RMS Strathallan was the fifth and final vessel of the Strath-class liners, built by Vickers-Armstrongs for P & O during the 1930s. She was launched at Barrow-in-Furness on 29th September 1937, by The Countess of Cromer, wife of a Director of P & O (Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company) and named after Allan Water in the valley of Perth and Kinross.
She sailed on her maiden voyage on 18th March 1938, following the same route as her Strath-Sisters to Brisbane, Australia, completing the return voyage on 24th June. She then spent the remaining months of that year carrying wealthy holidaymakers on charter cruises to the Mediterranean.
On 4th February 1940, and shortly after the outbreak of war in Europe, she was requisitioned by the Ministry of Shipping (later Ministry of War Transport) and put into military service as a troop transport vessel.
In November 1941, RMS Strathallan took part, alongside her Strath-Sister RMS Strathnaver, in Operation Torch - the first Algerian landings of the North African campaign.
She sailed for Algeria for a second time on 12th December 1942, this time however, as the Convoy Commodore Vessel bound for Oran. On board, she carried 4,000 British and US troops, together with a contingent of 250 Queen Alexandra’s nurses.
Tragically, this was to be her final voyage as she was attacked without warning by the German submarine U562. It was at 02:25hrs, the middle of the night and she was steaming along in bright moonlight and fine weather. Shortly after passing through the Straits of Gibraltar and around 75km (45 miles) off Bougie, she was hit by a torpedo in the engine room on her port side. Two engineering officers and two Indian engine room crew were killed in the explosion and about a dozen passengers also lost their lives in the ensuing damage.
Master of the RMS Strathallan Captain John Briggs ordered an immediate notice to abandon ship and virtually all of the nurses and the 1,000 troops took to the lifeboats. A handful of ‘Angels’ remained to care for those who suffered collateral damage although were quickly picked up by the destroyer HMS Verity, whilst another destroyer (HMS Laforey), took RMS Strathallan under tow.
As daylight broke the initial thoughts were that she was still salvageable and aided by the salvage tug Restive, SS Strathallan was put under tow and it was hoped that they might reach Oran, on the North Algerian coast. Once underway however, her list increased to such an extent that it was essential that all remaining troops and non-essential crew were taken off by the escorting destroyers.
Soon after at around 13:15hrs, a fire was spotted deep inside the ship and with the threat of it reaching her cargo of rockets and ammunition, the rest of the crew including Captain Briggs, were taken off by the Restive. As night fell it is difficult to imagine the sight of the stricken vessel aglow, with fire raging below her decks.
At 04:00am, and with little ceremony, she sank beneath the water just 19km (12 miles) from safety at Oran.
The remaining 4 vessels of the class survived the war, only to end their days in the scrap yards and metal recycling plants around the world and so it is possible that TSS Strathallan met the most honourable demise of the Strath-Sisters.
Other Ships of the class (click to visit individual web pages)
Specifications (RMS Strathallan)
|Launch date||29th September 1937|
|Gross Registered Tonnes (GRT)||23,722|
664.5 ft (202.5m)
80.2 ft (24.4 m)
30 ft 2 in (9.19m)
33.6 ft (10.23m)
Turbine Electric 6,315 NHP
21 kns (39 km/h)
|Capacity at Launch||448 1st Class / 663 Tourist Class|
|Special features||Direction Finding - Echo Sounding - Gyrocompass|