SS Canberra

From SpottingWorld, the Hub for the SpottingWorld network...
SS Canberra in the Azores
Career (United Kingdom) British Red Ensign
Name: Canberra
Namesake: City of Canberra, Australia
Owner: P&O Orient Line
Port of registry: Southampton, Great Britain
Ordered: 20 December 1956
Builder: Harland and Wolff, Belfast
Cost: £16 million
Laid down: 23 September 1957
Launched: 16 March 1960
Sponsored by: Dame Pattie Menzies, GBE
Maiden voyage: 2 June 1961
Out of service: 10-31 October 1997 (final voyage)
Nickname: The Great White Whale
Honours and
Falklands Conflict
Fate: Scrapped in 1997
General characteristics
Tonnage: 1961: 45,270 gross tons
1962: 45,733
1968: 44,807
1994: 49,073
Length: 249.9 m (818 ft)
Beam: 31.2 m (102 ft)
Draught: 9.97 m (32.7 ft)
Propulsion: Main: Two British Thompson Houston (AEI) synchronous three-phase, 6,000 volt air-cooled electric motors providing 85,000 horsepower (63,000 kW); power supplied by two 32,200 kW steam turbine driven alternators; twin propeller
Auxiliary: Four steam turbines, each driving a 1,500 kW, 440 V, 3 Phase, 60 Hz alternator and a tandem driven 300 kW exciter for the propulsion alternators
Speed: Trials: 29.27 knots (54.3 km/h)
1961-1973: 27.5 knots (51 km/h)
1973-1997: 23.50 knots (43.5 km/h)
Complement: 1961-1973: 548 First class, 1,690 Tourist class, 960 officers and crew
1973-1997: 1,737 passengers, 795 officers and crew

SS Canberra was an ocean liner, which later operated on cruises, in the P&O fleet from 1961 to 1997. She was built at the Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast, Northern Ireland at a cost of UK £17 million. The ship was named on 17 March 1958, after the federal capital of Australia, Canberra. She was launched on 16 March 1960, sponsored by Dame Pattie Menzies, GBE, wife of the current Prime Minister of Australia. She entered service in May 1961, and took her maiden voyage starting in June. During the 1982 Falklands War, she served as a troop ship.


P&O commissioned the Canberra to operate the combined P&O-Orient Line service between the United Kingdom and Australia. The arrival of the jet airliner had already caused a drop in demand for this service; a reduction in emigration to Australia and wars forcing the closure of the Suez Canal saw the route become unprofitable. However a refit in 1974 saw the Canberra adapted to cruising. Unusually, this transition from an early life as a purpose built ocean liner to a long and successful career in cruising, occurred without any major external alterations, and with only minimal internal and mechanical changes over the years. One of her public rooms included a 'Cricketers Tavern', which contained a collection of bats and ties from cricket clubs all over the world; she also had the William Fawcett reading/writing room, named after the engine designer of early P&O ships.

Arguably the single most remarkable feature of Canberra's design was her turbo-electric propulsion system. Instead of being mechanically coupled to her propeller shafts, Canberra's steam turbines drove large electric alternators which provided power to electric motors which, in turn, drove the vessel's twin propellers. They were the most powerful steam turbo-electric units ever installed in a passenger ship; at 42,500 hp (31,700 kW) per shaft, they surpassed SS Normandie's 40,000 hp (30,000 kW) on each of her four shafts. This would give her a speed of about 27 1/4 knots. She also had a bow propeller for maneuvering in port and docking maneuvers. She was also the first British passenger liner to use alternating current as power. There are several operational and economical advantages to such electrical de-coupling of a ship's propulsion system, and it has become a standard element of cruise ship design during the 1990s, over 30 years after Canberra entered service. However diesel engine and gas turbine driven alternators are the primary power source for most modern electrically propelled ships. She also had a bulbous bow, two sets of stabilizers, and two funnels side-by-side. The lifeboats, which were made of glass fiber, were placed 3 decks lower than usual for ships of her type, and were recessed into the hull to allow improved view from the passenger decks.

