HMT Rohna

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Troopship, the HMT Rohna.jpeg
Career (UK)
Name: HMT Rohna
Operator: British India Steam Navigation Company
Ordered: 15 March 1941
Builder: Hawthorn Leslie, Hebburn-on-Tyne, England
Yard number: 542
Launched: 24 August 1926
Completed: 5 November 1926
Fate: Sunk by the Luftwaffe in an air attack on 26 November 1943
General characteristics
Tonnage: 8,602 long tons (8,740 t)
Length: 461 ft 4 in (140.61 m)
Beam: 61 ft 8 in (18.80 m)
Draught: 29 ft 9 in (9.07 m)
Propulsion: Twin propeller
2 x 4 Cylinder Quadruple Expansion
5,000 I.H.P.
Speed: 14.3 knots (26.5 km/h)
Capacity: 281 First Class
33 Second Class
100 Third Class
5064 Deck Passengers (reduced later to 3851)
Complement: 200
Armament:

His Majesty's Troopship Rohna (named after a village in Sonipat, Punjab, in India) was a troop ship carrying U.S. troops that was sunk by an air attack of the Luftwaffe during World War II, on 26 November 1943. The ship sank in the Mediterranean north of Béjaïa, Algeria.[1]

Sinking[edit]

The ship was part of convoy KMF-26 (Annex) travelling east from Oran to the Far East via the Suez Canal. The convoy was attacked by about 30 Heinkel 177 bombers with Henschel Hs 293 guided glide bombs and 6-9 torpedo bombers. Of an estimated 60 glide bombs launched or jettisoned in the attack, Rohna was the only casualty.

Of the 1,138 men lost, 1,015 were American. The attack constitutes the largest loss of U.S. troops at sea in a single incident. A further 35 American troops of the 2,000 originally on board later died of wounds. As well as the troops, five ship officers and 117 ratings (out of 200) died, along with 11 of the 12 gunners on board and one hospital orderly.

The minesweeper USS Pioneer rescued 606 survivors of the sinking.[2]

The details of the loss were revealed slowly over time and were only released in full in 1967 following the introduction of the Freedom of Information Act. However, already by February 1944 the US government had acknowledged that over 1000 soldiers had been lost in the sinking of an unnamed troopship in European waters, though it hinted at the time that a submarine was responsible. By June 1945, the government had provided accurate casualty figures, the ship had been identified by name as Rohna, and the cause of the sinking had been identified as German bombers. This account did not mention the fact that a guided missile was responsible. World War II history of the British-India Steam Navigation Company, Valiant Voyaging by Hilary St George Saunders, published by Faber and Faber in 1948, states "the missile was one of the new glider bombs guided by wireless."

The sinking was done with a Henschel Hs 293 radio-controlled glide bomb, launched and controlled by a Heinkel 177 bomber piloted by Hans Dochtermann. HMT Rohna was not the first casualty of a guided missile, however, as the British HMS Egret was sunk on the Bay of Biscay with the loss of 198 men on 27 August the same year by a Henschel Hs 293. On 9 September 1943 the Italian battleship "Roma", sailing towards Sardinia in order to surrender to the Allies following the Italian armistice, was sunk off the island of Asinara by Dornier Do 217K German bombers using guided missiles of the type Ruhrstahl SD 1400, with the loss of 1253 lives. Additional ships sunk by Hs 293 missiles prior to Rohna include HMHS Newfoundland, HMS LST-79, SS James W. Marshall, HMS Rockwood, HMS BYMS-72, HMS Dulverton and MV Marsa.

A memorial to the sinking was unveiled at the Fort Mitchell National Cemetery in Seale, Alabama in 1996.

History Channel programme[edit]

The History Channel broadcast a programme (titled The Rohna Disaster: WWII's Secret Tragedy) on the Rohna sinking as part of their History Undercover series. The programme was based on the 1998 book The Rohna Disaster by James G. Bennett (who lost a brother in the sinking). In the programme it was alleged that the heavy loss of life was due to the incompetence and cowardice of the Rohna's crew and faulty safety procedures and equipment on board. Contemporary reports by British and U.S. survivors contradict these allegations.[3]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Jackson, Carlton (1997). Forgotten tragedy: the sinking of HMT Rohna By Carlton Jackson. Naval Institute Press. ISBN 978-1-55750-402-9. 
  2. ^ Wise, James E.; Scott Baron. Soldiers lost at sea: a chronicle of troopship disasters. Naval Institute Press. ISBN 978-1-59114-966-8. 
  3. ^ "Rohna, ( British India Steam Navigation Co Ltd ), 1926-1943". merchantnavyofficers.com. Retrieved 8 Dec 2010. 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 37°1′12″N 5°12′6″E / 37.02000°N 5.20167°E / 37.02000; 5.20167