History of the Merchant Navy

BAMPTON CASTLE was built in 1920 by Armstrong, Whitworth & Co. at Newcastle with a tonnage of 6698grt, a length of 412ft 2in, a beam of 55ft 10in and a service speed of 11 knots. Sister of the Bratton Castle she was built for the cargo service but had accommodation for 12 passengers. She was sold to Rethymnis & Kulukundis of Piraeus and renamed, firstly, Atlantis, and then Mount Taygetus. On 23rd December 1933 she was wrecked on Memphis Point in the English Narrows, Chile during a voyage from San Antonio to London with grain. She was refloated on 1st January 1934 and taken to Magellenes Roads where she was abandoned to salvors and eventually broken up in the following September.

BANBURY CASTLE was built in 1918 by Swan, Hunter & Wigham Richardson at Newcastle with a tonnage of 6430grt, a length of 412ft 2in, a beam of 55ft 10in and a service speed of 11 knots. Similar to the Bratton Castle she was the first ‘N’ Class standard ship, the only one from Swan, Hunter and launched on 8th August 1918 as the War Climax. Delivered to the Shipping Controller on 28th September 1918 she was sold to Glen Line in October 1919 and renamed Glenstrae. She was purchased by Union-Castle in August 1920, renamed Banbury Castle and remained with the company until 1931 when she was sold to G. Vergottis of Piraeus who changed her name to Rokos. On 23rd December 1941 she was mined off Harwich and beached. She was towed off but went aground again whilst under tow and became a total loss.

ARUNDEL CASTLE (4) was built in 1921 by Harland & Wolff in Belfast with a tonnage of 19023grt, a length of 630ft 5in, a beam of 72ft 5in and a service speed of 16 knots. She was laid down in 1915 as the Amroth Castle but wartime shortages delayed completion. The internal layout of the public rooms and passenger accommodation set the pattern for all subsequent mails ships until the Pendennis Castle was launched in 1958. When she was delivered on 8th April 1921 for the mail service she was the company’s largest ship at the time and caused a sensation on the route as she was so similar, albeit smaller, to the North Atlantic liners. In 1923 she brought South African Prime Minister Smuts to London for the Imperial Conference and in 1925, during the seamen’s strike, came home with a scratch crew which included 120 non-seamen and was the first Union-Castle vessel to arrive for a month. In November 1926 she collided with the steamer Maud Llewyllyn in Southampton Water. With her sister, the Windsor Castle (2), she was, in 1936, deemed too slow for the mail run and in the following year was modernised by Harland & Wolff which included re-engining and the reduction of funnels from four to two, resuming service in October 1937 with her service speed increased by 3 knots. In 1939 she was requisitioned for use as a troopship and in November 1942 took part in the North Africa landings when she survived a glider bomb attack by shooting down a Ju-88 aircraft. She took part in the Sicily and Italian campaigns in 1943 and in August 1944 exchanged wounded prisoners of war at Gothenburg. The Gripsholm (Swedish America Line) brought German POW’s form the USA and, with the Arundel Castle and Drottningholm repatriated 1800 sick and wounded troops and 552 civilians to Liverpool. All the ships had ‘Protected’ painted on their hulls. In January 1945 she carried out a similar exchange with Donaldson’s Letitia when they carried 1940 persons including 1400 wounded, many from the Arnhem ‘Market Garden’ operation, from Marseilles to Liverpool. During 1945-46 she continued trooping between the UK-Gibraltar-Malta – Port Said for the RAF and RN and in 1947, with berths for 846, carried emigrants to the Cape in ‘Austerity’ conditions. After steaming 625,000 miles she completed her final government voyage in May 1949 and returned to her builders for an overhaul. She returned to the Mail run on 21st September 1950 and on 6th November 1958 left Southampton on her 211th and final voyage having been replaced by the Pendennis Castle. She was sold for scrap, realising £245,000, and was broken up in 1959 by Chiap Hua Manufacturing Co. at Kowloon, Hong Kong.
(Photos: UCPSC 24/143 & UCPSC 13/179)

