RMS Strathaird was the second of the Strath-class built by Vickers-Armstrongs and like her sisters, she was painted with white hulls and buff funnels of the new livery.
Named after a stretch of headland on the Isle of Skye, she was launched at Barrow-in-Furness on 18th July 1931, by Lady Margaret Shaw, another daughter of P & O (Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company) Chairman, Lord Inchcape. Margaret was also the soon-to-be wife of Mr Alexander Shaw, who was shortly to be the next Chairman of the company.
Like all of the vessels in the class, RMS Strathaird was constructed with eight passenger decks, from A-Deck down to H-Deck. The uppermost A-Deck, which was also termed as the Boat Deck, was very exclusive and operated a restricted 1st Class Sun and Deck Sports Area. B and C-Decks were also exclusively reserved for 1st Class passengers, featuring luxurious dining rooms and cafés with a sun veranda deck on either side. C-Deck was predominantly made up of bedrooms, apartments, and staterooms, again boasting heated swimming pools and saunas.
Operating as a combined Passenger Liner / Royal Mail service vessel between Tilbury and Brisbane, Australia, she accommodated 498 first class and 668 tourist class passengers, strangely 2 less than the RMS Strathnaver. Technically nevertheless, she was almost identical to her earlier sister and had 4 boilers with a combined heating surface of 56,000 square feet (5,203 m2). These supplied steam at 425 lbf/in2 to the two turbo generators.
In turn, these supplied the current to two electric motors (with a combined rating of 6,315 NHP or 28,000 shp) both built by the British Thomson-Houston Company of Rugby. The motors then drove a pair of inward-rotating screw propellers.
RMS Strathaird also played a significant role in World War II, predominantly as a troop carrier, collecting ANZAC servicemen and transporting them to North Africa and the various points of conflict throughout Southern Europe.
In June 1940, RMS Strathaird was being refitted at Liverpool when she was ordered to set sail for Brest, on the North West Coast of France. This was only days before the ‘Fall of France’ and despite her half-completed refit, she safely embarked over 6,000 troops and hundreds of civilians, including 200 children.
In addition to her human cargo, she carried large consignments in plain wooden crates. These, as the crew discovered much later, contained a large quantity of gold ingots that were being smuggled out of the British banks, centred in Paris. All of her passengers and cargo were safely landed at Plymouth on 18th June 1940, and after the final completion of her refit, RMS Strathaird was re-assigned to trooping transport duties once more.
In early 1942, she brought US forces across the Atlantic, soon after the Americans decided to join the war. Thereafter and between 1942 and 1945, she was concentrated mainly in the movement of allied troops into India.
At the conclusion of the war, RMS Strathaird was utilised in the repatriation of the thousands of New Zealand and Australian Forces. Over the period of the conflict, she had steamed 387,745 miles and carried 128,961 personnel.
In the latter part of 1946, she returned briefly to the Vickers-Armstrongs Yard at Barrow-in-Furness, where she was reconfigured and made ready to resume her fee-paying passenger duties.
During the refit, her two dummy funnels (which were a feature of the early Strath-Class) were removed in an attempt to refresh and modernise her appearance. An added bonus was that it also added more open deck space on Deck A.
Upon her return to civilian service, one of her most notable voyages saw her carrying the Australian Test Cricket Team, under their Captain Don Bradman. The Test Series is most notoriously remembered by English cricket fans as the year that the Australians won by a 4-0 whitewash, an even more remarkable achievement when one considers that their Captain Bradman was over 40-years old at the time.
In later days, RMS Strathaird sustained some minor damage during May 1950, when she collided with the 4,705-tonne freighter ‘Steel Age’, near Tilbury Docks. Thankfully, no injuries occurred on either vessel and repairs were made with great haste.
1954 saw the arrival onto the P & O fleet of SS Arcadia, with its larger passenger and cargo capacity (1,405 mixed class / 7,864 m3). She was joined soon after by the slightly similar capacity SS Iberia. These arrivals saw both early Strath-class vessels (Strathnaver and Strathaird) converted to 'one class tourist ships'. This increased their passenger capacity to 1,200 making them more financially viable. At this time, they were also both re-designated from RMS (Royal Mail Steamers) to TSS (Twin Screw Steamers).
