Whatever happened to the Troopships?
By Charles White
In his Arboretum Address, reported in the August 2006 issue of Searchlight, Rod Harris asked what happened to the fondly remembered troopships. Well, by the age of 14 I was a veteran sailor and had voyaged on four of them with my family. When I wrote my book An Ordinary Life [publisher Woodfield, ISBN 1-84683-016-8] about my parent’s lives, I researched troopship history and this feature is partly reproduced from my book with some additional research. Sadly, over a period of thirty years or so and one by one these fine ships wound their way to the scrap yard until, finally, in 1987, the Empire Orwell was the last to go.
The Devonshire was built in 1939 as a near sister ship to the troopship Dunera by Fairfield Shipbuilding of Glasgow. She made her maiden ‘troop’ from Southampton to India and spent the next four years trooping in Australia, the Far East, South Africa and the Mediterranean.
In 1943 she took part in the Sicily campaign as Command Operations Ship and carried troops for the Salerno landings. Devonshire also was used to carry troops to Juno Beach as part of the ‘D’ Day landings in June 1944.
Post war she carried troops to the Far East and Korea and in 1951 was forced to send a ‘Mayday’ signal when her engines failed during a gale in the Bay of Biscay. However, power was restored and the ‘Mayday’ cancelled.
In 1962, Devonshire was sold to British India, renamed Devonia, and began a new career as an educational cruise ship. She was scrapped at La Spezia in 1967.
Built in 1935 as a troopship by Barclay, Curle & Co of Glasgow for the British India Steam Navigation Co, Dilwara started her long and distinguished career by taking part in King George VI’s Coronation Review.
During WW2 she was involved in evacuations from Singapore and Greece, the Madagascar landings and action on the Burma coast where she was damaged after striking a mine.
In 1945 she trooped in the Far East including the ports of Singapore, Calcutta and Penang and in 1956 she took part in the Suez landings.
Dilwara was bought by the China Navigation Co in 1960 and renamed Kuala Lumpur. After carrying pilgrims to Jeddah over a number of years, Kuala Lumpur was scrapped at Taiwan in 1971.
Built in 1937 as a troopship by Barclay, Curle & Co of Glasgow for the British India Steam Navigation Co, Dunera enjoyed a similar kind of career to Dilwara although pre-war she was sometimes used on summer passenger cruises to European ports.
She ferried Australian and New Zealand troops to Suez in 1940 and was involved in landings at Madagascar and at Sicily and Cannes in 1944 when she carried the US Headquarters invasion staff.
Her post-war career was equally illustrious and she trooped to Malaya, Korea and also was involved in the Suez landings.
In 1960, Dunera became a school educational cruise ship and she was scrapped at Bilbao in 1967.
Laid down in 1914 by Harland & Wolf at Belfast, the construction of Lancashire was delayed by WW1 and she did not enter service until 1918.
For most of her working life, Lancashire was managed by the Bibby Line and employed mainly as a troopship to the Near and Far East. She was scrapped at Barrow-in-Furness in 1956.
Nevasa enjoyed a shorter career than many of her contemporaries. Built in 1955 as a troopship by Barclay, Curle & Co of Glasgow for the British India Steam Navigation Co, she trooped from 1956 to 1963 when the Ministry Of Transport terminated her charter agreement due to the increasing role of air transport in troop movements, the reduction in size of the British Empire and the end of National Service.
Nevasa was rebuilt in 1963 and like Dunera, became a school educational cruise ship; she was transferred to P & O line in 1972 and scrapped at Taiwan in 1975.
Built in 1920 and owned by the Anchor Line in Glasgow, Empire Clyde started life as a passenger liner named Cameronia.
In 1941 the liner was requisitioned as a troopship and after WW2, in 1948, she was refitted as an emigrant ship. Still managed by the Anchor Line, the ship was renamed Empire Clyde in 1953 and pressed into Troopship use by the Ministry of Transport.
Empire Clyde was scrapped at Newport in 1957.
Constructed in 1936 by Blohm & Voss at Hamburg and owned by the North German Lloyd Line, Empire Fowey began life as a passenger liner named Potsdam and sailed the Far Eastern routes.
