RMS Alcantara (1926)

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For other ships of the same name, see SS Alcantara (1913).
Alcantara à Rio by Kenneth Shoesmith.jpg
Alcantara off Rio de Janeiro between 1934 and 1939
Career (UK)
Name: RMS Alcantara (1926–39; 1943–58)
HMS Alcantara (1939–43)
Owner: Royal Mail Lines House Flag.svg Royal Mail Lines
Operator: United Kingdom Royal Navy (1939–43)
Port of registry: United Kingdom Belfast
Route: Southampton – South America
Builder: Harland & Wolff, Belfast
Yard number: 586
Launched: September 1926
Completed: 18 February 1927
Commissioned: 1939
Decommissioned: 1943

UK official number: 148151
code letters: KVQC (until 1933)
ICS Kilo.svgICS Victor.svgICS Quebec.svgICS Charlie.svg
call sign: GLQR (from 1934)

ICS Golf.svgICS Lima.svgICS Quebec.svgICS Romeo.svg
Fate: Returned to civilian service 1948
Broken up 1958
General characteristics
Type: ocean liner 1926–39; 1948–58
armed merchant cruiser 1939–43
troop ship 1943–48
Tonnage: 22,181 GRT
tonnage under deck 16,089
13,189 NRT
Length: 630.5 ft (192.2 m) p/p
656 ft (200 m) o/a
Beam: 78.5 ft (23.9 m)
Depth: 40.5 ft (12.3 m)
Decks: 3
Installed power: 3,366 NHP (until 1934)
4,205 NHP (from 1934)

twin screws powered by:
2 × 8 cylinder 4-stroke double-acting Burmeister & Wain diesel engines (until 1934);

6 × steam turbines (from 1934)
Speed: 16.5 knots (30.6 km/h) (until 1934)
19 knots (35 km/h) (from 1934)
Capacity: 1,430 passengers:
432 1st class
223 2nd class
775 3rd class
Complement: 254
Sensors and
processing systems:
wireless direction finding
echo sounding device
Armament: as AMC:
BL 6 inch Mk XII naval guns[1]
QF 3 inch 20 cwt anti-aircraft guns[2]
Notes: sister ship: RMS Asturias

RMS Alcantara was a Royal Mail Lines ocean liner that was built in Belfast in 1926. She served in the Second World War as first an armed merchant cruiser and then a troop ship, was returned to civilian service in 1948 and scrapped in 1958.

Building and civilian service[edit]

In the 1920s Harland & Wolff of Belfast built a pair of 22,200 GRT passenger liners for Royal Mail Lines, launching Asturias in July 1925 and her sister ship Alcantara in September 1926.[3] The latter was named after Royal Mail Lines' previous SS Alcantara that had been sunk by a German armed merchant cruiser in 1916.

Each of the two new ships was powered by a pair of eight-cylinder four-stroke double-acting diesel engines built by Burmeister & Wain of Copenhagen, Denmark. These gave each ship a speed of about 16.5 knots (30.6 km/h)[4] and at the time made them the World's largest motor ships.[3] The pair worked Royal Mail Lines' liner route between Southampton and ports on the east coast of South America.

In 1934 Royal Mail Lines had both ships re-engined from diesel to steam. Each was fitted with three water tube boilers supplying superheated steam at 435 lbf/in2 to a set of six steam turbines that drove her twin propeller shafts by single reduction gearing. This increased each ship's nominal horsepower by 25% and increased their speed to about 19 knots (35 km/h).

Second World War service[edit]

In 1939 the Admiralty requisitioned Alcantara and Asturias and had each ship converted into an armed merchant cruiser. Each ship's forward funnel was a dummy, so these were removed to increase the arc of fire for their anti-aircraft guns.

Alcantara was sent to Malta for further modifications, but en route she had a major collision with the Cunard ship RMS Franconia. As a result Alcantara continued to Alexandria for hull repairs.

On 28 July 1940 Alcantara encountered the German German auxiliary cruiser Thor in the South Atlantic. Thor scored three hits on Alcantara, and was hit twice by Alcantara's six-inch main guns. One of the hits on Alcantara flooded her engine room and forced her to reduce speed, allowing Thor to escape.

In 1943 Alcantara was converted into a troop ship.

Final years[edit]

Alcantara remained a troop ship well after the end of the war, and did not return to civilian service until October 1948. Asturias remained in UK Government service as an emigrant ship, and Alcantara alone resumed their route between Southampton and South America. In April 1958 she was withdrawn from service and sold to Japanese shipbreakers who renamed her Kaisho Maru, took her to Japan and broke her up in the same year.


Alcantara panels at Żabbar Sanctuary Museum

As part of the conversion to an auxiliary ship, mahogany wood paneling in the lobby was removed and stored in order to be replaced after the war. Eventually, the panels were not reused but were sold to the Church of Our Lady of Graces in Żabbar, Malta, where they were used as the platform for the altar for the 1951 village feast. The panels are now in the Żabbar Sanctuary Museum.[5]


  1. ^ "BR 6in 45cal BL Mk XII". NavHist. Flixco Pty Limited. Retrieved 6 May 2013. 
  2. ^ "BR 3in 45cal 12pdr 20cwt QF Mk I To IV". NavHist. Flixco Pty Limited. Retrieved 6 May 2013. 
  3. ^ a b Nicol 2001, p. 131.
  4. ^ Nicol 2001, p. 132.
  5. ^ "Zabbar Sanctuary Museum". Malta daily photo. 13 March 2010. Retrieved 19 November 2014. 


  • Nicol, Stuart (2001). MacQueen's Legacy; Ships of the Royal Mail Line Two. Brimscombe Port and Charleston, SC: Tempus Publishing. pp. 130–149. ISBN 0-7524-2119-0. 

External link[edit]