SS Laurentic (1927)

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United Kingdom
Port of registryLiverpool
BuilderHarland and Wolff, Belfast
Yard number470
Launched16 June 1927
Completed1 November 1927
Maiden voyage12 November 1927
In service1927
Out of service1940
Fatetorpedoed by U-99 3–4 November 1940
NotesThe last steamship built for White Star Line and the last White Star Line ship to sink.
General characteristics
Typeocean liner
Length578.2 ft (176.2 m)
Beam75.4 ft (23.0 m)
Depth40.6 ft (12.4 m)
Decks4 decks
Speed16 knots (30 km/h)
  • 594 Cabin Class
  • 406 Tourist Class
  • 500 Third Class
Sensors and
processing systems

The second SS Laurentic was a 18,724 GRT steam ocean liner built in 1927 by Harland and Wolff, Belfast, for the White Star Line.[1] She was the last steamship to be built for White Star Line.[2]

She sailed between Liverpool and Canada from 1927 to 1936. After the merger of the White Star Line with Cunard she was used mainly as a cruise ship. From December 1935 she was laid up in Liverpool.

In 1939 the Admiralty requisitioned her and had her converted into an armed merchant cruiser for the Royal Navy. On 3–4 November 1940 a U-boat torpedoed her off the west coast of Ireland when she was on a rescue mission for another ship that had been torpedoed. She sank with the loss of 49 of her complement.


During the 1920s, the White Star Line experienced a difficult period. It was then still part of the International Mercantile Marine Co., an American group of shipping companies, but the management of this group increasingly considered getting rid of its non-American possessions. It was in this uncertain context that the Laurentic, second of this name, was ordered.[3] The construction of this ship is peculiar in several respects. It was the only time in 60 years that White Star Line ordered from Harland and Wolff on the basis of a defined budget. Laurentic thus appeared to be a ship at a discount, which was unusual in the history of the company.[4] Mysteriously she was built with the hull number 470, while Doric, put into service in 1923 (four years before her), was hull number 573. This would suggest that order for Laurentic was made in the early 1920s and that the ship was unfinished for more than five years. The cause of such a long delay is unknown.[5]

Laurentic looked like Doric, but she was bunkered with coal at a time when most new steamships were fueled by oil.[6] Her propulsion is similar to that of the first Laurentic, completed in 1909.[7] She had three screws. A pair of four-cylinder triple-expansion steam engines drove her port and starboard screws. Exhaust steam from their low-pressure cylinders fed one low-pressure steam turbine, which drove her middle screw.[8][9]

The 1926 United Kingdom general strike delayed her construction. She was eventually launched without ceremony on 16 June 1927. She was completed five months later on 1 November, after which she left Belfast for Liverpool carrying representatives of White Star Line and Harland and Wolff.[5]


The Laurentic is the fourth in a series of ships ordered by the International Mercantile Marine Co. from Harland & Wolff shipyards, after SS Regina, SS Pittsburgh and SS Doric.[10] All had the same silhouette, with two funnels in the company's colors framed by two masts, but the Laurentic was slightly larger than her predecessors.[11] She measured 18,724 gross register tons, and was 182.9 meters long and 23 wide.[6] She also differed in that she was not fitted with the crane-shaped davits tested on the other three, her lifeboats being installed on davits lined up in a double row of seven boats on each side.[12]

Built on a limited budget, she was powered by coal when most of her contemporaries were fueled by oil. She was also equipped with obsolete machinery, with the two outboard shafts being powered by triple expansion reciprocating engines, while the central shaft was powered by a low pressure turbine. This mode of propulsion, first tested on the Laurentic of 1909, had been largely supplanted at the time by the use of turbines alone. It was likely that this system was chosen for its proven reliability for many years, but the ship ultimately proved to be expensive to operate, which partly explained her short career. She could reach an average speed of 16.5 knots.[5]

The interior of the ship was designed to be comfortable. She could accommodate 596 cabin class passengers (the equivalent of first class, on slower ships offering more accessible fares), 406 in tourist class and 500 in third class. Cabin-class facilities included Renaissance-style lounge, small lounge, Jacobean-style smoking room, card lounge, veranda cafe, gymnasium, and children's playroom. The most luxurious cabins were decorated in Louis XIV to Louis XVI styles. In the tourist class, a good part of the cabins could accommodate two people, the rest being designed for four and six. The third class offered cabins with four or six berths. These two classes offered dining rooms, lounges, smoking rooms, games rooms, common rooms and boudoir.[13] The ship was designed for a crew of 420 people.[6]

Passenger career[edit]

