SS Britannia was a British steam passenger ship which was sunk by a German merchant raider during the Second World War.

Career and sinking

Built for Anchor Line by Alexander Stephen & Sons of Glasgow, she was launched in 1925.[1] Her maiden voyage from Glasgow to Bombay started on 3 March 1926 and she continued sailing this route thereafter.[2]

On 25 March 1941, whilst off Freetown en route for Bombay, she was sunk by the German auxiliary cruiser Thor with the loss of 122 crew and 127 passengers.[3] Britannia's radio operator had got off the RRR raider warning, acknowledged by a Sierra Leone station. Although the German captain allowed some moments to abandon ship before firing the final salvoes, he did not stay to pick up survivors. Five days later the Spanish ocean liner Cabo de Hornos, in transit from South America to neutral Spain, picked up a number of people from various boats and a raft.[4]

Survivor of the sinking, Lieutenant-Commander Frank West MBE, wrote a book, Lifeboat Number Seven, dealing in detail with the loss of the ship and his subsequent voyage from the sinking point to the coast of Brazil in one of the ship's lifeboats. Thirty-eight crew and passengers survived the lifeboat′s 26-day journey, which was claimed to be the longest ever by a lifeboat at the time.

Another lifeboat made a 22-day voyage, saving 40 survivors. For their role in this, Third Officer McVicar[5] and ship′s doctor Nancy Miller were awarded the MBE.[6]


West, Frank (July 1960). Lifeboat Number Seven. London: William Kimber & Co. 

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