HMT Empire Windrush
|→ → Germany|
|Name:||MV Monte Rosa (1930–1947)|
|Port of registry:||Hamburg (1930–40)|
|Builder:||Blohm & Voss, Hamburg|
|Launched:||4 December 1930|
|Out of service:||1945|
|Fate:||Seized by the United Kingdom as a war reparation|
|Name:||HMT Empire Windrush|
|Operator:||New Zealand Shipping Company|
|Port of registry:||London|
|Out of service:||30 March 1954|
|Fate:||Sank after catching fire|
|Length:||500 ft 3 in (152.48 m)|
|Beam:||65 ft 7 in (19.99 m)|
|Depth:||37 ft 8 in (11.48 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 MV Monte Rosa, was a passenger liner and cruise ship launched in Germany in 1930. She was operated as a German cruise ship under the name Monte Rosa in the 1930s, and as a German navy troopship during World War II. At the end of the war, she was acquired by the United Kingdom Government as a prize of war and renamed the Empire Windrush. In British service, she 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.
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 1027 passengers and two stowaways on a voyage from Jamaica to London in 1948. Of these, 802 passengers gave their last country of residence as somewhere in the Caribbean of whom 693 intended to settle in the United Kingdom. British Caribbean people who came to the United Kingdom in the period after World War II are sometimes referred to as the Windrush generation.
Background and Description
Empire Windrush, under the name MV Monte Rosa, was the last of five almost-identical Monte-class passenger ships that were built by Blohm & Voss in Hamburg between 1924 and 1931 for Hamburg Süd (Hamburg South American Steam Shipping Company).
During the 1920s, Hamburg Süd believed there would be a lucrative business in carrying German immigrants to South America and the first two ships were built for that purpose. Passenger accommodation was single-class, with space for 1150 in cabins and 1350 in dormitories. In the event, the immigrant trade never materialized and the two ships were re-purposed as cruise ships, operating in Northern European waters, the Mediterranean and around South America.
This proved to be a great success. Until then, cruise holidays had been the preserve of the rich. But by providing modestly-priced cruises, Hamburg Süd was able to profitably cater to a large new clientele. Another ship was commissioned to cater for the demand – the MV Monte Cervantes. However, she struck an uncharted rock and sank after only two years in service. Despite this, Hamburg Süd remained confident in the design and quickly ordered two more ships, the MV Monte Pascoal and the MV Monte Rosa; Monte Rosa was launched on 4 December 1930.
Monte Rosa was 500 ft 3 in (152.48 m) long, with a beam of 65 ft 7 in (19.99 m). She had a depth of 37 ft 8 in (11.48 m). The ship was assessed at 13,882 GRT, 7,788 NRT. The five Monte-class vessels were diesel-powered motor ships, with four 1,436 nhp four-stroke diesel engines driving two propellers. At the time, the use of diesel engines was highly unusual in ships of this size, which would have been typically steam-powered, and their use reflected the experience Blohm & Voss had gained by building Diesel-powered U-boats during World War 1. Their top speed was 14 knots (26 km/h) (around half the speed of the large trans-Atlantic Ocean liners of the era) but this was considered adequate for both the immigrant and cruise business.
Monte Rosa, was delivered to Hamburg Süd in 1931, which operated her as a cruise ship, traveling to Norway, the United Kingdom and the Mediterranean. After the Nazi regime came to power in Germany in 1933, she was operated as part of the state-owned Kraft durch Freude (Strength Through Joy) programme, which provided leisure activities and cheap holidays. She ran aground off Thorshavn, Faroe Islands, on 23 July 1934, but was refloated the next day.
At the start of World War II, Monte Rosa was allocated for military use. She was used as a barracks ship at Stettin, then as a troopship for the invasion of Norway in April 1940. She was later used as an accommodation and recreational ship attached to the battleship Tirpitz, stationed in the north of Norway, from where Tirpitz and her flotilla attacked the Allied convoys en route to Russia. In November 1942, she was one of several ships used for the deportation of Norwegian Jewish people, carrying a total of 46 people from Norway to Denmark, including the Polish-Norwegian businessman and humanitarian Moritz Rabinowitz. Of the 46 deportees carried on Monte Rosa, all but two died in Auschwitz concentration camp.
