MV Empire Windrush

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The Empire Windrush
Career (Germany)
Name: MV Monte Rosa (1930-1947)
Owner: Hamburg-Südamerikanische-Dampfschifffahrts-Gesellschaft (1930–40)
Kriegsmarine (1940–45)
Operator: Hamburg-Südamerikanische-Dampfschiffahrts-Gesellschaft (1930–40)
Kriegsmarine (1940–45)
Port of registry: Hamburg (1930–40)
Builder: Blohm & Voss, Hamburg
Yard number: 492
Launched: 4 December 1930
In service: 1931
Out of service: 1945
Identification: German Official Number 1640 (1930–45)
Code Letters RHWF (1930–33)
ICS Romeo.svgICS Whiskey.svgICS Hotel.svgICS Foxtrot.svg
Code Letters DIDU (1933–45)
ICS Delta.svgICS India.svgICS Delta.svgICS Uniform.svg
Fate: Surrendered as a war prize
Career (United Kingdom)
Name: HMT Empire Windrush
Namesake: River Windrush
Owner: Ministry of War Transport (1945)
Ministry of Transport (1945–54)
Operator: New Zealand Shipping Company
Port of registry: London
Acquired: 1945
In service: 1946
Out of service: 30 March 1954
Fate: Sank after catching fire
General characteristics
Tonnage: 13,882 GRT
7,788 Net tonnage
8,530 long tons deadweight (DWT)
Length: 500 ft 3 in (152.48 m)
Beam: 65 ft 7 in (19.99 m)
Propulsion: 4 SCSA diesel engines (Blohm & Voss, Hamburg), double reduction geared driving two propellers.
Speed: 14.5 knots (26.9 km/h)
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HMT Empire Windrush, originally the MV Monte Rosa, was a passenger liner and cruise ship launched in Germany in 1930. During the 1930s, it operated as a German cruise ship under the name Monte Rosa. During World War 2, it was operated by the German navy as a troopship. It was acquired by the United Kingdom as a prize of war at the end of the war and renamed the Empire Windrush. In British service, it continued to be used mainly as a troopship until March 1954, when the vessel caught fire and sank in the Mediterranean Sea with the loss of four crew.

The Empire Windrush is best remembered today for bringing one of the first large groups of post-war West Indian immigrants to the United Kingdom, carrying 492 passengers and one stowaway on a voyage from Jamaica to London in 1948.[1] British Caribbean people who came to the United Kingdom in the period after World War 2 are sometimes referred to as the Windrush generation.

Early history of the ship[edit]

Windrush was a diesel-powered motor ship, built by Blohm & Voss in Hamburg, Germany, and launched on 4 December 1930. It was one of five Monte-class ocean liners that were launched between 1925 and 1931.[2] One of its sister-ships was the Monte Cervantes, which sank near Tierra del Fuego in 1930. Of the other three Monte-class vessels, two would be later sunk by air-raids during World War 2 and one would be scuttled by the Allies in 1946.

Under the name Monte Rosa, it was delivered to Hamburg-Südamerikanische-Dampfschiffahrts-Gesellschaft (Hamburg South American Steam Shipping Company) in 1931, who operated it as a cruise ship. Many of Its passengers were privileged Nazi Party members taking cruise holidays as part of the Strength Through Joy programme, intended to reward and encourage Party members and as a reward for services to the Nazi Party.

World War 2[edit]

At the start of World War 2, the Monte Rosa was allocated for military use. It was used as a barracks ship at Stettin, then as a troopship for the invasion of Norway in April 1940. It was later used as an accommodation and recreational ship attached to the battleship Tirpitz, stationed in the north of Norway, from where the Tirpitz and its flotilla attacked the Allied convoys en route to Russia. While serving in Norwegian waters, it was attacked by Royal Air Force Bristol Beaufighters, who claimed two torpedo hits and eight hits with RP-3 rockets.[3] In June 1944, members of the Norwegian resistance movement attempted, but failed to sink it by attaching Limpet mines to its hull.[4]

Later in 1944, the Monte Rosa served in the Baltic Sea, rescuing Germans trapped in Latvia, East Prussia and Danzig by the advance of the Red Army. In May 1945, it was captured by advancing British forces at Kiel and taken as a prize of war.

British service[edit]

In 1946 the ship was assigned to the British Ministry of Transport and converted into a troopship. It was renamed HMT Empire Windrush on 21 January 1947, for use on the Southampton-Gibraltar-Suez-Aden-Colombo-Singapore-Hong Kong route, with voyages extended to Kure in Japan after the start of the Korean War. The vessel was operated for the British Government by the New Zealand Shipping Company, and made one voyage only to the Caribbean before resuming normal trooping voyages.

The name derives from a series of ship names used by the British government for the ships they owned or chartered for the carriage of troops. Many of these ships were secondhand (like the Empire Windrush), and were renamed when bought. The names begin "Empire", and then added the name of a river in Britain. Among others well known at the time was the Empire Wansbeck, which from 1946 to 1961 took British soldiers based in Germany from Harwich. The River Windrush is a minor tributary of the Thames, flowing from the Cotswold hills down towards Oxford.