WINDSOR CASTLE (2) was built in 1921 by John Brown & Co. in Clydebank with a tonnage of 18967grt, a length of 632ft 5in, a beam of 72ft 5in and a service speed of 16 knots. She was built by John Brown’s because Harland & Wolff could not accommodate the order. Sister of the Arundel Castle she was launched by Edward, Prince of Wales on 9th March 1922. So that she could be named Windsor Castle it was necessary to purchase a River Severn excursion steamer with the same name, rename her and then resell her. She entered service in April 1922 and replaced the Norman. When, in 1936, she proved too slow for the new mail contract she was modernised in the same manner as her sister, resuming service in January 1938. In September 1939 she was requisitioned for troopship duties. During a voyage from the Cape in 1941 she was attacked by a dive bomber when 400 miles west of Ireland. Four dive bombing runs were made during which a 500lb bomb entered the first class smoke room but failed to explode. It was sandbagged and left untouched until the ship arrived in port where it was defused. In 1942 she was deployed on trooping duties between the US, Canada and Europe. On 23rd March 1943 at 02.35 hrs, whilst in a Mediterranean convoy, she was attacked by a solitary aircraft 110 miles north-west of Algiers. An aerial torpedo struck her aft causing extensive flooding and she sank 13 hours later before a salvage vessel could reach her. Although she was carrying troops only one life was lost. (Photo: UCPSC 16/130)

SANDOWN CASTLE was built in 1921 by Short Bros. in Sunderland with a tonnage of 7607grt, a length of 445ft, a beam of 56ft 4in and a service speed of 12.5 knots. She was built as a cargo only ship and operated between the USA and South Africa occasionally triangulating with the UK. When, in 1922, the absorption of war built standard ships into commercial service created a surplus she was laid up for several months. In 1924 she carried 330 head of live cattle from South Africa to Birkenhead the intention being to create a market to rival that of the River Plate. However, the post-slaughter price was too high and the venture was discontinued in the same year. During 1946 she was given a lavender hull but after a short time reverted to black with a white band. She was scrapped in 1950. (Photo: A Duncan)

SANDGATE CASTLE was built in 1922 by Short Bros. in Sunderland with a tonnage of 7607grt, a length of 445ft, a beam of 56ft 4in and a service speed of 12.5 knots. Sister of the Sandown Castle she spent some lying idle in the London Docks before commencing service. In 1924 she carried cattle from South Africa to the UK in parallel with her sister and then, in 1925, worked with her on the South Africa – USA service. On 23rd June 1937, during a voyage from New York to Cape Town, she caught fire 350 miles north-east of Bermuda and was abandoned. The Dollar Steamship Company’s President Pierce picked up the crew from the lifeboats and on 30th June the Italia ship Conte de Savoia reported her being still afloat and burning. She sank shortly after.

INCOMATI was built in 1912 by Gebr. Sachsenberg AG, at Koln-Deutz with a tonnage of 340grt, a length of 129ft 7in, a beam of 25ft 8in and a service speed of 9 knots. She was built as a tender and sea-going tug for Deutsche Ost-Afrika Linie and launched on 1st October 1912 as the Leutnant. Based at the German East African ports she had two dumb lighters, Inga and Irma, of 353grt. In August 1914 she was interned at Beira in Mozambique and on 11th March 1916 was taken over by the Portuguese Government and renamed Incomati. Acquired by Union-Castle in 1924 she operated a feeder service along the Mozambique coast to Chinde – Quelimane – Macusa – Maquival towing the two lighters. In 1928 she was replaced by Rovuma and on 22nd February was sold to Cia Nacional de Nav. of Lourenço Marques for a Beira – Chinde service towing her two lighters ,Inga and Irma, carrying sugar for the Sena Sugar Co. She was moved to Luanda in Portuguese West Africa during 1930 and on 14th June 1931 arrived at Lisbon to operate the company’s harbour services. She was converted to a lighter in 1933 and was still in use as such in 1978.

KOODOO (2) was built in 1924 by J. I. Thorneycroft & Co. at Southampton with a tonnage of 119grt, a length of 90ft 7in, a beam of 19ft 1in and a service speed of 9 knots. She was built as the company’s tug at East London, remained there until 1937 when she was sold to the South African Railways & Harbour Administration without a change of name, and was broken up locally in 1960.

LLANDOVERY CASTLE (2) was built in 1925 by Barclay, Curle & Co. at Glasgow with a tonnage of 10640grt, a length of 471ft 1in, a beam of 61ft 6in and a service speed of 14 knots. She commenced operations on the Round Africa service on 25th September 1925. In September 1940 work commenced to convert her into a hospital ship but in the November was badly damaged in an air raid. The conversion was eventually completed and she resumed service in May 1941 with 450 beds and 89 medical staff as HMS Hospital Ship No.39, the only Union-Castle ship used in that capacity in WWII. Her first role was to support the East African campaigns in Abyssinia (Ethiopia) and Eritrea and in November 1941 suffered bomb damage whilst at Suez. In April 1942 she exchanged 917 seriously wounded Italians for 129 British, an operation that nearly failed as the Italians wanted a ‘one for one’ exchange to preserve their dignity. 1943 saw her ferrying along the North African coast between Alexandria-Tobruk-Benghazi, and in July of that year, as a hospital ship, supporting General Montgomery’s ‘Operation Husky’ assault on Sicily at Syracuse and Augusta. In 1944 after D-Day and the capture of Cherbourg she sailed into that port to evacuate casualties and in 1945 engaged in more general duties including repatriating Canadian wounded to Halifax, Nova Scotia. During her wartime service she carried approximately 38,000 wounded and steamed some 250,000 miles. She returned to the Round Africa service in May 1947and completed her last voyage in December 1952 to be broken up in March 1953 at Inverkeithing, Scotland by Thomas W. Ward for the British Iron & Steel Co. (Photo: UCPSC 06/172)