On 30 March 1944, Monte Rosa was attacked by Bristol Beaufighters of Royal Air Force 144 Squadron and Royal Canadian Air Force 404 Squadron. The attack was mounted for the explicit purpose of sinking her after British Intelligence had obtained details of the ship's movements. The ship was escorted by three flak ships and by German fighters. The RAF crews claimed two torpedo hits and eight hits with RP-3 rockets. One German Messerschmitt Bf 110 was claimed shot down and two Beaufighters were lost.
In June 1944, Max Manus and Gregers Gram, members of Norwegian Independent Company 1 (a British Army sabotage and resistance unit composed of Norwegians), attached Limpet mines to Monte Rosa's hull while the ship was in Oslo harbour. They had learned the ship was to carry 3000 German troops back to Germany and their purpose was to sink her during the trip. The pair had twice bluffed their way into the dock area by posing as electricians, then hid for three days as they waited for the ship to arrive. After it docked, they paddled out to her from their hiding place on an inflatable rubber boat and attached their mines. The mines detonated when the ship was near Øresund but only caused slight damage; she remained afloat and returned to harbour under her own power.
In January 1945, the ship was converted into a Hospital ship but was damaged by a mine explosion in February. She received temporary repairs at the German-occupied Polish port of Gdynia then traveled to Copenhagen, carrying 5000 German refugees, fleeing from the advancing Red Army. In May 1945, she was captured by British forces at Kiel and taken as a prize of war.
In 1946, Monte Rosa was assigned to the British Ministry of Transport and converted into a troopship. By this time, she was the only survivor of the five Monte-class ships. Monte Cervantes sank near Tierra del Fuego in 1930, one ship was sunk by an air-raid in 1942; one was badly damaged by bombs and scrapped after the war. Monte Pascoal was scuttled by the British in 1946.
Monte Rosa 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 new name was one of a series of ship names used by the British government for the vessels that were acquired or chartered for the carriage of troops. Many of these ships were second-hand (like Empire Windrush), and were renamed when bought. The names were "Empire" followed by the name of a British river; in this case the River Windrush, a minor tributary of the Thames, flowing from the Cotswold Hills towards Oxford.
West Indian immigrants
In 1948, Empire Windrush, which was en route from Australia to England via the Atlantic, docked in Kingston, Jamaica, to pick up servicemen who were on leave. The British Nationality Act 1948 had just been passed, giving the status of citizenship of the United Kingdom and Colonies (CUKC status) to all British subjects connected with the United Kingdom or a British colony. Prior to 1962, the UK had no immigration control for CUKCs, who could settle indefinitely in the UK without restrictions. The ship was far from full, and so an opportunistic advertisement was placed in a Jamaican newspaper offering cheap transport on the ship for anybody who wanted to come and work in the UK. Many former servicemen took this opportunity to return to Britain with the hopes of finding better employment including in some cases rejoining the RAF; others decided to make the journey just to see what the 'mother country' was like. One passenger later recalled that demand for tickets far exceeded the supply and there was a long queue to obtain one.
The ship docked at the Port of Tilbury, near London, on 21 June 1948, and the 1027 passengers began disembarking the next day. A commonly given figure for the number of West Indian immigrants on board is 492 based understandably on news reports in the media at the time, which variously announced that "more than 400", "430" or "500" Jamaican men had arrived in Britain. However, the ship's records, kept in the United Kingdom National Archives indicate conclusively that 802 passengers gave their last place of residence as a country in the Caribbean.
The ship also carried 66 people whose last country of residence was Mexico - they were a group of Polish people who had travelled from Siberia via India and the Pacific, and who had been granted permission to settle in the United Kingdom under the terms of the Polish Resettlement Act 1947. They had been among a group of Polish people who had been living in Mexico since 1943 and Empire Windrush had called at Tampico, Mexico in order to pick them up.
Of the other passengers, 119 were from England and 40 from other parts of the world.
The disembarkation of Empire Windrush's passengers was a notable news event, and was covered by newspaper reporters and by Pathé News newsreel cameras. The name Windrush as a result come to be used as shorthand for West Indian migration, and by extension for the beginning of modern British multiracial society.
The arrival of the ship immediately prompted complaints from some members of parliament, but the first legislation controlling immigration was not passed until 1962. Among the passengers was Sam Beaver King who helped found the Notting Hill Carnival and went on to become the first black Mayor of Southwark. There were also the calypso musicians Lord Kitchener, Lord Beginner, Lord Woodbine and Mona Baptiste. One of the stowaways was Evelyn Wauchope, a 39-year-old dressmaker. She was discovered seven days out of Kingston. A whip-round was organised on board ship, raising £50 – enough for the fare and £4 pocket money for her. 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".