The conversion also coincided with the withdrawal and breaking up of the beautiful sister-ships ‘SS Mooltan’ and ‘SS Maloja’, both of much smaller capacity and almost 10 years older than the Strath-Sisters. This also signalled a change in direction for P & O as these had both been used as tourist class ships, carrying a wave of migrants from the UK to Australia, something which was partially taken over by the Straths.
An unscheduled stopover at Djakarta (Indonesia) on 15th February 1958, whilst on the homeward bound leg from Australia, saw TSS Strathaird called-upon to repatriate Dutch nationals following the transfer of sovereignty to independence. Despite the huge upheaval, addition payload and a diversion to Rotterdam, she still arrived at Tilbury only one day late.
TSS Strathaird was unexpectedly involved in the dramatic rescue of two airmen from a De Havilland Tiger Moth on 24th June 1959, shortly after leaving Singapore. Upon hearing that the biplane had crashed into the sea, her Commander (Captain Lethbridge) turned the ship around and set forth on a rescue mission. As they approached, they found two incredibly surprised figures sitting on the cloth covered fuselage, startled at the size of their rescue vessel. Recovery boats were lowered, and the airmen were salvaged just in time by all accounts, as their aircraft disappeared beneath the waves shortly after.
The eventual withdrawal from service of TSS Strathaird coincided with the introduction of the Company's latest ship, the SS Canberra, and a meeting of the two took place in the Mediterranean, near Port Said on 8th June 1961. The brand new 45,000 tonne SS Canberra was on her maiden voyage, outbound for Australia and New Zealand, complete with a massive 2,238 passenger list. Meanwhile, TSS Strathaird was on her homeward bound voyage for the very last time.
As the two ships passed at sea, they simultaneously sounded their whistles with Captain A. E. Clay, OBE (Commanding Officer of the TSS Strathaird) sent a signal to Commodore Geoffrey Wild (Commanding Officer of the SS Canberra) saying ‘You look magnificent and all on TSS Strathaird wish you a happy and successful voyage, and from the old to the new, Strathaird bids you farewell’.
Commodore Wild replied ‘You too look magnificent, with your paying off pennant flying gaily. You look a gracious and not too elderly lady. All well here’. Ironically however, all was not well aboard SS Canberra as she was experiencing engine room ‘teething problems’ which would cause her to miss her southbound convoy rendezvous at Port Said.
The TSS Strathaird arrived at Tilbury Docks fully dressed, with her ‘Long Service Pennant’ flying proudly on her aft mast, on June 17, 1961. This was to be her final voyage with fee-paying passengers and as she tied up for a last time at her home port, she had already been sold to the Shun Fung Iron Works in Hong Kong for £382,500.
Certain conditions had been attached to the sale, one being that decommissioning had to commence within two months of delivery to Hong Kong and that breaking up must be completed within one year.
31 years after launch, she departed Tilbury for the last time on 24th June 1961, with Captain West at the helm and a crew of 84. The much-loved liner arrived at her final resting place on 27th July 1961 and the P & O House Flag was officially lowered for the final time. There was one final accolade for Strathaird however as she was to become the largest ship ever to be broken up in Hong Kong.
Some consider that she lives on, even today as some of her original steelwork was salvaged, reconditioned, and used in the construction of some of Hong Kong’s new skyscrapers along with a major part of the terminal facilities at Kai Tak International Airport.
Other Ships of the class (click to visit individual web pages)
Specifications (RMS Strathaird)
|Launch date||18th July 1931|
Gross Registered Tonnes (GRT)
638.7 ft (194.7m)
80.2 ft (24.4 m)
29 ft 2 in (8.9 m)
33.1 ft (10.1 m)
Turbine Electric 6,315 NHP
22 kns (41 km/h)
|Capacity at Launch||498 1st Class / 669 Tourist Class|
|Special features||Direction Finding - Echo Sounding - Gyrocompass|