During WW2 the liner was utilised as a troopship and accommodation vessel by the German Navy and was seized by the allies at Flensburg in 1945. At first named Empire Jewell, the ship was taken over by the P&O Line, refitted as a troopship by Harland & Wolf in 1946 and renamed Empire Fowey.
After fourteen years of sterling service ferrying servicemen and their families to the far flung outposts of the British Empire, in 1960 the Fowey was acquired by the Karachi based Pan-Islamic Shipping Company. She was renamed Safina-E-Hujjaj and used for ferrying Pilgrims to Jeddah. She was scrapped at Gadani Beach, Karachi in 1976.
Built in 1936 and owned by the Germany East Africa Line, Empire Orwell started life as a passenger liner named Pretoria. The liner was utilised by the German Navy during WW2 and seized by the allies at Copenhagen in 1945.
At first named Empire Doon, the ship was taken over by the Orient Line, converted to troopship use and renamed Empire Orwell in 1949.
After fifteen years of trooping, in 1959 the Orwell was sold to Blue Funnel who renamed her Gunung Djati and she was soon busy in her new role of shipping pilgrims to Jeddah – the nearest port to Mecca where the pilgrims were bound.
In 1962 the Gunung Djati was acquired by the Indonesian government and continued in the same role.
Another name change occurred in 1979 when the ship became Kri Tanjung Pandan and she was pressed into service as a troopship with the Indonesian Navy
From 1981 to 1987 the ship saw service as an accommodation vessel at Djakarta and she was finally scrapped at Taiwan in 1987.
Built in 1921 by the Hamburg South America Line, Empire Halladale started life as a passenger liner named Antonio Delfino and in 1932 was temporarily renamed Sierra Nevada when she was chartered for two years to North German Lloyd.
In 1940 the Antonio Delfino became a German Navy barrack vessel and was seized by the allied forces at Copenhagen in 1946 to be re-commissioned as a British troopship – managed by the Anchor Line.
After nine years of trooping, the Empire Halladale was laid up in 1955 and finally scrapped at Glasgow in 1956.
Built in 1941 as a troopship and managed for the Ministry of War Transport [MOWT] by the Bibby Line, Empire Pride remained on trooping duties until 1954 when she was sold to Chandris Ltd of London, renamed Charlton Pride, and converted to a cargo ship.
In 1956 she was sold to the Donaldson Line of Glasgow, renamed Calgaria and kept until 1963 when she was sold to Cia Nav, Fortaleza, Panama, renamed Embassy and then scrapped later that year in Hong Kong.
Arguably the most famous of the Empire ships, the Empire Windrush was originally named Monte Rosa and built in 1931 by Blohm & Voss in Hamburg, Germany to be initially engaged on cruises for privileged members of the Nazi party.
During World War Two, the ship was variously used as a barracks ship, troopship for the invasion of Norway and a recreational ship for the Battleship Tirpitz.
In 1945, Monte Rosa was seized by the British army at Kiel and the Ministry of Transport converted her into a troopship. She was renamed Empire Windrush in 1947 and assigned to the Southampton-Middle East-Far East troopship run – extended to Japan during the Korean war.
In 1948, Empire Windrush was diverted to Jamaica in order to bring 492 West Indian immigrants to Tilbury Docks in London. This voyage will be remembered for its historical significance in bringing the first post war immigrants to the UK and its landmark effect upon the culture of the country.
After just one immigration voyage, Empire Windrush returned to troopship duties until her last journey which occurred early in 1954.
She sailed from Japan with about 1500 wounded soldiers from the Korean War and was beset by engine problems from the beginning.
After taking ten weeks to reach Port Said, she left that port and was sailing in the Mediterranean in the direction of Gibraltar when an engine room fire spread rapidly through the ship which was quickly abandoned.
Survivors were taken to Algiers and the burned out hulk of Empire Windrush was taken in tow by the Royal Navy’s HMS Saintes; but the weather worsened and Empire Windrush sank on the morning of 30th March 1954.