LLANDAFF CASTLE was built in 1926 by Workman, Clarke & Co. at Belfast with a tonnage of 10786grt, a length of 417ft 2in, a beam of 61ft 7in and a service speed of 14 knots. Sister of the Llandovery Castle (2) she commenced operations on the Round Africa service on 6th January 1927. In 1940 she carried the first child evacuees to South Africa and was later rushed into service as a troopship between South and East Africa in support of the Abyssinian and North African campaigns. On 25th December 1940 she was in a convoy which was attacked by the German heavy cruiser Admiral Hipper but, fortunately, HMS Berwick forced the cruiser to break off the attack and, thereafter, the convoy was protected by Force H from Gibraltar. In 1942 she was extensively converted to carry 1,150 men for landings off enemy held coasts and on 5th May of that year supported Operation Ironclad, the invasion of Vichy held Madagasgar which had refused to support General de Gaulle and was a possible target for the Japanese. She was also present at the Diego Suarez landings. On 30th November 1942 at 17.30 hrs she was torpedoed three times by U-177 (Kaptain Gysae) 100 miles off Zululand. When the U-Boat surfaced to confirm the name of the ship voices in the water replied ‘Hardship’ and ‘Queen Mary’. When Kaptain Gysae asked a group if there were any wounded he was told that they were only ‘wet’ so, amused, he sailed off into the night. In fact, only two lives were lost. (Photo: UCPSC 01/135)

CARNARVON CASTLE (2) was built in 1926 by Harland & Wolff at Belfast with a tonnage of 20122grt, a length of 630ft 8in, a beam of 73ft 5in and a service speed of 16 knots. She was launched by Lady Suffield the second daughter of Lord Kylsant and commenced her maiden voyage on 16th July 1926. The company’s first motorship she was also the first to exceed 20000grt and had the distinctive Harland & Wolff profile including the dummy forward funnel. In 1936 the new mail contract required a 19 knot service speed to reduce the passage time to 13.5 days. Consequently, in 1937 she was modernised and re-engined, resuming service on 8th July 1938, without the forward funnel, and setting a new record to Cape Town of 12 days 13 hours and 36 minutes. In September 1939 she was commissioned by the navy for conversion at Simonstown, South Africa to an armed merchant cruiser, HMS Carnarvon Castle. On 5th December 1940 she sighted and engaged the German merchant cruiser Schiff 20: Thor (formerly the Santa Cruz of the Oldenburg-Portuguese Line) 700 miles east of Montevideo. At 08.00 the fighting began and the Thor fire 593 shells and two torpedoes, which missed, until she was lost in a smoke screen. The firing ceased at 11.15, and the German’s log recorded that HMS Carnarvon Castle turned north, on fire in several places and firing her stern guns, until she was lost in the haze. HMS Carnarvon Castle had been hit 27 times with 4 dead and 28 wounded and proceeded to Montevideo where repairs were carried out. Ironically, plates from the Admiral Graf Spee were used to patch the shell holes. She then sailed to Cape Town for further repairs. In 1941 she took part in Operation Bellringer to intercept five Vichy French ships that were being escorted from Tamatave to Bordeaux by warships and escorted the Commandant Dorise (Messageries Maritimes) into East London, South Africa. She was decommissioned in December 1943 but, in 1944, was converted into a troopship after plans to convert her into an aircraft carrier like Pretoria Castle/Warwick Castle were abandoned. In March 1947 she was finally decommissioned and in the June inaugurated the emigrant service to Cape Town with berths for 1283 passengers. She underwent an extensive £1 million refit in 1949 and returned to the mail run on 15th June 1950 and continued to operate until 1st June 1963 when she arrived at Southampton prior to sailing for Mihara in Japan for breaking up after 30 years service. (Photos: UCPSC 09/124 & UCPSC 01/135)

