Search: Sort by:





Built: 1923

Commissioned: 1940

Tonnage: 13,245 / 8,630 tons

Armament: 8x 152mm, 2x 76mm

Speed: 14.5 knots

Route: Trinidad - Freetown South Atlantic Station

Sunk 4 APR 41 by Raider Thor on pos. 14º 30”N 40º 30”W.

75 Dead

197 Survivors made POW

On 27 Oct, 1939 the passenger ship Voltaire of the Lamport & Holt Ltd, Liverpool was requisitioned by the Admiralty and converted to an armed merchant cruiser.

On the morning of April 4, smoke was sighted by Thor on the distant horizon 900 miles west of the Cape Verde Islands, that was adjudged to be coming from a coal-burning ship. Turning towards the approaching ship, Kapt. Kähler called for full speed and examined her further through his binoculars, deciding that she was a passenger-liner, and because she was taking no evasive action to avoid him, most probably a neutral. Although still disguised as a Greek freighter, Kähler nonetheless ordered his crew to their battle stations, as the approaching vessel flashed a signal, requesting that Thor identify herself.

Kähler responded by replacing the blue and white flag of Greece with the red, white and black of the Kriegsmarine battle flag, and fired a shot across her bow. Immediately, the two guns mounted on the enemy vessel’s bow were revealed. Only then did Kähler realise that he had inadvertantly challenged yet another Armed Merchant Cruiser, the third one he’d encountered on the cruise, and while ordering his entire battery to open up, from a range of about 9,000 metres, he decided that this time he would have to finish the job.

Thor’s first salvo ripped into the cruiser’s generator and radio room, destroying her fire-control system and preventing any signals being sent. With her severely-hampered gunners doing their best, and the raider maintaining a constant barrage, in four minutes she had been turned into a blazing inferno. Although clearly out of control, her steering gear out of action, taking water, and steaming in circles at a speed of 13 knots, and with fires raging from her bridge to her mainmast, two of her 6-inch guns, one fore and one aft, one of which was manned by her captain J.A.Blackburn, continued to engage the raider, but with little success, recording just one hit, which tore away her radio mast.

At this point, Kähler’s obsolete guns, that has been firing so many shells that they overheated and seized up, as they had done in the two previous battles, forced him to cease firing. While he was manoeuvring for a torpedo shot, white flags were seen waving on the shattered cruiser. Standing off at a safe distance for fear of explosions on the blazing ship, the Germans prepared for the task of rescuing her crew, but realising that her boats had either been shot to pieces or consumed in the mass of flames that now engulfed her, Kähler moved his ship in as close as he dared to the enemy ship and lowered his own boats.

Once the doomed and badly listing vessel had slid stern-first below the waves, they spent over five hours motoring back and forth picking up as many as they could find, safe in the knowledge that she had been unable to use her wireless. Captain Blackburn and 196 members of the crew of the 13,245-ton British A.M.C. HMS Voltaire, the former Lamport & Holt  liner, armed with eight 6-inch and three 3-inch guns, were rescued.

With over half of the survivors wounded, the German and British doctors worked through the night treating their injuries. Two of them passed away and were buried with full military honours the next day, with both captains in attendance. In the fifty-five minute action, during which seventy-two of a crew of 269 on the British ship, had lost their lives, Thor  had expended 724 rounds, more than half of her ammunition, but had suffered no damage other than the loss of her mast.




(C) Since 2007 -