Postcard of Laurentic

Although planned from the start to serve on the Canada route, the Laurentic made her maiden voyage on November 12, 1927 between Liverpool and New York, and made a second rotation on this route on the following December 31. She then made two Mediterranean cruises, in January and March 1928. On April 27, she made her first crossing on the Liverpool - Quebec - Montreal route.[12] Since Owen Philipps, 1st Baron Kylsant took over the White Star Line, the Canadian route had been frequented by two ships from the company in 1927, SS Calgaric and SS Albertic,[14] as well as the older SS Doric, SS Megantic and SS Regina.[15]

Over time, however, as passenger traffic diminished, the Regina was sold to another company, the Calgaric was assigned to cruises, and the Albertic to the New York route. When the Doric was in turn assigned to cruises in 1932, the Laurentic remained the last White Star liner assigned to the Canadian route.[12] On October 3 of the same year, the she collided with the Lurigethan of the Mountain Steamship Co, in the Strait of Belle Isle.[16] Both ships were damaged above the waterline but were able to continue their voyage. An investigation later determined that the crew of the Laurentic was "55% responsible" for the accident.[17]

On 25 February 1934 she made her last crossing on a regular line for the White Star between Boston, Halifax, Nova Scotia and Liverpool. She was then assigned to cruising. In March of that year, she transported 700 pilgrims from Dublin to Rome for the Easter celebrations. For the occasion, ten altars were installed on board to allow the priests present to perform their office, as well as a cinema to entertain the passengers.[12] The year was marked, shortly after, by the merger of White Star Line with its rival, the Cunard Line. Many superfluous ships were sold in the following times, but the Laurentic was kept and temporarily assigned to the Montreal route, before returning to her cruises.[18]

In 1933 or 1934 there was a worldwide revision of the code letters of merchant ships. Laurentic's code letters KWPV were superseded by the new call sign GNJT.[19]

During the summer of 1935, the ship made several cruises in Scandinavia, with prices going down to £1 a day.[20] One of them, however, quickly turned into a disaster. On the night of Sunday August 18, as the ship crossed the Irish Sea with 620 passengers on board, it was struck by the freighter Napier Star of the Blue Star Line.[16] The bow of the latter penetrated deep into its hull, instantly killing six crew members and injuring five others.[21] The passengers were at first called to assemble near the lifeboats, but the captain finally decided that all danger was over and sent them back to bed. The ship returned the next morning to Liverpool.[22] Passengers who so wish were offered in return a cruise aboard the Doric, which herself experienced a collision a few days later, ending her career.[23]

The damage to the Laurentic was not severe, but was still estimated to have costed £20,000. Repair work was immediately carried out, the ship was scheduled to transport pilgrims from Dublin to Lourdes on September 6. Led by Harland & Wolff shipyard workers, the work was completed in time for her to be able to cruise.[23] This turned out to be her last commercial voyage; from December 1935 on, the ship remained unused on the quays of the Mersey.[20] After almost a year of abandonment, the she was transported in September 1936 to a dry dock at Gladstone Dock in Liverpool to be put back into working order. She then sailed to Southampton to transport British troops to Mandatory Palestine on September 14 to respond to growing unrest there. She then returned to Southampton where she was again laid up.[24] In 1937, she took part in the Coronation Naval Review of George VI at Spithead carrying government guests.[20] From April 1938 Laurentic was laid up again, at first at Southampton and later at Falmouth.[16][17]

Armed merchant cruiser[edit]

Rum Issue by John Worsley, who served aboard HMS Laurentic

On 26 August 1939, a few days before the Second World War, the Admiralty requisitioned Laurentic. Her conversion into an armed merchant cruiser (AMC) for the Royal Navy was completed on 15 October.[16] Her armament included BL 6-inch Mk XII naval guns,[25] QF 3-inch 20 cwt anti-aircraft guns,[26] and depth charges. She was commissioned as HMS Laurentic with the pennant number F51.[16] She was one of the last ships of the Royal Navy to be fueled by coal.[27]


At 2140 hrs on 3 November 1940 German submarine U-99 torpedoed the Elders and Fyffes banana boat Casanare in the Western Approaches west of Bloody Foreland in Ireland. Laurentic and another AMC, HMS Patroclus, responded to Casanare's wireless distress message. When they arrived, U-99 attacked at about 2250 hrs with a torpedo that struck Laurentic in her engine room.[16][28]

At 2328 hours U-99 hit Laurentic with a second torpedo, but it failed to explode. At 2337 hrs, from a range of only 250 metres, U-99 fired a third torpedo, which struck Laurentic in the hole made by explosion of the first. Laurentic sighted U-99 and opened fire.[16]