EIDER was built in 1900 by Cambelltown Shipbuilding Co. at Campbelltown with a tonnage of 1236grt, a length of 230ft 6in, a beam of 32ft 8in and a service speed of 10 knots. She was built for the Royal Mail Steam Packet Co’s feeder service between Southampton, Bremen and Hamburg. On 4th August 1914 she was the last British ship to leave Germany after the declaration of the First World War. Under International Convention she had 24 hours to avoid seizure during which time she had sailed and reached British territorial waters. Acquired by Union-Castle in 1926 she remained with the company until 1936 when she was sold to J. A. Billmeir for service during the Spanish Civil War, mainly to Bilbao, and renamed Stanhill. She was sold to Greek operator, J. Stavron, in 1937 for service in the Mediterranean and her name reverted to Eider. In the following year she was sold to Adriatico-Tirreno-Ionio-Ligure of Genoa, with A Raveno as manager, and renamed Docilitas. On 25th December 1939 she was sold for scrap but acquired by the Italian Government. Seized by the Germans in September 1943 she was sunk at Genoa following an air attack on 12th February 1944. She was salvaged in 1947 and scrapped.

ROVUMA was built in 1927 by Ardrossan Dockyard at Ardrossan with a tonnage of 1289grt, a length of 211ft 10in, a beam of 35ft 1in and a service speed of 10 knots. She was deployed on the coastal trade operating out of Beira in Mozambique replacing the Incomati. At the time the ‘Castle’ suffix was only given to trans-ocean vessels. In 1949 she was sold to Colonial Steamships Ltd of Mauritius and renamed Floreal. She was renamed Boundary in 1954 when she was sold to African Coasters Ltd of Durban and broken up in 1962. (Photo: A Duncan)

LLANGIBBY CASTLE was built in 1929 by Harland & Wolff at Glasgow with a tonnage of 11951grt, a length of 485ft 7in, a beam of 66ft 2in and a service speed of 14.5 knots. She was delivered for the Round Africa service and was the first motorship to circumnavigate the African continent. In 1934 the Third Class became the Tourist Class and Round Africa cruises were introduced at fares of £105 in 1st Class and £40 in Tourist. In July 1940, after a voyage from Cape Town to Falmouth, she was requisitioned for trooping duties, as she was the ideal size to carry a battalion, and initially carried troops to South and East Africa. On December 21/22 1940 she was one of eleven ships, including the Roxburgh Castle, damaged during an air raid in Liverpool. During a voyage from the Clyde to Singapore she was, on 16th January, torpedoed north of the Azores by U-402 The stern and after gun were blown off but the propellers remained intact. Although carrying 1400 troops only 26 lives were lost and she managed to limp to Horta in the Azores at 9 knots, fighting off attacks by Focke-Wulf 200 ‘Kondor’ aircraft on the way. Only 14 days were allowed for repairs to be carried out so on 2nd February set sailed for Gibraltar escorted by an Admiralty tug and three destroyers. She still had her troops on board and proceeded without her stern and rudder. On the following day the group of ships encountered and fought off a U-boat pack attack during which HMS Westcott sank U-581. The tug took the Llangibby Castle in tow to assist with steering and on 8th February arrived at Gibraltar where the troops were disembarked. Except for meals they had remained on deck for the entire voyage but they had avoided being taken prisoner in Singapore. On 6th April, after 57 days, she sailed from Gibraltar, still without a rudder but with her escorts in attendance, for the 1445 mile voyage back to the United Kingdom where she arrived safely on 13th April. In all she had sailed 3400 miles without a stern and rudder, using her engines only for steering, a feat for which her master, Captain Bayer, was awarded the CBE. On 9th November 1942 she was part of assault force KMF which, with force KMS and comprising in total 340 ships escorted by 3 battleships, 5 aircraft carriers, 5 cruiser, 30 destroyers and 44 support ships, undertook Operation Torch, the North African landings. She was hit with an 8″ shell from a shore battery which killed one person. In 1943 she had to return to the United Kingdom for repairs to her bow which had been damaged at Gibraltar during the preparations for the Italian landings and, at the same time, was converted into a Landing Ship Infantry with 18 landing craft. She rehearsed her landing techniques at Loch Fyne and then spent six months ferrying troops in the Mediterranean painted in two shades of blue. In 1944 she was allotted to Force J3 (Juno beach), painted in camouflage paint and embarked Royal Marine Flotilla 557 to man her landing craft for 1590 troops. Based at Southampton she practised her D-Day landings at Bracklesham Bay and on 6th June joined Juno Force and landed the first wave of 750 Canadian troops at Coirseilles. Returning to the ship ten of her LSI’s were swamped with the loss of 12 lives. The second wave of 750 men were taken ashore by the remaining LSI’s which made two trips to the beach. In all she remained at the beach head for nine hours. She later landed troops at the Omaha and Utah beaches and also at Le Havre. During the operation she made over seventy crossings and carried over 100,000 men. At the cessation of hostilities in Europe she was transferred to the Far East where she carried out more trooping duties. In January 1946 she made three voyages repatriating some 6000 West African troops from Burma and India including the total internees of a military prison. During the 12 month period she sailed 55,732 miles and her longest stay in port was 2 days 20 hrs. The company recorded the tour of duty as the longest Southampton to Southampton voyage undertaken in peace time. She was returned to Union-Castle in January 1947, after having sailed 300,256 miles and carrying 156,134 troops, and underwent a refit before resuming her Round Africa service. In 1949 she missed a voyage after suffering a fire in the cargo space and on 29th June 1954 she sailed from Tilbury to Newport in Monmouthshire where she was broken up by J. Cashmore. (Photos: UCPSC 12/124 & J Fisher)