West Indian immigrants[edit]

In 1948, the Empire Windrush was on route from Australia to England via the Atlantic, docking in Kingston, Jamaica. An advert had appeared in a Jamaican newspaper offering cheap transport on the ship for anybody who wanted to come and work in the UK. At that time, there were no immigration restrictions for citizens of one part of the British Empire moving to another part. The arrival of the boat immediately prompted complaints from some members of parliament, but legislation controlling immigration was not passed until 1962. Among the passengers were calypso musicians Lord Kitchener, Lord Beginner, Lord Woodbine and Mona Baptiste, alongside 60 Polish women displaced during the Second World War.[5] There were several stowaways. One, Averill Wauchope, was a "25-year-old seamstress" who was discovered seven days out of Kingston. A whipround was organised on board ship, raising £50 – enough for the fare and £4 pocket money for it. Nancy Cunard, heiress to the Cunard shipping fortune, who was on her way back from Trinidad, "took a fancy to her" and "intended looking after her".[6]

The arrivals were temporarily housed in the Clapham South deep shelter in south-west London, less than a mile away from the Coldharbour Lane Employment Exchange in Brixton, where some of the arrivals sought work. Many only intended to stay for a few years, and although a number returned the majority remained to settle permanently.


Windrush set off from Yokohama, Japan in February 1954 on what proved to be its final voyage. It called at Kure and was to sail to the United Kingdom. Its passengers including recovering wounded United Nations veterans of the Korean War, some soldiers from the Duke of Wellington's Regiment wounded at the Third Battle of the Hook in May 1953, and also military families. However, the voyage was plagued with engine breakdowns and other defects and it took ten weeks to reach Port Said, from where the ship sailed for the last time.[7]

An inquiry later found that an engine room fire began after a fall of soot from the funnel fractured oil-fuel supply pipes. The subsequent explosion and fierce oil-fed fire killed four members of the engine room crew. The fire could not be fought because of a lack of electrical power for the water pumps because the back-up generators were also not in working order and the ship did not have a sprinkler system. The lack of electrical power also prevented many lifeboats from being launched and the remainder were unable to accommodate all the survivors, who were mostly clad in their nightclothes.

Despite these difficulties, all 1276 passengers were saved.[7] The rescue vessels took them to Algiers, where they were cared for by the French Red Cross and the French Army. Assistance was given by MV Mentor, MV Socotra, SS Hemsefjell and SS Taigete.[8] A Shackleton from 224 Squadron, Royal Air Force assisted in the rescue.[9]

The burned-out hulk of Empire Windrush was taken in tow by the Bay-class anti-aircraft frigate HMS Enard Bay of the Royal Navy's Mediterranean Fleet, 32 miles northwest of Cape Caxine. HMS Enard Bay attempted to tow the ship to Gibraltar in worsening weather, but Empire Windrush sank in the early hours of the following morning, Monday, 30 March 1954. The wreck lies at a depth of around 2,600 metres (8,500 ft).[10]


In 1998, an area of public open space in Brixton, London, was renamed Windrush Square to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the arrival of Windrush's West Indian passengers. To commemorate the "Windrush Generation", in 2008, a Thurrock Heritage plaque was unveiled at the London Cruise Terminal at Tilbury.[11] This chapter in the boat's history was also commemorated, although fleetingly only, in the Pandemonium sequence of the Opening Ceremony of the Games of the XXX Olympiad in London, 27 July 2012. A small replica of the ship plastered with newsprint was the facsimile representation in the ceremony.

The ship's wheel from the vessel is now held at the offices of the Open University at Milton Keynes[1]


  • Motor vessel: twin screws; oilfuel; 2 × 2 MAN diesels, single reduction geared: 4-stroke single-acting. 6,880 hp each (27,520 hp in total).
  • Maximum speed: 14.5 knots.

Official number and code letters[edit]

Official Numbers were a forerunner to IMO Numbers. Monte Rosa had the German Official Number 1640. It used the Code Letters RHWF until 1933[12] and then DIDU until 1945.[13]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b David Kynaston, Austerity Britain 1945–1951, London: Bloomsbury, 2007, p. 275; ISBN 978-0-7475-9923-4.
  2. ^ "Monte class ocean liner (ger.)". Retrieved 7 October 2014. 
  3. ^ Eric Grove (2002). German Capital Ships and Raiders in World War II: From Scharnhorst to Tirpitz, 1942-1944. Psychology Press. p. 27. ISBN 978-0-7146-5283-2. 
  4. ^ Michael Tillotson (5 January 2012). SOE and The Resistance: As Told in The Times Obituaries. Bloomsbury. pp. 62–. ISBN 978-1-4411-1971-1. 
  5. ^
  6. ^ Kynaston (2007), p. 276.
  7. ^ a b Dockerill, Geoffrey, "On Fire at Sea" essay in compilation The Unquiet Peace: Stories from the Post War Army, London, 1957.
  8. ^ Mitchell, W. H., and Sawyer, L. A. (1995). The Empire Ships. London, New York, Hamburg, Hong Kong: Lloyd's of London Press Ltd. p. 477. ISBN 1-85044-275-4. 
  9. ^ "Constant Endeavour". Aeroplane (February 2010): p. 60. 
  10. ^ "MV Empire Windrush [+1954]". Retrieved 7 October 2014. 
  11. ^ Heritage Plaque – Thurrock Local History Society
  12. ^ "LLOYD'S REGISTER, NAVIRES A VAPEUR ET A MOTEURS (RHWF)". Plimsoll Ship Data. Retrieved 2 May 2009. 
  13. ^ "LLOYD'S REGISTER, NAVIRES A VAPEUR ET A MOTEURS (DIDU)". Plimsoll Ship Data. Retrieved 2 May 2009. 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 37°00′N 2°11′E / 37.000°N 2.183°E / 37.000; 2.183