HMS Rawalpindi

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HMS Rawalpindi (MOD 381).jpg
Scale model of HMS Rawalpindi
Career (Great Britain)
Name: SS Rawalpindi
Owner: Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company
Port of registry:  United Kingdom
Route: London-Bombay passenger and mail service
Builder: Harland and Wolff, Greenock
Yard number: 660
Laid down: 1923
Launched: 26 March 1925
Homeport: London
Fate: Requisitioned by Royal Navy, 24 August 1939
Status: Sunk
Career RN Ensign
Name: HMS Rawalpindi
Acquired: 24 August 1939
Commissioned: 19 September 1939
Out of service: 23 November 1939
Fate: Sunk 23 November 1939, Iceland Gap
General characteristics
Type: Armed merchant cruiser
Tonnage: 16697 grt
Length: 548 ft (167 m)
Beam: 69 ft (21 m)
Draught: 29 ft 6 in (8.99 m)
Propulsion: 2 x quadruple expansion four cylinder steam engines
Speed: 15 kn (17 mph; 28 km/h)
Complement: 276
Armament: 8 × 6 in (150 mm) guns, 2 × 3 in (76 mm) anti-aircraft guns

HMS Rawalpindi was a British armed merchant cruiser (a converted passenger ship) that was sunk in a surface action against the German battleships Scharnhorst and Gneisenau during the first months of the Second World War.

Merchant service[edit]

The ship started life as the 16,695 registered tons Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company (P&O) ocean liner SS Rawalpindi . She was launched on 26 March 1925 by Lady Birkenhead, the wife of F. E. Smith, 1st Earl of Birkenhead, and joined the P&O fleet in September of the same year. She was named after Rawalpindi city, a British garrison town in what is now Pakistan. She could carry 307 First Class and 288 Second Class passengers, and was employed on the London to Bombay service.[1]

Naval service[edit]

Rawalpindi was requisitioned by the Admiralty on 26 August 1939 and converted in to an armed merchant cruiser by the addition of eight elderly 6 in (150 mm) guns and two 3 in (76 mm) guns. She was set to work from October 1939 in the Northern Patrol covering the area around Iceland. On 19 October in the Denmark Strait, Rawalpindi intercepted the German tanker Gonzenheim (4,574 grt), which had left Buenos Aires on 14 September. The tanker was scuttled by her crew before a boarding party could get on board.[2]


While patrolling north of the Faroe Islands on 23 November 1939, she investigated a possible enemy sighting, only to find that she had encountered two of the most powerful German warships, the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, which had been conducting a sweep between Iceland and the Faroes. Rawalpindi was able to signal the German ships' location back to base. Despite being hopelessly outgunned, 60-year old Captain Edward Coverley Kennedy RN of Rawalpindi decided to fight, rather than surrender as demanded by the Germans. He was heard to say "We’ll fight them both, they’ll sink us, and that will be that. Good-bye".

The German warships sank Rawalpindi within 40 minutes. She managed to score one hit on Scharnhorst, which caused minor splinter damage. 238 men died, including Captain Kennedy. Thirty-seven men were rescued by the German ships, a further 11 were picked up by HMS Chitral (another converted passenger ship). Captain Kennedy — the father of broadcaster and author Ludovic Kennedy — was posthumously Mentioned in Dispatches.

Sister ships[edit]

Rawalpindi was one of the P&O 'R' class liners from 1925 that had had much of their interiors designed by Lord Inchcape's daughter Elsie Mackay.[3] Her sister ships SS Ranchi, Ranpura and Rajputana were also converted into armed merchant cruisers. Rajputana was torpedoed by U-108 in the Denmark Strait and sunk on 13 April 1941.


External links[edit]

Coordinates: 63°23′59″N 12°18′36″W / 63.39972°N 12.31000°W / 63.39972; -12.31000