DUNBAR CASTLE (2) was built in 1930 by Harland & Wolff at Belfast with a tonnage of 10002grt, a length of 471ft 2in, a beam of 61ft 2in and a service speed of 14.5 knots. She was launched for the Round Africa service on 31st October 1929. On 8th January 1940, after sailing from London for Beira, she hit a magnetic mine off east Cliff, Ramsgate in the English Channel. Breaking her back she heeled over and sank onto an even keel in 30 minutes with the loss of 9 lives including her Master who was killed when the foremast collapsed onto the bridge. The superstructure remained above water until it was demolished after the war.
(Photo: From a painting by William McDowell)

WINCHESTER CASTLE (1) was built in 1930 by Harland & Wolff at Belfast with a tonnage of 20109grt, a length of 631ft 6in, a beam of 75ft 5in and a service speed of 20 knots. She sailed on her maiden mail run on 11th October 1930. In 1936 one round voyage was lost when, after stranding near to Portland, the Armadale Castle was brought in to replace her. She was the last ship to be modernised in 1938 to meet the new mail contract requirements and, like the Carnarvon Castle, had a large single raked funnel fitted. In 1941 she made one trooping voyage to Bombay and then became the HQ ship for Admiral Mountbatten’s Combined Operations spending a year in Scottish waters training men. During this time she was always on 7 days standby for a possible invasion of Grand Canary Island. On 23rd March she became the HQ ship in Operation Ironclad, the invasion of Vichy held Madagasgar. Accompanied by the troopships Keren, Karanja, Llandaff Castle and Sobieski she was escorted by the battleship HMS Ramilles and undertook a successful assault at Diego Suarez on May 4th and 5th. During a trooping voyage from Madagascar to the USA on 27 July 1942, she picked up the crew of the US cargo ship Honolulan which had been torpedoed by U-582, 250 miles off Sierra Leone, five days earlier. Dr C Crawford probably helped to save the life of one crew member who had suffered a shark attack. She was back in Loch Fyne by the September and on 6th November took part in the North African landings at Sidi Ferruch, Algiers. On 9th September 1943, with the Durban Castle, she took part in Operation Avalanche when Lt-General Mc Creery’s 56th Division, British X Corps were landed between Paestum and Maiori, either side of Salerno and on 15th August 1944 participated in Operation Dragoon when her troops were landed near Cannes during the invasion of southern France. During 1947-48 she was deployed on the UK-South Africa emigrant service with 877 berths. Refurbished in 1948 she resumed her mail runs on 22nd September and continued until 1960 when she was replaced by the Windsor Castle. Sold for £315,000 she arrived at Mihara in Japan on 5th November to be broken up by Nichimen K.K. (Photos: UCPSC? & CMW Edwards)

WARWICK CASTLE (3) was built in 1930 by Harland & Wolff at Belfast with a tonnage of 20445grt, a length of 651ft 5in, a beam of 75ft 5in and a service speed of 20 knots. Like her sister, the Winchester Castle, she was similarly modified in 1938 to meet the conditions of the new mail contract. In September 1939 she was taken over by the government for trooping duties. In November 1942 she was part of the KMF 1 (UK-Mediterranean Fast) assault force for Operation Torch, the North African landings. She landed her troops on 10th November and, empty, joined convoy MKF 1 for the return voyage home. On 12th November at 08.50 hrs, when north of Gibraltar off the Portuguese coast, she was torpedoed by U-413 and sank 1hr.25mins later. The U-Boat had waited under the convoy and targeted the rearmost troopship. (Photo: Raphael Tuck postcard)

ROSLIN CASTLE (3) was built in 1935 by Harland & Wolff at Belfast with a tonnage of 7016grt, a length of 443ft 6in, a beam of 61ft 4in and a service speed of 14 knots. Launched on 20th December 1934 she was given a lavender hull instead of the usual black for a cargo ship. She was completely refrigerated and designed to carry different typed of South African produce in different compartments. Although, with her sister the Rothesay Castle, she was often laid up in the River Blackwater between fruit seasons she was still profitable. In 1967, the oldest ship in the British & Commonwealth fleet, she was sold for breaking up and arrived in Kaohsuing in Taiwan on 3rd December of that year. (Photo: CMW Edwards)

