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PosterCo Ltd

Empress of Britain Christmas & New Year cruises to the West Indies from New York Canadian Pacific - Framed Picture - 11" x 14"

£25.00

Empress of Britain Christmas & New Year cruises to the West Indies from New York Canadian Pacific - Framed Picture - 11" x 14"

The Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) negotiated with the Government of the United Kingdom to establish a trans-Pacific steamship routes between Vancouver and the Far East. The trans-Pacific services of Canadian Pacific were begun by Sir William Cornelius Van Horne, the Canadian-American builder of the railroad network in 1887.

The RMS Empress of Britain was an ocean liner built between 1928 and 1931 by John Brown shipyard in Scotland and owned by Canadian Pacific Steamship Company. This ship was the second of three CP vessels named Empress of Britain — provided scheduled trans-Atlantic passenger service from spring to autumn between Canada and Europe from 1931 until 1939.

In her time, the Empress was the largest, fastest, and most luxurious ship between England and Canada. She was torpedoed on 28 October 1940 by U-32 and sank. At 42,348 gross tons, she was the largest liner lost during the Second World War and the largest ship sunk by a U-boat.

Empress of Britain was the first passenger liner designed specifically to become a cruise ship in winter when the St. Lawrence River was frozen. The Empress of Britain was annually converted into an all-first-class, luxury cruise ship, carrying 700 passengers.

Following sea trials, the ship headed for Southampton to prepare for her maiden voyage to Quebec City. Canadian Pacific posters proclaimed the "Five Day Atlantic Giantess", "Canada’s Challenger" and "The World’s Wondership".

On 2 September 1939, one day before the United Kingdom declared war (seven days before Canada entered the war), Empress of Britain sailed on her last voyage for Canadian Pacific, with the largest passenger list. Filled beyond capacity, and with temporary berths in the squash court and other spaces, Empress of Britain zig-zagged across the Atlantic, arriving in Quebec on 8 September 1939.

Upon arrival, the ship was repainted grey and then laid up awaiting orders. On 25 November 1939, when the empress was requisitioned as a troop transport. First, she did four transatlantic trips bringing troops from Canada to England. Then she was sent to Wellington, New Zealand, returning to Scotland in June 1940 as part of the "million dollar convoy" of seven luxury liners — Andes, Aquitania, Empress of Britain,Empress of Canada, Empress of Japan, Mauretania and Queen Mary.

At around 9:20am on 26 October 1940, travelling about 70 miles northwest of Ireland along the west coast, Empress of Britain was spotted by a German Focke-Wulf Fw 200C Condor long-range bomber, commanded by Oberleutnant Bernhard Jope. Jope’s bomber strafed Empress of Britain three times and struck her twice with 550 lb bombs.

Despite the ferocity of Jope's attack and the fires, there were few casualties. Bombs started a fire that began to overwhelm the ship. At 9:50am, Captain Sapworth gave the order to abandon. The fire was concentrated in the midsection, causing passengers to head for the bow and stern and hampering launching of the lifeboats. Most of the 416 crew, 2 gunners, and 205 passengers were picked up by the destroyers HMS Echo and ORP Burza, and the anti-submarine trawler HMS Cape Arcona. A skeleton crew remained aboard.

The fire left the ship unable to move under her own power, but she was not sinking and the hull appeared intact despite a slight list. At 9:30am on 27 October, a party from HMS Broke went on board and attached tow ropes. The oceangoing tugs HMS Marauder and HMS Thames had arrived and took the hulk under tow. Escorted by Broke and HMS Sardonyx, and with cover from Short Sunderland flying boats during daylight, the salvage convoy made for land at 4 kn.

The German submarine U-32, commanded by Hans Jenisch, had been told and headed in that direction. He had to dive due to the flying boats, but that night, using hydrophones (passive sonar), located the ships and closed on them. The destroyers were zigzagging and U-32 positioned herself between them and Empress of Britain, from where she fired two torpedoes. The first detonated prematurely, but the second hit, causing a massive explosion. It appears that the crews of the destroyers thought the explosion was caused by the fires aboard the liner reaching her fuel tanks. Jenisch manoeuvred U-32 and fired a third torpedo which impacted just aft of the earlier one.

It was suspected that she had been carrying gold. The United Kingdom was at the time attempting to ship gold to North America in order to improve its credit. South Africa was a gold producer, and Empress of Britain had recently berthed in Cape Town. Most of the consignments of gold were transported from Cape Town to Sydney, Australia, and from there to America; there were not enough suitable ships and the gold was frequently held up in Sydney. It is possible that, as a result of this delay, Empress of Britain was transporting gold from South Africa to England, where it could then be moved to the United States of America.

In 1995, salvagers found Empress of Britain upside-down in 500 feet of water. Using saturation diving, they found that the fire had destroyed most of the decks, leaving a largely empty shell rising from the sea floor. The bullion room was still intact. Inside was a skeleton but no gold. It is suspected the gold was unloaded when Empress of Britain was on fire and its passengers evacuated. The body inside the bullion room may have been someone involved in salvage.


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