After the Argentine invasion of the Falkland Islands in 1982, which initiated the Falklands War, the Ministry of Defence requisitioned the Canberra as use as a troopship. Nicknamed the Great White Whale, the Canberra proved vital in transporting the Parachute Regiment and Royal Marines to the islands more than 9,000 miles (14,000 km) from the UK. Whilst the Queen Elizabeth 2 was held to be too vulnerable to enter the war zone, Canberra was sent to the heart of the conflict.

Canberra anchored in San Carlos Water on 21 May as part of the landings by British forces to retake the islands. Although her size and white colour made her an unmissable target for the Argentine Air Force, the Canberra, if sunk, would not have been completely submerged in the shallow waters at San Carlos. However, the liner was not badly hit during the landings as the Argentine pilots tended to attack the Royal Navy frigates and destroyers instead of the supply and troop ships. After the war, Argentine pilots claimed they were told not to hit the Canberra, as they mistook her for a Hospital Ship.[1]

When the war ended, Canberra was used to repatriate captured Argentine soldiers, before returning to Southampton to a rapturous welcome. After a lengthy refit, Canberra returned to civilian service as a cruise ship. Her role in the Falklands War made her very popular with the British public, and ticket sales after her return were elevated for many years as a result. Age and high running costs eventually caught up with her though, as she had much higher fuel consumption than most modern cruise ships. She was withdrawn from service in September 1997 and sold to ship breakers for scrapping, leaving for Gadani Beach, Pakistan the next month. She did not give up without a fight however; her deep draft meant that she could not be beached as far as most ships, and due to her solid construction the scrapping process took nearly a year instead of the estimated three months.

Picture gallery


  • Launched by Dame Pattie Menzies, wife of the then Prime Minister of Australia, Robert Menzies
  • Sailed from Belfast to Southampton 28 April 1961
  • Official No 302649: Entered P&O service 19 May 1961
  • Cargo capacity 150,000 ft³ (4,200 m³)
  • Fuel consumption; 250- 300 tonnes/day at sea (approx)
  • Water consumption, engines; 200 tonnes/day
  • Water consumption, domestic; 600 tonnes/day
  • Water production capacity; 450 tonnes/day
  • The top section of the radar mast could cantilever astern in order to fit under the Sydney Harbour Bridge


  1. Ward, Sharkey (1992). "24". Sea Harrier over the Falklands. Cassell Military Paperbacks. pp. 271. ISBN 0-304-35542-9. 
  • Cruising Ships, W.H. Mitchell and L.A. Sawyer, doubleday, 1967


  • A LINER GOES TO SEA Carol Odell Published by Angus & Robertson 1968 ISBN 207949824X
  • CANBERRA - THE GREAT WHITE WHALE GOES TO WAR Lt Cdr J.L. Muxworthy RN Published by P&O 1982
  • CANBERRA - THE GREAT WHITE WHALE Neil McCart Published by Patrick Stephens Ltd 1983 ISBN 085059636X
  • P&O's CANBERRA - The Ship That Shaped The Future Neil McCart Published by Kingfisher Railway Publications 1989 ISBN 0946184542
  • BRITISH SUPERLINERS OF THE SIXTIES Philip Dawson Published by Conway Maritime Press 1990 ISBN 085177542X
  • SS CANBERRA of 1961 Luis Miguel Correia & William H. Miller Published by Liner Books 1997 ISBN 9729694052
  • CANBERRA - IN THE WAKE OF LEGEND Philip Dawson Published by Conway Maritime Press / P&O 1997 ISBN 0851777074
  • P&O's CANBERRA & SEA PRINCESS Neil McCart Published by Fan Publications 1993 ISBN 0951953826
  • SS CANBERRA 1957-1997 Neil McCart Published by Fan Publications 1998 ISBN 1901225003

External links

Wikimedia Commons has media related to:
[[Commons: Category:SS Canberra

| SS Canberra


de:Canberra (Schiff) ja:キャンベラ (客船)