HMHS Asturias

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Every boy's book of railways and steamships (1911) (14736036766).jpg
Asturias in RMSP livery as an ocean liner
United Kingdom
Name: Asturias
Owner: Royal Mail Steam Packet Company
Operator: Royal Mail Steam Packet Company
Port of registry: United Kingdom Belfast
Route: SouthamptonBuenos Aires
Builder: Harland & Wolff, Belfast
Yard number: 388
Launched: 26 September 1907
Completed: 8 January 1908
Maiden voyage: 1908
Fate: Requisitioned by the Royal Navy
United Kingdom
Name: HMHS Asturias
Operator: Royal Navy
Fate: Returned to owners
Notes: Torpedoed and beached 20–21 March 1917
United Kingdom
Name: Arcadian
Owner: Royal Mail Steam Packet Company
Operator: Royal Mail Steam Packet Company
In service: 1923
Out of service: 1930
Fate: Scrapped in 1933
Notes: Converted to cruise ship, 1922–1923
General characteristics
Class and type: A-series
  • 12,015 GRT
  • 8,156 tonnage under deck
  • 6,892 NRT
Length: 520.3 ft (158.6 m) p/p
Beam: 62.3 ft (19.0 m)
Depth: 31.8 ft (9.7 m)
Decks: 2
Installed power: 924 NHP
Armament: 2 × stern-mounted QF 4.7-inch (120 mm) guns (as DAMS, 1913–14)

HMHS Asturias was a Royal Mail Steam Packet Company ocean liner that was built in Belfast in 1908 and scrapped in Japan in 1933. She was a Royal Mail Ship until 1914, when on the eve of the First World War the Admiralty requisitioned her as a hospital ship.

In 1917 a German U-boat torpedoed Asturias but her crew managed to beach her. She was raised and towed into port and spent the next two years as an ammunition hulk. In 1922–23 RMSP had her repaired and re-fitted as the cruise ship Arcadian. She was laid up in 1930 and sold for scrap in 1933.

Ocean liner[edit]

Harland & Wolff in Belfast, Ireland, built Asturias for the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company. She was a member of RMSP's "A"-class of passenger liners on the Southampton – Buenos Aires route. Asturias was 520.3 ft (158.6 m) long Length between perpendiculars, had a beam of 62.3 ft (19.0 m) and depth of 31.8 ft (9.7 m). Her tonnages were 12,015 GRT, 6,892 NRT and 8,156 tons under deck. She had two screws, each driven by a four-cylinder quadruple expansion steam engine. Between them the two engines developed a total of 924 NHP.[1] Harland and Wolff launched her on 26 September 1907 and completed her on 8 January 1908.[2]

There was an Anglo-German arms race before the First World War, and in 1913 the Admiralty armed most of RMSP's "A"-class liners as defensively equipped merchant ships ("DAMS") . Asturias was armed with two QF 4.7-inch (120 mm) guns.[3]

Hospital ship[edit]

However, just before the First World War the Admiralty decided to use Asturias as a hospital ship instead. Her First Class smokeroom was converted into an operating theatre. Her dining room was converted into a ward for 85 patients. Cabin partitions were removed to create other wards. Her children's dining room was converted into bathrooms and toilets. Radiology and disinfecting facilities were installed.[4] Her total capacity was for 896 patients.[citation needed] Asturias was painted in the hospital ship livery of a white hull with a broad green band punctuated by large red crosses.[5]

On 5 August 1914, one day after the UK entered the war, Asturias left Southampton for the Royal Navy anchorage at Scapa Flow.[4] She was soon sent to Le Havre in northern France, where she embarked wounded troops from the British Expeditionary Force.[5]

Asturias' duties took her mostly to French and Mediterranean ports, from Saint-Nazaire on the Bay of Biscay to the Gallipoli Campaign in Turkey.[5] She also visited Salonika and Egypt. On one occasion carried 2,400 sick and wounded back to the UK: more than twice the number she had was equipped to carry.[6]

At 5:05[clarification needed] on 1 February 1915 a German U-boat fired a torpedo that struck Asturias but failed to detonate. A month later Germany released a press statement claiming that Asturias was misidentified and that once the U-boat crew realized their mistake it broke off the attack.<[7]

In the spring of 1916 HM King George V visited Asturias.[5] Later that year J. R. R. Tolkien returned to the UK aboard her. On 27 October 1916, as his battalion attacked Regina Trench in the Battle of the Somme, he had caught trench fever. Tolkien was invalided to England on 8 November 1916, and remembered there being salt water baths on board.[8]

Sinking and salvage[edit]

Asturias as a hospital ship

On 20 March 1917 Asturias disembarked 1,000 wounded men at Avonmouth. She then sailed for Southampton, but that night off Start Point, Devon the German U-boat UC-66 torpedoed her.[9] Her machine spaces quickly flooded and her Master ordered her crew and medical staff of 50 nurses to abandon ship. Because her engine room was flooded the controls to shut down her engines could not be reached.[10] Therefore, she was still slowly under way when her crew launched her lifeboats, and some occupants of one boat were drowned.[5]

Asturias was down by her stern and listing to port, but as she was still under way she made for shore. Her Master managed to beach her near Bolt Head. There she lowered her remaining boats, in which her survivors made landfall at Salcombe.[5] One source counted 31 persons killed, and another 12 missing.[11] Another counts the total number of dead as 35.[12]

A month later Asturias was refloated and taken to Plymouth. There she was dry docked, and the damage was found to be so extensive that she was not repaired until after the end of the war.[13] She was declared a total loss,[14] the Admiralty bought her and used her as an ammunition hulk at Plymouth for the remainder of the war.[citation needed]

Cruise ship Arcadian[edit]

A painting by Kenneth Shoesmith of Arcadian and her sister ship Araguaya in the 1920s on a cruise in a Norwegian fjord

In 1920 RMSP bought the damaged hulk and had her towed to Belfast. Shipyards were busy building new tonnage to replace vessels lost in the war, so Asturias' repairs and refit did not begin until 1922. RMSP had her converted into a cruise ship, which included turning some of her cargo holds into passenger accommodation, making her cabins more spacious and adding more public rooms. At the same time she was converted from coal to oil fuel. The work took a year, at the end of which RMPS renamed her Arcadian.[15]

Arcadian cruised the Mediterranean and West Indies from 1923 until October 1930, when she was laid up. In 1933 Amakasu Gomei Kasha of Japan bought her for £13,700 for scrap.[16]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Lloyd's Register, Steamers & Motorships (PDF). London: Lloyd's Register. 1931. Retrieved 29 May 2017.
  2. ^ "Asturias". The Yard. Robert C. Retrieved 29 May 2017.
  3. ^ Seligmann 2012, p. 132.
  4. ^ a b Nicol 2001b, p. 118.
  5. ^ a b c d e f Nicol 2001b, p. 119.
  6. ^ Roll of Honour 2009
  7. ^ The New York Times 1915.
  8. ^ Garth 2013, p. 205.
  9. ^ The Argus 1917, p. 7.
  10. ^ "Fate of "Asturias"". The Hindu. 31 March 2017. ISSN 0971-751X. Retrieved 19 August 2019.
  11. ^ The New York Times 1917.
  12. ^ Helgason, Guðmundur (1995–2017). "Asturias". Guðmundur Helgason. Retrieved 29 May 2017.
  13. ^ Nicol 2001b, p. 120.
  14. ^ Nicol 2001b, p. 122.
  15. ^ Nicol 2001b, p. 123.
  16. ^ Nicol 2001a, p. 235.


External links[edit]