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The Athenia was a passenger ship owned by the Donaldson Atlantic Line bound for the USA with a full passenger complement consisting mainly of women and children evacuees leaving Britain because of potential war risks. On the day war was declared, 3rd September 1939, the ship was torpedoed by U.30 (Leutnant Lemp) south of the Rockall Bank in the Atlantic Ocean. 1,300 survivors were picked up by various ships but 112 passenger and crew were lost. Under the rules of the Hague Convention the attack was in contravention of the orders given to the U-boat commanders but the German Naval Command believed that Lemp had acted in good faith as he thought that the Athenia was a armed merchant cruiser. As a consequence, the British Admiralty construed the attack as evidence that Germany intended to pursue a policy of unrestricted submarine warfare as it had done during the First World War. This resulted in an increased programme of building escort vessels for the long task of convoy protection against submarine attacked, a policy decision which was justified as the U-boat onslaught developed as expected.

The Egypt - On 2nd May 1922 the 7940-ton P & O liner Egypt was outward bound with a cargo including, among other things, over £1,000,000 in gold bullion. The weather off the French coast was foggy and the vessel was steaming with engines on stand-by. When the Egypt was approximately 22 miles south-west of Ushant a ship's whistle was heard on the port side and the engines were stopped. Four minutes later a small French steamer, the Seine loomed out of the fog on a collision course and rammed the breast the No.3 hatch causing fatal damage to both watertight bulkheads. The liner immediately began listing heavily to port and the order to abandon ship was given. Six lifeboats were safely lowered saving the lives of 252 passengers and crew but as the vessel only took 20 minutes to sink, 86 lives were lost including 15 passengers. In 1929 the Italian salvage company, Sorima, commenced a search for the wreck with the view to recovering the gold. They eventually found the hull in 1930, lying in 400 feet of water, and a diver was lowered to undertake the task of cutting through the three decks above the strong room. The diver wore an armoured diving suit and 400 feet was the deepest that any diver had been up until that date. He was connected to the surface by telephone and was able to direct the lowering and positioning of the explosives to blow open the decks. Metal grabs were then lowered to clear the debris. Recovering the gold bullion wasn't easy and there were several daunting setbacks. However, the first gold bars were lifted in June 1932 and the operation continued until 1935 by which time most of it had been recovered. The salvage operation was an epic story of patience, endurance and, above all, courage.

The Enterprise was the first vessel to undertake a long voyage during which time steam propulsion was used to a significant extent. A ship of 470 tons, in 1821 she made the passage from London to Calcutta in 103 days, travelling some 11,450 miles. During the voyage her steam engine was used to drive a pair of paddlewheels on 64 days, the remaining time was under sail only.

R.M.S. Carmania was the first Cunard liner to be equipped with steam turbines instead of the triple-expansion reciprocating engine. At the outbreak of the First World War she was requisitioned by the Royal Navy as an armed merchant cruiser and in September 1914 fought a duel in the South Atlantic with the German AMC the Cap Trafalgar. After a courageous action she managed to sink the Cap Trafalgar and was commemorated by the British Navy League who presented her with a silver plate from Nelson's dinner service.

The Hindustan was one of the first ships built for passengers rather than for cargo. She was a wooden paddle steamer and first sailed for India in 1842, winning the Indian mail contract for the P & O Line.

 

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