SS Letitia

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Name: SS Letitia (1924-39)
HMS Letitia (1939-44)
HMHS Letitia (1944-46)
SS Empire Brent (1946-52)
SS Captain Cook (1952-60)
Owner: Anchor-Donaldson Ltd (1925-36)
Donaldson-Atlantic Line Ltd (1936-46)
Ministry of Transport (1946-59)
New Zealand government (1959-60)
Operator: Cunard Line and Anchor-Donaldson Ltd (1925-36)
Donaldson-Atlantic Line Ltd (1936-46)
Donaldson Bros & Black Ltd (1946-60)
Port of registry: United Kingdom Glasgow (1925-39)
 Royal Navy (1939-46)
United Kingdom United Kingdom (1946-60)
Builder: Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Company, Govan
Yard number: 601
Launched: 14 October 1924
Completed: April 1925
Identification: UK Official Number 14867 (1925-39, 1946-60)
Code Letters KSLC (1925-33)
Code Letters GLBX (1934-39)
Pennant Number F16 (1939-44)
Fate: Scrapped in 1960
General characteristics
Tonnage: 13,475 gross register tons (GRT)
Length: 538 feet (163.98 m)
Beam: 66 feet 3 inches (20.19 m)
Depth: 29 feet 5 inches (8.97 m)
Propulsion: 6 x Geared turbines by Brown-Curtis-Fairfield
Twin Screw; 9,000 SHP
3 Double & 2 Single Ended forced draught boilers supplying steam at max pressure 210lbs
Speed: 15 knots (28 km/h) (service)
16 knots (30 km/h) (max)
Capacity: (As built)
  • 516 cabin class
  • 1,000 third class
(After 1927)
  • 298 cabin class
  • 310 tourist class
  • 964 third class
(As hospital ship)
  • 1,000 patients
(As 1949 emigration ship)
  • 965 emigrants
(As 1951 emigration ship)
  • 1,088 passengers in two, four, and six berth cabins

As an armed merchant cruiser:

  • 8 x 6 in guns
  • 2 x 3 in guns

The SS Letitia was an ocean liner, built initially for service with the shipping firm Anchor-Donaldson Ltd. She continued to serve with the successor company Donaldson Atlantic Line Ltd, and was requisitioned for service at the start of Second World War to serve as an armed merchant cruiser. She was withdrawn from this service in 1941 and became a troop ship. She was badly damaged in 1943 and on being repaired became a hospital ship in Canada. She was returned to civilian service in 1946 after the end of the war, and was bought by the Ministry of Transport, who assigned her to be managed by Donaldson Bros & Black Ltd as the Empire Brent. She sailed on a number of voyages, at times carrying troops to the Far East, as well as serving as an emigration ship to Australia. She was briefly laid up in 1950, but returned to service under charter from the Government of New Zealand as the Captain Cook. She was finally withdrawn from service in 1960 and was sold for scrapping.


Early service

Letitia was built at the yards of the Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Company, Govan and was launched on 14 October 1924.[1][2] Completed in April 1925 she initially sailed for the Glasgow-based Anchor-Donaldson Ltd, on their summer route between Liverpool, Quebec and Montreal with another Anchor-Donaldson steamer the SS Athenia. In winter she sailed to Halifax and St John's, Newfoundland.[2] Her maiden voyage was from Glasgow to Montreal on 24 April 1925.[3] This was a joint venture between Cunard Line and Anchor-Donaldson Line.[4] She underwent a refit in 1927, and with the reforming of the company into the Donaldson Atlantic Line in 1935, Letitia was one of the assets retained.[2]

Second World War

Letitia was requisitioned by the Admiralty on 9 September 1939, shortly after the outbreak of the Second World War.[5][6] She underwent a refit to rearm her with eight 6 inch and two 3 inch guns, and resumed service on 6 November 1939 with the pennant number F16.[5][6] She spent most of her time in the Atlantic; initially between October 1939 and January 1940 deploying with the Halifax Escort Force.[6] On 6 January 1940, Convoy HX 15 departed from Halifax, Nova Scotia, arriving at Liverpool on 19 January. Letitia was an escort for the convoy.[7] Most of 1940 was spent with the Northern Patrol, followed by the period of November 1940 to February 1941 with the Northern and Western Patrol.[6] On 13 January 1941, Letitia ran aground at Halifax, Nova Scotia and was badly damaged.[8] She was briefly with the Bermuda and Halifax Escort Force, before returning to the North Atlantic Escort Force between May and June 1941.[6] By now however it had become clear to the Admiralty that using liners like the Letitia as armed merchant cruisers left them too exposed to attack, without offering substantially increased protection.[9] The remaining merchant cruisers were withdrawn from service, Letitia being withdrawn on 7 June 1941, and were instead used as troop ships by the Ministry of War Transport.[6]

On 10 January 1942, A portion of Convoy WS 15 sailed from Liverpool, with anothe portion sailing from the Clyde on 11 January. The two portions combined off Oversay on 12 January. Letitia was part of the Liverpool portion and was destined for Durban.[10] On 22 August 1942, Convoy AT 20 sailed from Halifax, Nova Scotia[11] During the evening of 22 August, Letitia failed to react to an order to perform an emergency zig-zag and USS Buck was sent to correct Letitia's actions. This set in motion a chain of events that led to a collision between USS Ingraham and USS Chemung (AO-30). As a result of this, Ingraham sank. There was a further collision between SS Awatea and USS Buck.[12] In November 1942, Convoy MFK 1Y departed Gibraltar bound for the United Kingdom.[13]

