate all the survivors, who were mostly clad in their nightclothes. Many were in the water for up to six hours before rescue vessels appeared to take them to Algiers, where they were cared for by the municipal authority and the French Army.[citation needed]

Assistance was given by MV Mentor, MV Socotra, SS Hemsefjell and SS Taigete.[1] A Shackleton from 224 Squadron, Royal Air Force assisted in the rescue.[2]

The burned-out hulk of Empire Windrush was taken in tow by the destroyer HMS Saintes of the Royal Navy's Mediterranean Fleet, 32 miles northwest of Cape Caxine. HMS Saintes attempted to tow the ship to Gibraltar in worsening weather, but Empire Windrush sank before first light the following morning, Monday 30 March 1954.[citation needed]


  • Motor vessel: twin screws; oilfuel; 2 × 2 MAN diesels, single reduction geared: 4-stroke single-acting. 6,880 hp each (27,520 hp in total).
  • Maximum speed: 14.5 knots.

Official Number and Code Letters

Official Numbers were a forerunner to IMO Numbers. Monte Rosa had the German Official Number 1640. She used the Code Letters RHWF until 1933[3] and then DIDU until 1945.[4]

See also


  1. Mitchell, W H, and Sawyer, L A (1995). The Empire Ships. London, New York, Hamburg, Hong Kong: Lloyd's of London Press Ltd. p. 477. ISBN 1-85044-275-4. 
  2. "Constant Endeavour". Aeroplane (February 2010): p60. 2010. 
  3. "LLOYD'S REGISTER, NAVIRES A VAPEUR ET A MOTEURS". Plimsoll Ship Data. Retrieved 2 May 2009. 
  4. "LLOYD'S REGISTER, NAVIRES A VAPEUR ET A MOTEURS". Plimsoll Ship Data. Retrieved 2 May 2009. 

External links

fr:Empire Windrush it:Empire Windrush no:MS «Monte Rosa»