ROTHESAY CASTLE (1) was built in 1935 by Harland & Wolff at Belfast with a tonnage of 7016grt, a length of 443ft 6in, a beam of 61ft 4in and a service speed of 14 knots. Sister of the Roslin Castle she ended her career on 4th January 1940 when she went aground at Sanaig Point on the Isle of Islay during a voyage from New York to Glasgow and became a total loss. (Photo: A Duncan)
STIRLING CASTLE (2) was built in 1936 by Harland & Wolff at Belfast with a tonnage of 25550grt, a length of 696ft, a beam of 82ft 5in and a service speed of 20 knots. She was launched on 15th July 1935 by Mrs Robertson Gibb, wife of the Chairman, and sailed on her maiden voyage on 7th February 1936. She completed her first voyage in the scheduled time of 16 days 15 hrs but, capable of 21 knots if required, did the run in 13 days 9hrs in the following August and beat the record established by Union’s Scot in 1893. In 1940 she was requisitioned for troopship duties capable of carrying 6000 persons eating and sleeping in two sessions, a capacity which was occasionally reached. In 1941 she was kept on 7 day standby, as part of a 12,000 strong force, in case it became necessary to occupy the Azores and/or the Canary Islands and in 1943 carried troops from the US to the UK as part of Operation Bolero in readiness for the D-Day landings. Her virtually trouble free war service ended in 1945 having steamed over 500,000 miles and carrying 128,000 troops. She was finally released in 1946 and underwent a refit before returning to the mail run in 1947. In 1966 she was sold for scrap, realising £360,000, and arrived at Mihara, Japan on 3rd March for breaking up by Nichimen K.K.

ATHLONE CASTLE was built in 1936 by Harland & Wolff at Belfast with a tonnage of 25564grt, a length of 696ft, a beam of 82ft 5in and a service speed of 20 knots. Sister of the Stirling Castle, she was launched by the Princess Alice, wife of the Earl of Athlone, a former Governor General of South Africa, on 28th November 1935. On 5th November 1937 she was the first mail ship to call at Buffalo Harbour at East London and on 22nd December 1938 inaugurated the 14 days or under ‘Accelerated’ schedule as stipulated in the 1936 mail contract. In 1940 she was the commodore ship of a Union-Castle convoy made up of the Arundel Castle, the Windsor Castle, the Winchester Castle, the Durban Castle and the Capetown Castle to carry South African troops to Suez following the outbreak of fighting in North Africa. During 1943, together with her sister, she trooped between the USA and UK carrying some 150,000 troops without any serious incident. In 1946 she underwent a refit and continued in service until 6th August 1965 when she concluded her 141st voyage at Southampton. Her sale had already been negotiated and ten days later she sailed for Kaohsuing in Taiwan where she arrived on 13th September for breaking up by the China Steel Corporation. (Photo: UCPSC 19/197)

DUNNOTTAR CASTLE was built in 1936 by Harland & Wolff at Belfast with a tonnage of 15002grt, a length of 560ft, a beam of 71ft 9in and a service speed of 17 knots. She was built as an Intermediate steamer but entered service on the mail run while the other ships were being refurbished. On 28th August 1939 she was requisitioned by the Admiralty for commission as an Armed Merchant Cruiser and served with the South Atlantic patrols. When, in 1942, more war-built trade protection cruisers entered service, she was released and converted into a troopship carrying over 250,000 men including shuttling between Normandy and Southampton after the D-Day landings. She returned to commercial service in 1948 and, after a refurbishment by Harland & Wolff, resumed deployment on the clockwise Round Africa service, London-Suez-South Africa-London. In 1958 she was, after 94 voyages, replaced by the Rhodesia Castle and sold to Incres S.S. Co. of Monrovia and renamed Victoria. On 16th January 1959 she was towed to Holland where she was rebuilt and re-engined, her tonnage being reduced to 14917grt but her length increased to 572ft, and commenced cruising in the Mediterranean on 14th December 1959. From 1960 until 1964 she cruised between New York and the West Indies. In October 1964 she was sold to to Victoria S.S. Co. of Monrovia and a subsidiary of the Swedish Einar Hansen’s Rederi A/B Clipper, Malmo with Incres as managers and on the same itinerary. She was sold to the Chandris subsidiary Phaidon Navigation Co. (Chandris Inc) London in November 1975 and transferred Greek to registry although briefly registered as being owned by the National American Hellenic Line with the intention of resuming a service across the Atlantic. On 11th December 1975 she arrived in Piraeus in tow of Moran’s Heidi Moran where the engine was overhauled and the cabins refurbished before resuming cruising on 6th June 1976 as The Victoria but under the Panamanian flag. In 1981 she was sold to Victoria Maritime S.A. of Piraeus for cruising and without a change of name. After 64 years she is still cruising in the Mediterranean as the Princesa Victoria under the ownership of Louis Cruise Lines of Cyprus. (Photo: UCPSC 07/147)