On 23 January 1943, Convoy WS 26 sailed from the Clyde, destined for Durban, South Africa via Freetown, Sierra Leone and Cape Town, South Africa. Letitia left the convoy at Freetown.[14] On 27 February, Convoy KMF 10A formed off Oversay in conjunction with Convoy WS 27. On 18 May 1943, Convoy WS 30 departed Liverpool, combining with Convoy KMF 15 off Oversay on 21 May. Letitia was a member of both these convoys.[14]

On 4 November 1943, Convoy KMS departed the United Kingdom bound for the Mediterranean. Letitia joined the convoy at Algiers and left at Philippeville.[15] Letitia served in this role until 1943, when she was badly damaged. She was able to sail to the United States for repairs,after which she was used by the Canadian government as a hospital ship, carrying 200 medical personnel and with a capacity for 1,000 patients.[2] She spent the remainder of the war carrying wounded personnel to Canada, and was due to be reassigned to the Pacific Ocean when the war ended.[2] She continued in service in the immediate aftermath of the war, repatriating Canadian service personnel.[2] She was sold in 1946, during this period as a transport, to the Ministry of Transport, which renamed her Empire Brent.[2][3] The Ministry assigned her to be operated on their behalf by her previous owners, now trading as Donaldson Bros & Black Ltd.[16]


While sailing for Halifax from Britain in 1946, Empire Brent collided with the SS Stormont in the River Mersey on 20 November 1946, sinking the Stormont and requiring Empire Brent to sail to Birkenhead to be dry-docked while repairs were carried out on her stern.[2][3][17] A complete overhaul on the Clyde followed in December that year, during which time she was refitted again to be a troop ship. She sailed between India and the Far East for the next two years, before transferring to run an emigration service between the UK and Australia in 1949.[2][3] She was on this service until being withdrawn and laid up in late 1950.[2] After six months out of service she was refitted again to serve as an emigration ship for those travelling from the UK to New Zealand, under the name Captain Cook.[17] She operated under charter to the New Zealand government, who paid in a series of instalments.[2][3] She began her voyages in early 1952, sailing between Glasgow and Wellington via the Panama Canal.[2][17] She briefly returned to her pre-war sailing route across the Atlantic from the UK to Canada in 1955, but subsequently returned to the New Zealand route.[2] A fire while in harbour at Wellington in 1957 caused extensive damage, but she was able to sail to the UK where she was repaired.[2] She had been bought outright by the New Zealand government by 1959, making her final voyage to Glasgow in early 1960, and was then laid up at Falmouth, Cornwall.[2][17] Captain Cook was then sold to British Steel, who towed her to Inverkeithing, where she arrived on 29 April 1960 for breaking up.[1][2][17]

Official Numbers and Code Letters

Official Numbers were a forerunner to IMO Numbers. Letitia had the United Kingdom Official Number 148847. She used the Code Letters KSLT until 1933,[18] and GLBX from 1934.[19]


  1. 1.0 1.1 ""1148847"" (subscription required). Miramar Ship Index. R.B. Haworth. Retrieved 4 March 2009. 
  2. 2.00 2.01 2.02 2.03 2.04 2.05 2.06 2.07 2.08 2.09 2.10 2.11 2.12 2.13 2.14 2.15 "SHIP DESCRIPTIONS - L". TheShipsList. Retrieved 4 March 2009. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 "ss LETITIA". Clydebuilt. Retrieved 4 March 2009. 
  4. "Cunard Line / The British and North American Royal Mail Steam-Packet Company / Cunard Steamship Company, Limited". The Ships List. Retrieved 8 December 2009. 
  5. 5.0 5.1 Colledge. Ships of the Royal Navy, Vol. 2. p. 209. 
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 6.5 "Letitia (F 16), Armed Merchant Cruiser". Retrieved 4 March 2009. 
  7. "CONVOY HX 15". Warsailors. Retrieved 8 December 2009. 
  8. "NEW YORK SHIPS THROUGH FOREIGN PORTS 9.1838 thru 9.1945". Janda. Retrieved 8 December 2009. 
  9. "SS Athenia". Plastic Ship Modeler. Retrieved 4 March 2009. 
  10. "WS CONVOYS - January to June 1942 SAILINGS, including one DM Convoy, WS 15 to 20B". Naval History. Retrieved 8 December 2009. 
  11. "Collision at Sea, "Close the convoy" Orders Take Heavy Toll in WW II Fog off Halifax". Franklin E Dailey. Retrieved 8 December 2009. 
  12. "No 'Abandon Ship' for Ingraham, USS Philadelphia, Buck, Bristol Logs, and USS Chemung Court of Inquiry, Fill Convoy AT-20 Record Gaps". Franklin E Dailey. Retrieved 8 December 2009. 
  13. "Leatherhead War Memorials: Donald Frederick Kebbell". Leatherhead web. Retrieved 8 December 2009. 
  14. 14.0 14.1 "WS CONVOYS - 1943 SAILINGS, WS 26 to 33". Naval History. Retrieved 8 December 2009. 
  15. "KMS Convoys – 1942-1945, KMS 1 through KMS 30". Warsailors. Retrieved 8 December 2009. 
  16. "EMPIRE - B". Retrieved 4 March 2009. 
  17. 17.0 17.1 17.2 17.3 17.4 Plowman. Australian Migrant Ships. p. 72. 
  18. "LLOYD'S REGISTER, NAVIRES A VAPEUR ET A MOTEURS". Plimsoll Ship Data. Retrieved 8 December 2009. 
  19. "LLOYD'S REGISTER, NAVIRES A VAPEUR ET A MOTEURS". Plimsoll Ship Data. Retrieved 8 December 2009.