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Built 1926

Tonnage: 8,799 / 9,690 tons

Sunk 25 MAR 41 by Raider THOR in position 07º 24’ N 24º 03’ W Abandoned and sunk

249 Dead

283 Survivors

On the morning of March 25, this 8,800-ton British former Anchor Line passenger ship with a crew of over 200 and over 320 passengers, including 12 women, turned tail when she spotted Thor, and made off at high speed under thick oily smoke while radioing, first RRRR, and then QQQQ. As the raider’s operators tried to jam these signals, her gunners opened up, firing 159 rounds at an elusive, fast moving and occasionally invisible target, scoring several hits, until the liner stopped, and signalled that she was surrendering. When Kaehler was satisfied that the Britannia had been fully evacuated, she was sunk by sixteen 5.9-inch rounds into the waterline sending her down almost vertically, bow first, into boiling oily sludge, under a column of smoke and flame hundreds of feet high.

As she was being abandoned, the German radio operators had intercepted a signal to the stricken liner from a British warship approaching at full speed from a little over a hundred miles away, promising assistance within a few hours. For this reason Kaehler decided it would be too dangerous to waste time rescuing the survivors, and so, having picked one man, who had been swept overboard during the chase, off a raft, and advised SKL that there were over 500 people adrift, and his reasons for leaving them, reluctantly sailed away from the numerous boats and rafts, confident that the approaching warship would find them and pick them up. 

Tragically he was wrong, for whatever ship it was that had signalled that it was coming to the rescue, failed to find the unfortunate souls huddled in splintered overcrowded boats and clinging onto slippery rafts, for whom life soon turned into a living nightmare, as starvation, thirst and sharks all took their toll. Seventy-nine of them were picked up by the Spanish ship Cabo de Hornos, on March 29, but by April 15, only 195 of the survivors had been accounted for, with Raranga rescuing 67 and a further 51 being picked up by the Spanish ship Bachi. One boat grounded after a 23-day, 1,530-mile ordeal, at Sao Luis, on the coast of Brazil, with only 33 surviving out of the original 82 aboard. Out of approximately 520, only 331 people survived the sinking of the Britannia. As it turned out, the vessel that sent the rescue signal was never identified. 


As the 38 survivors from the s.s. Britannia, having landed in Sao Luis, North Brazil, were recovering from their incredible ordeal of 1535 sea miles in No.7 boat, people were so incredulous that 82 had originally abandoned the sinking ship that a trial was made to see if it could be simulated.
They only succeeded in getting 74 of Sao Luis's inhabitants into the boat!




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