DUNVEGAN CASTLE (2) was built in 1936 by Harland & Wolff at Belfast with a tonnage of 15007grt, a length of 560ft, a beam of 71ft 9in and a service speed of 17 knots. Sister of the Dunnottar Castle she was initially deployed on the mail run while other ships were being rebuilt. In September 1939 she was requisitioned by the Admiralty and converted into an Armed Merchant Merchant cruiser. On 27th August 1940 at 21.47 hrs she was torpedoed by U-46 off western Ireland while escorting a convoy to Freetown with the loss of 27 lives. She sank early on the following morning and the 250 survivors were taken to Scotland. (Photo: UCPSC 04/151)

WALMER CASTLE (3) was built in 1936 by Harland & Wolff at Belfast with a tonnage of 906grt, a length of 236ft 2in, a beam of 39ft 4in and a service speed of 10 knots. She was delivered on 30th November 1936 to replace the Eider on the Southampton – Bremen – Hamburg feeder service. In 1940 she was requisitioned for use as an armed supply ship based at Scapa Flow and in June 1941 was converted into a convoy rescue ship. She became operational on 12th September 1941, replacing the Hontestroom which had unsatisfactory accommodation. On 19th September she began her first tour of duty with OG 75 and rescued 23 crew members of the City of Waterford. On the following day she rescued 30 seamen from the Empire Moat and 28 from the Baltallin. During the next day, 21st September, and well astern of the convoy, she was attacked out of the sun by a Focke Wulf Kondor of I/KG 40 from Bordeaux, some 700 miles west of Ushant. She managed to dodge two bombs but a third scored a direct hit killing the captain, 10 of the crew and 2 of the rescued seamen. The remaining 12 crew members and 52 rescued survivors were picked up by HMS Marigold and HMS Deptford and the derelict hulk was sunk by gunfire. The Focke Wulf was later shot down by aircraft from the escort carrier. Convoy OG 75 was attacked by a wolf-pack and lost nine ships despite the fact that the very first escort carrier, HMS Audacity, was present. It later transpired that at the beginning of September 1941 the German command changed its grid references code but it took British de-coders several days to break the code. The presence of a wolf-pack was predicted but the exact location and time of attack could not be established in time. (Photo: The late P.A. Vicary)

ROCHESTER CASTLE was built in 1937 by Harland & Wolff at Belfast with a tonnage of 7795grt, a length of 474ft 2in, a beam of 63ft 4in and a service speed of 15 knots although she attained 19 knots during trials. Delivered on 29th April 1937 she was the first of a class of four ships which were slightly larger than the earlier ‘R’ class. She made her maiden voyage to Port Natal on 12th May and was subsequently deployed on the South Africa – UK refrigerated fruit run. In 1940 she was placed on a war footing and on 10th August 1942 participated in Operation Pedestal, the most critical of the Malta convoys. Fifteen ships including the tanker Ohio sailed from Gibraltar with vital supplies for Malta escorted by a battlefleet consisting of two battleships, four aircraft carriers, seven cruisers and thirty destroyers. After three days and after being continually attacked by the Axis forces only the Rochester Castle, Blue Star’s Brisbane Star and Melbourne Star, Port Line’s Port Chalmers and the badly damaged tanker Ohio reached Valetta on 13th August. On the approach to Malta the Rochester Castle was hit in No.3 hold by two torpedoes launched from German E-boats but she managed to reach port, the first vessel to do so. Because of her damage she was forced to remain in Malta until the following December when temporary repairs enabled her to make the dash for Alexandria and thence to New York via Cape Town where permanent repairs were made. In June 1942, duly repaired, she arrived back in Liverpool with a cargo of frozen meat from Buenos Aires. She was sold to Castle Shipping Corp. of Cyprus in 1970 and renamed Glenda for her final voyage to Whampoa where, on 13th November 1970, she was the last of the six ‘R’s to be broken up. (Photo: MNW Edwards)

ROXBURGH CASTLE (1) was built in 1937 by Harland & Wolff at Belfast with a tonnage of 7801grt, a length of 474ft 2in, a beam of 63ft 4in and a service speed of 15 knots. Sister of the Rochester Castle she was delivered on 26th June 1937 for the soft fruit trade. On 21/22 December 1940 she was damaged by bombs during a night attack on Liverpool as was the Llangibby Castle. In the following year, on 4th May, she was again damaged by bombs during an air raid on Liverpool. On 22nd February 1943 she was torpedoed by U-107 off Ferraria Point in the Azores in position 38.12N 26.22W whilst sailing independently of any convoy which ships of with this speed capability frequently did.

