On This Day

24 February

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1921 Bibby liner - three ships in one


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The 7,456-ton passenger and cargo motor ship Somersetshire (Yard No. 579) was launched today for the Bibby Steamship Co. Ltd., Liverpool (Bibby Line).

Somersetshire was the second motor ship built for the Company; her sistership Dorsetshire (Yard No. 578), was launched the previous year on 22 April.

The vessel’s dimensions were: Length, 450 feet, 4inches; Breadth of beam 57 feet, 4 inches, with a service speed of 12 knots.

Many servicemen and the their families have found memories of Somersetshire; as troopship, hospital ship and latterly emigrant ship.

In 1927 she was converted into a permanent troopship with accommodation for about 1,300 officers and men. On the outbreak of war, in September 1939, she was requisitioned and converted into HM Hospital Ship No. 25 with 507 beds and operated with 118 medical staff and 171 crew.

She was present at the withdrawal from Narvik in April 1940 and on 6 December of the same year was bombarded from shore as her launches brought off wounded troops from Tobruk in North Africa. In February 1941 she joined her sister Dorsetshire in evacuating wounded from besieged Tobruk before a period of operation from the Red Sea to South Africa, Australia and New Zealand repatriating wounded soldiers.

On 7 April 1942, in the Mediterranean and fortunately without any patients on board, she was attacked by the German submarine U-453, the torpedo exploded on her starboard, killing seven members of the crew. As she settled by the head and with a list, her thirteen usable lifeboats took off the Royal Army Medical Corps personnel and 114 crew members. The medical personnel and two stewardesses were put aboard a Greek destroyer while the rest of the crew re-boarded Somersetshire and managed to get her to Alexandria on the port engine with the assistance of tugs.

During 1944-46 she sailed all over the world as a hospital ship finishing up in the Pacific. In February 1948 she was decommissioned and returned to Belfast where Harland & Wolff rebuilt her accommodation for 550 passengers. In Bibby Line colours, on 12 November 1948 she re-entered commercial service from Liverpool to Australia, with 500 passengers all on assisted passages. In 1953 she briefly returned to trooping to East Africa during the Mau Mau uprising. In 1954, 33 years after she first entered service, she was sold to Thomas W. Ward Ltd., for breaking up at Barrow-in-Furness.

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1921 Vandyck


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The 13,233-ton passenger and cargo ship Vandyck (WC&C Yard No. 359) was launched this afternoon by Workman, Clark & Co. Ltd. for Lamport & Holt, Liverpool. Vandyck and her sistership Voltaire (WC&C Yard No. 360) were intended for the Company’s South American services and were provided with accommodation for 300 First, 150 Second and 230 Third Class passengers.

Speaking after the launch about the lack of new orders for ships, William Boyd, Managing Director of Workman, Clark, said the question of a reduction of wages in the shipbuilding industry would have to be faced. Increases in wages and the high cost of material, with reduced production, had resulted in a complete stoppage of orders for new ships. He went on to state that absolutely no orders were being placed at the present high prices. The rise in wages during the last few years, to meet rising food costs, together with the high prices of materials and also, he was sorry to state, decreased productivity of the workforce, had all pushed up the price per ton of new ships to such an extent that shipowners were now beginning to fear they would not receive any return on their investment. He was on the Tyne the other day, and saw the river absolutely full of ships tied up. The outlook was very serious for shipbuilders, but they hoped the men would realise the position that had arisen and would help them all they could at least giving regarding greater output, that the prospects for the future might improve. In Belfast they were fairly well off. They had a keel to lay on the berth vacated by Vandyck, but the future was giving them serious consideration. It was up the men to consider the question of giving a reasonable output for their wages and also the question of reduction of wages, which he feared must come owing to the condition of the market.

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1906 Amazon


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The luxury 10,036-ton passenger and cargo ship Amazon (Yard No. 372) was launched today for the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company. The christening ceremony was performed by Mrs Owen Philipps, with of Owen Philips, MP, Chairman of the Company.

Amazon, a sistership of Aragon (Yard No. 367), continued the enormous strides RMSP were making in the South American trade with the introduction of ever larger and finer vessels into the service.
Her staterooms on deck and many of the cabins were arranged on the Bibby ‘tandem principle’; with side lights (portholes) for each room. A number of suites de luxe were magnificently furnished in white and gold, with silk panellings ‘and her first saloon is most handsome, the elegance of the structure combined with the magnificent stairway and approach to the main deck forming a rare example of marine architectural beauty.’

The smoke rooms for 1st and 2nd Class were on the promenade and boat decks aft ‘are well ventilated’ and decorated with Dutch tiles, giving views of the different places of interest of the ports and countries to which the Company's vessels trade. The 2nd and 3rd Class accommodation followed the same general layout and appearance as that fitted in Aragon (Yard No. 367). Quadruple-expansion engines of the same design as fitted in her sister helped reduce vibration to a minimum.

Amazon was torpedoed by a German submarine on 15 March 1918 and sunk off the coast of Donegal, Ireland.

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1940 'Flower' class Corvette


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The 724-ton ‘Flower’ class corvette HMS Periwinkle (Yard No. 1059) was launched today for the Admiralty.

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1944 'Castle' class Corvette


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The 1,100-ton ‘Castle’ class corvette HMCS Petrolia (Yard No. 1241) was launched today for the Royal Canadian Navy. Yard No. 1241 was originally laid down and launched as HMS Sherbourne Castle for the Admiralty, but following the end of the war, the partially completed vessel was handed over to the Canadian Navy.