RMS Empress of Asia
Empress of Asia
|Name:||Empress of Asia|
|Owner:||Canadian Pacific Steamships|
|Port of registry:||Canada|
|Builder:||Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering, Govan, Scotland|
|Launched:||23 November 1912|
|Fate:||Sunk by Japanese aircraft off Sultan Shoal on 5 February 1942.|
|Tonnage:||16,909 g, 8,883 n|
|Propulsion:||Quadruple propellers, 4 x steam turbines by Builder, 3, 750 nhp|
As well as being a passenger liner in peacetime, Empress of Asia served as an armed merchant cruiser and a troopship in wartime. She was sunk during World War II by Japanese aircraft while transiting from Bombay to Singapore.
The Empress of Asia was built by Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering at Govan near Glasgow in Scotland She was launched in 1912 where she was named by Mrs Bosworth the wife of the Vice-President of the Canadian Pacific Railway, she completed her maiden voyage in 1913.
In May 1914, Captain Samuel Robinson pushed the RMS Empress of Asia and her crew in setting a new world's record for both a single day's steaming (473 nautical miles) and for crossing the Pacific (nine days, two hours, and fifteen minutes).
World War I
During the First World War, the Empress of Asia was converted into an auxiliary cruiser at Hong Kong. She was armed with eight 4.7-inch (12 cm) guns and Royal Navy officers assumed command. Among her peacetime crew only those in the Royal Naval Reserve were retained.
She was deployed in Asia, in the Middle East and in the Atlantic with Chinese, British Indian and Portuguese Indian (Goan) crew.
In late 1914, the Empress of Asia was among the cruisers tasked with hunting the German light cruiser SMS Emden in the Indian Ocean east of Ceylon. The Empress of Asia transported wounded German prisoners from the sunken Emden to Columbo.
On 9 September 1918, the Empress of Asia set sail from Hoboken, NJ bound for Liverpool carrying troops from the 86th Infantry Division's 331st Machine Gun Battalion, 311th Engineer Regiment and 311th Engineer Train. She arrived safely on 21 September 1918.
In 1919, the Empress of Asia returned to Vancouver carrying the 72nd Battalion, Seaforth Highlanders of the Canadian Expeditionary Forces (CEF); and the men disembarked from the ship at the CPR pier.
World War II
The Empress of Asia was requisitioned by the British Admiralty in January 1941, and sailed for Liverpool via the Panama Canal to the River Clyde for refitting as a troopship. For armament she received a 6-inch gun, a 3-inch gun HA, 6 20 mm Oerlikons, 8 Hotchkiss, Bofors guns, 4 PAC rockets and depth charges.
Empress of Asia was one of five CPR ships that were taking men and materiel to reinforce Singapore in the face of the Japanese advance. The convoy, designated BM.12, had come under air attack in Banka Strait on 4 February 1942 suffering only minor damage. On 5 February, as the convoy entered the approaches to Singapore, serious attacks were pressed home south of Sultan Shoal Lighthouse. Nine Japanese dive bombers focused their attack on the Empress of Asia. The second element of the convoy composed of Empress of Asia, Félix Roussel and City of Canterbury escorted by HMAS Yarra and HMS Danae came into sight of vessels in the harbor with Empress of Asia on fire amidships approaching Sultan Shoal. The ship anchored off the shoal with personnel gathered on bow and stern. Escort vessels HMAS Wollongong, HMS Danae, HMIS Sutlej stood by while Commander Wilfred Harrington manoeuvered the bow of Yarra alongside the liner's stern and took off 1804 survivors. HMAS Bendigo (J187), which had been in the harbor, rescued 78 with Wollongong taking the last two persons, the Master and Chief Engineer, off the burning ship. There were 16 deaths. She sank near the island of Sultan Shoal in the Western Anchorage of Singapore about 8 kilometres (5.0 mi) south of the western tip of Singapore Island. Despite salvage efforts organized by Robert Rankin, all the military equipment and other supplies were lost. Singapore would fall to the Japanese only ten days later (15 February 1942), which makes it hard to speculate about what difference it could have made if the Empress of Asia had not been sunk.
The last convoy of evacuees leaving Singapore included the SS Sing Kheng Seng of the Straits Shipping Company, carrying 45 crewmen from the Empress of Asia along with an unknown number of others.
Leonard H. Johnston was chief mate of the Empress of Asia when she went down. He took charge of 40 other young survivors and led his crew-mates safely to Fremantle, Australia. The journey involved sailing on three inter-island steamers to Sumatra, hiking over 100 miles across the island to catch a ferry to Java, and then a voyage from Batavia to Australia aboard a flat-bottomed river boat with Johnston serving as navigator. He was honored with the OBE for his exploits.
- Johnston, Ian. "Govan Shipyard" in Ships Monthly. June 1985.
- Hammer, Joshua. (2006). Yokohama Burning: The Deadly 1923 Earthquake and Fire that Helped Forge the Path to World War II, p. 60.
- Frame, Tom. (2004). No Pleasure Cruise: The Story of the Royal Australian Navy, p. 110.
- Australian War Memorial (AWM): caption for archive photo (ID No. C02534), SS Empress of Asia in Columbo harbour
- City of Victoria Archives: "72nd Battalion, Seaforth Highlanders, C.E.F. disembarking from the "Empress of Asia" at the C.P.R. pier." Matthews Collection, 1919.
- Russell, Bertrand. (2000). Uncertain Paths to Freedom: Russia and China, 1919–22, p. 542.
- "Telegrams in Brief" The Times (London). Tuesday, 12 January 1926. (44167), col G, p. 13.
- Empress of Asia: Empress of Asia, requisition – accessed 6 May 2008
- Morison, Samuel Eliot. (2001). History of United States Naval Operations in World War II, p. 86.
- Gill 1957, pp. 527—529.
- Australian War Memorial (AWM): caption for archive photo (ID No. P00634.001), SS Empress of Asia sinks
- Allied Merchant Navy of World War II: Role of CPR ships; Australian Dictionary of Biography (ADB): Wilfred Hastings Harrington, KBE; ADB: Robert William Rankin
- It was said that much of the vital materiel lost in the sinking of the Empress would have been provided to the ill-equipped Singapore Chinese Anti-Japanese Volunteer Battalion.
- Singapore evacuation 1942: Civilian evacuation lists; 13 February 1942.
- Bamberger, Werner. "Empress of Canada's Skipper Ending 43-Year Career at Sea; Johnston Sails for England – Began as Deck Cadet With Canadian Pacific in '22," New York Times. 1 April 1965.
- Frame, Tom. (2004). No Pleasure Cruise: The Story of the Royal Australian Navy. Sydney: Allen & Unwin ISBN 978-1-74114-233-4 (paper)
- Gill, G. Hermon (1957). Royal Australian Navy 1939–1942. Australia in the War of 1939–1945. Series 2 – Navy. 1. Canberra: Australian War Memorial.
- Hammer, Joshua. (2006). Yokohama Burning: The Deadly 1923 Earthquake and Fire that Helped Forge the Path to World War II. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 978-0-7432-6465-5 (cloth)
- Morison, Samuel Eliot. (2001). History of United States Naval Operations in World War II. Champaign, Illinois: University of Illinois Press. ISBN 0-252-06963-3
- Russell, Bertrand. (2000). Uncertain Paths to Freedom: Russia and China, 1919–22. London: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-09411-9
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Empress of Asia (ship, 1912).|
- empressofasia.com Empress web site
- Description, RMS Empress of Asia at theShipsList.com
- Merchantnavy officers.com