Those who had not already arranged accommodation 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. The stowaways served brief prison sentences, but were eligible to remain in the United Kingdom on their release.
Many of Empire Windrush's passengers only intended to stay for a few years, although a number did return the majority remained to settle permanently. Those born in the West Indies who settled in the UK in this migration movement over the following years are now typically referred to as the "Windrush Generation".
In May 1949, Empire Windrush was on a voyage from Gibraltar to Port Said when a fire broke out on board. Four ships were put on standby to assist if the ship had to be abandoned. Although the passengers were placed in the lifeboats, they were not launched and the ship was subsequently towed back to Gibraltar.
On 7 February 1953, around 200 miles (320 km) south of the Nicobar Islands, Windrush sighted a small cargo-ship, the Holchu, adrift and sent out a general warning. The Holchu was later boarded by the crew of a British cargo ship, alerted by Windrush's warning. They found no trace of the crew and the Holchu was towed to Colombo. She was carrying a cargo of rice and was in good condition aside from a broken mast. Adequate supplies of food, water and fuel were found, and a meal had been prepared in the ship's galley. The fate of Holchu's crew remains unknown and the incident is cited in several works on Ufology and the Bermuda Triangle.
Last voyage and sinking
Empire Windrush set off from Yokohama, Japan, in February 1954 on what proved to be her final voyage. She called at Kure and was to sail to the United Kingdom, calling at Hong Kong, Singapore, Colombo, Aden and Port Said. Her passengers included 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.
However, the voyage was plagued with engine breakdowns and other defects, including a fire after the departure from Hong Kong. It took 10 weeks to reach Port Said, from where the ship sailed for the last time. On board were 222 crew and 1276 passengers, including military personnel and some women and children, dependents of some of the military personnel.
At around 6:15am on Sunday March 28, there was a sudden explosion and fierce fire in the engine-room that killed the Third Engineer, two other members of the engine-room crew and the First Electrician; a fifth crew-member in the engine room and one in the boiler-room, both Greasers, managed to escape. The ship quickly lost all electrical power as the four main electrical generators were located in the burning engine room; the back-up generator was started, but problems with the main circuit-breaker made its power unusable.
The ship did not have a sprinkler system. The Chief officer heard the explosion from the ship's bridge and assembled the ship's fire-fighting squad, who happened to be on deck at the time doing routine work. However they were only able to fight the fire for a few minutes before the loss of electrical power stopped the water pumps that fed their fire-hoses. The Second Engineer was able to enter the engine room by wearing a smoke hood, but was unable to close a water-tight door that might have contained the fire, due to a lack of electrical power. Attempts to close all water-tight doors using the controls on the bridge had also failed.
At 6:23am, the first distress calls were transmitted; further SOS calls used the emergency radio transmitter as electrical power had been lost. The order was given to wake the passengers and crew and assemble them at their emergency stations, but the ship's public address system was not working, nor were its air and steam whistles, so the order had to be transmitted by word-of-mouth. At 6:45am, all attempts to fight the fire were halted and the order was given to launch the lifeboats, with the first ones away carrying the women and children on-board.
While the ship's 22 lifeboats could accommodate all on board, thick smoke and the lack of electrical power prevented many of them from being launched. Each set of lifeboat davits accommodated two lifeboats and without electrical power, raising the wire ropes to lower the second boat was an arduous and slow task. With fire spreading rapidly, the order was given to drop the remaining boats into the sea.
Many of the crew and troops on board abandoned the ship by climbing down ladders or ropes and jumping into the sea. However, they were quickly picked up by Windrush's lifeboats and also by a boat from the first rescue ship, which reached the scene at 7.00am. The ships responding to Windrush's distress call were the Dutch ship MV Mentor, the British P&O Cargo liner MV Socotra, the Norwegian ship SS Hemsefjell and the Italian ships SS Taigete and SS Helschell. A Royal Air Force Avro Shackleton from 224 Squadron assisted in the rescue. The last person to leave Windrush was the Chief officer at 7:30am. All the passengers were saved and the only fatalities were the four crew killed in the engine room.
The rescue vessels took the passengers and crew to Algiers, where they were cared for by the French Red Cross and the French Army. They were taken to Gibraltar by the aircraft carrier HMS Triumph, and from there returned to the United Kingdom by air.
