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Thread: Loss of HMT Lancastria 17 June 1940

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    Default Loss of HMT Lancastria 17 June 1940

    I've always been under the impression that Churchill suppressed reports of the sinking of the Lancastria on 17 June 1940, partly because of the extent of the loss of life - probably over 4000. However, I have just discovered ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RMS_Lancastria ) that the story was published in the New York Times, the Scotsman , the Daily Herald (all 26 July) and Sunday Express (4 Aug including photo).

    I would very much like to see at least one of these accounts but am not sure how to go about it. Could someone advise please?

    Brian

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    Brian

    Findmypast has access to newspapers archives. The first report I can see is from July 5th 1940, in the "Ripley and Heanor News and Ilkeston Division Free Press" which reports that a Ripley soldier, Pte. Ronald Yorke, was on the Lancastria, but escaped when the ship was sunk. It gives his first-hand account of the ship being bombed:

    'Almost immediately two German bomber attacked us, and kept up a continuous bombardment for some hours,' he said. 'Scores of us took refuge below deck, but the raiders eventually succeeded in scoring three direct hits - two of which fell down the hatch and the other down the air funnel.
    'The force of the explosion blew off my tin hat and wrist watch, and we had to tie handkerchiefs round our eyes and mouths because of the fumes. I lost all my kit, but managed to scramble on deck and reach a lifeboat.
    'Hundreds of my pals were imprisoned below. They had no chance, because the ship went down in 15 minutes.
    'Those who got away were machine gunned in the water. I was lucky. I was picked up a minesweeper and transferred to an oil tanker.
    'R.A.F. planes came later, and the raiders brought down in flames.'


    The coverage is more widspread in the newspapers from July 25th, presumably was an official press-release was issued.

    Regards

    Simon

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    Hello,

    If you care to take a look at "The Illustrated London News, Saturday, August 3, 1940, p.146 (Issue 5285), you can see a spread of many pictures of the survivors and also a picture of the "Lancastria" sinking - THE END OF THE "LANCASTRIA": A 16,000-Ton Liner Sinks in 30 Minutes.

    Can't display them here due to local restrictions (Victorian State Library), on use of material.

    Hardly a cover-up.

    Col.
    Last edited by COL BRUGGY; 17th January 2019 at 14:20.

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    The photos Col refers to can be seen here:

    https://www.iln.org.uk/iln_years/year/1940.htm

    Note it states "The sinking of the RMS Lancastria off St. Nazaire on June 17th - this event was not released by the wartime censors until nearly 6 weeks after." I wonder if this might be the source of the 'cover-up' story?

    This didn't obviously didn't stop the Ripley and Heanor News and Ilkeston Division Free Press reporting it somewhat earlier!

    Regards

    Simon

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    Simon,

    I'm getting a threat warning (AVG) on that site - so others, be careful!

    Col.

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    Brian (et al),
    Might it not be the case that the (still!) Closed Files in TNA contain the Names (and Departments?) of those who instructed those at St Nazaire (Lancastria's Captain, and the Military/Naval persons/staffs (ashore/afloat) to, effectively, overload the ship? If, indeed, they actually did so?). This, as I understand it, would have been in contravention of the loading regulations (even though there was a war on!). Those persons/departments may well, therefore, have been liable - in law - to be sued in the Courts? Once the sinking was "out of the bag" - as far as the media was concerned - there was little that could be done, other than issue D-Notices which were only applicable in the UK and Empire? But the Names/Appointments of those involved might well be culpable?
    HTH
    Peter Davies
    Meteorology is a science; good meteorology is an art!
    We might not know - but we might know who does!

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    https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/ne...ery=Lancastria

    https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/ne...ate=31-12-1940

    Probably more a hush up of the casualty numbers or the situation of how it happened.

    not sure if this is a podcast I listened to over the past two years,
    https://player.fm/series/witness-wor...the-lancastria

    I've searched on American and Canadian papers on newspapers.com and certainly on July 25th 1940, there was a north American publication of the story of the loss, stating over 2800 missing etc. So, might have been hushed up before that but doesn't seem to be held up otherwise.
    Last edited by dennis_burke; 17th January 2019 at 15:47.
    Dennis Burke
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    Foreign Aircrew and Aircraft Ireland 1939-1945
    www.ww2irishaviation.com

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    Thank you all, including those who contacted me off-board, for such a comprehensive response. AIR 35/190: SS Lancastria: List of RAF Casualties and Survivors includes a very graphic account of events by W/C, later AM, Douglas Macfadyen who was leading a party of some 200 BAFF personnel. He did not personally witness any machine-gunning of survivors or any burning oil as described by some survivors - indeed so far as the latter is concerned photographs of the stricken vessel show no evidence of fire.

    One of the big problems afterwards was the lack of any record of how many personnel were on board - the nominal roll of Macfadyen's party, for instance, was lost with the ship - so rolls had to be constructed after the event from survivors accounts, a long and time-consuming operation. AIR 35/190 shows how much effort was expended. The Army followed a similar procedure, but I've not been able to find anything for the Lancastria's crew, Naval personnel, or civilians. Consequently the full number of casualties remains unknown.

    My thanks again.

    Brian

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    Quote Originally Posted by wwrsimon View Post
    Brian


    'R.A.F. planes came later, and the raiders brought down in flames.'[/I]
    I have 5 hearsay references to German aircraft being brought down, but no actual evidence. The German record states that all the bombers returned safely although some were badly damaged.

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    Hello,

    Peter Cornwell, in "The Battle of France Then and Now" (photo caption, p.483), mentions the following:

    The death toll for the sinking has never been officially established. Churchill forbade publication saying 'that the newspapers have got quite enough disaster for today at least'. He explained that 'I had intended to release the news a few days later, but events crowded upon us so black and so quickly that I forgot to lift the ban, and it was some time before the knowledge of this horror became public.'* (The Ministry of Information announced the loss of the ship on July 26 following a report in The Times the previous day.) What is known is the Admiralty put the loss figure at 2,823 and Churchill 'upwards of 3,000 men'. The total number of troops on board has been estimated at 6,000-8,000 of whom some 2,500 were rescued. The registers of the Commonwealth War graves Commission identify 1,816 as having died on the "Lancastria" and the following pages list those who were serving with the Royal Air Force ...

    Cornwell does not quote the source for this comment, but in can be found in the following publication:

    The Second World War Volume II Their Finest Hour.
    Churchill,Winston S.
    London:Cassell & Co.,1951(3rd.rev.ed.).
    p.172.

    Col.
    Last edited by COL BRUGGY; 20th January 2019 at 07:50.

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