RICHMOND CASTLE (1) was built in 1939 by Harland & Wolff at Belfast with a tonnage of 7798grt, a length of 457ft 2in, a beam of 63ft 4in and a service speed of 15 knots. Sister of the Rochester Castle she was delivered on 11th February 1939 for the South Africa – UK fruit refrigerated fruit service. On 4th August 1942 she was torpedoed by U-176 in the North Atlantic, position 50.25N 35.05W.
ROWALLAN CASTLE (1) was built in 1939 by Harland & Wolff at Belfast with a tonnage of 7798grt, a length of 474ft 2in, a beam of 63ft 4in and a service speed of 15 knots. When she was delivered on 11th March 1939 Harland & Wolff recorded a loss of £30,000 on the building of the last two vessels of the class. On 14th February 1942, while participating in convoy MW 9B from Alexandria to Malta, she was bombed by German aircraft and reduced to a hulk. She was taken in tow by the destroyer HMS Zulu but as she was clearly settling in the water Admiral Cunningham ordered her to be sunk. (Photo: C.H. Solomons)

DURBAN CASTLE was built in 1938 by Harland & Wolff at Belfast with a tonnage of 17382grt, a length of 594ft 7in, a beam of 76ft 4in and a service speed of 18.5 knots. She was built for the Round Africa service and inaugurated the practice of naming ships after non-existent South African castles. In September 1939 she was converted into a troopship. When Greece fell in 1941 the King of Greece and his family first took refuge in Egypt and then South Africa from where the Durban Castle transported him, his family and entourage from Durban to the United Kingdom. In 1942 she was converted into a Landing Ship Infantry with nine landing craft on each side and on 6th November took part in the North African landings at Arzue. During July 1943 she landed the 41st Marine Commando on Sicily and later landed troops at Salerno and Anzio. On 15th August 1944 she landed troops near Cannes during the invasion of southern France. She returned to commercial service in 1946 still carrying her AA gun platforms and with 9 lifeboats on each side replacing the landing craft. This austere situation was rectified when she was later re-furbished. In July 1947 she resumed service, initially on the mail service pending the return of the larger ships which were themselves being refurbished after war service, and then on the Round Africa service. In October 1947 she made the news headlines when a glamorous young actress, Gay Gibson, was murdered during a voyage from South Africa to England. She was reported as being missing from her cabin and a search of the ship failed to find her. Then a steward reported that he had seen one of his colleagues in Gay’s cabin late on the night of her disappearance and his story led to an amazing trial at Winchester Assizes. Without a body in the case, the accused, a steward named James Camb, had a good chance that his story that Gay died from natural causes while he made love to her would be believed. Camb said that he panicked and pushed her body out of the port hole but the court decided otherwise and he was convicted of her murder. On 28th March 1962 she completed her final voyage in London and in the following month was sold to Eisen & Metall GmbH of Hamburg for breaking up. (Photo: UCPSC 19/195)

PRETORIA CASTLE (1)/WARWICK CASTLE (4) was built in 1938 by Harland & Wolff at Belfast with a tonnage of 17383grt, a length of 594ft 7in, a beam of 76ft 4in and a service speed of 18.5 knots. Sister of the Durban Castle she commenced her maiden voyage as the Pretoria Castle on the 20th April 1939. During her second voyage she damaged her rudder when she grounded in Delagoa Bay necessitating repairs at Prince Edward Dock, Durban. On completion of that voyage she was requisitioned for use as an Armed Merchant Cruiser being fitted with eight 6 inch guns together with AA and machine guns. With a black hull and buff upper works and funnel she was commissioned in the November and based at Freetown in Sierra Leone. In 1942 she was replaced by one of the new light cruisers and sold to the Admiralty for conversion into an aircraft carrier. With fifteen aircraft and equipped with one catapult she was commissioned on 18th March 1943 but was used purely for training purposes. She was re-purchased by Union-Castle in January 1946 and rebuilt to her original specification but, because a new mail ship was under construction with Pretoria Castle as her designated name, she was renamed Warwick Castle. Resuming commercial on 13th March 1947 she initially served on the mail run until the new mail ships joined the fleet and then reverted to the Round Africa service in 1950. On 26th July 1962 she arrived at Barcelona where she was scrapped.
(Photos: Imperial War Museum & Raphael Tuck)