U-99 then attacked Patroclus, which was rescuing survivors from Casanare. Between 0002 hrs and 0118 hrs on 4 November U-99 hit Patroclus with four torpedoes and two of four rounds from her deck gun. At 0239 hrs an RAF Short Sunderland flying boat passed overhead, forcing U-99 to dive.[16]

At 0404 hrs U-99 resurfaced and resumed her attack. At 0453 hrs she fired a torpedo that hit Laurentic astern, detonating her depth charges. She sank within minutes. Two officers and 47 ratings of her 416 complement were killed. U-99 then torpedoed Patroclus at 0516 hrs and 0525 hrs, breaking her back and sinking her.[16]

HMS Hesperus rescued 367 survivors from Laurentic

The destroyer HMS Hesperus then arrived, drove U-99 away and turned to rescue survivors from Laurentic. Hesperus picked up Laurentic's commander, Captain EP Vivian, 50 of his officers and 316 ratings. The destroyer HMS Beagle rescued survivors from Patroclus.[16][29]

Laurentic was one of the last four White Star ships, along with the liners Britannic and Georgic and the tender Nomadic. Laurentic was also the last White Star ship to be sunk.[30]


  1. ^ "S/S Laurentic (2), White Star Line". Norway~Heritage. Retrieved 11 May 2008.
  2. ^ Wilson 1956, p. 48.
  3. ^ John Eaton and Charles Haas 1989, p. 219
  4. ^ de Kerbrech 2009, p. 216
  5. ^ a b c de Kerbrech 2009, p. 217
  6. ^ a b c Duncan Haws 1990, p. 98
  7. ^ Haws 1990, p. 98
  8. ^ "Laurentic". Shipping and Shipbuilding. North East Maritime Forum. Retrieved 31 October 2020.
  9. ^ "Steamers and Motorships". Lloyd's Register (PDF). II. London: Lloyd's Register. 1930. Retrieved 31 October 2020.
  10. ^ Richard de Kerbrech 2009, p. 204
  11. ^ Duncan Haws 1990, p. 99
  12. ^ a b c d Richard de Kerbrech 2009, p. 218
  13. ^ Richard de Kerbrech 2009, p. 217-218
  14. ^ Roy Anderson 1964, p. 166
  15. ^ Duncan Haws 1990, p. 93
  16. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Helgason, Guðmundur. "HMS Laurentic (F51)". Retrieved 31 October 2020.
  17. ^ a b Duncan Haws 1990, p. 101
  18. ^ Anderson 1964, pp. 180–181
  19. ^ "Steamers and Motorships". Lloyd's Register (PDF). II. London: Lloyd's Register. 1934. Retrieved 31 October 2020.
  20. ^ a b c Richard de Kerbrech 2009, p. 219
  21. ^ John Eaton and Charles Haas 1989, p. 221
  22. ^ John Eaton and Charles Haas 1989, p. 223-224
  23. ^ a b John Eaton and Charles Haas 1989, p. 226
  24. ^ John Eaton and Charles Haas 1989, p. 231
  25. ^ "BR 6in 45cal BL Mk XII". NavHist. Flixco Pty Limited. Retrieved 31 October 2020.
  26. ^ "BR 3in 45cal 12pdr 20cwt QF Mk I To IV". NavHist. Flixco Pty Limited. Retrieved 31 October 2020.
  27. ^ Richard de Kerbrech 2009, p. 219-220
  28. ^ John Eaton and Charles Haas 1989, p. 232
  29. ^ Richard de Kerbrech 2009, p. 221
  30. ^ "The U-boat Wars: White Star Line Ships During the War Years (WWI & WWII)". White Star Ships. Retrieved 11 August 2009.


  • Anderson, Roy (1964). White Star. Prescot: T Stephenson & Sons Ltd. ISBN 978-0901314093.
  • de Kerbrech, Richard (2009). Ships of the White Star Line. Shepperton: Ian Allan Publishing. ISBN 978-0-7110-3366-5.
  • Eaton, John; Haas, Charles (1989). Falling Star, Misadventures of White Star Line Ships. Patrick Stephens Ltd. ISBN 1-85260-084-5.
  • Haws, Duncan (1990). White Star Line. Merchant Fleets in Profile. 19. TCL Publications. ISBN 0-946378-16-9.
  • Osborne, Richard; Spong, Harry & Grover, Tom (2007). Armed Merchant Cruisers 1878–1945. Windsor: World Warship Society. ISBN 978-0-9543310-8-5.
  • Wilson, RM (1956). The Big Ships. London: Cassell & Co.

Coordinates: 54°9′N 13°44′W / 54.150°N 13.733°W / 54.150; -13.733