SS Nerissa

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Name: SS Nerissa
Operator: New York, Newfoundland and Halifax Steamship Company, Limited
Builder: William Hamilton & Co. Ltd., Port Glasgow
Laid down: November 1925
Launched: 31 March 1926
Fate: Sunk on 30 April 1941 by U-552
General characteristics
Class and type: Passenger and cargo steamer
Tonnage: 5,583 tons gross
Length: 349.5 ft (106.5 m)
Beam: 54 ft (16 m)
Draught: 20 ft 8 in (6.30 m)
Depth: 33 ft (10 m)
Propulsion: steam, 4 oil-fired boilers
4-cylinder triple-expansion engine
Speed: 17 kn (31 km/h; 20 mph) maximum; 14 kn (26 km/h; 16 mph) cruising
Capacity: 163 first class
66 second class
197,430 cu ft (5,591 m3) cargo capacity

The SS Nerissa was a passenger and cargo steamer which was torpedoed and sunk on 30 April 1941 during World War II by German submarine U-552 following 39 wartime voyages between Canada and Britain. She was the only transport carrying Canadian troops to be lost during World War II.


Nerissa was the final ship built for the Bowring Brothers' "Red Cross Line" service between New York, Halifax, Nova Scotia, and St. John's, Newfoundland. Due to the arduous winter conditions to be expected on her routes, Nerissa was designed with a strengthened hull to cope with ice floes and an icebreaker style sloping stern.

She was built in Port Glasgow by the shipbuilding company William Hamilton & Company Ltd in a remarkably short time; her owners only signed the contract for her construction on 3 November 1925, yet she was launched on 31 March 1926 in time for the 1926 sailing season. After preliminary trials she departed on her maiden voyage to New York on 5 June 1926.

The Red Cross Line relied mainly on American tourist traffic and this was much affected by the Depression, until by 1927 it was decided to abandon the service, and at the end of 1928 the Line along with its three ships Nerissa, Rosalind, and Silvia was sold to Furness Withy.

The ships then became part of the Bermuda & West Indies Steamship Co. Ltd., and the Nerissa continued on the New York, Halifax and St. Johns route until 1931 when she was switched to the New York to Bermuda run and also made voyages to Trinidad and Demerara.

Wartime service

In late 1939 Nerissa was modified as an auxiliary transport with accommodation for 250 men and was fitted with a 4 inch gun and a Bofors gun, with gun crews drawn from the Maritime Regiment of the Royal Artillery. Due to her capability to steam at a higher speed than the usual 9 kn (17 km/h; 10 mph) of escorted convoys, Nerissa sailed alone, since she was considered capable of outrunning enemy submarines.

By April 1941 Nerissa had made 39 wartime crossings of the North Atlantic. Her 40th crossing began on 21 April 1941 at Halifax, Nova Scotia. Carrying 145 Canadian servicemen along with RAF and RNAF personnel, Northern Electric technicians, members of the press, and a number of civilians she sailed as part of a Britain bound convoy. At 10:15 she separated from the convoy to make her crossing alone, and arrived at St. John's, Newfoundland on 23 April, where her captain received his Admiralty orders and she sailed for Britain in the evening.


On 30 April she entered the area patrolled by the aircraft of the Royal Navy's Coastal Command. A Lockheed Hudson aircraft flew over her at nightfall and signalled that the area was clear of enemy submarines; at 11:30 she was struck amidships by a torpedo fired from German submarine U-552, 200 mi (320 km) from her destination of Liverpool. The lifeoats were manned and in the process of being lowered when an explosion split the ship in two, destroying the unlowered boats. U-552 had fired an additional two torpedoes to ensure the ship's sinking which had struck together three minutes after the first.

In the short time between the two impacts the ship's radio operator was able to send a Mayday signal along with the ship's position and at first light a Bristol Blenheim of Coastal Command circled the scene. The British destroyer HMS Veteran arrived an hour later at 07:50 and picked up the 84 survivors, who were transferred to the Flower class corvette HMS Kingcup and landed at Derry.


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