RMS Laconia (1921)

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RMS Laconia
Career Civil Ensign of the United Kingdom.svg
Name: RMS Laconia
Owner: Cunard Line
Port of registry: Great Britain
Route: Liverpool-Boston-New York route
Builder: Swan, Hunter & Wigham Richardson Ltd, Wallsend-on-Tyne
Launched: 9 April 1921
Maiden voyage: 25 May 1922
Fate: Torpedoed and sunk on 12 September 1942
General characteristics
Class and type: Ocean liner
Tonnage: 19,860 gross tons
Length: 183 m (600 feet)
Beam: 22.5 m (74 ft)
Installed power: Steam turbines
Propulsion: Twin propellers
Speed: 16 knots

Passenger accommodations:

  • 350 1st class
  • 350 2nd class
  • 1,500 3rd class

The second RMS Laconia was a Cunard ocean liner built by Swan, Hunter & Wigham Richardson as a successor to the Laconia of 1911 to 1917. Like her predecessor, sunk during the First World War, this Laconia would also be destroyed by a German U-boat. The new ship was launched on 9 April 1921, and made her maiden voyage on 25 May 1922 from Southampton to New York.

Early career

In January 1923 Laconia began the first around-the-world cruise, which lasted 130 days and called at 22 ports.

On 24 September 1934 Laconia was involved in a collision off the US coast, while travelling from Boston to New York in dense fog. It rammed into the port side of Pan Royal, a US freighter. Both ships suffered serious damage but were able to proceed under their own steam. Laconia returned to New York for repairs, and resumed cruising in 1935.

Drafted into war service

On 4 September 1939, Laconia was requisitioned by the Admiralty to be converted into an armed merchant cruiser. By January 1940 she was fitted with eight six-inch guns and two three-inch high-angle guns. After trials off the Isle of Wight, she embarked gold bullion and sailed for Portland, Maine and Halifax, Nova Scotia on 23 January. She spent the next few months escorting convoys to Bermuda and to points in the mid-Atlantic, where they would join up with other convoys.

On 9 June, she ran aground in the Bedford Basin at Halifax, suffering considerable damage. It was not until the end of July that she had been fully repaired. In October her passenger accommodation was dismantled and some areas were filled with oil drums to provide extra buoyancy. This was done so she would keep afloat longer if torpedoed.

During the period June-August 1941 Laconia returned to St John, New Brunswick and was refitted, then returned to Liverpool to be used as a troop transport for the rest of the war. On 12 September 1941, she arrived at Bidston Dock, Birkenhead and was taken over by Cammell Laird and Company to be converted. By early 1942 the work was complete, and for the next six months she made trooping voyages to the Middle East. On one such voyage the ship was used to carry PoWs, mainly Italian. She travelled to Cape Town and then set a course for Freetown, following a zigzag course and undertaking evasive steering during the night.

Final moments

On 12 September 1942, at 8:10pm, 130 miles north-northeast of Ascension Island, Laconia was hit by a torpedo on the starboard side, fired by U-boat U-156. There was an explosion in the hold and most of the 450 Italian prisoners the ship was carrying were killed instantly. The vessel immediately took a list to starboard. Captain Sharp, who had also commanded Lancastria when she was torpedoed, was beginning to control the situation when a second torpedo hit Number Two hold.

Captain Sharp ordered the ship abandoned and the women, children and injured taken into the lifeboats first. Some of the 32 lifeboats had been destroyed by the explosions and some surviving Italian prisoners tried to rush those that remained. The efforts of the Polish guards were instrumental in controlling the chaotic situation on board and saved many lives.[citation needed]

At 9:11pm Laconia sank with many Italian prisoners still on board. The prospects for those who escaped the ship were only slightly better; sharks were common in the area and the lifeboats were adrift in the mid-Atlantic with little hope of being rescued.

File:S. S. Laconia boilers 1922.jpg
Boiler installation of the Laconia in 1922.

However, before Laconia went down, U-156 surfaced. The U-boat's efforts to rescue survivors of its own attack began what came to be known as the Laconia incident.

When the commanding officer of U-156 realized civilians and prisoners of war were on board, he surfaced to rescue survivors, and asked BdU (the U-Boat Command in Germany) for help. Several U-Boats were dispatched, and all did wave Red Cross flags, and were saying on the radio that a rescue operation was underway.

A U.S.[1] B-24 Liberator plane started attack runs on some of the submarines which already had survivors on their deck. The Germans ordered their submarines to dive, abandoning many survivors. The American command always denied knowledge of a rescue operation underway. After the incident, Admiral Karl Dönitz ordered his commanders not to rescue survivors after attacks. Vichy French ships rescued 1,083 persons from the lifeboats and took aboard those picked up by the four submarines, but 1,649 lives were lost, mostly Italian PoWs.

General characteristics

  • Gross Tonnage - 19,860 tons
  • Length - 183 m (600 feet)
  • Beam - 22.5 m (74 ft)
  • Number of funnels - 1
  • Number of masts - 2
  • Construction - Steel
  • Propulsion - Twin-propellers
  • Engines - Steam turbines, direct acting by Wallsend Slipway Co Ltd
  • Service speed - 16 knots
  • Builder - Swan, Hunter & Wigham Richardson Ltd, Wallsend-on-Tyne
  • Launch date - 9 April 1921
  • Passenger accommodation - 350 1st class, 350 2nd class, 1,500 3rd class


  1. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A5LsJdxmSNw documentary about Atlantic War, @5:00

See also

Wikimedia Commons has media related to:
[[Commons: Category:RMS Laconia (1921)

| RMS Laconia (1921)


External links

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