Around 26 hours after Empire Windrush had been abandoned, she was reached by HMS Saintes of the Royal Navy's Mediterranean Fleet at a position . The fire was still burning fiercely more than a day after it started, but a party from Saintes managed to get on board Empire Windrush and attach a tow-cable. At about midday,Saintes began to tow the ship to Gibraltar, at a speed of around 3.5 knots (6.5 km/h), but Empire Windrush sank in the early hours of the following morning, Tuesday, 30 March 1954 at a position . after having been towed a distance of only around 16 kilometres (8.6 nmi). The wreck lies at a depth of around 2,600 metres (8,500 ft).
Inquiry into the sinking
An inquiry into the sinking of Empire Windrush was held between the 21 June and 7 July 1954. No firm cause for the fire was established, but it was thought the most likely cause was corrosion in one of the ships funnels, or uptakes, may have led to a panel failing, causing incandescently hot soot to fall into the engine room, where it damaged a fuel oil supply pipe and ignited the leaking oil. An alternative theory was that a fractured oil pipe deposited oil onto a hot exhaust pipe. As the ship was government property, she was not insured.
In 1954, several of the military personnel on board Empire Windrush during her final voyage received decorations for their role in the evacuation of the burning ship. A military nurse was awarded the Royal Red Cross for her role in evacuating the patients under her care.
In 1998, an area of public open space in Brixton, London, was renamed Windrush Square to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the arrival of Empire 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. 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.
Engines and auxiliary machinery
Windrush carried four, oil-burning, four-stroke single-acting MAN Diesel engines of 6,880 horsepower (5,130 kW) total, They were single reduction geared in pairs to two propellers. The ship's maximum speed was 14.5 knots (26.9 km/h; 16.7 mph).
Electrical power was initially provided by three, 350 kW DC generators, powered by internal combustion engines and installed in the engine room; a fourth generator was installed in 1949. There was also an emergency generator. The ship also carried two Scotch marine boilers to produce high-pressure steam for some auxiliary machinery. These could be heated either by burning oil, or by using the hot, exhaust gases from the main engines.
Official number and code letters
Official Numbers are ship identifier numbers assigned to merchant ships by their country of registration. Each country developed its own official numbering system, some on a national and some on a port-by-port basis, and the formats have sometimes changed over time. National Official Numbers shouldn't be confused with IMO Numbers. Flag states still use national systems, which also cover those vessels not subject to the IMO regulations. Monte Rosa had the German Official Number 1640. She used the Maritime call sign RHWF until 1933 and then DIDU until 1945. When the ship sank in 1954 she had the British Official Number 181561.
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There were more people who wanted to travel than places available. "There was a long queue, lots of people hustling and bustling to get tickets, offering to pay more – but my name was on the list," said Gardner, now 92.
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- Sea Breeze, various contemporary issues.[volume & issue needed]
- The Daily Express, 20 June 1954, for a report of the Strength Through Joy programme, archived in WO 32/15643 at the Public Record Office and the British Library Newspaper Library, London.
- Board of Trade Inquiry Report, archived as BT 239/56 at the Public Record Office.
- War Office files on the loss, archived as WO 32/15643 at the Public Record Office, including contemporary press clippings.
- Report of the British Consul in Algiers for the Foreign Office, archived at the Public Record Office as FO 859/26, including recommendation to invite the Mayor of Algiers to London, an invoice for services rendered by the French Army in Algeria, a full passenger list, and letters from passengers.
- Seybold, W.N. (1998). Women and children first- : the loss of the troopship "Empire Windrush". Ballaugh, Isle of Man: Captain W.N. Seybold. ISBN 0953354105. OCLC 39962436.
- Film by Youmanity tracing the arrival of a Jamaican family aboard Empire Windrush
- Photograph of Empire Windrush on fire
- Oral history of passengers on the Windrush from BBC history
- Empire Windrush from BBC Arts
- Passenger List from the Public Record Office
- Board of Trade 'Inwards passenger lists, 1948' Subseries within BT 26 Record Summary – held at The National Archives (UK), Kew, Richmond, Surrey.
- Windrush settlers arrive in Britain, 1948 – treasures of The National Archives (UK).
- Windrush settlers arrive in Britain, 1948 – Transcript
- Through My Eyes website – Imperial War Museum Online Exhibition – Videos, pictures and interviews from the museum's archives showing the West Indian contribution to the World War II effort